Grow your own vegetables – Veggie 101

Become a Veg Head.  Seriously, if you’ve always wanted to grow some of your own vegetables, now is a great time to try your first vegetable garden. Why grow your own?  Taste, nutrition, availability, safety, savings and pride.

Nothing tastes like a sun-warmed tomato fresh from the garden. It hasn’t traveled miles to get to you, losing nutrition and consuming resources.  

Homegrown means you’re not vexed by limited availability at stores. And you know exactly what those vegetables have been treated with – or not.  You can save money, too. Yes, there are start-up costs. But you can save on secondhand tools, seeds from friends, DIY supports and more.  Compare store-bought and homegrown prices and you usually come out ahead.

And then there’s pride.  You will grin big time when you harvest your first handful of peas, your first whopping zucchini, your first bell pepper.  It. Just. Feels. Good. And it tastes better.

Harvested vegetables
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Comfy plant places and new garden spaces for vegetables

Every time we plant a seed or baby plant in our vegetable garden we are hoping for the best outcome- a healthy crop and big harvest. Gardening success comes from learning about the needs of our crops and doing all we can to meet those needs. Climate change is causing us to think a little more deeply and holistically about those plant needs and our gardening practices.

In addition to making sure that plants have enough space, water, and healthy soil, we can alter how and where we plant our crops (“comfy places”) to help them adapt to increasing summer temperatures. We can also consider ways to expand or shift our food garden spots (“new spaces”) to better manage growing conditions and produce more food.

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Grow Your Own Food in a Victory Garden

Victory Gardens are back.  

Concerns over food security have triggered memories of Victory Gardens and inspired people to revive the tradition to help feed their families.  

Victory Garden poster
U.S. Department of Agriculture

During WWI and WWII, governments here and abroad encouraged people to grow their own food to boost morale, safeguard against shortages, supplement rationed food and support the war effort. 

Just before the U.S. entered WWI in 1917, the U.S. National War Garden Commission was formed to urge Americans to grow their own fruits and vegetables so more food could be sent to our troops and hard-hit European allies. 

As the tide of the war turned, these gardens became Victory Gardens. Some credit agricultural innovator George Washington Carver with coining the term.  

The idea bubbled up again during WWII. Labor and transportation shortages, rationing and the need to feed and support troops inspired the U.S. once again to call on its citizenry to grow their own food.  

It was considered a patriotic duty. Eleanor Roosevelt planted a Victory Garden on the White House lawn. Covers of Life magazine and the Saturday Evening Post featured gardeners proudly planting and harvesting. 

Posters used themes such as “Sow the seeds of victory” and “Dig on for victory” to link patriotism to planting.

It worked. By May of 1943, there were 20 million Victory Gardens in the United States. Over a third of all vegetables produced in the U.S. came from Victory Gardens.   

Any available space was recruited. Victory Gardens sprouted in schoolyards, parks, rooftops, fire escapes, window boxes and vacant lots. Neighbors pooled resources. Communities came together to garden.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture distributed thousands of booklets to teach food gardening basics and later, preservation and canning.   

Victory Gardens black and white poster
U.S. Department of Agriculture

As a USDA partner, Extension was in the game early. And we continue to be a player, sharing free, research-based information on growing your own food. We can help you get started and troubleshoot problems along the way.

Visit the University of Maryland’s Home and Garden Information Center website to find how-to videos, over 500 free publications, a searchable database and an Ask an Expert feature. 

Or contact your local Extension office’s gardening specialist. Just click on your county at https://extension.umd.edu/locations and look under the “home gardening” tab.   

At their peak, there was one Victory Garden for every seven people in the U.S., proving that during difficult times, nothing is more valuable than self-sufficiency. Perhaps that time has come again.  

Victory Gardens grew out of the idea that we can all do our part to help. Help history repeat itself by growing some of your own food for yourself, your family. It’s satisfying, feeding body and soul. 

I call that a personal victory.

By Annette Cormany, Principal Agent Associate and Master Gardener Coordinator, Washington County, University of Maryland Extension. This article was previously published by Herald-Mail Media. Read more by Annette.

Special thanks to Washington County Master Gardener Marie Bikle for sharing photos for this article.