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COVID Coping - in the garden

Hello, bonjour, and welcome to First Local, your public affairs show, and to this, the first episode of COVID Coping.

I’m Candice Vetter, reporting from my home office in North Russell.

Like many people all over the world, my survival instincts are kicking in right now.

One of those instincts is to grow, harvest and store food. Lucky for me, and most of our broadcast area, we live in a rural setting where we can grow food. Also, it’s spring, so the timing is just right to get us outside, doing something useful, saving money, and being physically distant.

The advantages of eating your own food include freshness, flavour, nutrition, choice, and the exercise you get when you’re gardening. An added advantage is that no one has to handle your vegetables except you. A good thing at the best of times, a great thing in a pandemic.

The other issue with food is that if too many people get sick and can’t work, the supply chains break down. Currently the U.S. has the most cases of COVID-19 in the world, and much of our food supply comes from or through the States.

So we can benefit from planting gardens, for many reasons. Not least of which is the emotion caused by satisfying a deep primal urge, that of providing food directly for yourself and your family. Not store-bought food, not food grown by a stranger far away and harvested by another stranger and shipped and packaged and stocked by more strangers. Nope, this is what farm to table really means!

Normally I grow vegetables for my own use, and I sell or give away produce if I have excess. I also grow cut flowers for local florists. But COVID-19 is really hurting the floriculture industries. Not just florists but also their suppliers. In the Netherlands this year 80 per cent of tulips and other blossoms were not shipped and were destroyed—a terrible blow to those farmers. While here at home the business of flower shops has really suffered.

So, I decided to replace some of my flower plantings with vegetable plantings. And my husband and I will be expanding our existing garden patches. On making that decision I said to him, “I feel like I’m planting a Victory Garden.”

And that’s something we can do, here and now, that’s good for our bodies, our emotions, and our spirits. Every time you take a bite of a delicious vegetable or a fruit that you grew, you can celebrate a tiny Victory.

If you haven’t gardened before, it’s not complicated or terribly expensive, it’s just effort. Even if all you have is a deck or a balcony you can produce herbs and salad greens in containers in a short time.

Pick a patch in your yard that gets plenty of sun. Dig up the soil by turning it over with a spade and then using the spade to cut up the roots of the grass or weeds. If you have a machine that will work the soil up more, great. If not, attack those lumps with the spade and a hoe.

Once the soil is broken up it’s important to keep the weeds from growing in it. In my many years of gardening I’ve noticed, that if there is a nice patch of dirt anywhere, it seems like every weed seed in the county finds it. So I let a bunch of these little weeds start, then, while they’re still tiny, I can hoe them up. That eliminates lots of future weeds, and weeds are much easier to kill when they’re little.

Pick your seeds carefully but don’t get carried away. The first time I lived somewhere that I could have my first big adult garden, I got so excited ordering seeds. Totally forgetting that all those plants would have to be watered and weeded. I ordered some of everything! Including things I didn’t really like to eat. I never grew Brussels sprouts again.

Start with the basics, like onions, potatoes, carrots, beans, tomatoes, and make them things you actually like. I add a few fun things each year, too. Like squash, pumpkins, watermelon, rainbow chard, peanuts, and sunflowers, besides the usual vegetables and herbs.

You can buy seeds from several seed companies online, or you can place an order with local nurseries by email or phone. They’ll put things together for you and have it ready at the door. If you don’t have tools, you will also need a spade, a hoe, a rake, gardening gloves and a small trowel. If you grow carrots you’ll want a carrot fork later.

You don’t have to start seeds indoors if you don’t want to. I seed directly into the ground, which makes for slightly later crops, but that’s way less work than starting seeds or transplanting bought seedlings.

Lettuce and herbs are great additions, partly because you can start eating them as microgreens within three or four weeks. They also do very well in containers. Make sure the containers have drainage holes, though.

I have big gardens so I space the rows a meter apart and lay landscape fabric between them. That reduces weeding and gives the plants lots of room to grow. In my smaller patches I space things more closely and work on the plot from the edges.

Another method is to add vegetables to flower beds. Vegetables are very pretty when flowering or fruiting. And being near flowers helps ensure their pollination.

So there are lots of ways to enjoy little victories. Historians have speculated that the “war gardens” of the First World War did more for home front morale than for food production. We could use a little morale building right now and after a long winter, the exercise too.

And regardless of economic value, additional local food production helped the health of the population on the “home front.”

An even larger model for public gardens was used extensively to help feed the needy during the Great Depression. And many of us have parents or grandparents that grew victory gardens during the Second World War. Kids enjoy gardening too. Once they figure out there’s a reward like a strawberry or peas in a pod they really get into it.

So, if you can, try this for food and therapy. And don’t worry too much. Some plants will do well and some won’t. Some things will like this year’s weather and some won’t. That’s why I grow a variety. There’s tons of gardening advice online too. For our district I’ve found the best time to plant seeds is mid-May and the best time to transplant plants is around May 24. So the timing is perfect to take up a healthy, helpful activity.

Now I’m off to the make my final seed choices. I’m Candice Vetter, in North Russell, for Local First on CJRO, 107.7 and 107.9 FM in Carlsbad Springs and Vars.

If you have an interesting take on the COVID Crisis we’d like to hear about it. Please send an email to

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