Author Topic: Gardening  (Read 6453 times)

TerriM

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Gardening
« on: December 17, 2014, 05:27:43 PM »
I'm new to the forums, so if there's a good past post on this, feel free to just give me the link, but what have people found the payback on gardening/gardens to be?  I guess I'm curious about it in a very analytical way--how much grocery $$ can I save by gardening, how much time does it "cost," and how much $$/sq ft of the garden can be expected.   Instead of $$, maybe pounds of produce might be a better metric, and then I can just multiply by what I think I'd have to pay in the store/farmer's market.

Janie

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Re: Gardening
« Reply #1 on: December 17, 2014, 06:05:18 PM »
You might want to check out this blog. http://www.nwedible.com/2013/01/is-growing-your-own-food-worth-it.html The author is a member here.

jo552006

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Re: Gardening
« Reply #2 on: December 19, 2014, 03:09:10 PM »
If you count your time spent in the garden, and make the assumption that you could be earning your normal salary if you weren't gardening, then it is very likely that this is a losing proposition financially.  My wife and I rarely calculate in our time spent on things (outside of work) as worth anywhere close to what we'd make at our jobs, since we believe it's unreasonable to expect people would pay us our salaries outside of the normal working hours.  Also, my wife LOVES gardening, so even if it was a totally losing proposition (like she lost an entire garden and it cost us $300) it'd still be worth the expense for her enjoyment of the hobby.  PLUS, there was a LOT of exercise involved, so it was good for our health.
 
The VERY short answer is in our case, we probably spent $300-400 dollars MINIMALLY on our garden (only garden), and we probably earned back significantly more than that in pure produce output.

For the longer answer, let me tell you about OUR garden this year.  I promised my wife a garden in years past, and was going to be damn sure it was a success so our up front expenses were high, as was our time invested.  You need to be honest about your skills up front, if you have ever said you had a "brown thumb" you're going to be putting in more time learning things (but can still have a successful garden).  My wife has a reasonable amount of experience with plants, but honestly, ANYBODY can do it if they are willing to learn and invest the time.

To start, you need to decide where you're going to have a garden.  You need to decide how much sun is right (depending on what you want to grow).  You need to decide if your garden will be in the ground, in raised beds, pots, etc.  My wife wanted a big garden (Three 4'x16' rows) and I told her I wasn't on board with anything other than in the ground.  (Raised bed costs can be cheap to expensive depending on your level of skill and desired end product... Also if you have soil handy, or a good place to excavate it, or if you need to buy it)  Since we went with in the ground, we needed a way to get the soil ready.

I have a small garden tractor so I simply put on a rototiller and turned the bare ground to start (one of the reasons I opted for "directly in ground").  Then my wife tested the soil, and bough amendments as needed.  (If soil had been horrible, we'd have needed to rototill amendments in, she was able to get by with fertilizers that were applied topically)  Cost to set up earth was $0 due to good soil, but we probably spend $50 for fertilizers...though we could have done without, production was definitely worth the money.

Next, if you have animals that are going to decimate your crops (we have TONS of rabbits AND deer around) you'll need to stop that from happening.  With rabbits, I decided that meant chicken wire fence, buried into the ground 1 foot and out 1 foot so they would not dig underneath it.  Also had to be 3 feet high (for me to feel sure they'd stay out).  This was a LOT of initial time & effort, but was totally worth it.  Total cost for this was probably around $100 since the garden was 21' x 29'.

Next, my wife spent lots of time planning her garden.  She used the square foot method, which I guess was all-right, but I felt like it was too intensive for the ground.  If you've got the area, I find good old fashioned spacing works well.  What you definitely need to figure out is where you want to put things.  Some crops do well planted close to others, some will cross breed if too close.  Some crops need light, some don't need as much.  Corn should be planted in a manner that allows the seeds to properly pollenate (usually 3 rows... though we found planting on a corner worked... okay)  Then she bought all the seeds she needed (probably at least $50 worth of seeds.  Those things are expensive!!!)

