I remember reading an article in the Washington Post not long ago that said vegetable seed sales have increased by as much as 75 percent in the past few years.
While this doesn't surprise me, it pleases me a great deal to find that more and more people are discovering the things many of us already knew; our food tastes better when we grow it ourselves.
Last spring we saw a growth in community garden plots offered by cities and townships throughout Trumbull County. These gardens allowed individuals, free of charge, to claim a small patch of land where they could grow whatever they liked (legal plants only, of course), even if it turned out not to be edible.
Last summer, phone calls relayed to my desk and e-mails were received from frustrated gardeners who wondered why their tomatoes weren't ripening (cool summer temperatures with even cooler nights); how long it took for sunflowers to bloom (depends on the variety but the packet will tell); and when was the best time to plant peas (as early in spring as the ground can be worked).
A few new gardeners, without much space in a small city-sized lot, even went as far as to rototill their front lawns to make room for vegetables. Others found creative ways to incorporate attractive vegetable plants, including purple carrots, red and white radicchio and long slender chives, among their flower beds.
Herb gardening, a pursuit that seems to fall in and out of fashion more often than ripped jeans, became a real hobby as home cooks searched garden centers and Internet sites for the best culinary herbs available. Tri-color sage, the differences between Greek and Italian oregano and which of the hundreds of varieties of thyme is best for seasoning that new favorite dish, were only some of the dilemmas last summer that faced new and veteran home cooks turned home gardeners.
Even with all of the disappointments and failures, it was a great summer. Many people learned what they did wrong and how to make corrections. Some are planning bigger and better gardens this year, while others are simply trying to figure out how to change things up using what they already have.
I love to see people who have been bitten with the gardening bug. Just this week, as threats of wind and snow (nick-named "Snowacane" by those crazy writers at Accuweather, fast on the heels of last month's "snowmageddon"), I was stopped by a city-dweller who asked how he could improve his tomatoes for the upcoming season.
The thoughts of that first ripe, juicy tomato or a firm, deep green bell pepper are not far from anxious minds, even as we are dealing with thermostats, heavy clothes and high boots.
I was excited when a couple weeks ago, I read an entry by one of my favorite garden bloggers, that even as she dug through three feet of snow to get inside one of her farm's hoop houses, once there, they simply had to pull aside the floating row cover and there it was, the new growth of spring greens nearly ready to be harvested. The hoop houses are portable frames covered in plastic that can easily be moved by two people from one spot on the property to another. The portability allows the soil to be replenished between seasons.
The heat of the sun that is rising higher in the sky beating through the plastic, along with the extra cover from the row cover, enables the cool-weather spring crops to start their growth even as we have to dig ourselves out of the snow.
Just a few days after I read the blog entry, my husband came in from one of his daily back yard walkabouts with the dogs to tell me our own small greenhouse had heated up to the point the roof vent had started to open. When he picked up the shade cloth that was tossed over the raised bed inside the greenhouse late last fall, he found onions and spinach starting to wake up.
The temperatures are still freezing outside, but inside the unheated greenhouse, early vegetables are acting as though spring has already arrived.
With seed packets in hand, I know what I'm going to be doing this weekend.