Joyce Bupp, farm wife

“During bad times, people return to gardening,” observed a long-time friend who has spent most of her career working in the seed, plants and gardening retail field.

Her comment, borne of years of watching trends in gardening and plants, is backed by history. “Victory gardens” were a popular planting trend during the difficult years of World War II. And, periodic downturns in the economy, with the often-accompanying high rates of unemployment, also spur folks to turn to growing their own food.

The friend also speculated that, if our world settles back into more normal life by next spring, with people coming and going by choice, and not strictly by necessity, many folks will likely turn their attention to more travel, entertainment and dining out. And then, predicted the long-time garden sales veteran, there will be a high demand for grass seed, as veggie patches are converted back into lawn.

Visits to nearby greenhouse operations and on-farm garden centers confirm that the back-to-gardening movement is taking retail sellers by storm. My plant-selection trips are usually planned for early afternoon, on mid-week days when garden shopper traffic is generally lighter. But one neighboring gardener was confronted at a local garden center by customer and parking lot jams at opening hour on a recent, rainy Monday morning.

After observing a number of new gardens going into his rural-residential neighborhood, another planter friend noted that, while the efforts are obviously well-intended, he fears that some first-time gardeners might find that gardening can sometimes be “a tough row to hoe.”

For sure, gardening this spring, like so many other out-of-normal things we are doing during this strange and unpredictable year, has been a continuing challenge. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve covered ... uncovered ... and re-covered plants as temperatures swing wildly from the high 70s to plunge into the frosty zone.

With the likes of tomato, pepper, cucumber, cantaloupe and similar warm-weather-loving plants flying off retail shelves, long-time gardening veterans fear there is likely to be some disappointed first-time planters who get side-swiped by the wild weather swings. Or, as a neighbor has repeated on occasion: “Mother Nature always wins.”

And this season, “Mother” has been as cranky as the proverbial “bear with a burr under its tail.” It’s like she’s out to test our efforts, our experience and .... our patience. (As if everyone’s patience isn’t being tried and tested enough with this COVID-19 stuff.)

After pushing several wheelbarrow loads of straw-hay mulch from the barn and chicken coop to the strawberry patch for additional protection when freeze warnings mixed with coronavirus news late last week, I thought about all the other “reality checks” constantly confronting gardeners, new and old alike.

Slugs can chew up our lettuces and other early greens, along with local bunnies if they have even half a chance. Robins — much as we love these cheery birds — are notorious for pecking big bites out of our biggest, sweetest strawberries

Those squishy green cabbage caterpillars can wreak havoc on broccoli and similar cole crops, not to mention the “yuck factor” of having to pick the icky buggers off your yields. Flea beetles, bean beetles, Japanese beetles, squash beetles, tomato hornworms, cutworms, aphids and a host of other insects all come equipped with their own form of GPS to hone in on our gardens for their dining experiences.

After too much wet may come too much dry, or too much heat, or a summer windstorm or hurricane that tears up or knocks down anything taller than 4 inches. A bizarre, mini-wind shear flattened my small crop of sweet corn two years ago, without disturbing another thing around the garden or adjoining field.

New gardeners are likely to quickly learn what us “old” planters have learned through trial and error about Mother Nature’s tricks: there are a lot of twists, turns, tribulations and sometimes failures between planting and picking. But — like giving birth — the temporary “pain” is quickly balanced out with the first taste of home-grown garden peas, your first homegrown sun-ripened tomato, and ears of backyard sweet corn steaming hot and dripping butter.

If one is determined, dedicated, doesn’t discourage easily and is willing to weed, water, work at it almost daily and wait with patience, home gardening is not just a new venture. It’s a whole kind of rewarding lifestyle change to better eating, better health and a boost to mind and body alike.

So, plant on!

Joyce Bupp is a freelance writer in York County, Pennsylvania.

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