special days when the sky is blue, the neighborhood is quiet, and a
flock of B-17’s growl overhead on their way to Pasadena – okay, so that
last part only happens twice a year on Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day,
but it certainly gives this tale a bit more atmosphere, doesn't it? - I
sit back on the little stool in my Victory Garden, munch a ration
biscuit with homemade jam, sip some chicory coffee, and dream I'm on the
home-front. Which I am.
My house had a great
Victory Garden during World War II. Granted, that was almost 70 years
ago, but give me a pair of overalls and some heirloom seeds and I'll
give you a Victory Garden that would make the home-front rationer of
What exactly is a Victory Garden, you ask? Let’s start with a quick history lesson.
Use it up, wear it out, and make it do or do without!
attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 set off more than a wave of
enlistments. It also set off a wave of greed and hoarding. With
embargos and attacks on the rise, supplies were not replenished in due
time, if at all. In those first few months, a very small minority who
had the ability and money to stockpile food did so, leaving everyone
else to deal with the kind of panic that only empty shelves and larders
can inspire. The government quickly stepped in to avert price gouging,
riots and famine by rationing EVERYTHING and setting up a system whereby
everyone received their fair share and no more. Butter, eggs, meat,
sugar and coffee were the first to be put on the list. A pound of sugar
or a pound of butter had to last a month, and that included not only
your coffee, but also your baking and canning too. Even if you had the
money to pay for extra, without your ration stamps you only got dirty
looks from your grocer and the people in line behind you.
glass, cloth and paper needed to package food was next, leading to a
mania for recycling and reusing that has never been achieved again, but
should be. For instance, Milk bottles were left outside the door to be
collected, cleaned, sterilized, refilled and delivered over and over
One thing after another appeared on
the ration lists, making the old ways of packaging and transport
obsolete. Fruits and vegetables were technically not rationed, but with
gasoline and coal going to production of weapons and bombers, there was
almost no way to get them from the growing grounds to the consumers.
This wasn't just a national thing, either. Worldwide shortages put the
pinch on everybody. You could complain about it, alright, but not much.
The alternative was much worse. People were starving to death in
places you'd never associate with famine, such as Paris. One of the
biggest and easiest things you could do to help them, and yourself, was
to free up some food production for those who really needed it.
Grow Your Own - Can Your Own!
Victory Garden held the solutions to many of these problems. If you
couldn't import food, and you couldn't find it at the local store, or if
you didn't have enough ration points to purchase it even if it WAS
available, then the only sensible thing was to grow your own food.
Overnight, front lawns and backyards vanished, replaced by neat rows of
vegetables and fruit trees. If you had an apartment, you could grow
just about anything in a pot, and boy did you ever try to! Pots and
windowboxes showed up everywhere: on patios, rails, fences, hanging from
trees and rooftops. The government sent free pamphlets, plans, or even
seeds if you asked for them. Whole communities got together in vacant
lots with the secure knowledge that nothing was going to be built there
for the duration, since wood, steel, paper and all other construction
supplies had been commandeered for the war. And even if they were
available, who would build it? Certainly not the able-bodied men. As a
popular song put it, "What's good is in the Army, what's left will
never harm me." There was just no one left!
all of the plants and products used in vegetable gardens were "organic"
in the modern definition. I'd like to say it was because it was the
good old days and none of this toxic nasty stuff we use today had been
invented yet, but it had been. It just wasn't available because all
chemical and factory production had turned to the war effort. Nothing
else was asimportant. It was because of this that people started making
their own compost out of vegetable scraps, lawn clippings, and all the
manure they could shovel up from the local farms, stables, or the
backyard chicken coop. You got seeds the old fashioned way, by
collecting them from seed-heads and swapping with other people.
Excellent pesticide was made from soaking cigarettes in a bucket of
water and spraying the resulting liquor on your plants. Got a little
fungus? Two spoonfuls of milk in a gallon of water did the trick. Good
and bad techniques spread by word of mouth and experimentation.
Soybeans made their first appearances on tables across America. Awards
and prizes were given out on the basis of beauty, functionality and
thrift, and the resulting boom in backyard gardens yielded not only
better nutrition for civilians but also freed up tons of food for the
starving masses in Europe and soldiers fighting all over the world.
course, if you were lucky enough to have a bumper crop, you couldn't
eat all of it yourself, and after all that work you couldn't possibly
let any of it go to waste, so you dusted off grandma's old canning jars
and got to work. Women who had never thought of themselves as canners
now had rows of jewel-toned beets, carrots, and tomatoes for the lean
times, and they were delicious. Nothing tastes as good as something you
grow yourself. And you could dress up that tiny seven-point pot roast
with your own potatoes, carrots and turnips that would make your guests
The Victory Garden Today
are the days where you got together with your neighbors to make a
garden, swap seeds, can together or have a meal, and I don't know if
they'll ever come back. But the garden lessons learned then were so
important, so accessible to the individual and so pertinent today that I
think they should make a return right now.
