By Heather Kirk-Ballard, LSU AgCenter Horticulturist
During this unprecedented time of the coronavirus, an exceptional increase in the number of first-time gardeners can be seen across Louisiana as well as across the nation. Due to quarantine requirements, people have time on their hands. According to the 2018 National Garden Survey conducted by Garden Research, 12 million Americans surveyed said “I’m too busy to have much time for gardening.”
Now, however, gardening questions are coming in left and right to the LSU AgCenter Extension Service across the state. Personally, my phone call, emails and text volumes have doubled. The need for information and support has increased exponentially. And boy, does it feel good to be so needed.
Have you started gardening for the first time? Is this the first year you have planted a vegetable garden?
We’ve seen this in our past. During World War I and II, people all over the world began growing what were called “victory gardens.”
They were also called war gardens or food gardens for defense, and most folks were growing just we are today. That is, planting and cultivating vegetable, fruit and herb gardens at their homes as well as at public parks in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and many other countries to help feed the soldiers and people at home.
We are seeing this again. During this time of uncertainty, some people have started growing fruits and vegetables in anticipation of food scarcity for the first time while experts are ramping up their game. Buying up seeds and vegetable transplants and having plants delivered to their homes — online shopping is at an unprecedented high.
As it turns out, many of us have time on our hands. And as luck would have it, this is the best time of year to get those vegetable gardens going. Talking with retail garden stores and local co-ops, they say vegetable crops, edibles, seeds, garden soils, mulch, fertilizers, insecticides, herbicides and all support supplies are flying off the shelves.
Now is a great time to get those vegetable gardens growing. It is also a great time to plant fruit trees and shrubs. According to AgCenter vegetable specialist Kiki Fontenot, these are the vegetable plants you should be planting this month and what you should be doing:
• Plant snap bean and butter beans. Butter beans or lima beans require a little more heat to germinate and grow nicely, so April is a great month to get them growing.
• Radishes, collards, cucumbers, eggplants, cantaloupes, okra, Southern peas (field peas), peanuts, pumpkins, winter squash, summer squash, sweet corn, sweet potatoes (late April), tomatoes (transplants), peppers (transplants) and watermelons are also great to be planted this month.
• Like butter beans, okra really needs warm soil to germinate, so you may need to wait until the middle of the month or even later. Warm weather, like the type we are experiencing, is key for good okra germination. You can also soak okra seed for a few hours in water or scratch the surface with sandpaper to help with germination.
• Do not plant cool-season crops such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, greens, lettuce, kale, etc. They will not survive the hot weather to come.
• Keep your plants watered and fertilized, and they will be more productive and healthy. Healthy plants can withstand insect and disease pressures and will require less pesticides or chemicals.
We are blessed that it is the beginning of spring and that nurseries, large box stores and co-ops are still open for business to pick up supplies. Many are offering curbside service for additional security during this time.
We will learn many lessons from this event. Many folks will get their first swing at gardening, and that’s a good thing. Remember, you can reach out to the AgCenter extension service for support during this time. Stay safe and healthy.