PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- It's peak season for giant home giant home and garden centers such as Home Depot and Lowe's, but you're really doing it right if your best outdoor ideas don't come from a big box.
Goats, bees, chickens, manure fuel and homemade garden-care products have been rural staples, but have become urban and suburban fixtures in recent years as homeowners cut back and reassess household priorities. Suddenly, "renewable" and "sustainable" weren't just pinko leftist commie buzzwords, but key portions of the frugal homeowner's vocabulary.
Those homeowners and the grounds they occupy took a big hit after the housing crisis and ensuing economic collapse. According to the Census Bureau, home and garden retailers took in $86.3 billion from March through May 2006, but saw their take fall as low as $67.7 billion at the height of the recession in 2009. While the $77.5 billion worth of shovels, rakes, soil and saplings bought last spring aren't a complete recovery, they're at least a bit sunnier than the slump the industry experienced for the past five years or so.
Instead of riding mowers and power trimmers, however, the occasional goat has been pressed into yard maintenance duty as cheap, effective workers. A good goat not only turns your kitchen scraps into easily degraded compost, but will go after kudzu, blackberry vines, dandelions, thistle and other pesky weeds and invasive species that can otherwise ravage a yard or field. Google has used them to keep the grass down at its Mountain View, Calif., campus and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Reclamation, the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service and the city of Seattle have all used goats to manage their property and keep grass, weeds and other plants at bay.