You’re feeling cooped up at home. Your income has taken a hit. You can’t find everything you want at the grocery store. Your gym is closed, and you’re looking for other ways to get some exercise.
Gardening can be the one-stop answer to all of these pandemic-related concerns, according to a chorus of experts.
Hennepin County Master Gardeners recently called for a revival of the Victory Gardens — small private food gardens — that sprouted during World War II and before that the Great Depression.
“We’ve had these [Victory Gardens] for a long time,” said Hennepin County Master Gardener Steve Miles. “We’ve used them at times of social stress and disrupted food supplies.”
Right now, there are “spot shortages” in grocery stores, he noted. “It’s easy to imagine upstream problems getting fresh produce,” such as disrupted border trafffic for the seasonal migrant workers who typically help harvest the nation’s crops.
Early April is a good time to start seeds and seedlings indoors to plant outdoors later, according to “Victory Gardens for the Pandemic” on the Hennepin County Master Gardeners website, where there’s lots of how-to information for rookie gardeners. Veggies planted outdoors in early May will yield edible crops in mid-summer, when Covid-19 is expected to peak in Minnesota, according to Miles, who is also a retired physician.
In addition to supplying your household with fresh produce, gardening can relieve some of the stress of feeling stuck at home.
“We’re all getting cabin fever,” said Miles. “For myself, I’d be going crazy if I was not gardening.”
Miles is tending the seedlings he’s growing inside, and adding dirt to the beds in his Minneapolis backyard, in anticipation of the outdoor growing season.
Catherine McDonnell-Forney has been growing food at her Minneapolis home in a big way for several years and expects to ramp up her efforts this year.
“Since we’re home more of the time, more energy will go into growing more food,” she said.
A Master Gardener, McDonnell-Forney already has noticed increased interest in food gardening ahead of this growing season. Some of her go-to seed suppliers have already sold out of some varieties, she said.
“I’m encouraged that people are taking ownership of food production,” she said. “The silver lining is people realizing how fragile our food supply is. The Victory Garden model is appealing to people. When there’s a crisis, it gives them something to do that is helpful.”
Crisis gardening differs from long-term food gardening in several ways, according to Hennepin County Master Gardeners. It relies on fast-maturing annuals, rather than perennials that take years to produce. It also avoids high startup costs, landscaping or fences.
Miles advocates growing in containers.
“Instead of growing flowers, try vertical gardening,” he said.
Walls, stakes and containers all can work, as long as there’s some structure to support the plants. “It could be a tripod of sticks. You don’t need to buy a $20 cage at the garden store.”
You can even grow herbs and greens in a shoe holder with pockets, Miles said. Just cut a small hole at the bottom of each pocket, fill the pockets with dirt and plant.
“The tool investment is small,” he said. “A trowel.”
And the results are worth it.
“There’s nothing nicer than eating your own produce,” said Miles. Even if you’re eating canned spaghetti out of your pantry, “a fresh garden salad with that is fabulous!”
Gardening outdoors in sunshine and fresh air is good for mental health in trying times, he added.
“Victory Gardens can put fresh food on people’s tables and make people feel less isolated inside.”