In times of social isolation, springtime gardening is the way to go

In times of social isolation, springtime gardening is the way to go

Students at home have found that being close to nature can provide healing energy in times of social isolation. Gardening has given some an opportunity to interact with others in their homes and has served as a way to enjoy time in peaceful solitude. The fresh produce to come is a rewarding experience to look forward to. 

Students who cultivated on-campus gardens are continuing to grow plants at home, such as thesis student Hannah Sine.

 “I mostly just had a small little garden that I liked aesthetically on my balcony,” Sine said. “Just collecting houseplants and things was what I did at New College, but now I’m actually gardening for produce.”

Sine has a diverse garden seeded with a variety of herbs, including dill, mint, oregano, thyme, basil and rosemary. She is also growing a melange of vegetables. 

“I have one zuchini and one squash plant and I have four or five different kinds of tomatoes that I’m growing right now: heirloom, celebrity tomatoes, one that’s called chocolate sprinkles—they’re like small little garnish tomatoes—and beefsteak tomatoes,” Sine said.

Other thesis students, such as Nora Flower and Catalyst Layout Editor Cait Matthews, are taking this opportunity to expand their gardening skills. Their gardens are just as plentiful, but Flower is growing more fruit.

“I am currently growing tomatoes, peppers, carrots, snap peas, bok choy, okra, pineapples, bananas, papayas and tons of herbs,” Flower said in an email interview.

Matthews is gardening with her roommates, one of whom is alum Ryan Smith (‘12). Matthews and Smith have started their garden as a way to channel energy in something that will keep them balanced and provide sustenance.

“A few weeks ago we decided to start a vegetable garden as a grounding project that would also provide us with fresh produce,” Matthews said. “We planted lots of greens: cabbage, lettuce, kale, broccoli rabe and spinach. Right now we’re working on getting started with squash, tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, herbs and potatoes.”

So far everyone has been able to use gardening as an outlet to relieve tension due to the effects of the pandemic.

“I think it’s an outlet for stress now and it always has been for me ever since I started gardening,” Sine said, after gardening for six months now. “There’s something very rewarding and relaxing tending to plants because they don’t really ask for much, but they can be really picky and you have to be very intuitive and attentive of them and it really gives you something to focus on.”

Matthews’ first experience with gardening was joining the gardening tutorial three years ago, but she has recently reignited gardening in a more intentional manner.

“It’s a relaxing experience to remember that there are plants outside that need to be tended to and watered. It’s also really rewarding to see the progress of growth over time, as it keeps you busy and aware of your physical environment,” Matthews said.

Smith began gardening in 2016 when they worked with the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) and is now using their personal garden to keep focused.

“It’s a good way to maintain structure and routine in the day,” Smith added.

In terms of how gardening has been a way to interact with others, Sine has used it as bonding time with her mother and Matthews along with Smith and their other roommates have gardened together. They have also had past experiences with gardening at New College that were interactive as well.  

“One thing that I miss about gardening at New College is that it was a source of social interaction, like if I got this new plant and I wanted to share a clipping of it with somebody, we had what was called the ‘plant prop swap thread,’” Sine said. “I miss having that and I’m happy to have brought them home.” 

Matthews sees gardening as a three-way experience since it is a way to connect with yourself, other people and the environment. 

“Gardening at home definitely feels next-level personal,” Matthews said. “But doing work at the Food Forest added a layer of community that felt specific to New College in a really beautiful way. Bringing students together through sunshine, dirt and plant matter is pretty beautiful.”

Smith finds gardening to be rewarding whether they are with people or not, but agrees with Matthews in recognizing the added benefits of community in gardening at New College.

“I worked in the Food Forest one summer,” Smith said. “When you have the freedom to do whatever with the space at home, it’s nice. At New College, I felt more of a responsibility to just keep everything healthy as it was. The community aspect of the food forest is a really cool part of that experience.”

As students continue to garden during this time of isolation, the Council of Green Affairs stresses the importance of following sustainable gardening practices. 

“The main considerations are the types of plants to plant, the types of fertilizers and pest and weed control, the water regimen and the source of all materials,” Flower, who is also a member of the Council of Green Affairs, said. “It’s important to pick plants that grow well in Florida to minimize the need for fertilizers and large amounts of water.”

According to Flower, choosing fertilizers, pesticides and weed control methods that are organic is best. There are also alternatives, such as using vinegar for pests and seaweed for fertilizer, but this should be accompanied with research for the specific plant being grown, as vinegar can excessively lower soil pH. When it comes to watering, learn the optimal amount and timing of watering to ensure that water isn’t wasted but that plants are getting what they need. 

“Finally, sourcing your materials (seeds, soil, containers, etc) from local companies that share your values is a good way of ensuring that you’re using your money in a productive way,” Flower said. “One way to minimize costs and increase the quality of your soil is to start your own compost bin. It takes a few months to make usable compost though, so that can’t be your only source of soil if you want to grow plants this season. The CGA will be sending out more resources soon to help you with at-home composting!”

Flower also warns to stray away from an all-or-nothing mindset, even though money may be short for some, whatever sustainable choices people are able to make now is still important.

“If you can’t make the most sustainable gardening choices right now due to lack of time or money, that’s okay,” Flower said. “It’s still a huge step forward to learn to grow your own food and provide for yourself and your family, especially at a time when our food sources are uncertain and buying groceries inherently puts someone at risk.”

Lastly, for people who are starting or considering the idea of gardening, Flower recommends to choose easy summer crops such as okra, hot peppers and herbs like basil, oregano, rosemary and mint, as they can be put in large pots that can be moved or placed in a shady spot that will more easily allow you to give them what they need to grow. 

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