Bob Mauk’s seed and potato sales at Northwest Seed and Pet are a month ahead, and he’s seeing a proliferation of beginners seeking advice for their gardens.
In the midst of a pandemic, some have decided it might not be a bad idea to start growing their own food. And while Mauk doesn’t think that’s necessary, it doesn’t hurt for people to get into gardening.
“It’s the homesteading mentality, but it also may be a good time to learn a new skill and take advantage of that,” Mauk said. “Try to get back to the earth and the quiet things in life. … Stay home and garden.”
Mauk pointed out this isn’t the first time there’s been a resurgence in home gardening in response to world events.
“Victory gardens” were popular during World War II as part of the effort to decrease pressure put on food supply.
In a 2008 Spokesman-Review article, Cheryl-Anne Millsap wrote about a conversation she had with a woman on the bus.
“She has always had a garden, she said. Ever since she was a little girl and her mother planted a victory garden during the war and canned fresh vegetables to see them through winter,” Millsap wrote.
Natalie Bancroft, co-owner of Mini Homestead Haven, made the victory garden comparison as well.
“During a hardship, bad times, people turn to the land and people turn to community and self-sustainability,” Bancroft said.
Bancroft mostly sells her crops and eggs to friends and family. She hasn’t sold plant starts in the past, but enough people requested the service that she decided to take it on.
“Some of it was before all this happened,” Bancroft said. “People are getting more and more interested in being self-sustainable, but I think that all of this has kind of put doubt in people’s minds about where they’re going to get their food if things go further south.”
Though it hasn’t happened to her, Bancroft heard about a troubling trend from others in the homesteading community.
“There have been some people locally and not locally that have had their eggs stolen out of their coop, chickens stolen out of their coop, whole flocks taken,” Bancroft said. “It makes us a little bit more on edge during this time because we shouldn’t have to put cameras on our coops and protect our flock, really, unless it’s invaders like coyotes or skunks.”
Bancroft has been encouraging people to get into gardening, even if they don’t feel like they possess a green thumb.
“I think consistency and timing are the two things that I would recommend,” Bancroft said. “Just making sure that they’re consistently watered but not watered too much, and timing on when to put your starts in because in the Pacific Northwest we have a very, very random spring.”
Mauk said while people are waiting for the last frost, they should prepare their soil.
“Dig up your spot where you’re going to do it,” Mauk said. “Incorporate some soil, some compost, some organic matter into it, and get it raised so that you can have a successful garden. Preparation is key.”
Mauk also suggested beginners start with easier crops. For row crops, he suggests beets, carrots and potatoes. He also suggested things like peppers and tomatoes, but those will be planted later because they are hot season crops.
COVID-19 has not been a buying boom for all, however.
Nicki Farrell, co-owner of Tall Grass Farms, a nursery, said this is going to be a difficult season. She makes the bulk of her money between mid-April and late May at farmers markets and other farm stands, though she opened the nursery early this year. Farrell mostly sells heirloom vegetables and other produce as a finished product, and she is scrambling to get her long list of merchandise online.
“The big thing for us that’s maybe a little frustrating and important that we’d like people to know is the box stores are being allowed to completely stay open,” Farrell said. “They sell basically all the same things we do. We’re all a little concerned that their sales are going to be booming, and we’re all going to be doomed.”
Her nursery is considered an essential business, and is open seven days a week, but this is not how she normally sells her products. That said, she did have a fair number of customers last week.
“The weather was spectacular,” Farrell said. “It snowed yesterday, traffic was a little light.”
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