Hey, buddy, can you spare some seeds for my recession garden?

April 30, 2009

By Jim Feehan

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Sylvain Bourneuf, of Hayes Nursery, said the store can’t keep seeds on the shelves. Business is up 17 percent compared to this time last year, he said.

“It’s because of the recession and people wanting to grow their own food,” said Bourneuf, a certified professional horticulturist at the nursery south of town on Issaquah-Hobart Road.

go-green-logo-20090400That’s part of a growing movement of Americans who are turning to their own resources to fight the economic recession, now in its second year. As paychecks and job opportunities shrink in tandem with rising grocery prices, more people are growing their own food in their backyards, in shared community-run gardens and even on their windowsills.

“We haven’t seen anything like this in the past,” Bourneuf said. “Because of the economic downturn, people are growing their own.”

Sales of fruit trees and berry plants are up, too, he said. 

W. Atlee Burpee & Co., the nation’s largest seed retailer, projects sales will jump by as much as 20 percent this year, which is leading to a boom in business at the local garden store.

The National Gardening Association, a nonprofit research group based in South Burlington, Vt., projects that 43 million of the nation’s 111 million households will grow at least some of their own fruits, vegetables, berries and herbs this year — a rise of more than 19 percent over last year. More than half — 54 percent — said they were looking to save on their food bills, the association said in its annual report on home and community gardening in the U.S. 


Considerable savings to be had

Vegetable gardens are suddenly in vogue after First Lady Michelle Obama dug up a patch on the south lawn of the White House last month to plant a vegetable garden, said Judith Lucotch, of Hayes Nursery. The garden is the first at the White House since Eleanor Roosevelt’s victory garden in World War II.

“Beside economizing, people are concerned about salmonella outbreaks and what chemicals are put in food,” Lucotch said. “Also, people are looking to slow down and downsize their lives.”

Matt Pommer, manager of Squak Mountain Greenhouse & Nursery, also said business is booming.

He attributes the uptick in sales to the recession and a desire to eat healthful, locally grown fruit and vegetables.

“We’re just seeing more people wanting to plant organic gardens,” he said.

And the savings can be considerable. A package of lettuce seeds will cost you $2 to grow all the lettuce you’ll need for the next five years. At the grocery store, a single head of lettuce on sale costs about $1.75 a head, Pommer said.

For those first-time gardeners, he offers the following advice:

Cool-season vegetables, such as radishes, lettuce, spinach, basil, cilantro, parsley and other greens can be planted now.

Warm weather vegetables, such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, zucchini and squash should be planted in mid-May, Pommer said.

“A good rule of thumb here in the Northwest is to plant warm weather vegetables around Mother’s Day,” he said.

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