“Gardening has never been more important for your health, your sanity, your finances or your soul,” say Mark and Karen Langan of Mulberry Creek Herb Farm in Huron. “There’s no coincidence you are stirred to sink your fingers in the soil. It is the essence and sustenance of humanity and the very bosom we seek in times of uncertainty.”
Maybe that snow the first week of May made you feel like thinking about gardening was futile. But take heart! Temperatures in the coming week are headed toward the 70s, and with two weeks it’ll be time to plant those tomatoes starters we warned you against putting in the ground back in April.
The pandemic has made first-time gardeners out of a lot of people. Some of it’s been driven by the scary stories about the possibility of a breakdown in the food distribution chain (an unlikely event, despite the threats you’ve heard from meat packing plant owners). Seed and mail-order plant companies have reported a run on their products, selling out of many, and long wait times for shipping.
Other people have gravitated toward gardening for a more practical reason: it gets you out of the house into the fresh air; it’s good exercise, both mental and physical, and the results are healthy and tasty. However, there are most likely a lot of unrealistic expectations among these first-time gardeners, starting with the idea that a novice gardener, probably with limited space and no-preplanning and research, is going to be able to grow ALL their food, or even a significant part of it.
Even small gardens require attention and planning. But, while it may have been a good idea to start laying the groundwork several months ago, now is actually the perfect time to be putting in your plants. And the good news is, garden centers are open and have been for a while. Utilize them; their employees generally know what works and what doesn’t work, and can help you avoid a lot of frustration. They can tell you that buying tomato and pepper seeds now is pointless — you needed to have started those indoors back in early March. But they are well stocked with starter plants: tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, cucumbers, zucchini, squash, beans, greens and more. Buy what you enjoy eating! And check with that garden center employee to make sure that plant is suited for your space and light conditions.
And keep your expectations realistic. You won’t be able to replace your entire grocery bill with what you grow at home. You’d need a fairly large plot in addition to expertise and planning that began late last year to get even close. But there are plenty of vegetables you can even grow in a pot on your porch. A first-time gardener can enjoy the benefits of adding a handful of homegrown cherry tomatoes to a salad or having a constant supply of flavorful (and hardy, easy-to-grow) herbs right outside their door.
If you don’t take on more than you can handle, you might find yourself eager to start earlier and try some new things next year. And maybe we’ll have a flock of new home gardeners that outlives the pandemic!