Once she planted the seeds, we COULD have relaxed and left all's well alone.  BUT... every year previous, she had lost her crops to us traveling on the weekends, and not being around to water them.  EVERY...SINGLE...YEAR.  We could have paid somebody, or asked a neighbor, but we travel often and I was determined her garden would be a success so I bought a water timer, garden hoses, backflow preventor, valves/splitters and soaker hoses that we rigged up to automatically water the garden.  This also made it easier to not worry, and was one less thing to do on a daily basis.  This setup cost us another $100 (at least) + however much water we used over the summer.  It also took us quite a few hours to get everything set up and adjusted for us to trust that we wouldn't return home to a flooded yard, or ruined garden.

We spent a lot of time weeding up front, and when the weeds started to slow down, we found ourselves spending almost as much time HARVESTING things.  We had to build some simple trellises for tomatoes.  We also had to deal with some minor fungus & bug issues which we solved by purchasing an insecticide and fungicide.  (I do NOT recommend going fully organic/chemical free/pesticide free  Others may but I am a fan of quick, simple, affordable, and high success rate.  I think anything I grow myself is better than what I buy at the store anyway)  Total cost maybe $50 for fungicides at most.

Now our garden produced TONS of produce.  Too much.  We started freezing, but were filling up our freezers.  So onto our next expense, my wife took up canning.  (Water bath AND pressure canning, depending often on the acidity of the veggies)  She canned some beans, plenty of tomatoes and tomato based things, and other things that weren't garden related (leftover ham bone = pea soup)  This expense was probably another $100+.  Would have been more if we didn't already have a pressure cooker.  Honestly though, we would be hard pressed to eat everything before it started going bad had she not taken up canning... Unless we purchased a food saver or something to help extend the freezer life.  Either way eating EVERYTHING coming out of your garden will probably require some form of long term storage.

I hope you don't read all of this and think I'm telling you NOT to garden.  In fact, I am saying the exact opposite.  Most of our expenses were "up front".  The garden (if not for my garage coming in the spring) is still there, and doesn't need much to be changed for next year.  The watering set up is great, just need some new soaker hoses and the rest is good to go.  The trellis is still there.  The canning supplies are an up front cost.

If you figure that we were able to be in the money the first year where we bought ALL the up front items, we'll be much further ahead in future years.  You did ask about the time, so I wanted to be honest about that as well.  You can be as involved or not as you want, but I will tell you that for a big garden like we had, there is a LOT of time involved.  We ate almost exclusively out of the garden (excluding meat) for a good portion of the summer.  We learned valuable skills that we'll be able to use forever, and we ate significantly healthier than we otherwise would have.  When I get home, I'll see if I can tally up some of what we produced, however we kinda got sick of weighing things.

iris lily

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Re: Gardening
« Reply #3 on: December 19, 2014, 03:33:16 PM »
DH and I have huge gardens. He is the vegetable farmer and I'm the ornamental farmer.

The way we do it, it's an expensive, very expensive hobby. We actually have purchased additional properties on which to garden because we live in a city with small lots.

But anyway, if you keep costs down by:

*growing plants from seed, especially if you can seed them in the ground and not pay electricity for grow lights
* utilize all soil amendments that are available to you at no cost (city compost? wood chips?)
*use your imagination and found objects to make beds, tie up tomatoes, etc

you can do it frugally and it will be cheaper than buying produce in the store

But you have to be careful not to fall for all of the latest gadgets and expensive "systems."

Also, it is good exercise. If not aerobic, it's good for the waistline in bending, lifting, etc.

Oh yeah--the previous poster mentions water. If you have metered water and your water/sewer expenses are high, you will see a noticeable uptick on your water bill.

