Staying Mentally and Physically Healthy in the Middle of the Pandemic

By Bill McCaleb, VCE Southside Master Gardener Coordinator

Here we are in the middle of isolation therapy maintaining that respectable six-foot distance between individuals. I just have one thing to say about that! It is time to spend some time outdoors if you can do so without infringing on the current CDC guidelines.
A regular dose of gardening is good for you. It gets you out into the world of sunlight and fresh air. It is good for the body and the soul. Just think about all the weeds you can pull, instead of working out on a machine or pulling something else in the gym. In the garden you get to work on improving your body mass index, improve your quality of life as you work out any frustrations of being cooped up with the dog, cat, kids and other family members.
Speaking of kids, they can help with some of the duties in cleaning up your landscape as they learn more about the plants that surround them. This is a great time to teach them about plant science; the art of planting, caring for, harvesting, then preparing and eating those fresh vegetables. This is a good time to engage the whole family in improving the neighborhood by keeping trash picked up along your street or road, taking pride in improving the looks of Halifax County.
I think the Victory Garden, brought back from WWI, was a great challenge to the American people during WWII and once again is a challenge for us today as we are staying close to home. With the food chain currently affected by the COVID-19 virus, why not avoid high cost of food by growing some of your own fresh vegetables, even if all you have room for is a few containers. Anything in the house can be ‘repurposed’ to be a plant container such as those big storage containers that you might have bought to store winter clothes in. Be creative with the kids and grandchildren, give them something positive to do each day and get them excited about what they can accomplish. Maybe they have a favorite vegetable they want to grow. Seek out young starter plants or purchase seed for some of those fast-growing plants such as radishes, lettuce, spinach, turnip greens, collards and even some of the slower growing vegetables such as tomatoes, potatoes, cucumbers, squash, or longer growing plants like cantaloupe and watermelon. I read somewhere that gardening is otherwise known as “Active Horticulture”. Must have read that in something I got from Virginia Tech, but the key word is active. Gardening will keep you active and focused on the prize at the end. For me, it is the vision of that slab of tomato on that first bacon, lettuce, and tomato (BLT) sandwich.
I know that when I am gardening the stress of the day disappears. Any frustrations that I might have had at the office vanish as I concentrate on removing some of those weeds that always want to grow twice as fast as my desired plants like my tomatoes and cucumbers. When I finally come indoors, it is like my battery had been recharged and I am good to go for a few more hours!
Have you ever really thought about the advantages that come with gardening? One of the calming colors we humans find is the color ‘green’. What are we surrounded by when we garden? Plenty of green plants, small and large. The rustle of leaves when the wind blows, which is always so calming. Oh, and the chirping of the birds in the trees just has an overwhelming calming effect. Some medical studies have shown that gardening has long term positive effects such as reductions in heart diseases, cancer, obesity and has shown to be overall good for the body. When you are recovering from sickness, do you find that calming effect as you venture outdoors for that first time that your doctor lets you move more? That first adventure into nature is the finest
When I worked in Northern Virginia so many years ago, I think my wife really appreciated my demeanor when I came home and went to the garden for a while to clean some weeds out, spread some compost, and harvest some veggies instead of first coming into the house with my pinned-up frustrations of the traffic and workday. No doubt it was a problem solver for me, after a long day, spending two hours in I-95 traffic and finally making it home in one piece.
Think about it. Plants provide food, but not only that, the natural growing habits of a plant remind us of God’s order in this world. Yes, we are just here to tend what he has given us until we are called home.
Hopefully the younger people who are coming along behind folks like me will one day appreciate the benefits of gardening. The natural rhythms of a garden and the plants within are the best medicine in the world against stress. No, I’m not a medical doctor, and did miss the first six years of medical school, but where else can you find peace from the stress of the day than in the garden? Okay, some find that peace chasing a little white ball around a golf course. What we used to call “cow pasture pool”. The silence of human activity, yet the noise of mother nature, will get to you with those natural native sounds of birds, frogs, toads, insects, wind, running water, and some of nature’s other sound effects. The shadows of clouds dragging over as you contemplate what you have around you paint a vibrant picture of peace and harmony. The man upstairs knew what he was doing when he gave us the opportunity to grow plants and to care for our garden (or his garden, actually). Yes, it is an intimate connection with life itself. It gives purpose and meaning to what we do for others and for ourselves. What greater satisfaction can you gain than when you can grow your own vegetables and be able to share with others, the bountiful harvest of a successful garden that you and your family nurtured. So, give it some serious thought as you sit inside. Is it going to be the T.V. or the computer, or lets all get outside and strike up a conversation about what to grow!
If you have questions about growing your garden, please email me at or ask one of our Master Gardeners at Until the Extension office is open to the public, that is the best way to contact us. If you can’t use a computer or smart phone, you can call 434-476-2147 ext.0 and leave a message at the Halifax Virginia Cooperative Extension Office. The message machines are checked at various times until the county buildings are open again for folks to come by in person.
Keep yourselves safe, stimulated by nature, and healthy, as we all do our best to keep ourselves all physically separated, by that six-foot measure, to beat this virus/pathogen.