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Dollars from Dirt: Economy Spurs Home Garden Boom

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  • Dollars from Dirt: Economy Spurs Home Garden Boom

    Dollars from dirt: Economy spurs home garden boom

    updated 2:41 p.m. CT, Sun., March. 15, 2009

    LONG BEACH, California - With the recession in full swing, many Americans are returning to their roots — literally — cultivating vegetables in their backyards to squeeze every penny out of their food budget.

    Industry surveys show double-digit growth in the number of home gardeners this year and mail-order companies report such a tremendous demand that some have run out of seeds for basic vegetables such as onions, tomatoes and peppers.

    "People's home grocery budget got absolutely shredded and now we've seen just this dramatic increase in the demand for our vegetable seeds. We're selling out," said George Ball, CEO of Burpee Seeds, the largest mail-order seed company in the U.S. "I've never seen anything like it."

    Gardening advocates, who have long struggled to get America grubby, have dubbed the newly planted tracts "recession gardens" and hope to shape the interest into a movement similar to the victory gardens of World War II.

    Those gardens, modeled after a White House patch planted by Eleanor Roosevelt in 1943, were intended to inspire self-sufficiency, and at their peak supplied 40 percent of the nation's fresh produce, said Roger Doiron, founding director of Kitchen Gardeners International.

    Doiron and several colleagues are petitioning President Obama to plant a similar garden at the White House as part of his call for a responsible, eco-friendly economic turnaround. Proponents have collected 75,000 signatures on an online petition.

    "It's really part of our history and it's part of the White House's history," Doiron said. "When I found out why it had been done over the course of history and I looked at where we are now, it makes sense again."

    But for many Americans, the appeal of backyard gardening isn't in its history — it's in the savings.

    The National Gardening Association estimates that a well-maintained vegetable garden yields a $500 average return per year. A study by Burpee Seeds claims that $50 spent on gardening supplies can multiply into $1,250 worth of produce annually.

    Doiron spent nine months weighing and recording each vegetable he pulled from his 1,600-square-foot (150-sq. meter) garden outside Portland, Maine. After counting the final winter leaves of Belgian endive, he found he had saved about $2,150 by growing produce for his family of five instead of buying it.

    Adriana Martinez, an accountant who reduced her grocery bill to $40 a week by gardening, said there's peace of mind in knowing where her food comes from. And she said the effort has fostered a sense of community through a neighborhood veggie co-op.

    "We're helping to feed each other and what better time than now?" Martinez said.

    A new report by the National Gardening Association predicts a 19 percent increase in home gardening in 2009, based on spring seed sales data and a telephone survey. One-fifth of respondents said they planned to start a food garden this year and more than half said they already were gardening to save on groceries.

    Community gardens nationwide are also seeing a surge of interest. The waiting list at the 312-plot Long Beach Community Garden has nearly quadrupled — and no one is leaving, said Lonnie Brundage, who runs the garden's membership list.

    "They're growing for themselves, but you figure if they can use our community garden year-round they can save $2,000 or $3,000 or $4,000 a year," she said. "It doesn't take a lot for it to add up."

    Seed companies say this renaissance has rescued their vegetable business after years of drooping sales. Orders for vegetable seeds have skyrocketed, while orders for ornamental flowers are flat or down, said Richard Chamberlin, president of Harris Seeds in Rochester, New York.

    Business there has increased 40 percent in the last year, with the most growth among vegetables such as peppers, tomatoes and kitchen herbs that can thrive in small urban plots or patio containers, he said. Harris Seeds recently had to reorder pepper and tomato seeds.

    "I think if things were fine, you wouldn't see people doing this. They're just too busy," Chamberlin said. "Gardening for most Americans was a dirty word because it meant work and nobody wanted more work — but that's changed."

  • #2
    We planted a garden for the first time this year...about a quarter acre in size. Corn, string beans, peas, potatoes, watermellons, cucumbers, peppers. I am going to have a problem with deer though, I can tell. I guess some early venison wouldn't hurt.


    • #3
      We haven't been able to put ours in yet due to rain and mud, more rain and more mud, oh and the occasional 13" of snow. :D Hopefully it will start to warm up again and dry out so we can get started.

      We don't have a problem with deer, but I do have a problem with my dog. I swear as soon as something turns ripe, he pulls it off the vine and eats it. He does the same with our pears and apples if they fall on the ground.

      My blackberries didn't make it, so I am going to try again with a different variety and see if that works, however I am wondering if perhaps the crawfish cut up the roots? We have underground springs that run on our property so we have an excess of crawfish in our yard.

      I'll just be glad when it warms up so I can get out there and work!


      • #4
        With the new billl that the house is trying to pass small farms will be outlawed. How is that for government control.


        • #5
          Originally posted by cbprice797 View Post
          With the new billl that the house is trying to pass small farms will be outlawed. How is that for government control.
          What's the number of it? I'd like to read that one so I can call my congressmen and my Reps


          • #6
            I am a member of many forums, and I also write a garden column. Most of the forums I'm on now ask me to post the column because so many members are taking up gardening. I've heard from many sources also that seeds and plants are selling hand over fist and they are looking at actually selling out of some varieties soon. Plant nurseries are reporting unprecidented sales already in vegetables and other edibles, and that their flower sales are down considerably.
            All in all, it's not only a great way to save money (if you are smart and careful), but it is also healthy exercise for the whole family and will make you a ton of friends with all those people who are now starting gardens for the first time!:)


            • #7
              my garden

              I built last fall a 22 ft raised bed. It is time to use now. I am in GA and can't wait to plant. I am trying to raise and freeze/can for all next year. Even a corn crop. I am on one acre of land. I already have my fruits, some herbs. My neighbors are helping too. It has been raining for a few days. Good time to plant on Wed. in Ga.


              • #8
                I'm not going to plant any flowers this year (except for marigolds for ant control.) Even in my hanging baskets on the porch and fence, I'll be doing something edible. That might be a good place for herbs.
                "Be Excellent to Each Other"


                • #9
                  "Edible Landscaping" is an actual book you can get. It's a principle that I believe in very much! One thing you could try is planting some nasturtiums in your hanging planters. The blossums are edible and add aa colorful and spicy touch to your homemade salads. Herbs are also good for planters, and a good place to put those annual herbs like basil. Try "purple ruffles" basil for a really cool look in a planter!
                  Chamomille makes a wonderful plant for planters too. It has a definite smell of apples all the time, it's pretty and prolific, and the blossums can be picked and made into a tea. Like roses? Instead of a fancy tea rose, make it an old fashioned rosa rugusa type and use the hips in a tea or jam.
                  I bend my rule of "edible" to include "practical", since I make lots of crafts, I plant what I can use in for drying and making wreaths and arrangements with, plants with lots of smell for potpourri and sachets. Multi purpose is the key!