Tuesday, May 8, 2012

8 May 1941 “The Victory Garden”

victoryposter1 I thought today, still poking about the 1940’s, we should look at Victory Gardens. In England Victory Gardens had been going for some time, their entrance into war in 1939, and were quite a serious matter. With much of their food being imported prior to the war, the importance of food was tantamount to everyone planting. And women were even drafted into the Women’s Land Army. Labor being of short supply during war times, many girls, the “land girls” as they came to be known, were sent off to help on the rural farms and estates.

Swan Hotel reception for Land Girls, October 1941

The U.S. had its its own Victory Gardens. Though the threat of actual invasion was never really plausible here and with more than enough farmland to go around, we still needed to provide more food for home so the rest could go overseas with our boys.

Here is a wonderful and fun 20 minute film from 1941 America showing a local family and their change to a Victory Farm.

Though we currently are at war in 2012, we seem to not really speak about it in the same way. In fact, our country is involved in many wars and skirmishes and occupations all over the world, yet for some reason the press and Government has not seen fit to rally our country to a war time status of community and self-reliance. In fact, with the growing climate of increased food costs, loss in jobs and a very shaky economic climate, we are almost an odd amalgam of both the Depression and the War Time years. Now, more than ever, would we all benefit from such government advertising of self reliance and gardening and make do and mend. However, being a complete consumer culture now more than ever, this would not sit well with the major large corporate chains and big box stores and groceries.

However, those of us who do care to pay attention or simply look carefully at our current world, can see a very real need to learn to do more and to grow your own. So, there is much to take to heart today from our WWII homemaking sisters who, much as today’s mothers, had to go out to work as well as run a home, care for children and work to earn.

The main difference, as was seen in the movie above, is that many homes had elder relatives in who could help with day care. We are pre 1950’s mass building and the concept of the new Middle class set out in isolation from the extended family into neat little rows has not as yet happened. So the concept of extended family and more general knowledge in cooking, gardening, and even sewing was already part of the WWII women’s arsenal. And there were many Government printed booklets to help any new to it. There was a general overall support that does not exist today.

And today the working mother has much  more to spend to drive places, while pre 1950’s neighborhoods and towns were much more walking biking friendly. So when there was no petrol for the cars due to the war, it mattered little. Today, however, when one has to work  just to pay the debt on credit cards ,but the shops and the work is at least 20 minutes away, then one HAS to pay the $4 a gallon of gas. We seem to be rather trapped in a way that our Wartime sisters weren’t. They had it bad, for sure, but in many ways they had each other and their community in a way that we no longer even understand. That will hopefully be rectified as more and more people realize that we are not enemies of each other but that to combat high prices and changing environments of economy and such, we need to help each other despite our differences and realize that the camaraderie of failing economy is a great equalizer for us all.

If you haven’t room for a plot of land, there are many veg and even soft fruit you can grow in containers on balconies or even in window boxes. I came across a miniature tomato the other day that stays small enough to be in a window box, but bears cherry sized tomatoes all summer. So, don’t plant flowers in those boxes, plant herbs and tomatoes!

onions1 And some veg, like my onions here, can do double duty. As we had such a mild winter, my yellow onions wintered over so nicely, that I simply moved them to the border of my little garden where I will have edible flowers and herbs.

onion2 While the onion flowers are not as bright and purple pink as a chive flower, they are still none the less quite lovely. They will be a wonderful white and chartreuse. And, as a perennial now along the border of my veg beds, will be a showy and edible plant. Though the bulbs will not be large and worth digging up, as the energy is going into the seeds rather than the bulb, the stems and flowers are still edible like a chive. And I rather like them in arrangements and in salads both. Now that is Victory garden double duty, a bit of brightness at dreary times and then, plop, onto the dinner plate to eat right up!

Pots on roof decks or balconies in cities can certainly grow many food items and I even recall sharing this idea with an apartment dwelling follower a few years ago.guttergarden HERE is the site where this family did just that. One could easily do this on the railings of a deck in an apartment or the walls on the deck. A kind landlord might even allow them along the outer walls of a south facing apartment building. Say you will share your harvest with the Super and you might get a green light on the idea! Again, community sharing and coming together, we can’t all do it alone. Our War time sisters knew this and they worked together helping neighbors and friends out as they could.

