On December 7th, 1941 the United States was hit by the Empire of Japan in a surprise attack on our naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii–the date that will live in infamy. Though every moment of our lives is a dividing line in time, few moments are as clear a dividing line in the history of the world as that moment. It was that surprise attack that launched the US full steam into World War 2, started the research project that would eventually unlock the power of the atom, and destroyed one of the darkest, most evil creations of man’s history, the Nazis. There’s no question that like other major historical milestones (the detonation of the first atomic bomb, the assassination of JFK, or the attack on 9/11 to name a few) the world was suddenly divided into the “before” and the “after” of that event, and nothing would ever be the same.
We are currently living through one of those milestone events in history.
Not since the Great Mortality of the mid 1300’s has the world been brought to this kind of standstill because of a sickness. At that time, nearly 700 years ago, it was because of the level of human mortality that the Plague inflicted, killing somewhere between half to two-thirds of the population of Asia and Europe at the time, and in some instances wiping whole towns and villages off the map completely. Today we are thankfully not in a situation with that level of death, and even if this virus does its absolute worse to the human population it’s not even remotely likely that we would be. But the world has, none the less, been brought to its knees.
Economies have nearly shut down, businesses have closed, concerts and sporting events have been postponed or cancelled, and air travel around the globe is basically at a standstill. We live under the flight path to a MAJOR airport in the southeastern US and the skies are eerily quiet. Goods are still moving in some respect, but even global commerce and trade, which is the absolute lifeblood of modern urbanized global society, has ground to a snail’s pace compared to what it was. A microscopic killer that is not even technically alive has done all of this to the mightiest species to ever roam the planet. It’s more than a little humbling when you think of it that way.
There is no disputing the fact that the ripples from this event will spread out through history, even if the virus were to magically disappear from every person, every patient, every city and every nation as I type these words. The human toll is enormous, and the economic toll will be staggering. Our grandchildren will wonder what it was like to live through this time, and I hope to be around to tell them.
Growing up that was a source of a lot of wisdom for me, the stories my grandparents told about living through the history shaping events of both the Great Depression and World War 2. These hard times taught my grandparents to save what they could, spend only what they had to, and live off very little while still managing to find ways to be truly happy and joyful with what they had. They did their best to pass those lessons on to me and my brother when we were living on the farm in our childhood, and I like to think at least some of them stuck.
One of the things Nanny used to talk about was the Victory Gardens people had in WW-2. As part of the domestic war effort rationing had drastically reduced availability of vegetables for civilian pantries and soup pots. As a result even in some of the major cities the people began participating in a national effort to reduce the burden on the supply chain and free up foodstuffs for our fighting men overseas. A big part of this national campaign was the Victory Garden, or V-Garden campaign. It encouraged people to use what land they had, even if it was only a small half acre plot behind their house in the city/suburbs, and grow whatever food they could on that land to feed their family. It was a revival of the same self-sufficient spirit that had led Americans across the Mississippi, the great sea of grass in the central US, the Rockies, and eventually to the west coast.
When the going gets tough, Americans take care of ourselves as well as each other.
I think it’s time to revive that kind of self-sufficient attitude in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. There are lots of things we might not be able to control in this life, and specifically with regards to this virus, but one thing we can begin to take an active role in is providing food for our families. Even in the cities, this is not impossible, it just takes a little ingenuity and some good old fashioned “elbow grease” as my Granddaddy was fond of saying. So, with that in mind, my family and I have built a few garden boxes in our back yard to grow some vegetables in, and I’ve put together some instructions for anyone who’s interested in doing the same.
Our grandparents had Victory Gardens in WW2, and we will have C-V Gardens, Cure the Virus Gardens, to fight back against the impact, both economical and psychological, of the current COVID-19 pandemic. Not only will you (hopefully) get some tasty veggies out of this exercise, but it gives you a project to keep your hands and mind occupied and an excuse to spend some quality time with the family working towards a common goal.
C-V Garden boxes:
Materials for each 4’x4′ box:
2 pressure treated 2″x10″ boards that are 8′ long, cut into 4′ sections (if you don’t have access to a saw they can cut for you at Home Depot/Lowe’s). You should end up with 4 sections each 4′ long.
1 pressure treated 4″x4″ 8′ long cut into 2′ sections
Water permeable shade cloth or ground cover to prevent weeds from sprouting through
10-12 bags of gardening soil (1 cu. ft. per bag)
Vegetables to plant (we used tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers)
Shake and feed fertilizer (any brand will do, but we used Miracle-Gro)
1 box 3-3 1/2″ deck self-tapping deck screws and a power drill
Step 1: Pick a spot in your front or back yard that has a decent amount of sun. You’ll want to consider where the sun is now, and where it shines through most of the summer. I’ve found that areas that get a decent mix of sun and shade in the hottest months are best for where we are (NC/SC border in the south) as that prevents the sun from cooking the veggies in the sun. Also, it helps to pick a spot that is as level as possible.
