Gardening by the Numbers

You probably already know vegetable gardening is on the rise in the U.S., powered by a shift toward non-GMO, organic and just plain, but delicious, vine ripened produce. If you shop for tomatoes, chives or parsley in your backyard instead of at the market, you're not alone. Here's the scoop on what people are growing and enjoying in their gardens. Although these figures were compiled from a number of sources, they typically cover data and projections from 2014.  Enjoy.

Gardening Statistics That May Surprise You

In 2014, nearly 114.6 million people in the U.S. undertook at least some gardening projects. That's up from the 2008 figure of 104.9 million reported by Statista, the Statistical Reporting Portal.

Care to guess whether the average gardener is male or female? If you guessed that the ladies outnumber the men, you're probably right. The National Gardening Association reported that the "average" edible plant gardener is a female who spends five hours a week maintaining a backyard vegetable (herb and fruit) plot.

The average gardener also spends about $70 on prep supplies annually. How much does that investment yield in tomatoes, peppers, blueberries and other produce? That would be about $600 dollars worth.

An average veggie garden size is 575 to 600 square feet or so.  To calculate the size of your own plot, the simple formula is: length x width = area.

Tomatoes are by far the most popular vegetable crop grown in backyard gardens with an 86 percent ranking. They're followed by cucumbers (47 percent) and bell or sweet peppers (46 percent). Other popular crops include: beans, carrots and summer squash.

Vertical gardening is becoming more popular around the country, too. Statistics aren't available, but products designed to help gardeners grow crops up (trellised) instead of out are on the rise. This isn't much of a surprise as a significant number of gardeners are working with a median (not average) space of only around 96 square feet.

One big surprise is that all regions of the country are involved in vegetable or food based gardening. Short season or long season, gardeners are still making the most of their landscapes. The South boasts the largest concentration of gardeners at 29 percent, with Midwest garden enthusiasts coming in at 23 percent.

Research conducted by Michigan State University suggests that updating your landscape can increase your home's value by up to 11 percent. Ancillary data is encouraging, too. It implies that landscaping expenditures (within reason) can yield a 100 percent return on investment (ROI).

A Mother Earth News article concludes that nearly three out of four Americans learn to garden from information on the backs of seed packets. Where did you educate yourself about gardening?

According to the GWAF 2014 October Gardening Trends Research Report, if you grow an edible garden, pest and disease control are your biggest concerns at 39 percent and 38 percent respectively.

About one in every four consumers polled in 2014 planned to grow an edible garden during 2015. It'll be interesting to discover how that falls out when the 2015 figures are in.

According to Mark Bittman, the New York Times food columnist, if one in 10 Americans converted their lawn space to edible garden space, the resulting harvests would supply one third of America's fresh produce needs.

Care to guess the fastest growing food gardening age demographic? According to the National Gardening Association, that would be 18 to 34 year olds (millennials).

Whatever you rage, grab a trowel and get to work! Happy gardening.

Courtesy of Flickr User: Ukgardenphotos


Bittman, Mark. "Lawns Into Gardens."   New York Times. 1/2013.

Elements "15 Gardening Facts and Statistics That Will Blow Your Mind!" 3/2014.

Garden Writers Association. "Garden Trend Survey." 2014. "Food Gardening in the U.S. at the Highest Levels in More Than a Decade According to New Report by the National Gardening Association." 4/2014.

Master of Horticulture. " Home Gardening Statistics." 3/2014.

Mercola. "Who Knew Vegetable Gardens Could Be So Revolutionary?" 4/2014.


Herbs for Forgetfulness -- And Why You May Not Need Them

Have you ever forgotten why you headed into the kitchen or made a beeline for the linen closet? Forgetfulness is usually an inconvenience, but it can also be a symptom of mental decline -- a terrifying prospect for most of us. Lots of herbs and herbal supplements are sold as memory boosters. Research is underway on some, while others may have anecdotal support for their memory enhancing benefits but little or no scientific support -- yet, anyway.

An untested herb can still have great potential, but a healthy dose of skepticism is just common sense, especially in the face of outrageous claims. You know, if something sounds too good to be true. . . .

