How To Start Your Own Victory Garden: A Step by Step Guide To Growing Your Own Organic Food At Home

Last week, I was very honored to have my beautiful Mom, Jody, joining us writing an article about why everyone should have their own Victory Garden.

Today, she’s back to give us an extremely helpful guide about how to do it! I hope this article inspires you and gets you started on your own journey to have your very own garden, no matter the size!

Dear Jody,
I enjoyed your inspiring blog post on starting a Victory Garden for my family. My grandma had a garden, and I would help her weed it sometimes, and snapping green beans was a family event!

But what I remember most is the way her red, juicy tomatoes tasted straight off the vine, and what it felt like to bite into a warm, freshly picked strawberry when I was supposed to be picking them for a pie. I wish I could grow food as she did, but I don’t know where to start.

Any pointers you can share with me?

Sincerely, 

Lavinia Darling

Hi Lavinia, Thank you so much for your email; I’m excited that you want to get down in the dirt and dig! I’d love to help you get your Victory Garden started! Here are my suggestions:

Location, Location, Location

Deciding where to plant your garden

1. Remember that most vegetables need 6 – 8 hours per day, while herbs, root vegetables, and greens will grow in partial shade. Be sure to select a sight accordingly. You can choose to grow your garden in pots on your deck or patio, or you can find a sunny area of your yard and set up raised beds or develop a plot on your lot!

Additional tips for choosing where to place your Victory Garden:

  1. Be sure to select a spot that has access to water. Hauling gallons of water in a watering can will grow old fast (this is the voice of experience speaking!)
  2. You’ll also want your garden to be easy to access. If out of sight, means, out of mind, then you might want to consider another location.
  3. Your garden will need to be protected from deer, rabbits, squirrels, etc., so choose an area in which you can keep a lookout for invaders. 
  4. It’s better to start small and grow with your garden. If you take on more than you can handle, you might grow discouraged and want to quit. It’s better to get a summer or two of success under your gardening belt and grow from there!

Get In The Zone

Finding the Correct Plants For Your Area

1. Use a link such as this one to help you locate the hardiness zone for your area. Knowing your zone will help you know when is a good time to begin planting, and which varieties you should put in your garden.

There are thirteen hardiness zones in the US, with zone 1 being the coldest (Alaska), and 13 being the warmest (Puerto Rico). The zone numbers from change by 10 differences in average minimum temperatures. And those zones are then broken down again into “a” and “b” zones, which have a 5-degree Fahrenheit difference.

For example, I live in zone 7a, which means that even if I am positive that I can grow tomatoes in February, I’m setting myself up for failure. Don’t set yourself up for failure. It’s discouraging.

Zone Tips:

  1. Learn your frost dates. If you plant too early (or too late), it’s a set-up for failure. I spent almost thirty years in California, and I could pretty much garden year-round (depending on the plant). Now I wait to put in my plants around the middle of May. 
  2. Understanding your hardiness zone means you can select plants for your garden that will most likely survive and thrive.
  3. If you’re unsure if a particular plant or plant variety will grow in your area, take a walk around a local garden center and see what they’re offering. You can be guaranteed that they’re ONLY selling plants that will thrive in your zone. If you’re unable to locate the plant you’re looking for, ask one of the gardeners at the shop. Or contact your county’s Master Gardener; they will be able to help.

Prepare Your Pots, Plots, or a Patch on Your Lot

It’s time to Make Your Bed

3. Now you know where you want to plant your garden and which plants will work best in your zone, and the dates of when it’s best to plant. It’s time to prepare the beds (or pots). I know I mentioned in my first post on creating a Victory Garden the importance of using good, healthy soil, but let me say it again.

Plants need nutrients to grow and thrive, and buying nutrient-dense soil will give you a better crop than cheap dirt that has an added fertilizer. There’s no need for a chemically entrenched soil like Miracle Grow, use a good organic soil or compost; most gardening stores sell it by the bag. 

Basic Gardening Tools

* Organic potting soil and an excellent organic compost

* Garden trowel (spade)

* Hori Hori or Japanese gardening sickle (great for attacking weeds!)

* Rake cultivator

* Organic plants and seeds

* Water source – a nearby hose or a pitcher if on a patio

* A good organic fertilizer such as a fish emulsion

* Gardening gloves

* Pruner or pocket snips

* Scissors

* A pot, a plot or a patch on your lot

Planting In A Pot

Gather your tools:

a. Tools listed above plus:

b. Pots – clay, plastic, or fabric (Smart Pots) – be sure the pot has a hole for drainage*

c. Rocks, broken bricks, or cracked pottery pieces to keep the soil from compacting against the pot’s drainage hole

*If the pot has been used previously, be sure to disinfect it with a solution of 

One part bleach to 9 parts water before planting in it again.