Step 2: Use a shovel scrape grass and weeds off the top of the soil to clear a space for the box. The area you clear needs to be a little bit larger than a 4’x4′ square for these plans. You can also adjust the dimensions of the boxes to fit the area you have available. If you have any 2 sides of the box that are longer than 6 feet, though, you’ll want to use spaced out posts between the corners to help hold the weight of the soil and water.
Step 3: Mark each of your 2′ long sections of the 4″x4″ posts at about 7″ from the bottom. I used a pencil and a carpenter’s square to make the marks at 7″ from the bottom on two sides of each of the posts. Then I used the drill and deck screws to secure one of the 2′ posts to each end of a 4′ section of board using three evenly spaced deck screws. Align the 2″x10″ board carefully to make sure the uprights will be vertical and the horizontal board level. You can do this with a carpenter’s square, or a level, but the level is easiest. Repeat this process so that you should have two lengths of 2×10, each with a 2′ length of 4×4 post secured at the ends.
Step 4: Use the remaining 2 lengths of 2×10 board to secure the two sides assembled in the previous steps and complete the box. All 4 sides of the box should be at the same level on the 4×4 post (7 inches up from the bottom) and as level as possible. The 7 inches of post at the bottom will end up buried in the ground with the bottom edge of the 2×10’s flush with the ground to form the box.
Step 5: Move the box frame onto the patch of cleared ground and mark where the posts will sit with either contractors flags or some other means. Once you know where the posts will be, use a shovel or post hole diggers (careful of buried electrical, water, sewer, etc. lines…) to dig down 7-9 inches at each of the post locations. Save the dirt you dig out, you’ll need that in a minute.
Step 6: Set the box frame onto the bare patch of ground and align the posts to match with the holes. If needed, dig out a little more to get the bottom edge of the 2×10 boards flush with the ground. You’ll also want to try and make sure the sides of the box are level at this point. If the box is not level it’s best to dig the high end out to level it. If you try to raise the lower end by packing a little extra dirt under the posts it could create a gap between the bottom of the sides and the ground, which will eventually cause your soil to begin eroding out of the box. Once it’s level, use the dirt you dug out for the posts to pack back in around the buried portion of the posts, and then to level out the base of the interior.
Step 7: Once the box is in the ground and as level as you can reasonably make it, take the permeable shade cloth and roll it out to cover the bottom of the box as fully as possible. The roll I had was 4′ wide and 100′ long. Since you want the liner to come up the sides of the box a little, I had to use two strip of liner to get full coverage of the ground as well as 2-3 inches that ran up each of the 4 sides. Secure the liner to the sides of the box with a staple gun, and secure it to the ground with metal stakes (should be near the liners in the hardware store).
Step 8: Fill the box with the bags of soil. Use a garden rake to try and flatten out the top and evenly distribute the soil to all sides and corners of the box, then lightly water with a hose to settle the soil. You’ll want a good layer of soil that’s 7-8 inches deep at least. Depending on the density of the bags you’re using, it might take a few more or a few less, but the real key is to make sure that after watering you still have 7-8 inch deep soil to provide a good nutrient bed for the roots of your veggies.
Step 9: Plant veggies to taste, sprinkle some fertilizer over the top of the soil (I usually lightly fertilize within the first 1-3 days of planting, then will reapply as needed. Keep the box watered, but not saturated. You don’t want the roots to rot off your veggies, so a little light drying of the soil now and then is preferable.
Step 10: Care for plants as needed, harvest veggies in a few months, and enjoy!
These garden boxes were fun to build, relatively easy (I’m no carpenter by any means, and I got it done), and once they are assembled and installed they can be reused season after season. And while a couple of small garden boxes in the back yard isn’t like to provide enough food to feed a family, especially if you have a bottomless pit of a teenager like we do, it may be enough to lower your grocery bill for a while and reduce the burden on the suppliers and grocery stores. And, more importantly, it gives you and the family a way do something active and tangible as a response to a situation that seems at times too large and overwhelming for any one individual to really impact. That, in and of itself, can be reassuring enough to make getting a little sweaty and dirty worth it.
If you have questions or comments, please feel free to drop them below. Stay sane, stay safe, and stay healthy out there! And, as always, thanks for reading