First and foremost, Victory Gardening is Organic Gardening.
can understand why synthetic poisons and fertilizers came to be such
big sellers. They are terribly efficient and certainly produce huge
crops and corresponding profits, but their results are what I call "For
Now" results: They do the job cheaply "for now" but the results are
temporary and a replacement will need to be had sometime in the future,
at greater expense, so the cost doubles in the long run.
The expense isn't just monetary anymore. With synthetic products, what
the plant doesn't use right away just washes out of the soil. Think of
yourself spraying fertilizer into the garden. No one ever follows the
directions so you're probably using too much anyway, and all that extra
fertilizer drains away into the water table. Now think of your neighbor
doing the same thing on his side of the fence. Now neighbors on both
sides. Now most of the people in your neighborhood. Your county. Your
state. The country. It adds up to a ridiculous amount of unnecessary
product in your water, which means more expense to filter it out later
before the water is safe for you to drink.
organic fertilizers, you are not only recycling what would otherwise
turn into useless garbage, but also protecting the water table, fish and
wildlife that depend on clean water--not to mention your own health and
the lives of your progeny. If that isn't reason enough to make you
reach for that box of slightly more expensive organic fertilizer instead
of the usual cheap synthetic the next time you visit the nursery, I
don't know what is.
Composting: If you're
squirming with disgust at the thought of adding animal offal to your
garden, you can get around it by making your own compost bin and
throwing in all your non-fatty kitchen scraps, yard waste, limp
vegetables and thinned-out seedlings. Before you go to any expense
making a compost bin, check with your local Department of Sanitation.
In many cities, a compost bin will be provided to you FREE OF CHARGE!
If not, you can make one yourself or buy several reasonable varieties
via the internet. I'm sure there are people out there ready to tell you
that one is better than another, but the most important thing is that
you get one and use it.
Pesticides are also something that you might not need. There are two
basic types of pests: Sucking and Chewing.
sucking ones usually travel in bazillions, like aphids and whiteflies,
and swamp your plants. These are easily smothered with applications of
soapy water, gardening oils, or sometimes just a blast of water.
Chewing insects are a much bigger pain and you'll almost never see them,
but your plants will look like they're full of buckshot. These are
harder to get rid of, but BT (bacillus thuringiensis) powder, tobacco
juice, garlic juice, milky spore, diatomaceous earth or predatory
insects will eventually do the trick. I like predatory insects best of
all, even though it's a slow battle and not always a complete
annihilation. Still, it gives me great pleasure to know that there is
something out there terrorizing the critters that have plagued me.
Heirloom seeds and organic seeds are not the same thing, although if
you're lucky you can find seeds that fall under both categories at
once. Organic seeds were created under organic conditions regarding
soil, fertilizer and pesticides, but they can still be modern, hybrid
seeds that don't reseed true to type, meaning that seeds from your
tomato will NOT produce new plants that are anything like the original.
They'll be too slimy, or the skins will be too thick, or they won't
have flavor, or worst of all, they'll be sterile and not make any
tomatoes at all. Heirloom seeds will give you generations of duplicate
plants with the same flavor and quality, making them the better value in
the long run. Heirloom seeds and plants are available through many
through dozens of companies, and the selection is amazing. If you don't
want to stop at the 1940’s, there are seeds that go back hundreds of
years. If not a Victory Garden,plant a Colonial Garden, a Napoleonic
Garden, a Biblical Garden.
the seeds and plants. Not only will you have happy neighbors and friends
who want to make their own Victory Gardens, but you'll be saving paper
and plastic used for packaging, as well as electricity for processing
and gas for transport.
the spoils of your Victory Garden by cooking for your friends and maybe
inviting a neighbor or coworker over for the dinner party. Nobody
talks over the garden gate anymore, so perhaps this will start a great
friendship with the people next door. Do the real wartime thing and
make it a potluck, but instead of paper cups and plates use your best
china and silverware. Learn to can something, even if it's just a
little. You don't really need to have fifteen pounds of cucumbers to
make pickles, but equal weights of berries and sugar make a great jam,
and tomatoes can be preserved three or four to a jar. When you crack
them open again months down the line and taste how sweet and fresh they
are, you'll know grandma was on to something. And a little pot of
homemade jam with a cloth cover and a name tag makes a great Thank You or
last minute gift. Recipes can be found online, but your best bet is to
buy or borrow a copy of the Ball Blue Book from the library and follow
the directions exactly. Your first batch won't be your last. The more
food you can produce yourself, the less you have to worry about
contamination scares you read about in the newspapers. The things you
grow in your own garden also taste better, have more nutrition and cost
less than anything you will ever find at the store.
a tree and find out how apples are SUPPOSED to taste. Plant sweet
herbs and grow your own tea. Even if you live in an apartment, you can
grow a bush tomato or lettuces in a pot, peas in a hanging basket, or
carrots in a window-box. Is the roof available? Is there a community
garden nearby where you can rent space? Do you know of a friend's house
with a bare patch of yard? Any lawns you wouldn't mind taking over?
Well then! Put on those old overalls, put your hair up in a red
bandanna and get to it! Grow your own! Can Your Own! Waste Not!
Victory Depends on YOU!