Pandemic vegetable gardening demands an early start

By Patrick Langston, All Things Home

If you want to grow vegetables during the pandemic, you’d better jump on them.

The 2020 vegetable seed rush left manufacturers and retailers struggling to keep up, and many budding gardeners were disappointed with the rapidly disappearing stocks on store shelves. In view of the dragging pandemic, 2021 is already another busy year with potential bottlenecks.

“Get your seeds now or as soon as you can because demand is skyrocketing,” says Canadian gardening guru and syndicated columnist Mark Cullen.

“We haven’t seen anything like it since the victory gardens of World War II … growers and retailers are struggling to keep up with demand.”

Mike Ritchie of Ottawa’s Ritchie Feed & Seed agrees.

“From what we’ve heard from suppliers, I think they are still catching up from last year, so there will certainly be bottlenecks on some things. As much as last year? Not sure.”

Ritchie’s already sells seeds online for roadside pickup. How long the roadside pick-up takes depends on the provincial lockdown regulations.

The surprise 2020

The pandemic took us all by surprise, and seed manufacturers were no different.

When there’s an economic downturn or something keeps us home, people turn to their gardens and home improvement, so the demand for seeds wasn’t a complete surprise, says Ritchie. The extent of this demand was surprising.

“I think our two main suppliers have stated that we have almost doubled what we would have sold in a normal year, and that means they run out of things relatively early.”

The hunger for seeds and saplings wasn’t just limited to Ottawa or Ontario. A survey by Dalhousie University’s Agri-Food Analytics Lab on gardening during COVID-19 found that 51 percent of Canadian respondents grow at least one fruit or vegetable. Of these people, 17.5 percent, or nearly one in five, started producing their own food for the first time during the pandemic.

66 percent of these new gardeners agree the pandemic influenced their decision to grow their own food.

Why grow your own food?

It’s work. Cultivating, planting, watering, and weeding require exertion, including much stooping and kneeling. And you need to take care of your garden, watch out for diseases, hungry insects, and sometimes lettuce-loving rabbits.

But all that stooping and kneeling and TLC is not only good practice and a chance to enjoy the fresh air, it is mental and emotional rejuvenation for the gardener, a daily reminder that we are part of nature, not the masters the nature.

“There is growing evidence that exposure to plants and green spaces, and especially gardening, is beneficial to mental and physical health,” said a 2018 article in the US National Library of Medicine.

Another scientific study published last year says researchers found that gardening at home has a similar effect on emotional well-being (or happiness) as cycling, walking, or dining out. The benefits were similar across racial lines and between urban and suburban residents. Interestingly, this was the only of 15 activities studied that reported the highest levels of emotional well-being for women and low-income people.

There are many other reasons why we grow our own food.

For example, the Dalhousie study found that over 50 percent of home gardeners were at least somewhat concerned about food shortages during the pandemic and over 85 percent were concerned about rising prices due to COVID-19. For non-gardeners, the percentages were roughly the same.

A slim majority of seasoned home gardeners also believe their products are safer than what they could buy in a store, while the vast majority of both veteran and new gardeners say their food is tastier than store-bought food.

If you are a beginner

The internet is full of advice for the inexperienced vegetable and fruit producer. Sites like the University of Vermont and The Garden Professors both offer helpful tips on gardening during a pandemic, while has valuable articles on the basics of gardening and container gardening.

When doing your research online, keep in mind that Ottawa’s climate, with its potential for late frosts and increasingly frequent summer droughts, differs from what you are reading about right now.

Cullen says soil is the foundation for your new food growing project. “A garden is based on rich organic content and good drainage. Examine your current soil and either add it in or, in the case of heavy clay, remove 25 cm deep and fill it with 35 cm triple mix (usually a mix of mother earth, peat moss and compost). “

Ritchie encourages beginners to take risks and not worry about the occasional flop.

“You will never get 100 percent results. Half the fun is to experiment a little. Try something like rainbow carrots.

“And don’t be too downcast when things don’t work out right. That’s just part of gardening. Maybe try again or try a different variety. “

Patrick Langston is a longtime journalist and co-founder of, Ottawa’s trusted resource for home buyers and homeowners.

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