(This is my garden, pictured below!)

Let’s Plant!


a. Cover the bottom of your pot with rocks.

b. Pour in several inches of potting soil – one that is a high-quality mix containing peat moss and perlite.

c. Lightly water your seedling in its original container so it can be removed more easily.

d. Remove the plant from its old home by turning it upsidedown and gently easing it out. Never pull it out by its leaves.

e. Place the plant in its new pot making sure it’s centered and upright, then press it firmly into its new home and add soil. 

f. Once you have patted it down, water the plant to help settle the soil.

g. Place in a spot that receives the amount of sun required by the type of plant you’re growing. 

h. Water as needed and fertilize according to the directions on your fertilizer.

Planting in a plot (raised bed)

Gather your tools:

* Gardening tools listed above

* A purchased or homemade raised bed

  • Hardwire cloth (if you’re placing your raised bed directly on the ground. You can skip this, but if you have any varmints in your area who can eat your plants from underground, you’ll wish you hadn’t skipped this).

* Old cardboard and/or newspapers

* Compost and/or good soil

  • Natural mulch – I use wood chips from I get free from tree service providers in my area. You can also use chopped dead leaves, old straw (NOT HAY), old grass clippings, etc

Let’s Get Started!

a. Decide where to place your raised garden beds and set them in place.

b. Lay down the chicken wire, being sure to cover the entire bottom of the bed, and allowing the wire to run up the sides. This will keep burrowing varmints from getting to your plants. If you live in a varmint-free area, you won’t need to bother with this step!

c. Cover the hardwire cloth (or chicken wire) with layers of newspapers; – at least 3 – 4 sheet layers thick. This will kill any weeds that are lurking in your bed and will break down back into the soil. You can also use cardboard; it just takes longer to break down. (Some people skip this step, but if you have weeds or grass under your bed, this will kill them and help prevent them from returning.

d. Now add a layer of compost – at least 3″ – 4″ thick, on top of the newspaper.

e. Cover the compost with a 6″ layer of wood chips. It might look like this is way too much, but it breaks down, and what is left provides the coverage your garden plot needs to keep it weed-free, and it also protects your soil.

f. Once you have added all your wood chips, water the bed(s) thoroughly, allowing the water to soak the bed.

g. Now you can begin planting by pushing back enough of the wood chips to give you room to plant down in the soil. Once the plant starts growing, push the wood chips back around it to protect it.

h. This type of gardening does not require as much watering as uncovered gardening, but don’t allow your plants to get dry!

i. At the end of the season, once you’ve harvested all your crops, pull up any old plants and toss them onto the bed for coverage. If needed, add more wood chips.

Planting in a Patch on your Lot

I’m going to share two different ways you can create a garden patch (rows in the ground instead of in raised beds): Layered garden patches and tilled garden patches. If you choose to till your garden instead of building a patch on top of the ground, be sure to remember that tilling breaks up the micronutrients that are in your soil. Don’t till your garden every year.

Setting Up A Layered Patch

Gather your tools:

*Gardening tools listed above, plus:

  • String, stakes or sticks
  • Pitchfork

*Old cardboard and/or newspapers

  • Compost and good soil

*natural mulch (I use wood chips from I get free from tree service providers in my area)

a. Mark off your patch with string and stakes or scratch it out in the dirt! If this is your first garden, I suggest you keep it small. You’ll want your rows to be around 3′ wide, with a walking area between them, so map out how many rows and how long each row will be.

b. Be sure to place your garden patch in a flat area of your yard that will receive 6 – 8 hours of sun each day.

c. Mow down any grass in your patch as low as possible, then using your pitchfork, gently aerate the soil, being careful not to turn it. Just make holes. Cover the area with several layers of newspaper (only black & white, no colored advertisement pages), being sure to overlap the edges. 

d. Begin creating your rows by adding thick layers of compost (4″ deep) on top of the newspaper.

e. On top of the compost, add a 6″ layer of wood chip or other mulch

The Walkway Area

a. Add a layer of cardboard on top of the newspaper in your walkway areas; this will help keep down any weeds.

b. You can also cover the walkways with 2″- 3″ of straw to help keep the rows from falling into your walking area.

c. Deeply water the entire garden patch – rows and walkways.

When you plant:

a. Push back enough of the wood chips to give you room to plant down in the soil. Once the plants start to grow, push the wood chips (or mulch) back around the plant to protect it.

b. Water and weed as needed – the wood chips will help the soil retain moisture and decompose naturally, adding nutrients into the soil.

c. Add more wood chips at the end of your gardening season, and your garden will produce an even better yield next year than it did this year!

