Start a Victory Garden | 23

There’s something really grounding (no pun intended) with tilling the soil, getting about as offline as you can get, and doing something that humans have done for millennia.

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Episode Transcript

This is The Good List — I’m Tsh Oxenreider.

The past few weekends, our family has been working in the backyard. I get this way every spring, where I CRAVE being outside (March through May is the best time of year in central Texas, weather-wise, I’ve always said) — but I’ve felt the pull even stronger this year because of — well, because of all this we’re going through. There’s something really grounding (no pun intended) with tilling the soil, getting about as offline as you can get, and doing something that humans have done for millennia. So it was a fun excuse to chat with my friend Jacqui Skemp, who’s in Minnesota, about her thoughts on this, because she’s feeling that pull towards her backyard garden as well, even though it’s still much colder where she is. So, here’s that chat, about why now is a really good time to start a garden, even if you’re a total and complete beginner.

Tsh: Okay. Jacqui, what is on your good list right now?

Jacqui: This week we started the beginnings of our garden for this year, and I just did a few seedlings. I pulled out all of my old seeds, I ordered some new ones and got the first round of little starters going.

Tsh: And you’re in Minnesota, right?

Jacqui: Yes.

Tsh: So April for you is a season of seed starting then? Is that what I’m hearing you say?

Jacqui: I’m a little late on it, but yes.

Tsh: Because I was gonna say it’s already too late here in Texas to plant certain things like we already missed the lettuce season, for example.

Jacqui: Oh, wow, really?

Tsh: Yeah, because it’s too warm already.

Jacqui: Here I will likely have to acquire a few that have already started and at a nursery. Some nurseries here doing pickup on curbside pickup for plants later in the season. I still have a little bit of time to get things done. I planted tomatoes, which you know is a little bit late, but you know, they go so far into the growing season here that it’s nice to have something later in the summer to enjoy.

Tsh: I don’t know what this is, but I have found myself just acting, I don’t want to say differently because of the quarantine, but I find myself drawn towards calming forms of entertainment. And one of them weirdly enough is gardening shows on YouTube. I just want to sit and watch people tell me what to do. Tell me what to plant, when, how to do square foot gardening, little hacks for doing it right or easily and it’s been really calming. There is something really therapeutic about gardening.

Jacqui: Yeah. I grew up gardening, not necessarily vegetable gardening we did more flowers and other kinds of plants and fruit trees. I grew up in California. I had to really adjust when I moved here. I’m still learning a lot. I like to click into those calendars with the Farmer’s Almanac or whatever. They have ways we can tell them what zone you’re in and they will tell you or they’ll remind you, this is what you can start right now. This is what you want to start prepping for. I find it so helpful especially with how things are right now. I’m anticipating just being home for the summer. We’re not planning any traveling this year. We were gone for most of our summer last year.

Tsh: I remember that.

Jacqui: We did this big road trip and we were in California for a really long time and we had already discussed trying to stay home a little bit longer this summer and it just worked out that now we’re going to be home all summer.

Tsh: Right. We are too. We did have travel plans and as of now, they’re canceled. And that was my hesitation on doing much of a backyard garden because we’ve done that in the past where we overdid it, and then we have to leave. And so our neighbor, we have a neighbor who actually works at a farm, so he brings us all sorts of plants. It’s fantastic. But we’ve had to tell him, just reach over and grab whatever you want. We have a stone wall that separates us and it’s only about three feet tall. This is an old neighborhood. Just reach over and grab whatever you want or just hop over, take some zucchini or tomato or whatever. Because it’s just gonna fall and then get gross. It’s actually a really good, it’s not a silver lining because this whole thing is just hard, but it’s one of the bright things we can do right now, especially when outside time is so therapeutic, and yet we’re so limited as to where we can go.

Jacqui: We lived for many years in apartments and we also lived in duplexes and so we had to adjust and I’ve done a lot of container gardening. We’ve lived in some places where we did have a little plot where we could tend to a very small, raised garden bed and now we have a significant amount of space in our yard. We have a city lot, but we still have a lot of space to work with. I love watching things grow and I now it seems like the perfect time to plant some things small and watch it grow and tend to it because there is something still good about getting your hands in the dirt and getting on your knees and pulling weeds and having dirt under your nails. Watering the garden in the afternoon when the sun is starting to set and it’s just so beautiful. I think that it’s going to be a way of bringing back ourselves to home during this time and to have some time to focus on here at home when we really might not be able to do anything outside of the home.

Tsh: It feels like such an antidote to everything else. You open your Twitter feed and you just feel that immediate rush of cortisol stress and it feels like pulling weeds is the opposite of a Twitter feed. It’s something slow, something that’s been happening forever, the seasons or are still coming regardless of what’s happening. I think we’re hardwired to long for more of that slow pace and watching something grow is not exactly fast-paced in a good way.

Jacqui: Right. When all of this was kind of coming out and my husband teaches US history, so we talk a lot about US history and oh man, to thinking about the victory gardens that people were growing and, their intent was very different. There was a food shortage and they were trying to get people to grow their own food. But in some ways I feel like this is a victory for us to be able to grow things in a time where so much of our social lives are going to be really dead or different, just very different, you know? Everything is very screen-based. It’ll be so nice to have something that’s right in front of you.

Tsh: I keep thinking about World War II, so much that and the Great Depression and what that generation did to survive compared to what we’re being asked to do right now, sit on the couch. I think of that, I posted this on Instagram a few weeks ago, that the old victory gardens slogan, or not just victory garden, but World War II slogan about use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without. TO me, that’s the same spirit, this idea of starting a garden, not so much that we need you to grow your own tomatoes because we won’t have enough. But there’s something about self-sustainability right now that just feels really life-giving and really comforting to know, I could do this if I had to.

