gardening

Libby Tarbert works in her garden on Wednesday in Wellsville.

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Cache Valley is seeing a spike in home gardening as the COVID-19 viral pandemic has some worried about feeding their families — and some just looking for something to do as they spend more time at home.

There’s a surge in gardening interest every time the economy takes a hit, according to Moose Mountcastle, owner of Garden Gateway in Hyde Park. People are especially interested in growing things they can eat.

“In 2008 when the economy dropped, we saw a huge increase in people interested in vegetable gardening,” Mountcastle said. “When 9/11 happened, we saw a huge increase with it as well.”

Anderson’s Seed & Garden has been swamped with customers, and filling orders while observing COVID-19 social distancing precautions has been a challenge.

The seed counter is usually a spot for people to congregate, socialize and share gardening information, owner Mark Anderson said.

Now only four or five people are allowed at a time in spaces marked off to keep people from getting too close to one another.

“So you just come in, you get a number, you can browse around the greenhouses, you can smell the flowers, you can play out in the trees,” Anderson said. “And then when your number gets called, you get to come up to the seed counter and you still get the same service that you would normally, but we’ve got some extra distance.”

In-store, Anderson’s has consistently seen long lines with up to 40-minute wait times. It may be calming down a bit now, but for about two weeks after mid-March when national, state and local health agencies ratcheted up precautions to slow the spread of COVID-19, the store saw the “longest lines we’ve ever seen here … in the history of Anderson’s,” Anderson said.

Anderson’s is asking people for patience as they order online and over the phone — there are so many customers in-store that orders have to be fulfilled before or after regular hours, and they’re working through the queue as fast as they can, but right now turnaround is in the realm of 24 to 48 hours.

“We’ve tried to implement curbside pickup, but we just can’t do it with the volume of people that are coming through and the sizes of the orders that are coming through,” Anderson said. “People will call and ask for so many products and so many seeds, and I’ll be there in half an hour to pick it up, and it’s like, well, you’re 142 out of 142. You know? … How about we call you tomorrow when we have it ready if you want to come pick it up? Otherwise we’ll ship it to you.”

Garden Gateway is seeing increaess in fulfillment time from its vendors, as well.

As they try to keep pace with increased interest, local gardening experts The Herald Journal spoke to are excited to encourage people to take up the hobby.

“We appreciate everyone wanting to be out in the garden,” Anderson said. “What a safe place. There’s no safer place that people can be right now than in their own garden, sticking their fingers and toes in the dirt. Especially here in Cache Valley. It really doesn’t get any better than that.”

Whether driven by excitement or anxiety, there are a few tips and several resources to help new gardeners have an easier time.

First off, there’s no rush.

“I’ve really had to settle people down,” Mountcastle said. “There’s been a lot of people that want to buy now, they want to get their stuff planted in the ground.”

The average last frost in Cache Valley is May 17, so there’s no advantage yet to planting crops like tomatoes, melons, cucumbers, peppers and other plants that can’t stand the cold.

“Relax,” Mountcastle said. “People need to relax. It’s time to be planting your cold crop stuff. So lettuce, spinach, broccoli, peas, that kind of stuff can be getting seeded and in the ground and coming along. But all your warm-season stuff, we’re just way too early to get that going.”

Another caution: Make sure you’ll be able to use what you plant.

“I would say plant only the crops that you’re willing to eat,” said JayDee Gunnell, the USU Extension expert on home gardening. “Every 10 years or so, something comes up in society and people tend to get worried and focus more on gardening than they usually do, and they end up planting either crops that they don’t eat usually or too much of something. So make sure that you can make use of what you plant.”

USU Extension has more than 70 free fact sheets on local crops for gardens that include guidelines for how many feet or how many plants you’d need to feed a certain number of people, among other valuable information.

Gunnell said since they’ve had to cancel their in-person classes, he’s been uploading as much as he can to extension.usu.edu/yardandgarden.

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