Plant a Corona Victory Garden
By Mary Pat MacKenzie
Over 100 years ago when our country was emerging from World War l and living through the Spanish Flu pandemic, food shortages were real and affected every age group and every level of American society. The Victory Gardens planted for wartime turned out to be one of the most important programs developed by the Department of Agriculture that helped feed the nation through the pandemic.
Once again we are faced with the need for supplies of healthy food close to home and, though we can’t keep cows in our backyard, we can grow salad supplies!
Sometimes physical limitations due to aging or landscape space require new solutions to keep us enjoying the incredible bounty of Mother Nature. Fortunately, there are some simple and creative ways we seniors can continue to plant, to harvest, and to “smell the roses” in our own backyards or on our decks. Even 5 or 6 flowerpots can provide the makings for delicious salads for 1-3 people for many weeks – now is time to dig in!
Some of us already have prepared vegetable gardens that are ready to go but many of us do not. If you are starting from scratch and don’t want to dig up parts of your yard there are some easy solutions. Lettuces, edible flowers like nasturtiums, herbs and even tomatoes can all be mixed into an existing flower bed as edging or background material. Depending on the acidic level of your soil – if you have a lot of azaleas or rhododendrons you have acid soil – you may need to provide a soil amendment for vegetable plants that thrive on more alkaline soil.
I have found that a much more effective way to eat from the garden is to plant in “vegetable trugs”. At 31” high and varying lengths these raised beds save older backs and knees from bending or kneeling to plant, weed, or harvest. They can be put anywhere - on a deck, in a yard or on a balcony. I tried “trug” gardening several years ago and it is not only easier, but you can plant and harvest earlier. Even with an early spring the only flowers blooming in our yard right now are daffodils, pansies and shrubs but we expect to be eating lettuces, green onions and fresh herbs by Memorial Day. We will have peas for the 4th of July – if the critters don’t get them first. As the first crop starts to mature (about 3 weeks) it will be time to plant more seeds. Salad ingredients can, for the most part, be planted early and continually until frost. Other vegetables like beans and squash need a little more warmth but you can start them inside or buy started plants at local nurseries.
Raised beds come in many easy to assemble styles and all can be adapted to the needs of gardeners in wheelchairs, on walkers or with back problems but large pots and hanging baskets can also be used to grow vegetables and herbs as well as flowers. Many pots are lightweight and easy to move on wheels. When filling pots squished up, empty plastic water bottles or packing peanuts make light, easy drainage in the bottom.
Tools are available that are more ergonomically suited to the hands and knees of older gardeners. There are stools with wheels that slide across a patio or path and folding benches that provide stability while weeding or planting. Hand tools, too, have evolved to meet the needs of arthritic hands and wrists. Wrist bands made for carpal tunnel (available at any pharmacy) are wonderful aids for gardeners with weak wrists, especially when pruning with hand clippers. Rakes and hoes are much easier to grip with the simple addition of foam pipe insulation covering the handle. Light weight clippers and loppers can also benefit from the insulation treatment.
We all know that gardening is good exercise for both the body and the soul – but it is worth remembering to take a few precautions. Use sunscreen as aging skin burns easily; keep water nearby and stay hydrated; set a timer (I keep one in my wheelbarrow) to remind you to take breaks and limit repetitive tasks; wear gloves and a hat; check for ticks; avoid working at the hottest time of the day; and, on cold, rainy days stay inside and read garden books or visit public gardens on line!
Gardening and reading are two activities that carry us from childhood to old age and a quarantine does not hinder our ability to enjoy both. This is an especially good year to garden – whether you are a seasoned pro or a novice. Victory gardens and books can provide us with food for our bodies and our minds as we navigate this new Corona world order. Perhaps the best advice for senior gardeners comes from the early English landscape architect William Kent: “Garden as though you will live forever.”
Additional information and advice is still available from the Barnstable County Master Gardeners of Cape Cod. The Helpline can be reached at 508-375-6700 or through email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Local sources for garden seeds and supplies include: Mahoney’s Garden Center in East Falmouth, open daily, curbside delivery, call to order 508-548-4842 or check the website at: email@example.com
Soares Garden Center, Sandwich Rd, East Falmouth, opens 9 a.m., May 4, curbside service, call to order: 508-548-5288 or visit: www.soaresflowergardennursery.com
Ocean State Job Lot, open for seniors 9 – 10, Tuesday and Thursday, and local hardware stores Eastman’s and Aubuchon have seeds and supplies.
Mary Pat MacKenzie is a volunteer and board member at Neighborhood Falmouth.
Silver Threads May 2020