Tips for Growing your Victory Garden

If you’ve been thinking about starting a Corona Victory Garden, I am writing to say, it isn’t too late in the season! No matter where you live or your climate, you can always plant seeds and enjoy the freshest produce you’ve ever tasted. No matter how much experience or space you have, you can grow a garden and your farmer is here to help you get started.

I started gardening like an adult with three roommates in 2011. Our landlord allowed us to garden in the front and back. Our motto was “food, not lawns!” The neighbors had mixed feelings until they started finding bags of produce on their porches.

The garden we grew (below) is, well, not the tidiest. You can do better than we did in that department. Or you can go wild with the rain barrels and the corn patch and sunflowers.

Before: Prepping the front yard garden with my roommates.
After: Our garden in full production.

I want to help you garden

A big part of what I want to do at the farm in 2020 is host gardening workshops and classes. I finally have enough experience to share with you all! I hosted a terrific class in early this year (before Coronavirus made it dangerous to do so) with 25 people in attendance, even on a snowy, cold day. I wish I could be hosting more classes right now during the peak of our camas bloom, but alas. Instead, I am hosting regular Zoom meetings, called “Garden Hour with Nella Mae,” where I answer your garden questions. Check out my calendar or Facebook page for the next Garden Hour as well as on-farm classes once it is safe to host them again. I am also trying to get your questions answered with this blog. Please let me know what topics you’d like to see.

Choosing Your Seeds

Check out my earlier blog post about reading a seed catalog. Even if you’re buying seeds off the rack at the hardware store, this will help you understand a lot of vocabulary.

Also, check out my resources page for handouts I’ve made for early/beginning gardening, irrigation, and more.

seed catalogs

Prepping your soil

I have had great luck turning over sod at rental houses (with permission mostly) and getting a productive garden in year one. There is a lot to say about prepping your soil, but the most important thing is to add organic matter (dry, fluffy compost) each season and to avoid compacting your soil by tilling or walking on it when it is wet.

My next blog post will be about prepping and amending garden soil, but for now, check out this article in Mother Earth News for some tips.

Tips for starting your garden

1. Start with the “tried & trues.”

If you’re new to gardening, don’t start with asparagus or blueberries. Start with the “tried & true” crops that are easy to grow and you can eat this season. (Asparagus and blueberries take a few years to produce a crop and have finicky soil requirements.) I suggest starting with these crops.

  • Roots- Radishes & beets
  • Greens- Spinach, lettuce & kale
  • Herbs- Cilantro & basil
  • Fruits- Tomatoes & cucumbers

I suggest buying tomato and basil plants to transplant into your garden because they are susceptible to frost. I suggest waiting until after June 15th in northeast Oregon to plant out these plants due to frost. Everything else you can “direct seed” into your soil now. You can also direct seed basil seed in June for continuous harvest.

Carrots can be tricky. They need careful monitoring and watering during germination. if you are careful with

2. It ain’t gotta be fancy!

Don’t think you need to buy expensive boxes or expensive seed or expensive tools. Start small with what you have and make improvements and changes year by year. Grab that old dresser marked “free” on the sidewalk and use the drawers to make planter boxes. Use the hoses and sprinklers you’ve got and add to your irrigation system as you go. It is better to see how things work first and buy things to match your needs.

At our rental house there was a broken hot tub when we moved in. We didn’t have a truck to haul it away, so we filled it with soil, made a glass lid and gardened in it when it was snowy. You might have a higher sense of decorum than I did in my early 20’s, but the point is, use what you have!

You can see the hot tub greenhouse at the bottom of the photo.

3. Grow what you actually eat.

There is something about the possibility that seeds embody that makes us loose our heads. Universally, we buy too much seed. We buy things we don’t actually eat because they are intriguing.  Just stick to five or 10 crops you actual eat on a weekly basis. This will also mean you actually save money on food.

Tomatoes from my 2011 garden.

4. Plant in succession

Beginning gardeners don’t realize that planting is an ongoing activity, not a one time thing. At the farm we plant on Wednesdays all season long. We plant greens every other week ensure a continuous supply and replant crops that we pulled out or that were not vigorous. The same week we pull broccoli, we’re putting new broccoli starts right back in. In planning your succession, choose varieties that are “early,” “main season,” “heat tolerant,” and “overwintering” to take you through the whole season and into next spring.

5. Weeding

Weeding never ends, but it is also seasonal. You will have more weeds in the early spring, so focus more weeding time then. Devout an hour or two a week, but if things get away from you, it is ok. You can recover.

My weeding philosophy is this: there will always be weeds; there will always be new species of weeds; take it one day at a time; enjoy the meditative process; get the roots; keep them from going to flower or seed; there is an ebb and flow to weeds–it isn’t static.

The weeds got away from us this year in a few lettuce beds, but we plugged away and spent some quality family time pulling them.

6. Watering

Different plants need different amounts of water. As a general rule, deep rooted plants like tomatoes and peppers need water less often for longer. Shallow rooted plants need water more often for less time. It is best to water in the morning or at night rather than the heat of the day. The hotter it is, the more water needed. Seeds need constant moist soil to get started.

7. Make your experiments small.

It is fun to try strange or new plants. Do it! Enjoy your experiments but focus on your main eating crops. Our rule on the farm is we only allow 10 percent of time and space to be spent on experiments. This year’s experiments include a row of fava beans, a row of bulbing fennel, a row of cress, and some new varieties of herbs including saltwort, cumin and leaf celery.

Best of luck!

Your grateful farmer,

Nella Mae

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The summer bounty in our garden in 2011.