Gardens boom as popular pandemic pastime
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - For many people spending more time at home this spring due to the coronavirus, gardening is the perfect outdoor activity. You can enjoy being outside in nature while also saving money by growing your own fruits, vegetables and herbs.
“Right now is the perfect time to plant your garden,” fifth-generation farmer Sandra Reaves said.
Reaves owns Josie Gladys Gardens in Jefferson County and 20 acres in St. Clair County she calls her “mighty, tiny farm.”
“April is the time you can plant pretty much everything,” she said.
The first year Reaves planted two small raised garden beds, she yielded $600 worth of fresh produce. After that, she planted a larger garden that brings in about $2,000 to $3,000 of fresh food each year.
“This is a good time for everyone to think about growing a garden, for some of these young people especially, and even retirees if you need a hobby,” Reaves said.
For first-time gardeners, Reaves recommends planting things you know you’re going to eat.
You could buy some tomato, eggplant and pepper plants that are already growing in pots, then transplant them in your garden, but Reaves said it’s also not too late in the season to plant them as seeds.
“Go for small patio tomatoes, cherry tomatoes will produce like crazy over a long season. You can use those in soups and salads and recipes,” she said.
Before planting seeds directly into the dirt, make sure the ground is enough. She suggested using a meat thermometer and putting it about three inches into the dirt to see if it’s at least 60 to 65 degrees.
Reaves recommends growing lettuces or lettuce substitutes like Malabar spinach or New Zealand spinach.
Herbs will give you a high return for your investment, since they can be expensive in the grocery stores. She suggests growing perennial herbs such as oregano, cilantro and parsley.
“Potatoes are a good choice right now, they don’t take as much room as you think and are super easy to grow. Sweet potatoes too,” Reaves said.
Her tip for growing corn: put one corn seed and two peanut seeds in the hole, and the peanuts will feed the corn, giving it the nitrogen it needs.
“Okra is awesome in so many ways, it’s extremely healthy for you. When it comes up and gets two feet tall, cut the top out, just a few inches, that will make it branch and if you’re in a small space, then you’ll get more off those individual plants,” she suggests.
If you’re limited on space, you can plant green beans and tomatoes so that they grow vertically. You can find ideas for designing vertical gardens on YouTube, Reaves said.
Seeds are cheap, and Reaves said you can buy the cheapest packets and still get delicious fruits and veggies. She recommends looking for non-GMO or organic seeds.
You can also collect seeds from the food you’re already eating, like tomatoes, or use the ends of plants like green onions to plant back into the dirt to produce more, Reaves said.
Reaves said for first-time gardeners, it’s important to remember that each season, you usually have a “star” and a “flop” crop—some plants will do great, but another kind may not, and it often varies year to year.
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