The Victory Garden is back.

Even before the current pandemic skyrocketed interest in vegetable gardening, millennials were rediscovering the term “Victory Garden” and its concepts. Victory Gardens were national movements during both world wars, and home gardeners grew tremendous quantities of vegetables for themselves and to share.

Fresh vegetables in the backyard garden or stored in the freezer or root cellar helps us become self-sustaining. When finances are tight, a vegetable garden greatly reduces the grocery bill.

Last week we discussed traditional gardening in a plot of ground. What if you can’t dig up the lawn, or your space is limited, or you live in an apartment or condo?

Raised gardens and container gardening make it possible for almost everyone to grow vegetables.

Raised gardens

The square foot gardening method produces large quantities of vegetables efficiently in a small space. Forum file photo
The square foot gardening method produces large quantities of vegetables efficiently in a small space. Forum file photo

Kits are available online and from garden centers, or you can make a raised garden yourself. The structures can sit flat on the ground or lawn, without a bottom structure, or raised on legs with a bottom installed.

To construct your own, use cedar or brown treated lumber, both safe for garden use, with dimensions 2 inches thick by 12 inches wide. One-inch-thick boards can be used, but aren’t as strong. Don’t use older, green-treated lumber, which contained unsafe compounds.

Raised gardens are most commonly constructed 4 feet by 4 feet, which lets you reach the center easily from each side. For a larger garden, build several of the 4-by-4-foot units, or an 8-by-4-foot raised garden. Locate where they’ll receive at least six to eight hours of direct sunshine.

A highly recommended successful innovation in raised gardening is called square foot gardening, made popular by author Mel Bartholomew. Square foot gardening maximizes the raised garden, producing the greatest amount of vegetables in the space available, while giving each vegetable type just the right amount of space to flourish. Production is amazing.

Raised gardens grow best when filled with materials other than “dirt” type of soil, which packs tightly in these structures. Instead, a blended mix is recommended, such as one-third each of peat moss, compost and vermiculite. You can also buy bagged mixes labeled for raised or square foot gardens.

For square foot gardening, begin by making a grid across the 4-by-4-foot frame. Pound a nail, or even a push pin, into the top edge of the lumber at 1-foot intervals around the frame’s perimeter. From each nail, stretch a string or twine firmly across the frame from one side to the corresponding nail on the opposite side.

When completed, the strings divide the garden into 16 squares, each measuring 1 square foot. These squares establish how much of each vegetable is planted in that square foot.

Next, decide which vegetables you’d like. You can plant combinations in each raised garden frame. Theoretically, you could plant a different type of vegetable in each of the 16 squares, but you’ll likely want more than one square of vegetables you prefer.

How many seeds or transplants to plant in each square depends on the type and how much room they need to grow. For carrot and radish, plant 16 seeds per square. For beet, pea, lettuce and string bean, plant nine seeds per square. For bulb-type onions and Swiss chard, plant four per square. For broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cucumber, pepper, squash and potato, plant one per square.

Tomato plants are suggested as one per square if grown in a cage, but I’ve found a single tomato plant might require up to 4 four squares, unless side shoots are pruned off as they grow.

Devote as many squares as you wish to vegetables you prefer. Use trellises or cages for vining crops like cucumber and squash so they grow upward instead of spreading outward.

After planting, the guide strings can be left in place until seeded crops emerge, and then removed if desired.

Container gardening

Tomatoes and many other vegetables can be grown on decks, patios and balconies in containers of sufficient size, using high quality potting mix. Forum file photo
Tomatoes and many other vegetables can be grown on decks, patios and balconies in containers of sufficient size, using high quality potting mix. Forum file photo

For patios, decks and apartment balconies, vegetables can be grown in containers. The same principles of raised bed gardening apply, since a raised bed is basically a large container. Locate in full sunshine.

Begin with a high-quality potting mix in containers at least 12 inches or greater in diameter and depth. For tomatoes, use a container at least the size of a 5-gallon bucket for best production.

To decide how many plants each container can hold, follow the guidelines above for square foot gardening. For example, a 12-inch-diameter container could hold 16 carrot plants, or nine beets, or one broccoli plant.

Containers dry out more quickly than raised gardens, so water thoroughly when the top inch dries. Smaller containers require more frequent watering. Fertilize with a water-soluble fertilizer every two weeks.

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Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, is the horticulturist with North Dakota State University Extension for Cass County. Readers can reach him at kinzlerd@casscountynd.gov or call 701-241-5707.