April showers bring May vegetables




Wet April weather has stalled spring planting for many farmers in the Midwest, but home gardeners are already anticipating their harvests.

While sales of cut flowers and potted plants have wilted over the past year according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s floriculture crops data, consumers are investing more in practical gardening, namely cultivating vegetable plants at home.

Colette Hogan, who manages the Web site for Gethsemane Garden Center at 5739 N. Clark St. on Chicago’s North Side, said, “Year over year, the interest in seeds has more than doubled.” She noted that after the homepage, the “Herbs and Vegetables” section has had the highest traffic on the site for four straight weeks.

A thriving interest in home gardening manifested itself even before the spring thaw. David J. Ellis, director of communications for the American Horticultural Society’s “American Gardener” magazine, said although there were concerns that membership would drop after the financial crisis hit last fall, “We really haven’t seen that happen.”

But he added that the economic downturn has prompted the magazine to do a bit of retooling, shifting from a traditional focus on ornamental plants in order to accommodate more practical gardening needs and attract new members.

The magazine now includes a new column called “Homegrown Harvest” that provides tips on raising vegetables. With unemployment soaring, he pointed out, people are focusing on things they can do around the house and garden.

Calling the home-gardening trend a kind of bright spot amid the turmoil, Ellis said, “People have started realizing that vegetable gardening is fun…It’s about recapturing the spirit of self-determination.”

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