Food

Quarantine garden boom: Local growers are delivering starter food farms to your door

Garden centers remain open as a food cultivation source as consumers seek to start a new version of victory gardens.

The other day, it occurred to me that the little houseplant I’d bought had sparked a tiny bit of joy. And if one small plant could make even a slight difference in my otherwise bleak mood these days, then what if I had more? Maybe now would be the time that I wouldn’t kill them within a week or two. Maybe they would survive, and so would I.

Turns out, I’m not the only one who’s turning to gardening as a way to deal with the stress of, well, everything right now as we weather the coronavirus pandemic. Local garden centers are reporting brisker than usual sales of edibles, and local growers are developing new starter kits.

Robert Curry, manager of urban agriculture for the city of Dallas, says he thinks people are turning to gardening to ease the fear of so much uncertainty. “No matter what their situation is, people don’t really trust where they are right now,” he says. “Our food supply isn’t threatened, but people are still worried about getting enough to eat."

So whether or not they’ve ever grown anything at all, Dallasites are turning to gardens as a way to deal with the unknown.

“There’s an emotional connection to your food when you grow it yourself,” Curry says. “When you take something out of the seed packet or put the seedling in the dirt, then you have to tend to it, you have to shade it sometimes, pull the weeds, chase away the squirrels. They’re a lot of work, but they’re rewarding."

Whatever your situation or space limitations, there’s a way to garden, plus you can order everything online, or go old-school and call one of Dallas’ garden centers, and they’ll deliver whatever you need right to your door.

Here are a few ways to start a home garden without leaving the house.

Herb garden delivery from Gardenuity
Herb garden delivery from Gardenuity(Gardenuity)

Outdoor plots: Dallas garden shops that will deliver

To help locals get their hands in the dirt as quickly as possible, Dallas-based Gardenuity, the online garden retailer that sells container herb and vegetable gardens in chic, black canvas bags, is offering free, same-day delivery of its turnkey garden kits to anyone in the Dallas-Fort Worth area right now, in a new partnership with the local ride-hailing service Alto. A culinary herb garden with plants is $72. Buy at gardenuity.com.

“Studies show that when you nurture a garden, you connect with nature, and it helps our mental health, it helps reduce stress, and it helps us relax,” says Donna Letier, Gardenuity CEO.

Gardenuity’s kits come with all the necessary gardening accessories, plus there’s a team of online coaches called “Grow Pros” to help new gardeners through the growing process. “Every two weeks you get a notice that says, ‘Here’s what you should be seeing, here are wellness tips, here are recipes,’" she says.

As grim as the world looks right now, Letier says gardening can help. “We encourage people to get dirty. Getting your hands in the soil is good. To experience all of the benefits of gardening, you have to do it yourself.”

GroBox gardens from Restorative Farms come with Dallas-grown seedlings.
GroBox gardens from Restorative Farms come with Dallas-grown seedlings.(Rick Baraff)

The Dallas nonprofit Restorative Farms also offers delivery of its self-contained garden boxes ― ones that are large and deep enough to hold several plants at a time, like four tomato plants, which take up a fair amount of space as they grow, or six cilantro plants and four heads of lettuce, which take up very little. The GroBox gardens come with Dallas-grown seedlings (you choose which herbs and vegetables you’d like to grow, and the staff guides you through how many you can fit in the box), plus a boxful of organic soil mix.

The nonprofit aims to help reduce Dallas’ food deserts by creating organic urban gardens in these communities, and teaching people how to grow food. With Restorative Farms’ $110 GroBox ― now rebranded as a “Victory GroBox" ― you can start your own garden with one kit. Plus, like Gardenuity, Restorative Farms offers guidance along the way. Buy online at restorativefarms.com.

“So many people had questions. We realized we could provide that advice along with the product,” says Restorative Farms co-founder Brad Boa. Even for first-time gardeners, in the midst of all of the uncertainty right now, he says the timing is right to jump into gardening. “Twenty-five percent of people lived off of victory gardens during the war,” he says.

Last week, gardeners hit Dallas nurseries in larger numbers than usual, keeping their distance and buying edibles that they can put in the ground now, then begin to harvest in late spring. Garden centers have been considered “essential businesses” for food cultivation purposes in the Dallas County order, so they remain open.

“We’ve seen an uptick in sales of herbs and vegetables,” says Chuck Walton, owner of Walton’s Garden Center in Dallas. “I’d say we’ve had a 10 or 15% increase of people coming in who’ve never grown herbs or vegetables before. That leads me to believe that they’re growing their own in case they can’t get to the store.”

North Haven Gardens has also seen an uptick in sales of edibles to people who’ve never grown them before, says Cody Hoya, North Haven Gardens general manager. “Not only is it a unique experience from the time you plant a seed to putting it on the dinner table, it’s a tremendous learning experience for all of the children, not to mention physical exercise and fresh air for anyone who’s been cooped up in the house,” he says.

Ruth Kinler, owner of Redenta’s Garden on Skillman Street, now doing home delivery and curbside pickup, says that she’s seen a similar buying pattern just over the last few days.

“We sold out of all of our vegetables by Thursday ― we’re getting new stock now ― and we’re selling lots of vegetable seeds,” she says. “Normally we would’ve sold more houseplants, but it seems to have shifted in the last five days. It’s more herbs and vegetables and organic soil prep, which tells me they’re going to be in the garden, and they’re growing things they can eat.”

