Growing “victory gardens” or “survival gardens” may sound like something out of a history book. But in these strange times of early spring 2020, food gardens are seeing a surge in popularity again! And why not? I can’t think of a better way to spend a springtime “quarantine” then by starting a garden or building a bigger one! It keeps you busy, and if you do it right, should certainly save you some grocery store trips!
I’m not a bigtime survival prepper by any means, but lately I’m particularly thankful for the ability to grow my own food. Since this blog is all about beginner gardening, I’ve been thinking about what crops I’d suggest for someone who wants to have maximum home-grown food with minimum wait time or effort.
Here’s what I came up with. If you’re keeping a social distance, many of these can be purchased online as seeds, or small plants at a local outdoor garden center or hardware store.
By the way, if starting a full garden sounds too intimidating, check out these vertical planters that can hold 40-50+ plants!
Note: due to current events, seeds and gardening supplies are a little harder to find and many online stores are low or out of stock. Click here for an updated list of some online stores that still have stock of seeds or other garden supplies.
Swiss or Rainbow Chard
Chard is a great option for any beginner garden. It has tons of nutrients and is easy to grow, quick to harvest, versatile to use (cooked or fresh) and can be grown even without a lot of space or light. Think of it like a sweeter spinach, except it takes less space and is easier to harvest and clean! Learn all you need to grow it and why it’s the perfect beginner veggie plant here.
Chard is a great way to add vitamins and minerals to your diet since it’s very high in vitamin K, vitamin A, vitamin C, and a good source of copper, magnesium, iron, vitamins B6, vitamin E and others.
Kale also fits much of the same description and growing requirements, though some may not like it as much.
Lettuce (particularly romaine) is a favorite for a quick & nutritious harvest because if you buy it in a 6 pack at the garden center (much faster than seeds) you can eat the outer leaves the very same day as baby leaf lettuce! The great thing about lettuce (as well as chard and kale) is you can continue harvesting the outer leaves and let the inner few keep growing and producing more.
Many lettuces are tolerant of cold temperatures (even light snow or frost), but will bolt (get tall and bitter) if they get too warm. Lettuce doesn’t need a lot of space or light, so you can even keep a container in the windowsill if you like. If your indoor plants get fruit flies or mites, use soapy water spray to kill them (full organic bug control options here).
Last year my in-laws planted their first garden in at least a decade using my foolproof beginner garden setup. They were amazed that a small packet of lettuce seeds they scattered in the soil under the tomato plants gave them bags of salad all summer!
Not everyone has heard of microgreens, but think of them as similar to sprouts (like alfalfa sprouts). Microgreens can be grown from almost any kind of vegetable seed and are eaten within days. Because they are young, they are much more nutrient dense than larger veggies. Best of all, they’re easy to grow in your kitchen.
They make a good addition to salads or andwiches, or a good garnish for other meals. You can find microgreen seeds and supplies at the True Leaf Market (click banner above).
Zucchini and summer squash are famously quick-growing and heavy-producing. (Ever heard of “National leave-a-zuchhini-on-your-neighbor’s porch Day?”)
They do need at least 6-8 hours of sun each day and do best with good soil and a little boost of fertilizer to get going well. Growing in a pot or container works fine. You can have your own squash in as little as 55 days (check the label).
Summer squash do best in warm temps; they will not tolerate frosty weather. You can start the seeds indoors to give them a head start or put them directly in the garden once the last spring frost has passed.
Green Beans & Peas
Peas or green beans also need a bit more light and space than leafy greens, but of course have the added benefit of extra protein. You will need several plants but they usually produce well.
Peas are great in cold weather and don’t handle heat, while green beans do better in summer and don’t handle cold. You can find small bush beans or climbing pole beans. Peas normally climb but you can find dwarf or bush versions also. They don’t need much fertilizer.
Tomatoes are not always fast, but if you check the label you can find some that fruit in as little as 50-60 days. Make sure they get at least 6-8 hours of direct light and give fertilizer as needed. They may not be as nutrition-packed as the leafy greens and beans, but I have to include them because they bring joy and flavor! Cherry tomatoes are usually very heavy producers. Perfect to add to your pasta!
Faster Growing Broccoli Types
Get used to checking the plant label or seed packet when it comes to finding quick-producing vegetables! Broccoli usually takes a long time to grow (around 80-90 days to harvest) but if you can find a variety in the 50-70 day range like a Chinese/stir fry broccoli or broccolini, it’s probably worth it. Giving some balanced organic fertilizer will help it grow faster. Some varieties will continue producing side shoots after you cut off the main head. Broccoli is packed with vitamin C, vitamin k, and also has calcium, folate, potassium, and more.
Herbs are not a strict necessity but they’re nice! they’re quick and easy to grow. My new affiliate partner Urban Leaf has some really cool herb bottle gardens and other easy & cutesy little kitchen herb gardens complete with beginner-friendly instructions! They make great gifts (I first saw them at a bridal shower) and any purchase gives a small portion to support my blog.
Basil, cilantro, parsley, and dill tend to be more quick growing and short lived, so expect to re-plant after they die. Thyme is slower growing and will live longer. Rosemary can even be grown as an evergreen bush for several years. Mint will continue growing and spreading by roots every year (invasive sometimes).
Extra possibilities for the more ambitious 😉
Surely some would insist that no survival garden is complete without Potatoes, Carrots, onions, and garlic. But there’s a few reasons they’re not on the top of my list.
Carrots take a fair amount of room and in my opinion many are a little slow growing. I only grow them if I have room (or if I’m growing purple ones!). Baby carrots can be fast growing though. Potatoes are another one I just grab at the store because they’re so cheap, but if you have the room and the desire, they’d be a good “survival garden” option. Truth be told, I haven’t grown onions, garlic, and potatoes yet but I might try garlic this year, and I’d love to grow sweet potatoes some day when i have more time to learn!
If you’re feeling inspired to start your garden for the first time, this website was created just for beginner gardeners! Here’s some pages to help get you started.
- How to set up a garden that does the work for you
- What you need to know to start a garden
- How to grow veggies in pots or containers
- How to start seeds indoors
- 10 reasons beginners love raised bed gardening
- 5 Questions for planning your first garden
- Vertical gardens for growing lots in small spaces
- What to do if your garden isn’t producing much
- all about planting dates