Me--we have unmetered water and so pay a flat rate.
« Last Edit: December 19, 2014, 03:35:49 PM by iris lily »

Dellen

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Re: Gardening
« Reply #4 on: December 19, 2014, 04:04:01 PM »
I highly highly recommend the book "Gardening When it Counts:  Growing Food in Hard Times" by Steve Solomon.  He writes this for people who really need to grow their own food for cost reasons and who have very little cash for start up.   I've followed his techniques for years and they really work, especially plant spacing so that supplemental watering is not needed.  This does not need to be an expensive hobby.  He also does a cost analysis comparing to supermarket food.  Good luck -- growing your own food is incredibly empowering.

TerriM

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Re: Gardening
« Reply #5 on: December 19, 2014, 04:58:55 PM »
Wow jo552006.  Thanks for all the information.

We probably have the space you have, so it sounds like it'd be sufficient for our family.  We have 5, but I don't want to be doing a lot of canning.  I have already bought drip-tape, so I can go ahead and put that in to make sure it doesn't die.

What I'm debating is whether it's cheaper to grow our veggies or get them at the farmer's market or through a CSA direct from the farmer.  I think both amount to somewhere between $40-60 a week max, but i wasn't sure if I could grow enough on the space our landlords will allow us to use.  We can't go fully self-sufficient as we aren't allowed to plant any trees, so I'd still have to buy fruit, but it's a start.


jo552006

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Re: Gardening
« Reply #6 on: December 19, 2014, 08:59:24 PM »
Yeah, I know it's a lot of info.  The short take-away is if you unless you are counting your time as money, you should be able to do it cheaper than the farmer's market if your area is anything like ours.  I'm pretty sure even with the upfront costs we were still in the black.  In our case, a large portion of the costs were not recurring, so it'll be even more profitable in the future.  We looked at the crop share a couple years ago, and we got WAY better value from gardening ourselves.

If you don't want to can, plan to freeze a lot, and you should still be able to eat everything you grow before it starts to lose freshness.

Now, I WILL tell you that if you can earn even $10/hour in the time you spend gardening, then it might not really be as much of a cost saver from a purely fiscal standpoint, but the knowledge and skills are good to know.  I'm working on assembling an excel sheet with our production for this year, I'll try to update once I'm done.

Also, I'm going to attach a a pic :-)  You will notice the tomatos are WAY too close together... She tried to use the square foot method, but indeterminate vs. determinate tomatoes makes a difference.

TerriM

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Re: Gardening
« Reply #7 on: December 19, 2014, 09:03:11 PM »
Sigh.  yeah.  My time is money as when I work, I am self-employed hourly paid.

jo552006

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Re: Gardening
« Reply #8 on: December 19, 2014, 09:43:25 PM »
So I just did some totals... We recorded (actually wrote down) over 150lbs of produce, with tomatoes being the single largest contributor!  Squash, cucumbers, and green beans being the other big contributors.  I'd also like to note that this is FAR from exhaustive.  This is ONLY what we actually wrote on our little not pads.  I DISTINCTLY remember some double digit days on tomatoes (over 10 lbs) but none of them were on our list.  Basically, when production got to be too large, we stopped counting as we were too busy picking and processing to bother weighing and logging!!!  I estimate that we did a bare minimum of 200lbs of produce, and I'd venture it closer to 300lbs when said and done.  Compared to A LOT of people, this is nothing, but for our first attempt at a "real garden" and one that we did 100% of the work ourselves, and on a 21' x 29' plot it's not too shabby.  We also made some mistakes we'd be careful of in the future that would make our yield a little better, but more importantly would make the garden easier to pick (40 tomato plants in 40 sqft is a little close...though you do get to do yoga when harvesting).

Side note, if you enjoy it as a hobby, it can be downright relaxing.  Probably the only reason my wife didn't kill me over the summer.

TerriM

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Re: Gardening
« Reply #9 on: December 19, 2014, 09:46:44 PM »
WOW!!!  That's fantastic!   So that would work out to about $400-$600 if I'm replacing organic veggies. 

