Plant a Victory Garden, Boost Your Self-Sufficiency

Woman holding a basket of vegetables in a garden.
Modern-day victory gardens are a way for people to become more self-sufficient. (Kampus Production/Pexels)

Victory gardens are experiencing a resurgence as the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are still lingering two years on. 

The renewed interest in victory gardens began at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Online searches for victory gardens surged in April 2020, the start of lockdown. As people were quarantined, they were looking for ways to channel emotional energy in a positive way, while also securing a safe source of fresh produce.

Now, victory gardens are experiencing a second wave of popularity. Supply chain issues and food shortages have more people than ever unsure if they will be able to purchase their food when they need it.

A woman tending to a victory garden in New York City in June 1944.
A woman tends to a victory garden in New York City in June 1944. (Farm Security Administration – Office of War Information photograph collection/Library of Congress)

History of Victory Gardens

Victory gardens were vegetable gardens planted during World War II in order to ensure an adequate food supply for civilians and troops.

The goal of the Victory Garden Program, which started in 1942, was to reduce demand for commercially grown vegetables by encouraging Americans to grow their own produce and preserve and can their surplus harvest. By empowering people to grow their own food, victory gardens made Americans feel part of a greater cause.

Victory gardens supplied 40 percent of the nation’s produce by 1944. By the time the war ended the next year, American families had grown about 8 million tons of food.

Full view of a bountiful victory garden with cabbages.
With the preparations, you can have your own bountiful victory garden. (MikeCheram/Getty Images Signature)

Starting a Victory Garden

With proper planning and regular maintenance, you too can have a bountiful victory garden.

Choose a place where your plants can get at least six full hours of sun. Don’t plant your victory garden near trees or shrubs, as those can compete for nutrients and water.

Also, make sure you will have easy access to water. Consider a raised bed or container gardening if you don’t have much space.

Browse through garden catalogs and check out garden stores to help you choose what you want to plant.

Because what you can grow is highly dependent on the climate where you live, refer to the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map to find what vegetables are good to grow in your environment.

Historically, some of the most popular produce grown in victory gardens included beans, beets, cabbage, carrots, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, peas, tomatoes, turnips, squash and Swiss chard.

Hands shoveling dirt into a soil testing sample packet.
To ensure your victory garden plants grow at their best, do a soil test and amend it to suit your crops. (pixelshot)

Prepping for Your Garden

Remove grass and sod and till the upper layers of soil in your garden area.

Then, be sure to add four to eight inches of organic matter for the first year or two in new gardens if the soil is of poor quality. Home-made or store-bought compost provides good options for adding organic matter. 

Perform a soil test to provide information about the pH (acidity and alkalinity) and available nutrients in your soil. A soil test also provides recommendations on how to amend your soil to better support plant growth. 

Add compost as top-dressing or mulch throughout the growing season but incorporate it lightly to keep it from washing away. Add 1-2 inches of compost each year after you’ve started your garden.

Gardens that have yearly additions of organic matter may have enough nutrients to grow most crops without the need for supplemental fertilizer.

A plant transplant in a container on top of soil.
When transplanting plants, handle them carefully so you don’t bruise the stems or damage the roots. (Eva-Foreman/Getty Images)

Planting a Victory Garden

Plant your seeds according to the instructions on the packet. Firm the soil over your seeds to increase soil contact and speed up germination.

If you don’t want to start your victory garden from seed, buy transplants from a garden center. Choose vegetable plants that are stocky, disease-free, insect-free, and have good roots.

Plant transplants on a cloudy, windless day in the late afternoon or early evening to prevent wilting. Water the plants several hours before transplanting so the roots won’t dry out.

Dig a hole large enough to hold the roots and set the plant just slightly deeper than previously planted.

One exception is tomatoes. They should be planted deep enough to leave only two or three sets or leaves exposed because they will develop new roots along the stems.

Press the soil firmly around the roots of the transplant. Water, then pour starter solution around the roots per instructions on the starter solution label.

Plant the remaining plants, and keep them spread apart according to their recommended spacing.

To protect the new plants from wind and direct sun, cover them with a plastic jug for a few days. Make sure there is adequate ventilation so the plants do not overheat.

For a more in-depth look at starting your own victory garden, refer to PennState Extension’s Victory Garden Reinvented Reference Guide.

Jars of pickled cucumbers, carrots, cabbage and peppers.
Pickling is one method of preserving vegetables harvested from a victory garden. (Nahhan/Getty Images)

Preserving Your Victory Garden Produce

If you’ve properly cared for the plants in your victory garden, you might find you have too big of a harvest to eat before it goes bad. Here are some ways to preserve your produce:

Canning: Canned vegetables are heated hot enough and long enough in a jar to destroy organisms that can make people sick and spoil food quality.

Pressure canning is the only safe method of canning all vegetables, except tomatoes. Jars of food are placed in a pressure canner which is heated to an internal temperature of at least 240°F. This temperature can be reached only in a pressure canner.

Cornell University has a handy reference guide to canning vegetables. 

Drying: The University of Georgia rates carrots, sweet corn, garlic, mushrooms, onions, parsley, parsnips, peppers and potatoes as “excellent” or “good” for their quality after drying.

You can dry out these vegetables in the oven or a food dehydrator. Before drying, blanch the vegetables in boiling water to destroy enzymes that can cause color and flavor issues.

Properly stored, dried vegetables keep well for six to 12 months, and a great to use in soups, stews, sauces and dips.

Pickling: Pickling uses vinegar and other acids to preserve food. Mix in some herbs and spices to add extra flavor.

The National Center for Home Food Preservation has a variety of recipes for pickling vegetables.

Further Reading


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