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Victory gardens for seniors

  • Karen Gideon
  • During World War I and II, Americans were encouraged to grow fruits and vegetables in any and all available soil in Victory Gardens. By the end of WWII, Victory gardeners grew forty percent of the produce for the country in backyards, roof-tops, window sills, and fire-escapes. Now we are battling a virus. Seniors across America have been sheltering in place and some are concerned about getting food. Now would be a great time to grow your own Victory garden. 


    If you have a bare spot in the yard, a flower box, or a set of pots in the kitchen you too can be a Victory gardener. Using containers is an easy way to start. Here’s what you need to begin.


    Victory Garden plants need at least six hours of sunlight, with tomatoes needing eight. However, if you live in an area with trees and structures blocking the sun, you can plant some vegetables that tolerate shade like lettuces, carrots, beets and chard. If growing indoors on a windowsill with full sun, take care that you don’t “cook” your veggies in the intensified heat.

    Once you’ve located a sunny spot, consider what size container works for you.  Containers range from flower boxes attached to windows or ledges, pots of varying size, and raised beds.  The size will determine the number and size of plants you can grow based on root depth and growth requirements.  For raised beds, wood beds can be purchased and assembled. Or you can be creative and purchase a galvanized horse trough. Pots can be found in just any size and material imaginable (even canvas) and are best clustered together so they can share sunlight and a drip water system. 

    Any container or bed you use must have drainage or your plants’ roots will rot.  If you’re setting the pot on a patio or deck, check to be sure the draining water won’t create a problem with the structure or a downstairs neighbor.  It’s best to water deeply two to three times a week.

    Soil quality is important, especially in containers or raised beds. Purchasing nutrient-rich soil will supply your plants with the food they need to develop your produce. If you are using existing soil, you may want to test to look for nutrient content, composition, and the acidity or pH level.  Adding amendments and compost to your existing soil can ensure that the nutrients the plants need are available when they need it.  After planting, mulching the surface of the container will keep the soil moist.

    Plant selection starts with figuring if you want to start from seed or seedling.  For a spring and summer garden, seeds should be sown by April or May. Due to the amount of time needed to develop the vegetable big enough for planting, it may be best to start your Victory garden with seedlings. Consider staggering your planting so your veggies don’t mature all at once. 

    Plant what you want to eat. You may want to start with a salad garden that might include lettuce, arugula, spinach and herbs. Bigger pots can hold eggplant (which need lots of sun and heat), peppers, and squash (which need a fair amount of room).

    Tomatoes can be planted in a good-sized pot or raised bed. Varieties called determinate are bred to produce fruit on smaller, bushier plants. Indeterminate tomato plants will need support cages, stakes or trellises. Look for disease-resistant varieties and purchase the type of tomato you like to eat – cherries are a favorite. If your sun is limited, look for plants with shorter days to maturity. Plant tomatoes deep and 24 inches apart and look to herbs like basil and parsley or flowers like nasturtium and marigold to attract bees and provide color to the container. Taper the watering after tomatoes begin to fruit.

    The benefits of a Victory garden of any size or shape are many. Fresh, nutritious food to eat, a sense of self-sufficiency, and a fun challenge are obvious. It can also battle quarantine fatigue and get us moving. To the Victors go the spoils!  Enjoy.