I have years of experience growing my own food in my garden, and I hope these tips help you to do so as well.
Why Should You Grow an Emergency Garden?
The worldwide crisis caused by the COVID-19 virus has led to a renewed interest in backyard gardening, with seed sales spiking over 250% in March of 2020. Many people are concerned that not only will current food supply chains remain stressed, but also that future food shortages may occur due to a lack of available farm workers who pick the crops.
Here is how to protect yourself and your family by starting an emergency garden right now with things that you may already have in your home.
Choosing Which Crops to Grow and How to Start Them
The first steps are to choose what food crops will grow in your area at this time of year (be sure to know your USDA zone and which plants will thrive in your region). Then, locate the seeds, soil, and containers or plots of ground to grow them in.
As for when to plant, there are many sources of local gardening information that can recommend planting times, including the information that is usually printed on the back of most seed packets. If it is still too early for planting in the ground in your area, consider using containers to start plants (or to grow them in long term) that you can place in windowsills or other sunny areas.
There are many kinds of containers that you may already have around the home that could be modified to become planters. Items such as gallon milk jugs (with the top cut off) can be filled with soil. Old plastic storage containers can be repurposed, much like the one in the photo below, as long as you poke some drainage holes just below soil level or on the bottom of the container to prevent rainfall form drowning your plants.
The repurposed container below is growing microgreens from seed. The soil was obtained by "borrowing" some from a front yard flower bed.
Where to Find Seeds
Despite shortages, there are still many commercially available garden seeds for sale, especially from online sources such as Burpee Seeds. Home Depot, Lowe's, and Wal-Mart also have seeds for sale in the gardening section.
Common Bean Varieties Can Yield Green Bean Plants
If for some reason there are no seeds to be found, you can also plant a variety of items found in your kitchen cupboard. I'm not kidding! Dry beans, including pinto and black bean varieties, usually are also viable seeds that can be planted. As the bean plant grows, it will eventually flower and produce young green bean pods, which can be harvested to cook as you would any green beans.
I know this because I grew up in the southwestern United States, and pinto beans from the cupboard were the only "green beans" that my mother grew in our garden. They are a delicious variety to eat green and can also be allowed to grow to maturity. When the husks are dry, one can harvest dry pinto beans, which can be cooked by boiling or placed in a pressure cooker. For a food source that is more practical, however, I recommend that you harvest the beans green, since they will produce even more after each picking.
Coriander Seeds Can Be Used to Grow Cilantro Plants
Another common spice rack item, coriander seeds, are what cilantro is grown from. Most will germinate and sprout within about a week. Plant cilantro or coriander seeds about 4" apart and keep the soil moist. Cilantro is a delicate and flavorful green that is often used in Mexican dishes such as tacos.
Red Pepper Seeds Can Lead to Full Plants
Red pepper seeds, such as the ones found in a regular delivery pizza, also will germinate if they have not been crushed or cooked. You can grow pepper plants and have spicy red peppers in just over two months from the seeds that you find in your pizza box! Peppers, along with green beans and tomatoes, prefer sunny areas with well-draining soil.
Tomato Seeds Can Grow Tasty Fruits
If you still have fresh tomatoes in your fridge, or received a take-out hamburger, look for gelatinous looking seeds inside. These can be placed in a dry spot for a couple days, then planted in soil to grow tomatoes. Even some kinds of sun-dried tomatoes (if they have not been heavily salted), may still contain viable seeds.
Wash the dried tomatoes and let them soak in water and try to extract any seeds that you may find. Put them in a dry place for a couple days before placing in moist soil and see what happens. You will probably not have any luck from canned tomatoes, since cooking destroys the seed.
How to Grow Onions
Unless they have been frozen, are green, or contain tiny root hairs at the bottom, onions will often grow when placed in soil. Onions will grow in size and spread by clumping to provide you with more food than before you started.
How to Grow Potatoes
Russet and new potatoes will send out sprouts or "eyes" just before they spoil. If you have any potatoes that are "growing eyes," then simply cut off the growth, along with a bit of the potato, and plant the cuttings about 2" deep in loose, well-tilled soil in your yard. The potato plant will begin to grow out of the soil, while young potatoes grow in the soil underneath.
One method that has been proven to be successful by many gardeners is that of using old tires to grow potatoes. As the young potato plant grows up out of the soil, add an old tire on top of it and fill it with soil. A few days later, as the plant sprouts up out of the soil in the tire, add another one. Keep repeating this process until you have a stack of three or more tires. When you go to harvest the potatoes, you simply have to remove each tire, which are often filled (to the rim) with potatoes.
Hopefully you can use some of these emergency gardening tips to increase your food supply and ease the boredom of staying at home during the coronavirus pandemic. Stay safe and happy gardening!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Halemane Muralikrishna from South India on March 31, 2020:
Hi Doodlebugs, I am also of similar idea as yours. Local sustainability is lacking in global markets. In the event of COVID-19, a lot of transformations are going to take place due to lockdowns. It is nice that you've written on this contemporary subject. I'm sharing it on my Facebook page www.facebook.com/hmkrishna for many Indians to view it