Victory Gardens Born Out of Coronavirus Quarantine

How to Plant a Victory Garden

April 29, 2020
Victory Gardens

The fight against coronavirus has been likened to a war—some have even referred to it as “World War C”—and it looks like wartime Victory Gardens are making a comeback. Today, the goals are different but the interest in growing a little (or a lot) of your own food is still the same! Let’s talk about planting a Victory Garden in 2020!

During WWI, the National War Garden Commission promoted home gardening and food preservation. They inspired students—calling them “soldiers of the soil”—to help plant Liberty Gardens. When it started to look like the US and its allies would win the war, the name of the gardens was changed to Victory Gardens.

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Picture taken from the book All the Presidents’ Gardens by Marta McDowell

Eleanor Roosevelt began a new Victory Garden campaign after Pearl Harbor was bombed and Americans dug in once again for Uncle Sam. By the end of WWII, 40% of the country’s produce came from backyard gardens.

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Now as then gardening is positive and good for morale; it is a bipartisan act—not red or blue—just green. 

Your garden can be your seasonal supermarket. Lessen trips to the store and stretch your budget by planning meals around what is ready to harvest. You will be providing your family with the freshest and most nutritious food, picked at its peak. Way better than store-bought!

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If you have thought about growing a vegetable garden in the past but didn’t have time, while you are under orders to stay home and living on less income, take advantage of this opportunity to start a garden. It isn’t hard and can be very rewarding! Planting is a hopeful act and will give you a break from the news of the day. Get the whole family involved and dig in!

Typical Victory Garden Crops

Vegetables were the largest crop followed by fruits and herb gardens. About one-third of the vegetables grown during World War II came from Victory Gardens!

The Victory Garden was made of easy-to-grow crops, including fresh vegetables in season as well as root crops and hardier crops that could be stored during the winter. Here’s a sampling.

  • Spring gardens: Carrots, lettuce, kale, onion, peas, radishes.
  • Summer gardens: Basil, beans (pole, bush, and lima), corn and popcorn, cucumbers, eggplants, muskmelon, okra, peppers, pumpkin, both winter and summer squash, tomatoes, watermelon.
  • Fall and winter gardens: Beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, lettuce, kohlrabi, parsley, parsnips, radish, spinach, Swiss chard, turnips.

Kohlrabi, Swiss chard, and kale were not common in the United States before Victory Gardens but Americans came to know these plants better because they were easy to grow.

Along with learning how to garden, Americans learned how to store their produce!  This mean education on canning and preserving your harvest safely.

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Starting a Victory Garden

Here are a few first steps to do right now:

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Image: Victory Garden for a Family of Five. Designed on the Garden Planner

  • Get a soil test! It will give you important information you need to have a successful garden. Definitely test for lead. See 3 simple DIY soil tests.
  • Order seeds. Catalog companies are usually the cheapest source for seeds, plants, and supplies. Order as soon as possible. Seed companies are experiencing high demand and it may take longer than usual to get your seeds. See 40+ garden seed catalog companies.
  • In most states, nurseries and greenhouses are considered essential businesses and are open. Go during off peak times to keep a safe distance from other shoppers.
    Usually, the lots are fairly empty. If you call in your order, they’ll load everything into your trunk with no interaction.
  • In planning your garden, grow what you eat. Don’t bother with turnips if no one in the family likes them. See top 10 vegetables for beginners.
  • How much will you use? Don’t over-plant unless you plan to do some preserving for future use.
  • Stagger sowing so it all doesn’t come at once. Here’s how to stagger lettuce seeds.
  • Don’t forget flowers. They are food for the soul.

See the Almanac’s Growing Guides for vegetables, fruit, herbs, and flowers.

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When we were ordered to stay at home, I was glad to have some of the staples we had grown including potatoes, onions, squash, canned pears, tomato sauce, pesto, and frozen blueberries still on hand. It gave a little boost to my sense of security. For me this year will be very much like most years since the frugal Yankee in me always tries to grow as much of our food as possible.

Good Articles for Beginners

But if this is your first experience growing your own subsistence garden, look at my previous posts on  Garden Planning for Beginners and Growing a Pantry Garden.

There are several posts for container growing and balcony gardens for apartment dwellers too.

Dig for Victory!

I still have my Nana’s Victory Canning book from World War II. It is full of encouraging slogans like “Dig for Victory” and “Gardens Will Help. Weed ‘em and Reap For Victory” and “Keep the Home Soil Toiling”. 

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The ultimate in food security is growing your own. Depending on what you decide to plant, in 40 to 90 days you’ll be eating well! Get out of the house and into the sunshine!

Interested in learning more? Check out this “Dig for Victory” garden community and connect with like-minded gardeners.

About This Blog

Get inspired by Robin Sweetser’s backyard gardening tips and tricks. Robin has been a contributor to The Old Farmer’s Almanac and the All-Seasons Garden Guide for many years. She and her partner Tom have a small greenhouse business and also sell plants, cut flowers, and vegetables at their local Farmer’s Market.