For a host of reasons, there’s no time like the present to start a garden.
Maybe recent global events have you thinking about food security in a new way. Or maybe you just need a new hobby that will get you out of the house every day while you shelter in place.
Either way, gardening is a great hobby (and skill) that will serve you well for years to come. Here’s how to get started with a coronavirus victory garden:
1. Pick a Plot to Grow In
Survey your backyard and select a location that is relatively flat and gets good sun exposure for most of the day. Unless you live in an especially warm climate, your crops will welcome as much direct sun as possible.
As you think about how big to make your planting area, err on the smaller side of what you imagine being necessary. You’ll get better production out of a smaller space that you take good care of than a larger space that can get away from you.
2. Choose Your Crops
Choosing which crops to grow involves a combination of personal preference and knowledge of your climate. Begin by thinking about what your garden’s primary purpose will be.
Will you use it mostly to grow better greens than what you can find at the local grocery store?
Or are you hoping to grow storage crops like potatoes, carrots and cabbages that can be put up for the winter?
Once you have a clear picture of what you want, create a list of the vegetables you’d like to grow.
Lots of information about growing various crops depends on which USDA hardiness zone they’re growing in. So figure out which zone you live in.
If you’re not already familiar with your local first and last frost dates, look those up as well.
Next, research growing the various vegetables on your list within your plant hardiness zone. You might find that a few of the vegetables you wanted to grow aren’t well-suited to your climate. Hopefully, though, most of them will be a good fit.
3. Create a Planting Schedule
Rather than simply throwing all of your seeds in the ground at once, it’s important to have a plan for your coronavirus victory garden.
Research how long each of your crops typically takes to mature. Compare this time to the window between your first and last frost dates to see if there’s enough time for each crop to mature outside without being killed by a frost.
If not, consider purchasing seedlings or starting some of your seeds inside.
Finally, think about crops you might want to plant in multiple successions throughout the season. If you’d like to be able to harvest 10 heads of lettuce every week from May through September, for instance, make sure you put all of those separate plantings into your schedule
4. Prep Your Growing Area
Before you can actually break ground, it’s important to plan what your garden’s layout will be.
Keep the walkways as narrow as possible to maximize your growing space and make all of your growing beds a uniform width across. I’m personally a fan of 30-inch beds with 15-inch walkways, which are common dimensions for market gardeners.
To open up the soil initially, you can use a tiller if you have one or know someone who does. You can also open up the soil without tilling if you don’t have access to a tiller or would prefer to go no-till.
Laying a large plastic tarp or piece of clear plastic over your growing area will kill back the sod within several weeks, leaving you with open soil to plant into. If you don’t have a large tarp handy, you can find one online for a reasonable price.
5. Amend the Soil
The next step in preparing your growing area is to get the soil ready for your crops. Healthy soil supports healthy plants, so take this step especially seriously.
Having a soil sample analyzed by your local land-grant university will help you understand your soil’s strengths and weaknesses. With the information from the soil test in mind, you can set out to correct any nutrient imbalances in the soil.
There are plenty of natural fertilizers out there you can use, so don’t think you have to buy the inorganic stuff.
Generally speaking, adding more organic matter to your soil will do wonders to improve your soil health. You can do this with compost.
And think ahead to next year. Planting cover crops when you’re not growing vegetables in your garden will provide compost for subsequent seasons.
6. Keep Your Plants Healthy
Finally, once your garden is full of vegetables, be diligent about monitoring them and keeping them healthy.
There’s an old proverb that the footsteps of the farmer are the best fertilizer. Water your crops regularly and keep an eye out for insects that look like they’re causing damage.
Although it takes some work up front, starting your own coronavirus victory garden is well worth the effort, both in terms of cost-savings and general fulfillment.