12 Easiest Foods to Grow at Home During the Pandemic
Whether you've got a backyard plot or containers on your patio, porch, or apartment balcony, growing your own fresh vegetables is easier than you might think.
Grow beans in a snap
You might be surprised to know you don’t need a big garden to grow green beans. Bush beans are space-savers, but you can also grow beans vertically, by choosing pole varieties and training their vines onto a trellis, fence, or other support. Full sun, regular waterings and moderately rich soil will pay off in a plentiful harvest, and beans don’t need much fertilizer, although they’ll benefit from a side-dressing of compost in mid-season if you didn’t work a lot of compost into the soil before you planted. Check your seed packet to know approximately when your variety will be ready to harvest, and keep the plants picked so they’ll keep producing. Freeze or can your green beans to enjoy them all year long.
Plant prolific zucchinis
Zucchinis have a reputation for being so easy to grow, and so prolific, gardeners joke about having to leave their extras on a neighbour’s doorstep, ring the bell, and run away. Just one plant can yield six to 10 pounds of zucchinis in a single growing season. Plant their seeds directly in your garden or a large container once the soil warms up to at least 15 degrees C. They need full sun and moist, easily-draining soil amended with compost. Give them an inch of water each week, if there’s no rain, and harvest when the fruits are small (botanically speaking, zucchinis are fruits) and the skins are tender. You can freeze zucchinis or bake them into breads, slice them into strips for pasta, grate them for fritters or chop them into vegetable chilis.
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Raise crunchy radishes
Many gardeners love fresh radishes for that crunch that you get when you bite into them—but these simple root veggies are good for more than eating. Because the seeds sprout quickly—often within a week—you can use them in the garden to mark the rows of other crops that don’t come up as fast. Simply sow the seeds outdoors about ½ to one inch deep while the weather is still cool. Wait 10 days and plant again for a continuous crop until the summer heat arrives, or sow more radishes when the temperatures drop in fall. They’ll thrive in a sunny spot that has loose soil amended with organic matter. Thin the seedlings to two inches apart, so their roots won’t be crowded, and keep the plants evenly moist. Some varieties are ready to harvest just three weeks after planting.
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Like zucchini, cucumbers are prolific and easy to grow. Just give them a spot with moist, fertile soil and lots of sunshine. Start the seeds when the soil warms up to at least 15 degrees Celsius, tucking them an inch deep into the ground. They’ll sprout in a few days. Keep them happy with regular waterings and, if you didn’t work a lot of organic matter into the soil before you planted, side-dress them with a balanced, soluble fertilizer when the fruits set. The cucumbers are ready to harvest when they’re still small and the skins are tender. To keep a steady supply for the table, make successive plantings. If you’re short on space, train vining cucumber varieties onto a support like a fence or trellis, or plant a bush variety in a container or raised bed. Use your cukes in salsas, salads, gazpacho, and smoothies or turn them into pickles.
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Start sweet peppers indoors
Some seeds take longer than others to germinate, and if your growing season is short, you’ll want to sow them indoors to get a head start on the season. Sweet peppers, for example, aren’t hard to grow, but they can’t take the cold and should be started eight to 10 weeks before your last spring frost. Transplant the seedlings into your garden or outdoor containers when the weather warms up.
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Plant tasty tomatoes
The hardest thing about growing tomatoes might be choosing your favourite kind. There are cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, heirlooms with rich flavours, Romas for stews, pasta, and sauces, and hearty beefsteaks. Gardeners in cool regions may want to start with transplants to save time over growing tomatoes from seeds. The plants need full sun and soil that drains easily. For best results, your soil should contain lots of compost and be slightly acidic, with a pH of 6.2 to 6.8. As the plants grow, apply a fertilizer recommended for tomatoes as directed on the label.
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Sow lettuce for salads
Lettuces are great for beginning gardeners. They grow quickly, take full sun but tolerate some shade, and can be tucked between other fruits and veggies or into containers. They’re also available in lots of tasty, colourful varieties. If you don’t have an ideal garden spot—for example, your soil contains a lot of clay or rocks—use a raised bed instead. Add good quality planting soil, you won’t have to dig. The loose soil will also make it easy to pluck any weeds that pop up. Sow your lettuce seeds in early spring or fall and keep the plants watered regularly. Lettuce started in spring will last until the summer heat arrives and fall-sown lettuce will grow until a killing frost. Harvest the outermost leaves first but don’t pull up the plants, so they can keep producing.
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Set out onions
Make a little hole in the ground, tuck in a bare-root onion seedling, and stand back. In two or three weeks, the small plants will be ready to pull and use as green onions, or you can wait until the bulbs are bigger and then harvest them. Mature onions will let you know they’re ready when their tops turn yellow and bend over. Just brush off the soil and put the onions, with the tops still attached, in a warm, dry, well-ventilated place to cure for a week to 10 days. Then remove the top foliage and roots and store the onions in a cool, airy place until you’re ready to use them.
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Fill a windowsill with herbs
During the pandemic, an herb garden makes a thoughtful gift for a housebound friend or a fun and easy growing project you can enjoy without leaving home. This garden features energy-efficient LED lights, a self-water planter, and over 50 pre-seeded plant pods to choose from. (Think cilantro, basil, lavender, wild strawberries, thyme and even chili peppers!)
Don’t miss Canadian outdoor expert Carson Arthur’s ultimate guide to growing herbs.