Grow Your Own

a bad economy sprouts new gardners
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a bad economy sprouts new gardners

The economy is down, which is translating to a new crop of home gardeners. According to The Seattle Times, seed sales are up 20-30 percent this spring, as more people turn to their own back yards for sustenance. Burpee, the U.S.'s largest seed company, is selling a $10 Money garden that it claims will produce $650 worth of vegetables. And according to the Associated Press (AP), there's been double-digit growth in the number of home gardeners. In fact, some mail order companies ran out of staple seeds like onions, tomatoes and peppers in the first months of 2009.

New "Recession Gardens" are a throwback to the victory gardens of WWII, though this time, the government is not asking Americans to grow their own. New gardeners are cultivating their green thumbs as a result of job losses, disappearing investments, and grocery bills that don't go away. In an AP article, the National Gardening Association estimates that a well-maintained vegetable garden saves a family $500 per year. A study by Burpee Seeds claims that $50 spent on gardening supplies can multiply into $1,250 worth of produce annually.

The estimates of how much you can save are all over the map. Partly, how much you grow depends on how much time you put in. Here are a few tips for success:

1. Create a manageable plot. If you've only got a little time and a little space, consider planting tomatoes and herbs in pots on your porch or in your livingroom.

2. Know which vegetables to start from seed, which to plant from seedlings. Buy tomato and pepper seedlings, but plant zucchini, lettuce, beets and carrots from seed.

3. Waste not: have potatoes or garlic that's growing in your fridge? Plant them. Cut potatoes so that there is one "eye" per chunk and plant--break up heads of garlic into cloves and stick them in the dirt as soon as it's warm enough to work them in. In fact--some crops like garlic and kale can be planted in the fall for the next season.

4. Test your soil: for about $10, you can get a kit at home depot or your local gardening store that will help you understand your soil. It's easy to fix soil that's out of balance, but you have to know the problem first.

For loads more tips, an encyclopedia of garden vegetables that tells you how to plant, care for and harvest popular vegetables, and a kitchen garden planning tool, visit Gardeners Supply on line.