I find it surprising when it’s said that people lost their money with Bernard Madoff.  Bernie Madoff didn’t lose their money—to do that he would have had to invest it—he found their money.  There’s a big difference.

It gets me thinking about Belgian dentists.  Belgian dentists?  Investment bankers have long used Belgian dentists as the ultimate test of a corporate bond offering.  The belief is that of all investors the Belgian dentist is the most prudent.  He or she will only invest if the terms are right, the bond issuer of stainless repute and the rating triple A.  We can assume that, for the Belgian dentist, taking a flier with the likes of Bernard Madoff would have all the allure of a rotten incisor.

Where does the prudent investor look today?  We pull up our computer screens and gaze at our portfolios with ever-increasing dismay.  Guided by our broker or investment counselor, we’ve parlayed our investments in the prescribed ways.  We’ve dutifully divvied up our stocks among consumer goods, industrials, utilities, high tech, transportation, blue chip and growth stocks; we have the requisite investments in index funds, government bonds and real estate.  And you know what?  It all looks like a rifled drawer.

So you’re asking yourself:  Where is the smart money going today?  Where do we look for yields?  Where is the high-growth?  The answer is close at hand:  right in your own backyard, in fact.

Here is an investment sector that you can actually understand, and which produces tangible results—results you can sink your teeth into—offering rewards that will put food on your table and a smile on your face.  Not to tilt at windmills, but investments don’t come any greener than this.

A backyard garden of modest size can deliver a return on investment that is exceptional by any standard—ranging right up to 20,000 percent.  Here is an elephantine return that dwarfs the lilliputian 18 percent or so promised by Bernie Madoff, and it’s the real deal.  It doesn’t get any more real, in fact.  Nor more helpful for a family of four.

The numbers speak for themselves.  For starters, let’s talk tomatoes.

A single tomato plant will, over the course of the summer, yield up to 40 medium to large fruit.  Your local supermarket is now selling tomatoes for 75 cents to a dollar each, so figure your single tomato plant’s yield, in dollar terms, is 30 dollars to 40 dollars per season.

A seed packet contains, say 25 guaranteed seeds out of 30 total.  Place the average at 35 dollars, multiply it times 25, and you get eight hundred seventy five dollars worth of store bought tomatoes from a seed packet that retails for 3 to 4 dollars.  Your return on investment?  Better than 200 to 1 or 20,000 percent.

The skeptic—and who isn’t these days?—has questions.  What about the money I spend on fertilizer?  What if tomatoes are on sale this week?  You’re still looking at an incredible level of savings.  If tomatoes go on sale for 50 cents each, your return on your investment dollar ratio is still 1:125 or 12,500%.  And not only do you reap the financial reward, you can sauté, it, roast it, or eat it raw.  Try doing that with a share of Lehman Brothers.  (No, don’t.)

Keep this in mind:  these are succulent, juicy, fragrant just-picked tomatoes worthy of a gourmet—light-years away from those forlorn, flavorless tomato wannabees you see in your grocer’s produce department.

Another high-growth sector:  peas.  Still skeptical?  All we are saying is:  Give peas a chance.

Here we go.  A single Sugar Snap Pea plant should yield at least a pound of peas per season, equal to 90 to 100 pods.  Buy them at the supermarket and you pay $3.50 to $4.00 a pound, or $3.75 a pound on average.

A packet of 150 snap pea seeds retails for around $1.50, or a penny a seed.  However, they get “thinned” by 2/3, so we’re talking 50 vines for 3 cents apiece.  Fifty vines yield fifty pounds of peas that would set you back $3.75 a pound at your grocer.  So, a $1.50 packet of seed yields $187.50 worth of sugar snap peas.  Allowing for fencing, the bottom line is an ROI of better than 100 to one.

Are you a bean-counter?  Green snap beans yield a return of 1:90, or 1:80, depending on the bean.  Haricot verts, on the other hand, deliver a return of merely 40 to 1.  We’ll say it again:  we’re talking a 40 to 1 return.

Conservative investor, looking for real and tangible returns?  Grow your assets at home.  Speculative investor, looking for a big payday?  Doff your pinstripes, slip into your jeans, and get into your garden.  Think of seeds as God’s microchip, and this is the ultimate tech stock.  Green investor, looking to both make money and save the planet?  Hop into your Birkenstocks, and join Mother Nature in the tomato patch.

Which brings us back to the Belgian dentist, that paragon of investing prudence.  What do you think Belgian dentists are investing in today?  We don’t have the slightest idea.  But we’ll hazard a guess though.  Two words:  Brussels Sprouts.

This entry was posted on Thursday, February 19th, 2009 at 8:54 pm and is filed under Original Posts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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4 Responses to “Gardenomics”

  1. Fontaina Scott said:

    Dear George:
    Thank God you didn’t suggest again for the sake of economy that a family grow 100 or more heads of lettuce!

    This blog is quite funny and true!

  2. Candylei said:

    Great gardening blog. Last year there were record sales in vegetable seeds I heard. My house included and I think this year will break last year’s record.

  3. Mary said:

    Dear George,
    ditto on all the comments you have written for Gardenomics. I have been relentlessly trying to communicate to my little valley this same type of intelligence for 4 solid years. My friends think I am nuts for not using my education to become a high paid administrator; I tell them I would be emotionally dead & basically freaked out, using my retirement to go to the nut house…..they say do it anyway, because the money is so “good”. Written in the article, “The Most Radical Thing You Can Do” in Orion Magazine Nov-Dec 2008: “The word radical comes from the Latin word for root. Perhaps the most radical thing you can do, in our times, is to start turning over the soil, loosening it up for the crops to settle in, and then stay home to tend them”—written by Rebecca Solnit I say: “Amen”.

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