The experience of growing food in our yards is incredibly healing and fulfilling. Gardening is productive, good for our environment and does our physical and mental health some good, too.
Growing food during a war or pandemic isn’t a new idea—Victory Gardens were common during WWII as a salute to the warfront. Americans were encouraged to plant on every patch of available soil. These makeshift farmers wound up producing 40 per cent of the nation’s fresh vegetables! But what was once seen as a civil duty is currently re-emerging on a softer level as more people become interested in local food production, want to avoid grocery stores and are eager to get outside.
With all the information out there, it can seem overwhelming to get your shovel in the ground. Don’t stress too much about planning—“Just get to growing!” Brandi Bechard, an edible landscape and vegetable garden specialist from Ground Culture says, “The reality is: plants want to grow. If you provide them with their basic needs of sun, soil, water and proper timing, and the right seeds and plants for your area, they will usually find a way.”
So, let’s dig into some dirt, shall we?
- Grow what you eat. If you didn’t eat basil before, you probably won't start adding it to your pastas now. Choose wisely to keep it small—you don’t want your garden to become overcrowded.
- Eagerness is great, but don’t get too ambitious! Start with the easiest: your leafy greens, string beans, peas, lettuce, potatoes and cherry tomatoes. They’ll keep the beginner gardener happy, healthy and not overwhelmed. Unless you want a good challenge, steer clear of broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and asparagus.
- Seedlings (baby plants) can be easier to work with for first timers, but if you do decide to start from seeds, you can get innovative and plant them before the last frost in egg cartons, coffee mugs and other small household items that would otherwise go to waste.
- For both seeds and seedlings, see your local farmers or nurseries for “heirloom” seeds. These come from open-pollinated plants that will regrow from one generation to the next. Not only will you have a better-tasting product, but they will be more nutritious, adapt to your climate through the years and will go to seed (which saves you from buying seeds again in the future). The best part is that heirloom seeds come with a long history and always have a great story to tell.
5. Before planting outside, check your frost date. In the meantime, you can get to work on your raised or ground beds. For a raised bed, cedar wood is always recommended for its natural resistance to water, decay and bugs. Fill it with a beautiful soil and compost mix, and you’re ready to plant!
6. When you plant, consider “companion planting”. Plants are like people—some get along great, others not so much. You can research which veggies make for friendly neighbours online or through the book Carrots Love Tomatoes.
7. Finally, try to plan your crops around what can be harvested in early, middle or late summer/fall. This will give you fresh food for longer and encourages seasonal eating—which has both environmental and health benefits!
Robert Ross, community gardener and advocate, says that taking up gardening in this trying and unusual time is a perfect response to the stresses pressing on us. “We have the time, we are present at the location and we would all be well-served by something peaceful and wholesome.”
Not only are modern Victory Gardens pulling on our need to be self-sufficient and innovative with our food right now, but they also connect us during a time where we may feel isolated. Gardens are a beautiful way to connect at a distance, to virtually share gardening tips and ideas, and create a community over the most important thing: food.
Why not hop on the garden wheelbarrow? Gardens connect us to the earth, to each other and give us something to feast on together when all of this is over.