Of course, keeping chickens became more important during the War years. Not only did it provide eggs and meat, but much needed manure for compost for the veg garden. The cycle of growth and the importance of living within the cycle of nature was right at your doorstep, even in cities.

vegbed1 Here you can see one of my new veg beds this year. I did four. I took some old 2 x 8’s I had lying about and made four beds. Here it is just sitting atop last years garden. The weeds are happily enjoying last years rich soil, but this year I of course dug up inside the bed nice and loose. Then I added a wheel barrel full of chicken manure from my chickens compost and then some top soil from my compost pile to make a nice rich loose soil to plant. I did my potatoes here.vegbed2 potatoes I sprouted my spuds in my pantry in a wire basket while we were away on our week in Maine. I was happy to find them thus on our return. They are now happily nestled in their new rich organic beds.

And around the beds I will plant step able herbs like thyme and chamomile, that acts as an edible lawn. And will border them with basil and coriander.

You can also add to your flower beds things like asparagus, rhubarb, blueberries and such. They are perennials that give more and more each year and are still pretty additions to your landscape. Why not have something to look at and eat?

snowpeas Here are my snow peas, happily growing towards their bamboo supports. They were started in the ground in mid April as were my Swiss Chard and Arugula. Salad greens and some peas, such as these, like the cold and can be sewn outside as the early crop before you get to the more tender summer crops of tomatoes and peppers.

veggarden1 Here are my arugula, chard, and lettuce mid April before we went on our holiday. Luckily the rain we had while we were gone made them happy and they have grown twice as big. Here is a close up of the chard, which is such a beautiful plant.chard This could make a lovely border for the early flower bed. Again, grow pretty AND edible. And things like beets are pretty and you eat the root AND the leaves are lovely in salads. I have a pretty purple leaved variety growing this year in my little beds and they will make a salad pretty as well as tasty. Beet root also preserves or can be canned very well too.

We have much we can learn from our 1940’s sisters and brothers. The least of which is to depend upon family and friends and not feel we must go it all alone. I abhor the increases amount of old people in nursing homes. We lock away those with the last bit of working knowledge away from our younger generations. Look out the young kids in the 1941 Victory garden film learn from Grandpa. Today he might very well be in an nursing home rarely seeing his grandchildren. We need to begin to restructure our lives upon the good bits of the old days, as I fear much of today seems to take us further and further from one another and more and more dependent upon technology that is often merely a time waster. We can do it. I know we can!

Happy Homemaking.


  1. This is such an informative and innovative posting. I always found two observations peculiar during this time of year in people's yards as they prepare for the upcoming summer season.

    Flowers are pretty and colorful, yet so are many fruits and vegetables. Your example of onions shows they can do double duty: be visually appealing and provide food.

    Many plots of residential land have disproportionately large swaths of grass for lawns. The United States is geographically-blessed to have much of its large land mass arable for a home-owner to grow some vegetables and fruits even on a tiny batch of earth. Instead, we have much land underneath huge, inedible lawns. Some of which I see are so large, a sit-down, riding mower is needed to keep growth in check. Lawns are quite nice and useful, but wouldn't it an amazing testimony to self-sufficiency and pride to bring forth even just a handful of sustenance from your own land?

  2. I agree that we don't use our acreage to its full potential.

  3. An older lady on my block told me about how she planted a victory garden in the vacant lot across the street during the war. She's lived here over 60 years and has seen everything!

    Great post!

