Growing my own food in the times of COVID

As the nation went to war with COVID-19, I set out to find a place for veggies in the flower beds.

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Victory Garden pamphlet encouraging Americans in the 1940s to grow their own food to supplement their diet.

The garden hoe, hoe, hoe . . .

Raspberries in the time of COVID.


Sprouting from the sun belt in my backyard garden, a five-foot tall patch of blood-red raspberries was proof I’d dug a safe anti-virus haven for myself.

But as the purple irises, pink climbing roses and Virginia bluebells gave way to pastel pink astilbes, buzzing bee balm and God knows whatever else I obsessively tossed into my crazy lady backyard, the call of the wild whispered in my ear.

It spit: “Forget the flowers, toots!”

It asked: “What about the climbing cucumber, acidic home-grown tomato, slender green bean and splendid baby zucchini?”

It advised: “Get a grip! Grow what you eat!”


It would erase the need to fondle fruit in the grocery store possibly touched by a finger of COVID-19 ... or moistened with a droplet of sneeze.

Hmmm. Hmmm.

It would eliminate the possibility of purchasing an innocently contaminated chive and sweating onion at our neighborhood farmer’s market.

The siren was screaming: “Grow vegetables, old girl!”

Thus began Sneed’s hegira to health; a masked trek in gloved hands to nurseries all the way to Milaeger’s in Racine, Wisconsin, in search of the perfect heirloom tomato plant, elongated cucumber vine and beneficent big leaf basil herb.

And there was finally a reason to dig out my 78-year old (World War II) Victory Garden pamphlet encouraging Americans to grow their own food to supplement their diet.

“Grow your living,” proclaimed the L. A. Hawkins tome published in the early 1940s by Chicago’s International Harvester Co., which was then located at 180 N. Michigan Ave.

“Grow your living because it may not be available for you to buy during wartime,” it proclaimed.

As the nation went to war with COVID-19, I set out to find a place for veggies in the flower beds.

Into the back of my car were flung bags of cow manure, mulch and “non-chemical” infused dirt; into the front of the car was placed a bottle of Tylenol for my aching back.

Hauling, digging, planting, groaning, bending and watering was also accompanied by an old garden companion: the elongated Sneed allergy sneeze.


Was that a moist coronavirus chaser I just sprayed on the petulant petunia?


Michael Sneed’s garden, where she has been growing her own vegetables during the pandemic.

Michael Sneed

It wasn’t long — perhaps in early June — when in the process of buying a Nova Zembla Rhododendron and Compact Korean Azalea at Red’s Nursery in Northbrook with my 10% off coupon — that I discovered I wasn’t alone.

Everybody seemed to be digging dirt ... which, of course, I’d done a lot in my lifetime.

Yet now the plants I wanted, unusually abundant in June, were gone.


“COVID is enticing beginners to grow garden vegetables, who tend to overwater their tomatoes and are stunned they attract bugs,” chuckled one of Red’s owners. “It’s surprising, but wonderful.”

“We were selling earlier than usual during the pandemic,” said an exhausted Claudia Turk, who owns Turks’ Greenhouses in Grayslake. “Things were flying off our shelves when you could only order in advance. It was amazing.”

Marc McCormack, director of sales and marketing for Bailey Nurseries Inc., who is also a neighbor and a gardening buddy, claims not only are 2020 sales way up, “but consumers craving green space are growing fruit and vegetables because they want a return on their investment.”

“It’s literally the kind of gift that keeps on giving as well as an investment in their health,” he said.

“It’s fascinating, but while many economic indicators have pointed to declines in sales, the nursery industry is up, up, up since the pandemic hit and stay-at-home orders were enacted,” he said.

“And it’s likely more people will crave green spaces if they continue to work from home!

“But even though our lives seemed to have stopped for a while during this lockdown, I think many feel gardens are proof life never stops and a patio, terrace, or deck can become a safe haven,” added McCormack.

There was a time when a dirty martini was de rigueur after my day in the garden.

Now it’s beet juice laced with honey and turmeric after a day whispering to vegetables.

And a prayer COVID stays away from my back door.

The name game . . .

Big Chungus?

Say whooooo?

Now comes word someone called “Big Chungus” has filed forms and declared an official candidate by the Federal Election Commission to run for president of the United States.

Who knew.

Kiki’s komeback . . .


Contrary to some media reports, Kiki’s eatery, Chicago’s irreplaceable French bistro where legendary chef Julia Child dined when in town, is not permanently closed. “We are still working on a reopening plan and could not do our regular Bastille Day event July 14 during COVID,” said Kiki’s wife, Denise. Whew!

The job market . . .

A woman of substance with a stellar resume: Barbara Lumpkin, the city’s first woman appointed Chicago’s city comptroller, former interim president of the Chicago Urban League and Chicago’s first African American city treasurer, has joined Conlon Public Strategies.

Boss Kevin Conlon is over the moon.

Sneedlings . . .

Condolences to the Monsignor Kenneth Velo on the death of his beloved mother, Jeanne, who died last week at the age of 102. No mother had a better son. . . . And ditto to Lisa Eissman, on the loss of her beloved husband, Mark, who also died recently. Eissman, a Chicago attorney, was an old newspaper friend at the Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times decades ago. . . . Saturday’s birthdays: Priyanka Chopra, 38; Kristen Bell, 40; and Vin Diesel, 53. . . . Sunday’s birthdays: Brian May, 73; Jared Padalecki, 38; and Benedict Cumberbatch, 44.

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