During World War I, and on through the Great Depression and into World War II, people were encouraged to plant Victory Gardens. Also called “war gardens” or “food gardens for defense,” Victory Gardens helped homeowners and communities alleviate food scarcity, while supplementing their diets with fresh herbs, fruits, and vegetables. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, stay-at-home directives, questions once again about the food-supply chain, and the coming of warmer weather, gardeners are returning to the idea of Victory Gardens.
In a recent post on the Hennepin County Master Gardeners website, master gardening volunteer Steve Miles wrote about Victory Gardens and growing vertical gardens in small spaces and succession planting. More information on planting a vegetable garden can be found here.
Meanwhile, we consulted with Dina Kountoupes, who founded Harvest Moon Landscapes in 2011, on how exactly to start getting your vegetable garden growing. “My specialty is food,” she emphasizes, “and yes, I’m getting a lot more calls about starting COVID-19 Victory Gardens. I’m excited and charged up to help people get their gardens in.” Let’s get started with what Kountoupes calls layered or lasagna gardening.
- Start with good soil, says Kountoupes. Whatever the size of your plot—and it doesn’t have to be big— build up the soil by laying cardboard or newspaper on the ground, then putting six inches of nice black compost, well-composted manure, and good black dirt on top. “You don’t have to create a super-raised bed,” she says. “Just mound up the mix, or put 2x4s or pavers along the edge.” Call a gardening center to bring in your compost and dirt, or haul bags from the garden center. Next, cover the mix with organic, weed-free straw as a light mulch.
- Purchase seeds and plants. Buy the veggies you want to eat. If you’re working with plants, move the straw aside, dig a hole, water the hole, and plant your plant into your fluffy black compost/dirt mix. Tap lightly around the plant, then pull the straw back around it. Water deeply. Let the soil dry out, then deeply water to the bottom of the roots again. Repeat. If planting seeds, remove straw from the designated area or row, lightly scatter or plant the seeds (depending on what you’re planting), lightly cover with soil, and keep the area moist. Water lightly and often, morning and evening, Kountoupes says, until you start seeing germination. Then water every other day.
Last, here are ideas on what and where to plant.
- “The key to this lasagna system, also known as intensive planting, is to plant densely,” Kountoupes says. “Put the plants close enough together so the edges will touch when they’re full size. Because of your watering, the soil will stay nice and cool, and the straw keeps weeds out.”
- Do some layered planting with, for instance, tomatoes in the back (so they don’t shade the plants in front), medium height plants next, then lower plants in front. “Think about how things grow in nature,” she says. “Here we do the same thing. This method also uses your garden space most efficiently.”
- Companion planting can help with pest control. Integrate herbs, which produce essential oils that keep pests away, as well as flowers into the veggie garden. One classic companion group or planting guild is tomatoes, basil, and marigolds. Another is the three-sister garden that Native Americans used: corn (at the center), pole beans (which vine around the corn), and squash (the leaves keep the ground covered, cool, and weed-free).
During this pandemic and quarantine, Kountoupes adds, “gardening is a great way to get outside, gain control over your food supply, and empower yourself by growing your own food. Gardening is also a very calming, meditative way to spend time right now.”
Photos courtesy Dina Kountoupes