Social distancing. It’s a new phrase in the American vocabulary as the nation worked this spring to stop the spread of novel coronavirus (COVID-19). It’s also encouraged more time at home, where projects and activities such as gardening are keeping families busy and in one place.
Many people have big, sunny areas, including lawns, that can be made more productive with a few raised beds. Those allow families to raise some of their own produce while spending quality time together. Most gardeners remember helping an adult in the garden — not always voluntarily, though the love of gardening rubbed off anyway. Hunkering down at home reminds older folks of a time when many families made all their meals from the garden, passing down a good life skill to the next generation.
Thankfully, American farmers continue to provide a great variety of food, and Alabamians can easily access Sweet Grown Alabama products by visiting tinyurl.com/findlocalnow.
But if circumstances are causing an itch for homegrown produce, there’s still time to plant heat-tolerant veggies and herbs for summer. Not everyone can garden, but here’s some advice for people who have space — and the desire to get dirty.
If available, start with purchased transplants from the local co-op, nursery or home improvement store. Bonnie Plants also sells online and ships direct from BonniePlants.com.
The easiest summer items are green beans, okra and basil. Next is eggplant, which loves the heat, but watch for flea beetles. Squash, melon and cucumber are easy, too, though caterpillar problems could pop up as summer wears on. Homegrown tomatoes are a classic but are the most challenging. However, cherry tomatoes seem to produce in spite of heat or plant diseases, so if choosing just one tomato, make it a cherry type. All these may also be started from seed.
For first-time gardeners, the most important lesson is to get the soil right. Many times, flowerbeds already have improved soil that needs only some soil conditioner or bagged cow manure. Even homes in neighborhoods with homeowner associations that prohibit vegetable gardens can consider growing particularly attractive plants such as peppers, eggplant or basil in flower beds or containers, even in the front yard. A large container (half-barrel size) is best for big summer plants such as tomatoes or okra. Smaller plants such as pepper, basil or eggplant are OK in containers about 18 inches in diameter. Smaller pots are hard to keep cool and watered at the peak of summer. If planting in a flower bed, be sure not to use herbicides or pesticides not also labeled for edibles.
So dig out gardening gloves and trowels, get outside and prepare to enjoy the fruits of labor in the coming weeks.
Search for these resources from the Alabama Cooperative Extension System at aces.edu:
Raised Bed Gardening
Planting Guide For Home Gardening In Alabama
Alabama Extension Fruits and Vegetables