The Mighty Victory Garden

Archived Victory Garden Poster - Get in the spirit!
During the Second World War, folks were encouraged to grow their own produce in what were dubbed Victory Gardens -- working gardens that insured there would be food on U.S. tables in uncertain times. We can learn quite a bit from those simple plots of land scratched out of vacant lots or sometimes tucked into tree lawns or front yards.

Many of them were small, but they were mighty -- and there were lots of them.  Although the numbers are approximate, by 1943 there were about 20 million victory gardens across the U.S. producing eight million tons of food, or 40 percent of the produce consumed that year.

If you've ever doubted how empowering a seed, dirt and water can be, take the time to learn more about how backyard (roadside and vacant lot) gardens fed a nation at war. It's a great story, and one that shows how growing your own food is more than just a way to save a few dollars.  It's a way to show your loved ones that self-sufficiency is important. It's planet friendly and family friendly, too.

V is for Victory -- in the Garden

Whether in wartime or peace time, starting a vegetable (fruit and herb) garden makes sense.  It can be a reliable source of flavorful as well as nutritious and pesticide free ingredients. It can also be a great way to introduce your children to the changing seasons and the rewards of physical labor. We live in an age when some urban youngsters can't identify a photo of a chicken and believe potatoes grow in long, narrow strips. Where the shovel meets the dirt, dynamic things can happen. Start a garden when your kids are young and they'll learn valuable life lessons the organic way -- by touching and tasting -- and by doing instead of watching.

Grow a Garden and Save

Historic Victory Garden Poster - Oh, no!  Is that DDT?

The results of a 2009 study conducted by the Burpee Seed Company suggest that growing your own produce can net you a 1 to 25 cost savings over buying the same items at your local market. Remember, when you buy mass-produced herbs, fruits and vegetables, three major considerations in their cultivation are attractiveness, long shelf life and transportability. Flavor and nutrition are not at the top of the list -- and, frankly, may not even make it to the middle of the list.That means you often spend more and get less than your want or expect.

Buying organic produce is definitely an option, but it's an expensive one.  Why?  Pesticides keep produce losses down, and growing crops in bulk saves money.  Organic farmers are shortchanged on both counts. They don't use chemical pesticides, and the area reserved for organic farming is puny compared to conventional agribusiness.  Leaching  pesticides from soil in order to convert to organic status takes time.  *In most circumstances, to qualify as a "certified organic" producer, a farm must be pesticide free for five years and obtain official USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) organic status. That green and white seal carries weight, but in some cases, it doubles the price of product.

The Best Herbs and Produce are 'Grow Your Own'

Some of the best produce choices are a do-it-yourself proposition, anyway. Keep this in mind when considering seed and seedling purchases this season. Heirloom (old style) vegetables are big these days, and if you think tomatoes don't taste as good as they used to, growing a few heirlooms may just prove you right.

Then there's the "fresh picked" component.  If you've ever steamed your own garden asparagus, roasted fresh picked corn, prepared garden fresh pesto or made a BLT out of this morning's tomato harvest, you know there's no contest between fresh grown and market produce.

Many of those expensive market salad greens are inexpensive to grow, too, and growing them yourself could net you a couple of crops over a season (spring and fall). Love the idea of eating spinach and the new darling of nutritional veggies, kale?  You can grow both for pennies -- and it's easy to do.

There are lots of new and interesting cultivars available every year, too. Frost tolerant cultivars of traditional warm weather plants like rosemary may do just fine in your garden, but you won't know until you start looking at what's available.

Gardening Green

Start a compost bin in a corner of your garden this year.  It's easier than you think.  Composting cuts down on local landfills, and along with vegetable gardening, teaches your family the nuts and bolts of the green movement in a practical, real world way. Let's face it, your kids probably know more about environmental theory than you do. Show them you care about planet friendly issues and are willing to do more than rinse and stack the recyclables once a week.  After you create a little "black gold," chemical fertilizer will start to look a lot less appealing as a source of nutrients for the food you eat -- and that's a good thing.

Check out Some Free Vegetable Seed Catalogs

If you haven’t grown herbs or vegetables before, this can be your year to learn. All you need to get started is a little space, pocket change and a couple of weekend afternoons. In return, you'll net yourself healthy produce and better muscle tone. You can grow vegetables, fruits and herbs in some unexpected places, including:  in bales of straw, deck pots, vertical gardens -- and tree lawns.  That means your apartment patio and that patch of dirt next to your downspout are fair game -- the victory garden way.  Plant a meal and discover what all the fuss is about.

Check out my list of free seed catalogs for the 2014 growing season to get an idea about what's out there to know and grow.

Here's wishing you a bountiful harvest.

*Although I haven't listed them here, there are many other rules and restrictions for certified organic farmers. To learn more about them, visit: National Organic Program  


Future Farmers. "Victory Gardens 2007." http://www.futurefarmers.com/victorygardens/history.html

Kivirist, Lisa.  "Victory Gardens: A Salute to Self-sufficiency." HobbyFarms.com. http://www.hobbyfarms.com/crops-and-gardening/victory-gardens.aspx

Pollan, Michael. "Farmer in Chief." The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/12/magazine/12policy-t.html?_r=0

Photo1 Victory Garden - Public Domain Photo  http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:PLANT_A_VICTORY_GARDEN._OUR_FOOD_IS_FIGHTING_-_NARA_-_513818.jpg

Photo3  Victory Garden - Public Domain Photo  http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:SHOOT_TO_KILL_-_PROTECT_YOUR_VICTORY_GARDEN_-_NARA_-_515408.jpg

Photo3  Victory Garden - Public Domain Photo http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:%22YOUR_VICTORY_GARDEN_COUNTS_MORE_THAN_EVER%22_-_NARA_-_516284.tif

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