The coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, with its lock-downs, closures, and social-distancing guidelines, has revitalized an idea promoted in the US during WWII — the Victory Garden. People all over the world are looking to beat shortages and the risk of exposure by growing their own crops. Tending to a garden can also help control stress and provide you with something you can grow and control in these uncertain times. Despite shortages, there are still plenty of resources that are ready and available to help you plant, grow, and harvest delicious fresh fruits and vegetables for yourself and your family during the pandemic.
Choosing Plants to Grow
- 1Decide what kind of garden you want to grow. While the traditional “victory garden” included vegetables and herbs, a coronavirus garden can include any type of plant that you would enjoy nurturing and watching grow. Some basic types of garden you could have are:
- Container garden: Many plants, including flowers, vegetables, and herbs, can be planted in containers if you don’t have a yard or have limited space.
- Herb garden: Whether indoors or out, herb gardens are easy for beginners to grow and add delicious fresh flavors to your meals.
- Vegetable garden: The traditional victory garden supplies your family with fresh produce for the season and beyond.
- Butterfly garden: If your garden will be located outside, you might grow flowers that would attract local butterflies.
- 2Make a list of plants that are easy to grow in your region. If you tend your garden right, you can grow crops year-round in many parts of the world. Look up popular crops where you live and focus on the ones that your family enjoys eating. If you’re more interested in a flower garden, choose flowers that bloom in your climate.
- For example, if you’re growing a vegetable garden in North America, you might include tomatoes, zucchini squash, peppers, cabbage, lettuce, carrots, beets, and radishes. Tomatoes and peppers are also good container plants.
- If you’re growing a smaller garden inside, outside climate might not be as important. However, plants will still have a growing season related to the region where you live.
- If you live in the US, seek free help from your state’s cooperative extension service. You can find a link to the appropriate website at https://www.almanac.com/content/cooperative-extension-services.
Tip: Local gardening centers typically focus on plants and seeds that grow well in your area. They can be a good resource for planning your garden if you’re unsure about what crops you want to include in your garden.
- 3Go with plants that best suit your skill level as a gardener. You likely don’t want to plant crops that are high-maintenance or difficult to grow, especially if this is your first time planting a garden. Look for hardy plants that grow well in a wide range of climates and require little to no pruning or regular upkeep.
- Herb gardens are generally pretty easy for beginners and don’t take up much space, so they’re perfect if you want to plant something but live in a small apartment with limited access to the outdoors.
- Peppers and small, cherry-variety tomatoes are relatively easy vegetables that don’t require a lot of upkeep. These vegetables can be grown either in-ground or in containers.
- Many colorful flowers, like zinnias, can easily be grown in containers.
- 4Map out the location of your garden. The amount of space you have for your garden may also dictate the types of plants you can grow. Most vegetables require at least 6 hours of direct sunlight. However, other plants grow best in partial shade. Check the profile of the plants you’re interested in to determine their needs.
- If you’re designing a container garden, watch the amount of direct sunlight the area receives. That will help you determine which plants should be placed where. You also want to pay attention to the size of the container you’ll need for each of the plants you’ve chosen.
- If you’re planning to dig in your yard, the Farmer’s Almanac has a global Garden Planner you can use to set up your Coronavirus Victory Garden. Go to https://gardenplanner.almanac.com/garden-plans/ to get started.
- 5Buy your seeds or starter plants and supplies. Make a list of the specific plants and supplies you’ll need to organize your shopping. Due to increased demand, you may have to use several different locations to get everything you need.
- Seed catalogs have a wide range of seeds that you can order online through their websites. However, if you want starter plants, you’ll typically have to pick those up from a local gardening center.
- Call your local gardening center before going there. They may have restrictions or reduced hours. Some gardening centers are closed to the public but will still fulfill orders — you tell them what you want and they’ll bring it out to you curbside.
Warning: Respect social-distancing guidelines while shopping in person. Stay at least 6 ft (1.8 m) away from all employees and customers.
