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Recession Victory Garden

I remember the year I tried to grow tomatoes. I dug a new bed until my hands blistered. I mixed dried manure and peat into hard clay, planted seedlings and used soft cloth to tie the vines to stakes so as not to cut into the delicate stems. By the end of summer I harvested about three tomatoes, the most expensive vegetables I've ever eaten. This year maybe I'll give it one more try, in a far sunnier spot. (There's one lesson learned the hard way.) It seems to be what everyone else is doing.

A 1945 U.S. government poster. (U.S. Agriculture Department/War Food Administration).

Demand for vegetable seeds is up about 22 percent over last year, says George Ball, chairman and chief executive of the Burpee seed company. "That's astounding," Ball said in a phone interview. It follows a similar jump that happened last year, but he said they had thought that increase was only a blip in demand. Remember the Great Salsa Scare of 2008, when e-coli threatened America's favorite tomato/cilantro combo?

The National Gardening Association says about 19 percent more households plan to grow their own fruits, vegetables and herbs this year. And more than half the people they surveyed said they were doing it to save money on food. Indeed, it doesn't appear to be just a generalized outbreak of green thumb fever. Sales of flower seeds are flat to down, according to a number of retailers I spoke with.

Times surely are tough if people have quit growing flowers.

In the Washington area it's safe to plant seeds outdoors after about the third week of April, according to Walt Yates, a spokesman for Park Seed Co. But avid gardeners are already getting seeds started indoors. (Take a look at this calendar of other gardening tasks by month.)

Seed retailers are cultivating (groan) the Victory Garden trend, of course. Burpee is pushing its Money Garden which it says has enough seed to grow $650 worth of beans, lettuce, peppers, carrots, sugar snap peas and tomatoes, all on a tenth of an acre.

Before you get started, though, check out the cool Kitchen Garden Planner online tool from Gardener's Supply Co. Maybe if I had that I wouldn't have wasted all my effort on three piddly tomatoes.

Usually, when you're talking about how landscaping adds value to a home, you're talking about flowers, trees and other greenery chosen for looks -- in other words, curb appeal. Vegetable gardens traditionally are tucked out back. But perhaps in these times a healthy stand of home-grown spinach is a selling point?

Are you contemplating a food garden? Do you have tips to share with others who might be considering such an addition? Tell us about it.

By Elizabeth Razzi  |  March 12, 2009; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Outdoors , The economy  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Prices Down All Around
Next: Nosing Around Model Homes


We planted a garden almost four years ago now -- we bought a house that the seller said had "the best garden in town"; what she didn't mention was that (a) she hadn't actually had a garden there in 10 years (judging by the size of the tree sprouting in the middle), and (b) the weeds looooooove that good soil just as much as the food plants do (literally over my head). Still, we forged ahead; seemed like a shame to waste that good soil.

But I refuse to spend hot summer weekends sweating and getting stung and bitten for annoyances like zucchini -- waaaay too many bad childhood flashbacks there. I planted what I like: blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries. Some are hurting (blueberries), while others flourish but get eaten before I get any (strawberries). But the blackberries and raspberries more than make up for it.

I originally did it because I was tired of getting poor-quality berries at ridiculous pricess. But between the original cost of the plants, the varying staking methods we've tried, and the three garden hoses that our lawn guys have destroyed, I'm not really sure we're in the black yet. :-) But then again, there's nothing like that 2-3 week season when you're overflowing with berries and making pies and jams it seems like every night.

If I can figure it out, I hope this year to expand to a couple of fruit trees -- would love love LOVE to have some peaches to go with the berries. But we'll see; I'm a total black thumb, so the level of care required scares me.

Posted by: laura33 | March 12, 2009 8:27 AM | Report abuse

A time saver when planting your garden is to use potted vegetable plants. Plants that are already growing and ready to be transplanted directly into your garden. Garden Harvest Supply offers over 200 varieties of potted vegetable plants with many heirlooms available.

Posted by: organicjoe | March 12, 2009 4:30 PM | Report abuse

Potted Vegetable Plants,

Posted by: organicjoe | March 12, 2009 4:31 PM | Report abuse

The two biggest challenges for most gardeners is weeding and proper watering/fertilizing. The system taught at addresses both issues so that once in place, weeding is minimal and watering is automatic. Greater yields, less work, no chemicals. Happy Gardening!!

Posted by: henry10 | March 12, 2009 5:24 PM | Report abuse

With the current state of biotech and large-scale farming, the idea of a modern-day "victory garden" is naive at best and insulting at worst. People who are really struggling to put food on the table don't have time for this kind of bourgeois BS:

Posted by: StephanieInCA | March 16, 2009 4:18 PM | Report abuse

My neighbor's recipe for weeding/fertilizing: Get a load of leaf mulch from the city. Pitchfork in the leaf mulch. Cover with 3 layers of the Washington Post. Cover with leaf mulch. I'm going to try it this year.

Posted by: jimward21 | March 18, 2009 12:58 PM | Report abuse

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