Virginia has years of experience with gardening and wild pests in Florida, New Hampshire, Kansas, Maryland, Australia, and South Texas.
Growing Food During a Pandemic
These past few springs, the urgency to plant some vegetables surprised me. It must be the pandemic, I realized. Pretty flowers filled my planters the last few years but, since 2020, I wanted and needed to see food growing. Thus, I started my pandemic garden.
We are probably all getting a little stir-crazy staying home so much, and the approach of spring and summer gave us something to look forward to. These are uncertain times and even our food supply causes us anxiety.
Planting edible things on my patio seemed like the way to go this year, like making potato grow bags that make it easy to harvest the root vegetable from your patio. I'm hearing friends and neighbors discuss their gardens too (many for the first time), so I think we have a trend underway.
Why Grow Your Own Food?
- There are concerns about the food supply (worker shortages, stay-at-home orders, and a disruption to the distribution chain).
- Working with soil and plants is a calming activity.
- Homegrown produce always seems to taste better (supermarket produce has been grown with longevity and stability for shipping in mind, which does not always result in the best flavor).
- Growing vegetables and herbs serves as an affirmation. You are making a commitment to staying safe and alive to tend and harvest these plants.
Choose Your Grow Bags
No Room for a Garden?
We live in a community where we aren't allowed to dig up the lawn and put in vegetables. This is no problem since we have a large and sunny patio that's screened in. The sunny part is important, as most vegetables thrive in full sun. A few things like lettuce can succeed with partial shade though.
Since we have a lot of deer around, I'm glad for the screening to protect my plants from being munched. Even squirrels, chipmunks, and raccoons enjoy a vegetable garden.
Inside our screen room, we're doing container planting. Large containers of any type (buckets, washtubs, troughs) will work if you have any around. Be sure they have holes in the bottom for drainage.
Since we didn't have any of those, we ordered grow bags. Those don't need holes, as they are made of a thick felted fabric that allows the excess water to flow out.
Starting the Potatoes
I had some potatoes in the pantry that were starting to sprout. That inspired us to order the grow bags that have a flap for harvesting the potatoes.
Preparing the Potatoes
First, I cut off sections of the potatoes that had eyes, making sure that each section was about the size of a golf ball. I let these dry in a shady spot for two days to form a callous where I'd cut it. That keeps the potato from rotting in the soil.
Planting the Grow Bags
The instructions were to put about 4 inches of soil, then the potato cuttings, and top with 3 inches of soil. After the potatoes start growing, more soil can be added around the stems. Gradually, you fill the whole container with soil.
Besides potatoes growing from the original cutting, they will also grow all along the stem as the soil is added.
Harvesting the Potatoes
There's a flap in the potato grow bags that is held closed with velcro. The idea is that you need not uproot the whole plant to harvest some of the potatoes. Just open the flap and take out the ones wanted, while letting the rest continue growing. It will be a while before I have any potatoes to harvest.
Potato Grow Bags With a Flap for Harvesting
My Planting Schedule
Now that we have more soil and manure and pots, we'll be planting lettuce, cucumbers, and herbs. Stay tuned for more photos and details on how our victory garden progresses.
Planted So Far
- May 7: Planted four kinds of onion seeds in peat pots. Kept in a dark warm place for three days, then in shade for two days, then sun. Will plant in a larger grow bag once they sprout and get too large for the peat pot.
- May 9: Planted two tomato plants, three pepper plants, potato cuttings, and two sweet potato cuttings. Also planted seeds (beets, carrots, yellow squash, zucchini).
- May 10: Planted cilantro seeds in soil placed in toilet paper rolls.
- May 14: Planted three kinds of lettuce (leaf, cos, and buttercrunch), parsley, spinach, basil, and turnip tops (to use as a green).
- May 15: Planted cucumber seeds.
- Waiting for more sizes of fabric planting pots to arrive. (update: May 23 - have plenty of pots in all sizes now)
- Order strawberry plants (bare-root, online). We have a special grow bag with side openings for the strawberry plants. (update: May 23 - received and planted)
- May 15: Start beans and cucumber seeds in grow pots. (Update: May 23 - planted and sprouts are up)
- Give the plants a dose of Miracle-Gro after the first week or so.
- After several weeks, plant additional seeds for plants that might need replacing as we pick them or as they get past their prime.
- Need to find cabbage seeds and chives. Wishing for a rhubarb plant or several.
- Find source for culantro seeds. It seems that these are like cilantro but can handle hot weather without going to seed so quickly.
My Zucchini and Yellow Squash Plants
Grow Food Wherever You Are
Try planting in your yard, on your patio in pots, or on a balcony. You can even grow greens and herbs inside your house on a sunny windowsill or by using grow lights.
Strawberry Plants Growing in a Bag
My Early Successes
Even little successes are worth celebrating. Besides growing food, you are giving yourself hope and something to look forward to each day during this pandemic.
- May 14: Zucchini sprouts have broken through the soil and are starting to open their baby leaves. Flowers are starting to appear on the jalapeño pepper plants and the regular pepper plants. The beets continue to sprout also. One shoot of purple onion is peeking out.
- May 15: I see teeny carrot sprouts starting to come through the soil. Also, the shallot seeds are sprouting.
- May 16: All four kinds of onions are sprouting today. I see one lonely turnip sprout, hopefully, more will appear. The zucchini and yellow squash look like they are putting up their second leaves shortly. I had them too close together and shifted one baby plant yesterday, which it didn't seem to mind.
