I hope everyone is healthy and staying safe. A normal spring brings a flury of happy activities such as working the bees, tending to my perennials, and planning an annual garden. This year is different. Gardening in a pandemic feels more like a job than a hobby. Before I write about the garden, let me give a bee update. Doug has been doing most of the work with the bees. He says working in the bees helps him feel normal when just about everything else in the world feels abnormal. Our two queenless hives are still queenless, but the other four hives are strong enough that we can keep stealing eggs and brood for the queenless hives. We aren’t seeing many drones, and that may be why our queenless hives are slow to make new queens. You have to have drones to mate with the queens. A stretch of cool, rainy days has kept the bees in their hives. Everything seems to be delayed from where we were this time last year. Spring weather in northern Kentucky is always unpredictable. This region is a challenge for successful beekeeping, but that makes things more interesting.
While Doug focuses on bees, I am focusing on the garden. I usually grow some vegetables, but my passion is growing flowers. Vegetables could always be obtained at the local farmers market, so why bother expending the effort to grow my own? I like having flowers for the bees and for cutting and sharing. Gladiolas are my favorite flower to grow. I dig up the bulbs every year and then replant in order to time the blooms to coincide with the county fair. One year I gave so many vases full of gladiolas to mom that dad woke up after a nap and thought he had died and been placed in the funeral home.
Flowers are going to make up a small portion of the garden this year. Why? Because you can’t eat gladiolas. I don’t even know if the local farmers market will be open this year. Vegetables are going to be the focus for my garden this year. Maybe quarantine will end soon, but maybe it won’t. Maybe the food supply chain will establish a new equilibrium to meet demand, but maybe it won’t. Maybe the world economy will pick up soon, but maybe it won’t. Gardening seems like a healthy way to channel some of the anxiety born from uncertainty. Thousands of other people must feel the same way. Most seed suppliers are sold out of their inventory. Seeds are not things that can be cranked off an assembly line. The seeds sold in 2020 are produced in 2019. Some state governments are forbidding people from buying seeds because garden supplies are viewed as non-essential. That complete disconnect between policy makers and agriculture is terrifying to me. Fortunately I live in the very pro-agriculture state of Kentucky. I also feel fortunate that I had my seeds long before I ever heard the term “covid-19.”
We decided to triple our garden space this year by starting a new garden plot. The new plot will be in addition to our existing plot. We rented a sod cutter to remove the grass. Some people just spray new plots with herbicide before plowing, but I don’t like starting my food plots with poison. Some people told us not to bother and just to plow under the grass, but I was afraid that grass and weeds would always be a struggle. In case you have never cut, rolled, and carried sod let me tell you that it is very strenuous physical labor. I need strenuos labor now because butter and cheese have been helping me through quarantine.
Gardening in a pandemic is stressful. I am concerned about making good use of the limited quantities of seeds that I have. How can I best stagger planting to ensure a continuous supply of produce? What vegetables can be pickled and canned? What vegetables can be frozen? How much winter squash do I need to get us through until spring? How many plants should I let flower in order to save seeds for next year? Just how many people am I going to have to feed with this garden? The whole thing can be overwhelming. If you think a good garden starts with a shovel and hoe, you are wrong. A good garden starts with a spreadsheet.
This week I started harvesting radishes, my first mature cool crop vegetable. Radishes are supposed to be so easy to grow that children can grow them. In year’s past I have not had good luck with radishes. I watched a YouTube video from MIGardener (great gardening channel) and realized that in past years I had planted them too close together and didn’t thin them soon enough. This year I ignored the directions on the seed pack and followed MIGardener’s instructions. I am happy to report I had a bumper crop of radishes with the perfect ratio of green leaves to red bulb. The greens are perfect in salads and on sandwiches. I will pickle the bulbs. Nothing goes to waste. Times are hard people, and we have to be willing to eat dandelions and radish greens!
Some reporters are referring to the 2020 gardens as “victory gardens” like those planted in Word War II. I don’t view these gardens the same way. We aren’t planting gardens to have more food to send to troops oversees fighting facism. We are planting gardens because we are concerned that the capitalistic supply chains we rely on will not be able to supply enough food for our families. That is a significant difference. Even with all of this uncertainty, I still think gardening is an action that expresses hope. A pessimist doesn’t plant seeds. Among all the vegetables in my garden this year, you will still find a row of gladiolas.