The phrase “victory garden” conjures up the image of a large planting bed, with long straight rows out of which colorful orange, red, purple, and green food erupts. All by itself, the bold scene is enough to fill us up – but how can you plant one in your small plot?
What is a Victory Garden?
The victory garden is a concept which evolved out of necessity during difficult times in the world’s history. It came at a time when citizens needed to grow their own food to survive. Now, the tagline is used in the 21st century as a point of patriotic pride, in a self-sustainable movement –living off the land as it were – or, simply, to encourage a family hobby putting our creative muscles to work.
We may put into practice many of the techniques and plants past generations used, but don’t forget to try new, sometimes improved, ones, too. The food you harvest will have the same positive effect, whether you wish to call it a vegetable garden, a victory garden, or a kitchen garden; and whether you place the vegetable bed in a traditional acre of backyard or out just beyond the front door.
Victory Garden Choices
Well before you push a shovel into the soil, your first dilemma is in making the choices; the full sun location for your garden, the shape and size of your garden, and the seeds, bulbs, and transplants you want to grow and eat at your dining table.
Gardens can be planned in plots that fit your lifestyle: in the ground, above in a raised bed, on a balcony, or through renting a bed at a local community garden. Then, what will your garden grow? You have the myriad of plant varieties available in the current era, whether they are in seeds, transplants, or in both forms.
The essential element of a victory garden is its purpose to grow fresh food. The menu of edible plants we decide to grow are dependent on the vegetables, fruits and herbs our family likes to eat. But, as every gardener learns, the list of choices evolves from year to year as we add new plants and eliminate the varieties of food we did not like, either in the growing or in the tasting.
Making Space for Growing Food
The configuration of the victory garden is open to your personal interpretation.
Traditional victory gardens placed in a wide-open backyard setting is hardly the only way to grow fruits and vegetables. Even a traditional square acre of planting bed can be enhanced with more garden techniques and plants now popular in the 21st century. But what if your space is smaller?
You can mix vertical and container gardening, as well as techniques like the espalier, into one garden space or use them separately to extend your growing area.
- Vertical gardening, which is gardening ‘up’ instead of ‘out,’ can help you take advantage of more space. You can use vertical gardening by edging beds with fencing or iron railings – or on a balcony, or in a raised bed.
- The espalier is an old technique to grow fruit, in which the tree is trained to grow flat against a wall or trellis. Today’s modern gardens still make use of the espalier to extend space, even growing it from a large container.
- Container gardening, or planting in pots or other containers, has expanded our options in growing food with the use of the usual and unexpected vessels we turn into pots and plant above ground. Hanging baskets and large standing tiers offer you options to extend the space and try the new plants that gardeners have bred to produce food in smaller spaces.
Succession Planting and Three Sisters Planting: Techniques for a Victory Garden
Companion planting and succession planting are useful ways to improve your harvest.
One of the oldest examples of companion planting is the three sisters planting. It is a good example of how traditional food growing techniques remain viable, while able to evolve with new ideas.
The original three sisters planting idea is comprised of three vegetable plants: corn, pole bean, and squash.
The three-sisters idea is rooted in Native American history when gardeners grew food out in the prairie. The plant companions remain stylish and useful also among our skyscrapers. This planting style fits nicely into urban spaces, such as between the narrow strips of land between houses, as well as maybe configured into several containers set side by side on a patio.
Gardeners’ tastes may be divided between heirloom varieties, which are in favored for their unique taste and link to history, and modern varieties, which have improved disease resistance and tolerance for growing in containers. As an example, look at the many types of corn, pole beans, and squash that you can try in a three sister planting:
- Corn – Black Aztec is an heirloom variety that retains an old fashioned corn taste and, with our modern concern for drought tolerance, Black Aztec with stands dry weather. On Deck is an hybrid corn plant, which can harvested in 61-63 days and remains short enough to fit in a small space, including in a very large container.
- Pole Beans – Forkhook is a well-known seed brand among gardeners who grow pole beans. This plant has reliably produced harvests over many generations. Recently, Peas-in-a-Pot was bred to grow in containers and can add a vertical addition to a patio or balcony garden. For color, decorative value, or in addition to cooking, consider Scarlet Runner bean seeds; this plant requires 80 days from transplant to harvest to mature.
- Squash – Squash varieties are divided between summer and zucchini types and winter and pumpkin types. The heirlooms offer a wealth of variety (think the French oblong tan and orange bell shaped winter squash or the early golden summer crookneck Native Americans grew well before European settlers.) The hybrids offer smaller sizes such as in Golden Egg, a summer squash with fruit to harvest in 41 days.
Succession planting is a technique for fitting in as many types of vegetables into the growing season as possible. It works on a schedule. Gardeners plant early cool season crops (think radish, broccoli, onion) first, allow them to mature and then harvest them. Warmer season crops (think tomato, pepper, cucumber) are planted in the same space as cool season plants die in the summer heat. As autumn arrives with cooler temperatures, gardeners dig the seeds and transplants of cool season crops back in.
Growing Flowers With Food Plants
Should you grow flowers in with your Victory Garden food plants? Some of the most protected planting beds in a backyard are those in a food garden. To guard tender seedlings and transplants against rabbits and rodents who forage early in the season, gardeners erect fencing and other barriers. That makes the vegetable garden an ideal place for growing flowering or ornamental plants – and these flowering plants can offer benefits to your veggies as well!
Placing a cutting garden inside a food garden is strategic; convenient for cutting a bouquet while at the same time harvesting food for cooking. Because, who doesn’t like a vase of flowers to decorate the dining table? Bulbs of tulips, young annual plants, and plants with tasty flower buds require protection from wildlife, so why not take advantage of the protection you’re giving your vegetables at the same time?
Annual flowers that are edible as well as decorative make lovely pretties on a frosted cake or to fill a salad. You can harvest pansies, violas, and nasturtiums in fall, late spring, and in early summer.
Though gardeners harvest many flowers from perennial and shrub beds (think Echinacea and Paeonia) for bouquets, spring bulbs and annual ornamental plants fit nicely into a larger vegetable garden. While you are planting your onion and garlic sets during fall gardening, tuck in tulip bulbs at the same time and you will have a bounty of beauty and yummy food in spring.Wildlife finds members of the allium family unappetizing, so consider pairing them to deter animals from nibbling on your garden. Check out the tall globe allium mixes, for instance, that include purple, rose and lilac colored blooms and white alliums. Planted inside the vegetable garden or around the outside of the fence, the bulbs do deter wildlife looking for food. Chive plants are another subset of allium used as an ornamental. You can let it flower, or keep it as an herb, harvesting the long leaves to chop up for cooking.
Modern Victory Gardens and What to Do With All That Food?
Victory gardens imply the purpose and time in our history when growing our own food could mean the difference between life and death. A true victory garden for the ages can be seen in many garden-styled planting beds and in the sharing of the harvests with friends, family, neighbors, and those in need.
Growing a victory garden copied from our historical past is a starting point from which so many more plant ideas can flourish.
In the modern era, rooftop gardens have grown in popularity; fashioned into living patios for comfort and community gardens where people grow food that are just several stories above ground. There are so many options available – choose the techniques that fit your lifestyle and abilities, but always remember to share.
Gardeners habitually share the extras that come out of what they grow. In the form of flower bouquets, seeds and transplants, or harvests at the end of the growing season, food gardens are victories for communities wherever they thrive.