Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Potted Plant Pity Party

Recently, I had occasion to stop by my neighborhood garden center and nursery for some supplies. While I was there, I noticed the sad plant rack. I don’t know what they call it, but to me this name fits. It’s that rack where they put the seedlings they can’t sell for full price at a significant markdown hoping that some poor schmuck (like me) will come by and buy it hoping that the plants will live long enough to get them home to some decent dirt and a drink of water.

I was moved, not by the plants themselves (though I would have been if they had been people) but by the idea. Could I take a marginally healthy plant, nurse it to a healthy status and get produce from it? Seemed like a Stealth Farmer challenge so I took myself up on it and bought two six-packs of tomatoes and four other seedlings in 4-inch pots. Total cost? $4.00.

I stopped at the dollar store later that evening and bought some $1 buckets. These are about two gallons in volume and I was betting I could make some serviceable SIPs out of them. When I got home, I made up five SIPs from them. I used some recycled 2-liter soda bottles for the wicking cups, some political yard signs for the soil shelves and a few lengths of pvc pipe for the filling tubes. I secured everything together with some zip-ties, 3 per unit. Total cost? $5.00 for the buckets, I had everything else.

I filled the SIPs with some composted potting soil mixed with local soil from my garden beds. I bought a bag of the potting mix for $6.00 before I left the garden center. The total time it took was less than an hour to assemble, fill and transplant into the 5 SIPs. I’m waiting to get some more 5-gallon buckets for the tomatoes so for now the jalapeno pepper, the two kinds of cucumbers and the eggplant are planted in the new bucket SIPs.

This project has cost me a total of $15.00 out of pocket. I was able to recycle and re-use the rest of the materials so there was no other out of pocket expense for this project. If I can get a few pounds of tomatoes from this, or a few pounds of cucumbers or several eggplants, I will consider this a successful venture. I’m NOT looking just to break even on this, rather I want to make a profit on it. I want my return on investment, my ROI, to be significant for several reasons.

First, that we don’t have to have the best plants in the nursery to achieve a satisfactory yield. If everything we get from this is considered a “bonus” then it’s all good. Everybody doesn’t start plants from seed. Some don’t have the space, some don’t have the time, some don’t have the inclination. If that were not the case, nurseries wouldn’t sell so many seedlings and young plants.  There is obviously a solid market there.

Second, that we can save a few dollars in the initial stages. I used a lot of scrounged materials. I used 2-liter soda bottles and I rarely drink soda, let alone 2-liters worth. I’m sure I saved this plastic from ending up in the landfill. I recycled the materials that the political yard signs were made from. That stuff is hollow-core plastic board that is lightweight and fairly cheap which is why they print campaign signs on it. This stuff would have gone to the landfill for sure. (Neither of the gentlemen from whose campaigns I supported won their elections.) The pvc pipe I used was left-over cuts from previous irrigation projects. I didn’t have to go buy some, although technically, I did buy this stuff. But since I’ve had it in my garage for more than a couple of years, I figure that it had long since been depreciated from the budget. The zip ties I used were purchased specifically for gardening projects and they cost less than 2-cents each. I used 15 of them. So I might be into it for $15.25, but that’s really squeezing it hard. I’m sticking with the $15.00 figure.

Now all I have to figure is how much produce this project will have to yield to bring in a value greater than $15.00. Five pounds of tomatoes? Six? I don’t know how much cucumbers will cost when it comes time to pick these, but a couple of dozen good-sized cukes will hit the $15.00 price point. And eggplant? These are black beauty variety. They should have large ovid purple fruits. At just over 3 pounds, I’ll break even on that. So with all figured in, I have a good chance of making this pay. But like all good gardening plans, you got to get them to the harvestable stage first. I’m a long way from that.

We had some serious wind the past few days and I was a little worried about the new plants. They haven’t had time to put down any new roots to help anchor them down but every time I checked on them, they seemed to be doing just fine. They didn’t wilt when the top of the SIP dried out from the sun and the wind. I watered them a couple times from the top with the idea that it would help keep the soil moist which would help hold the plant in place. All I can do now is wait and watch and water.

I’ll post back again after I get the tomatoes in place and then regularly as these grow, or don’t grow.

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