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自己来种菜 健康又省钱

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Can we garden our way out of this hole?

Just a few years ago, the road to riches was clear. We could all sit on our porches drinking mint juleps while our houses appreciated 30% a year.

Now, our houses are falling in value by 30% a year. Forget about them. The real money maker, it turns out, was always our backyard. By planting a vegetable garden, we can slash our food bill while eating healthier.

Michelle Obama has put a vegetable garden on the grounds of the White House. Sales of seeds and plants are soaring. And pro-garden groups are churning out studies that show huge paybacks on investing in a home garden. The nonprofit National Gardening Association just produced a study -- sponsored by ScottsMiracle-Gro Co. -- that found the average family with a vegetable garden spends just $70 a year on it and grows an estimated $600 worth of vegetables.

George Ball, chairman and CEO of seed giant Burpee, can rattle off the savings for dozens of homegrown crops. Green beans will generate $75 worth of crops for each $1 you spend on seeds, Mr. Ball calculates. Even the lowly potato will generate $5 of spuds for each $1 you invest in seeds.

Does it all sound too good to be true? Depending on your situation, it may be. Neither Mr. Ball nor the National Garden Association study focus on how much you may have to sink into your garden before you can grow anything.

If you're starting out, you'll need tools to till the soil. You may have to terrace your land or build raised beds. You may need a fence to keep animals out. Many of these are onetime expenditures, but they can cost a lot more than seeds.

Mr. Ball replies that most people will still save money by growing their own vegetables. He says that items like fences and tools last for years, and their costs should properly be amortized over the life of the garden. In fact, he believes his seed-payback ratios understate the true benefits for growing your own 'because of the vastly superior produce you'll get' in a home garden, compared to what you get from a supermarket.

I know about the steep upfront costs firsthand. My wife, Clarissa, has become quite the gardener, growing mainly flowers but some vegetables. In each of three previous houses we owned during the past 14 years, she invested thousands of dollars in exotic plants, containers, irrigation systems, fertilizers, soil amendments and growing lights for the winter.

So when she announced recently that she was going to plant a vegetable garden at our current house in New Jersey, my first thought was: 'How much is this going to cost me?'

To which Clarissa replies: 'Forget about the cost. It tastes good.' This year, she's planning to plant rare heirloom vegetables that you can't get in the store.

At least our soil is good. Let's say you live in Chicago. The city has a heavy clay soil, so many residents opt for raised vegetable beds, says Ron Wolford, who works at the University of Illinois Extension.

Building an 8-by-4-foot raised bed and filling it with compost and soil will run about $80, Mr. Wolford figures. Buying a couple of tomato plants and six pepper plants to put in the raised bed will cost you another $15 or $20, he calculates, putting your total cost near $100.

A lot of people start gardens and give up when the going gets tough. 'I get a lot of calls in the spring from people who want to start gardens and can't wait to get started,' says Mr. Wolford, who grew up on a farm in Peoria, Ill., where his family grew its own produce. 'But when it comes to July and August, and it's 95 degrees, and there's insect problems, it just goes to pot.'

Gardening is hard work. I saw this when I lived for a month with a French family in 1976. Roger Martin, a retired stone mason, had a huge garden in the back of his house in a far northern suburb of Paris. He kept a little notebook where he logged the hundreds of kilos of strawberries, stringbeans, lettuce and other produce he grew every year.

Mr. Martin spent his mornings toiling in the garden. All the vegetables on the family's dinner table came from the garden. What we didn't eat or preserve was fed to the rabbits along with leftover bread. The rabbits were eventually slaughtered and eaten, too.

Will most Americans take their home gardens that seriously? I doubt it. Can you still save money with a garden? Absolutely.

The trick is keeping your capital costs down. Lori Bushway of Cornell University's Department of Horticulture says a garden can be as simple as digging up a few square feet of your lawn and sprinkling lettuce seeds in the dirt.

Most anywhere grass can grow, lettuce will grow, she says. What about fertilizer? Not needed. What about weeds? Plant the lettuce tight enough, and there won't be room for any. This simple garden will fill salad bowls for about six weeks. Ms. Bushway advises planting four square feet of lettuce per person in your household.

'You can easily triple your investment,' she says. That's better than any of my mutual funds have done lately. Break out the olive oil.

我们能通过种菜走出眼下的困境吗?

