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Build a garden and grow your own food during the coronavirus outbreak

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Two rows of arugula take root.


David Priest/CNET

The coronavirus pandemic is adding stress to most of our lives right now, but gardening at home — not just to maintain sanity, but also to source your own groceries in an uncertain future — is a perfect way to turn anxiety and boredom into calm productivity. The concept of the victory garden, which serves to support economies and social morale during crises, is only about a century old, and we usually think of it in the context of war. But this seems like the perfect time to repurpose it.

Luckily, starting a victory garden is pretty simple in 2020. Follow the steps below, and you’ll be harvesting veggies by summer.

Step 1: Test your soil

David Priest/CNET

Before you try to grow anything, you’ll want to check that your soil is healthy. First, dig into the soil a little and check that there are worms and other bugs. The more bugs the better. You also want the soil to be workable — if it has high clay content, it could be harder for some plants to grow. 

Then you want to test the pH of the soil: You don’t want your soil to be too acidic or alkaline. You can pick these tests up for a couple bucks at a local garden center or order them online. Then you can respond to what you find, augmenting with potting soil or fertilizer.

Step 2: Choose your crops wisely

The first step of choosing your crops is picking your favorite fruits and veggies. Then you can check which of them grow best in your region and which grow best together. Herbs and some leafy greens like arugula are easy crops to start indoors (we even wrote a separate guide for that), then transfer outside, which can help gardeners in colder climates. Tomatoes, cucumbers and carrots are also solid starting crops, and they all grow quickly — good for those who want gratification sooner. Once you know what you want to grow, you can order seeds online or look around for garden centers in your area.

Step 3: Build your bed

David Priest/CNET

Building a good gardening bed is the most important step in the process, and it can make your life much easier later on. If your soil is healthy and you don’t want to spend much money, you can plant your crops in the ground, surround the plot with chicken wire to keep out pests and be done. If you have the time, tools and money, though, a raised bed is the way to go. 

A raised bed sits anywhere from 1 to 5 feet above the level of your yard. You fill it with soil, various fertilizers (just google what your veggies prefer) and rocks to help create the perfect conditions for your produce to take root. A raised bed also helps keep weeds and pests minimal. You can buy raised bed kits, or you can buy boards and build your own — but either way, buy wooden stakes and chicken wire to keep rabbits and other nibblers at bay.

Step 4: Plant your crops

David Priest/CNET

Once your bed is built, look at the requirements on your seed packs or online for each crop. Some only need a few inches of space, while others will take up a foot or more. Some need soil pressed over top and others germinate better in loose earth. If you’re growing snow peas, tomatoes or other climbing vegetables, you may need a post for the vine to climb. You can even start some indoors on a south-facing windowsill before transferring them to the garden. Use a tape measure, plant accordingly and water.

Step 5: Be patient

Gardening is in many ways an act of faith. You put seeds in the ground and just have to trust that they’re germinating and growing as they should. If shoots don’t appear in the window of time advertised on the seed packets, don’t worry. Sometimes, if the weather is colder than ideal, seeds will take a little longer to take hold. Give them time, water appropriately and just wait.

Step 6: Keep your garden healthy

David Priest/CNET

Once your sprouts make their debut, keep them healthy. You may need to thin out sprouts that grow too close together. But delicate as they look, those sprouts are hardy. Replant them where they’ll have room to grow. Garden care also means using netting or vegetable cages if necessary, watering appropriately and weeding religiously. The more you weed, the fewer weeds will grow and the healthier your veggies will be. So go out in the early morning or after rain while the soil is damp and get your hands dirty.

Step 7: Harvest

David Priest/CNET

After a short time — anywhere from 40 to 90 days or more depending on the crop — you should start yielding returns on your garden. Keep a record of when you planted so you can monitor your veggies’ development, then harvest when they’re ripe. Some plants, like spinach, can offer multiple yields before going to seed, as long as you leave younger leaves intact. Others will give a single yield. Store seeds from the veggies you harvest, and then enjoy: cook, bake, jar and gift the fruits (and veggies) of your labor.

Gardening takes time, patience and discipline, but it’s also the perfect way to destress while you’re self isolating. Growing season is already underway for some veggies, so get researching and move quickly if you’re thinking of building a plot. And if you have other advice for fellow victory gardeners, tweet at us or share it in the comments below.

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