Rick Baraff and Courtney Miles Baraff plant GroBox gardens with their 17-month old twins, Clyde and Edie
Rick Baraff and Courtney Miles Baraff plant GroBox gardens with their 17-month old twins, Clyde and Edie (Rick Baraff)

Indoor gardens: Buying ‘smart’ gardens online

Dallas author and photographer Daniel Hale bought a self-contained smart garden, Click and Grow, two months ago, and he’s still taking cuttings from his now-mature basil and cilantro plants, both of which have grown to about 6 inches tall.

“I read a review and it seemed like it was foolproof, and it actually works,” he says. “Everything I’ve planted has sprouted and turned out really nice. The basil I’m using for caprese salads, and I’m growing also cilantro, because I love Mexican food and now I’m making Mexican food at home. I even add it to jarred salsa.”

Hale has the smallest of the Click and Grow smart gardens. It’s about the size of a large shoebox with an overhead light that stays on for 16 hours at a time to mimic sunlight. The plants come in seed form, in Nespresso-like biodegradable soil pods with fertilizer specific to that particular plant. You just click the pods into place, add water, and watch them grow. Speed varies slightly, but on average, plants grow 30 to 50% faster than with traditional methods. AeroGarden and Veritable garden kits work in a similar way ― all are self-watering via the tank of water that the plants’ roots sit in.

As the coronavirus outbreak has spread globally, Click and Grow’s sales have increased online, and they’ve sold out in some markets.

“In the homebound situation we’re in right now, if you have plants at home, they purify the air, which means you feel better, and they add greenery, so it’s nice visually. When you interact with a plant and take care of it, you think about them, and it’s kind of magical,” says Martin Laidla, public relations manager for Click and Grow, who phoned from his apartment in Estonia, where he has been on lockdown for two weeks. “It gives you vitamin-rich food, it makes you happy, and it eliminates food waste.”

For Hale, it’s a simple pleasure to wake up to each day. “When I walk into the kitchen to get coffee in the morning and the lights above the plants are on, there’s this beautiful thing that’s green and alive in my house ― I love it.”

Mine is on its way.

Click and Grow packages
Click and Grow packages(Janar Raidla / Click and Grow)

Where to find your garden

Delivery in Dallas:

Walton’s Garden Center offers call-in orders and curbside service and will deliver in the Dallas area, within a 5-mile radius, for free with any orders of $50 or more. 8652 Garland Road. 214-321-2387. waltonsgarden.com.

Tip: “Start with soil,” says Chuck Walton, owner. “It’s like building a house. If you don’t get the foundation right, it won’t do very well. Plants will grow better in well-drained, composted soil.”

Redenta’s offers curbside pickup service. 2001 Skillman St. 214-823-9421. redentas.com.

Tip: “There are so many herbs that anybody can plant: hearty ones like rosemary, parsley, thyme and oregano. We tell people to wait on basil until the nighttime temperatures are consistently above 45 degrees,” says Ruth Kinler, owner. “I put mine in this week.”

North Haven Gardens offers curbside service and free delivery within select ZIP codes with a $100 purchase. For large curbside pickup orders, send your list to feedback@nhg.com and someone will call you to take your credit card and let you know when you can pick it up. You may also pick out your own vegetables and herbs in North Haven’s outdoor shoppable area and go to a walk-up checkout without being in a confined space. 7700 Northaven Road. 214-363-5316. nhg.com.

Tip: If you’re planting tomatoes ― one of the most popular vegetables that people buy at North Haven Gardens ― it’s about matching the right type of tomato to the space you’re planting. “If you’re planting in container, you’re best with determinate varieties, which stay more compact and bushy, or patio tomatoes which are for growing in smaller spaces.”

Ruibal’s Plants of Texas takes phone-in orders and offers curbside service and a $10 delivery fee for any orders in the Dallas area. If you don’t know what you want, phone them, and they’ll set up a FaceTime call and walk you through the nursery to show you the plants. Multiple locations. 214-744-9100. ruibals.com.

Tip: “It’s easy to make a garden. You just need some good soil, put the plants in the sun, and water them a little when they’re dry. Get potting soil for pots, and an organic fertilizer,” says Kenny Wales, manager of Ruibal’s at the Dallas Farmers Market.

Gardenuity offers online and phone ordering and delivers its complete plant kits, which cost $72, in the Dallas area for free. 469-359-5000. gardenuity.com.

Tip: “This is the perfect time to get a garden planted,” says Donna Letier, CEO. “We have early spring tomatoes shipping our every day.”

Restorative Farms of Dallas offers delivery of its Victory GroBox Gardens, fully contained boxes with five to seven plants inside, for $110, plus a delivery charge of $20. restorativefarms.com.

Tip: “Right now we have seedlings for tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce mix, sweet basil, cilantro, kale, cantaloupe, okra, watermelon, honeydew melons, green cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and Swiss chard,” says Brad Boa, one of the co-founders. “All of the seedlings were grown at the Seedling Farm at the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center Freedom Gardens.”

Online smart garden kits:

Most of these smart garden kits are available at several online retailers, are priced starting around $100 and come with starter plants. You can check the websites for more information on their gardens, then be sure to search around for the best prices – they vary slightly.

Click and Grow: clickandgrow.com

AeroGarden: aerogarden.com

Veritable: veritable-garden.com

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