Sedgwick County agent helping to set up gardeners nationwide for success
When Rebecca McMahon saw a newspaper article in March indicating that garden stores in Wichita were already selling out of supplies, she had an idea what was going on.
The state’s stay-at-home order as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic was inspiring many homeowners to plant their own garden, she thought.
So McMahon, the horticultural food crops agent for K-State Research and Extension’s Sedgwick County office, quickly made plans to help out. In April, she launched an eight-week online gardening course, titled Victory Garden 101, to set up aspiring gardeners for success.
“The topics are geared toward first-time gardeners, or those who have dabbled in the past without a whole of success, and at the time were taking advantage of the stay-at-home order to jump back into vegetable gardening,” McMahon said. “But anyone who gardens knows that there is always something more to learn.”
The live class was held Tuesday evenings through the end of May, but all of the lessons are available for free, seven days a week on the Sedgwick County Extension office’s website at https://www.sedgwick.k-state.edu/.
“Everyone can access the materials on the website, but they need to register if they want email updates and the chance to join the live class,” McMahon said.
People from across the U.S. had signed up for the course with 820 participants in the class as of May 5.
The concept of a “victory garden” dates back to World War II when Americans were encouraged to plant a home garden to provide a certain amount of their food during a time when many of the country’s agricultural products were being used to support the military.
“I saw a statistic that indicated about 40% of fruits and vegetables consumed by Americans at that time were provided by victory gardens during World War II,” McMahon said. “That’s a huge number.”
Similarly, the basis for McMahon’s class is to encourage consumers to grow some of their own food, adding to their community’s food security, while also saving a little money on their grocery bill.
“Gardening is a great thing anytime, pandemic or not,” McMahon said. “I encourage folks to pick up vegetable gardening as a great opportunity for learning for their kids, activity for themselves and a great way to add vegetables and healthy foods to your diet.”
McMahon noted that it doesn’t take a lot of room to grow a few vegetables or other garden crop. People who live in apartments can grow vegetables or other crops in small containers on a balcony or patio, for example.
“Even in a small yard, you can grow a few things,” she said. “You don’t have to till up a rectangular section of your yard in order to have a garden.”
McMahon added that the weekly lessons provide a nifty template for getting started. Starting with week one, Victory Garden 101 is leading gardeners through preparing a site, planning the garden, growing your own salad, tips for great tomatoes, using vertical space, watering and dealing with insect of disease problems.
It’s also not too late to get some of Kansans’ favorites into the ground.
“Right now is a great time to plant tomatoes and green beans,” McMahon said in early May. “And over the next couple weeks, other warm season vegetables like cucumbers, squash, melons, peppers and eggplant can be planted.”
For ideas on what can be planted in Kansas — and the best time to do so — interested persons should read the Vegetable Garden Planting Guide at https://bookstore.ksre.ksu.edu/pubs/mf315.pdf, published through K-State Research and Extension. McMahon noted that the third page of that guide has a planting calendar that serves as an easy-to-use reference for planting fruits and vegetables.
“I really encourage people to start with some leafy greens because they grow to maturity a lot faster than other crops,” McMahon said. “Plus, they’re a short project. If you grow some lettuce and after harvesting it in 50 to 60 days you decide this gardening thing is not for you, then you haven’t invested too much time and you still got something out of it.
“Tomatoes, potatoes and squash … they’re flashy vegetables, but they are an investment of time, and you have a lot of gardening work to do to get to your harvest endpoint.”
For more information regarding gardening, interested persons are also encouraged to join the Victory Garden 101 Facebook page at www.facebook.com/groups/victorygarden101.