Liz and Charlie Hook have noticed an increase in vegetable and bulk seed sales.

A new era of victory gardens

By Brianna Gwirtz, OCJ field reporter

When the United States entered World War I nearly a century ago, citizens were asked to do their part to support the troops by planting gardens.

Propaganda and pamphlets were distributed across the country, encouraging everyone to plant gardens to aid in the war. School yards, parks, backyards and more were all converted into gardens. Again, following the start of World War II, these “victory gardens,” as they were named for their wartime efforts, began to reemerge. Food rations led to many families producing their own fruits and vegetables. Gardens boosted morale and brought a sense of collectiveness to the country.

As the world has gone to war in a new battle in the form of a pandemic, there appears to be another wave of these “victory gardens.” For the first time in a very long time, Americans went to the grocery store and were met with empty shelves. Although there’s not a food shortage, disruptions in the supply chain and panic-induced bulk buying created temporary supply problems for grocery stores. This has resulted in growth in sales for some in Ohio’s greenhouse businesses.

Mark Martin, owner of LuRay’s Garden in Shiloh has been in the greenhouse business since 2014. He’s noticed a major shift in business this year.

“I have seen probably a 75% increase in sales across the whole greenhouse this year,” Martin said. “It’s been surprising.”

LuRay’s Garden opened their new greenhouse on April 17 and they’ve been busy since the start.

“We opened on a Friday and there was snow on the ground, but it was still one of our best opening days by far. For a lot of people, they said it was their first time leaving their house in four to five weeks,” Martin said.

LuRay’s Garden opened their new greenhouse on April 17 and, even with snow on the ground, had one of their best opening days by far in 2020.

LuRay’s offers a variety of vegetables in addition to flowers and hanging baskets. They also sell half-pound and quarter-pound bags of seeds, which have increased significantly in sales this year as well.

“My brother raises the vegetable starters for us. We have had to grow three to four batches of everything because we just keep selling out. Hardly ever do we have to work with other growers to get supply we need, but this year we did have to try to go find some more,” Martin said. “People are buying whole flats of tomatoes at a time. I am not sure if they realize there are 48 tomato plants on a flat or not,” he added with a grin.

Through conversation with customers, Martin shares that it’s been a good mix of first-time and seasoned gardeners.

“I think a lot of people just want something to do right now. I think it’s great too, gardening teaches people about responsibility in caring for their gardens and also reconnects them with nature,” Martin said.

Similarly, Liz and Charlie Hook have noticed an increase in vegetable sales at their business as well. Hook’s Greenhouse in Wellington grows 95% of all the plants they sell.

“Over the past four years or so, we had noticed a decline in vegetable starter sales, so of course every year we would grow a little less, since the demand wasn’t there,” Liz said. “This year we are back to sales levels that we had probably five years ago.”

Hook’s Greenhouse offers vegetables, herbs, hanging baskets and a variety of perennials and annuals. They have seen an increase in sales of all plants as well. Additionally, they have been selling out of pots and potting soil, and are experiencing delays in getting new shipments. Certain varieties of vegetables sold out completely, such as patio cucumbers and patio tomatoes, which as the name suggests, are ideal for growing in containers. Signs throughout the greenhouse thank customers for the record year, but also alert them that some varieties are not going to be available.

“It’s been neat to see the multi-generational impact this year is having. People are bringing their families here and letting their kids pick out a random plant for the garden,” Liz said. “I’ve just heard of a lot of collaboration, neighborhoods using a centralized garden or friends working together to plant a garden.”

Hook’s Greenhouse had a shortened spring season this year. The pandemic caused them to open two weeks later than anticipated, and they expected to sell out of their spring plants sooner than normal.

“The first week we were open we actually did curbside pick-up for plants, so we sold a lot of herbs and house plants that way,” Liz said. “Then the second week we were open by appointment only and then the following week we opened completely.”

Hook’s Greenhouse almost reached their max capacity of occupants established by the health department on Mother’s Day weekend.

“Luckily, we were able to keep people moving through the checkout line quickly, so as soon as one left, another one came in,” she said.

Local greenhouses aren’t the only ones experiencing shortages, as it appears to be a national challenge. According to Ann Chanon, Ohio State University Extension, Agricultural and Natural Resources educator for Lorain County, many national vegetable seed brands have sold out of seeds and won’t be able to restock for a while.

Recently, Chanon hosted a virtual gardening workshop that was well-attended. There were plenty of questions about how to compost and ways to improve soil quality.

“Overall, Extension offices are seeing an increase in the need for gardening resources. It’s a mixture of new gardeners, just getting started for the first time, and gardeners who had maybe taken a break from it and decided now was a good time to return,”

Besides the general health benefits of eating fresh vegetables, there are many other benefits to gardening.

“There are really three to four areas of benefits from growing a garden. Of course, you’re eating fresh produce but you’re also outside, you’re doing physical exercise and it’s also really good for your mental wellbeing,” Chanon said. “There are a lot of psychological benefits to caring for a garden and nurturing life.”

Chanon also points out that gardening is truly something anyone can do.

“The beauty of gardening is that it can be done under so many different circumstances and across all age categories,” Chanon said.

Chanon has fielded calls regarding everything from large backyard gardens to small, container gardens.

“I think what most people don’t realize is that you can garden continuously throughout the summer,” Chanon said. “Succession planting allows you to have fresh produce all throughout the year.”

Chanon suggested staggering planting seeds of a particular vegetable every two weeks, instead of planting them all at once. This allows your harvest to be extended.

“There’s also cold weather and hot weather vegetables too, so in the spring you can plant tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, lima beans, green beans, cucumbers, squash and more and expect a harvest in August,” she said. “Then, in August, you can plant vegetables like kale, swiss chard and broccoli.”

Chanon encourages all beginner gardeners to reach out to local county Extension offices for questions and resources related to gardening. They are also preparing for a surge of questions this fall regarding canning.

As the world slowly makes its return to a new normal moving forward, perhaps this year’s new gardeners will look back on this time and focus on the good: learning to be self-sufficient, spending time outside with loved ones and placing hope and faith that a small seed will one day turn into a bountiful harvest.

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