The concept of victory gardens emerged during World War I when recruitment of agricultural workers into military service caused a severe food crisis in Europe, and the burden of feeding millions fell on the U.S. Shortly before the U.S. entered WWI, Charles Lathrop Pack organized the National War Garden Commission in March of 1917 to encourage Americans to contribute to the war effort planting, fertilizing, harvesting, and storing their own fruits and vegetables. “Sow the seeds of victory” was the battle cry, and Americans from coast to coast planted to do their part.
Victory gardens reappeared again as the United States entered World War II. Food rationing was introduced in the spring of 1942, creating even more incentive for Americans to grow their own fruits and vegetables. Popular produce grown by Americans included beans, beets, cabbage, carrots, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, peas, tomatoes, turnips, squash, and Swiss chard.
The victory garden campaign had a lasting social impact and boosted morale, patriotism, and helped limit food shortages on the home front. About 15 million families planted victory gardens in 1942. By 1944, roughly 20 million victory gardens produced nearly 8 million tons of food--the equivalent of more than 40% of all the fresh fruits and vegetables consumed in the United States.
It is not surprising that the resurgence of victory gardens is occurring right now amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In an effort to address possible food shortages and curb overall mental and physical health complications from long-term lockdown, people are turning to gardening. Keep reading for the benefits of creating a victory garden and tips on how to start your own.
Benefit #1: Increase of body & mind wellness
With sheltering in place in full force across most of the U.S., we are acutely aware of how daily life has transformed. And, the effects are challenging. Because gyms are closed, we are lacking exercise. Lost jobs mean a search for activities that inspire purpose. Our hyper alertness is mentally exhausting.
To survive this new normal, there is an overall need to release tension. Creating and caring for a victory garden assist in relieving some of the stress of feeling stuck at home. The physical activity of gardening allows us to move our bodies and gives us a sense of practical accomplishment.
Whether you have a plot of land to work with or a small area on your patio, balcony, or deck, the act of gardening produces wellness results. Getting fresh air and sunshine in and of itself is helpful. The simple act of feeling as if you’re contributing to something greater--whether that’s working toward supplying your household with fresh produce or helping feed your elderly neighbors--helps relieve stress and makes you feel better.
Benefit #2: Less work with significant yield
Another benefit of planting a victory garden is that, in comparison to typical outdoor gardening, it is fairly easy to start and maintain. Plus, the fruits of labor are significant as victory gardens create better yields with less labor.
A great option for beginner gardeners is to plant in raised beds. The formula is simple: begin with a box, some soil, compost, seeds, water, and, voila, veggies will grow. (Keep reading for tips on how to build your own.)
Using a raised bed is an easy form of gardening. Instead of yearly tilling the soil, gardeners can maintain their raised beds by adding materials like a mulch of straw, leaves, grass clippings, and wood chips. This limits the propagation of weeds since tilling actually creates more weeds by burying weed seeds. Covering beds with cardboard or black plastic in the spring kills all the plants that grew up in the winter. When ready for new planting, the dead weeds are raked off before they have a chance to seed.
If raised beds aren’t an option due to space, vertical gardening is another easy option as long as the area gets sun. For the budget savvy, use inexpensive stake pyramids tied together with twine. Herbs and greens can even be grown in a closet shoe holder with pockets. Just cut a small hole at the bottom of each pocket, fill the pockets with dirt, and plant.
Benefit #3: Self-sufficiency with food production
With spot shortages in grocery stores due to COVID-19, there is concern about the ability to get fresh produce in the future. Events like disrupting border traffic can affect the harvesting of crops typically done by seasonal workers. This is another reason why growing a victory garden is a popular and proactive response. It gives us a level of self-sufficiency that is so important in times of drastic change or crisis.
Crisis gardening, as it is sometimes referred to, is different from the normal commitment needed to create a long-term garden. The goal instead is to grow plants that mature rapidly, that can produce all summer long, or that can grow entirely inside. Victory gardens use fast-maturing annuals like radishes and spinach instead of perennials like artichokes and asparagus that take years to produce.
Tips on how to build a raised bed
When space is limited, building a raised bed is an efficient way to optimize for garden harvesting. The main components needed are...
- Good drainage.
- Weed and pest protection.
- Well-aerated soil for growth.
Raised beds come in a variety of sizes, styles, and budget ranges. There are many DIY project videos on how to start raised-bed gardening to keep costs low. One of the main things to consider is the material used. Whether you choose cinder blocks, rock, or wood, look into the pros and cons to assess the best one for you. As can be imagined, wood runs the spectrum of quality and price. Douglas Fir is the most affordable type used for raised garden boxes. It can last 5-7 years.
If it’s a hassle to get wood, milk crates lined with burlap are a versatile and inexpensive option. You can often find these crates on Craig’s List or other sites that announce free items. Plastic storage containers that are not being used can also do the trick--just make sure to poke a few holes in the bottom so the water can drain.
You do want to line your raised bed to make it more durable and prevent possible toxins from seeping into the soil. If you can, use landscape fabric found at garden supply stores or cloth fabric from clothing for lining (call and see if you can order for curbside pickup or order online).
