We’re knee deep in this new normal coronavirus has brought upon us. Sure, it was probably really fun the first week or so, but now, if you’re like me, it’s getting a bit daunting. With the dreary weather, I’m sure the days can feel like weeks. There’s only so many banana breads to bake, movies to binge and closets that need re-organizing. Time to pivot and focus on something that can improve your mood, keep you busy, and feed you. I’m talking about a Victory Garden.
So what exactly is a Victory Garden, you ask? The concept has roots (pun intended) in the early 1900s. Regular non-green thumb folks like you and I planted gardens in their yards and public spaces to improve morale and their community food supply during World War I. This idea has once again picked up traction, and for good reason, in my oh so humble opinion. Growing food taps into all of your senses and is sure to make you feel proud of whatever you create with your vegetal offspring.
So let’s get down to the business of planning our own victory gardens, shall we?
If You Build It, Plants Will (hopefully) Grow
You don’t need acres to plant your garden. 100 sunny square feet in your yard is the ideal minimum.
Building a garden box, if you have the space, is quite simple. Untreated wood 2 x 4’s are the cheapest way to go. Hemlock, fir and pine are great for short-term gardens. If you want to invest, cedar and redwood are naturally water-resistant. Treated wood is the most durable and longest lasting, but because you don’t want those chemicals in your crops, plant edible seeds in the center of your plot and line the interior with plastic for extra protection.
No matter how big you go, your garden box should be at least six inches high. This will keep out critters and allow for ease of access when tending to it.
Don’t have the space, materials or woodworking skills? No worries. A window box, that decorative beer tub you had to have for last year’s party, or even a few five gallon buckets work just as well.
Location, Location, Location
This depends heavily on what you choose to plant. An area that gets at least six hours of sunlight per day that has good drainage and is near a water source is a good foundation. From there, you can check out the info for each plant you select to determine when to water and the type of soil you’ll need to use.
Soil & Water Matter
The best soil to use is one with a good amount of organic matter. You’ll know you’ve got it right when the soil binds together when you squeeze it but breaks apart easily.
Here’s a good recipe: 1 part topsoil; 1.5 parts peat moss; 1-1.5 parts compost
If you’re purchasing a premade soil, make sure it has at least peat moss and compost.
Watering also depends on what you plant, but here are some basics:
Don’t water the leaves
Check the soil three to six inches down for moisture
Water deeply and less often
Water in the morning
What to Plant
Now that you’ve got a spot picked and soil procured, just what should you plant? The goal here is to not have things that take too long to grow. On the savory end, think lettuces, tomatoes, carrots and basic herbs. Avoid cabbage, corn, onions and garlic because those take too long. Zucchini and cucumbers are great hearty plants, too. Beans and potatoes (yes, you can grow small spuds) also pack a bang for your buck, so if you happen to have a larger yard that can accomodate them, you should give them a try.
Feel like something sweet? Plant berries! Raspberry and strawberry bushes (not trees), produce tons of tasty morsels with little effort. Blueberries, although antioxidant packed, involve a ton more work and don’t yield nearly as much fruit, so unless you’re a seasoned pro, avoid them.
Don’t forget to plant flowers! Not only do they give you something pretty to look at and smell, but you’ll be supporting the ecosystem and feeding the bees that in turn, nourish your garden. Some flowers even act as natural critter repellents!
Uses for your Bounty
It goes without saying, but you should grow what you’ll eat, or be willing to share (or barter for some beer) with others. Food waste is a big problem these days, so don’t contribute!
As I mentioned, sharing with your neighbors in a socially distant way is just awesome and helps make these days a bit more tolerable. But if you’ve still got massive amounts of vegetables and fruit you need to use, here are some really simple ideas:
Vegetable noodles – a spiralizer is ideal for this, but fear not, a vegetable peeler, mandolin or a paring knife work just as well.
Panzanella salad – this will use up lots of tomatoes and cucumbers that will likely overwhelm you, even after you’ve given eighty percent of them away. Just add some onion and crusty bread and you’re good to go. Amp up the flavor by roasting the tomatoes.
Or, use cubes of homemade Beer Bread (no yeast required):
3 cups flour (sifted)
3 teaspoons baking powder*
1 teaspoon salt*
1⁄4 cup sugar
12 ounce beer (milder the better)
1⁄2 cup melted butter
*omit if using Self-Rising Flour
Preheat oven to 375 degrees
Mix dry ingredients and beer
Pour into a greased loaf pan
Pour melted butter over mixture
Bake 1 hour, remove from pan and cool for at least 15 minutes
Boozy Fruit Salad
This wouldn’t be a Beer Fit Club blog without mentioning libations! Marinate your fruit with your favorite light flavored wine or prosecco then dig in. Summer is coming, so you can easily tweak this into a granita by blending and freezing into a cool treat.
You can throw just about every veggie and bean you grow into a pot with some broth, rice or pasta and make a hearty meal.
Were you brave enough to try potatoes and get some to grow for you? You can roast them in beer! Add some of the herbs you grew and voi-freaking-la you have a side dish that’s filling and reminiscent of your favorite local brew.
Did you know herbs make beautiful additions to bouquets? Trust me, add mint, rosemary or sage to the vase next time and you’ll be pleased with the visual and olfactory results. Better yet, use that amber bottle from that beer you polished off as a vase and bring the BeerFit vibe full circle.
History repeats itself. Repeat one of the good (and delicious) parts and plant a COVID-tory garden!