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Victory Gardens aren’t just an essential piece of American history. They’re still important to everyday life in the modern world. If you don’t have a garden, or even if you do, you should consider a victory garden to get you started! Here’s why you should plant a victory garden.
This article will talk about why and when victory gardens got their start. We’ll also talk about why these special gardens are important today, what you should plant in them, and give you some tips to help you be successful. But first, let’s look at what a victory garden is.
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What Is a Victory Garden?
A victory garden is also known as a war garden or a food garden for defense. These were gardens planted primarily during World War I and World War II to supplement food rations and boost community morale.
These unique gardens promoted patriotism while reducing food scarcity for people across the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada.
Why People Planted Victory Gardens
During war times, canned vegetables were rationed to ensure that soldiers had vital nourishment to fuel their efforts. Other foods, such as butter, coffee, sugar, meat, eggs, and cheese, were rationed. However, shortages in labor and transportation made it difficult to get these foods to the market where consumers could buy them to feed their families.
The United States government encouraged citizens to plant their own gardens as an act of patriotism and prevent food shortages. In WW1, Americans were also encouraged to raise a couple of backyard chickens for eggs and meat.
Many people felt that growing a victory garden was a tangible means of contributing to the war effort and it helped put food on their table.
Where Were Victory Gardens Planted
Of course, farmers in rural areas had long planted and harvested their own food. But the war effort encouraged everyone – even city dwellers – to start their own gardens to provide their own fruits and vegetables.
According to Living History Farm, the US Department of Agriculture estimated that over 20 million of these gardens were planted, easily matching the amount of commercially produced food.
The gardens were planted just about anywhere people could find space. They were planted on rooftops, backyards, empty lots, and even parks. As a result, plenty of food could be grown in small spaces, and many families and communities could work together in their gardens.
What Was Grown in a Victory Garden
Victory gardens focused on foods that were high in nutrition, high in calories, and easy to grow. Most victory gardens grew such staples as:
- Swiss Chard
Why We Need Victory Gardens Now
Victory gardens are still essential and maybe even more critical now than ever before. There are a number of reasons you should consider starting a victory garden, or at the very least, growing a tomato plant on your patio.
1. Gardening shortens the amount of time from harvest to table.
Although we can transport fruits and vegetables for many miles thanks to a complex transportation system, the longer a fruit or vegetable goes between harvest and table, the fewer nutrients it contains. However, the quicker you eat a vegetable after picking it, the more nutrient-dense it is.
2. Gardening increases food availability.
During a time of labor shortages and supply chain interruptions, the groceries you want aren’t always available at the grocery store. Growing your own food means you can have the veggies that you want at any time. You just have to head to the garden and pick them.
3. Gardening saves money.
Inflation has been steadily increasing, and the cost of groceries with it. You’ll save money on groceries by growing your own food, especially expensive items such as greens and herbs. The state of Pennsylvania encourages gardening by including seeds and vegetable plants in the food stamps (Snap) program.
4. Gardening can shrink your carbon footprint.
Any food you purchase at a store has been transported there by truck or train. Of course, transportation uses gas, electricity, and produces carbon emissions. But by growing your own food, you skip this step and reduce your carbon footprint.
5. Gardening is sustainable.
If sustainability is important to you, growing your own food will be, too. You’ll gain independence and live a more sustainable life by growing your own vegetables.
6. Gardening is a great family activity.
In our busy world, it’s hard to find time to spend together. But working in the garden as a family pulls us away from our electronic devices and gets us out in the fresh air and doing some exercise while giving us an opportunity to spend time together.
7. Gardening can be a way to give back to your community.
You can share your extra produce with neighbors and friends in need, take it to food pantries, or join an organization such as the Hunger and Health Coalition. In addition, some organizations will give you free seeds if you agree to grow them for people in need.
Best Crops for Victory Gardens
The original victory gardens were definitely on the right track with growing nutritious fruits and vegetables. You want to choose easy-to-grow, nutrient-dense, high-calorie fruits and vegetables for your own victory garden.
Consider heirloom varieties so you can save seed for next season. However, if you have a particular type of pest or weather issue in your area, you may want to turn to hybrids instead.
You’ll want to consider:
- Beans. Beans are high in protein and calories, so they are a great addition to any garden. In addition, most beans are easy to dry and store for winter eating and as seeds for the following year.
- Beets. This cool-weather crop grows quickly and is frost-tolerant. You can eat the leaves as well as the root.
- Cabbage. Cabbage is easy to grow and full of vitamins.
- Kale. Kale is a cool-weather crop that will withstand frost and even snow if it is fully grown.
- Lettuces and greens. Greens are a high cost per pound when you purchase them at the store. However, they are easy to grow and don’t take up a lot of space.
- Peas. Peas are probably the first plant you can grow in the spring. Plant them up to a month before the last frost date, as long as you can work the soil. You can plant them close together to prevent weeds, and they need very little care once they get going.
- Potatoes. If you have the space, potatoes can give you a lot of calorie per plant.
- Radishes. Radishes make the list because they grow quickly and can provide you with food in a hurry.
- Summer squash. Summer squash grows quickly in hot weather and should give you lots and lots of food. Yellow squash and zucchini are easy to grow and prolific.
- Swiss Chard. This green is high in protein and vitamins. If you harvest just the outer leaves, the plant will continue to produce. You may even be able to overwinter it in the garden, so you have early chard next season.
- Turnips. Turnips are also a great cool weather crop. They grow quickly, and both the leaves and roots can be eaten.
- Winter squash. These squashes have thick hard rinds that make them store well for winter eating. I’ve had butternut squash store for a year in my pantry with no signs of rotting.
How to Make Your Victory Garden Productive
Follow these tips to help your victory garden be more productive.
- Choose the best location. Your garden needs a sunny spot with well-draining soil.
- Amend your soil with compost, dead leaves, or old manure.
- Water your seedlings well until they are established. Then, just follow the directions on your seed packets!
- Keep weeds at bay with mulch, landscaping cloth, or by pulling them regularly.
- Choose vegetables your family enjoys eating. Otherwise, you’ll be wasting time, energy, and space.
- Opt for heirloom seeds when possible so you can save seeds to plant for the following year. You can attempt to plant seeds from hybrid vegetables, but you may get inconsistent and surprising results.
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