Tips for Planting and Enjoying a Pandemic Victory Garden
Americans organized and planted “Victory Gardens” during World War I and World War II. During both of these World Wars, Americans converted any available space into a garden to help feed their family and their community. It was an act of resilience by using a shovel. The enemy today is COVID-19. Between employee illness, restricted travel, and stay-at-home guidelines; our food supply chain has been affected. As we navigate the uncertain times ahead through this pandemic, perhaps it is time to raise our shovels once again!
At its most basic, growing food is simply a matter of sticking a seed in good soil, watering it, and watching it grow. You can start a vegetable garden any time in spring, summer, or fall. You do not need to have a lush garden on an acre of land to grow all sorts of tasty delights. A little bit of space on a windowsill will work for small things like herbs and lettuce. You can grow smaller vegetables like tomatoes in pots in the kitchen. If you are lucky enough to have a garden with some good soil and space for digging, go ahead and start planting.
Here are some general tips to get you started:
- Pick your garden site
A sunny patch in the backyard is an obvious choice for a Victory garden, but it is not the only option. If you are short on space in your yard – consider working in edible plants around your existing flowers and shrubs.
If you have space in your backyard, mark the area you intend to plant. It’s easiest to create a slightly raised bed by adding gardening soil to your plot.
If you are stuck with a shady backyard, consider growing vegetables in containers on the front porch. Many vegetable plants are quite attractive, so there is no need to give up curb appeal.
Another great way to get started is with a few containers on your back deck or patio. Cherry tomatoes, herbs, leaf lettuce, and pepper plants grow very well in containers.
No space to garden? See whether there are any community gardens in your town. Or consider asking a friend whether you can garden on their land in exchange for a cut of the harvest.
- Create good soil
Plants need nutrients to grow. They get nutrients from the soil or the regular addition of fertilizer. Homemade compost is the preferred way to fertilize, and it’s essentially free. If you don’t have compost, use organic fertilizers. Planting food crops that you intend to ingest means you should be aware of what you put on your garden soil. Synthetic chemical fertilizers should not be something you add to food you are going to eat.
- Pick your plants
What vegetables and herbs do you find yourself buying a lot of? Focus on those you eat regularly to make the biggest impact on your grocery bill.
Some local favorites include:
Herbs – Fresh herbs can make every meal super tasty. Easy to grow inside or outside. Basil, parsley, and sage are good choices.
Tomatoes – A staple in every garden. Many varieties and sizes from small cherry tomatoes to large beefeaters. Can grow from seed or a small starter plant.
Salad leaves – You can almost grow this year-round if you pick different varieties. Can grow inside or outside.
Onions – The ultimate staple ingredient. Green onions (scallions) grow quickly.
Peppers – Hot or not, fresh peppers are a great way to add nutrition and spice up your meal. Can grow a variety from seeds or small starter plants.
Potatoes – Can grow in the ground or a large garbage bin.
Strawberries – Will grow in pots or in the ground. With luck they will keep producing fruit for several years.
- Determine when to plant and when to harvest
Virginia Tech has a good list of vegetables and the best time to plant/harvest each, so visit their website. Also, Fauquier County area is generally USDA planting zone 7b, and you can usually find additional seed planting instructions on the back of seed packets.
5. Enjoy the harvest!
There is nothing more innately rewarding than planting food, watching it grow, and then harvesting it. It is such a joy to walk out to your own vegetable garden for a snack or for dinner ingredients. Growing fruits and vegetables in your backyard will also give you greater peace of mind about the food you consume. You’ll know for sure that no chemicals have been used. Gardening is also great for kids. Teaching kids about gardening is a simple way of letting them learn about nature. Give them designated tasks and allow them to marvel in planting seeds, watching them grow, and picking fresh vegetables.
For more local information on gardening, you can contact the Master Gardeners of Fauquier and Rappahannock Counties at www.fc-mg.org. They offer horticultural classes that are usually free to the public, and a help desk for any gardening issues at 540-341-7590 ext. 1. The Virginia Cooperative Extension of Fauquier County is also available, offering educational classes and virtual programs at fauquier.ext.vt.edu.