Four years ago I made a unilateral decision to grow potatoes in our community garden plot. I chose premium seed Russets, dusted them properly, dug two mighty trenches and watered them exactly according to instruction. Two weeks later, I was rewarded with dark green potato shoots and, a month later, with vigorous plants that I mounded in a manner that was Victory-Garden worthy.
Somewhere between the shoots and the second mounding, the Colorado Potato Beetle News Network apparently offered a too-good-to-turn-down feed’n’breed excursion fare to Medfield. Though there were no other plots with potatoes in them, I arrived one morning to find my two rows infested with the nasty little things. (The alternative explanation is parthenogenesis and I don’t want to go there.)
For the next three months, I picked potato beetles and smooshed potato beetle egg masses. I stopped by the garden twice each day to get both the early risers and the evening adventurers. Still, they arrived in quantities that defied all logic because I would find dozens of bugs each visit. Finally, in mid-September I dug up the two rows and bagged the resulting production. I figured I had about twenty pounds of spuds.
That very weekend, a Roche Brothers flyer arrived announcing Prince Edward Island potatoes at 99 cents for a ten-pound bag.
I felt compelled to compute the value of my labor. Even excluding travel time (I always weeded other vegetables while at the garden), I spent a minimum of twenty minutes a day on potato beetle duty. I did this for, say, sixty days. That’s 1200 minutes or twenty hours. All to get $1.98 worth of potatoes.
Generously rounded up, that’s ten cents an hour for my labor. And I lied. There were times when there was nothing else to do in the garden except pick beetles.
I have not grown potatoes since.
What was the value per hour of labor? It’s impossible to say. Because no contractor could meet our requirements, we never got as far as asking for a price. We also got exactly what we wanted in terms of results. Like the MasterCard says, some things are priceless. Above is a photo of the bed taken today (April 23).
Not so my current project. Last autumn, we had a pair of Norway maples removed from the front of our property. The contractor offered, for an additional $200, to grind out the stumps. We declined for reasons that are ambiguous (I thought we would just throw some dirt over the one stump and call it done).
I’ll be interested in the time-value of this project. If it comes out over the weekend and I log, say, twelve total hours, my time will have been worth $16.66 an hour. Not that I’m counting, mind you, but I’ve got a lot of high-value make-up jobs to erase that ten cent an hour gig from 2006.
Post Script: The last of the stump surrendered to the axe at 8:35 on Sunday morning. A little over twelve hours, total. You do the math.