Guest Post by Ginnette Simko, Countryside Farm Manager
In times of global crisis, it is not unusual for the federal government to ask its citizens to help out by planting a home garden. During WWI, the U.S. National War Garden Commission was created to encourage home gardening efforts so that our agricultural producers could focus on growing food for allied troops. “Victory gardens,” as they came to be known, became even more important during WWII, when food was rationed at home. (Check out some cool vintage promotional posters here.)
Victory gardens boosted morale by creating a sense of national unity. They provided food security for American families and people around the globe, and gave individuals a sense of control in troubling times.
Today we face a different global threat—a viral pandemic that is particularly dangerous to our most vulnerable populations. Once again, home gardening can be a source of agency and community when we need it most. An influx of nutritious, quality produce with a short supply chain won’t hurt, either!
Beyond all that, gardening connects us to the natural world in a way our busy lives rarely afford. It gives us a chance to slow down and breathe. There is even evidence that soil microbes can help us combat depression and anxiety. If there is a silver lining to all of this social distancing, it’s that we have more time to garden!
Are you interested in growing food at home but have no idea where to start? Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you begin planning your own victory garden venture:
- Know your “hardiness zone.” Your zone simply describes how cold it gets where you live. In Northeast Ohio, the coldest we get is -5° to -10° F, which puts us in Zone 6. This determines what kind of plants we can grow outdoors. For example, tropical plants do not do well around here in the winter!
- Know your frost dates and corresponding crops. Frost kills many garden plants, so it’s important to ensure your crops aren’t going in too early or too late. In our region, we usually won’t get a frost after mid-May or before mid-October. Warm-weather crops (such as tomatoes) can’t tolerate frost and should not be planted in the garden until late May. Cool-weather crops, on the other hand, do better in spring and fall, and can be planted much earlier. For instance, peas can generally go in the ground at the end of March.
- Understand “days to maturity.” Your seed packet will list a plant’s days to maturity, meaning the time it takes between planting and harvest. This matters because we only have so many days in our growing season in our area. If you want to grow a plant that takes a long time to mature (sometimes called “long season crops”), you will need to purchase transplants or start your own indoors, as opposed to planting seeds directly in the ground. Counting the number of days to maturity backward from the harvest date is the best way to know if you have enough time to grow something from seed outdoors.
- Keep your soil covered. Perhaps the most important thing you can do to ensure a successful garden is to mulch around your plants. Mulch moderates soil temperatures, retains moisture, controls weed, and provides shelter for the helpful creatures living in the soil. Many different materials work well as mulch—including grass clippings, leaves, straw, rotted wood chips, and even weeds you have pulled. For best results, lay it on thick!
- Start small. You do not have to have a 25’ x 50’ Victory Garden like the one shown here. You can grow food at your local community garden or even in containers on your porch or patio. Every little bit helps.
What can you do now?
First: Prepare your soil.
If you already have a garden patch or space at a community garden, now is a good time to work some compost into your soil. Starting from scratch? If you have a bit of lawn available to convert into garden space, here is a simple technique for prepping an area for planting:
You will need:
- A shovel
- Used cardboard (with stickers and tape removed) or newspaper
- Wood chips (you may be able to score some free here)
- Compost (bagged compost is available at home improvement or landscape supply stores)
- A garden fork
Step 1: Dig a trench 1’ wide by 1’ deep.
Step 2: Lay the clumps of grass you have removed grass-side down in the trench.
Step 3: Fill the trench with any remaining soil.
Step 4: Lay the cardboard (or newspaper, several layers thick) along the outer edges of the trench and wet it so it molds to the ground.
Step 5: Mulch over the cardboard or newspaper with wood chips (at least 3” deep).
Step 6: Top off the trench with compost to make a mounded row, then work the compost into the soil a bit with your garden fork.
You can add additional rows to make a larger garden plot, or simply build rows wherever you have space!
Second: Start growing!
Starting your garden plants indoors is more complicated than planting directly into your garden, so for anyone new to gardening, I would recommend buying plants this year and focusing on establishing your garden instead. If you want to give indoor growing a try, here is an excellent guide on Starting Seeds Indoors from the Seed Savers Exchange.
Many seeds can go in the ground now for a bountiful harvest in the coming months. When planting, be sure to follow the spacing requirements on the seed packet and keep the soil moist until your seeds germinate. Seeds should be planted to a depth of about twice the diameter of the seed.
Here are some great options for seeds you can sow now:
For more timely tips and practical gardening advice, visit Countryside’s new blog, “Victory Garden Gurus,” a partnership with the experts at Ohio State University Extension, at www.countrysidefoodandfarms.org. To submit your gardening question, please email Countryside Farm Manager Ginnette Simko at firstname.lastname@example.org