How Passive Income Is Like Gardening

Fall is here: leaves are turning red, stores are stocked with Halloween candy, and it’s chilly enough to wear sweaters at night.

This means it’s harvest season, and my garden is in full swing. I have so much basil, tomato and mint that I can’t help but think about — passive gardening is like money and passive income is like the harvest

Yes, I just compared passive income to vegetables.

I know, you think I’m nuts. I’ve gone fruity! (Haha. Pun totally intended.) But hear me out:

The Hard Work Happens Upfront

Planting a garden is a pain-in-the-butt. Here’s what happens:

I sprout the seeds in a starter tray, which I mist twice a day. Then I hunt down 40 cheap planters and fill them with soil and compost.

When the seedlings are an inch high, I transplant them to containers. Feed them nutrients. Water them daily. Monitor for pests. Thin them as they grow.

Soon its clear I’ve bitten off more than I can chew – er, planted more than I can grow. I need more space. So I head across the street to the house that I own but rent out to tenants. I ask them if I can tear up a section of my own front yard and use it as a garden. (Side note: It feels surreal to ask permission to dig in my own yard. That’s landlord-ing for ya.)

Before I can dig, I need to chop down a tree. I have a small yard and the only place I can plant is completely shaded. So I spend a weekend sawing down the tree and hauling away the limbs. (Relax, earth lovers: it needed to be chopped down regardless; it posed a safety hazard. Trees in my neighborhood are famous for falling on houses.)

Then I have to till and aerate the soil. I listen to catcalls from the homeless guys who like to gather on the sidewalk in front of my house while I work. (I live in the city. This is normal.)

Next I head to the store and load my car with cow poop – er, “cow manure,” as polite society says. I dig trenches six inches deep, cover it with cow manure, and rake the soil back over it.

By this point, I resent these darn plants. This stupid project has taken at least 50 hours of my time.

Then I transfer each plant into the earth and cover it with mulch. The homeless guys watch and provide commentary. They’re like my personal sportscasters. Or paparazzi.

Now I need a fence. I buy some chicken wire, several stakes and zip ties. I find a shovel and a sledgehammer. It ain’t pretty, but it works. Then I check the price of tomato cages. Hmmm. $4 per cage, times 40 plants, equals – yikes. So I gather 40 sticks. Jab them into the ground. Tie the base of each plant to each stick.

I’m fed up with the plants now. I just wanted to grow some darn tomatoes. No one told me it would be this much work.

Passive Income Is Like the Fall Harvest

But then something magical happens. The hard work – the upfront work – is finished. There’s nothing left to do.
how a garden is like managing money

This lasts for months. My garden goes from being as demanding as a second job to being so passive I almost forget about it.

Now comes the harvest. I have hundreds of tomatoes. Hundreds and hundreds. Enough to feed the homeless guys. (They help themselves to it.)

You see, I do the tough work upfront – in the springtime, during the youth of the year. I maintain it throughout the summer, the adulthood of the year.

Now fall is here. It’s harvest time. And I have abundance.

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  1. says

    Congratulations on the garden. Careful, though, it’s a little like crack…next thing you know, you’ll be pawing through gardening and seed catalogues, dreaming of spring and new possibilities. 😉

    • says

      @101 Centavos — Next year I want to add bell peppers, cucumbers and romaine lettuce to my veggie mix … but more importantly, I want to plant tons and tons of flowers. I’m imagining a backyard overrun with flowers ….

  2. says

    Brilliant analogy and so true. It takes quite some time to earn the initial money to invest or build the blog or business. The initial building phase seems endless and hardly worth it, but eventually all that labor leads to a bountiful harvest of passive income.

    • says

      @cashflowmantra — I forget where I heard this, but someone once asked a millionaire: “What was the hardest part?” and the millionaire replied: “The first hundred thousand was a $%^&*#$%. After that it got easier.”

    • says

      @Ashley — The rare times I tried to grow veggies in Colorado, which is a semi-arid climate, I found that the ground was rock-hard from being frozen all winter, and the plants never really thrived, no matter how much I watered them, because (I guess?) of the lack of humidity. So I’m loving Georgia! … Still, desert plants are gorgeous. I love blooming cactus and I could spend hours marveling at the landscaping in Arizona; it’s spectacular.

  3. says

    Great analogy… I suppose, when the weather is perfect, etc., it works. But consider the fall frost… people getting close to their retirement, but then the markets go cold and they lose 20% and are forced to stay at work for a few more years. Passive investing has some perks, but it can also cause some major failures later in life. Interesting post!

    • says

      @Doctor Stock — I think everyone’s retirement portfolio, regardless of whether they were passively investing or actively investing, took a hit when the markets fell in 2008/09. I feel bad for all those people on the verge of retirement — or who had JUST retired — who endured that portfolio hit.

      But for some people who were well-established by retirement day, the market drop wasn’t quite so bad — after all, no one sells their entire portfolio on retirement day. If you retire at 65 and assume you’ll live to be 95, you’ll still have a span of 30 years to let your portfolio recover. If you’re selling off only 2 percent to 3 percent at a time, you won’t “realize” a lot of those losses.

  4. says

    I am a huge gardener too and I can atest to the benefits. I never thought about it being like passive investing but you are right. Once you get it to a certain level you can just sit back and enjoy the benefits.

    Nice garden btw. I have had a pretty successful harvest this year too.

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