It will help you to spend time outdoors, supplement your food supply, and teach kids about the life cycle of plants.
Stuck at home with nowhere to go, and feeling increasingly concerned about the security of one's food supply, there is no better time than now to start a backyard vegetable garden. It's a lower-risk endeavor than 'panic buying' chicks (Melissa advised against that last week) and can provide you with both fresh vegetables and a pleasant outdoor hobby throughout the coming months.
The Huffington Post reported that sales of seeds and seedlings have skyrocketed. One hardware store owner in North Carolina said, "People are buying plants and seeds a month ahead [of the regular planting season]. It’s thrown greenhouse growers and bulk seed suppliers into overdrive." Some online heirloom seed companies have had to pause orders because they're so busy filling the ones already made. Renee Shepherd of Renee's Garden Seeds in California told the Post, "We pack seeds based on our projected demand and no one predicted this. A lot of seed companies are running out of packets."Growing one's own food in a time of crisis is not uncommon. It happened during the two World Wars, when Americans were urged by their government to plant "victory gardens". By 1944, 20 million families had planted gardens and were growing 40 percent of the country's produce. (You can see a wonderful collection of old Library of Congress photos of victory gardens here.) A similar surge in gardening happened during the recession years of 2008 and 2009, with the number of households growing their own food increasing by 11 percent and most doing it for the first time.
The coronavirus crisis is a different situation, but similar in that people are suddenly encountering empty store shelves, restrictions on food, and convoluted shopping arrangements, not to mentioned reduced (or absent) paychecks. They're realizing that, while a backyard garden likely won't feed them exclusively, especially in its first year, it can make a household slightly less dependent on the outside world for nourishment – and that's a deeply satisfying feeling.
There's a mental aspect that is profoundly beneficial. With limitations placed on people's movements around towns and cities, a backyard garden provides a sense of purpose and a reason to be outside in the fresh air and sunshine. Adrian Higgins wrote in the Washington Post,
"Apart from attending to the practical aspect of spring gardening, you are also cultivating your mental health. Weeding can have a Zen quality about it, something to do with clearing the soil while emptying the mind."
When many cannot go to the gym or play team sports, gardening is a surprisingly effective form of exercise, burning anywhere from 200 to 400 calories during an hour of planting, weeding, or raking leaves. (See full infographic here.)
A backyard vegetable garden can also be an excellent distraction and science lesson for young children cooped up at home. Take this opportunity to teach them about sprouting seeds, the importance of daily watering and weeding, and how exciting it is to eat vegetables you've grown yourself. This is a great way to combat picky eating, too, because what child can resist sampling a radish or an onion he or she has known since it was a seed?
Now's the time to figure out a good place to start, and do start small if you're inexperienced. Vegetables need 6-8 hours of sunlight per day, so southern exposure and minimal shade is better. Do some research into your region's growing climate and figure out what crops can go into the ground already, or if you need to start seeds in egg cups or other small containers indoors. Check out this list of 20 of the most practical plants you can grow.
I'll leave you with a quote from Michael Pollan, author of 'The Omnivore's Dilemma': "The single greatest lesson the garden teaches is that our relationship to the planet need not be zero-sum, and that as long as the sun still shines and people still can plan and plant, think and do, we can, if we bother to try, find ways to provide for ourselves without diminishing the world." Go forth and garden, to the best of your ability, and you'll likely find it helps you to weather this storm.