In which I learn that dirt isn’t cheap

In response to this post on Wednesday, a couple of folks urged me to go ahead and start a garden, even if it’s late in the season, because there are things that you can still grow in this area before winter closes in. It gives us a head start on next year.

Mrs. Freeholder decided that we would make this attempt in a large container. That way we could use a good commercial soil mix and have the best chance for things to go well. Her logic is sound, given our soil ranges from red clay to laterite. It grows trees and shrubs OK and grass grudgingly. But you don’t see a lot of folks around here with gardens in their back yard.

Gardening hat firmly on, she found someone with an 8’x3’x2′ stock tank for sale, just up the road and at a very reasonable price, considering neither “farm store” around here had one in stock. Just after lunch, we went for a visit and came back with a stock tank.

I should have known right then this was going too well. Have I mentioned I’m not a gardener?

After bringing the tank home and unloading it, we ventured off to the local Big Box Home Improvement Store for the appropriate concoction to put in it. Her research showed that the stuff that goes into anything from a flower pot to a stock tank is different from, dare I call it, “garden variety soil”. It’s much lighter than the plain ol’ dirt you’d find in your yard. Actually, in most of it there isn’t any soil at all. It’s a mix of peat moss, vermiculite/perlite and fine bits of wood or maybe coconut hair. It allows the roots to grow easily and air, water and nutrients to flow to those roots just as easily.

Being a guy, I had done my math. I assumed away the rounded corners on the stock tank for simplicity. 8’x3’x2′ is a container that holds 48 ft3 . The tank has a drain plug in it about 2″ from the bottom, so we need about 4″ of some sort of gravel, which will be covered in landscape fabric to allow for drainage. In cubic feet, that’s just short of 8 ft3 of gravel. That leaves us with 40 ft3 of appropriate concoction needed. I figure we leave it down 4″ from the top of the tank, which subtracts another 8 ft3 from that 40 ft3 , giving me 32 ft3 of appropriate concoction require.

The appropriate concoction comes in bags of 1, 1.5 and 2 ft3 sizes, and no matter what the brand or size, is about $6.25 per ft3 , plus 7.5% sales tax for all that wonderful government we get.

That comes out to ~$215 to fill up the stock tank. And I need some cinder blocks to sit it on so she doesn’t need to bend over as much. And seeds. Figure around $300ish by the time we’re done. I found a web site that recommended using aluminum cans, milk jugs or whatever in place of rock so we can save that money. At this point, I’ll take whatever help I can get. Nowhere in all those lovely YouTube videos do they mention what the dirt that fills all those lovely big containers costs. Mrs. Freeholder thinks number this is dandy. I think it’s ridiculous to spend so much to raise $50 (at most) of veggies. However, I stipulate that building the skills for gardening, as well as putting them in practice in greater depth next year, are important.

If I can keep thinking of this as an investment, my wallet won’t hurt so much.

5 thoughts on “In which I learn that dirt isn’t cheap

  1. Ha ha ha yes exactly right. Some crops cost more to grow than to just buy them at a store. BUT some varieties taste better than store-bought. And you’re learning a skill. Usually local dirt is fine, just add some fertilizer and a little compost. Sounds like your dirt is a problem.
    Initial outlay is usually pricey. Ask local farms for horse or cow manure instead of buying dirt.

  2. With a little care, that dirt can be used for many years… you can amortize the cost out over at least 5 and possibly as much as 10 years, so there is that. Also, you don’t need 30″ of soil for gardening. You could use sand or any dirt for the bottom half of the container and put about 15 inches of purchased soil on top… unless you are planning on growing potatoes, in which case that stock tank is the wrong one anyway….

    But realize that that few square feet of garden won’t feed you for long.

  3. $215 to fill up the stock tank? Wow!

    For future reference.

    If this works out and you get another used stock tank or make a raised bed, your next step should be to beg, borrow, or steal a utility trailer if you don’t own one and go to a garden center. When you get to the garden center, ask how much dirt you’ll need to fill the tub and buy that amount. The cost will be a hell of a lot less than what you paid at the big box store.

  4. I have a utility trailer, but unless I build walls, it isn’t suited for hauling dirt. There is nowhere within 50 miles that I’ve found that sells not-soil in bulk. By the time I figure in gas and so on, at their selling price it’s not much more more expensive to buy it in bags, and I don’t have to fight Interstate traffic to get it. I may ask about pallet pricing, though.

    One thing I’ve discovered is how much more suburban and less rural this place has become since we moved in 16 years ago. I should have caught the clue when our local John Deere dealer closed during our second year here. All the agricultural things that used to be easy to get are no longer easy. All we have for an ag store is Tractor Supply, and they’re as worthless as they can possibly be. But we do have more decent restaurants. No sure if the trade was worth it.

    I thought of making my own, but you can’t buy bulk vermiculite or peat moss around here-it’s all in bags, even at what passes for a lawn and garden store. And it takes time to make decent compost in quantity, although I guess we’re going to start doing that.

    No easy answers to this one.

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