You might be hearing some of these herb names for the first time, as they hale from across the globe:

I mention these memory enhancing herbs as a group because they represent a place to turn for options, and can be useful resources when researching memory related conditions like Alzheimer's disease. Not all are likely to yield results, but one way to defeat your enemy is to recognize your allies, so why not check out the buzz? WebMd is a good place to start (I've included some links), but don't stop there.

Your Memory May Be Better Than You Think

Happily, sometimes memory problems aren't a sign of big trouble.  For all of us who like to hold onto the good thought, here's a pretty neat example I found reassuring.  It's called the "doorway effect," or the brain's predisposition to deprioritize memory under certain circumstances. This is a real thing, and one you've probably experienced a thousand times:

You find yourself in front of the open refrigerator with your hand actually reaching out, only to discover you've forgotten what you were reaching for; were you lusting after those wholesome celery sticks or that deliciously chilled Snickers bar?

Doorway effect is a specific example of how the brain's short term memory functions. The idea is that walking through a doorway (like into the kitchen) triggers the brain to clear the decks for more important, newer tasks, shelving the older ones. It sees the doorway passage (a between event) as the end of one thing and the beginning of something new.

Think of it like the process of making a recipe: You place an ingredient you need on the kitchen countertop, and put it away after you use it. It's still in the kitchen, just not within easy reach. In responding to certain triggers, like walking through doorways, the brain puts countertop ingredients (thoughts, ideas, objectives) back in the cupboard, so you have a harder time remembering them.

Better example: You're watching television, see a commercial for car wax and decide to wash your vehicle. You walk out of the family room, down the hall and into the garage. Standing next to the nicely coiled garden hose, you suddenly realize you've forgotten what you were going to do -- wash the car. The act of going through the family room doorway triggered your brain to deprioritize the car washing idea. Your body is still physically headed to the garage, though. When you reach your destination and search your short term memory for information about your motivation, it's gone.

This may help explain why you keep forgetting where you put your glasses (thank God!). It's a glitch that happens to completely healthy -- if healthily befuddled -- brains. You can check out a Scientific American article on the subject here: Why Walking through a Doorway Makes You Forget 

Oh, and my advice is to go for the Snickers bar two times out of three.


Brenner, Charles B. and Jeffrey M. Zacks. "Why Walking through a Doorway Makes You Forget." Scientific American. 12/13/2011.

Foster, Steven. "Fresh Clips: Can Ginkgo Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease?"

Hill, Maria. "6 Brain Boosting Herbs To Improve Your Productivity."

Jatwa, Vivek, Praveen Khirwadkar, Kamlesh Dashora. "Indian Traditional Memory Enhancing Herbs and Their Medicinal Benefits." " Indian Journal of Research in Pharmacy and Biotechnology." 2014.

Tilson, Ariel. "Memory Boosters: These Herbs Won’t Let You Forget." 2009.

WebMd.  "Maca."

WebMD. "Ashwaghandha."

WebMD. "Brahmi."

WebMD. "Dragon's Blood."

WebMd. "Gotu kula."

WebMd. "Holy Basil."

WebMd. "Huperzine A ."

WebMD. "Rhodiola."


Flubs and Failures - or - 5 Herb Gardening Mistakes You Can Avoid

Herb gardening mistakes, at least a few, are inevitable. Pointing out how we fail rather than how we succeed has always seemed a little counter-productive to me. Better to just be enthusiastic about sound practices that lead to natural rewards like healthy plants and good harvests. If you don't have a decade to learn the ropes by experiencing what works and what doesn't first hand (which can actually be pretty fun and freeing), I have some insights into the most common gotchas in herb gardening.

I know quite a few because I've stepped in them myself -- more than once. What follows is my list of five herb gardening mistakes newbies and even seasoned gardeners make from time to time. If you've fallen victim to a couple, remember the old adage that you don't really know a plant until you've accidentally assassinated at least a couple of specimens. RIP to all those plants that have succumbed to the learning curve. May they become primo compost for a whole new generation.

