Whenever there’s a crisis — the Great Depression, World Wars I and II, when NYC went bankrupt in the 1970s — people have historically become much more interested in growing their own food, says Melissa Metrick, professor of urban agriculture at NYU’s school of Nutrition and Food Studies. And it’s no different right now. With the coronavirus changing how we shop for food and prime planting season underway, we’ve noticed quite a few people on social media starting modern victory gardens. While growing enough food to feed your family may not be possible in a two-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn, there are many things you can grow that will shorten your grocery list — and just as important, bring you joy. We asked Metrick and two other experienced gardeners to walk us through the quickest and easiest way to create your very own COVID-19 victory garden.
The biggest thing to consider is sunlight. As a general rule, the less sun you have the slower your plants will grow. So if you don’t have enough — at least six hours of direct sunlight a day for most edible plants — you’ll need grow lights, which aren’t that much more expensive than regular light bulbs, and just as easy to use. Otherwise, all it takes is a few pots, some soil, and a place to plant. (Just not the fire escape, Metrick warns. Planting there is illegal in NYC.) Many fruits and vegetables can be grown from seeds, but since we’re already a little ways into the growing season, for larger plants such as tomatoes, unless you’re willing to wait until late summer for your first fruit, you’ll want to order a seedling from your local nursery. And if you’re just looking to have some fun while you wait for your garden to grow, you can get started by regrowing food scraps: Put the root end of a scallion (like David Chang did on Instagram) or the butt of a head of lettuce in water, and it will start to sprout and regrow in about a week.
Here’s what our experts recommend to get you started.
Organic gardener Allison Vallin Kostavick says you can plant vegetables and herbs in almost any container, from an old dresser drawer to a plastic storage container, as long as it is at least six-inches deep and has proper drainage.
If you are planting your garden inside, you’ll want to arrange your pots around a window, preferably east- or west-facing, or under your grow light. Pots that are rectangular and span the width of your windows will make the most of your available sunlight. Metrick likes filling window-box planters like this with arugula or spinach or other loose-leaf lettuces.
If you have the space indoors or access to some outdoor space like a balcony or a roof, raised-bed planters like this one are ideal. The height makes gardening easier on your back and positions plants closer to your windows without any additional furniture. The Urban Bloomer Bed is self-watering (a helpful feature for those days that you forget), with a reservoir in the bottom that plants can draw from when needed. The drainage tap makes it easy to get rid of excess water without making a mess.