I think it would save us some money too.  My husband likes to make a dish with kale, but every time I buy it, it goes bad because he doesn't get to it.  Would love it if he just pulled it from the ground when he was ready.

horsepoor

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Re: Gardening
« Reply #10 on: December 19, 2014, 10:05:23 PM »
There are some things that are really worth growing, based on expense/effort vs. how much it would cost to buy the same produce.

Fancy greens/lettuces - these are pretty easy, so I try to grow our salad greens for a few months out of the year.
Kale and collards - both are low maintenance plants that will grow from spring into winter.  You can just snap leaves off as you need them and the plant keeps going. Chard is pretty much the same way, but it's on my shit list right now because of a horrible leaf miner problem that left me chardless last year (it's also very ornamental since it comes in many colors).
Herbs - I like to grow a couple Italian parsley plants and use parsley in large quantities.  It's basically maintenance free all year.  Basil is really productive; I got several huge cuttings and made a metric ass-ton of pesto this year, whereas fresh basil in the store is stupid pricey.  Other herbs like thyme and Rosemary don't take up much space and are easy.  If you're more organized than me, you can keep these year to year because they're perennials.
Leeks - also very low maintenance.  They take forever to grow, but I grew some monster gorgeous leeks this year and it's a luxury to cook with big bunches of them that would cost an arm and a leg in the store.
Fancy potatoes - A small patch of potatoes is pretty easy to grow, and can produce a lot.  My Yukon golds were really productive this year.  The fingerlings less so, but they're a tasty treat, because when are you going to spend $5 at the farmer's market for a twee little basket of taters?
Eggplant - 1-2 plants of the right variety can be really productive, and probably produce $20 worth of eggplant in a couple square feet. 
Sweet potatoes - Google "growing sweet potato slips" and learn how to turn one grocery store sweet potato into many pounds of sweet potatoes, like magic.  These are also attractive plants that make a nice groundcover, so you might be able to get away with planting them somewhere other than the veggie garden.
Cherry tomato - One plant can keep an army topped up on lycopene.  Get some concrete remesh wire and make an industrial-strength tomato cage and let'r rip.
Pole beans - They take up almost no real estate and a good variety will produce a ton.  Try yard long beans for novelty.
Carrots - OK, carrots are dirt cheap, but homegrown carrots are way better, and you can grow quite a few in a small space, provided you have good soil.  Same deal with beets, though mine befell the same fate as my chard this year.  Grow golden or Chioggia beets if you don't appreciate stained fingers or panicked moments in the bathroom.

If you can let something ramble out of the garden into an adjacent area, consider growing one or two winter squash.  You'll get many, many squash, and they'll keep through the winter.  It's nice to have something homegrown in January.

AllieVaulter

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Re: Gardening
« Reply #11 on: December 19, 2014, 10:40:02 PM »
I don't have a big garden and I'm hardly a green thumb, but I think we saved money on the garden.  We have two 4'x4' beds and a 4'x8' beds.  I was specifically looking for  monetary savings, so I planted expensive things:  Tomatoes (rocked them!), bell peppers (not worth it in Portland), and squash (oh my, the squash!). 

The tomato plants were $2 per plant I think.  I'm a newbie, so I didn't even try and do starts.  We got at least 10 pounds of tomatoes per plant, so that was definitely worth it.  I only watered them once a week for an hour or so w/ soaker hoses, unless we got lots of rain that week.  I needed to can some of them because there were just so many.  We made spaghetti sauce, it was great.  To get more out of your plants, use a cage.  I tried to skip it and I probably lost half my crop to the ground.  I also didn't do any sucker-pruning cause I'm lazy. 

The bell peppers did awful in Portland weather.  I think we only got 3 ripe ones out of 4 plants.  Terrible.  But if you're in a better climate, I'd try it.  Bell peppers are pricey!

The squash were amazing.  I think I paid $3 for a packet of seeds.  We got like 30 squash from them.  It was crazy.  As a newbie, I decided not to thin the seedlings, but I should have.  The leaves got mildew from not enough airflow.  I'm not sure if that affected how much crop we got, but the squash seemed fine.  The vines take up a lot of space, so be prepared for them to go outside your designated garden area. 

