Forced to shelter in place, most of us are coming down with a bad case of cabin fever. Instead of worrying about the future and whether that scratchy throat you woke up with this morning is something serious, plant a Victory Garden.
During World War II, those on the home front were dealing with food shortages and rationing, as well as fear and anxiety. George Washington Carver promoted the idea of what he called Victory Gardens, urging people to grow their own food, mostly as a way of supplementing their rations, but also as a way to boost morale.
The common enemy this time is not fascism, of course. But a Victory Garden 2.0 could help. N. Astrid Hoffman with The Living Seed Company, a family-owned organic and heirloom seed company based in Point Reyes Station, says we’re in a difficult time, but growing a garden shows resilience.
“The act of planting a seed is an act of faith in tomorrow,” Hoffman says. “During this time of limited movement, a garden is a place to find solace, joy and wonder, and hopefully some great things to eat.”
Don’t know how to get started? Here are some basics to get you started — and we promise that when your seeds start to sprout and you get out into the sunshine of a warm spring day, you’re going to feel a lot better about things.
It’s still a bit too cool and the weather remains unsettled to plant too much in the ground, but you can plant almost anything indoors, where it will grow into nice sized plants, ready to transplant in your garden bed later.
Some retailers that carry supplies remain open, and there are plenty of online retailers. But you also can make do with what you have.
Got some extra paper drinking cups? Fill them with soil and plant a seed. Keep the soil moist and warm — covering with plastic wrap will help — until the seeds germinate and the plant sprouts. When it comes time to plant in the ground or a larger pot, plant the whole thing, cup and all.
Hoffman suggests planting radishes, baby arugula, baby spinach, baby kale, lettuce, green onions and bok choy for harvesting in about 30 days. You also can start a variety of plants and herbs indoors for planting outside later.
If you have an empty flower bed or designated area for an outdoor garden — small is good when first starting out — Contra Costa Master Gardener Janet Miller offers this advice.
- Pick a sunny spot. Summer veggies will need 6 to 8 hours of sun per day.
- Before planting, add bagged compost to the planting area, at least 1 inch deep.
- Make sure you have some kind of irrigation to the area; drip tubing is preferred.
- Consider planting in grow bags or other large containers. Just make sure the containers are large enough — a 15 gallon pot is adequate for one large tomato plant, two to three pepper plants or one to two zucchini plants.
- Don’t forget to start flower seedlings. Flowers not only add beauty to the garden but they add needed diversity and attract lots of beneficial insects.
- Good choices for easy-to-start flowers are zinnia, calendula, cosmos, nasturtium and sunflowers.
Using food scraps
Many of us stocked up on fresh vegetables, but in the days to come, it might be difficult to eat them all before they start to rot. No worries. Use them to grow more.
Here are some favorites that also are easy to grow:
Put lettuce leaves in a bowl with a little water, and set the bowl in an area that gets good sunlight. Mist the leaves a couple of times a week and once roots appear, transplant the rooted leaves in soil.
Cut the bottom of the stalk off and put it in a bowl with a little warm water. Put the bowl in direct sunlight. In a week or two, you’ll see leaves start to grow along the base. Transplant it into a pot of soil. You can continue to grow it indoors, or set the pot outside in a sunny spot.
Onions and green onions
Cut onion about an inch above the root base (that’s the fuzzy end of the onion), put it in a pot of soil, root end down, and cover lightly with soil. Place the pot in a sunny spot and wait for the onion to sprout and produce a bulb.
For green onions, cut the root ends off and put them in a glass with just enough water to cover them. Change the water every few days. In about a week, you’ll see new green onions appear. Snip off what you need and keep the others growing.
Ginger is one of the easiest plants to grow from scraps. Plant a piece of ginger root in potting soil, making sure the buds are facing up. New shoots and roots will appear soon and you can use them for cooking. The ginger will continue to grow for quite some time.
Some people can’t live without a fresh supply of basil. Take one stem, at least 4 inches tall, and put it in a glass of water, keeping the leaves above the waterline. Put the glass in bright light, but not direct sun. Once the plant has developed a couple of inches of roots, you can plant it in soil.
You don’t even need whole potatoes to grow your own. You can cut up potatoes that are sprouting, making sure each chunk has one eye (sprout). However, you can also grow potatoes from peeling.
Cut the peels into 2-inch pieces, making sure there are two to three eyes on each piece. Let them sit overnight to dry out a bit and then plant them about 4-inches deep. Make sure the eyes are facing upward, and in a few weeks, you should see leaves emerging from the soil.
Sweet potatoes can be planted the same way regular potatoes are or you can turn them into houseplants. Suspend a sweet potato in shallow water using toothpicks. Roots will appear and then foliage. You can transplant the potato, or keep it in water and watch how quickly the greenery grows. Add water as needed.
Always longed for your own pineapple plant? It’s easier than you think. Take the top of a pineapple and, like with the sweet potato, use toothpicks to suspend it slightly in a container of water. Keep the container in direct sunlight, or put it in a sunny spot on the deck, remembering to bring it in at night and to change the water every other day. Roots should form in about a week and at that time, you can transplant it into a pot of soil. You can grow it indoors or out.
Collect seeds from peppers and plant them in potting soil. Keep moist and in direct sun until the seeds germinate. When the weather is warmer, plant in your garden. You can continue the crop year after year by saving some seeds from each harvest.