How to Start a Garden During a Pandemic

It's April! For us that means our garden is a top priority. And, based on what I'm seeing in the headlines, this may be true for you too. The coronavirus pandemic has instigated a return to, or even a new found interest in, gardening for many folks, but maybe you aren't sure where to begin?

I can tell you what we do, with the caveat that it will probably be different for you, depending on how much space you have, where you live, what you actually want to grow, and things like that. First things first, look up your USDA Zone and what it means for growing conditions and timelines where you live. It will give you an idea of what you can grow and when you can grow it.

Here in Northern Nevada we have a few challenges to overcome, including a short growing season and alkaline soil with little organic material in it. We are dealing with this by extending our growing season in our greenhouse and using raised beds with imported soil in our garden. (Plus compost! It's a subject for another post perhaps, but I highly recommend starting your own compost if that's feasible for you.)

Inside our little greenhouse.

A harvest from last year's garden. 

If you want to plant in your native soil, try to find out a little bit about the soil in your area to determine if you need to add amendments, fertilizer or other considerations. Ideally you'd be able to take a soil sample and have it tested to tell you exactly what's in (and not in) your dirt -- but that may not be possible right now. If you have a local Cooperative Extension office, they are a great resource to reach out to for information about soils and what grows best on your area. 

Bottom line: just do your best and view your garden as an experiment. We do and we always learn something new.

We are currently growing veggies from seed in our greenhouse. Some we'll transplant into the garden later in the season and others will grow in beds in the greenhouse. 

Another option would be to grow plants from seed inside, next to a window. Eastern or southern facing windows will probably work best. Last year, before we built the greenhouse, I kept seedlings on a cart that I would roll outside in the morning and back inside at night. Get creative!

Usually you'll want to keep seedlings protected inside until it's warm enough and they are big enough to transplant. You might also want to refer back to recommendations based on your USDA zone for when is the best time to move seedlings outside. Generally, they should have three or four true leaves. But before you plant seedlings outside you'll want to "harden them off." That is, start exposing them to outside temperatures and conditions gradually for a week or so before you transplant them. I will set my seedlings somewhere protected outside for about an hour the first day and then add an hour each day until they're ready for the garden. 

Some seeds you can plant outside earlier than others. I didn't do this last year, but my experiment this year is to start peas outside from seed. 

Another experiment in our garden right now is garlic and onions, which we planted last fall. To be perfectly honest, I forgot they were there until recently, but they seem to be doing well despite a bit of chicken damage (We let the chickens have full reign of the garden in the winter -- they scratch around and poop in the beds, and I feel like that's all fairly beneficial.)

If you don't want to grow plants from seed, you can also buy starts at nurseries or hardware stores. In many places nurseries are considered essential businesses and are still open, though they may have restricted hours, ask that you call and place your order on the phone then use curbside pickup, limit the number of people inside and in their greenhouses, or other measures to keep their employees and our communities safe. Again, research your local growing conditions (or ask the nursery for advice when you call) for when you can start planting different veggies outdoors.

I hope you'll start a garden! Even if you don't have a lot (or any) outdoor space, you can probably still grow something. Starting an indoor herb garden, for instance!

We find our garden endlessly rewarding. Not only do we still have jars of pickles, tomato sauce, salsa, and frozen veggies from our garden last year, but in recent weeks we've found tending our little seedlings to be a very welcome escape from the onslaught of scary and sad news. It gets us outside, safely enjoying nature and sunshine, learning new things, and takes our minds off everything else.  


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