Victory gardens were first created during World Wars I and II, when citizens were called on to help the war effort by growing their own food, and are seeing a resurgence today. Whether you would love a bigger harvest or simply want to be more self-sufficient with your food supply, it’s not too late to get your own summer “victory garden” started, says Karina Hathorn (Agriculture, ’11). Here are her tips to ensure a rich harvest.
Find reference material. There is a bounty of information about gardening in books, articles and on the Internet. University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources provides free online publications on vegetable crop production, garden pests, soil health, irrigation, and food storage. I often reference its Pests of the Garden and Small Farm: A grower’s guide to using less pesticide at home when I am identifying and managing pests in my garden.
Shop local. Purchase vegetable seedlings from your local nursery or farmers market. The seedlings will be adapted to your local climate, and knowledgeable nursery owners will select the most successful varieties for your local area.
Time it right. Temperature and sunlight have everything to do with a successful garden. Read the back of the seed package for sowing dates. Your local nursery or UC Master Gardener Program can tell you when to plant. It is important to know the first and last frost dates in your area: seed starting and transplanting should generally take place within 6–8 weeks of the last frost.
Make the most out of your space. French intensive gardening, or square foot gardening, is a concept that involves growing plants closer than traditionally recommended. This concept also encompasses companion planting, which is the practice of pairing different plants that enhance one another’s growth. Vertical gardening uses trellis or other support systems to grow food vertically instead of horizontally. You can grow edible plants on your porch or balcony in containers.
Make a plan. Select vegetables you will actually eat, and plant to produce only as much as you know you will eat. Decide where plants will go in your gardening space. Taller plants should be planted on the north side of the garden. If you plant in smaller numbers at timed intervals, rather than all at once, your plants will mature at a staggered rate, providing a continuous harvest over the season. I do this with my leafy greens, radishes, and beets.
Gather your tools. You don’t need many. Gloves, a hand trowel, rake, hand clippers, and a bucket are the essentials. If you have a bigger garden you may need a full-size shovel and a wheelbarrow.
Preparing the soil. Add compost, composted manure, or worm castings to your soil. If using composted manure, apply it several weeks or even months before planting and work it into the soil. I prefer to use a mix of compost and worm castings in my garden. Compost adds nutrients and organic material; the added organic material increases the soil’s ability to retain water. Worm castings are very high in plant-available nutrients.
Be spontaneous. Plant something you have never grown before. I like to plant different varieties of the same thing and do a taste test with my family and friends. Grow flowers and vegetables in your garden. I love bragging to my friends that everything in the salad came from my garden, including the edible flowers!
Build community. Don’t need to plant all six tomato plants in the six-pack? Share half of them with your neighbor. Once you begin to harvest from your garden, share the ‘fruits’ of your labor with family and friends. Share garden-inspired recipes that use ingredients you have grown.
Be inspired. Visit your local UC Master Gardener webpage for gardening tips, workshops, and blog posts to increase your gardening know-how. Join a local garden club to gain access to educational speakers and likeminded individuals. Take photos of your progress. I enjoy taking photos of my garden from seed to harvest.
Record your success. Keep a garden journal and document what works and what doesn’t. Record the dates you planted, the varieties you planted, and the watering schedule you followed. Note which plants produced the most, and which ones were your favorites to eat.
Karina Hathorn’s agriculture roots run deep, including time spent on the Chico State Organic Vegetable Project as an undergraduate. After graduation, she grew vegetable row crops on local organic farms and now is the UC Master Gardener program coordinator at the UC Cooperative Extension Office in Butte County, helping other trained gardeners answer questions and guiding novice and expert green thumbs alike. In her free time, she likes to pull weeds in her home garden or try new tomato varieties, although Sungold cherry tomatoes will always be her favorite.