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During World War I and World War II, many countries encouraged their citizens to grow gardens, often called “Victory Gardens.” This relieved some of the burden on the public food supply and was marketed as a way to help the war efforts. In fact, some sources report that 41% of the food Americans consumed during these times was grown in these home gardens.
Vacant lots and public parks became fields of vegetables and many people grew beets, swiss chard, tomatoes, and lettuce in their front yards or on rooftops.
The victory garden was a practical way to improve food security on the home front. I think it’s time to bring them back in fashion!
Why Grow a Victory Garden
It’s no longer World War II, but today we face a different kind of battle. Current events remind us all too clearly that access to fresh, healthy, local food is one of the most important aspects of daily life.
Even when we are not facing a global crisis, our food system is at risk… and putting us at risk.
Of course, I’m talking about our food supply and the state of health in our country. We aren’t facing an enemy armed with rifles, but a much smaller invader that we often willingly consume and feed our children.
Most sources agree that the majority of us are not consuming enough vegetables and fruits. In fact, the CDC reported that only 27% of us are consuming the recommended amount of vegetables per day (and many experts claim that the recommended amounts are lower than they should be anyway!)
Much of our food is a source of inflammatory substances like polyunsaturated oils, sugar, and processed grains. We consume sugar to the tune of over 100 pounds per person per year and recent studies show that many of us are lacking in the basic vitamins and minerals we need for basic health.
Here’s thing: We vote with our dollars, and our actions. We can claim “victory” over over current food trends in the United States by growing our own gardens.
Bonus: Our kids are much more likely to grow up loving fresh vegetables if they eat them right off a plant that they helped to grow!
The New Battle: Rising Food Prices
We also face the problem of rising food costs. Prices are rising on all types of foods. We all know too well that organic vegetables and fruits and other “healthy” products are often especially pricey. In fact, even in the comments on this blog, the most common reason cited for not eating enough vegetables or choosing organic options is the prohibitive cost.
There are strategies for eating real food on a budget, but it’s an uphill battle. Sadly, this problem doesn’t seem likely to get better any time soon. Food prices are expected to continue to rise in the coming years and choosing to buy organic produce will only get more difficult.
It’s liberating to discover that you can grow your own organic lettuce, spinach, and kale in your own backyard (rather than buying week-old lettuce shipped in plastic from across the country!).
If starting a garden isn’t possible for you, find and support your local farmers and farmer’s markets. They can do the work for you!
Victory Gardens: A Solution to Both Problems
I’ve said before that there is much wisdom we can learn from older generations, and their knowledge of food production is no exception. Though about 40% of U.S. households grow gardens of some kind, increasing this number could address both rising food costs and increasing health issues.
Having a garden provides other benefits as well!
Statistically, gardeners live longer and there are many potential reasons for this. They spend more time outside, get more natural vitamin D, and come in contact with the rich microorganisms found in soil. Dirt has benefits of its own and the simple act of getting our hands dirty can provide immune benefits.
Many people also report stress relief and better sleep from spending time outdoors gardening.
A side benefit for families is that gardening is a great activity to do together and an excellent remedy to spending too much screen time and not enough outdoor activity.
How many things could be remedied if families would garden and walk/hike/play together?
How to Start Your Own Backyard (or Front Yard!) Garden
No matter how much (or how little) space you have, you can grow your own organic vegetables. From tiny-scale gardens like sprouts and microgreens in the kitchen to a large-scale garden in the backyard, we can all grow something!
Before we talk about methods, let me just share an important lesson I’ve learned: Don’t get bogged down by the details! Getting started is the most important step.
A Full Garden
Those who have enough room can grow much or all of their own food on their own property. Where we live, many people do this, and I’ve heard my in-laws talk about how they grew all of their own produce growing up. Even a 10 x 10 garden can grow a tremendous amount of food and is a great family activity.
Those without enough backyard space have gotten creative as well. Some people are growing beautiful front-yard vegetable gardens to make use of limited space.
New to gardening? Consider using an app (like this one) to plan and know optimal spacing and planting times for your zone. I’ll also list some of my favorite books and how-to videos for beginning gardeners at the end of this post.
Square Foot Garden
A highly efficient way of gardening that has gained popularity in recent years, square foot gardening allows those with small yards to produce a large amount of food.
