Hey Mr. Green,
I’ve seen several recent articles urging people to grow their own vegetables. As a home gardener, I know how much better tasting this produce can be. I also know that many gardeners spend too much on fancy soil and overfeed their plants, wiping out the economic and ecological savings. Being from California, my main concern is water, so I wonder: Do 1,000 home gardeners growing one vegetable plant each use more or less water than one professional farmer growing 1,000 of that same vegetable plant? --Richard in Palo Alto, California
It depends. Varying factors include soil type, local weather, and cultivation and irrigation practices. If the commercial producer uses earth ditches, the amount of water available to the plant can range from 25 to 80 percent of the total water pumped to the field. Other methods, such as drip irrigation, can be up to 100 percent efficient.
If home gardeners apply only as much water as necessary, or use a drip-irrigation system properly, they can be just as water-wise as the most conscientious commercial grower. Or even more so: Garden guru John Jeavons, who did a good bit of garden research right in your town, reports that his “biointensive” gardening methods require less than half the water than conventional production. If, however, home gardeners mindlessly dump excess water—bad for most plants anyhow—they might squander more water than the most reckless commercial grower.
As for fancy fertilizers, and pesticides, in general, you don't need ‘em. I get tomato yields comparable to those of California's commercial growers just by using home-brewed compost and drip irrigation.
Regardless of irrigation needs, I recommend putting in enough vegetable plants to last until next growing season. Rip up some lawn and produce enough to dry, can, freeze, and enjoy through winter. Nothing traps solar energy quite so ingeniously as plants, and a packet of seeds is the most recession-proof investment you can make. It will yield at least a 1,000 percent return.