- May 18: Lots of turnip sprouts now. One pepper plant and one tomato plant have a teeny pepper and teeny tomato, each just slightly bigger than a pea. The sweet potato cuttings are doing well and sending up a vine. I moved that pot next to the trellis.
- May 19: Received the 10 strawberry plants and put them in the side pockets of the strawberry grow bag. They had lots of roots so they should get a good start.
- May 23: Transplanted 2 zucchini seedlings into another pot 2 days ago so they could have more room. They've settled in OK. The bean plants, beets, and peas are putting out secondary leaves. The strawberry plants are putting out leaves and looking healthy.
See My Patio Garden Progress - Photo Gallery
July Progress Report
- The green beans that were supposed to be bushes turned out to be climbers. They are next to a trellis so that's OK. They are blooming and have tiny beans on them.
- The cucumber vines are blooming profusely and I expect some baby cucumbers to appear soon. I've been aiding the pollination with a small cosmetic brush since they are inside a screen room (so no bees).
- The carrot seedlings are spindly. Maybe too much shade where I planted them in the same pot with a green pepper plant. The beets seem happy sharing another bag with a green pepper.
- The strawberries are blooming and I've picked 4 strawberries so far. Small ones, but tasty. The plants are sending out runners and 4 of those I've pegged down in some dirt to start rooting.
- We've picked 5 tomatoes, a green pepper, a jalapeno pepper, and all the lettuce so far.
If You Can't Get Dirt
There are planting mediums that you can order through the mail. These are lightweight, compressed potting soil usually of ground coconut fiber (coir). It expands when you add water.
Compressed Soil - Expands in Water
Issues to Deal With
It's exciting to see the daily progress as the strawberries start to bloom and the tomatoes grow bigger every day. Keep in mind, there is always some fine-tuning to do in the garden and little problems to solve.
- Something is munching the leafy part of my carrot seedlings. Since it is inside a screen room, it's not a rabbit. Maybe a nocturnal caterpillar.
- The zucchini and yellow squash plants have started blooming, but the leaves are turning white. I think that's mildew from all the rain we've been having. I'll hunt for a solution.
- I'm seeing aphids on the leaves of the sweet potatoes and am using my homemade spray of dish detergent mixed with water.
My 2020 Fall Plantings in Florida
Plants on Wheels
I found that the grow-bags benefited from being raised off the paving. First I put them on bricks, then on leftover trellis placed horizontally on bricks. Now, I'm buying plant dollies so I can wheel the plants to a new sunny spot as the season changes. It also allows air under them to improve drainage and keep the bag from getting soggy.
These Are the Most Economical Plant Dollies That I Found
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.
© 2020 Virginia Allain
Virginia Allain (author) from Central Florida on June 13, 2020:
Denise - I think a lot of things like old washtubs, plastic trash bins, etc. would work for growing vegetables. The hot western sun sounds tough. We grew vegetables in Central Australia but had to put up shade cloth to shelter the plants and water a lot.
Denise McGill from Fresno CA on June 13, 2020:
I love this idea. I can't afford to buy grow bags but have thought they must be very handy. My patio is very small and only faces west, the hottest part of the day, and in CA weather we get upwards of 112-degree afternoons. Most of what I've tried in the past get scorched and dies. Too bad too, because I love growing things.
Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on May 23, 2020:
Hi, congratulations and good luck!
L M Reid from Ireland on May 22, 2020:
I am lucky to have a garden to grow vegetables and fruit in. It is quite small though. I am able to grow a lot in bags and containers too. I have also planted potatoes in bags this year.
Jo Miller from Tennessee on May 19, 2020:
We have a small raised bed garden every year. We grow and preserve some every year, but also have Mennonite farmers around that we buy fresh vegetables from. It's wonderful. Hope you enjoy yours.
Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on May 17, 2020:
Virginia, this your comment is significant. It remind me of my biology lesson of sunlight providing food nutrient(photosynthensis) to the flowering plant. Stay safe and healthly.
Virginia Allain (author) from Central Florida on May 16, 2020:
We are trying these grow bags and if needed, we can just pick one up and pt it in a more shady spot. I've moved several already, trying to find the right amount of sun for them.
Denise McGill from Fresno CA on May 16, 2020:
This looks awesome. I wish you luck. I tried some herbs and zucchini last year but because my patio is facing west, I got the hottest part of the day in sun and it scorched the plants. Nothing produced even though it didn't die right away.
Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on May 16, 2020:
Virginia, I agreed. Many thanks.
Virginia Allain (author) from Central Florida on May 15, 2020:
Thank you, Miebakagh, for sharing this glimpse into your part of the world. This truly is a worldwide disaster and we each must try to help ourselves get through it.
Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on May 15, 2020:
Virginia, I buy your idea. At this time of the pandemic, food security is a most. Every household should cultivate the habit of planting a vegetable, an herb, a green, spicies, and much more, especially those that have an anti- viral effects on the pandemic. Imagine when the pandemic lock down was impost on my country, Nigeria, fruits and vegetables like potatoes, tomatoes, and peppers become scarce and expensive. At the moment, I am sprouting seeds, and nuts. Thanks for sharing.
Liz Westwood from UK on May 13, 2020:
I think you are right. My daughter, who has shown no interest in growing vegetables before, is now experimenting with leeks, spring onion and sage on our kitchen window sill. This is a very relevant and useful article.