5 Herb Gardening Mistakes You Can Avoid

False starts and stops

You probably know the Bible quote "To every thing there is a season. . . ." That goes for choosing the right time to install plants in your garden. If you've ever lost a crop to a late spring frost or been surprised by an early fall freeze, you know how depressing it can be to misjudge the weather. I've praised the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the past for providing a network of regional pundits ready to help gardeners become better guessers. For good regional information about weather and other gardening challenges visit the USDA's Cooperative Extension Locator, an interactive map that will lead you to a phone number for local gardening help and insights. You can also visit the First and Last Frost Date Calculator at The Old Farmer's Almanac. Just key in your zip code, and circle the resulting dates on your calendar.

Misplaced generosity

If you have houseplants, you've heard that the biggest killer of indoor plants is overwatering -- or generosity gone wrong. That happens in the garden, too. From over watering to over fertilizing to providing too much sun, sometimes "more" is not a good thing. The best way to know for sure what your plants need is to read up on the varieties you grow. You may think a plant is out to bushwhack you when it gives up and dies for no apparent reason, but plants actually work hard to survive. To give them the best shot at a long life, do your homework. I'd love for you to park on this blog to learn all about your herbs and other plants, but there are lots of wonderful sites on the web you can visit to up your game.

Down time in the garden is prime time for learning about next year's intended crop. Actually, many herbs can thrive without soil amendments or other special accommodations, so when a variety does need a little something extra, most sites are good about mentioning it and offering suggestions. For example: Lavender needs soil that drains well -- very well -- so no wet feet for this flowering beauty.

A little research can go a long way toward making you generous when and where it counts -- which will save your plants and your pocketbook.

Mistaken identity fails

Whether you're growing plants from seed or buying seedlings, mistaking an invited plant for a weed hurts on a number of levels. If you've started plants from seed, you may only get one shot. Destroy what you've nurtured, and you'll have to wait until next year to try again. If you're buying plants, even a few foolish losses can be pricy as well as embarrassing.

Accidentally ripping a plant out of the ground is a surprisingly easy mistake to make. It may be your first experience with a variety you're not all that familiar with. One inattentive weeding session, and that's all she wrote. Or you could have helpers with more enthusiasm than knowledge slaying plants faster than you can shout a warning. However it happens, these types of mistakes can be exasperating. (I mean, what kind of a gardener are you if you mistake your own plants for weeds.) I have to say herbs are particularly at risk, too. They're wonderfully useful, but some herbs are plain Janes that can be mistaken for wild plants. Heck, sometimes they are wild plants.

One way to avoid losses like this is to place markers next to your herbs, especially the new additions. Another is to mulch and weed regularly. This keeps uninvited plants from depleting your soil, and it also helps avoid those slash and burn sessions where you (or others) go on weeding autopilot, yanking everything in sight.

Real estate miscalculations

This is one of my greatest failings -- not leaving enough room for plants to grow to their full potential. The recommendations printed on seed packets and seedling spikes are apparently there for good reason. Eighteen inches isn’t 12 inches, no matter how you measure it. I know it can be almost physically painful to leave all that space between tiny plants, especially when you don't have a roomy garden to begin with. The seedlings of today are the mammoth monster plants of tomorrow, (hopefully, anyway) so work through the pain and give your sprouts the space they need. Plants suffering cramped conditions are often stunted. They produce fewer leaves, flowers and seeds. They are also more susceptible to disease and insect assault.

Taking a wait and see attitude

No one enjoys having sick and failing plants, but it happens. Drooping leaves and yellow spots aren't necessarily portents of disaster, but they are important clues that something's wrong. It's always better to catch problems earlier rather than later. Translated, this means you should keep an eye on your herb garden and respond quickly to signs of trouble. For example, treating with a fungicide early can save a crop. Also, if you get a jump on problems, you have time to research homemade, organic solutions rather than having to rely on chemical overkill approaches to common gardening problems.

It's almost never a good idea to just let nature take its course and destroy a plant. Nature is greedy and usually finds a way to make a mess of your carefully planned garden once a destructive element has been introduced. If you have a plant problem you can't identify, collect a leaf (or bug), place it in a plastic sandwich bag and take it to your local garden center. Those folks have seen it all and can probably offer some good advice. You can also contact your Cooperative Extension Office for suggestions. Take those suggestions and act quickly. Your plants will thank you.  Well, actually they won't, but curing the problem will help your garden and give you more confidence when dealing with the occasional setback in the future.

Photo: Flickr  User: Elliott Brown 
Walled Herb Garden at Houghton Hall