Once the type of container is chosen, here are the steps to get your victory garden going:
#1 Get your soil ready: Make a mixture of topsoil, compost, and other organic material, like manure, to give your plants a nutrient-rich environment. Nurseries and garden centers have specially prepared mixes that are excellent to use alone or added in your soil (many are doing online or phone orders with curbside pickup).
#2 Plan your bed: Think about what your family likes to eat for starters. Learn more about companion planting, which can vastly improve the health and yield of your garden. Consider nutrient needs, shade tolerance, above and below ground growth patterns, and preferred growing season.
#3 Space correctly: Space measurements are suggested but can be amended once you determine if plants can be grown even more closely together or as the soil quality improves. Allow 2- to 3-inch spaces for carrots, bunching or green onions, and radishes. Beets, garlic, leeks, spinach, onions, and turnips need 4 to 6 inches of space between them on all sides. Celery, leaf lettuce, and Swiss chard require 7- to 9-inch areas. Allow 10 to 12 inches on all sides between head lettuces.
Tips on how to create a vertical garden
A vertical garden stacks plants, making the most use of space. This can be attached on a wall, leaning against one, or even hanging from a ceiling. Vertical gardens are convenient as they don’t require fancy garden tools or specialty plants—you can buy plants online to fill your garden and easily plant them. They can also be cost-efficient depending on the type of garden frame you choose.
Here are steps to start your vertical garden:
#1 Decide on the type of garden: Container-style gardens, which are potted plants attached to a wall or displayed in rows, are an easy option. Another is a pocket garden, where plants are tucked into pockets made from felt or canvas. Vertical gardens can also be grown in recycled wooden shipping pallets, which can be purchased at Walmart or other home stores. Refer to DIY vertical garden information on YouTube to help prepare your type for planting.
#2 Consider placement: A vertical garden can go indoors or outdoors; however, sun exposure will determine where you place your vertical garden. Let the type of sun exposure the plants need determine where you place the garden.
#3 Select your plants: You can easily grow herbs and vegetables in a vertical garden. Vines like pole beans and peas naturally climb, making them perfect for vertical gardening. Greens like spinach, lettuce, and swiss chard are the perfect plants for growing in a vertical garden because the air circulation prevents the lower leaves from touching the ground and decaying. Herbs such as sage, basil, and cilantro tend to be used in very small quantities, so growing them in a vertical garden works well. You can have them in a vertical arrangement of 3-4 levels, limiting your herb garden to just a single stand.
#4 Have an irrigation system in place: It’s important to note that your vertical garden might need more maintenance than a regular in-the-ground garden or container plants. These living walls are more compact and, therefore, have less soil, so they may need to be watered more often. A drip irrigation system is the best way to maintain your plants’ hydration. Ranging from complex, with hoses and timers, to more basic options in which holes in the bottom of planters or pockets allow for water to drip down, there are a variety of options to choose from.
What to grow and when
There are two ways to start planting: from seeds or with a plant. Seedlings can be transplanted outdoors when ready. However, starting with a plant shortens harvest time by a month or more. This is important to consider depending on the weather patterns of your region. In the northern U.S., for example, the growing season can be less than 100 days, so a tomato or pepper plant started from seed in the garden will not have time to mature before frost.
There are vegetables best sown directly from seed because they do not transplant well. These include root crops, such as carrots and beets, beans, peas, corn, cucumbers, squash, and salad greens. Vegetables that are best sown as plants are potatoes, onions, garlic, and shallots.
In terms of timing, consider the types of plants chosen. Plants such as lettuce and broccoli can tolerate cooler weather, whereas tomato or basil can be damaged by temperatures lower than 40 degrees. It’s best to refer to a resource like Gardener’s Vegetable Encyclopedia to determine the best time to plant each crop.
Other important considerations are frost and high-heat dates. Plants that are sensitive to the cold must not be planted until the possibility of frost has passed, typically between March and May. In planting zones 3 to 6, the primary gardening season falls between the first and last frost dates.
Cold-sensitive plants must not go into the garden until all danger of frost has passed. This typically falls somewhere between March and May, depending on your growing zone. The opposite may be true with zones that heat up quickly. Gardeners living in warm climates often plant in fall rather than spring to avoid mid-summer heat. Another option is to plan for two planting periods of early fall and late winter. To best gauge when to plant, check the USDA zone map for climate information.
If you have limited or no outdoor space, sprouts and microgreens can easily grow indoors without special equipment. The only thing needed is plenty of sunshine. Green pea, hard red wheat, mung bean, sunflower, red clover, and Chinese cabbage seeds are excellent indoor options that are easy growing, year-round, and inexpensive. And they are highly nutritious.
Enriched with vitamins A, B complex, C, and E and minerals, sprouts not only boost your immune system, but they are also simple to grow and maintain. Sprouts don’t need soil to grow--just air, water, and sun. Space is not an issue either, so they are perfect for apartment living. Check out our complete offering of sprouts.
Looking back at history gives us valuable lessons on how Americans coped with adversity. Cultivating your own victory garden addresses the need for fresh produce, while offering a healthy practice towards body and mind wellness. While we’re in lockdown, there’s never been a better time to start your own garden.
Stay safe, and have a great weekend.
Preparedness Advisor, My Patriot Supply