Gardening In Place: Grow Your Worries Away

Apr 8, 2020

There's nothing like being stuck at home for weeks, maybe even months on end to turn your thumb green.

As stay-at-home orders sit firmly, lengthily in place, people are turning to gardening to give them something to do and maybe something to eat.

Seed suppliers are experiencing shortages and the phones at the Louisiana State University AgCenter are ringing off the hook with eager gardeners looking for information on what’s in season, where to get soil and how to teach kids about gardening.

For tips and tricks, we talked with LSU AgCenter horticulture agent Anna Timmerman.

Check out the full AgCenter gardening guide here. 

Tegan Wendland: What kinds of things are people asking the AgCenter?

Anna Timmerman: We have seen a big increase in folks looking to grow vegetable gardens for the first time or to expand their existing vegetable gardens, which is a little unusual. Usually this time of year, we'd be answering a lot more questions about flowers or more ornamental type things in the home landscape. So people are interested in growing their own food.

That makes sense. People are trying to avoid the grocery store and maybe grow their own food at home and have fresh veggies on hand. A lot of us have limited space, though . What are some tips for starting container gardens and where can people get soil?

Container gardens are a great way to use your space efficiently, and you can grow in just about anything. Cut the top off a milk jug. Those plastic bins that people use for storage work great. Whatever container you choose, make sure it drains properly. You might have to poke or drill some holes in the bottom of whatever you're using, especially with large containers. You can actually save soil and use a lot less potting mix if you include some empty plastic containers in the bottom just to take up some of the space. The garden centers in the greater New Orleans area are still selling bags of potting mix and quite a few of them will let you call ahead and pay on the phone, and they're offering curbside pickup. I've done this a couple of times myself this week and it works really great. There's no contact with any employees and they've got soil in stock right now.

What are some tips for doing this cheaply? A lot of folks are out of work right now and want to start gardens so that they have fresh vegetables, but they want to save money. What kind of containers can you use? What kinds of tips might you have?

I'm a big fan of recycling any kind of plastic container into a garden. And five-gallon pails are really great. So if you've got a few of those laying around, those are awesome. Big tote bins made out of plastic work really well. I've even seen people line old milk crates with fabric and fill them up with soil and use that as a pot. You really can use anything. You can actually use a lot of things that you might already have on hand in your kitchen to get your garden started. You can save seeds from tomatoes or peppers. You can save the base of your green onions and your celery and regrow those - put them in a little water and they'll start rooting. You can plant potatoes or sweet potatoes that you might have on hand and even garlic cloves. You can plant those out into the garden as well. Now is a great time to plant red beans, purple hole peas, black eyed peas, all those kinds of things that we usually have on hand in our kitchen.

What are some plants that are in season right now and will grow quickly so we can eat them?

Some really fast crops that you can plant now and get a pretty quick return on your investment would be any kind of salad mix or radishes. Both of those are going to be ready in under a month. Now it is a little too hot for both. You want to keep them planted in the shade as much as possible. Any leafy greens should be in the shade at this point.

What tips might you have for gardening with your kids? A lot of kids are being homeschooled right now. Where can people get more information on that?

Gardening is something that you can tie into just about any curriculum or school subject. There are a lot of free worksheets and garden lesson plans online. We have some at the AgCenter website. Kids really love gardening and a lot of their schools actually have school gardens in the New Orleans area. So it might be something they already know a little bit about and it's something that you can do together as a family.

What are you growing right now?

I'm growing all kinds of stuff. I just planted more okra. That's a really great summer crop here. I'm about to seed my eggplants for the summer as well. I just planted some hot peppers, some sweet peppers. And I've got tomatoes going, too. I've got six new varieties that I'm trying that I'm excited about.

Contact the AgCenter anytime with photos of plant issues and any garden problems at gnogardening@agcenter.lsu.edu.