With everyone cooped up, more and more Vermonters are going back to the land, some for the first time.
We may be in the beginning — literally in Vermont, where snowflakes are falling as these words are being typed — of a gardening boom the likes of which may have not been seen since World War II, when tens of millions of “victory gardens” sprang up across the U.S.
Area farm and garden supply stores are reporting robust sales of seeds and soil, raised beds and chirping baby chicks.
“Gardening is through the roof,” said Sam Guy, owner of Guy’s Farm and Yard in Morrisville. “I’ve been here all my life, and I’ve never seen my seed racks this empty.”
It’s not just his racks. Wolcott-based High Mowing Seeds last month had to stop accepting orders from home gardeners for the rest of the month in order to make some production changes, adding shifts in its packaging and fulfillment departments.
Carol MacLeod, owner of Evergreen Gardens in Waterbury Center, said raising your own food is a great way to step outside and get some fresh air and exercise. She said parents and teachers have told her they’ve incorporated gardening into their lessons as students are all home all day, every day.
“It’s good to be active and it’s good to be outside and produce things for your family,” MacLeod said.
Both Guy and MacLeod said first-time gardeners ought to take a good, hard look outside before putting anything into the ground, or into raised beds, pots or whatever vessels they choose to use.
Start with soil
First, the dirt. Soil is the key to any success with your garden, and especially vegetable gardens, which eat through fertilizer as fast as you’ll eat through the produce you grow.
MacLeod said you can “absolutely make your soil better” by mixing compost and topsoil and some fertilizer, whether you’re churning up a patch right on the ground, or filling up a raised bed.
Guy said some gardeners will want to use manure as a fertilizer, but cautioned that if you get your cow manure directly from a farmer, you might be adding weed seeds to the mix.
“The better the soil, the better the plants,” he said.
Second, the weather. This has been a deceptive spring to be home 24-7, with hardly any snow since mid-March, yet with a lingering cold that simply hasn’t shaken loose for long.
“A lot of people don’t realize you can’t plant things this early,” Guy said.
Consider the workload
Another tip for beginning gardeners: consider starting small. Gardening is hard work, with constant “weeding and feeding,” as MacLeod puts it. And if you start off with too big of a project, it can get away from you.
Guy said if you take good care of one tomato plant, “you’ll be amazed at how much you can get out of it,” provided you are attentive to it. If you plant 10 tomato plants and can’t keep up, you’ll probably reap less fruit than with just the one.
He suggests a “salad garden,” which can probably be planted in the next week or so — warm days are finally on the forecast — and replanted in late June, and maybe once more in late August.
You’ll be eating fresh greens until fall.
MacLeod’s choice for that all-important victory in your victory garden: green beans.
“I tell this to a lot of parents,” she said. “You can put them in, and they come up so fast and then you can harvest them.”
Along with a rush on seeds and other gardening materials, this spring has been good for chick sales, according to Michelle Menard of Menard’s Agway in Morrisville.
Chickens are among the easiest livestock to raise — she said meat rabbits are also making a comeback.
Menard said there’s plenty one can do to prepare for the arrival of chickens, but the single most important one: Keep ’em warm.
“When we call you and let you know they are coming, turn the heat on,” she said. “When we know we’re getting a shipment, we have the bins ready, the heat lamps going, and the sawdust, and that’s what people at home should do, too.”