Planting a Garden Outside
- 1Test the quality and makeup of your soil. Different crops require different soil conditions and different nutrients to thrive. If you know the quality and makeup of your soil, you can augment it with additives to create the ideal environment for anything you want to plant.
- You can buy relatively inexpensive soil tests at your local garden center or online. There are also “DIY” options that work just as well.
- Compare the results of your soil tests to the profiles of the plants you bought to figure out what you need to add to your soil to create the right nutrient-rich balance for your plants.
- 2Dig rows or build raised beds to plant your crops. Once you have your tools and supplies, follow your garden plan to create the rows you’ll need for your plants. Depending on the condition of your soil, the size of your garden, and whether you’re building raised beds, expect this to take the better part of a day if not two.
- Use this opportunity to break apart and remove any weeds or other undesirable plants that are growing in the area where you want to plant. Removing weeds at the root keeps them from growing back and choking out your plants.
- All of this digging can be hard work, especially if you’ve planned a larger garden. Buy or rent a tiller to make the job a little easier.
Tip: If you have kids, involve them in the gardening process. You might even plan a smaller children’s garden that they can plant and maintain on their own. Give them fun, kid-friendly plants, such as cherry tomatoes, to grow in their garden.
- 3Add topsoil, mulch, and other materials to prepare your soil. Once you’ve dug your rows or built your raised beds, use the soil additives you bought to create a nutrient-rich bed for your plants. Follow the instructions on the packages to spread the materials the most efficiently.
- Wait for a dry, sunny day to prepare your soil. If there’s a heavy rain immediately after you’ve done this, it will wash all your hard work away.
- 4Start your seeds indoors if necessary. Most vegetables need to start growing in March, April, or May. If you live in an area that’s prone to colder temperatures during the early spring, you might need to start your seeds indoors and then transfer them outside once the weather is consistently warmer.
- Review the plant profiles or the instructions on the packages of seeds you bought. They’ll tell you the temperature ranges that are best for that particular plant. Some plants can handle cooler temperatures than others.
- 5Sow your seeds or transplant seedlings to your garden. Refer to your plant profile or the information on your seed packets to determine how far apart to plant your seeds or seedlings. Use a ruler or measuring stick to make sure your plants have the appropriate distance between them.
- Plan to sow your seeds over a period of several days. That way, you can stagger planting so all of your crops aren’t ready to harvest at the same time. This is especially important if you have plants that grow crops continuously throughout the season, as opposed to a single harvest.
Growing a Container Garden
- 1Buy containers for each of your plants. Different plants need different sized containers to grow and produce. The seed packets have information on the amount of size each plant needs. You can also get help from staff at your local gardening center.
- If you buy larger containers, you might be able to start multiple plants in the same container. Pay attention to spacing guidelines on the seed packets to make sure your container is big enough.
- If you’re using a window box, make sure it’s wide enough for your plants to grow as well as ensuring that the individual plants have adequate space. Crowded plants won’t grow to their full potential.
Tip: Get creative with your containers. Buy containers that contrast or complement the colors of the plants you’re growing. Or save money with plain containers and then buy some paint to decorate them for a fun art project. If you have kids at home, you can get them involved in decorating the containers as well.
- 2Cover drainage holes to keep the soil from washing away. Mesh or gravel works well to cover the bottom of a container. If your container isn’t very deep, you can also use a paper towel or a coffee filter. That keeps you from taking up space you need for your growing medium.
- Put a little soil in your container and water it to test your filtration system and make sure you’re not losing any soil before you fill your container.
- Avoid using heavy pebbles, gravel, or rocks, unless you need the added weight to keep the container from tipping over.
- 3Fill containers with your planting medium to within 1 inch (2.5 cm) of the top. Once you’ve covered the drainage holes in the bottom of your container, fill your containers loosely with your planting medium. Don’t cram it in or pack it too tightly — water needs to be able to soak into it and flow through it to feed your plants.
- Garden soils and commercial soilless planting mediums are typically good for growing container plants. The seed packets you bought may also have suggestions for the best growing mediums for your plants.
