Outdoor Activity Of The Day: Plant A Veggie Garden

Curious Citizens say gardening is “good for the soul” when you’re stuck inside most of the day. Here are tips for honing your green thumb.

Gardening coronavirus thumbnail
Kasey Eaves / WBEZ
Gardening coronavirus thumbnail
Kasey Eaves / WBEZ

Outdoor Activity Of The Day: Plant A Veggie Garden

Curious Citizens say gardening is “good for the soul” when you’re stuck inside most of the day. Here are tips for honing your green thumb.

Governor Pritzker’s “stay-at-home” order has left lots of Chicagoans wondering how ⁠they can safely enjoy the outdoors during the COVID-19 pandemic. While the city’s lakefront, adjacent parks, the 606 and Riverwalk have been closed because people were congregating in large groups, many natural areas in the region remain open.

So people can still go outside to walk, run or bike ride, as long as they remain six feet away from other individuals. If these rules are followed, experts say spending time outdoors can be really good for mental and physical well-being.

We asked Chicagoans for ways they’ve spent time outside while practicing safe social distancing — and we got a lot of responses. We’re highlighting an activity to try each day for the next week, starting with something you can do in your own backyard: planting a vegetable garden.

Seeds with lights
Jeff Duran of Mokena, IL says working on his indoor vegetable garden has helped stave off cabin fever during COVID-19. (Courtesy Jeff Duran)

Start with some seeds

Kasey Eaves runs a community garden and small gardening service company in Chicago. She recommends planting vegetable seedlings during COVID-19 because the materials needed are cheap and relatively easy to access.

“Seeds are still available at local hardware stores and online from Johnny’s, Seed Savers, Bakers Creek and others,” she said.

Seed organizer
Kasey Eaves organizes her seeds for planting every spring. (Courtesy Kasey Eaves)

For beginner gardeners, Eaves suggests starting with lettuce, arugula, peas or bush beans, which grow fast and do well in lower light conditions if you’re starting them indoors.

“Use your yogurt cups, salad containers, folded up newspapers or anything else you have around as a pot,” Eaves said.

Naperville gardener Hope Alysse agreed that now is the time to be scrappy and resourceful about planting.

“Use what you have! A roasted chicken container from Costco makes a great starter greenhouse in a sunny window. Don't have seeds? Ask neighbors or go on a local Facebook group.”

Chicken container greenhouse
To get your garden going, Hope Alysse suggests cobbling things together and using what you have. She recently transformed a roasted chicken container into a starter greenhouse. (Courtesy Hope Alysse)

Tips for gardening at a distance

Many gardeners we spoke with said the benefit of gardening during coronavirus is that you can do it inside your own home or backyard.

Northwest Indiana gardener Danielle Ray said to include your kids if they’re self-isolating with you.

“My kids love watching the seeds grow so it is great for morale,” she said. “Keeps their minds off the craziness happening around us. It also serves as a conversation starter which can be [so] important when you’re closed in together.”

But, if you don’t have partners to garden with, Kasey Eaves said not to worry.

“In a garden you’re never alone. There’s always a bird, bug, plant or other living thing at your elbows.”

If you’re looking for additional tips, there are plenty of fellow gardeners eager to chat and give advice online in groups like Chicagoland Gardening and Homesteading and Greater Chicago Area Garden Enthusiasts.

Eggplant
Hope Alysse’s 13-year-old son plucks organic eggplant seeds to plant in the family garden. (Courtesy Hope Alysse)

Curious Citizens on the benefits of gardening during COVID-19

“More than anything, I think everyone is missing the feeling of touch right now. We’re on computers and screens and washing our hands raw and so the tactile nature of plunging your fingers into soil, getting them dirty and knowing it’s healthy and good feels almost rebellious as much as it is healing.” - Kasey Eaves

“Being in the yard and having this ‘respite’ from being indoors all the time is a life saver, and helps us stay busy and active. Plus, looking forward to an early harvest of greens and veggies and relieving the anxiety of having to go to stores is a bonus.” - Mia Lahoz

“I LOVE the smell of dirt. It's so good for the soul. Morale and self sufficiency are so important in trying times. Simple pleasures such as sprouting seeds can change your entire mindset for the day.” - Danielle Ray

Backyard sprouts
Sarah Robinson's garlic plants are starting to sprout in her Arlington Heights backyard. (Courtesy Sarah Robinson)

Katherine Nagasawa is the multimedia producer for Curious City. You can reach her at knagasawa@wbez.org.