Growing Your 2020 Victory Garden

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We aren’t going to use the C-word or V-word here.  This blog is all about gardening, all the time.

This year, a lot of new people are interested in gardening, food preservation and general self-preparedness.

Due to recent world events, there has been a renaissance of the victory garden concept in the last two weeks.  We think that’s great and we’d like to give you, the new sub-arctic grower, as much edge as you can have.

The focus of this article is the grower that might not have a large, dedicated space for a garden.  We want everyone to know that it doesn’t matter where you live or what space you have, you can likely have a garden.

You Can Have A Garden Anywhere, No Preparation Required

It’s important to know that you don’t need a big plot of land or other specially prepared area for a garden.  You don’t have to be a home owner with land either.

There are traditional gardens but there are also other non-traditional approaches to gardens as well.

The easiest way that almost anyone could have a garden is with containers.  You can grow practically any plant you want in containers.  From roots like carrots to tomatoes or broccoli.  These can be grown almost anywhere the sun hits.  An apartment balcony, a deck, a front porch or a small slice of your yard.

The container garden is fairly simple and really easy to maintain.  It requires a container, soil and plants or seeds.  Maintenance is pretty easy with only regular watering and occasional fertilization required.

What Kinds And Sizes Of Containers Are Needed?

In general, there are several types of containers that could be used for general gardening.  They can be re-purposed containers or purpose built containers.  Some examples of these types of containers are:

  • Buckets
  • Milk/water jugs
  • Fabric pots
  • Nursery pots (and other purpose built containers)
  • Sub-irrigated containers/buckets
  • Other plastic containers that are cut open

In general, bigger is usually better.  The larger the container is, the less frequently you will have to water the plants.  This is especially important later in the season when the plants have become large.  They will drink a lot of water!

Five gallon containers are a good starting point and the common five gallon bucket will work for almost all types of plants.  In general, you could use the following for general guidelines:

  • 2-3+ Gallon Containers
    • Herbs
    • Root vegetables (6+ inches of depth)
    • Greens (lettuce, arugula, mustard, etc)
    • Onions/Green Onions/Chives/Leeks
    • Peas/Beans
  • 5+ Gallon Containers
    • Brassicas (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, collards, cauliflower, etc.)
    • Tomatoes/Huckleberries/Tomatillo/Ground Cherries
    • Peppers
    • Corn
    • Basil
    • Potatoes
    • Celery
  • 6+ Gallon Containers
    • Melons
    • Squash

The containers will need some sort of drainage.  Several holes should be drilled in the bottom of the container to allow excess water to leave the container.  If you don’t do this, there is a good chance the plant will not survive.  Especially if they are exposed to rain water.

If you are re-using or re-purposing your containers, be sure to give them a good cleaning.  Especially if the container was used previously for something that could be harmful to plants.

The Sure-Fire Sub-Arctic Container Gardening Method:

We are big fans of sub-irrigated container gardens using the GroTech sub-irrigated GroBuckets.  These are basically two pieces, a five gallon bucket and the GroBucket insert.

There are some huge advantages of sub-irrigated buckets.  They require a lot less watering maintenance.  They help eliminate drought conditions, which can help your plants be more healthy.  There is also a very clear indicator when your plants need to be watered.  In cold climates, they also keep your plant’s roots warmer than traditional soil gardens.

We’ve grown a lot of different kinds of plants in these.  They work for root vegetables, herbs and greens as well as your largest of plants including tomatoes and peppers.  Thus, we can recommend them highly.

While there is a cost to this equipment, it’s also very effective.  We think it’s worth the cost over other container gardening techniques.

Your Container Garden Soil Is Important!

It would not be a good strategy to just fill your containers up with dirt.  You will experience a number of issues if you go this route.

There are some properties that you’re looking for with good container garden soil.  These are good draining characteristics, moisture retention and a fairly loose (non-clumping) structure.

There are a couple ways to go about getting good container garden soil.

The simplest method is to just buy potting mix from the local store.  This can get fairly expensive, but it’s the quickest and easiest way to get it done.  For a five gallon bucket, you will need about 2/3 cubic foot of soil.

Additionally, you can build your own soil from raw materials.  This tends to be a bit cheaper than potting mix when you’re container gardening at scale.  There are many different mixes out there that will work.  Our recipe for soil is as follows:

  • Two parts compost
  • One part coco coir or sphagnum peat moss
  • Half part vermiculite
  • Half part perlite

Other materials can also be used in DIY garden soil mixes.  Some examples of these alternate materials include sand, limestone and composted wood chips.

