Vegetable Seed Sales Shoot Skyward

Vegetable seed sales are way up, and in many parts of the country the ground is still frozen. George Ball, who runs Burpee Seeds, says he expects seed sales to increase 20 to 30 percent this year. Dale Groom, a horticulturist with the Dallas County Extension Office, shares some tips for first-time gardeners.

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JACKI LYDEN, host:

While farmers scrounge for water out West, cash-strapped consumers are heading out to their gardens. Just take a look at seed sales.

Mr. GEORGE BALL (Chief Operating Officer, Burpee Seeds): Vegetables are just absolutely booming.

LYDEN: George Ball deals with the stuff of life: seeds. He's chairman and CEO of Burpee. They make the seed packets you find in almost any store's home garden aisle.

Mr. BALL: My friends on Wall Street used to sort of kid me about being in the seed business like - as if it was buggy whips or player piano music or something.

LYDEN: And now, they don't. He says sales of vegetable seeds are up already this season, and with signs that the winter freeze might be thawing, George Ball is expecting an increase of 20 to 30 percent.

Mr. BALL: The green bean, the snap bean is really huge. The summer squash is really huge, and the tomato. Cucumbers are really unexpectedly great in demand for home gardeners. They're fun to grow, and people like to grow them.

LYDEN: So why the surge in seed sales? George Ball thinks high grocery bills are surely one factor. For some of you thinking about using that green thumb to save some green, let's dig into some news you can use now.

Dale Groom is a horticulturist with the Dallas County Extension Office in Texas. Thanks for joining us.

Mr. DALE GROOM (Horticulturist, Dallas County Extension Office, Texas): My pleasure, indeed.

LYDEN: Tell me, Dale Groom, would you recommend starting a vegetable garden to save money?

Mr. GROOM: Well, vegetable gardening is a very intensive gardening activity. You put in more time, energy, effort and some dollars in setting up and operating a home garden.

What I do find - I'm a father of three, and I've said more than once being a horticulturalist, you really don't need the $30,000 Suburban tied on to a $25,000 bass boat to have some activities that engage your children. You can do that in your own backyard.

LYDEN: Well, let's get a little down and dirty. Say I'm a novice gardener. How do I get started?

Mr. GROOM: Well, you need to decide, yourself, if you're a single person, or if you're a family, what it is that you guys like to eat. Then, if you come up with that list - oh, I like tomatoes. I like squash. I'd like to have some of this or that. Then, once you have that list, you want to know what is the best locally recommended varieties, and the extension service offices are the best sources for those. Know the planting dates, and then you need to make sure that your location is adequate.

LYDEN: What are a couple of other tips for people getting started? You must have heard a lot of horror stories in your 37 years of being a county extension agent.

Mr. GROOM: Yes, ma'am. Some of the things are, they overplant. They plant too much. Then they're hauling in bushel baskets of squash. Neighbors get to where they see you coming with a bushel basket, they lock the door. So overplanting can create quite a problem for you.

LYDEN: Do you find that the questions that you get are from people from all walks of life?

Mr. GOOM: Yes. Once upon a time, I opened up my mailbox, and there was an envelope in there with the Dallas Cowboys logo on it. And I'm going, what's the Dallas Cowboys writing me for? Well, maybe they need some tips on something.

I opened it up, and it was a personal letter to me from their defensive backfield coach, Ernie Stautner, at the time, and he was needing some help on his peaches and plums.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GROOM: So you have all sorts of things like that out there, and people of all areas, whether they be in politics to entertainment. I think that's very interesting.

LYDEN: Dale Groom is a horticulturalist with the Dallas County Extension Office. He spoke to us from KTBB in Tyler, Texas, where he hosts the program, "Great Gardening."

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