When toilet paper and hand sanitizer began flying off the shelves, perhaps you thought: Is food next? Should I start growing my own?
A good idea, said Lisa Hilgenberg, a horticulturalist at the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe.
Think of it as “self reliance,” if you like, said Hilgenberg. But it’s also a good way to celebrate Earth Day and Arbor Day — Wednesday and Friday, respectively — while getting outside, even if it’s only to fill a few pots on a high-rise balcony.
“You really learn by doing,” Hilgenberg said. “Start small and just plant something.”
Despite the recent snow in the Chicago area, it’s not too early to begin planting “cool season” seeds outside, including, lettuce, cabbage, carrots, radishes, arugula and others.
“Vegetable gardening is all about timing,” she said. “It’s the perfect time to do that.”
If you’re worried about rabbits devouring the fruits — and veggies — of your labor, consider planting a ring of onions or garlic [which they don’t like] or building a low fence around your vegetable patch, Hilgenberg said.
“Read the back of the seed packet and learn about planting depth and spacing,” she said. “You don’t need a big garden to plant some things you can harvest from.”
It’s also a good time to plant fruit trees, such as apple or pear varieties. They’re best planted as “bare root” trees and when they’re dormant, Hilgenberg said. Consider also stone-fruit trees such as those bearing peaches, nectarines or cherries — but make sure they’re the hardy kind, specially bred to to tolerate Midwest weather.
And it’s not too early to start growing — in seed trays kept inside — “warm season” crops, including tomatoes, eggplant and peppers, among other vegetables. Or if you like herbs, consider dill, oregano, fennel or basil — plants that can be taken outside when consistently warmer weather arrives in late May or early June.
If you’d like some color in your garden, consider nasturtiums, pansies, violets or snap dragons at this time of year.
Mistakes are to be expected among novice gardeners.
“Look at Thomas Jefferson, who gardened for 40 years. And he started over and tried again every one of those 40 years,” Hilgenberg said. “Then he came back with another new tool in his toolbox to attack things in a different way.”
But remember that along with the hard work, gardening is supposed to be soothing — an escape from life’s worries.
“Be sure to remember to stop and smell the flowers and enjoy that beauty, which really is so uplifting — not to mention all the vitamin D you’re getting from working out in the sunshine,” Hilgenberg said.
For more information about gardening and things you can do at home to be earth friendly, got to Chicagobotanic.org/earthday.