We’re plotting… our Victory Gardens!

During both World War I and II, the American government mandated that its citizens ration food in order to feed the troops overseas. In order to supplement their rations of meat, oil, sugar, and other precious foods, the American people followed the government's call to plant War Gardens (in WWI) and, later, Victory Gardens. Home gardeners planted crops in their back yards, on vacant lots, and nearly anywhere they could find space, resulting in bountiful yields. And thanks to community canning centers, citizens preserved produce from their gardens, lining their pantries and root cellars with jars from each season's harvest.

In recent years, a wave of nostalgia for the WWII era has surfaced in our culture, with occasional wistful allusions to the sacrifices made by civilians in order to support the military. And as our own wars rage on, both overseas and here at home against corporate control over the food system (and the Farm Bill), many have wondered, "Why aren't we reviving the Victory Garden?"

Wonder no more, for this week over at FoodShed Planet, the Victory Garden Drive has given us all a challenge: even if you've never gardened before, find a piece of land and start an organic garden to take back some control over the food you eat.

Here at the Ethicurean, many of us accept that challenge with a relish, our pruners and trowels held high. Here's a summary of our garden plans -- and an awareness of some of the potential obstacles in our way:

Amanda: We are not going all out on our spring garden but we will be integrating some gardening areas into our orchard (apples and pit fruits). We have five acres here and it is our fantasy (mine and my mom's) to find the perfect apple for the property. The orchard is only about three years old so we will be able to plant around the trees and water both the garden and trees at the same time. The orchard needs a lot of tending this year so this is our way of making sure it gets what it needs and we still get a crop. We've got a tight schedule this spring.

Charlotte: I've got a big garden -- plus 4 apple trees, 2 plums and some raspberry canes. I'm just on a city lot (50 x 100 feet), sort of in the urban/rural interface. My garden usually starts (in March) in my basement, where I've got heat mats and a set of shelves with grow lights.

Elanor: I only have a parking lot behind my house, but I'm really going to try to keep my herbs alive this year (having already killed three basil plants and one each of sage, rosemary and thyme in the 6 months I've lived here).

Jennifer: Having no space of my own, I'm taking up a friend's generous offer to terrace his backyard and put in raised beds (and a compost bin!) for me to work. Since I've pretty much run through the seeds I had saved from my garden previously, I've ordered plenty of vegetables and herbs, focusing on the varieties I can't find at the farmers' market. (I'm especially excited about five varieties of drying beans as well as some Asian greens and amaranth.) I've probably bitten off more than I can chew, but hope springs eternal!

Marc: Over the past few years, I have been nurturing a small collection of herbs (thyme, parsely, epazote, sage) and have also tried to grow various vegetables. Tomatoes and green beans have been a moderate success, but greens like spinach have not grown well (or have been wiped out by snails and slugs). This year I will again grow tomatoes, green bean, and some new herbs, and will also be increasing the degree of difficulty by trying to start plants from seeds saved from last year's crops.

Bonnie and Jenni outlined their garden dreams as part of our New Year's resolutions, and several of us hope to hear more from Peter's experiences with his community garden plot. Kathryn has also chimed in, though as yet she hasn't solidified her garden plans, while John aka Man of La Muncha adds that he hopes to garden this year but doesn't think it will happen. Janet has decided that her local CSA will continue to supply her because "my yard has tons of shade, and they do a lot better job than I do," but she does plan to keep her potted herbs in good shape.

We're just a handful of people, many of whom have gardened before, and we invite you to join the challenge with us. We'll post updates periodically to let you know how we're preparing for the growing season, what we're growing and harvesting, and what dragons -- er, slugs -- we slay along the way. Ask us questions, leave us comments, and, as always, we invite you to share your own experiences in a guest post.

We hope you'll join us and the other budding Victory Gardeners around the country and continent. Find a mentor if you're new to gardening, or gather together a group of garden-loving friends for support. Just dig in!

9 Responsesto “We’re plotting… our Victory Gardens!”

  1. pattie says:

    Thanks so much for mentioning this! And for those who are starting new gardens, remember to sign up--just add your name to the comment section of the Victory Garden Drive link. A windowsill herb pot counts!

    For those who already have gardens, "Take Five"! Put the word out that you are willing to help five new gardeners--either in person (a neighbor or friend) or online via support and advice.

    Even if it's too early to plant where you live, it's not too early to plan. We CAN make a difference. It DOES matter. "Because this, we can do."

  2. Sam Fromartz says:

    Start your onion and leek seedlings now! Start your peppers and eggplants soon too! Or maybe your first year, wait and buy the seedlings. You can also do lettuce, herbs even greens and tomatoes fine in pots. Just need sun and water, and a few well-placed handfuls of compost.

  3. Scott Meyer says:

    I'm a new reader of this blog - I just found it in the past week - and I love what you have to say and how you are saying it.

    I wanted to point out that most vegetables grow well in containers, so even if you have too little land or too much shade you can still grow some of your own food. I like to tell people that produce you eat just a few steps from where it grew is the "real fast food."

    Scott Meyer
    Organic Gardening magazine

  4. blake says:

    Excellent! Thanks for the encouragement. I'm planning my first vegetable container garden now. Despite the challenges of growing food in San Francisco, I am doing my research and am so excited to get things growing. The thought of producing at least some of my house's food is so cool. I have seen the photos of the San Francisco's WWII-era Victory Gardens, and they are amazing. What a different mindset from our current "norm."

  5. Sam Fromartz says:

    This is a site for planning the timing of your garden, based on last frost dates for your region:

  6. Cold Mud says:

    In the UK there has been an enormous boom in veg growing on 'allotments' - small areas of land, usually owned by local councils and leased for peppercorn rent by individuals or familes: http://www.allotment.org.uk/

    Also, there is a new and more forward looking organisation called Transition Culture which looks to make small communities and towns more self sufficient as we head towards peak oil: http://transitionculture.org/

    One thing is for sure - something has to change, and soon, in the way we produce and eat food.

  7. Emily H. says:

    I love this idea, and wish everyone would just replace their ridiculous, primarily useless lawns with gardens, but I do have one concern. What is the risk of contamination from pollutants when you're growing vegetables smack in the middle of a city (especially one with lots of heavy traffic, construction and pavement)? I know you can test soil for contaminants and improve it with compost, etc., but to what extent do air pollutants compromise the health of the vegetables? Anyone know?
    A friend of mine whose mother is a long-time suburban gardener said that fast-growing plants, especially greens like dandelion, are not a great idea for city gardening because they suck up more toxins than other plants. Is that accurate?

  8. Bob Ewing says:

    I cannot see my backyard because the snow is so deep but the thoughts are in the garden. I'd be happy to share what I know with five others.

    "especially greens like dandelion, are not a great idea for city gardening because they suck up more toxins than other plants." dandelions, for example, are deep rooted and could well soak up the toxins, I know that sunflowers do.

  9. Amy says:

    Aloha, I too have an organic garden to supplement my pantry...However in recent years the volcano has been emitting VOG..can someone tell me just how this is effecting the "organic" quality of my crops? Yes sulfur is organic...but something isn't sitting right with me...there's a white coating on the leaves and I wonder if anything is really safe to eat...Does anyone have advice for growing under such circumstances?