Pandemic leads to more green thumbs in northern Utah

Ogden, Utah • The latest products to fly off the shelves because of the COVID-19 pandemic? Gardening supplies.

Unlike toilet paper and flour shortages, though, the demand for gardening supplies isn’t solely due to panic buying. Northern Utahns are taking up gardening for a variety of reasons, from filling the time and calming stress to growing their own food to supplement patchy produce sections at grocery stores.

Northern Utahns aren’t alone in their newfound urge to garden. People across the country are feeling the “need for seed,” overwhelming gardening stores and websites with demand for their products.

[Read more: First Utahn to get plasma treatment for COVID-19 is released from hospital after 25 days]

Jennifer Bodine, resident of Ogden and sustainability manager at Weber State, falls in the first category, the Standard-Examiner reported. She has started gardening with her children this spring.

“As a working mom of young kids, I’ve always intended to plant a garden, and sometimes I start, and I fail,” Bodine said. “I haven’t had the time; but now I’ve had the time, and it’s been ... the thing I’ve been doing with my girls to keep us all busy.”

Several weeks ago, Bodine was looking for supplies, and staff at local gardening stores told her that supplies were flying off the shelves, she said.

”‘Everyone and their dog is gardening right now,‘” Bodine recalled them saying to her.

“Yeah, of course we are, because what else can we all do?” she continued, laughing.

Bodine says her friends in the sustainability community are also picking up gardening, some with plans to donate the produce to those in need because of the pandemic’s economic impact.

As the advisor of Weber State’s community garden club, Bodine and students had to decide whether to keep the university’s community garden running after the campus shut down in mid-March. That garden helps stock the food pantry on campus, which is no longer functioning. A student has continued to tend to the campus garden, with plans to donate the produce elsewhere, Bodine said.

The demand for supplies that store staff told Bodine about several weeks ago has continued, or even increased.

“I have taught more people the ABCs of doing a first-time garden in the last three weeks than I have in the last two years combined,” said Jake Morley, operations manager for Valley Nursery in Uintah. “I think it’s a silver lining. I think it’s a good thing.”

Last Saturday, the nursery sold more on that day than any day in the past 10 years, Morley said — and it’s not even May, typically the nursery’s busiest time.

“About Mother’s Day is what we would consider our Super Bowl,” Morley said.

Right now, vegetables are particularly popular, he said.

There’s so much demand that the nursery discontinued pick-up services Tuesday morning, Morley said, though they continue to practice social distancing.

For those who are concerned about higher traffic, the morning hours from 8-9:30 a.m. during the week are the least busy times, he said.

Customers also don’t need to come inside the garden center, Morley said. There are register windows available that allow customers to stay outside.

Valley Nursery is not the only local nursery that’s experiencing high demand. A representative of Jerry’s Nursery and Garden Center in Farr West was willing to speak with the Standard-Examiner, but the store was “crazy busy,” she said, and she ultimately did not have time to talk.

Longtime gardener Karl Behling, a resident of Kaysville and a recently retired teacher, set up a neighborhood gardening group on Facebook at the end of March. Since then, 31 people in his neighborhood have joined it.

Some members of the group are experienced gardeners. They’re helping the new gardeners get their gardens going, advising them on timing, watering and preparing the soil, he said.

“There’s lots to learn,” Behling said. “I think it’s a great way to keep your mind calm. You can sit at home all day, and the panic overtakes you, and you start that cycle of worry. ... [Gardening] is a good, good way to calm yourself down and to look forward to a future of some good stuff, good vegetables, coming out of your garden.”

Behling said he set up the group in response to the pandemic.

“I did this specifically because of the pandemic,” Behling said. “People need something to do, and a garden is a great way to spend your time and get the kids out digging in the dirt.”

In addition to starting the group, he’s expanded his own garden in response to the pandemic. Growing your food is always a good idea, he said, but especially right now since certain produce is occasionally not available at the store.

For those who like freshly picked produce in particular, growing their own could be an alternative if farmers markets close this summer.

According to the Farmers Market Ogden website, the summer market is moving forward as planned, but vendors fees will be refunded if the market is canceled, it says.

“We are staying informed on the evolving situation surrounding coronavirus (COVID-19) and will continue to evaluate our community programming moving forward as suggested by the CDC,” the website says.

One resource for new gardeners is the Utah State University Extension’s website at https://extension.usu.edu/yardandgarden. Though the extension’s in-person gardening classes have been canceled, the courses have been moved online. The offerings include courses such as “Container Vegetable Gardening” and “Creating Perfect Soil,” and each online course is $25.