Setting Up A Tilled Patch

Gather your tools:

*Gardening tools listed above, plus:

* String, stakes or sticks

*Rototiller, pitchfork, Broad Fork, or Shovel

*Garden rake

*Old cardboard and/or newspapers

* Organic Compost and/or good organic soil

*Straw (not required, but helpful. Do not use hay!)

Let’s Get Started!

a. Mark off your patch with string and stakes or scratch it out in the dirt! If this is your first garden, I suggest you keep it small. You’ll want your rows to be around 3′ wide, with a walking area between them, so map out how many rows and how long each row will be.

b. Be sure to place your garden patch in a flat area of your yard that will receive 6 – 8 hours of sun each day.

c. Set your garden tiller depth adjustment bar (you can rent one from a tool and equipment rental store) to its highest setting. This will “graze” across the top layer of grass, making the grass easier to remove after your first pass with the tiller.

d. Make your first pass. Let the rototiller do its work with you just guiding it along.

e. Rake out and remove as much of the loosened grass as you can. It may take several rounds of raking to remove the grass; you won’t be able to get all of it, but remove the majority.

f. Lower the depth adjustment bar down by a couple of clicks because now you want the tiller to cultivate your soil a couple of inches deeper.

g. Make two more passes through your garden area with your tiller at the lower level.

h. Once you’ve rototilled, you can now build up your 3 foot wide rows by adding 4″ of organic compost all along the row.

i. Dig out the areas between the rows and add that dirt on top of the organic compost. This will give you walkways between your rows and also help you build up the mounds for your rows.

j. Use cardboard to cover the walkways between your rows; water it and add 3″ of straw.

k. You’ve disturbed the soil by tilling, so you’ll need to allow the weeds to germinate for a few days. Once they start coming up, rake or hoe them away. Do this a couple of times before planting your vegetables.

After you till your garden (as listed above) and formed your rows, do not till the vegetable garden again. Over-tilling can cause damage to the soil structure and the soil ecosystem. Over-tillage damages the soil’s micronutrients, disrupts the soil’s structure, and accelerates surface runoff and soil erosion.

A good clean up of your garden each Fall and the addition of a good organic mulch or winter planting, will increase the health of your garden rows and help them be ready for your next Spring planting.

Let’s Dig In!

It’s time to get dirty!

4. Think about what foods you and your family enjoy and will eat, and which herbs and vegetables you like to use when you cook. After you make a list, check it against the plants that are hardy in your growing zone, and remove any that won’t grow. 

Additional tips for purchasing and planting in your new garden:

  1. Only buy organic seeds or seedlings. Many conventional seeds are treated with fungicides, which helps to prevent mold/fungi, but it can get on you and into your vegetables. You’ll want to grow the safest food without leaving toxic chemicals in your soil, so it’s best to buy from small organic companies or local growers.
  2. If you’re buying seedlings from a local nursery, buy ones that haven’t bloomed. If you see blossoms on a seedling, choose another plant or pinch off the bloom. You’ll want your seedlings to put all their energy into getting rooted in your garden, so you don’t want them exerting food and energy into producing food quite yet.
  3. Use companion plants in your garden to help fight off pests. I use marigolds that I grow from seed all over my garden and in my pots. I also plant nasturtium, basil, and petunias. (I strongly suggest you don’t plant morning glory – it takes over everything and strangles the life out of your plants. But that’s just my opinion 🙂
  4. Mulch heavily to control weeds, help with moisture retention, and keep soil temperatures moderate.
  5. Water your plants as soon as you put them in the pot or ground.
  6. Weed your garden regularly. The weeds will deprive your plants of receiving all the nourishment you’re providing for them. 
  7. Check the stems and the backside of leaves for insects or their eggs. Remove them from the plants immediately. I keep a bucket of soapy, salty water in my garden, and I pick off the bugs and drop them in the bucket. Slugs are easier to find early in the mornings, while the Japanese Beatles seem to love the afternoon sun. I say sayonara, sucker!

Well, Lavinia, I hope these tips help! I love my Victory Garden, and I love knowing the work I do to make my plants grow is providing food for my family and beauty to our yard. 

To see most of the points in this article, in an infographic form, click the picture below!

With love!

Jody

Be sure to visit my website at www.libbyandme.com, where I write about all things related to hospitality, organic cooking and recipes, gardening, homeschooling, and much more!

If you enjoyed this article, click here to download a free copy of Jody’s online magazine! https://libbyandme.com/bemyguestmagazine

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