Hello, and welcome to the second installment of Life on the Brink!
Today we are exploring the phenomenon that is the Quarantine Garden. You can find the hashtags all over social media, revealing pictures of precise raised beds, containers on balconies, and small but satisfying harvests. This is something that we’ve all either experienced or witnessed this spring, and as a first-time gardener in the middle of such a garden-crazy season, I became intrigued. Naturally, in a time when most of us have been confined to their homes, sometimes without work, it makes sense that many have turned to creative hobbies about the home. Gardening not only fills that role, but can also yield a harvest, and while the prospect of growing edibles may be daunting to some (myself included), there’s never been a better time to try.
And as it turns out, this trend of turning to the garden in a time of panic is nothing new. It’s actually part of a much older war-time tradition that has simply resurfaced in a new way, so today I’d like to share some of my historical and personal findings in this year’s garden season. It might even empower you to start one of your own!
Let’s take a look at the historical context of this gardening-in-crisis phenomenon. We’ll start in the year 1917, when the United States joined the first World War. Workers of all trades, including agriculture, enlisted and were sent away to war, along with a large percent of the country’s food supply. Those left at home not only had the stresses of war on their minds, but also began to experience food shortages. In an effort to supplement the decreasing harvest, and perhaps morale, the U.S. government supplied pamphlets on gardening and encouraged every citizen to grow as much food for themselves as possible. Slogans like, “sow the seeds of victory,” accompanied such initiatives, making the at-home garden a necessary part of the war effort. These gardens became known as Victory Gardens, and were so successful that secondary pamphlets were then circulated on drying and canning any surplus of harvest. These gardens provided not only food for many families, but also gave them a sense of security. There was something small to hold onto in uncertain times. Sound familiar?
Let’s fast forward to World War II, when the forgotten Victory Garden was reinstated nationwide. Again, families faced hardships, both materially and emotionally, and when rationing began in 1942, there was more incentive than ever to grow food yourself. Even First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt planted the White House’s first garden, setting an example to the rest of the nation. Incredibly, by 1944, it’s estimated that there were 20 million victory gardens across the US, producing over 8 million tons of food! That’s over 40% of all produce consumed!
So with this bit of history in mind, let’s take a look at our current situation. Over the last couple years, we’ve experienced a wave of sustainability around the globe with an emphasis on quality over quantity, along with self-sufficiency. In addition, First Lady Michelle Obama successfully brought back the White House garden, initiating a new attitude, especially among youth and families, toward growing food. These things set the scene for a new kind of family garden. Once the Coronavirus pandemic swept in, it was the Experimental Farm Network that started the “cooperative gardens commission”, reminiscent of the Victory Gardens from a hundred years ago. They are encouraging everyone to grow as much as they can to support themselves and their community, and to make their knowledge and resources available to those who might not have them. Nate Kleinman, co-founder of EFN said, “The war-garden model was inspiring for a lot of people, because there were all these huge forces at work around the globe that were out of their control.” I think it’s beautiful that in a time that has been characterized by fear, this group called for a move of productivity, positivity, and generosity.
There has really never been a better time to get into the garden. Slow days are perfect for caring for a plant that needs time to grow on its own. Time spent outdoors with your hand in the earth has so many health benefits, and is, I think, one of the more methodical and calming activities you can engage in. I really like this quote from Grub Street Magazine by writer and illustrator Alex Testere:
“I think the thing I’ve always found with a plant is you can take care of it and watch it transform, and maybe it becomes something you can even eat — that’s just such a powerful force of positivity in a time when that’s hard to find.”
That has definitely been the case for me. Over the last three months, Josh and I have slowly transformed our small garden bed outside the new apartment. We found out raised beds weren’t allowed, so I went the terracotta route, planting all my edibles in pots. We have cucumber, tomatoes, spaghetti squash, strawberries, radishes, lavender, and several different herbs (the spinach and arugula turned out a little weird), and it has been SO fun! We also have marigolds, celosia, lilies, plus some sunflowers that I’m growing from seed. Josh assured me that even if everything died, it would be a worthwhile project, and I quite agree. Even if I have a stressful day, whenever I come to the garden to prune or water there’s such a calming satisfaction I get. I know this first garden is just a launching pad to a lifelong love.
Feeling inspired? Get out there and do it! I recommend starting with some herbs, they’re easy to care for and provide flavor to lots of different stuff. If you’re a little adventurous, check out some seedlings in your local garden center and read those little labels they put in the soil (they tell you when to plant and how long they’ll take til harvest). Once you’ve got your feet wet, try planting from a packet of seeds, it’s INCREDIBLE watching stuff you can eat come from those tiny little seeds. Whether you’re able to try a raised bed situation or just stick to a few containers on your balcony, all you need is a nice soil mix (I recommend this one) and a little patience.
Here's a few links to some articles if you're interested in learning more!
This Week’s Little Joy: A perfect brunch I had with Josh at our favorite place in Williamsburg. We sat outside at a table set up in the parking lot, I had croissant and quiche, and the weather was cool and humid. Spring is probably my favorite season, and I feel like I had to miss out on a lot of it this year. This brunch felt like the beginning of my life coming back.
What I’m Listening To: This is a self-explanatory playlist I made called “In the Garden”. It’s just a sweet little mix for playing in the dirt and waiting for things to grow.
Thanks so much for listening, let me know about any of your own garden projects in the comments! This summer is going to bring a beautiful harvest, and until then, friends, have a lovely week. Bye!