pandemic gardening

Extra time at home due to social distancing combined with concerns over food supplies have resulted in a massive surge in seed and veggie sales at garden centers this season. Even if you don't have a lot of space - or a green thumb - but want to enjoy fresh veggies this summer, we have some advice to help get you started.

The Right Size & Location

If you're just starting out, don't set yourself up for failure. 

"Start small, 10’ by 10’ will provide vegetables while still being manageable. Too big is overwhelming to weed, water, plant, and harvest," said the UConn Home and Garden Education Center.

The Old Farmer's Almanac said it's important to sufficiently space your plants so you can water and weed easily. 

"The general rule is: Don’t allow more than four feet of plants without access to them. Just make sure that you can reach the center of the row or bed easily," the Almanac said.

When choosing a location - make sure it gets plenty of sun.

"Full sun equals six to eight hours of sun per day," the Education Center said, adding that you'll also want to be close to a water source. "Close enough that you will want to go it and your water/hose will reach it."

What and How Much to Grow

Always keep in mind how much food you want to produce.

Kazantzis Real Estate Agent Val MacNeil said to avoid waste, only plant what you plan on eating.

"Unless you have extra space and then you can donate extra produce to your local food pantry to help those in need," MacNeil said.

MacNeil said some seeds can be started directly in the ground now, such as peas, beets, carrots, and lettuce, as they perform better in the cool start of spring.

"If you are looking for a quick harvest, plant radishes, bush beans, carrots, and spinach, which take 60 days or less to fully grow," she said.

The Farmer's Almanac says the following are good choices for beginners:

  • Tomatoes
  • Zucchini squash
  • Peppers
  • Cabbage
  • Bush beans
  • Lettuce
  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Chard
  • Radishes
  • (Bonus) Marigolds to discourage pests and add some color!

The Education Center also said to yield the most vegetables make sure to harvest your crops as soon as they're ripe.

"Not picking tells the plant its job in life is done. It has produced a fruit containing a seed and then it will die. Leaf crops will send up a seed stalk. Continuing to remove fruits and leaves will keep the plant trying to make more seed, therefore providing more produce," the Center said.

No Space, No Problem

Even if you don't have a big yard, you may want to consider using raised beds, which have multiple benefits. 

"In a raised garden bed, you keep outside weeds from your garden soil, prevent water runoff and soil compaction, and worry about fewer slugs and snails and other garden pests," the Farmer's Almanac said.

To make the most of your space, you can also consider intercropping - which is growing companion plants closer together.  

"Some intercropping partners thrive if their roots occupy a different depth of soil. Pairing shallow-rooted vegetables, such as bush beans with deeply rooted beets, makes good use of space without creating root competition. Similarly, planting heavy feeders such as cabbage or cucumbers with light-feeding carrots or beans reduces the competition for soil nutrients," the Almanac said.

If even the prospect of a raised bed is intimidating, you may want to start with container planting. Many vegetables, fruit, and herbs thrive in containers. The Almanac suggests these five

  • Tomatoes
  • Strawberries
  • Salad Leaves
  • Carrots
  • Swiss Chard

The Almanac also suggests growing herbs or salad greens in window boxes - keeping them at arm's reach. 

Logees Home and Garden Center in Danielson has tips on growing a wide array of fruit plants in containers - from citrus and avocados to coffee, tea, and even black pepper. 

If you are going plant citrus in a container, Logees says all pots are not created equal.

"We recommend using clay or terra cotta so the soil can dry between each time you water," Logees said. "A clay pot allows for better soil aeration because the pot is porous. Clay pots dry out sooner than other types of pots. If the potting mix stays damp for long periods then this invites in root disease. This rapidly turns into root rot and can kill the plant."