In the midst of the 2020 pandemic we now receive unsolicited nondescript packages of seeds showing up in the mailboxes of homes across the United States. It only makes sense in the year of “sow what’s next?” My seeds were in a nondescript black and white package containing seeds sent from Suzhou JiangSu China. The seeds inside my package looked like tiny mustard seeds. Not everyone received the same seed. The news spread faster than a bindweed vine with some theorizing it was an act of agricultural bio-terrorism. A “seedy” operation.
Government officials lack concrete leads to explain the seed distribution freebies, they suspect a scam that “may involve some shadowy seed agent leaving enthusiastic “reviews” on some e-commerce website in your name. Ugh. Do NOT plant them and do NOT to dump them in the trash or flush them so they have an opportunity to sprout elsewhere. Do not plant any seeds “from unknown origins,” because doing so could introduce invasive species. Our state agricultural department MDARD Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development was working on it when I called them and it has quickly became a federal and international investigation. The USDA, Homeland Security and APHIS, Animal and Plant health inspection service, all became involved due to the gravity, seriousness and consequence of invasive species to the agricultural and livestock industries.
I immediately noticed on the packages sent there was no date stamp for when they were packed, on sell by date and no lot number. A seed lot can be defined as a quantity of seed with every portion or every bag uniform within permitted tolerances. The seed lot or group is defined as the percentage of pure seed, inert matter, other crop seed, germination and dormant seed, weed seed, and rate of occurrence of noxious weed seeds. So stay tuned….it will be interesting to “seed” where it goes from here.
It seems to happen every spring in West Michigan. An early spring warm up gets the earth growing and hopes high and then reality sets in. We live in Michigan. Reality in the form of a mid-April snow event. This is usually followed by clearing skies leading to some hard overnight frosts between mid-April and Arbor Day. April snow showers bring May flowers. The snow is not so bad because it is insulation and tends to melt quickly. The tough part is when the clouds clear, the air goes calm, and trees in bloom or flushing plant material are affected by overnight temperatures that drop into the 20’s. Here are some photos I took in the landscape of the snow event on April 15, 2020. (Click on photos to enlarge in gallery)
It was a man named Charles Lathrop Pack, head of the National War Garden Commission who coined the phrase “Victory Garden” during World War I. Credit him because it was much more positive than “War Garden” and was used again during World War II residential plantings. These food gardens for defense were cultivated by civilians growing food to help the war effort, the troops, our allies and themselves. These gardens were located at homes, in public parks, vacant lots, baseball diamonds and work places. Lawns and flower beds were converted into vegetable gardens just like the automobile plants were converted over to building tanks and B24 Liberator bombers. A patriotic spirit brought agriculture to the cities. And metal which was used for war effort munitions was in short supply so neighbors shared garden tools like shovels and hoes. The idea of Victory Gardens contributed to both the food supply and the spirit of the people who felt they were contributing and making a difference in winning the war.
Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people – Eleanor Roosevelt
Crops and animals were common place around the White House in the 1800’s but by World War II, the White House grounds were considered purely decorative. Eleanor Roosevelt fought to have a vegetable garden on the White House grounds. I’m sure Franklin Delano Roosevelt was too busy to think about planting carrots or tilling a garden. It is noted that FDR was so against the idea of an executive garden that he reportedly told others to “Tell Eleanor the yard is full of rocks or something. The people own this place, and don’t want it busted up just so she can plant beans.” The reality was the White House sat on what might have been the most fertile land in the city. And right on the property lived the perfect gardener, Eleanor enlisted the help of 11-year-old Diana Hopkins who happened to conveniently live at the White House as daughter to presidential advisor Harry Hopkins. Diana became the caretaker for the White House plot of beans, carrots, tomatoes, and cabbage with spade, hoe, and rake.
What one has to do usually can be done – Eleanor Roosevelt
Young Diana played a role in cultivating a new attitude with the President. In an address a year later he said “I hope every American who possibly can will grow a victory garden this year. We found out last year that even the small gardens helped. The total harvest from victory gardens was tremendous. It made the difference.” He was right. In Europe the Nazis used starvation as a weapon, a wartime tactic with blockades around the United Kingdom or during the starvation winter of 1944-1945 in Holland. Without the help of people like Diana or community Victory Gardens, many more people would have perished.
If life were predictable it would cease to be life, and be without flavor – Eleanor Roosevelt
Millions of pounds of food were required by the Armed Services which put a strain on food for the homeland. Rationing and scarcity were common at home. Rationed foods included sugar, butter, milk, cheese, coffee, canned fruits and vegetables, and meat. There were national meatless and wheatless days during that time.
Families were encouraged to can their own vegetables to save commercial canned goods for the troops. In 1943, families bought 315,000 pressure cookers used in the process of canning, compared to 66,000 in 1942. The government and businesses urged people to make gardening a family and community effort.
The US Department of Agriculture estimates that more than 20 million victory gardens were planted. Fruit and vegetables harvested in these home and community plots was estimated to be 9-10 million tons, an amount equal to all commercial production of fresh vegetables. So, the program made a difference, all in the name of patriotism.
