The sailors’ sea garden a source of strength for the crew during a long deployment

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Somewhere off the coast of Norway, a small garden thrives on a huge naval frigate thanks to the loving care of a green-thumbed sailor.

Petty Officer 2nd Class John Reid McDougall grows everything from spider plants to apple seedlings and garlic in three homemade plexiglass planters he has set up in his office at HMCS Halifax.

What started as a way to pass the time at sea has become a source of strength and comfort for McDougall and the crew when they are unable to venture off the ship due to COVID-19 protocols. .

The navy ship nears the end of a six-month mission to Europe on Operation Reassurance.

“I had to find a way to keep my feet on the ground, to stay sane, to keep myself in a space where I can continue doing my job for seven months while maintaining my sanity, and I found it. through gardening, ”McDougall told CBC radio. Maritime noon Wednesday during an interview aboard the ship.

His marine nursery was small at first with only a few succulents he brought with him when the mission began in January. But soon, his ambitions grew.

McDougall has a sprouting avocado and has also tried growing tangerines and mangoes from leftover seeds. (Sailor 1st Class Bryan Underwood)

McDougall decided to collect fruit seeds from the ship’s kitchen, including apples, tangerines, mangoes and avocados. He wrapped the seeds in kitchen paper and put them on his desk so they could sprout.

It’s McDougall’s job to oversee helicopter operations and fire safety systems on the ship, which means his office overlooks the flight deck. There are three large windows with plenty of space and light – the “perfect growing conditions for plants,” he said.

With the seeds and sunlight taken care of, McDougall’s last hurdle was getting his hands on some dirt. He asked the liaison team who deliver groceries and other essentials to the ship to collect dirt, and to his surprise, they agreed.

McDougall’s Navy Nursery is visible from outside the cockpit control room of HMCS Halifax. (Sailor 1st Class Bryan Underwood)

He said he was “very confident that this was the first time” that they had received such a request.

The planting season started in March and the garden is now full of sprouting avocado and apple plants, garlic, peas and wildflowers.

“Having that in the middle of the ocean when you look out and only see water, but look through the plants, it’s a pretty spectacular feeling,” McDougall said.

He said foreign helicopter crew members even noticed his backyard when they landed right outside his office.

Maritime noon52:57Petty Officer 2nd Class John Reid McDougall tells us about his garden aboard HMCS Halifax. We hear about an aboriginal teenager from NB who hopes to become a chief. On the phone: Confidentiality. And we hear about PEI’s energy efficiency tips.

“Isn’t that cool? “

Its team members also benefit from the benefits of a little greenery at sea.

“People will come every day to take pictures, send them back to their families, show their kids that, hey look, someone is growing a garden on the boat. Isn’t that cool?” he said.

But there is a bitter side to his sweet hobby. McDougall will not be able to bring his seaworthy garden back to Halifax when the ship returns in about two weeks.

One of McDougall’s succulents. (Sailor First Class Bryan Underwood)

Because the seeds and soil were collected from international ports, they are not allowed to return to Canada, he said.

But McDougall isn’t giving up gardening at sea.

“I’m going to use what I’ve learned about plants and how they are grown and what they mean and carry it on with the rest of my work,” he said. “And I know that for my next deployment, I will bring my soil from Canada so that I can keep my plants.”

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