Potatoes, onions, and garlic are all supposed to be easy, but I didn't even bother with them.  I figured those things are so cheap, they weren't worth the space in my small garden.  I did put a chive plant in my ornamental garden though.  The flowers are so pretty.  And it's great to run out and cut some chives for omelettes or something without having to think ahead and buy them. 

From my experience I would say it's worth it.  I didn't spend much time on it, after I'd gotten it all set up.  I made sure I put down mulch (grass clippings & leaves) to reduce weeding and soaker hoses to make watering easy.  I'd say go for it!  Good luck!

Dellen

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Re: Gardening
« Reply #12 on: December 20, 2014, 07:06:40 AM »
Great list, horsepoor.  I would have made exactly the same list but would add two more:  golden beets, which are bulletproof, tasty, cheap to grow, and don't stain your countertops, and Costata Romanesco zucchini, which are so much tastier than regular supermarket zucchini that they seem like a different vegetable to me.  It's a great idea to focus limited garden space on the items you'd pay most for in the store.  The savings on salad and cooking greens will blow you away the first time you grow your own.  If you're in a mild winter area you can grow them right through the winter.  I'm in Minnesota, and next year I'm thinking of trying Elliot Coleman's techniques for growing cold-hardy greens in cold frames and under plastic, which can be done even in severe winter areas like mine.

Exhale

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Re: Gardening
« Reply #13 on: December 20, 2014, 07:47:35 AM »
Ways I make it worthwhile to garden:
- Strategic plantings (see the lists by horsepoor and dellen)
- Pea Patch (Seattle has a community garden program which is great for folks like me who rent)
- Plant from seed
- Use the square-foot gardening approach (see book by Mel Bartholomew)

Good luck!



TerriM

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Re: Gardening
« Reply #14 on: December 20, 2014, 02:53:13 PM »
Thanks for all the advice guys!  We're in CA, so our growing season is quite long--possibly year round except it rains a lot some winters (like this one).  I think I will go ahead and try it.  Maybe I'll try chickens as well, as our neighbors sounded like they got a good return with their hens.  Something like $25 in feed every couple of months for 10-14 eggs per week in the summer.

horsepoor

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Re: Gardening
« Reply #15 on: December 20, 2014, 04:45:20 PM »
If you're in California - grow kale, broccoli, leeks, root veggies and lettuce over the winter, and then use the same space for tomatoes and peppers and whatnot in the summer.  When I lived in Bakersfield, the fog was an issue with keeping things actively growing over winter, but if you can get them a head start in late summer, they'll be big enough to harvest during winter.

With chickens, be aware that the yields do not STAY high after the first couple seasons of laying.  My chickens are two years old and I haven't seen an egg in over a month.  They should start laying again in the spring, but it won't be like their first year.  You either need to be willing to have a hen retirement home, or have the butchered and replaced if you want the egg output to offset the feed bill for long.

TerriM

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Re: Gardening
« Reply #16 on: December 20, 2014, 05:03:34 PM »
If you're in California - grow kale, broccoli, leeks, root veggies and lettuce over the winter, and then use the same space for tomatoes and peppers and whatnot in the summer.  When I lived in Bakersfield, the fog was an issue with keeping things actively growing over winter, but if you can get them a head start in late summer, they'll be big enough to harvest during winter.

With chickens, be aware that the yields do not STAY high after the first couple seasons of laying.  My chickens are two years old and I haven't seen an egg in over a month.  They should start laying again in the spring, but it won't be like their first year.  You either need to be willing to have a hen retirement home, or have the butchered and replaced if you want the egg output to offset the feed bill for long.

Thanks.....  I don't mind the butchering (or the reptile man who needs to be feeding his snakes), but I do suspect the kids will get attached.  Still trying to figure that part out....  Too bad there's a limit in our city on how many you can have.

