You’ve probably heard from some friend of yours the apocalyptic idea that our entire food distribution system with break down and that it was going to be necessary to grow a victory garden on steroids in order to feed yourself and your family. Agribusinesses threatening the disruption of the meat supply because of COVID-19 breakouts in processing plants aren’t helping. Seed and mail-order plant companies have reported a run on their products, selling out of many, and long wait times.
Now, growing a garden is a great idea. It’s good exercise, both mental and physical, and the fruits of your labor are healthy and tasty. However, there are most likely a lot of unrealistic expectations among these first-time gardeners, starting with the idea that a novice gardener, probably with limited space and no-preplanning and research, is going to be able to grow ALL their food, or even a significant part of it.
For about eight years, I had a community garden patch dug out of the lawn of a local small church. Year after year, I saw new gardeners claim one of the ten small plots, eagerly turn the soil and put in plants and come back several times in June to water and weed. But by July, their plots were dry and overgrown, and often, the crops shriveled and died from lack of care. Gardens require attention.
Gardens also require planning. You probably should have started that back in December, not when coronavirus shut things down. At that point, you should have begun any plants you planned to start inside weeks earlier. You should have assessed your plot and figured out what was going where, based on knowing the space requirements and growing season of each plant, and ordered seeds for anything you planned to grow from seed. You should know what plants you’re going to grow from starters — those small plants you get at the garden center, and by far the most efficient way to grow heat-loving plants like tomatoes, eggplants and peppers. You should have already analyzed your soil and amended it to make up for any deficiencies. You could have already planted your radishes and peas.
Anyone who decided in March to grow a vegetable garden should start with much more modest expectations than growing all the food they need to survive. You’d need a fairly large plot in addition to expertise and planning that began late last year. But that first-time gardener can enjoy the benefits of adding a handful of homegrown cherry tomatoes to a salad — there is nothing better than a tomato picked right off the vine! — or having a constant supply of flavorful herbs right outside their door (Seriously, they may not be the mainstay of your diet, but grow herbs: they are easy, forgiving, and add zest to anything you eat, lessening the need for salt).
We experienced gardeners want you to be successful. We don’t want to hear about you planting tomatoes in April on the shady side of your house under a tree. And we don’t want your unrealistic expectations to dampen your enthusiasm for growing your own. Start small — and grow a garden next year, and the next, and the next.