Square foot gardens are typically raised beds that add soil on top of the existing ground and soil. They are more expensive up-front but are easy to maintain and typically produce very high yields. In fact, one small square foot garden can grow enough produce for an entire family if cared for correctly.
Square foot gardening turns the idea of traditional garden rows on its head and maximizes space by planting in one-foot square blocks. It’s a great way to maximize a small garden plot.
Rooftop or Container Garden
Families with limited outdoor space can grow a container garden of some kind. A small planter can grow lettuce, spinach or herbs, while a larger planter box can grow a small square foot garden. Even a tiny window box on the outside of the window can contribute some greens or herbs.
The following plants grow quite well in containers:
- Sweet peas
- Basil and herbs
Look at the flower pots and containers you have around and get creative! Wash them out with soap and water, add some potting soil (recipe to make your own here), and follow the directions on the seed packet.
Container gardening is also great for getting an early start on the season, because you can cover or bring plants inside easily if frost threatens.
If you don’t have a lot of space, grow up! Vertical methods of gardening can work in a traditional garden plot, in a raised bed, or in containers on a patio or balcony. Peas, beans, and even squash can grow in less space with a simple support or trellis.
Sprouts + Microgreens
Even families with absolutely no outdoor space can grow some food indoors. Lettuce, kale, spinach, or even broccoli or sunflowers are incredibly nutritious and delicious at the sprout or microgreen stage. You can be eating fresh greens in a matter of a week, all grown at home!
Foods like sprouts will grow easily in glass jars on a kitchen counter, and with a little more work, a tray of microgreens can create a lot of nutrition for a family.
This video explains how to grow your own microgreens step by step. Even kids will love to follow along and help! (And are much more likely to eat green veggies if they help grow them!)
Tips for Getting Started
Want to get started (but not overwhelmed)? Here are some practical tips I’ve learned from trial and error over the years. Hopefully they help you get off to a smooth start!
- Start Small – Variety usually is the spice of life, but not so great for the new gardener. If you’re new to gardening or a self-proclaimed “black thumb,” start with just three or four types of easy to grow vegetables. I wouldn’t suggest trying to grow anything in the cabbage family your first year, for example, since they are a magnet for pests and difficult to grow organically.
- Choose Easy to Grow Veggies – Herbs, swiss chard, kale, and zucchini are easy to plant, hardy, and keep producing for much of the summer.
- Pick Veggies That Are Fun for Kids – Sweet peas, cherry tomatoes, strawberries, mini sweet peppers (also called lunchbox peppers), and scarlet runner beans are all crops my kids have loved. Think small, sweet, and easy to pick and snack on. Consult the Vegetable Gardening Week by Week book below or research gardening sites to know what to plant when.
- Use Local Gardening Networks – Chances are many gardening groups exist in your area. Join online groups for advice, seedling swaps, and local plant sales.
- Add Some Beauty – Don’t forget to add a pot of flowers to your container garden! They help attract pollinators and add some color! Nasturium and calendula are beautiful edible flowers, and zinnias make an easy to grow cut flower.
Supplies for Victory Gardens
Here are some resources if you’re just getting your feet wet:
- Organic Gardening 101 – Find step by step guidance in this post.
- Vegetable Gardening Week by Week – If you buy only one gardening book, this should be it. It lays out exactly what to plant when with a simple formula based on your local last frost date.
- Biochar Soil Amendment – In an organic garden, it’s all about the soil. I can’t say enough about this natural fertilizer designed to restore the minerals and microbial balance so lacking in much of our soil today. I add it to potting soil or right into the garden beds. It’s a great option if you don’t have homemade compost on hand (yet).
- Seeds or Seedlings – Get them from your local grocery or nursery, or order them online. Seed companies often have a wealth of knowledge in their catalogs and websites. Try seed companies with organic, non-GMO seed like Johnny’s or Seed Saver Exchange. Also check online groups in your area as many gardeners will give away seedlings for free or very cheap!
- Some Flats or Pots – Most anything that holds soil but has drainage holes will work! I’ve saved pots from past flower gardens or drilled holes into containers from yogurt. I’m also a fan of peat pots because they are biodegradeable.
There are many ways to plan your garden, but experience is always the best teacher. Victory gardeners were certainly not all gardening experts!
When in doubt, apply seed to soil in a sunny spot, water, and see what happens!
I challenge you all to start your own victory gardens! Are you up to the challenge? What are you going to grow this year?