“Victory gardens” came about when food was being rationed during World War II. At one point 40% of the country’s produce came from backyard Victory gardens. After the war, gardening became more of a hobby than a necessity. Today homegrown fruits and vegetables are making a comeback for a cornucopia of reasons, not least of which is a global pandemic. Growing a Victory garden allows you to be more self-sufficient by having some control over your food supply.
Starting your own seasonal supermarket ensures your family consumes more servings of healthy fruits and veggies. This is as farm-to-table as it gets, folks. When your produce does not have to journey from far away places, it reduces your carbon footprint. While you’ll have to make several trips to the garden, you won’t have to make so many to the grocery store, which also lessens your impact on the environment. Not only does garden fodder taste better than store-bought because it is so fresh and picked at its peak, but it also has more nutrients that the grocer version. On its journey to shelves, it loses nutrients. The Farmer’s Almanac says that “every day a vegetable is off the vine it loses its health benefits.”
It’s also beneficial for those who are wary of the quality of commercial produce. When you seed the plant and harvest it yourself, you can rest easy knowing that a chemical cocktail of pesticides was not used to produce your produce. Tending to your garden is also good for your health—it relieves stress, gets you outdoors, gives you something to do with your family, and can even help you live longer! Without further ado, let’s get our hands dirty.
What to Grow
If this is your preliminary foray into the gardening game, start small so you don’t get too overwhelmed. Pick plants that you usually buy at the store, such as broccoli, carrots, and herbs. The Farmer’s Almanac suggests “easy-to-grow crops, including fresh vegetables in season as well as root crops and hardier crops that could be stored during the winter.” Seed packets explain when to grow what, and we will also go over that below.
Choosing a Spot
Stake out where you want to put your Victory garden. It should be fairly close to the house, so you don’t have to traipse too far to get to it and you can reach a hose out there for watering. Make sure it gets at least six hours of sun a day and has good drainage. A plot as small as 10 x 10 feet can grow a lot of food, but if you’re short on space, you can always try a raised bed or container garden.
Plan Plant Placement
Plants are super cliquey. Some of them want to hang out next to others—these are called “companion” plants. Not only do you have to configure who gets to sit next to whom, but you also have to consider which plants do not play nicely with others. For instance, tall crops like corn or even trellised tomatoes can overshadow their compadres and steal their sunshine, so it’s important to put the tall dudes on the north side of the garden. According to the Farmer’s Almanac, “Plants set too close together compete for sunlight, water, and nutrition and fail to mature.” Sprawling plants such as watermelon and squash require lots of space. Put them on the edges so they don’t strangle their friends.
Our grandparents were limited to graph paper, but we’ve got handy dandy tools like the Farmer’s Almanac Garden Planner that can help make sure each plant is in its proper place. It lets you plot out your plan and gives you tips on seed spacing, companion plants, and even tells you the best times to plant. Be sure to leave a couple of feet of space around the beds for room to weed and harvest.
Soil can make or break a garden. That is where the plants get their nutrients, after all. First, test your soil. Here are three simple soils tests you can do yourself, or you can always reach out to your local cooperative extension service office for a free or low-cost soil test. They can also make recommendations based on your soil’s pH, texture, and phosphorus, lime, potassium, and soluble salts content. Then you can “amend” your soil, which is another word for enriching it to make sure there are plenty of nutrients. According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, “Compost, leaf-mould, or well-aged manure will increase the ability of your soil to both drain well and hold moisture.” Notice the “well-aged” caveat—grabbing some horse dung and throwing it on the garden ain’t gonna work. Manure needs to be composted for six to 12 months.
Loam is soil made up of about 40% sand, 40% silt, and 20% clay. According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, “Plant roots penetrate soft, loamy soil more easily. Start with well-drained, sandy loam and add as much organic matter as possible.” Another important step in preparing the soil for planting is tilling. However, if all of this testing, amending, and tilling sounds like too much work, you can always just go with a raised bed and purchase the perfect loam.
Buy Seeds and Plants
Find seeds and plants at home improvement stores, Walmart, ag shops like Tractor Supply, co-ops, nurseries, or greenhouses. You can also order seeds online or from a catalog. Most garden vegetables, such as beans, beets, carrots, chard, cucumbers, lettuce, peas, spinach, and squash can be directly seeded, but you may want to give others, like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and melons a head start. Start seeds indoors six to eight weeks before transplant, or just buy them as seedlings. Starting your seeds indoors has other advantages, like keeping young plants out of the harsh elements until they get a little stronger. This is also a good time to pick up a new pair of gardening gloves and make sure you’ve got the necessary tools, including a hoe and trowel.
If you don’t protect your garden, all of the deer, rabbits, and groundhogs are going to get fat. Surround your plot with tall, sturdy fencing or netting like Jobe’s or Deer-X Protective Netting and t-posts, which can be found at ag shops like Tractor Supply, home improvement stores, and Walmart. It’s not the most visually appealing option, but it gets the job done without blowing the budget.
When to Plant What
Seed packets say when to plant the seeds based on your USDA Plant Hardiness Zone. The Almanac suggests planting these easy-to-grow crops in the following seasons:
Spring: Carrots, lettuce, kale, onions, peas, and radishes
Summer: Basil, beans (pole, bush, and lima), corn, cucumbers, eggplants, okra, peppers, pumpkin, winter and summer squash, tomatoes, and watermelon
Fall and winter: Beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, lettuce, kohlrabi, parsley, parsnips, radish, spinach, Swiss chard, and turnips
For tips on growing each, check out the Almanac’s growing guide.
Sprawling plants like melons and squash like to be planted in mounds, while other crops like carrots would rather be planted in a row. Get this info from the back of the seed packet or on the seedling’s tag. It will also tell you the correct depth, number of seeds, and spacing. Once you’ve mounded your soil and hoed out your rows, you’re finally ready to plant those little boogers. Simply drop the seeds in and cover with soil.
If you are transplanting seedlings, your holes need to be big enough for the roots to be buried. Carefully transplant from the container, gently loosening the outer roots. Place it in the hole, then cover the roots with soil.
How does your garden grow? Pretty well as long as you remember to fertilize, weed, and water it. Edible plants need to eat too. Make sure you are feeding them with a granular fertilizer like Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics® Edibles Plant Nutrition Granules. Read the label for proper application, but Miracle Gro suggests using it a month after planting before it rains.
ABP stands for Always Be Pulling. Much of gardening is weeding, and you have to catch those suckers when they’re little or they’ll try to take over the place. Miracle Gro suggests covering “exposed soil with untreated grass clippings or other organic mulch, which blocks the sunlight and makes it harder for weeds to grow” and then hand-pulling any weeds that do emerge.
Get a rain gauge and put it in your garden to ensure it’s getting about an inch of water a week from rain or watering. To encourage root growth, it’s better to water deeply every few days than just a little every day. Of course, you don’t have to water if it has been raining or is about to rain, and you’ll need to water more in the really hot summer months. This is gardening 101, but don’t water in the heat of the day, and try not to get the leaves wet, lest your plants get scorched.