The last few newsletters have been all about the fires and smoke and drought. We were sure this one would be a bit more sedate, all about the joys of gardening and getting out in nature in gentle autumn weather as a way to heal from a torrid summer. Little did we know the whole world was to be engulfed in more life and world changing events!

As an agricultural scientist with a first class honours degree, I have trained in the area of plant pathology and the subject of plant viruses and the diseases they cause has been one I have often dealt with at a practical level. Viruses are quite extraordinary organisms in that they are little more than a speck of DNA or RNA, in other words, they are more or less just the genetic information to allow the virus to replicate and little else. In the case of Coronavirus it replicates from the RNA which apparently evolved only a few months ago while we were all celebrating our Christmas and New Year. Washing your hands with soapy water is usually sufficient to render most viruses harmless, however, when that speck of genetic information finds the right host, whether it be plant or animal, it takes over and the host becomes the vehicle for the virus to multiply and spread to new hosts. How often can we say that a deadly assassin can be subdued by washing your hands in soapy water! But it is one of those simple everyday things that every single one of us can do.

In the absence of common sense hygiene, the more efficient the virus is in surviving outside the host and also in infecting its host, the greater the chances of a disease epidemic, or in the case of coronavirus, a pandemic that is spreading across the world.  This is a time to listen and learn from scientists who deal in facts and evidence and can help to save lots of lives. We at Gardening with Angus are eternally grateful to everyone who is working in the medical industry, from research scientists to the frontline practitioners, doctors and nurses and all those workers who support them.  Many of them are risking their lives and possibly those of their families to save lives and ease suffering. This is an opportunity for the rest of us to support them in any ways we can, and also it is an opportunity for us all to pause and look at how we can learn from the extreme events of the last 6 months to really get to grips with creating a more sustainable future for humanity. Climate change and coronavirus are symptoms of problems that we ignore or gloss over at our peril. Imagine if the death rate for coronavirus was 10 , 20 or 50%. Let’s take the opportunity of being at home to reflect on the changes we can all make as individuals to create a more sustainable future for future generations. Also, let’s demand our politicians act more in the interests of a sustainable future rather than taking their cues from those wealthy enough to make large donations that appear to give them undue influence on public policy.

At Gardening with Angus we have always had the philosophy of helping to create a more sustainable lifestyle at an individual level. To this end we have created a significant array of educational resources to help our readers and viewers adopt very simple everyday initiatives such as worm farming, composting and using the nutrients, beneficial microbes and organic matter recycled to grow your own food. We provide these resources for free thanks to the generosity of a variety of like minded sponsors who want to support our educational content. Fantastic Australian companies that do their manufacturing at home such as Tumbleweed, Neutrog, Waterups, Redback Boots and Vegepod are all working to create a more sustainable future for us all. We are also sponsored by a variety of native nurseries around the country that feature on the pages of our plant database. Support all of these great Australian enterprises during a time when every business and every job will be needed to stave off the worst effects of the economic downturn the coronavirus crisis is creating. We have made a deliberate choice to only partner with the best Australian businesses to try and keep it all local, something we are all going to need in spades over the next few months (Dad joke alert….)

Angus in his vegie garden

In the meantime, while we are self isolating at home, there will never be a better time to get into growing things and particularly growing your own healthy food. Gardening is also a great stress relieving activity, it is not just about the quantity of produce you can produce, it is also about giving you and your family something positive to focus on, and also hopefully seeing that the simple everyday things you can do such as composting and food growing can make all sorts of differences. Even if you only have a balcony, or just a doorstep, you can still have a garden, albeit on a smaller scale. Growing and tending to plants is a good activity to remind yourself of a bigger world out there, and of renewal, growth and that life goes on. My grandparents and parents had gone through the Great Depression, and even while their lives improved afterwards, they always maintained the things that had sustained them through those tough times. Keeping chickens and a thriving vegetable garden were things that gave them a sense of security, as well as beautiful healthy produce, and gave me fond memories of visits. I’m hoping these latest challenges may encourage a local and hopefully a world reset towards a more sustainable and healthy future!

For parents with kids at home now and newly delving into the world of home schooling, gardening is one of the recommended activities.

How to encourage children to get gardening

There are a number of garden activities that suit kids well. It can be a battle to get them outside, as the instant rewards from video games and social media are all too easy, but done in the right way you can definitely enthuse them to be the next generation of gardeners, just like my family did for me. Children learn from the example that adults model to them, which can be a great way to remind yourself to get out into the garden, to create meals using healthy produce, to exercise.

It is good to see schools encouraging parents to include garden activities as part of home lessons. There are so many things to be learnt about plants, from biology (as you find out how living things work) to geography (finding out where plants originally come from, how traditional cultures may have cooked them or otherwise made use of them). The following are just some of the things to do with kids-

Vegetable growing : the traditional quarter acre backyard that older folk like me grew up with may be a rare thing these days, which is a shame, as they were perfect for feeding families back in the day. But even small areas can fit in some vegies and fruit with some good planning. I have seen amazing amounts of edible produce being grown on even on very limited spaces such as balconies and rooftops. You can even fit a couple of pots in by a door. Give kids a sense of ownership by creating their own space in the garden, either with a bed or a pot that is all theirs. It has been suggested that they plant something that will produce a result quickly, like radishes, but I have found it better to grow things that kids will actually eat and enjoy. So let the kids be the decision maker as to what they want to grow, but give them plenty of information to make a good choice. Growing up, I remember getting a big kick from growing tomatoes and strawberries. And of course, growing wheat or carrot tops on damp cotton wool in a dish on the window sill to watch germination.

Herb growing : there is a huge range of herbs available in your local nursery and they can be a really rewarding thing for children to grow. It will be a fun outing to choose some- this involves smelling, tasting, planning what they could be used for. It is a good idea to choose ones which really suit food which kids can also cook. Think of herbs that suit pizza, herb bread, noodle dishes, salads. Rosemary, mint, chives, parsley are a few great choices, and the bonus with these are that they attract interesting insects like native bees, which leads to the following-

butterfly on babingtonia flowers

Finding wildlife and documenting it : it can be an act of patience to wait for plants to grow, so while you are waiting, a good activity can be observing wildlife around the garden. Birds are the obvious thing, but start looking small to find all sorts of interesting bugs. They could start a wildlife book, noting what they see, numbers and habits, there is all sorts of detail limited only by their imagination and enthusiasm (or yours!)

Mini gardens : especially for families in apartments or small yards…..involve kids in creating their own mini world, somewhere to get lost in and also use their imaginations. Decorate with cute miniature objects which children can help make from found objects such as stones, twigs, repurposed kitchen items. A small part of the garden can be made into a car track for the ever popular Matchbox cars for the little ones, and it can be landscaped in miniature with bridges and so on. Fairy gardens are also a thing for stimulating kids imaginations and can be decorated with items of craft that they can make themselves (with a bit of help from their parents or other family members).

Read more about gardening with children as a learning experience>>>>

Grow Your Own special offers

On the Gardening With Angus shop we have put together a few packs of some popular seeds along with the Grow Your Own : How To Be An Urban Farmer. The perfect thing for beginner vegetable gardeners and kids to get busy and productive at home. Get your own Kids or Beginner Vegie Gardener offer here >>>>

Lots of other good things to browse on the Gardening With Angus shop >>>>