Jacqui: Right. Absolutely. I realize it’s a privilege to have the space to do that in and not everybody has that, but there are ways that people can grow even if they just have a little spot in front of their door or outside of their apartment complex. There are ways that you can still tend to garden of sorts or even just like a house plant that you kind of watch grow in your window. It’s very life-giving.

Tsh: Yeah. It really is. Now more than ever it’s a really simple practice that we can do for really inexpensively and we can easily reap the benefits mentally and emotionally and I guess even socially for our families.

Jacqui: Absolutely. I love this for the children, it’s so beautiful for them to pick peas off of a vine or pull a carrot out of the dirt. My kids like to pick off the lettuces and the kale as well in time. I can never get them to eat kale from my dinner table. But they’ll gladly pull it out of a garden bed.

Tsh: It’s funny, your kids are little, right?

Jacqui: They are. Yeah. Seven, five and three.

Tsh: Okay. So mine are nine and up and it’s funny, we still talk with them about what we want to grow and they pick all these things that they actually don’t really love to eat, but they still just enjoy the process of growing. It’s like, come on guys, make this applicable here. I mean they do, we’ll do strawberries or I have one kid that likes tomatoes and those are easy to grow so we’ll do them. But I have this one kid who’s just super, super picky yet he’s the one that likes to garden the most. It’s just funny. Just eat it.

Jacqui: I’m planting a rainbow chard. I don’t eat it. It looks so beautiful in garden beds. Maybe we’ll get accustomed to eating it, but I just love it because it’s so gorgeous.

Tsh: I know exactly what you mean. It’s funny, I will look at all these gardens on YouTube and think that looks amazing. And yet we would have to give like 90% of that away because we would either just flat out not eat it or that’s way too much for our family. But it’s a really cool idea.

Jacqui: I know, I know. I follow a gardener here in Minnesota and she has a really large plot, so she does a lot of early sowing. She has covers over her beds and she’s sowing, weeks ago she’s been planting outside even with snow out and I realized like I had to adjust my expectations for our own family, what we can do as well. I don’t have lights in my basement to start seeds in February. That’s just not where we’re at. I don’t know if we would eat all of that and have the time to tend to all of it. I think just also understanding maybe all you can grow is a potted tomato, that’s enough.

Tsh: That’s right. And to me, that’s a great example of partial solutions because I will watch some of these people. There’s this one guy, I’ve watched this video where he grows everything he eats, literally. He had this experiment for a year, can he live out of his backyard? And he did. But it was really thought out and really intense and he was very dedicated and he’s a single guy. That to me is the key where it’s different. It’s easy for those of us who are maybe at home with kids or we don’t have a, like you said, we don’t have a large space. Maybe we just have an apartment balcony to just throw in the towel and say, oh, well, lovely idea. But no, not for me. Instead of just thinking what’s one pot of some crazy easy herb I can grow and just reap the benefits of that if even if it’s not for food, but just for the satisfaction of growing something.

Jacqui: Yeah, it is. It’s such a good thing. I’m curious to see how community gardens also play out this summer. I hope that there is still somebody tending to them but I don’t know how that’s gonna pan out with all of this social distancing. That will be interesting to see.

Tsh: I wondered that as well. Where we used to live there was a community garden and then I know in places like New York, they heavily depend on community gardens. I’m wondering about that. Maybe if a listener hearing this is part of one or has one in their neighborhood, they can tell us what that’s been like because I have wondered, maybe there’s some sort of schedule they can create where people can come one at a time or something. I think it would be really great instead of just tossing in the towel on the idea for a whole year.

Jacqui: I know. That would be just another tragedy on top of that.

Tsh: Gosh, I know. It’s funny how I don’t want to say, it’s like now our priorities are shifted, but it’s almost like now we realize what our real priorities are. Oh gosh, this actually really matters where it maybe it didn’t seem like it mattered that much, you know, just a few months ago.

Jacqui: Right.

You know, Jacqui and I kinda tossed around the term “victory garden” in our chat, referencing the WWII mission a lot of families tasked themselves with — they had to plant gardens because there was literally a food shortage. And while that’s not our case in the pandemic (at least right now), there’s something really sobering, sacred, and real about digging in the dirt and planting something we can then feed our families within a few months’ time. So… I’m kinda inclined to call our little, unimpressive by most standards, backyard garden a “victory garden.” Because it’s our way of claiming victory over this pandemic — that it won’t have the last say; that Lord-willing, we’ll be thriving even better because of it. I’ve always loved cultivating a backyard garden, but this year, it’s even more symbolic.

A little reminder that if you haven’t yet, to sign up for my free weekly email called 5 Quick Things, where I share 5 things I either created or loved from the week. Go to to sign up, and you’ll get the next weekly email that goes out on Friday mornings.

Jacqui’s blog is at, and she’s on IG @jacquiskemp. I’m on twitter @tsh and sometimes on IG @tshoxenreider, and you can also find a transcript and the show notes of this episode, and all episodes, at I’m also gonna add a few links to my favorite gardening 101 YouTube channels that have really helped me out. So head to and look for episode 23 to check all this out.

And don’t forget to leave me a voicemail or send me a voice recording, telling me one thing you’re doing to stay sane during your quarantine and social distancing. Leave me a voicemail at (401) 684-GOOD, which goes directly to voicemail; or, simply record your voice and email the voice file to Just state your name and where you’re from, and what’s one thing helping you get through this right now. And we may feature it here on the show.

Music for the show is by Kevin MacLeod, and thanks, as always, to Caroline TeSelle and Kyle Oxenreider for their help, as well as my furry intern, Ginny. I’m Tsh Oxenreider, and I’ll be back with you in just a few days — thanks for listening to The Good List.