By Emily Malloy
The heightened demand for seeds coupled with supply chain issues has led to the projection of seed shortages. Hatcheries are busy fulfilling sold-out orders weekly as the demand for chicks skyrockets. Victory gardens, it seems, are no longer relics of a foregone time. As economic uncertainty refuses to abate, an increasing number of people are returning to the land.
Since the industrial revolution, people have become increasingly removed from the land. In the 1800s, workers began to trade in farm work for factory work. Simultaneously, life in the countryside was abandoned for newly bustling cities and towns. However, when various historical events took place that caused stress on the food production system, the government always encouraged its citizenry to grow its food.
The term "Victory Garden" was first used in WWI when the government worked to promote self-sufficiency to ease pressure on the stressed system to prevent rationing as a result of the war. As the world was at war again one generation later, the promotion of a household growing its food reached an all-time high. Millions of Americans tilled their green grass in exchange for the growing of fruits and vegetables in all sorts of growing spaces. It is in difficult times, it seems, we always come back to the land.
Our circumstances are different from those preceding us, but many are taking heed from the wisdom of ages past and turning over the soil to plant a vegetable garden, while seeking to reclaim the lost skills of our great-grandmothers. It is hard work, to be sure, but extremely satisfying and worthwhile. (Moreover, turning over the soil by hand allows you to skip your arm circuit at the gym). But, the learning curve isn't nearly as steep as we think.
Despite the uncertainty in the world, planning and planting a garden is a hopeful time in which possibilities seem endless as we pour over a catalog and research garden layouts.
Early spring is the time of year when happy mail arriving for the gardener is abundant: endless catalogs containing seeds, plugs, and bulbs arrive daily. Every home and garden center is filled to the brim with plants beckoning you to buy them. But, what about those who don't garden? Where do they begin? It is precisely at this jumping point that so many feel stuck.
As with any new endeavor, the hardest part of gardening is committing to begin. Last year, I wrote about making the joyful leap into gardening and included some practical tips as to how to begin and obstacles to overcome.
In a world of instant gratification through delivered groceries that are gathered on our behalf, why revisit the victory gardens of old? One primary reason is obvious: the cost of food is skyrocketing with a seemingly endless trajectory. Though a filled refrigerator is only a few clicks away, it is becoming more difficult to fill it on a reasonable budget. Other reasons to grow your food: you are certain of where it is coming from, how it is being handled, and the shelf-life is much better (be honest, how much fresh produce turns too quickly and ends up being tossed?-- a heartbreakingly expensive waste these days!). That which we grow, we do not have to buy.
I would argue, however, that the greatest reward of gardening is feeling connected to the same soil from which God formed us. Tending a garden provides a joy that is unrivaled by other hobbies.
Instinctive, purposeful, and joyful though it may be, still the question remains: how do I begin my food garden?
A few helpful tips to begin:
1. Discover the gardening hardiness zone of where you live by clicking this link. This will help you determine what can be grown in your area, as well as the best times to plant certain crops!
2. Designate a sunny spot for planting! As I mention in my gardening post last year, watch the area you wish to plant for a while to see how much sun or shade it receives during 8 hours.
3. Research fruit and vegetables that grow well in your zone, as well as which plants go well together as companions, and will thrive in the amount of sunlight available in the garden. As disappointing as it is, sometimes certain crops just will not do well where you live (i.e. fruit trees, although I will admit that I am still determined to find apples that will thrive in Mississippi), but there are a great number of crops that do well across various climates. There are also varieties of vegetables and fruit bred for particular areas (i.e. heat-tolerant tomatoes, etc.).
4. I cannot emphasize this enough: START SMALL. It is better to grow a few things well than to feel completely overwhelmed by having so much to tend to. Beginning with a small garden is a great way to gain confidence. Several wonderfully easy plants to begin growing are strawberries, herbs, tomatoes, pole beans, summer squashes, and cucumbers.
5. For the first year of planting, I recommend starting from both seed and transplanting established plants. Cucumbers, squash, and beans are a breeze to begin from seed. I like combining both established plants and seeds for tomatoes and peppers to both jumpstart and extend the growing season. But for those feeling most intimidated by the process, I recommend buying plants to transplant! Having a visible plant is also easiest to remember to water than waiting for seeds to sprout.
Tip: There are many tips and tricks to increase yield and deter pests and disease, but of all of the tips I have encountered, the most striking one is banana peel fertilizer. Soak banana peels in water for a 24 to 48-hour period to extract the potassium, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus, discard the peels and pour the water at the base of your tomato, basil, and rose plants. My tomato plants have never been so healthy in appearance!
Tip: Don't forget to also plant beauty to feed the soul. So many flowers make wonderful companions for your edibles: cosmos, echinacea, lavender, and more. Planting a garden with both edibles and flowers is like breathing with both lungs! There is both joy and satisfaction to be found in filling the table with food and flower that you have grown with your own hands.
Though the challenges facing today's home are different from those generations ago, we can still "sow seeds of victory" and hope by reducing our dependence upon the system.