How to Build a Container Victory Garden

After so many months of living under the coronavirus pandemic, it’s easy to understand why so many of us in Southern California are attracted to the idea of walking outdoors and picking fresh, healthy produce out of the garden. The idea of taking advantage of our enviable growing conditions has become especially appealing when the alternative means putting on protective gear to go grocery shopping.

Interestingly, there are several parallels between now and World War I, according to Dr. Rose Hayden-Smith, emeritus, University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources, and my former boss when I was assistant editor at

The historian and author of “Sowing the Seeds of Victory: American Gardening Programs of World War I” told me, “There is always a resurgence of interest in gardening in times of crisis. It’s not just the iconic wartime victory gardens, but also the Great Depression, the environmental crisis of the late 1960s and early 1970s, and now the pandemic. This moment in particular represents an opportunity to prioritize gardening in home and community settings.”

Getting Started

With that forecast in mind, it’s an ideal time to build yourself a victory garden – no matter how small your outdoor footprint. By starting with a container garden, you can begin quickly and in less space. You can move the pots around if you don’t have ideal growing conditions. And you can better control your soil conditions, which is crucial for healthy food production. Who needs to make things complicated during a global pandemic?

Containers: The sky is the limit, from upcycled free materials to pricey designer pots. But whatever you select, keep these things in mind: Pick containers made from environmentally safe materials; you’re growing food in it. Make certain there are drainage holes. Before filling with potting soil, put a coffee filter over the holes to help keep in soil. Don’t put a layer of rocks in the bottom of the container. This reduces the soil’s ability to drain properly and makes the container heavier and harder to move. Be sure to consider the mature size of your plant so you allow plenty of room for it to grow.

Soil Counts: A good potting soil will establish the right growing conditions to help get your container garden off to the right start. It allows proper drainage, healthy plant growth and root development, as well as absorption of nutrients. I prefer potting soils without fertilizers added. It’s easier to control what’s added and when.

Feed the Soil, and the Soil Will Feed You: That’s what I learned from Phil McGrath of the fourth-generation McGrath Family Farms in Camarillo, which has farmed here since the late 1800s. Feed the soil with an organic fertilizer designed for the food you are growing. Follow the directions. More is not better. It actually makes things worse.

Location, Location, Location: Most vegetables grow best in full sun conditions, which is six hours or more daily. This is particularly true of vegetables like tomatoes, eggplants and squashes. Some

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