CLEMSON – Planting home gardens can help provide distractions from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), which has disrupted everyday lives and increased economic and mental stress for most of the country.
To help people ensure fresh, nutritious food for their families, ease the psychological turmoil of these difficult times and help kids stuck at home engage with the outdoors, Clemson Cooperative Extension Service experts suggest planting gardens much as Americans did during World War II.
“Spring is a time of renewal,” said Clemson Extension horticulture specialist Bob Polomski. “It’s a time when folks engage with the outdoors by planting edibles, ornamentals and pollinator-friendly flowers and shrubs. Vegetables can be planted in home gardens to eat fresh, as well as canned for future use.”
To help growers get started with their modern-day Victory Gardens, the Clemson Home and Garden Information Center (HGIC) has charts, fact sheets and other valuable information available at https://hgic.clemson.edu/.
Other tips Polomski offers to help people make their gardens grow include:
- Setting out transplants of eggplant, muskmelon, watermelon, peppers, summer squash, New Zealand spinach and zucchini after the last expected freeze when the nights are continuously above 50 degrees. Refer to the chart in “Planning a Garden” (HGIC #1256).
- Planting determinate bush-type tomatoes for canning or preserving so the fruit will ripen all at once, all within a week or two of each other. For vine-ripened tomatoes, plant indeterminate tomatoes that have an extended fruiting period; they vine, flower, and fruit all the way up to the first frost.
- Cutting back lavender and sage as new growth begins. In both cases, do not cut below the point of new buds.
Clemson Extension agents are sharing gardening knowledge via Facebook. For more information, go to @ClemsonExt on Facebook.
Gardening with youth
For parents who have suddenly found themselves in a home-school situation, Amy Dabbs, Clemson Extension school and community gardening coordinator, said this is a perfect time to use what’s in the garden to expand on what has been learned in classrooms.
“Children who garden with adults learn so much more than traditional subjects taught in classrooms,” Dabbs said. “Gardening teaches problem-solving skills, teamwork and cooperation as well as the reward of hard work.”
Dabbs said in times of uncertainty, it is important for youth and adults to see the beauty and wonder of nature.
“Reading seed catalogs and researching new plants to grow can suddenly become a lesson on geography, climate or social studies,” Dabbs said. “Using garden-fresh herbs and vegetables is a great way to engage children in cooking and nutrition. Discovering a new insect or watching a butterfly emerge from a chrysalis found in the garden sparks wonder and awe in adults as well as children. Nothing is more hopeful or therapeutic than planting a seed and watching it come up.”
Before engaging youth in gardening activities, Ashley Burns, assistant director of Clemson 4-H, said it is important to keep safety in mind.
“Research shows us that being outdoors is good for both physical and mental health,” Burns said. “But, keeping safe is paramount. Parents and other adults can use this time to explain how and why tools are used or why certain products are applied to the yard or garden.”
Younger children excel with small tasks and challenges. To help them understand and appreciate lessons learned from gardening and lawn work, Burns advises adults to keep it simple so that it is not too daunting or overwhelming. With proper oversight, older youth may even be able to help read a product label and make application decisions and calculations. Youths of all ages can plant, maintain and harvest their own garden of edible crops and pollinator-friendly plants with the Clemson 4-H Small Garden Project.
“Parents or guardians should keep in mind when working with kids outdoors is that it’s ok if they don’t have all the answers,” Burns said. “If a child finds a cool looking bug under a leaf, the adult shouldn’t feel like they need to know the name of it. Instead, talk about what observations you can make about the bug. What is its general shape, coloration, number of legs, other appendages and so on. Are there categories you can lump it into? Crawling, flying, jumping, or insect, arachnid? A sign of an inquisitive mind is being led to more questions than there are known answers.”
Burns encourages adults to use the Clemson HGIC website and field guides as resources for identifying common plant and animal species of South Carolina if identification is a strong interest. Another resource is the Clemson Extension School and Community Gardening program.
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