Food Insecurities Amid COVID — What you Can Do NOW

Written by David S.

COVID-19 has and continues to shape how we live, what we can do, and disrupts basic amenities. One of the most significant concerns amid COVID-19 is what to do about food shortages. We can look back to when the virus shut down our social and business infrastructure to see the impact on distribution networks — The hoarding of toilet paper, bare shelves, low selection of certain foods, and limits on what you can purchase. This blog addresses some of the easy ways to address food insecurities amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Considerations for Growing Your Food 

The first consideration to growing your food is to figure out how much of your food you want to grow. The options range from growing a small percentage to growing 100 percent of your food. How you approach either of those goals is vastly different.

The second consideration is about how much space you need to grow food that meets your gardening goals. You can grow a lot of food in a 10-foot by 10-foot garden, especially if you consider vertical gardening. However, how much space do you need to grow 100 percent of your food? Depending on your family’s size and what you want to grow, a quarter of an acre would be a starting point. 

A third consideration is the cost of growing your food. In the past, this was more concerning, but in the COVID-19 landscape, the cost is relevant but not as important. The option of not growing your food means you buy it elsewhere. With COVID-19, buying food elsewhere may not be a reality. If the grocery stores do not have food, few other outlets will. 

How to Get Started Growing A Garden

A fourth consideration is what to grow. You will have to address seasonal growing trends, which include warm weather and cool weather crops. Understanding your USDA hardiness zone is a big step in the right direction. The USDA has a hand tool for figuring out roughly what your hardiness zone is. 

Because this topic is not just how to start a garden; instead, we approach the “how-to” part a little differently; to grow a continuous supply of food. 

Start by creating a list of foods you consume — tomatoes, carrots, peppers, etc. Next, divide up that list into warm-season crops and cool-season crops. As you do, make a notation about how many days it takes for the plant to produce a usable harvest. For example, if you plant ten different plants, and they each take 100 days to produce a harvest, you won’t have any homegrown food for the next 100 days or so. 

So, the goal is to plant crops that produce foods at different times. For example, radishes take about 30 days; Carrots take about 80 days; if the weather is warm, you can harvest squash in about 50 days. By understanding when a crop will be ready to harvest, you can plan a constant food supply. It gets easier once your garden is established and plants are growing. 

When you first begin to garden, you want to plant more short-term crops while allowing some long-term crops to continue to mature. A list of 30-day crops include:

  • Radishes
  • Lettuces
  • Green Onions
  • And Microgreens. 

Microgreens are seedlings that you eat when they form their second pair of true leaves. Beets, peas, lettuces, mustard green, Mizuna, and other greens make excellent species for microgreen production. 

Crops that you can harvest in about 40 days include:

  • Herbs such as basil
  • Cucumbers — some varieties
  • Tomatoes — mostly bush varieties
  • Chard

At 50 days of growth, you can begin to harvest summer squash, head lettuce, and spinach. 

At the 50-day mark, you have enough veggies to make a humble stir-fry, pot of soup, or salad. That is very inspiring because as your garden ages, you take outcrops and plant new ones. You can speed up the days to harvest by starting seeds in containers. In my garden, I work on a six-week rotation. I plant seeds six weeks before I need them. When the sixth week rolls around, I have healthy seedlings ready to take over a space in the garden where I have harvested a crop. For example, my pepper plants will cover out on November 1. In their spot, I will plant Broccoli. That means in mid-August, I started 36 broccoli seeds. If the weather stays nice and the peppers continue to produce, I will leave the broccoli in their pots for another week or find a new spot in the garden to plant them.

We call that process “successive planting,” and it is one of the ways you grow more food in smaller spaces. 

The Garden Space 

What do you need to grow seeds? In the simplest, all you need is dirt and water. For a hydroponic system, you would need a container, water, and fertilizer. However, to get started gardening, you need a space. That space can be in the ground or containers. 

Soil requirements — Most plants prefer loamy soil, which holds water but does not get soggy. Soil should drain quickly but hold water too. That sounds like a contradiction, and it is. What loamy soil does is absorbs a portion of the water that passes through. The roots of the plants have access to that water, but the soil also can breathe. Air movement is essential for good soil health and excellent root health for your plants. Clay soils hold too much water, and sandy soils do not hold enough. Loamy soil is ideal for gardening. 

You can amend the solid by adding compost to sandy soil and aggregates to clay soils. Products to consider for sandy soil would be any FoxFarms soil amendments, including Salamander, Strawberry Fields; another brand to try is Black Gold compost. For clay soils, aggregates such as perlite, vermiculite, and coconut coir, will help break up the clay and improve soil drainage. 

If you are growing in containers, a few bags of organic compost will get you started. 

Watering Plants — If you are starting seeds, keep the soil consistently moist but not soggy. I water seeds and seedlings twice per day until they become established. Once the seedlings are growing, you can transplant them out to the garden space. I like them to have two sets of leaves before transplanting. A handy product that helps seeds and seedlings thrive in the garden is row cover. Row cover is an airy and translucent fabric that allows water and sunlight to permeate but blocks garden pests, such as insects and birds. It is also a handy product for protecting plants from freezing down to about 28°F.

When the plants are established, you can water them less frequently—however, garden plants like the soil to be consistently moist. 

Raised Beds — If you want to garden in raised beds, many excellent raised bed kits are available. You can also use bricks or cinder blocks to create raised beds. The benefits of a raised bed are that you control the soil makeup and know if the soil is organic. Green Thumb Nursery has raised bed kits available and taller structures when range-of-motion is an issue. Be sure to stop by and shop the adaptive garden tools, beds, and containers. 

Growing your food does not need to be complicated. It also does not need to be expensive. On the contrary, learning to garden is a fantastic way to increase your food security and decrease your reliance on grocery stores and grocery distribution networks. Both struggled during the first wave of COVID-19, and that struggle has brought many new gardeners to our Nurseries. 

Please stop by any of our five Southern California locations and talk with our plant experts about starting your garden. They are here to help answer your questions, show you products, and help you select the best plants for your growing needs.

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