When life gives you lemons, grow radishes.
That isn’t exactly how the saying goes, but it sums up the approach of Indianola gardeners during the COVID-19 outbreak. Monica Thompson, floor manager of McCoy True Value, has seen it firsthand.
“We’ve seen quite a few people this week who have never grown gardens before,” she said. “They’re like, ‘I’m at home, and I’ve always wanted to try it. … I may as well give it a shot.’”
And radishes? They just might be the perfect crop for pandemic-era beginners.
Thompson said her daughter is sprouting some now in a container garden. When they’re ready to be harvested, these critical first few weeks in the fight against COVID will be over.
“Twenty-one days is how long it takes a radish to grow, start to finish, which is pretty cool,” Thompson said. “So, if you’re going to be home for three weeks, you could be eating radishes in celebration.”
But what if you’re a beginner and don’t know how to dig in? According to Angie Buchanan, Indianola city horticulturist, it’s still too early to plant most annual flowers and vegetables.
“Perennials you can do earlier, but annuals — it’s Mother’s Day,” she said of the rule of (green) thumb for planting. “They really won’t grow until it’s warmer weather. If you plant tomatoes and peppers, they won’t grow until the soil warms up to the right temperature.”
In the meantime, prepare those gardens by cutting back perennials as needed, cleaning up the crunchy remains of last year’s bounty and enriching the soil with fertilizer or compost.
“It’s basically time to get your soil ready to plant,” explained Judy Dugan, who manages Hy-Vee’s garden center at 910 N. Jefferson Way. “If your gardens are ready and you’re doing vegetables, it’s time to get your cold crops in — like your potatoes, your onions, cabbage.”
HOW DOES YOUR GARDEN GROW?
Whether now or closer to Mother’s Day, getting those seeds and plants might be a different process this year. Garden centers are trying to give customers a fun, but socially distant, shopping experience.
For instance, the Buxton Plant Sale, a favorite annual fundraiser to support the gardens at Buxton Park, was scheduled for April 24 and 25 at the city greenhouse, 2205 E. 2nd Ave.
The event will go on, but via online ordering and curbside pickup or delivery. Buchanan said to watch for more details, including an order form available on April 14, and any updates to this plan.
“We have tentative plans,” she noted. “Things are changing constantly right now.”
As for Hy-Vee, Dugan said the garden center is scheduled to open on Monday, April 13. Hours will be 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily through the rest of this month, expanding to 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. in May.
She’s excited about new flower varieties that she’ll have in stock in limited quantities. Looking for a project for little green thumbs at home? She’d be happy to point you in the direction of cheery sunflowers and marigolds that are easy to grow.
Like Buchanan, though, she emphasized the unpredictability of the COVID-19 outbreak.
“We sure plan on being out there,” Dugan said, “but if corporate says all of a sudden, ‘We’re going to hold off a couple more weeks,’ that might be a possibility, too.”
For the latest updates, she encouraged customers to follow the store on Facebook or call 515-961-5329.
Busy Bee Garden Center, 5901 Highway 65/69, is already abuzz with activity. Customers may peruse the greenhouse, but now also have the option of delivery or curbside pickup.
“We’re just trying to be open and accommodating to as many people as possible,” said co-owner Chelsey Soder. "I think people underestimate the emotional benefit of gardening. Getting outside and connecting with nature is really good for people's souls."
In the next week or so, she hopes to have more of their inventory online so that shoppers can browse from home.
“Otherwise, they’re welcome to call in,” she said. “I know some people aren’t sure what they want. We can kind of talk them through some of the selections.”
Houseplants have been a top seller so far, Soder said — an opportunity to bring a little outdoors inside. Customers have expressed concern about whether vegetable plants may be in short supply later, as more people try to grow their own food during the pandemic.
“We have plenty of vegetables,” Soder reassured. “I know that a lot of people are worried that we’re going to run out. We’ve had a ton of people who have wanted to get tomatoes and peppers, and we’re at least a month early on those.”
It’s a similar setup at McCoy True Value and Just Ask Rental, 216 N. Howard St. The store remains open for business, but with the added convenience of delivery or curbside pickup.
“Even when we have a lot of people in here, it’s a small store, but we don’t usually have those types of crowds,” Thompson said of maintaining social distance. “I think people are very understanding and patient with others in our store.”
Whichever way customers shop, Thompson said they’ll find new spring items like bird feeders, rain gauges, a wide variety of seeds and a new line of garden trellises.
“Garden structures are always a fun thing to add,” she said. “People always think of ground gardens or flower pots, but if you want to actually be able to see it from more of a distance, vertical is the way to go.”
McCoy staff are ready to take orders or offer more ideas at 515-961-4755. Or, follow the store on Facebook.
And, yes, Thompson can tell you more about radishes.
“There is so little that people have control over in their lives right now,” she said. “Even though you can’t ‘control’ your garden, feeling like you have a zone in your world where you get to make your own choices — I think people need that right now.”