By Pamela Hann - February 2021
As the reality of the pandemic set in early last spring, I began to panic. The governor had declared a state of emergency on March 12, 2020 and issued a “stay at home order” on March 30. At that point in time, our local Food Lion was already routinely running low on paper goods, cleaning supplies and fresh produce. Thoughts of food shortages and lack of resources bounced around in my brain. Since we had a good supply of toilet paper, I quickly became more concerned about finding a reliable source for fresh fruits and vegetables.
One day, as I was wandering aimlessly around our property, (I had to fill those endless quarantine hours somehow) I had an epiphany. I would plant a vegetable garden. Our side yard faces southeast making it the perfect area for planting.
When I mentioned my plans to a neighbor, he laughed and wished me good luck. Apparently, it was going to be a battle between my plants and the deer, squirrel, and chipmunk populations. To make a long story short, we solved that issue by building an 8 x 8 raised bed with an attached deer fence. Once we had the structure in place, it was time to think about planting.
As this was my first time as a vegetable gardener, I looked to the Virginia Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners for planting advice.
While I completed my classwork to become a master gardener in 2018, I was still an intern as I had not yet completed my garden intern work hours. For those that don’t know, Master Gardeners are a group of volunteers trained in the “science and art” of gardening.
The Virginia extension has a plethora of gardening information online and a helpline staffed by volunteers willing to answer any questions.
Armed with this information and advice I picked up on the internet, I set about ordering my seedlings as it was too late to plant from seed. I had less than an 8 x 8 planting area- yet, I managed to plant the following seedlings in this space while completely ignoring the planting directions:
3 green beans; 3 strawberries; 3 tomato varieties; 2 cucumber; arugula; snap peas; thai eggplant; 2 varieties of red pepper and 2 different types of basil.
There is a proverb that states “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing” (perhaps you can anticipate where my story leads…).
After a month of summer sunshine and watering from the lake, my plants were thriving. By mid-July, my cucumbers had escaped their cage and were crawling across the yard (note- the animals like to eat the plant but not the cucumber); the tomatoes were taking over the bed; one of the plants even grew to a staggering 8 feet tall x 4 feet wide! My garden was completely out of control. While we had a bountiful harvest, a lot of the produce went to waste and some of the plants died due to lack of growing space.
According to the Virginia Master Gardener Association (VGMA), the pandemic has caused an increase in the numbers of people who plan to grow their own food this year. Yet like me, many don’t know the proper steps to follow. In an effort to help make us all more successful home gardeners, the VGMA Education Committee is producing a series of virtual programs entitled “Grow Your Own Food…”. The first of the four sessions is on February 27. You can find more information and register for the programs here.
I have already signed up- now it’s time to start daydreaming about which plants I’ll grow this spring!