GARDENING IN IOWA

Start planning for and planting Victory Garden in the time of the coronavirus

Young seedlings in jiffy pots. (Stock-Rocket/Fotolia)
Young seedlings in jiffy pots. (Stock-Rocket/Fotolia)

With panic buying at grocery stores and news articles of Florida farmers plowing under crops like green beans, it’s easy to become uneasy about having a variety of food to eat over the next several months.

So now is the perfect time to consider planting your own COVID-19 version of a victory garden. It’s wonderful therapy, involves the kids, saves you money and gets you a little exercise. Just keep it realistic and have a plan for what you’ll do with all that produce come September. (Keep in mind that many food pantries will accept good-quality fresh produce.)

Of course, it’s extremely unlikely there will not be enough food in Iowa. If a population had to, it could do without the pleasure of fresh produce and rely on canned, dried and frozen for a very long time. But in a crisis where more of us are at home than ever before and being outside is one of the few pleasures we can safely indulge in, it makes sense more than ever to plant a variety of edibles at home.

Some key things to consider:

• Garden centers are likely to stay open. While no one can see what the future for business shutdowns in Iowa might be, most garden centers, landscaping businesses, and farm supply stores are classified as agricultural and therefore likely to stay open.

• Shop smart and safe. Make as few trips as possible and use recommended sanitation procedures when out. Shop online as much as you can, including researching purchases at your local store to minimize the time you need to be in the store. Call ahead with questions or to check on curbside delivery. Some garden centers have even started doing delivery right now, for a fee.

• Protect your crop. Rabbit populations have been high in some areas and can wipe out many of our favorite vegetables. Research shows that various potions and tricks, like spraying commercial preparations or putting human hair out among the vegetables, doesn’t work. The one surefire technique is to fence out the varmints. You’ll need to use something with openings no larger than chicken wire, at least 2 to 3 feet high, and to bury it about 2 inches into the soil to prevent burrowing.

• Follow the sunlight. Edibles need at least six to eight hours of direct, unfiltered sunlight each day. So get creative. Dig up some turf in the front yard. Experiment with containers or raised beds in a sunny spot. You can even grow veggies in a raised bed on concrete as long as you make it at least a couple of feet deep.

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• Plant different plants at different times. Some vegetables can be planted now and will thrive in cooler weather. Others should be planted after our region’s last average frost day, which is about May 10 in the Cedar Rapids area. However, we’ve been having an exceptionally warm spring, so you can probably — key word, probably — plant a week or two earlier as long as you’re prepared to cover the plants if temperatures are doing to dip at night below 32 degrees.

Still others should not be planted until late May because they need warm soil to thrive and will become weak and diseased if you plant them outside earlier.

• Mulch. Do yourself and your plants a favor and apply a layer of mulch. You can use newspaper, grass clippings, straw, landscape fabric, or wood chip mulch (never freshly shredded, though — it will rob the soil of critical nitrogen) or just about anything else. Mulch keeps plants healthier by keeping soil moist, suppressing weeds and preventing soil from splashing on plants and spreading disease.

With luck, and a lot of social distancing, by the time we’re harvesting tomatoes the world will once again look like something resembling normal. That’s one of the many beauties of planting a garden: It’s an act of hope and faith that lays a foundation for a better future.

Veronica Lorson Fowler is co-publisher of The Iowa Gardener at www.theiowagardener.com

What to Plant and When

Plant now

• 1 seed packet spinach*

• 1 seed packet leaf lettuce*

• 1 seed packet carrots*

• 1 seed packet radishes

• Onion sets

• Potato sets

• Herbs such as chives, parsley,* cilantro, thyme, tarragon, mint and oregano

Plant after May 1

(Cover if frost threatens.)

• 1 early-bearing tomato, such as Early Girl

• 1 cherry tomato plant

• 3 to 6 Roma or other paste-type tomatoes for sauce

• 1 long-season slicing tomato, such as Brandywine

• Hot peppers, such as jalapenos or habanero

• 3 sweet bell peppers*

• 3 eggplants

• Basil

Plant after May 15

• 1 to 2 cucumber plants

• 1 to 2 squash plants, such as butternut, summer squash, zucchini, etc.

• 1 melon plant

• Green beans from seed*

*Rabbit favorite

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.