- A crisis equally acute has come to grip us, and a few million better, and even a trifle bigger, home gardens in America can increase our national food production enormously. And work wonders in a score of ways such as releasing labor for war activities and help build up food surpluses for lands that need them today and will need them even more when world reconstruction starts. Also with food prices inevitably mounting, every few feet of new vegetable garden properly conducted can mean new dollars saved for the family exchequer.
- –Putnam and Gasper in Gardens for Victory, 1942
After the war, it was estimated that homegrown food produced nearly one-half of the fresh vegetables eaten in the whole country. Over 20 million families had food gardens.
So, it has been done before, and still can and should be done today. No matter if you have 50 square feet of soil to work with, or five square feet, you can still grow your own. And if you live in an apartment or dormitory, and have a south window, or access to a rooftop, get your seeds in hand and get ready to plant.
San Diego’s relatively mild and sunny climate year-round makes it an ideal place for growing. Although there is not much differentiation in seasons here, most fruits and vegetables are classified as either summer or winter crops, and should only be grown during the proper time of year.
Right now is fall-planting time for winter crops. Winter crops include all leafy, stem and root vegetables. Examples are peas, carrots, lettuce, radishes, onion sets, swiss chard, beets and kohlrabi.
Summer crops (those which are planted in the spring) include most seed plants— fruits, squash, melons, cucumbers, blackberries, beans and tomatoes.
After you determine what you want to grow, the next important considerations in growing are space, sun and water.
First of all, scarcely any garden space is too small to grow some edibles. And if you’re growing indoors, this is also true.
Ways to conserve space? Garden vertically as much as you can. Up and down space is free, ground space is not. Vertical gardening can be best achieved with vining plants, like tomatoes. Instead of letting them ramble, and use up space, give them a support to grow on, with some assistance by tying up the stalks. Consider which plants are space-hoggers, like potatoes, and decide whether it means that much to you to grow them. Potatoes, in particular, as well as using up a lot of space, take a long time to grow, and would probably wind up being less expensive to buy th3n to grow, as they are one of the cheapest vegetables to buy.
Plan vegetable plantings with intercrops and companion crops. Intercropping means that a smaller crop which matures more quickly is planted in a row that runs between two rows of the larger, later-maturing crop. Companion-cropping means planting or sowing smaller vegetables between plants or a larger crop in the same row, or planting rapid-maturing vegetables, such as lettuce, between slower maturing ones, such as tomatoes.
Crop rotation is similar to intercropping and companion-cropping, except that it is a matter of using the same space, two to three times over, during the garden’s growing season.
Another space-saving technique is to select dwarf varieties of vegetables and fruits when you can.
If you are living in an apartment or dormitory, see if the manager or administrators will let you grow on top of the roof. Start a co-op in your apartment building, dorm, or neighborhood. Everybody can grow a different vegetable, and when harvesting time arrives, trade vegetables.
You can even grow some plants in barrels, tubs, pots and window boxes around the garden and home area. You can also interplant a limited number of vegetables, herbs and berries with annual and perennial flowers.
Sun and Water
Most vegetables need about seven to ten hours of sun daily.
For best results, a garden should be located in full sunlight, away from shallow-rooted trees, but protected from cold winds and near a water supply. Well-drained, level land, or land that slopes gently towards the south is ideal.
Rows of vegetables are better planned to run north and south. This isn’t essential, but more advisable in order to give the winter sun, as it moves across the sky from east to west, a chance to shine on both sides of the rows. Even distribution of sunlight results in uniform growth and development of plants
A good way to water vegetables is the furrow-irrigation system. All you need to do is make small trenches between the rows, and let water from the garden hose flow down them— gently. Too much water intensity will result in washing away the soil.
Remember that moisture is essential to vegetable growth, since the water content of most vegetables is 90 percent.
You’ve got down the prerequisites necessary for planting. What are the steps in planting? Very simply:
1) Plan before you plant. Dr. H. L. Wedberg, professor of botany at San Diego State University, suggests planting only a few different vegetables, and not a dozen different varieties (he suggests lettuce, radishes and carrots as a good winter crop combination. Radishes will come up in about a month, lettuce, a few weeks after radishes and carrots, a few weeks after lettuce).
Measure the space you have available to work with, and draw to scale a simple outline of your planting plan.
2) Buy afresh batch of seeds from a nursery. Seeds are for the most part, inexpensive, costing from 25 to 50 cents per package, depending on the kind of seed you are buying. Dr. Wedberg estimates that one package of seeds can produce enough food to last one family of four one season.
3) Prepare the soil in one of two ways— either by using commercial additives (steer manure and general purpose fertilizer) or compost (organic matter). Compost is the most natural method— you can gather it by raking together leaves, loose dirt and animal manure, and putting them all in one pile. Keep it damp and turn it with a fork once or twice a week. Compost should be ready to use in five or six weeks. You can tell if it’s ready to use by the temperature— if it gets over 100 degrees, it means that bacteria and fungi are working on the compost. When it becomes cool and damp, it’s ready to use.
4) Plant as indicated on the seed package.
5) Seeds must be kept damp for the first few days, but not heavily watered. How much watering you will do depends on where you live in San Diego. For example, if you live at the beach you probably will have to water less than if you live in El Cajon— this is because there is more moisture in the beach areas, and less as you go. further inland in the county.
Soil and Fertilizers
Vegetables grow best in neutral or slightly acid soil. You can determine the chemical condition of the soil by testing it with litmus paper. If blue litmus paper turns red, it means the soil is acidic. If red litmus paper turns blue, alkaline soil is indicated. But if red litmus paper stays red, and blue litmus paper stays blue, both indicate the soil is neutral. Acidic soil can be corrected if you add hydrated lime to the soil. Lime can be purchased at most nurseries.
Once seedlings have formed their first leaves, the use of nutrient solutions instead of plain water will speed up development.
Nitrogen is especially good for getting crops off to a fast start. Nitrate of soda, ammonium phosphate and other inorganic fertilizers supply nitrogen to the soil.
Besides nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium are other mineral elements plants need for their best and fastest growth.
What kind of control you want to use for snails or other insects that suck and chew on your vegetables is up to you. There are many different kinds of sprays and pellets on the market (home remedy: beer really knocks out snails).
Some reasons, though, for pest problems include too much lime or acidity in the soil, too much or too little nitrogen (for example, tomatoes don’t need as much nitrogen as lettuce), or the soil being too wet or too dry.
Some vegetables and herbs have been recommended as being relatively pest-free. These are lettuce, radishes, onion sets, beets, carrots, swiss chard, parsnips, peppers, spinach and tomatoes.
Still Not Sure What to Grow?
If you’re unsure about your soil condition and what to grow, you can contact the San Diego Department of Agriculture (in Chula Vista, 511 G Street, 422-2622 and in El Cajon, 537 East Main Street, 442-9651). Officials there can help you determine what varieties of standard vegetables will best suit the conditions of your home garden.