Kasey Quinn Nightingale does not have a green thumb.
For the past decade the self-described “terrible” gardener had confined her vegetable picking to the produce section at the local supermarket.
That changed with the coronavirus outbreak. She and her family have created a makeshift greenhouse, planted their first seeds, and started the process of creating a backyard garden at their Lisbon home.
They aim to grow a variety of crops — cucumbers, green beans, lettuce, onions, peppers, potatoes and tomatoes — as a means of ensuring the safety and stability of their food supply.
“Part of it seems a little ridiculous, but I would rather feel ridiculous now and have food later,” Nightingale said.
There has been a surge in home garden interest since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, as people look to improve their food security, as supermarkets across the country cope with product shortages.
High Mowing Seeds in Wolcott reported 10,000 new customers and a 280 percent increase in online sales since the outbreak began.
Customers appear to be planning larger-than-usual gardens this spring, ordering seeds in greater varieties and higher amounts.
Sales and marketing director Andrea Tursini called the buying activity “a little startling.”
“It’s a dramatic difference. I would say they are buying some of everything, they are buying all they can,” Tursini said.
“I’ve noticed a lot of home garden orders that are 30 to 35 varieties [of seeds] which is a pretty good sized garden,” she said. “And we’re seeing home gardeners order quantities of individual items that are larger than normal. Instead of ordering 100 seeds of sugar snap peas, for instance. they might be ordering a half pound instead.”
Fulfilling the surge of orders has been difficult. Most of the High Mowing staff is working from home and warehouse employees operate under new guidelines to prevent COVID-19 transmission. The company is looking to hire an additional 10 people to meet the demand.
“It’s challenging to keep up with it,” Tursini said. “The purchasing department is working overtime to keep inventory on our shelves.”
Tursini typically maintains a 1,000 square foot vegetable garden at her home, and is familiar with the joys of growing your own food.
She pointed to two reasons why people are taking a renewed interest in backyard agriculture.
“One, people are going to the grocery stores and seeing shortages. I’m seeing shortages in paper products, flour, basic pantry staples. I think that creates a sense of anxiety in people: ‘Will we continue to see shortages.’” she said. “By choosing to grow a garden, it gives people back control, in a situation that feels very out of control.”
The second reason, she added, “People have children home with them, and are looking for activities to do with kids that will get them out of the house, and promote health and wellness.”
Robyn Lee Van Vechten of Monroe has built a 64-square-foot, raised-bed garden in her backyard and plans to raise tomatoes and herbs on her porch.
The last time she planted a garden years ago, Van Vechten said “I had to fight with the deer and rabbits to get anything out of it,” but was drawn to try again, concerned by the possibility of product shortages and price spikes.
“I tried to be prepared without being overly alarmist,” she said. “I don’t want to be an alarmist, but I do want to be prepared.”
She plans to grow broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, lettuce, tomatoes and other items “that I know we will eat.” She ordered organic seeds from a regional company. To prepare, she has been reading up on gardening and watching YouTube videos.
“I still need to figure out when to plant. There’s so much I don’t know, I’m aware of that. I feel like I’m behind the curve,” she said. “I feel like I’m cramming for the biggest test ever.”
Meanwhile Nightingale’s family has already gotten to work.
They have built an indoor greenhouse from old windows and planted tomato and pepper seeds, and will create a raised-bed garden in the backyard.
It shows how much things can change in a few weeks.
When the crisis began, Nightingale said her family were not the type “that went out and bought all the toilet paper,” but on Friday she found herself wearing personal protective equipment while shopping.
“I’m in Wal Mart now and I have a mask, where this morning I didn’t have one,” she said. “When I went over to Shaw’s, people stood six-feet apart. It’s all kind of resonating that something is going on.”