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The Top 4 Vegetables to Start a Victory Garden in 2020

If you’re thinking about starting a victory garden and want the easiest and best vegetables to grow, I’ve got you covered.

Since the start of this outbreak, victory gardens have been regaining momentum. Famous for providing 40% of produce in the U.S. during WWII, victory gardens are household plots designed to feed a family, and sometimes, even a neighborhood.

WWII victory garden
WWII victory garden, image credit: Bonnie Plants

Ranging in size, there’s not a wrong way to do a victory garden. A 50′ by 25′ plot in the backyard could work, or even a couple of potted vegetables could provide salad greens and herbs for dinner.

Some of the most common vegetable choices for victory gardens are potatoes, tomatoes, cabbage, kale, spinach, and other leafy greens.

Why start a victory garden in 2020?

a graphic showing a family staying home during COVID-19

With the uncertainty that COVID-19 brings in 2020, many families are looking to stabilize their food supply by bringing it home. Not only do victory gardens make sustenance more secure, but they’re also more sanitary and nutritious.

Many grocery stores receive produce after weeks of shipping and handling. That can mean a lot of hands on your apples. Because of the long transit time, fruit and vegetables are often picked before they’re ripe. To create artificial ripening, they’re often gassed before being received by the grocery store.

By starting a victory garden, you can grow a solid percentage of your food at home and pick it when it’s ripe, right off the vine. When the fruit matures properly, its sugars will better develop, making it more tasty and nutritious.

So, how do you get started with your own victory garden? Well, I put together some information from when I researched the vegetables in my backyard. I’m hoping this will get you started sooner, so you can do less reading and more planting.

Let’s explore the top 4 plants to grow in a victory garden in 2020.

1. Radish

a handful of freshly picked radishes

Radishes are an extremely popular choice for victory gardens and homesteads. They’re nutritious, fast growers, and take up minimal space.

Radishes provide potassium, vitamin C, copper, manganese, vitamin B6, and lots of fiber. Great in salads, tacos, and many other dishes, they’re super versatile and pack a nice crunch.

And not only are the roots nutritious, but the radish leaves can also be eaten as salad greens.

How long do they take to grow?

With most vegetables taking 60 to 120 days to grow, radishes generally take only 30 to 40 days. That’s one of the quickest turn arounds out there!

Radishes grow best in the summer but can be grown all year round.

How to grow radishes at home

You can grow radishes either from seed or by simply replanting their roots. Yes, they can be regrown by saving the roots! Just cut one inch up from where the roots start and replant.

The greens can also be regrown by placing the radish top in water, but the root will not regrow this way.

How to store radishes

Radishes can be preserved by placing them in wet sand, canning, or simply keeping them in a bowl of water. The canning and the wet sand methods tend to have the most shelf-life while using a bowl of water and placing it in the fridge can help radishes last up to a week.

Some varieties, like daikon, can also be preserved by making kimchi.

2. Potato

20 potato plants growing in one of my victory garden beds
These baby potatoes matured much faster than the russets

Potatoes have to be some of the hardiest vegetables out there. A dense and nutritious food, they’re a great staple to include in your victory garden.

Full of fiber, vitamin C, potassium, and vitamin B6, potatoes have also been noted for potentially lowering cholesterol.

They’re very easy to include in dishes such as soups, curries, and stews, but they’re also great as sides or simply–baked.

How long do they take to grow?

Potatoes generally take 70 to 130 days to grow, depending on the region. While they are most often grown in fall and winter, it’s possible to grow potatoes in warmer climates in the spring. Temperatures ranging from 60 to 70ºF are best, but they can be grown up to 80ºF.

How to grow potatoes at home

To grow at home, potatoes can be planted from seed, or also regrown from other potatoes.

To regrow potatoes, you can let them sit on the counter and sprout, or you can plant them and let the sprouting take place underground. I’ve done both methods and they’ve each worked for me. Just make sure not to eat potato sprouts as they’re poisonous.

You can also cut the potatoes into 1/2″ to 1″ disks and plant them. This is a great way to get multiple plants from one potato!

How to store potatoes

Storing potatoes is very common as they’re easy to preserve, as long as they’re in a cool, dark place. For this reason, root cellars are a popular choice.

But if you’re in a warmer climate and don’t have a root cellar, keeping them off the counter and in a drawer will work and slow down sprout growth.

3. Onion

a baby onion sprouting

From India to Europe to America, onions are used in cuisines all around the world and are a great vegetable to have in your victory garden. And just like radish greens, onion greens are also edible.

