CHICAGO (Reuters) – Jaime Calder almost gave up gardening after moving from the fertile soils of Illinois to dusty Texas, but the coronavirus changed her mind.
Jaime Calder holds her daughter Lucy while her daughter Billie plants some pumpkin in her vegetable garden in Round Rock, Texas amid coronavirus disease (COVID-19) spread across the United States on April 7, 2020. REUTERS / Sergio Flores
The magazine’s editor and her family of five planted collard greens, chard, onions, blackberries, watermelons and peppers this year and expanded their yard while buckling up their seat belts at home during the pandemic.
People around the world are turning to gardening as a calming, family-friendly hobby that also alleviates food security concerns as lockdowns slow the harvest and distribution of some plants. Sales of fruit and vegetable seeds are increasing worldwide.
“It’s extra gardening,” Calder said. “There is no way that this would support a family of five. But we’re stepping it up so we can try to avoid the store a little more in the coming months. “
The Russians isolate in out-of-town houses with land, a traditional vegetable source in troubled times since the Soviet era, and rooftop farms are planned in Singapore, heavily dependent on food imports.
Vacation workers and people working from home are also looking for activities to spend their free time after major sporting events have been canceled and restaurants, bars and theaters have closed. Parents are also turning to gardening as an outdoor activity involving children stuck at home after school ends.
“Planting some potatoes can be quite a revelation to a child,” said Guy Barter, chief gardener at Britain’s Royal Horticultural Society, which saw a five-fold increase in requests for advice on its website during the lockdown. Gardeners with no yards even plant potatoes in garbage bags, he said.
Gardening could reduce retail demand for products, but trips to the grocery store are still required. Bert Hambleton, retail advisor for Hambleton Resources, said that overall demand for products in supermarkets will continue to grow as budding diners eat at home instead of eating out.
U.S. seed company W. Atlee Burpee & Co sold more seeds than ever in its 144-year history as the contagious respiratory virus spread in March, Chairman George Ball said.
When they can’t find seeds in stores, budding gardeners in the UK are seeking advice on how to extract it from tomatoes and pumpkins bought in supermarkets, Barter said.
In Russia, demand for seeds rose by 20 to 30% in March year-on-year, according to online retailer Ozon.
Demand for seeds usually increases during difficult economic times, said Tom Johns, owner of the Territorial Seed Company in Cottage Grove, Oregon. The company temporarily stopped taking phone orders due to increasing demand and hired some phone workers to physically fulfill online orders, he said.
“It doesn’t take long before people become very concerned about food supplies – either the cost of food or how to get food,” said Johns.
Johnnys Selected Seeds in Fairfield, Maine saw orders up 270% in the week of March 16 after US President Donald Trump declared a national coronavirus emergency.
Canadian company Stokes Seeds, which ships to the US and Canada, received 1,000 online orders over the weekend of March 21, four times more than normal, said President Wayne Gayle.
“We didn’t even have the staff to put them into the system, let alone meet them,” he said.
The company has temporarily suspended all online orders and, according to its website, is prioritizing orders from commercial vegetable growers “to help ensure our food security this summer”.
“I grow tomatoes, you grow carrots.”
With so many looking into gardening for the first time, attempts have also been made to pool resources and collective knowledge about how to make food at home.
Nathan Kleinman, co-director of the Philadelphia-based Experimental Farm Network, said more than 2,000 people signed up and participated in weekly calls to discuss gardening best practices as they begin planting seeds.
“The response has been overwhelming,” said Kleinman. “It struck a nerve in many people.”
Melanie Pittman, a teacher who lives on 5 acres near Crete, Illinois, said while everyone was stocking up on toilet paper, her partner went to the local hardware store to get seeds and gardening tools.
Pittman more than doubles their garden, planting corn, beans, tomatoes, potatoes, onions and growing mushrooms. She also works with other producers in her community to increase their confidence in local food.
“I try to reach out to other people who grow food in the area to avoid duplication.” I grow tomatoes, you grow carrots, “she said.
Gardening could be a rare positive trend emerging from the debilitating pandemic, said Diane Blazek, executive director of US industrial group National Garden Bureau.
“We’ll come out in the end and hopefully everyone will eat better and garden more and more independently,” she said.
Reporting by Christopher Walljasper and Tom Polansek; Additional reporting from Nigel Hunt in London and Polina Devitt in Moscow; Edited by Caroline Stauffer and Lisa Shumaker