During WWII, nearly 20 million Americans planted Victory Gardens because fruits and vegetables weren’t available. Today, it’s more about using our own yards and patios to grow food for our families, sort of a return to the past and a way to save natural resources. I also grow my own food because of taste and economy.
No matter where you shop, you can’t beat the freshness of a basil or lettuce leaf picked from your own backyard and eaten within the hour. And there’s some up-front investment but once you begin harvesting, the food is free for the taking. You know where it came from and what goes into making it so good. You also have little to no waste.
If you have yard space, try a spot that has deep, well-drained soil. Your best bet is a raised bed. I like mine for a number of reasons. First, I can place it in the best spot. Ever heard of a microclimate or microenvironment? That’s a spot in your yard that gets more or less shade or wind or maybe where cold air accumulates. An example is a spot against a south-facing wall. You can expect temperatures to be higher there and the warmth to hold further into the evening. I also like my raised bed because I spend more time with my vegetables than with other plants, doing tasks like weeding, checking for insects, trellising, and harvesting, of course. Raised beds warm up faster in the spring than the ground, an advantage in most climates. Finally, I like a cover on my bed until the seedlings reach maturity. I think it helps boost the temperature and cuts down on visits from cats, dogs, birds, and at least the hopping and flying insects. Herbs work well in a raised bed or pots. I always have some rosemary and basil in pots on my front porch, close to the kitchen.
For vegetables, you want soil that’s rich in humus, or organic matter. If your ground is thawed and soft enough to work, you can start preparing the soil. Add compost and gently shovel to mix it in. Don’t apply straight manure in the spring because it doesn’t have time to break down before you plant. Of course, you can prepare your raised bed the same way, using a mixture of sand, silt and clay for the soil base. I lay down a drip hose (they’re cheap) that’s attached to a splitter on my back faucet. Remember water needs when you plan the location.
Think about what you’ll plant before you buy your raised bed. If you’re really industrious and have the space, you might need two beds. Or you can use a combination of a raised bed, some ground for plants that start later or need to trellis up a wall, and pots for herbs, cherry tomatoes, or even edible flowers or a small lemon tree. Start thinking about the fresh foods you buy and enjoy the most and get to know your climate. Next week, we’ll talk about starting seeds and planting in rows.