Gardens are hot in cool economy

Unfazed by losing her vegetable crop to a freeze last year, Debbie McNeill is more than just gearing up.

The 49-year-old Haslet housewife is upping the stakes, putting down twice as many tomato, onion and jalapeno plants in a 15-by-15-foot raised garden at her mother's home "because it's fun and because of the economy."

McNeill is not alone.

From seed producers and greenhouse growers to retailers, all are reporting booming sales. All attribute it largely to family financial issues.

"This happens every time we have a downturn in the economy," said Rick Archie, the third-generation owner of Archie's Gardenland on the west side of Fort Worth, founded during in 1934. He estimates that vegetable plant sales have increased 20 to 25 percent so far this year.

At Russell Feed in Haltom City, manager Carl Cathey reports that his vegetable plant sales have soared 50 to 60 percent this year.

"Of course, a lot of it are replacements for people who got frosted out and came back for more," Cathey conceded. "But all in all, people seem just hungry to grow vegetables. Seeds are just now starting to move, but they're up about 20 percent in the last couple of weeks."

Seed companies recognized the market demand.

Park Seeds of South Carolina rushed out multiseed packets called Victory Garden, lifting the name from successful federal programs during World Wars I and II that boosted home garden production.

W. Atlee Burpee Co., the Pennsylvania-based pioneer in the mail-order seed business, which also supplies major chains, matched Park Seeds with Money Garden. The latter is also priced at $9.95 for a packet that will grow six vegetables.

If weather doesn't get in the way, Burpee estimates that the modest investment could yield an edible bounty that would have cost $650 at a supermarket.

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