More people are digging into gardening as the pandemic wears on

As the daylight hours increase and the temperatures get warmer, planting a garden becomes a goal for many and in this age of social isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic, people are taking an interest in growing their own food in greater numbers.

A webinar offered by Penn State Extension Master Gardeners garnered over 2,900 registrants from across the country and Canada as well as state residents, according to Nancy Knauss, the extension’s State Master Gardener Coordinator.

“Every county does face-to-face programs through the Master Gardeners. When all those were canceled this year, we thought, let’s try this, this year,” Knauss said.

The group thought that perhaps a lot of people would want to grow their own vegetables this year, so they decided to offer the webinar, “The Victory Garden Reinvented,” free of charge to anyone who wanted to participate. The webinar is also being recorded for anyone who did not register to be able to view.

“”We were going to be happy with a couple hundred and in the first couple days there were more than 500 people who registered,” she said. “It exceeded our expectations. … It just shows you how many people are working in their gardens, vegetable and fruit as well.”

So, what is bringing people back to the garden?

Knauss sees just being able to get outside as one of the lures of gardening.

“It’s hard to be cooped up in your house all day long,” she said. “I’m personally thankful this didn’t happen during the winter months, because I can go outside. The sun is shining and you feel good when you go outside.”

“I feel it just helps to release stress and lowers your blood pressure, plus you get exercise. It just has a lot of benefits,” she added. “Everybody who gardens always tells you that they get a lot our of their garden, a lot more than just food or flowers. It’s good for your mental health and physical well-being.”

In light of many businesses struggling during the pandemic, seed companies and those businesses provided gardening supplies, such as seeds and plants have actually benefited.

An online search of seed catalogs reveals many seeds are out of stock and for those available, a longer shipping time is expected.

Knauss said she also feels some of the demand is a result of the uncertain times the world is facing at the moment.

“I think that people are just unsure with this if there would be an issue with food supply. They can grow their vegetables or whatever they want and be assured that they will have a crop there,” she said.

Tebbs Farms and Greenhouses have been in business since 1948, with second generation owners, John and Robin Tebbs, running the business since 1999. Because they are considered growers, Tebbs was permitted to open during the shutdown, observing all the precautions. This year, according to Robin Tebbs, they have seen a decided uptick in people interested in gardening.

“I think it’s because they’re home. They’re taking care of their houses and they go outside and say ‘I’m going to clean up my landscaping, and oh, I want to plant some flowers and I think I’ll plant a garden,’ “ she said, adding that people don’t know what else to do.

There also seems to be a greater interest in gardening from children, which Robin Tebbs attributes to parents wanting an activity for their children. Tebbs recently offered a seed kit for children which had an “overwhelming response,” according to Robin Tebbs.

“I think they’re trying to show them how to plant a garden, where things come from,” she said.

“We’ve gotten so far away from the farm and so far away from where things come from in life, I think we’re kind of back at it, to a time where people are trying to fill their lives with things people used to do for work, just to live,” she added.

Tebbs also concurs with Knauss that people are looking at gardening not just as recreation, but also as a possible food source.

“I do think that and I think we’ll probably see this again, when we get into our produce season,” she said. Tebbs operates a produce market at their Loyalsock Township site during the growing season.

“I think there will be more of an interest in, if they didn’t grow it, how to can it, how to freeze it. How can I be kind of self-sustaining in case we would ever have to go through this again. My shelf would be full instead of having to run to the grocery store,” Tebbs stated.

Cindy Snyder, who with her husband Kent, owns Snyder’s Nursery at the Feed Mill in Montoursville. Due to the fact that they sell animal feed, they also were permitted operate their business during the shutdown, They too, have seen an increase in people seeking help with starting a garden.

“We have helped a lot of people learn how to start a garden,” Cindy Snyder said.

Snyder’s has begun to get vegetables plants in, although the cooler overnight temperatures make planting the more tender plants, like tomatoes, inadvisable right now. They also offers bulk seeds for the garden as well as the live plants.

“I have never sold this many seeds,” Snyder said, adding that she helps people, who are used to having the instructions on a seed packet, know what to do with the seeds.

She said there are also a lot of people approaching gardening for the first time and sees the benefits of getting outside to work in the garden.

“You’re not mesmerized by electronics. You’re getting vitamin D from the sun and the sound is so different,” she stressed. “A lot of people do it with other people, like their children. It’s something to teach another generation.”

“I’m just hoping that in July when they realize that there’s weeds they need to pull, they don’t give up,” she added with a laugh.


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