In the spring and summer of 2020 I am recommending we plant V Gardens. With the Covid 19 Virus changing our way of life for the foreseeable future a healthy immune system starts with what we feed our body. V could stand for Virus. It can also stand for Vegetation, Vegetables, Victory or Values. Plant foods are anti-inflammatory and part of a good immune function. Regular exercise and fresh air make a big difference too.
My V Garden initiative for 2020 includes the following recommendations:
1. A healthy lifestyle that supports your immune system. A diet centered around fruits and vegetables and whole grains while limiting refined foods, sugar and alcohol which can decrease your resistance to infection. Vegetable gardening….what a novel idea!
2. Lots of fresh air and regular exercise to promote healthy immune function.
3. Gardening. Dirt has natural anti-depressant qualities. Absorbing the beneficial phytoncides of the plants around us improving our mood. Managing stress.
4. Herbs that support healthy immune function. Garlic, Ginger, Oregano, Lavender, Thyme, Echinacea. Adding raw garlic to a sauce or pesto is a good way to include it in your diet.
Like we learned during the Victory Garden effort of World War II we are a community and are in this together. We can do this! Sometimes it’s just the simple things that get us through tough times. Even if it means garlic breath for the time being we are now in the habit of social distancing and will stay 6 feet apart, healthy and happy. Be well my friends.
“Life is bristling with thorns, and I know no other remedy than to cultivate one’s garden.”
So Voltaire, French enlightenment writer and philosopher famous for his witty works of satire In Candide, intended for us, when all is said and done, to simply tend to our own garden first. Just maybe another famous writer, Oscar Wilde years later would have rephrased the famous remark to “trend to your own garden” understanding that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” With another new year comes the cultivation of prognostications of things gardening. And why not? It is the haven of countless others who came before us and found solace and meaning by
tending a garden. So as I was taught as a child in my ecclesiastical studies, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” Maybe that is why something as old as dirt rejuvenates us and awakens our senses with each new and promising season.
Trend 1: With all the talk, debate and news about climate change remember this is nothing new….Earth Day celebrates a Birthday in April of 2020. It’s Earth Day Birthday! The first Earth Day was April 22, 1970 50 years ago. “Upzoning” is a buzz word as it is estimated by 2050 that 70% of the population will live in cities. It is a shift from “giant house and giant yard” to “affordable housing” and migration to areas like Minneapolis or Michigan (fresh water). The theory here is that density and supply reduces sprawl and cost which better matches the values and finances of a new generation more interested in experiences. “Affordable housing.” With the move to cities however comes a longing for nature. Urban trees, indoor plants, community spaces to escape the hustle of the city will be trending. By the way, the first Earth Day introduced by a senator from Wisconsin, picked April as the month because it fell between spring break and final exams knowing it would be a younger generation that would fuel the interest.
Trend 2: Houseplants or foliage plants continue to be popular driven by millennials and social media platforms like Instagram. That said the “houseplant craze” was not invented by young adults today as there was a houseplant craze….you guessed it 50 years ago in the 1970’s. Long before smart phones, social media and the digital “exhaust” powering trends, houseplants experienced a heyday in the 1970’s as homes and apartments were converted to jungles with hanging plants supported by macrame hangers. This was probably done to help camouflage the wood paneling and shag carpet as well as appliances in hues of “harvest gold” and “avacado”. The 70’s houseplant craze evolved into the jungles of the shopping mall food courts in the 1980’s followed by the Orchid mania that sprouted in the 1990’s. Houseplants are also a part of the “deskterior” movement in South Korea where office workers improve their working environment by “decorating” their work spaces. With less space, houseplants are turned to for their benefits.
Trend 3: Trees. A well canopied community is a cost effective strategy to improve health and well being in dense living areas. There is also a renewed interest in trees due to the attack of non-native pests that threaten what we can often take for granted (our community tree “inventory”)
Trend 4: Gardening is as popular as ever growing 6% in 2018 with continued growth foreseen in the future. Gardening as a lifestyle helps generate jobs.
Trend 5: Intuitive communication with plants. Plant whisperers. It’s about receiving non-verbal information through all of your senses and perceptions. You do this all the time when you get a feeling or an impression from another person. The theory is in nature you can do this also with plants.
Trend 6: Endangered soil. Erosion and deforestation with topsoil stripped of nutrients. The interest is in soils and their nutrients. Soil amendments. Composting. Healthy soils.
Trend 7: “Plantfluencers.” Those with an affinity for plants sharing knowledge. Today social media, videos and blogging make it easier than ever. Varieties of plants become overnight sensations enjoying celebrity status.
Trend 8: Frog friendly spaces.
Trend 9: Indigo blue. Blue is one of the most desired flower colors in the landscape and arguably the most desired hue in the garden. Blue has a calming effect.
Trend 10: Experiences versus consumption. Today’s new landscape plant introductions are more floriferous, hardy, compact and easy to grow allowing more time to experience their benefits. Container gardening allows micro-environments easier to manage and interchangeable throughout the seasons for the full outdoor garden experience. Outdoor living. Live outdoors. A move to comfortable deep seating outdoor furniture that is more like the furniture we’ve enjoyed indoors.
Trend 11: All things pollinators. Bees and butterflies. A living landscape.