- 4Mix water into the planting medium with your hands or a trowel. If you’re using your hands, wear gloves. Pour a little water into your planting medium and mix it thoroughly. Continue adding water until the medium has a thick consistency.
- Properly moist planting medium will stick to your hands or gloves. You should be able to roll it into a ball and squeeze. If water leaks out when you squeeze it, your medium is too wet.
- 5Plant your seeds in the planting medium. Check the seed packets to determine how deep you need to plant your seeds. Press them into the planting medium, then add more planting medium on top.
- Pay attention to the consistency of your soil as your seeds start to sprout. Some seeds might do better if you cover the top of the container with a tarp or piece of plastic, especially if the containers are in a dry area.
- 6Fertilize your plants sparingly based on individual needs. With a container garden, it’s important not to over-fertilize your plants. If you use too much fertilizer, you’ll burn the roots and your plants won’t grow. Add a small amount of fertilizer when you first plant, then augment as necessary while your plants are still growing. Some plants may need more fertilizer than others, so be sure to read up on your plants’ specific needs beforehand!
- Incorporate slow-release fertilizer in the growing medium to ensure that your plants stay well-fed for several months.
- If your plants seem stressed and could use a pick-me-up, spray them with a water-soluble fertilizer to give them a direct shot of nutrients.
- When in doubt, err on the side of caution and don’t add any more fertilizer.
Nurturing and Harvesting Your Crops
- 1Pull weeds every morning to keep your garden healthy. Even if you got all the weeds you could see when you dug your rows for your garden, they can still get into your soil and sap nutrients from your plants if you’re not careful. A daily habit of weeding your garden gives you the opportunity to get some exercise, as well as being a meditative activity that can ease stress.
- You can also use various types of mulch to keep weeds from growing. Spreading mulch or compost each day adds nutrients to the soil to keep your plants healthy and keep weeds at bay.
- 2Water your plants regularly according to the plant profiles. Different plants require different amounts of water. For healthy growth, you want to make sure your plants get just enough water — neither too little or too much. Check the dampness of the soil and water as needed each day.
- Generally, if the soil sticks to your hand and you can roll it into a ball, that means it’s moist enough. However, some plants thrive in dryer conditions.
- It’s usually best to water early in the morning so the leaves and stems have a chance to dry off over the course of the day. If the leaves stay wet longer your plants will be more vulnerable to disease.
Tip Watch the weather when watering your outdoor garden. Watering your plants after a light, brief rainfall ensures that moisture will penetrate deeper into the soil, which is better for your plants.
- 3Use netting or vegetable cages to keep pests away from your plants. Gardening centers sell netting, vegetable cages, and other supplies that will keep pests off of your crops so you don’t have to use pesticides. You can also order these supplies online.
- For larger animals that might be interested in your crops, such as rabbits, you might want to build a fence or other barrier to simply keep them out.
- Maintain constant vigilance over your garden and look for signs that birds, animals, or bugs are feasting. You want to make sure you attack the problem as quickly as possible before it gets worse.
- 4Set up a compost bin to use for mulch if possible. A compost bin enables you to dispose of garden clippings and other organic waste and use it to help grow your garden. Use a mix of dead leaves, twigs, and manure along with green organic material, including lawn clippings, fruit rinds, and other trimmings. A handful of fertilizer will help speed up the composting process.
- Make sure the pile is moist but not too wet. Turn the compost pile regularly (once a day or so) to get oxygen to all parts of the pile. Turning the pile also helps with odor control.
- If you turn your compost pile frequently, the compost will typically be ready to use in about 3 months.
- 5Harvest your fruits and vegetables as they ripen. Different crops have different yields. Look at the plant profiles for the crops you’ve planted and make a note on your calendar when they should be ready. Pick the ripe crops promptly. Some crops, such as spinach, provide multiple yields during the growing season.
- If you harvest more than you and your family are able to eat immediately, most crops can be canned or preserved. You can also give them to friends and neighbors as gifts — just be careful to mind proper social distancing guidelines while delivering them.