Mary Preston plants beets in one row while Melanie Bennett and others prepare other rows for planting during a volunteer work bee the Shuswap Community Teaching Garden on Saturday, April 25, 2020. (Lachlan Labere-Salmon Arm Observer)

Interest in gardening grows in the Shuswap amid COVID-19 crisis

Local gardeners see more people growing food at home

Whether it’s due to concerns around food availability, or people just having more time on their hands, a growing number of Shuswap residents have taken an interest in gardening.

This is normally a busy time of year for gardeners as they make preparations for spring planting. However, some of the area’s more seasoned green thumbs suggest the recent bustle at local garden centres, and the selling out of particular seeds, may also be due to a surge of initiate agrarians keen to cultivate gardens of their own.

“What I’m hearing and what I’m seeing is a greater interest, especially in the younger set…,” said the Irwin Kujant of the Shuswap Gardening Club. “I’m very encouraged by that; that’s the way it should be.”

Barb Simard, an administrator for the Shuswap Gardening, and Crafts page on Facebook, said in the past week the page welcomed 76 new members.

“The way I’m thinking is people are trying to be more responsible and have a bit more of their own food available…,” said Simard, an avid gardener who lives in Blind Bay.

Simard suggested some people are using the additional time on their hands resulting from restrictions around COVID-19 to do projects around the home such as building garden beds. Food availability may also be a driving factor.

“At my house, I usually plant a lot more flowers, where this year I’m planting more food…,” said Simard. “If I have more herbs available in my yard I don’t need to go buy them.

“I’ve done more dills and different things that I don’t usually grow. I’m doing more and I think, from talking to a few of my friends, they’re doing more vegetables too. It’s more of the availability and then what’s going to happen with increasing pricing.”

Shuswap Food Action Society president and gardener Serena Caner has also noted an increased interest in home gardens as a food source.

“Oh yeah, in my neighbourhood, on my block, I’ve noticed three new houses have put in raised beds this year…,” said Caner. “My sister, who lives in Victoria and has never grown a thing in her entire life has put in garden beds at her house for her kids.”

For those just getting into gardening, there is a wealth of information to be found in the area, be it through the Shuswap Gardening, and Crafts page, or with the Shuswap Gardening Club. For those wanting a more hands-on learning experience, there’s also the Shuswap Community Teaching Garden at 5921 30th St. NE. This active community garden was created to address food security (some of the food grown there is donated to the Second Harvest food bank) and serve as an outdoor classroom. It is currently used by community groups and individuals, with volunteer work parties scheduled where people can receive guidance from experienced gardener. Volunteers are welcome. Anyone wanting more information can visit the Shuswap Community Teaching Garden or Shuswap Food Action Society Facebook pages.

In addition to being a way to grow your own food, Kujat noted gardening can also be therapeutic – good for one’s physical and mental health. For those looking to get started on growing a garden at home, be it flowers, vegetables or both, he offered the following recommendations:

• You will need gardening soil and some small tools. Visit a garden centers but keep it simple –no need for a full new gardening outfit;

• No garden space? With a spade, remove grass turf, maybe 3 feet by 4 feet. Dig out old soil to a depth of 15 cms/ 6 inches. Replace with new soil;

• Flowers? Try some pansies, with smiling faces! Maybe a miniature rose. A great variety of flowers are waiting at the garden centre;

• Vegetables? Pick a few basics like lettuce, radishes, tomatoes, onions, garlic or chives. Corn and cucumbers need more attention and space. Purchase plants ready to be transplanted, or buy packaged seeds and watch them sprout in planter or garden. (Directions are on back of package.);

• Transplant into moist soil. Water when planting. As plants grow, they may die from over watering or too dry conditions.

As frost is harmful to plants, Kujat advised planting after Mothers’ Day or covering plants if there is a risk of frost. The lower the elevation and closer to the lake, the lower the danger from a late frost, he said.

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