  4. Yes we had each other to depend on much more years ago. We did for each other as in if one went to the store they asked neighbors if they needed anything they could pick up for them while there. Or could they post a letter for them etc. I remember how easily our neighborhood melted together. As I have probably mentioned before, our streets homes seemed to almost totally contain more than one family. Not two families rather a family and an elderly mother. Or two grandparents. An unmarried aunt or a farming families child going to school in town and such. Several families rented out rooms to single people also. The homes that did not have some one living in the homes with them seemed to have some visit very often. One family had a grandmother that I would see almost daily come down the street to visit them. She was almost always carrying a string bag full of produce etc to use to cook meals with that day. Yes most families even after the war to this day still had back yard gardens. Most were first or second generation Americans and in their native countries most families had gardens. They just brought this tradition here. Also the produce they were used to in their native countries they could grow here but not find in the grocery stores. Bartering was also a way o life for many. Yes somethings like growing our own vegetables we can do still. Other things like walk everywhere we cannot if we are too spread out from town and need cars. Still growing our own lessens also our need to get to town to grocery shop. I too wish it wold be advertised even locally that we should all be growing what we can. The President's wife is growing..or at least was...a garden at the White House. The emphasize there seemed to be though on better eating than saving money. Your garden looks great!!! I have gardens for years and keep trying to add and refine things. I have added more fruit this year. I have also switched some of the flowers over to ones that are editable. We had a relative say that if you have a hobby why not have one that also makes you money.. Well I so enjoy being out gardening and it does help with the budget and also my peace of mine etc etc. In the long run perhaps it helps my health that could reduce health care costs? I too am looking back on the older books for wisdom in gardening as in cooking and so many basic things in life. It is too bad we do not have the actual people here to share but so wonderful that they did take the time to write their information down for us...like you do for us. Thank you again for sharing your research with us and enriching our lives. Sarah

  5. Great post.
    I am not a big fan of lawns, they have their purpose, but I would rather see herb gardens, flowers, veggies and then lawns.
    One of my fave veggies that I let flower and go to seed were my leeks. They were gorgeous and the bees were giddy.

  6. What a lovely vegetable potager garden you have! It is such a long time since I have read your blog, and I am so enjoying having found it again and catching up. I have been reading your thoughts about the 1930's, and comparing that decade to the present, and goodness you have been doing some deep thinking. I love it that what started as a project years ago that was about the outward trappings of life in a different decade, has become a philosophy for you that is defining what you value and how you think. I love reading your thoughts, even when they become uncomfortable for you and some of your readers. Keep sharing!

  7. Thanks for all your work here! Truly, not since the 1970's have I seen a time that is more important for people to learn to take care of themselves by investing in a little backyard agriculture. In fact, perhaps the need is even greater now than it was in the 70's, as there is so much we have lost, in other ways (I'm thinking here of obesity & other health concerns, & of course the dissolution of neighborly & familial qualities, which you mentioned in your article). We had our problems 40 years ago, but the prevailing culture was still post-WW2 generation, & so we still adhered to that more traditional framework.

    Anyway, I had my husband till up a third garden for me this season... I was simply running out of room! Last year's gardening efforts paid off abundantly, & I have high hopes for this year as well. My plants are slower here (Northern Plains) than most other parts of the country, but I see more things poking their little heads up each day. :o)


  8. In fact, there's actually a crack down on jome gardens these days, and don't get me staryed on Monsanto.

  9. Love your blog. I’m a lifelong antiquer, and am making my passion for antiques a full-time business by selling antiques online. I’m blogging about my experiences at my brand-new blog, Wisdom Lane Antiques: wisdomlaneantiques.blogspot.com. Stop by!

  10. I have been reading your blog almost daily since I discovered it a few weeks ago. I read all of your 1955 year and am trying to make my way through 1956. Thank you so much for your hard work. It is inspiring to me.

    I completely agree with your thoughts on growing food in a victory garden. My grandmas both had lovely gardens, and my mom does as well. I have had one off and on. We are thinking about purchasing a country house/farm and would love to grow food there.

    Brenda--Wife, mom, business owner, and homemaker

  11. Wonderful post! Our home is multi-generational, as my mother lives with my husband, myself and our children. It's been a blessing in many ways to have her with us.

    Mary Ellen
    The Working Home Keeper

  12. Really great post, Thank you for sharing This knowledge.Excellently written article, if only all bloggers offered the same level of content as you, the internet would be a much better place. Please keep it up!


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