Get Ready to Garden!

With increasing interest in sustainability and locally sourced food, now’s the time to get ready to garden. We have 3 great ways to garden, whether you’re contained to a terrace or have room to grow, along with suggested veggies and planting techniques. Read on to learn about the benefits of family gardening.

Get Ready to Garden!

As spring approaches, you may be thinking about last year’s grocery store shortages and how you can provide more sustainability to your family. A garden is the perfect answer. And it will provide more to your family than just good eating. Gardening is a wonderful hobby, great exercise and a terrific way to spend time with your family. Shenandoah Valley farmer David Lay’s grand kids are even involved in the family’s 3-acre garden that provides produce for its CSA program and to local restaurants.

Taste of Blue Ridge Chefs Marvin Swaner and Jeremy Thrasher are avid gardeners. For Chef Jeremy, gardening really took off during COVID. “It was my activity that kept me from going insane during COVID lockdown,” says Chef. Tomatoes and squash take up a large part of his patch, but it also includes (in Jeremy’s words “obscure’) peppers, beans, okra, sesame and “some other stuff as well.”

Get Ready to Garden!Chef Marvin grew up with a family garden and created dishes from the offerings of a 50×100’ garden at Flint Hill Public House & Country Inn. And when he cooked at Over the Grass Farm, he had 17 acres and four greenhouses as part of his pantry. He’s currently planning a personal garden for this season.

Need some more good reasons to garden? There’s nothing better than fresh air, sunshine and playing in the dirt. Gardening gives kids a sense of accomplishment and teaches commitment. And your children are more likely to eat the vegetables on their dinner plates that they’ve grown.

3 Family Vegetable Garden Options

Whether your garden is planted in containers, raised bale beds or the classic “Victory” fashion, you’ll need a space with at least 6 hours of good sun exposure. If you’re container gardening in an area that gets hot, be sure to allow for some protective shade. And consider the location of your water source – the closer, the better! While you’re waiting for the soil to warm up for planting, consider your garden options.

Contain Your Garden Bounty

Even apartment dwellers with a sunny balcony can get in on a container garden. Just make sure to use containers that are NOT dark or metal. Once you’ve decided on a container, go up one size. Trust us, you’ll need something larger than you think.

Your plants are going to get thirsty, thirsty, thirsty so be prepared to water 1-2 times each day at the height of the growing season. And acclimate your seedlings before the final container planting.

Tomatoes and Cucumbers from the Family GardenTomatoes are definitely the most popular vegetable to grow in a container, especially the cherry varieties as larger ones require stakes or cages. Surprisingly, peas make great container veggies. You can select varieties for succession planting. Or plant an early crop, then a replacement crop like eggplant in your container to re-purpose your garden space.

Squash is very easy to grow and the beautiful blossoms are also edible. But you will need an extremely large (think half whiskey barrel) container. Cucumbers are also fast growing. They love lots of water and heat. There are both pickling and eating varieties. Remember, you can eat a  pickling cucumber, but you can’t pickle an eating variety. Vines will need a trellis to climb, so consider a “bush” type of cucumber. Here’s a great blog, courtesy of The Spruce on container gardening for beginners.

Benefits of Bale Raised Beds

If you have some sunny yard space but don’t want to go to the trouble of digging up the soil, a raised bed garden made of straw bales may be right for you. Raised bed gardens have many benefits. You get an “instant” garden in the best sunlight while avoiding poor soil conditions. Raised beds are much less labor intensive than a traditional garden plot. And at the end of the season, you’ll have organic matter for top dressing and composting.

A dozen bales makes a good start on a raised bed. According to, each bale takes about 40 gallons of soil. You can grow the same vegetables that you do in containers. Remember, no hay (it’s for horses) and no pine straw (doesn’t decompose). You will need to prepare the bales with water and fertilizer and you’ll plant into the bales either seedlings or seeds. Learn how to prepare and cultivate straw bale raised beds here.

The Classic “Victory” Garden

During both World Wars, citizens in America and the United Kingdom planted 25’x25’ vegetable gardens in private yards and public parks. The gardens, packed with beans, beets, cabbage, carrots, kale, lettuce, peas, tomatoes, turnips, squash, and Swiss chard, were high in nutrition. These civic-minded plots were a safeguard against food shortages during the wars. They freed up commercial producers to focus on supplying the troops. And they were a great way to build citizen morale.

Get Ready to Garden - Family TimeToday’s “Victory” garden is succession planting on a high level. Working this type of garden allows for early, mid, and late season crops. This type of garden works best in rural and suburban areas for mid-sized families. Plan to freeze or can your produce to ensure good eating through next winter.

When you’re thinking about what to plant, feel free to experiment with a vegetable like Kohlrabi (the spaceship turnip!). Don’t forget the herbs – basil and cilantro are popular choices. And chamomile does double duty as both a tea and garden pollinator. Bonnie Plants breaks Victory gardening down into manageable steps.

New Shenandoah Valley Gardening Program for Families

Sustainability Matters, a non-profit conservation community, and Friendly City Food Co-Op of Harrisonburg are teaming up for a pilot gardening program called Backyard Food Bank. This is a container gardening program for families with under $40,000 in annual household income. There will be one socially distanced meeting at the co-op and the rest of the instruction is online.

Everything will be provided for these small gardening spaces. Learn more about this new program by emailing by April 1st.  Participation is limited to 20 families so sign up now! This program relies upon community support, so please consider a donation to Sustainability Matter’s Backyard Food Bank.

Gardening provides exercise, family time and nutrition for your table. Combine the bounty from your veggie patch with the locally sourced offerings of community stores and farmers markets for nutritious, REAL FOOD meals. Now get ready to garden!