EL CENTRO — Fight the virus, plant vegetables. The pandemic caused by the coronavirus has led the nation’s leaders to shut down schools, restaurants, businesses, and some portion of the government offices at the local level. 

The mandate to avoid crowded places — as a precaution to prevent getting infected and to avert infecting others — caused many families to stay home.

This self-isolation created time together in the comfort of their own homes. But what will they do when they get tired of playing board games, watching television shows, or playing computer games? 

Grow vegetables and flowers. 

“Home gardening is growing one’s own food,” said Vincent Zazueta, a garden-based community educator, school garden manager, and urban farm advisor. Food that can be grown at home includes vegetables, herbs, flowers and fruits. Zazueta has been gardening for 30 years.

“Children are naturally curious about nature. Home gardening is a way to introduce the natural world to children,” said Zazueta, who expressed gratitude to his Grandma Josefa for instilling in him the love of gardening. 

The basic materials for growing vegetables and raising flowers are soil, seeds, water, and sunlight. 

Organic materials, such as compost or aged barnyard manure, makes soil healthy, according to Zazueta. Commercial mixes are also available at garden stores. 

“Healthy soil grows healthy plants, that grow healthy people, that grow healthy communities,” said Zazueta, who helped preschools and elementary schools grow vegetables and flowers, including the Imperial County Juvenile Hall. 

His recent project was a garden patch at Harding Elementary School in El Centro. The garden involved first, second, and third graders who prepared the soil and planted the seeds in September 2019. The fourth and sixth graders helped with lifting heavy things. The vegetables and flowers are now in bloom and ready for harvest. However, school closure left the garden patch neglected. 

According to Zazueta, vegetables can be grown all year in the Imperial Valley — divided into winter vegetables and summer vegetables. 

Summer vegetables include basil, okra, asparagus, beans, black-eyed peas, loofah gourd, bitter melon; and transplants such as tomatoes, peppers, summer squash, melons, and watermelons. 

Zazueta said zinnias, strawflowers, sunflowers, and celosia are recommended for the summer. Herbs like basil and mint can be grown in small containers like clay pots in the home, including peppers. 

“Winter vegetables include the root crops such as carrots, radishes, onions, turnips and beets,” said Zazueta. Leaf crops like Swiss chard, spinach, kale, mizuna choy, and tatsoi can be grown in pots and small containers in homes or a backyard garden. 

According to Zazueta, what he looks forward to each growing season is the excitement in the eyes of children as they pull up carrots or harvest vegetables they’ve sown three months ago. 

With the abundance of harvested vegetables and flowers, parents can teach children how to store, cook, and plan for meals. 

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