A seed catalog coming in the mail is enough to get a gardener’s heart pumping.

Now more than ever people are expected to return to the earth, as they get weary of the COVID-19 indoor restrictions and foresee the punch the pandemic will have on their wallets.

Call volume has spiked at Jung Seed Company with longer wait times as people place their orders for Wisconsin 55 Tomato and Butter and Sugar Sweet Corn seeds.

Nathan Zondag, the company’s VP, has a theory on the demand.

“More people are at home now with COVID-19 orders and looking at the seed catalog and getting ready for spring and, unfortunately, more people are gearing up for a recession,” Zondag said.

The company’s business went up 30 percent during the 2008-2009 recession, Zondag said.

The family-owned business has been around since 1917, and through wars and recessions, the company has seen people turn to gardening during troubled times.

Garden shops, seed companies, and community gardens are essentials under the COVID-19 emergency orders and can remain open and operating while other businesses have had to shut down.

Jung Garden Center stores, including the Sun Prairie location, are open for customers to buy seeds, potting soils, supplies, bare roots, and nursery supplies. Zondag said retail shops have curb-side pick-up for people who don’t want to go inside the store during the COVID-19 emergency.

Zondag said even though most people have moved away from gardening, it’s important for everyone to know how to produce their own food. That allows control over how it’s grown, what chemicals, if any, are used. It’s also usually less expensive than going to the grocery store.

“It’s healthy, convenient, and cheaper,” Zondag said. “And you get a lot of tomatoes off one plant and those can be turned into spaghetti sauce, salsa or any other canned goods you might want to help sustain you over winter.”

Gardening know-how

More demand means more newbie gardeners may be entering the field, so Lisa Johnson, a UW-Extension Horticulture Educator has some advice: Plan ahead and don’t get overwhelmed.

“Starting small is a good idea,” Johnson said. “If you are an apartment dweller, you can use pots and containers, and plant lettuce or spinach, if you don’t have a lot of light.”

Homeowners can stake out a little plot, use raised beds or be creative with other options.

“A 10 x 10 plot is plenty big for a beginner,” Johnson said. “Or if you have an old kids pool you can use that if you drill holes in the bottom.”

Leaning on an expert for advice is a good tip. UW-Extension is starting up its Horticultural Help Line in mid-April, by email at horticulture@countyofdane.com or by phone (608) 224-3721 from 9 a.m.- noon Monday through Friday.

Johnson said there is still time to start seeds indoors if done immediately. If that’s not possible, she said to concentrate on planting vegetable seeds in the ground, usually after May 20.

“We are bit warmer than normal, so we are on track to do that,” Johnson said.

Easy-grow crops are lettuce, chard, mustard greens, green beans, she said. Other crops like tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables have to be monitored for disease and pests.

Johnson promotes gardening at any time, but especially during the COVID-19 pandemic when people can suffer from depression and isolation.

“There is a lot of uncertainty out there,” Johnson said. “So having a connection with nature, and being outside away from the COVID-19 news is good. There are a lot of mental and emotional benefits to gardening.”

Gardening is also a good task for families to do together.

“Even before the COVID-19, there has been a resurgence and interest in producing grow-your-own food, and teaching younger folks these types of skills is important.”

Community gardens

Sun Prairie community gardeners are preparing for the season with more than a dozen new gardeners joining its ranks.

But there are still around 30 lots left, Sun Prairie Community Garden organizer Tom Kinney reported on Tuesday.

“We expect to sell out of plots this year based on the early interest that we’ve received so far,” Kinney said, as the garden’s May 1 target opening date draws nearer.

A half-plot costs $20, full plot $35, with even bigger plots available. The garden also offers no-fee flower plots around the border to enhance the garden’s curb appeal on Linnerud Drive.

Information and application material can be found on the City of Sun Prairie website, www.cityofsunprairie.com/429/Community-Garden.

Community gardening is essential under Gov. Tony Evers’ “Safer at home” orders according to Dane County officials at UW-Extension and the Dane County Circuit Court.

Sun Prairie Community Garden officials are consulting with the Dane County Garden Network to put new regulations in place to keep gardeners safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. That could mean limiting the number of people in the garden at the same time and requiring gardeners to follow social distancing guidelines. Rules on shared tools and other resources will also be reviewed, Kinney said.

“Community gardens are exempt from the (COVID-19) order but we will still need to take the recommended precautions,” Kinney said.

Spring is always an exciting time for gardeners, but Kinney said the COVID-19 pandemic has heightened the enthusiasm. Like so many, he is especially eager to plant a plot this year and reap the benefits.

“There is nothing better to have a fresh tomato that you have grown yourself,” Kinney said. “I look forward to that.”

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