Garden bordered by raspberries.  Credit Allan Dean/AHHerald

Advice from Garden Club R.F.D.

MIDDLETOWN, NJ – Many Americans spend much time and money on lawn maintenance, but, at this time in our lives, because of Covid-19, more and more people are choosing to grow food on their land or balcony.

We’ve seen a resurgence of victory gardens, and last spring retail nurseries, across the state, sold out of vegetable transplants and vegetable seeds.

Bedtime stories and bread baking weren’t the only things making a comeback during the COVID-19 pandemic. Victory gardens or home vegetable garden areas did as well.


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Data has revealed that compared to spring 2019, 36 percent more Americans grew vegetables, herbs, and tomatoes in 2020, with 65 percent of those individuals saying their decision was tied to the Coronavirus in some way.  It appears that the same type of data will appear after spring 2021.

The concept of gardening during times of scarcity or stress dates back to World War I and World War II. In 1917, the National War Garden Commission first asked Americans to grow produce in backyards, parks, and gardens to feed their families and those in the military. The practice was again encouraged in late 1941, just after the Pearl Harbor attacks, as the U.S. ramped up World War II efforts. During the early 1940’s, the U.S. Department of Agriculture  estimated that about 18 million families planted victory gardens, increasing the country’s fresh fruit and vegetable supply by almost 40 percent.

In 2020, the victory or vegetable gardens had a resurgence for a variety of reasons, including:

  • The pandemic continuing to increase in severity during spring planting season and the summer.
  • Health experts recommending fewer supermarket trips to avoid a lack of social distancing and improper use or no use of masks.
  • People learning that growing your own fruits and vegetables was more affordable than buying them and it also alleviated their worries about potential food scarcity.  (Gardening tends to get more popular during every recession as well.)
  • Gardening offered a bonus educational activity for those who were homeschooling their children or where their children were learning virtually.
  • It was found that gardening was a relaxing hobby and a way to spend time outdoors taking a break from the news.  It also was a source of exercise.
  • Some farmers’ markets closed or postponed opening to honor restrictions, so home gardens filled in the fresh produce gaps.

So, it is now 2021– it is almost spring, and the pandemic has continued!   Surveys tell us that spending on gardening is up, with food gardening more popular than flower gardening.

You may have been saying the following for a while: “I want to start growing my own food!”

 And why not?  Not only will it save you money but the produce tastes better than what can be purchased at the corner grocery store, plus it has more nutrients than commercially grown crops.  And, unlike those crops, you know that you are getting chemical-free produce.  Just investigate how many pesticides are used commercially on strawberries and celery, and you will realize how important this is.

If you are a bit overwhelmed about starting your own edible garden, not to worry! Following are tips to get you started:

  • Start by Observing. Go outside your home and look around at your property.  Look to see where the sun and the shade falls each day.  Think about where your water comes from and investigate the soil where you plan to have your veggie garden. Know that your soil needs plenty of organic material and your garden will need 4 to 8 hours of morning to midafternoon sun. Instead of buying the cheapest bags of soil you can find, just do some research and then buy compost-rich soil.    Also, check and see if your community has recycled compost for you.  Your plants will thank you.
  • Make a Plan. Decide what fruits, veggies, and herbs grow best where you live. And once you make a list, check the correct time that each one should be planted and how much sun and water it requires.  It’s all on the internet. Giant leeks or Romanesco broccoli do look gorgeous in the seed catalog, but be wise, choose tried-and-true varieties of crops that are productive and easy to grow.  Snap peas, radishes, herbs like mint and chives, salad greens, kale, tomatoes, and zucchini are all classic choices.
  • Start Small. Begin with a small area, raised bed, or a few pots—and then expand as you have success. Starting small will help you learn how to do this type of gardening and—you won’t get overwhelmed.
  • Don’t Forget to Label Your Crops. It’s a small detail but one that makes a big difference. When you plant something, label it with a plant marker that includes the crop variety and planting date.  Markers keep your garden organized.
  • Grow a Beautiful Garden. You might want to mix your edible plants with flowering plants to make your space more beautiful, and they can be chosen to attract bees and butterflies.
  • Get Creative. Don’t be afraid to experiment as that is how we learn the best. If something doesn’t work, try something else.  Gardening is a process, so have fun with it.

Don’t be shy—get out there come spring and start planting!  Your family will thank you come dinnertime!  The good news is that almost anyone can grow food, whether you have a tiny apartment balcony or a big backyard.  Treat your garden with curiosity and an open mind.  You and your family will absolutely benefit from your efforts.  Get them involved as well.


Garden Club R.F.D. is a member of the Garden Club of New Jersey, the Central Atlantic Region of State Garden Clubs, Inc., and the National Garden Clubs, Inc.  While regular in-person meetings have been substituted by Zoom meetings, spring will hopefully bring back the in person but socially distanced meetings, outside the Little Red Schoolhouse in Middletown.  Perhaps you would like to join us.  Write to [email protected].

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