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Corona Gardens are the New Victory Garden

Planting your way through the pandemic

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Back on March 19, my landscaping assistant and I were out working when we heard from friends that Humboldt was under a shelter-in-place order starting later that evening.

We decided to hit up one of the local nurseries to pick up some seeds for friends, as well as for our own gardens. As a landscaper, I frequent the local nurseries, so I figured it was a day like any other day. Hoo-boy, was I wrong. I had never seen that many people at Miller Farms before and the line was spaced 6 feet apart (they had already put some compliance measures into place), so we had a bit of a wait to make our purchases. It seemed we weren't the only ones who had heard things might be shutting down for a bit. Two weeks was what most folks thought back then. Turns out we were all wrong.

Now here we are nearly three months later and some things have changed, but the rush at local nurseries hasn't. Nursery staff and growers of nursery plants here in Humboldt have been talking about the spike in plant and seed sales, especially for edible plants. It's almost like we all decided to grow our own victory gardens.

For those of you unfamiliar with victory gardens, here's a little history. According to a recent New York Times piece on their revival, "The victory garden movement began during World War I and called on Americans to grow food in whatever spaces they could — rooftops, fire escapes, empty lots, backyards. It maintained that there was nothing more valuable than self-sufficiency, than working a little land, no matter how small, and harvesting your own eggplant and tomatoes."

Victory gardens saw a resurgence in the U.S. in the spring of 1942 in response to food rationing. Foods like sugar, butter, milk, cheese, eggs, coffee, meat and canned goods were rationed. I remember my uncle telling me about the rations when he was a farm boy in Minnesota.

An estimated 20 million Victory gardens were planted, which ended up producing nearly 40 percent of all fresh vegetables consumed by Americans.

Unfortunately, after the war ended, many people replaced the food producing gardens with lawns, which became the status symbol of the Post-war generation when it came to landscaping.

Since we all have had a bit more time on our hands, you might consider starting your own corona garden. As of this writing, local nurseries are seeing their stock of veggie starts build back up, as local nursey growers are responding to the demand. You don't have to have a large plot of land and, for those who are apartment dwellers, even some large pots will do for a mini-garden.

Soil is key to a healthy garden and you can either buy in bulk (Wes Green and Powell Landscape Materials are a couple local suppliers) if you or someone you know has a trailer or truck to haul materials, or you can buy bagged soil. Gardner and Bloome, Foxfarm and Royal Gold all make high quality soil mixes. Personally, I like G and B for my plantings — Harvest Supreme for veggie and fruit crops, and Planting Mix for ornamentals. For larger gardens, including clients', I prefer the bulk Wes Green Supreme mix, which includes goat poop from our county's very own Cypress Grove goats. Just make sure you start with a high quality soil and your plants will thank you for it.

Since it's getting to be later in the planting season, some plants that are easy to grow here, especially on the coast, and can be planted now include kale, lettuce, chard, carrots, beets, radishes, beans, peas and many types of berries. You can start the greens from seedlings purchased either at the nursery or our local farmers markets, or you can sow seeds directly into the soil. With carrot, beets and radishes, it's best to direct sow, because they don't transplant well. Follow the instructions on the seed packet to determine how close to space your seeds.

You can grow corn here on the coast but it has to be a variety with a short season. At this time of year, start with some six-packs at the local nurseries. Because corn is wind pollinated, you can plant it in blocks, rather than rows, unless you have a lot — and I mean a lot — of property to plant it. "Sugar buns" is a variety that does well for our short growing season. Peas can be planted in a low bed along a wall or fence so they have something to climb. Sugar snap peas are a favorite in our household.

And let's not forget the berries. Strawberries can be planted in smaller pots — just make sure they're well watered and have room to sprawl. You can plant raspberry starts in a half wine barrel. Tayberries (a cross between a red raspberry and blackberry) need more room but, if you have space, they're one of my favorite berries.

Make sure your new garden, whether large or small, gets enough water, especially if we have those windy, dry sunny days. The general rule is 1 inch of rain (water) per week for most veggies. Now let's get planting.

Julia Graham-Whitt is owner and operator of the landscaping business Two Green Thumbs. She prefers she/her pronouns.

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