A great way to teach your family how to be more self reliant and healthy while you shelter in place would be to grow a vegetable garden. You don’t need a lot of space but what you do need is plenty of sun. You can go with as little as a 10×10 foot area, plant in containers on your patio or deck or do like I do and plant veggies in your flower beds!
Vegetables that are great for beginners are bush-style beans (as opposed to pole-style beans), carrots, cucumbers, lettuce, spinach, potatoes, peppers, and squash. Some plants are known as “cut and come again” such as; lettuce you could cut for harvest, and a few weeks later it will have grown enough to harvest again. It’s important to research and really think about what you want to grow. Keep these in mind as you plan the location of your garden as it will be important when you implement the fine details while you shelter in place.
After you choose the right location and select what you want to grow, get the soil tested and ready with compost, fertilizer, and/or limestone. Look at a planting schedule to learn when to plant and how long before they are ready to harvest. You also should take into consideration whether they are “full sun” (6-8 hours of sun per day) plants, or sun/shade (3-5 hours). Avoid areas that are deep shade.
Whether it’s raised beds, containers, or sowing seeds directly into the ground you need to take some variables into consideration. The grade of the land and soil type play a role in the your success. Some plants require good drainage and would prefer a more sandy soil such as root crops like carrots, parsnips and potatoes. Strawberries, peppers, corn, squash, zucchini, collard greens and tomatoes are grown commercially in sandy soils. Lettuce, chard, snap beans and other crops with shallow roots benefit from clay soil’s ability to retain moisture. Brussel sprouts and cabbage often grow better in clay soil than looser loam because their roots enjoy the firm anchorage.
Preparation to the soil will help such as rototilling to loosen the soil for easier seed and root growth. Adding compost is helpful because it contains micro-nutrients and trace minerals such as sulfur, carbon, copper, iron, and zinc. Ideally, you’d collect some soil and bring it to a lab to find out the pH, however under these circumstances we can assume your soil is acidic as most New England soils are. Most plants favor a neutral pH of 6.5 – 7 because that is where most nutrients are readily available. Once we can venture off and the soil testing labs are open sending or bringing them a sample will help you know exactly where your soil pH is.
Some people enjoy the process of starting seeds but for the beginner I would recommend buying plants already started. Many garden centers will have plants for you to plant and will let you know when they are ready. I’ve started as late as early July and had success so don’t worry about missing the starting time. Ideally, you’d get to the garden center around Memorial Day for your most choices.
Once your vegetables are planted you’ll want to water plants as they require. Some like it hot and dry while others like it evenly moist. Knowing your plants requirements are key to success. If you are using containers or raised beds you’ll need to water more often as containers will dry quickly and do not have access to ground water.
In conclusion, the part you can do while you shelter in place is the most important – the planning. You might even get lucky and find some random seeds and soil you’ve meant to plant at an earlier date. The great thing is right now you can do the planning and work the soil you have so you’re ready when the temperatures warm up. Call your local nursery and ask them what they’ll have. They’re most likely stocking up and will have plants for you to grow by the time the shelter in place orders are lifted. There will be trial and error, but when proper planning is well executed, you will be very pleased with the results of your very own vegetable garden!
For fun, if you would like we would be happy to deliver to you some sunflower seeds. Plant those in practically any soil and they’ll give you something to look forward to during these difficult times. Once the danger of frost is over plant in the ground for a glorious treat come last summer.