Vegetable Gardens to Survive the Virus (and Beat the Climate Crisis)

COVID-19 has prompted bizarre reactions — most famously a run on toilet paper but also an increase in buying live chickens, non-perishables and guns. Perhaps most heartening, is a drastic increase in backyard vegetable gardens. I too have started a Virus Garden (as my family jokingly calls it). We already grow much of our food organically but recently expanded our vegetable garden. When we called our local seedling supplier they were (for the first time ever) too busy to take orders. Dozens are ensuring they have fresh food in the months to come by planting gardens. 

Growing a garden is a fantastic alternative to panic buying

  • Unlike panic buying, its tricky to panic when you’re gardening — increasingly research indicates that growing plants reduces anxiety, some psychiatrists are even prescribing it in place of medication. Growing food is within our control, especially comforting in a situation beyond control.
  • Panic buying reduces food security and makes shortages more likely. While upper-middle-class emaSwati can buy weeks worth of food, the vast majority cannot. Panic buying reduces stock for those living paycheck to paycheck. Growing backyard gardens increases food security, particularly valuable in highly food insecure Eswatini.  
  • Unlike grocery shopping, you don’t have to leave your house to harvest backyard vegetables and when the pandemic abates, you’ll still have fresh homegrown produce.  
  • Importantly for the Eswatini Climate Coalition — growing your own food is good for the planet as it reduces carbon footprints (zero transport and zero packaging for instance). Consider permaculture and agroecological methods too!   
Pelum Eswatini is an organization that supports local farmers. They’re also promoting backyard gardens! 

Gardening increases during crises — for instance, the 2008 financial crisis. Most famous, perhaps, are wartime victory gardens. Victory gardens increased food production during the world wars in Europe and the US but Eswatini’s history of victory gardens is one of anti-colonial resistance. The colonial government tried to incorporate subsistence farmers into commodity production to reduce imports, save colonial money and produce food for the British war effort. The top-down attempt to commodify subsistence farmers failed dismally— Swazi farmers rejected British demands and crop production dropped during the wars.

We can learn from Eswatini’s subsistence farmers when creating backyard gardens. ©FAO/Eswatini Team. Editorial use only. Copyright FAO. 

An immense amount can be learnt from subsistence farmers to create resilient, climate-friendly backyard gardens. Subsistence farms are decentralised and largely self-sufficient (vital during physical distancing). The crop varieties are best suited to our climate, many of them staples such as sorghum and sweet potatoes. Techniques are effective — crop mixing and rotation, and incorporating livestock into farming. Finally, subsistence farmers have perfected means of maximising produce on minimal cost, especially valuable as COVID-19 damages Eswatini’s economy.

Resources to get gardening:

  • This website displays the best time to plant which crops for your region. Early winter in Eswatini is a fantastic time to plant carrots, peas, cabbage, spinach and onions.
  • Trade or buy seeds from local farmers, groceries stores, garden shops or seed and seedling outlets. Many remain open. If you can’t access these, dry beans can be planted or look out for sprouting potatoes, ginger or garlic. 
  • Investigate online vegetable gardening courses. Here’re ten free ones to get started.
  • Discover the potential of permaculture to grow immensely productive gardens in small spaces. It’s a good idea to start small! 
  • When this crisis has ended and you still want to grow your garden: 
    •  Learn with the new Mbabane Urban Garden project or start your own urban gardens with your municipality. 
    • Contact Gubaa fantastic permaculture project in Malkerns. 

Given both the climate and COVID crises, now is the best time to grow your own vegetables. If you get a garden going, please let us know. Connect with us at eswatini.climate@gmail.com, on Facebook or Instagram. We’d love to see pictures. Start digging right away!  

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