A great source of vitamin C, fiber, and folic acid, onions also contain minerals such as iron and calcium.

How long do they take to grow?

Fully grown in 90 to 120 days after planting, onions can be harvested when they start to grow flowers.

Fun fact: onions are amazing at utilizing space. 20 to 40 onions can grow within 1 sq. foot! Although less space would result in smaller onions.

How to grow onions at home

Like most of the vegetables on this list, you can choose to either use seeds, or regrow from your household onion scraps. I’m kind of the wannabe gardener of the house, so I often save onions roots from being trashed.

You can regrow onions by slicing the onion 1/2″ to 1″ above the roots. Place the roots in water and set in an area with some sun. Onion greens will start to sprout and can be planted at any time. Just make sure to keep the greens above the soil level.

If there are multiple onion shoots, you can carefully pull them apart, making sure they each have their roots, and plant them separately.

sprouted onions that I separated to plant in my backyard garden

How to store onions

Like potatoes, onions are easy to store. They can be stored in a root cellar, or a cool, dry and dark area. But my favorite way to preserve them? Pickled!

a jar of my homemade pickled onions

Seriously, if you’ve never had freshly pickled onions, you’re missing out. We’ve been making them for a few months now and have put them on salads, burgers, and the like.

We’ve been using a recipe that takes just a few minutes. All it takes is slicing two onions, placing them in vinegar, and storing it overnight. We’ve been going through them so fast so we constantly have to make more. Here’s a link to the recipe in case you’re interested.

4. Tomato

3 cherry tomatoes, a large tomato, and a knife

When we think of tomatoes, we often think of Italian food. And it’s true, Italy is famous for its many tomato-based dishes like Caprese, bruschetta, and obviously–pasta.

But, compared to Italy’s long history, tomatoes are a relatively new addition.

Discovered in South America by European travelers in the 16th century, tomatoes were one of the many crops taken back to Europe, along with corn, peppers, potatoes, and the like.

When it comes to cooking, tomatoes are a very forgiving fruit. Yes, they’re a fruit (they snuck onto this list). Their pleasant aroma and acidic taste often balance well with savory dishes.

How long do they take to grow

Similar to radishes, tomatoes start to mature around 40 to 50 days.

Being the juicy fruits they are, tomatoes require daily water in the beginning, and 1 to 2″ of water a week when they reach full size.

Pro-tip: by adding a good layer of mulch or cover crop such as clover, much of the water can be kept in the soil and not evaporated (I’m experimenting with crimson clover in my tomato beds and will update you soon).

How to grow tomatoes at home

A green tomato growing in my backyard victory garden
My tomatoes are finally coming in

Tomato plants can easily be regrown from one of the fruits by burying it, either sliced or whole.

For an increased chance of germination, you can let the tomato ripen or rinse off the gooey protection surrounding the seeds. This is similar to how you would save seeds from Malabar spinach.

It’s thought that the gooey layer inhibits the seeds from growing inside the fruit and also protects it from the digestive tracks of predators. So, by rinsing the film off, or letting the fruit soften, you’re likely informing the seeds that nature has run its course and it’s their time to shine.

I found success by letting cherry tomatoes sun-ripen on my windowsill and then planting them 1/2″ below the soil. They’re already sprouting within a few weeks!

a cherry tomato sprouting in my victory garden

How to store tomatoes

Most commonly, tomatoes are preserved by either dehydrating, freezing, or canning.

When it comes to canning or jarring, tomatoes are one of the most popular food choices out there.

From pasta and pizza to tikka masala, a jar of tomato sauce (or paste) will go a long way. Tomatoes are often, unsurprisingly, a gardener’s top choice.

My favorite way to store them is by making them into a paste (it’s more concentrated and I like seeing how long a batch can last). There’s a lot of tomato paste recipes out there that take 4 to 6 hours, but sometimes I don’t have the patience to keep checking on it. So, I found a great slow cooker recipe, that thankfully, I don’t need to watch as often.

a WWII graphic of a victory plot with different vegetables laid out in rows
Example plot for a victory garden in WWII, image credit:

Victory gardens are making a comeback as more of us realize the benefits of growing our food. For those wanting to have a productive garden sooner, it can be hard to have to wait 3 to 4 months for potatoes and onions to develop. So, tomatoes and radishes are great options to start harvesting in 40 days or less. And after a little practice growing, cooking, and storing, you can be well on your way to having your 2020 victory garden (or homestead, however you’d like to call it).