Dig On For Victory: How to Grow a Victory Garden
Over the past year three million of us have taken up gardening. This new influx of gardener is younger and hungrier for information. Gardens are now THE place to unwind, enjoy with the family and grow food.
Maybe it was the empty shop shelves and the desperate need to regain control of our lives that led to a run on seeds and had us all reaching for our garden forks. It certainly isn’t the first time the nation has attempted to grow its way out of a crisis.
In 1939 the Ministry of Agriculture urged people to “Dig for Victory”. At one point during World War II, 40% of the country’s vegetables came from home, school and community gardens.
These vegetable plots and patches became affectionately known as “victory gardens”. Not only did tending these gardens help keep the population fed, but they also boasted morale and relieved anxiety in a time of great uncertainty.
victory garden (vik-tuh-ree gahr-dn) noun – a vegetable garden, especially a home garden, cultivated to increase food production during a war or period of shortages.
Sound familiar? Food security continues to be a concern. A conscious effort to avoid trips to the supermarket, food price hikes, Brexit and a desire to be healthier and more self-sufficient, make planting a victory garden just as relevant today.
How to Grow Your Own Victory Garden
If you gave vegetable growing a go last spring, you will already have had a taste of the patience and focus needed. All the waiting and weeding will be rewarded with delicious seasonal feasts. You will also be helping to reverse climate change by restoring the soil’s health and increasing biodiversity.
Don’t Fail to Plan
After selecting the veg you want to grow spend a little time researching how big it gets when it’s mature.
It sounds obvious but pick vegetables your family will enjoy and continue to buy the tricky crops, like red peppers and aubergines, or veg that needs a lot of TLC or takes up a lot of space.
Then, using graph paper mark out where they’ll go so you know exactly where to put them when planting out.
Prep Your Plot
Locate your plot in a sunny, open and level area. Stake out your preferred plot size and using a shovel remove the any turf. Healthy soil means healthy crops so improve the quality of the soil by adding a generous amount of compost. Some councils offer free or cheaper compost made from kitchen waste.
If you’re unsure of the quality of your soil or the drainage you can opt to plant your victory garden in a raised bed. For affordable pressured treated timber beds, plants, seeds and compost take a look at QuickCrop. You will even find suggested plant plans on their website.
What to Plant in Your Victory Garden?
Favourites include tomatoes, swiss chard ‘Bright Lights’, cucumber (does well planted alongside marigolds and nasturtiums to keep aphids and beetles at bay) and cut and come again lettuces like “Butter Crunch”.
You can even grow vegetables from your kitchen scraps including avocado seeds, potato peelings and even pineapple tops. Find out more here.
Don’t limit yourself to edible veg, there’s also lots of edible flowers that will give you a beautiful display of colour and will be a joy to behold on your plate. See these kits by Sarah Raven.
When and How to Plant Up Your Victory Garden
Try to avoid the worst of the frosts. If growing from seed germinate indoors. If buying seedlings go for the hardiest. Follow the instructions on the packet to make sure you plant at the correct depth and distance from the next plant.
Don’t Forget to Water
Give a good watering every few days unless of course there’s been a good rain shower. Most gardens need about an inch of water per week, more if it’s warm outside.
Begin to feed a month after planting. Vegetables pull nutrients from the soil so you will need to treat them to some extra nutrients throughout the growing season.
Remove the Weeds
As often as you can check your bed for weeds and pull them up as and when. If unchecked weeds can take over. A scattering of organic mulch on exposed soil will help keep weeds at bay.
Ongoing Help and Advice
Back in the late 1930s, the Ministry of Agriculture was aware that many of those who had answered their call to dig for victory had no prior knowledge about growing their own food. So, they published a series of monthly gardening guides with instructions of what to do each month.
These were re-issued under a different name in 1945. In March’s growing guide the introduction prepares the reader for peace time but also managing expectations of food imports going back to the way they were pre-war. During the height of the conflict only a small proportion of the land was to be used for cut flowers but this issue suggests a compromise. “A happy fringe” or a thin border of flowers around the victory garden and “behind this gay façade wholesome produce grows in abundance”.
This guide also covers preparing for sowing in April and May, making compost and growing potatoes. A lot of the information is still useful today. It is reproduced here.
Another great source of inspiration and advice on how to grow a “rapid response” Victory Garden is on the Lovely Greens website.
Just as the war-time leaflets helped new victory gardeners, community Facebook groups like Bridport Grow Your Own have sprung up during lockdown to spread their plant wisdom.
Growing for The Greater Good
Banding together as a community comes with the territory when you grow a victory garden.
When you have a garden full of bounty you, your family or your friends cannot possibly eat, it’s your duty to share with neighbours.
Harvesting seeds and passing them on also costs nothing but helps feed the community at large. Why not organise a seed swap locally? The Eden Project is a great resource to get you started.
The Bristol Seed Swap has been promoting the circular economy of seed saving for years. A few days after the first lockdown began, they advertised leftover seed packets from a previous event, which the public could request free of charge by sending a self-addressed stamped envelope. They were inundated with requests.
Grow your own can quickly become growing for the masses as was the case in the village of Todmorden. If you are still in any doubt how incredible growing edibles can be watch this impassioned TED talk by Pam Warhurst.