You can also infuse fertilizer into your container garden soil when you are preparing it.  Most fertilizers will give you an amount to use based on the soil volume.  If you are purchasing potting soil, and it has fertilizer in it, you don’t need to add more to it.

Where To Get Plants, Under Any Circumstances:

There’s a lot of crazy stuff going on today, with travel being restricted in some places.  We’re going to assume, at least for now, that big box home improvement stores will be declared as essential businesses.  They should hopefully continue to provide garden starts and soil in these times.

We’d also argue that any nursery should also be declared as essential business.  Our gardens will be vital to us and access to plants should be seen as essential.  We don’t know if that’s going to be true, but that’s our point of view.

That said, there’s some important seeds to have on hand.  These are all fairly fast growing and can be direct sowed in your garden or containers without any preparation of garden starts.

  • Radishes
  • Greens (Lettuce, spinach, arugula, mustard, mizuna, etc.)
  • Roots (Parsnips, carrots, beets, turnip)
  • Potatoes
  • Peas/Beans

It also might be good to seek out local gardening groups in your area, such as on Facebook.  A lot of gardeners produce more than they need.  When the growing season nears, they are usually willing to either sell, trade or give away their excess.

Growing Your Own Garden Starts:

You can raise your own garden starts.  This requires a fair bit of initial investment and additional effort.  Thus we’re trying to focus on primarily other ideas in this article.  But, if you’re interested in this, the time to be doing it is right now.

The bare essentials that you will need to raise your own garden starts are:

  • Grow lights (CFL shop light, LED, etc.)
  • Containers (inserts, pots, solo cups, etc)
  • Potting Soil
  • Seeds

You will also need a seed starting schedule.  This will help you know when to plant things so they are optimal in size for transplant into your garden.

Growing your own garden starts is fairly easy.  It’s just putting seeds in soil, keeping the soil moist and germinating those seeds.  There are some things that can go wrong, though.  From there, it’s the process of caring for those plants with regular watering and occasional fertilizing once they get to a decent size.

Eating and Preserving Your Harvest:

We’re getting a bit ahead of ourselves here, but there are two major strategies for using your garden to maximum benefit.

The first is fresh eating.  This is the greatest benefit of having a garden, having access to fresh food that you grew.  Don’t feel guilty about eating things fresh, that’s probably the most important thing to do.  Fresh food has more nutrients and better taste than almost any preservation method of the same food.

Food preservation is a huge topic.  Overall, there are many techniques that you can use to preserve your harvest for later.  These different techniques depend on the vegetables you’re trying to preserve.  The various preservation techniques include:

  • Freezing
  • Canning (both baths and pressure canning)
  • Cold storage (e.g. refrigerator or root cellar)
  • Fermentation
  • Pickling
  • Dehydrating/drying
  • Jam/Jellies

Different vegetables and fruits will take well to different preservation techniques.  This could be a topic in and of itself.  In general, most vegetables have one or more techniques that are particularly good for that plant.  It’s good to do some research.  It’s often as simple as searching for something like, “how to preserve *vegetable*” to find a good starting point.

The most important thing with food preservation is following food safety guidelines.  Food safety is especially important in canning where improper techniques can put you at risk for food borne illness.  This risk is primarily if you’re not following known good recipes, it’s not a reason to avoid preservation techniques.

The most trusted source of information for canning is the Blue Ball Book of Canning.  There has been a recent surge of groups like “rebel canners” that present preservation techniques that we would caution against.  Some of the things we’ve seen recommended by these groups are downright dangerous.  If you’re looking for something different but also safe, check out Not Your Mama’s Canning Book.

We Hope This Is Your Year To Start Your Victory Garden!

Anyone can learn how to garden.  There was a time when we were beginners too.  Today is a good day to start down the path.

The most important thing to know is that gardening is a learning process.  Don’t concern yourself with the complexities of gardening.  Having a garden will teach you more about gardening than anything else!  Don’t be afraid to potentially fail.  Every failure presents a potential to learn how to do things better.

We hope that we’ve shown you that you don’t need a large amount of space or a dedicated garden to make it happen.  Get out there, grow your victory garden in 2020!

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