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    Feeding the food gardening trend

    Edibles will be on display this week at the mammoth 22nd annual Northwest Flower & Garden Show, opening today.
    A display at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show

    A display at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show Bill Thorness

    A display at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show

    A display at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show Bill Thorness

    The urge to grow plants, especially ones that feed us, can be charted back to ancient peoples recording their efforts on cave walls, and yet it’s annually new — visible in the delight of a child making daily visits to the garden to discover the first pea vines poking up through the cold soil. Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, to see increasing numbers of urban people turning back to growing edible gardens as a way to reconnect with their roots.

    “Each year, the vegetable gardening keeps getting stronger,” says Cyle Eldred, long-time show designer for the Northwest Flower & Garden Show, the second largest such show in the U.S. (behind one in Philadelphia). “I think it’s the future of gardening for the X and Y generations.”

    The 22-year-old show fills the Washington State Convention & Trade Center Wednesday through Sunday (Feb. 3-7). Purchased last year by O’Loughlin Trade Shows of Portland from founder Duane Kelly, the show reflects the regenerated interest in “edibles.” The trend will be fed in display gardens such as “A Family’s Little Farm in the City,” unusual exhibits including an old pickup converted entirely into a vegetable garden (vegetables in the engine compartment and bed, chickens in the cab), and in a host of seminars on various aspects of growing your own food.

    “Functionality” is one of the show’s themes. Beauty is the other, and elegant fantasy gardens, replete with massive stones and water features, will certainly draw crowds as in years past.

    But last year, Eldred says, industry contacts told him “vegetable seed sales were way up, up to 30 percent depending on who you’re talking to.” Nurseries told him “the vegetable starts just fly off the shelves when the season gets going.” In Seattle, new land is being sought for P-Patch community gardens, existing ones have long waiting lists, and similar demand spikes have been seen by organizations that offer food gardening classes.

    The maritime Northwest, with a climate conducive to year-round gardening, might be boosting that trend.

    “By every Gallup poll I see, the average size of the vegetable garden continues to decline,” observes Roger Swain, well-known author, former host of public television’s "The Victory Garden," and one of three judges for this year’s display gardens. But he also notes a “perfect storm of interest” caused by such things as the slow food movement, “food scares” over tainted produce that sickens people and the urge to reduce the carbon footprint.

    “I try to remind people that raising things to eat is why we started in horticulture,” Swain says. “One of the reasons it’s so satisfying is that it’s an ancient ritual.”

    One national study shows that more than one-third of gardeners grow food, and more new gardeners are trying it. The annual survey by the Garden Writers Association found that 38 percent of U.S. households (41.6 million) grew a vegetable garden in 2009, and 7 percent of those were new to growing edibles. Moreover, 37 percent of respondents said they planned to increase their edible-garden space in 2010.

    “We’re trying to make it so not only the new gardener but the casual gardener can come to the show and take something away from it,” says Terry O’Loughlin, show manager.

    “I’m a perfect example,” he says. “Last year we started a 10-by-20-foot vegetable garden ourselves,” and his kids, 5 and 8 years old, “went out and checked it every day.” This year, he says, “I want to learn how to grow pumpkins.”

    The inter-generational act of sowing and growing is another aspect that he wants the show to provide, he says. “We want the parents and the kids to come together.”

    Two changes to the show, which O’Loughlin notes has a “passionate” following, are to attract those kids with an interactive live butterfly exhibit, and to coax their parents into bringing them along by offering free entry for kids up to age 12, up from age 5 in previous years. Teens up to age 17 get in for $5.

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    Posted Wed, Feb 3, 8:55 a.m. Inappropriate

    I thought your young gardeners would enjoy an gardening adventure, growing the TickleMe Plant (Mimosa pudica). Recently featured by the National Gardening Association, http://www.kidsgardeningstore.com/14-1030.html
    If you want to give your young gardeners an experience they will never forget, consider having them grow a TickleMe Plant. This is the plant that will close its leaves and lower its branches when you tickle it. They sprout in days and can be grown indoors any time of year. Just Google TickleMe Plants or go to http://www.TickleMePlant.com for information seeds and growing kits. This plant has turned many kids into plant and nature lovers. I know, because I grow TickleMe Plants in my classroom.
    Happy Growing


    Posted Wed, Feb 3, 11:25 a.m. Inappropriate

    The trend towards homegrown inspires me; however, I urge skepticism in the face of false expectations, adolescent idealism, and commercial profiteering. The typical, urban lot is marginal in terms of food production, so a productive garden will be a reflection of a productive, experienced gardener, or somebody willing to pay one. In other words, don't expect reaping a summer's bounty for $25 dollars. Unlike the credit economy, a productive garden requires costs upfront.

    Learn to recognize quality. Generally, a stunted plant diminishes quality--though,not necessarily viability. Unfortunately, commercial enterprise profit by selling plants regardless of quality, and inexperienced gardeners can not recognize it. A root-bound plant is already stunted. Check the roots, ensure plants are thinned to one per pot; better yet, grow your own transplants for succession plantings. I highly recommend Steve Solomon's "Gardening West of The Cascades," or his more recent "Gardening for Hard Times." He has chapters that provide a frame-work to judge quality while purchasing seeds and plants; the reference section on plant habits is worth the cost alone.

    Finally, test for the potential of contaminated soils; likely areas include those near structures and roadways--or the typical urban lot--due to the use of lead paints and leaded gas. Please forgo raised beds constructed of wood: treated wood leaches into the soil; untreated wood rots. Don't be surprised by the type and amount of trash you'll dig up; unfortunately, it's common practice for commercial builders, and negligent occupants to bury a portion of their waste when convenient or profitable.

    Ultimately, if cheap is what one wants, then by all means ignore those who insist you will save money and go to your local supermarket. When it comes to cheapness, I hardly see how one can out-compete industrial agriculture.

    Posted Wed, Feb 3, 6:28 p.m. Inappropriate

    Most of the people really like gardening.I am sure they will really like this post because they will learn a lot by reading this article.

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