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.
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!
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.
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. 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.
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. 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?
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.
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. 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!