Special to the Mirror By Jane McKinley
With more time on our hands these days due to Stay at Home orders throughout the country, more and more people are wondering how to stay occupied. We could take a walk, visit with friends via social media, read a good book or binge those series that we’ve been wanting to watch. But we could also consider improving our health and sense of wellbeing by planting a Victory Garden.
The term “Victory Garden” was coined during World War II with credit going to George Washington Carver who encouraged people to supplement their diets in the face of produce shortages during the war. His bulletin entitled “Nature’s Garden for Victory and Peace,” published in March 1942, got the ball rolling on this idea. Wartime needs stretched the limits of agricultural production. The United States not only had to feed its own civilian and military population, but many of its Allies relied on America’s breadbasket. While the need expanded, the number of farm workers decreased due to the draft and other factors.
For the average American, the Victory Garden was a practical way to contribute to the war effort. These gardens were used along with Rationing Stamps and Cards to supplement the diminishing public food supply. Besides indirectly aiding the war effort, these gardens were also considered a civilian “morale booster,” empowering gardeners through their contribution of labor and enabling them to receive the tangible reward of feeding their families better through growing their own produce. This made Victory Gardens a part of daily life on the home front.
Some 20 million Victory Gardens were planted (US population in 1940 was 132 million – today it’s over 330 million), and by 1943, these little plots produced 40 percent of all vegetables consumed in the US. It’s estimated that 9-10 million tons of vegetables were grown. Victory Gardens sprang up on farms, in backyards, and on city rooftops. Even some window boxes were converted from flowers to vegetables. Communal gardens were planted in public spaces such as parks, vacant lots and baseball fields. Sites for these gardens included San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, Boston’s Copley Square and Fenway Park which is still an active Victory Garden today.
In today’s world, we are lucky to have the basics of what we need available at the grocery store, albeit, prices continue to rise and it can be hard to find local produce there. If our garden fails due to factors outside of our control such as drought or disease, we won’t go hungry. Thousands of seed varieties from anywhere around the world are available to us online, and we don’t have to rely on seed saving for next year’s crop. We have easy access to supplies and ingredients to enable us to freeze and can our fresh vegetables. With all these current day benefits and with time on our hands as we fill our available at-home hours, it just might be the right time to try your hand at growing a Victory Garden!
The advantages of growing your own fruits and vegetables are many. Gardening can be a family activity with children and grandchildren often fascinated by the process of planting and watching the garden grow. They may even be bold enough to sample an unknown vegetable if they had their hand in growing it! Gardening offers health benefits such as burning calories (one can burn about 330 calories in one hour of light gardening work), lowering blood pressure ( The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommends gardening or raking leaves for 30-45 minutes to control blood pressure). Gardening exposes you to vitamin D for strong bones and fresh air to clean your lungs and give you more energy. And, of course, gardening motivates you to eat a healthier diet. The gardener can enjoy fresh, locally grown, organic produce and feel good that no harmful byproducts were released in transporting them.
Spring is a perfect time to get started on growing your own garden. Cool weather vegetables such as lettuces, arugula, kale, spinach, and radishes have a short time to maturity and produce a robust yield. The growing conditions at this time of year are relatively low maintenance with plenty of rain and fewer weeds and bugs. Summer months give us delicious tomatoes, melons, beans and peppers. By starting small with a garden more easily managed, one can learn the tricks of how to best irrigate and fight off disease and insects. And a fall garden can repeat the pattern of the spring, with some produce surviving into the winter months.
There’s nothing better than a warm tomato picked fresh from the vine! And there’s no more tangible measure of one’s power to cause positive change than to nurture a plant from seed to fruit-bearing! Growing a Victory Garden is a good way to improve your outlook and get a little healthier. What’s to stop you from giving it a try!
Here are some of the tips from a U.S. Dept of Agriculture bulletin on growing a Victory Garden. This advice is still good today:
- DO prepare the soil. You can’t live without food and neither can a plant. You need air – so does a plant! So break that soil up. Make it rich with humus and fertilizer.”
- DO cultivate your garden. “If you want your plants to grow up and be nice to you, shower them with loving care (and cultivation).”
- DO make a compost heap. “It’s nature’s gift to gardeners and a lazy man’s joy!”
- DO plan your garden on paper before you start. “You are going to have a big family of vegetables this summer – better plan for them now!”
- DON’T think gardening is mysterious or difficult. “It does take planning – it does take work – but a lot less then you may think it does.”
- DON’T kill yourself. “If you plan too much space and do not have the time to take care of it, well, that’s silly!”
- DON’T think you know more than the man who grew your seeds. “You will find directions on the back of every packet of seeds. Read them carefully and follow them faithfully!”