“There are lots of wonderful vegetable plants around, but few ways to get them safely to the market.”
From the moment it became clear that we’re going to be stuck at home for weeks or even months (the latter, as it turns out), our team at the Dig figured there ought to be lots of gardening this coming Spring. In mid-March, we published Sean L. Maloney’s guide to “Panic-Planting Coronavirus Victory Gardens in Mass,” and with seed season now even closer, we turned to someone who can help you set up right on your porch.
Working with landscape contractor Jenn Nawada, Katie Wilcock of Perennial Gardens is “delivering fully planted vegetable gardens to your doorstep.” Under the banner Boston’s Victory Gardens, they’re offering homegrow kits for salads, peppers, fruits, and even “a planter full of cocktail herbs.” We asked Wilcock about the inevitable increase in home harvesting in these unpredictable times.
It looks like this current incarnation of your business and delivery model is the triangulation of various previously existing operations. Can you tell us what kind of adjustments had to be made for the COVID economy?
Perennial Gardens has long specialized in installing window boxes and roof decks at people’s homes. Going through folks’ houses and up onto the roof is now more complicated. We used to (and still do in many circumstances) bring plants to their houses and plant on site, but it is easier and safer to plant off site and deliver a finished product, limiting our time at people’s doorsteps. The other real change is that typically we plant flowers, or totally ornamental crops. We now see a desire for a simpler time, fresh produce right outside your door, anticipating that farmers markets will also be affected by the current times.
What kind of requests have you been getting from longtime customers?
The idea of delivering fully-planted gardens actually stemmed from some requests from longtime customers for our help with getting a vegetable garden started. Many of our clients are really interested in growing their own vegetables/herbs, but don’t necessarily know how to start or what to do. With Boston’s Victory Gardens, they get the whole package, all ready to go.
How have the supply chains that you typically work with been impacted?
All our farmers and growers had their crops already planted before the outbreak. So there are lots of wonderful vegetable plants around, but few ways to get them safely to the market.
How have things already changed over the past month, and do you have any idea where things might be headed, as far as vegetables are concerned?
Every seed company and mail order garden supply company seems to be sold out, overwhelmed with orders, significantly behind on shipping. There seems to be a nationwide interest in vegetable gardening, the likes of which we have not seen in our lifetimes.
Do you anticipate more home growing this year than in years past, with people having so much time on their hands and the grocery store inducing anxiety attacks?
Victory gardens are certainly making a comeback. People are reluctant to go to the grocery store, cautious about going to farmer’s markets, [but] they want a safe way to have fresh vegetables. These victory gardens provide an opportunity for folks to get outside, find peace through gardening, and grow their own food. There will certainly be a rise of backyard growers this year.
You have various precautions, like, “To reduce the spread of the virus at every step, we deliver and store the planters at our farm, letting them sit for 72 hours, before planting them full with veggies, herbs and flowers.” How did you come up with these measures?
We have paid very careful attention to the guidelines released by the CDC and are following their precautions in order to help reduce the spread of the virus and safely deliver the planters. These planters are designed to be handled by one person, wearing a mask and gloves. Recent studies have shown that the virus may remain on surfaces for up to 72 hours; and though transmission of the virus through possibly contaminated surfaces hasn’t been documented, we want to be sure we are taking every precaution necessary to snuff out the virus by letting the planters/plantings sit for 72 hours.
What are some good things to grow during a pandemic—that don’t take up a lot of space, and hopefully that have a high yield?
We carefully selected an assortment of vegetables and herbs that are easy to grow, high yielding, even for the beginner. For example, the ‘Patio Snacker’ cucumber is fast-growing with high yields, and perfect for containers. Watching any plant grow, develop, set flowers, and/or fruit is amazingly good for your soul. There’s solace in nature, and as any gardener will tell you, we really truly believe that plants heal.
It’s mid-April, should we start putting seeds in the ground?
There are certain seeds you can put in the ground now, like beans, beets, or onions. But, before planting any seeds in the ground, an important thing to note is to get the soil tested. You’ll want to be sure the soil is healthy to support growing vegetables, and doesn’t contain any contaminants they may harm the plants or make them inedible. Mass NOFA has some great resources on soil health/soil testing.