The coronavirus lock down has many people concerned about food security and some folks with a patch of backyard are thinking about a home garden. Of course, this is not an immediate, short-term solution, but it never hurts to take steps toward self-sufficiency.
When you start to think about gardening, you need to look at your situation. What space do you have available? You can grow vegetables in the same spaces where you currently have flowers or shrubbery or you can convert some of the lawn. What if you don’t have a yard? You can grow many things in containers, and I will cover that topic tomorrow.
So you’ve chosen an area to plant your garden. The next thing to make note of is the amount of sun exposure the area gets. To do this, check on your chosen spot throughout the day. Set a timer to remind you to check once an hour, and make note of whether or not the sun is shining on your future garden. That will tell you when the sun hits it and when it moves into shadow. Ideally, you want full sun, but most people aren’t that lucky. Full sun means that your garden gets a minimum of six hours of sunlight a day. If it gets less, then it is considered partial shade. I will talk more about light requirements and gardening in another post.
At this point, you’ve picked a spot and you know how much sun exposure it gets. Now, what to plant? There are several things to think about here: preference, growing season, and difficulty. I think the first thing to consider is what you like to eat. There is no point in devoting precious space to lima beans if you won’t eat them. Radishes are really easy to grow, but if you don’t like those spicy little buggers, then you probably shouldn’t bother planting them–if someone else in the household likes them, however; there is potential for weeding help here. A good place to start is to make a list of the produce that people like and/or are willing to try.
The next point to consider is the growing season in your area. Here you will need to do a bit of research. Every state has a state university with an agricultural extension service and they all have websites. Get online and figure out if your preferred veggies will grow in your region. For example, I live in northwestern Pennsylvania. I can grow greens and brassicas, such as broccoli and kale, in the spring and fall, but summers are too hot for them. However, I can’t grow artichokes, unfortunately. The season is too short and probably too rainy. Most common garden vegetables like tomatoes and lettuce grow in your yard, but there will be outliers.
The final thing to look at is how difficult something is to grow. Consider the aforementioned radishes. Those little guys will practically sprout anywhere; radishes are almost fool-proof. Something like asparagus, on the other hand, takes years of careful tending before you get a harvest. Also, you might love corn on the cob, but I don’t recommend trying to grow it unless you have a really big backyard. So, once again, you will need to do a bit of research.
At this point, you know what you are going to grow and where you are going to put it. Ideally, soil preparation will be the next topic to look at. The best time to do that is in the fall, and if you have just now started thinking about growing vegetables, that is not an option. As I said above, you can repurpose areas that have ornamental plants growing in them, or you can take over part of the lawn. An easy way to do the latter is through sheet composting, which I covered in another post.
What should you plant first? I always start with greens. The first thing I plant in the spring is a mix of different lettuces, spinach, mustard and small kale. I plant it in a block instead of rows, and when it is about six weeks old, I start harvesting with scissors for salads and stir fries. It will tolerate light snow and frost and keep on coming back until temperatures go above 70. I also plant peas, onions and radishes at this point. None of them are bothered by cold weather.
If you are getting a late start on gardening–I am writing this in early April–you will probably want to buy plants for things like tomatoes, peppers and herbs, at least for this year. I have covered seed starting in an earlier post. Good luck getting a start on your victory garden, 2020 version. Next, I will talk about what you can grow in containers.