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A Pandemic Gardener is Born ...

In late February 2020 I got sick. It was kind of like a cold, but somehow different. There hadn't been any known cases of that scary new virus on the news locally, and I had only traveled domestically (through three international airports - but that really didn’t count). Before Covid was an everyday word, and shortly before the whole world shut down, I came down with what we now know was Covid. I’m kind of a trendsetter I guess.

Unfortunately, like 10-30% of people who get Covid, I never got better. Not really. I have now been a Covid “long-hauler” for a little over two years. This is a time when being ahead of the curve has not been a good thing. Having unexplainable symptoms long after I should have been better could not be easily explained. Not being able to get out of bed for over a month, and still struggling with fatigue two years in, with no real

understanding of why has been demoralizing. Facing all the challenges of developing a brand new chronic illness under the backdrop of a global pandemic? Devastating. While I haven’t really gotten my health back, I am learning to manage my symptoms one day at a time. Finding my joy and passion right in my own backyard

has been life-saving.

The thing about not being able to get out of bed or off the couch for days or weeks

at a time (while trying to manage at-home learning for 4 out of 5 kids) meant endless hours of doom scrolling early on in the pandemic. Food shortages were high on my list of things to feel powerless against. While all my Insta-friends were posting images of sourdough baked (with varying degrees of success), I was looking for cheap land on Kijiji in hopes of becoming self-sufficient enough to ride out the end of the world. If I couldn’t find the groceries to feed my brood then I would grow them myself!

To be fair, imagining my life on an off-the-grid homestead somewhere in the wild wasn’t exactly a new dream. I have been imagining various forms of this scenario

for most of my adult life. The pandemic simply made it seem so much more urgent. Completely relocating a family of 7 while suffering chronic chest pains, breathlessness, and heart palpitations (as well as the aforementioned inability to get off the couch) wasn’t reasonable. But creating an urban homestead of sorts in my own yard has been!

That is how I became obsessed with gardening. While others learned to cross-stitch I planned a minor overhaul of my tiny urban plot - between extended naps obviously. While families regaled each other with stories from the front-lines of home learning, I neglected first grade reading assignments in favour of mother-daughter seed catalogue browsing (hey, any reading is good reading!). While waiting endless hours for phone consultations with various specialists I filled the time with researching companion planting combinations. Gardening has given me hope, and hope is elusive when you’re not sure you’ll even be able to move your body from one day to the next.

By my second garden season as a “long-hauler” I completely re-imagined the front yard as a full-scale food production machine. While front yard gardening means I need to have a willingness to share with the neighbourhood deer, it is also the part of the yard with the most sunlight and the fewest hole-digging dogs. I built eight cedar garden boxes, and created additional spaces in the side yards. I also spent an unreasonable amount of money on weird varieties of everyday vegetables we never actually eat and started enough seeds to fill a farm, which might have been excessive for my .10 acre plot.

This year I have found more a more reasonable approach to my burning desire to feed my children (and the world), and I have a better understanding of my actual capacity for physical exertion rather than my imagined belief that maybe tomorrow I will wake up totally fine. I am working on plans to grow a realistic amount of produce, and allowing for the inevitable energy crashes that come with this ailment.

For my 2022 crop I’ve planned for all the food I like to eat in amounts I can actually use, with a mind to what the deer are more likely to avoid. For the record, they go crazy for Brussels sprouts and tend to demolish them all before I even get a taste. Who knew deer were so into superfoods? We will still be in direct competition for the tomatoes, but I sure do enjoy watching them pluck a fresh tomato and chew it slowly while staring me dead in the eye and daring me to object. I’ll be sure to tuck a few extra plants around to ensure there are enough for deer and human alike.

The thing I love about this planning the garden phase is the unbridled optimism it brings. After experiencing some pretty dark days this past January as I headed into year three of illness, this feeling of hope has been a welcome relief. The sheer possibility that exists in every seed never fails to fill me with awe. Drawing maps and making plans, knowing that I will bring those plans to life with my very own hands speaks to the possibilities and successes of the future. This is vital when contemplating a future that will also most definitely contain physical pain and recurrent post exertional fatigue. Filling the table with healthy nourishing food is a good counterbalance to the things I cannot provide as adequately on the days that my health is less than optimal.

I cannot wait to watch the seeds turn into seedlings, only to grow into the food that will feed us throughout the season. It speaks strongly to my mother's-soul to know I am nourishing my people as they grow and flourish and eventually fly from my nest. They will take with them memories of early morning competitions between bird and child for freshly ripening strawberries, or of autumn nights filled with the scent of apple cider from apples they harvested while complaining about having to do one more chore. Despite my diminished capacity I am still providing, not only food for the body, but food for the soul and as this season gradually ends and the next begins.

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