仅仅几年前,通往富裕生活的道路还很清楚。我们可以坐在门廊下,喝着冰镇薄荷酒,看着房子每年增值30%。

如今,房子却在每年贬值30%。还是忘掉房子吧。其实,真正赚钱的一直是我们的后院。种菜使我们可以在健康饮食的同时减少在食物上的花销。

米歇尔•奥巴马在白宫院子里的菜园美国第一夫人米歇尔•奥巴马(Michelle Obama)就在白宫院子里弄了个菜园。菜种和菜苗的销售在急剧上升。提倡种菜的组织辛勤得出的研究结果显示,投资自家菜园能有丰厚的回报。非营利机构美国园艺协会(National Gardening Association)新鲜出炉的一份研究报告表明,拥有菜园的普通家庭每年在上面的花费只有70美元,而出产的蔬菜估计值600美元。这项研究是由园艺公司ScottsMiracle-Gro Co.赞助的。

种子巨头Burpee的董事长兼首席执行长保尔(George Ball)能轻松列举出数十种适合家庭种植的作物能省下多少钱。据他计算,1美元青豆种子就能收获价值75美元的青豆。即便是不起眼的土豆,1美元的土豆块茎也可以收获5美元的土豆。

听起来是不是划算得难以置信?这是有可能的,当然具体取决于你的实际情况。无论是保尔还是美国园艺协会的研究都没有详细说明这样一个问题:在你的菜园能长出东西之前,你得在上面投入多少。

如果你是个新手,你需要工具把地整理得适合种菜。你可能需要把地弄成梯田状,或是垫高。你可能需要篱笆以防动物闯进来。这些很多都是一次性开销,不过可能比花在种子上的钱要多得多。

关于这一点,保尔说,对大部分人来说自己种菜还是省钱的。他说,像篱笆和工具等物品能用很多年,所以成本应该适当地分摊到菜园的整个运作期里。实际上,他认为,他的种子投入/产出回报比低估了自己种菜的真正好处,那就是与超市买的菜相比,自家菜园里种出来的蔬菜质量要好的多。

我亲身体会到了菜园高额的前期成本。我的妻子克拉丽莎(Clarissa)是一名出色的园丁,她主要种花,也种一些蔬菜。过去14年中我们曾经有过3处房子,在每一处她都投资数千美元购买奇花异草、花盆、灌溉系统、肥料、土壤改良剂,冬天还要有植物生长灯。

所以,当她最近宣布要在新泽西州的这座房子里弄一个菜园的时候,我的第一反应是:这要花多少钱?

克拉丽莎回答说,别管多少钱了,自己种的菜味道好。今年,她计划种她们家祖传的稀有蔬菜,在店里是买不到的。

至少我们家的土壤很好。伊利诺伊大学的沃芙德(Ron Wolford)说,要是住在芝加哥的话,那里土壤中的黏土比例很高,所以很多居民选择垫高土地。

根据沃芙德的计算,垫高一块8x4平方英尺的地,并用混合肥料和土壤填好,这要花大约80美元。买两株番茄苗和六株青椒苗要花15-20美元,这样总计就要花将近100美元了。

很多人兴致勃勃地开始种菜,但出现困难后就放弃了。沃芙德说,春天会有很多等不及想种菜的人给我打电话,可是到了7、8月份,气温到了华氏95度、出现虫害问题的时候,菜园就衰败了。沃芙德在伊利诺伊州的一个农场上长大,家人在那里种作物。

园艺是件很辛苦的事。1976年我曾在一个法国家庭里住了一个月,期间明白了这个道理。马丁(Roger Martin)是个退休泥瓦匠,他的家在巴黎北部的远郊区,后院里有个很大的花园。他每年都可以收获数百公斤的草莓、菜豆、生菜和其他作物,他用小本子作了记录。

每天早晨马丁都要在花园里工作。家里餐桌上的全部蔬菜都来自他的菜园。我们不吃或是没有保存起来的就和剩面包一起喂兔子。这些兔子最后也是被杀了吃肉。

大部分美国人会如此认真地对待他们自家的菜园吗?我对此感到怀疑。那你还可以通过种菜省钱吗?当然可以。

诀窍就是要降低资本支出。康乃尔大学园艺系的布什维(Lori Bushway)说,菜园可以很简单,比如在自家草坪上开辟出来几平方英尺的地方,把生菜种子撒在土里。

她说,能长草的地方大部分都能长生菜。那么肥料怎么办呢?不需要肥料。杂草呢?把生菜种密一点儿,那么就没地儿长草了。这样一个简单的菜园能使你的沙拉盘6个星期都满满当当的。布什维建议,为家里的每个人都种上一块4英尺见方的生菜园。

她说,你可以轻松地增加投资。这比我所有的共同基金最近的表现都要好。拿出橄榄油,准备做沙拉吧。
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