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Have you been yearning for a simpler, healthier life lately? Maybe a bit more fresh air, getting you off the couch and away from that second rewatch of “RuPaul’s Drag Race”? (C’mon, you already know who wins.) Well, how about starting a victory garden?

A what? Do you have to fight someone in this garden? Will you need a parade or something? Because that all sounds like hard work!

Don’t worry — starting your own victory garden can be fantastic for your health and well-being. The only enemies you’ll defeat are poor nutrition, budget constraints, and the lockdown blues.

Well, and maybe some squirrels who want to steal your produce. To arms!

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Simply put, a victory garden is a patch of land where you grow your own crops. Yup, we’re talking real-life “Stardew Valley.”

There’s no limits to how big or small you can make it — even a simple window box can serve as a victory garden. You can also grow whatever you like. Got lots of outdoor space? Grow rows of vegetables, and maybe even some fruit trees. Just got some planters? How about herbs or strawberries?

The benefits are almost countless. For a start, it’s good exercise: you can expect to be digging with a shovel or weeding with your favorite trowel. The American Heart Association agree, including it on their list of moderate-intensity aerobic exercises that keep your heart strong.

But there’s also the obvious benefit: you get to eat what you grow. Good, healthy produce which has never seen a single pesticide – sign us up! Everyone knows that fresh veggies are good for your health. But a 2020 study suggests that they may also be beneficial for people living with mental health disorders.

Want more motivation? Another 2020 study suggests that fresh fruits and vegetables, especially those high in vitamin C, might help you maintain a strong immune system and fight off COVID-19 (important note: bananas are not a legit vaccine). Growing your own strawberries might be more useful than you thought.

Why are they called victory gardens? And what makes them different from just, y’know, gardens?

Victory gardens first became popular in several countries, including the United States, Canada, Britain, and Germany during the First World War.

They were a great way of raising public morale. People growing their own food meant that more farm-grown crops were available for feeding the hungry troops.

They received a bigger boost in popularity during the Second World War, when even the rich and famous took to growing their own. Eleanor Roosevelt started a victory garden on the grounds of the White House, and there was one at Buckingham Palace in London. (See, this is your opportunity to live like royalty!)

TBH, the trend for victory gardens has never really gone away. They stayed popular in many countries long after the wars, taking them right up to the modern day. As the human population grows larger, anxieties about food supply mean that many people like to keep their thumbs green and grow their own.

There’s plenty of celebs getting in on the trend, too, including Meghan Markle. Who says she doesn’t follow royal traditions?

You’re going to take the leap into growing your own — go you! A healthy life is just around the corner! (Plus you’ll get to look hella wholesome on IG filled with photos of your new veggie babies. Or Cabbage Patch Kids, as we’re now calling them.)

But how do you get started with it all? What do you need? What should you grow? If you plant a dollar in the ground, will you get a money tree? (spoiler: you won’t.)

Planning a victory garden

First of all, you’ve got to do some planning if you want the best results from all your hard work. Because throwing a seed at a random piece of dirt? Yeah, that ain’t gonna cut it.

Consider doing the following:

  • Find the best place. First, you’ve got to decide where you’ll be growing your veggies. And it’s not just for people with a large yard — even if you’re just using a window box, you need to have it in the right place! Ideally, you want somewhere that gets 6 to 8 hours of sun per day.
  • Check your soil. Different parts of the U.S. have radically different soils and climates — something which might flourish in Georgia may well struggle in Alaska. Use the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map to check your average temperatures, because that’s going to affect what you can plant. You can also buy soil test kits online. These will ensure that your baby veggies will be snug and happy in their new home.
  • Decide on seeds vs starter plants. Growing a plant from a tiny seed might be more satisfying but can be a little tricky for beginners. Consider copping some starter plants, where all the hard work has been done for you.
  • Plot your plot. What happens if you plant a tiny plant under the shadow of a much bigger plant? A very unhappy tiny plant, that’s what. Don’t be scattergun with your planting — find out what kind of size each plant will grow to, and space them out accordingly. You generally want to keep the bigger plants together, and ditto for the smaller ones.

Setting up a victory garden

So you’ve got your seeds or starters, and you’re raring to go! But where do you even start? How do you look after all these tiny living things that you’re now parenting? Ahh, the responsibility!

Chill. We’ve got you covered here, too. With some regular (but light) love, your floral friends will be growing strong, even if you’re the kind of person who kills cacti.

Feeding

Think of fruit and veggies as a sort of nutritional middleman. They draw the goodness out of the earth itself and into themselves. Then you put them inside you (via your mouth, get your mind out of the irrigation ditch), and absorb the full benefit of all that good stuff. Hurrah!

The trouble is that fruit and veggies are so good at it, they can leave the soil pretty depleted. But you can avoid this by topping up your soil with feed. You can either use commercially-available feeds from garden supply stores (or from the interwebs), or good ol’ fashioned manure. Poopedy scoop indeed, Kanye.

Weeding

You’ll want to do a scout mission of your plot daily, and remove any weeds that are peeping their heads through the soil. Just like leg day, don’t be tempted to skip it. Weeds can grow incredibly quickly, and they’re stealing precious resources from your veggie friends.

Eliminate these pesky freeloaders daily, and you’ll have better produce.

Watering

You won’t get far without giving your fruit and veg a steady supply of water, although it’s better to give them a deep watering every few days than a quick trickle every day.

On average, your plot will need about an inch of water per week — more if it’s been hot, and less if it’s been rainy.

It’s also a good idea to have a popsicle stick or pen handy to test this — stick it about an inch into the ground, and if it comes out moist with dirt stuck to it, you’re all good. If it comes out dry, then give the plot a water. You also want to water your plants at root level, and avoid getting their leaves wet.

Ugh, such divas!

Staggering

A lot of fruit and veggies taste better when they’re younger and fresh off the vine.

So to avoid getting all your crops at once — meaning that you’ll potentially have food going to waste — stagger the planting times a bit (even if just by a week or 2). That way, you can nab your produce when it’s at its best.

Growing by season

Before you go wild growing your favorite fruit and veg, remember that most produce is seasonal. There’s a right and wrong time to plant those bad boys.

You can use a planting calendar to check when your favorites are ready to go, but here’s a handy list in the meantime:

Spring veggies

Just keep these away from the Nondenominational Springtime Holiday Bunny.

Summer veggies

🎤 Summer veggies, had me a blast… Summer veggies, happened so fast… 🎼

Fall and winter veggies

For when it’s a chard knock life.

If you’re still a little in the shade about how to get a garden going, we give you the 411 right here.

It’s good to find some certainty in our lives, especially in the middle of a pandemic that’s affected mental health worldwide. Getting outside for some fresh air and having a break from the stresses of everyday life has never been so important.

And what could be more certain and more satisfying than watching your own produce grow in a victory garden?

Give it a try! You’ll be amazed at how easy it is to get fresh, healthy veggies straight from the ground onto your plate. There’s no pesticides or inflated costs: just good food that you grew yourself.

You can definitely add a side salad of pure satisfaction to every meal you make (or y’know, an actual side salad). You’ll be doing both yourself and the environment a favor!

Just watch out for those squirrels.