[Oh man....  Apparently chickens can get to be 17 years old.  Wow!!!!]
« Last Edit: December 20, 2014, 05:06:38 PM by TerriM »

TerriM

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Re: Gardening
« Reply #17 on: December 20, 2014, 05:09:42 PM »
Well, I may still try the chickens as we can't have cats or dogs in our rental.....  One of my sons *loves* chickens.  Our neighbors have a set and he likes picking them up and cuddling with them.

Thegoblinchief

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Re: Gardening
« Reply #18 on: December 20, 2014, 06:30:31 PM »
If you go into it purely financially, you'll probably get discouraged, but tomatoes and squash (both summer and winter) are relatively easy and VERY productive.

Another Reader

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Re: Gardening
« Reply #19 on: December 20, 2014, 06:51:27 PM »
Check your water rates before you do this in the Bay Area.  In San Jose, vegetable watering increased the water bill by $25 to $35 a month over the April to October season.  I stopped after a couple of years because of that.  I had a 20 x 25 raised bed, as the soil is clay and rocks.  Some tomatoes, bush green beans and zucchini were great producers.  Peppers generally failed or would produce one or two small peppers per plant.  Peas were susceptible to some disease that turned the leaves brown just as production started.  Chard was prolific but full of leaf miners.  Leaf lettuces and spinach were good early, then they would turn bitter and bolt.  Corn was OK, it took up a lot of space and it had to be picked at the right moment.  Never was successful with eggplant or cucumbers.  Not warm enough for melons and not enough good soil for root vegetables.

TerriM

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Re: Gardening
« Reply #20 on: December 20, 2014, 11:38:17 PM »
Check your water rates before you do this in the Bay Area.  In San Jose, vegetable watering increased the water bill by $25 to $35 a month over the April to October season.  I stopped after a couple of years because of that.  I had a 20 x 25 raised bed, as the soil is clay and rocks.  Some tomatoes, bush green beans and zucchini were great producers.  Peppers generally failed or would produce one or two small peppers per plant.  Peas were susceptible to some disease that turned the leaves brown just as production started.  Chard was prolific but full of leaf miners.  Leaf lettuces and spinach were good early, then they would turn bitter and bolt.  Corn was OK, it took up a lot of space and it had to be picked at the right moment.  Never was successful with eggplant or cucumbers.  Not warm enough for melons and not enough good soil for root vegetables.

yeah.  I had that thought as well, though I could probably put a barrel out to catch our shower-warming-up-water, and water with that.  I've also thought of trying out dew catchers, but I don't know how much I'd get.


We had great luck with some cantaloupes.  We ended up with some seeds getting thrown out into the soil, and they just grew on their own.  Harvested a couple, a couple cracked.  Was really shocked that they did so well with such neglect.

We've already amended about half of the soil, so I'll give the root veggies a try, but I'm mostly interested in doing chard and kale and lettuce as they  seem to be expensive and I want to be able to just grab them when we want them.  Corn would be fun too.   Though it's pretty ugly and takes up a lot of space.  The other thing would be strawberries, but I have a feeling it's better just to buy those at the farmer's market as they're pretty cheap.

Also want to do rosemary, mint, and other herbs.  Tired of paying money for crops which grow like a weed out here, and tired of feeling guilty for nipping rosemary off other people's hedges :)

Another Reader

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Re: Gardening
« Reply #21 on: December 21, 2014, 06:24:49 AM »
You are not nipping, you are pruning...

The cheapest way to get rosemary plants is to prune enough to root.  The second cheapest is to buy a six pack in the spring when they restock the groundcover aisle at Home Depot or another big box with a garden center.  Pay $6.00 for one plant or $2.00 for six.  They grow fast and they are hard to kill.

Early Girl and the cherry type tomatoes did well in my microclimate.  The large ones would split or rot.  Tomatoes can be touchy about how they are watered.  The cherry tomatoes would seed and reappear, even though they were not supposed to.  The drought finally killed them off. 

Look around your neighborhood for bay laurel trees.  When I was a kid, the neighbor's tree had branches hanging over our yard.  We always had bay leaves....