Thursday, August 19, 2010


Take a look at this excerpt from the April 18, 1943 edition of the Topeka Daily Capital:

(You can click on the chart to enlarge the image)

It's a handy dandy chart outlining exactly how much of each vegetable plant needs to be included in your Victory Garden and how many jars of produce should be preserved from the summer bounty to get a patriotic family through the next winter of rationing.

It makes me very unhappy.

The chart recommends 15 tomato plants per person, which would be 60 plants for a family our size, resulting in 120 quarts of preserves for future months. And beans? According to the chart we would need 300 feet of green beans to have enough to eat and preserve the suggested 108 quarts.


Even if the the summer hadn't pre-baked the tomatoes and eggplants on the vine there is no way we could even get close to these ideals. Despite having gardens in four different parts of town, we have no where near the room to accommodate this large of a plan. And I have to wonder if folks in the 1940s had similar restrictions. Is (and was) the numbers set forth in this chart a realistically obtainable goal?
Let's talk about space first. During WWII many vacant lots were turned into community gardens and businesses frequently allowed employees to garden on their grounds. We are not so lucky today. Here at Rational Living we managed to patchwork four different spaces together in our general area of town, but combined it is still no where near the space needed for 60 tomato plants, 300 feet of beans, 60 feet of lettuce/spinach, 48 feet of carrots, 60 feet of onions, 3200 feet of potatoes, and so on. It's seems like even an acre of suitable land may not be enough to plant all the recommendations in the chart, even if one is being wise and rotating early/late crops in the same space. Was that kind of space really available in during WWII rationing?

And then there's time. Who the heck is keeping up with all this gardening? The weeding, hoeing, pruning, and harvesting can become overwhelming with a modest-sized garden. What about a larger garden? While somewhere around 3/5th of the population gardened during the War, I seriously doubt that a significant portion of those Victory Gardens matched the ideals set forth in the chart above, just based on time considerations alone. And even though it makes sense to think of all those housewives spending their days out in the Victory Gardens before making a delicious SPAM loaf for their loving family's dinner, in reality a large proportion of Victory Gardeners were men. In fact, most of the propaganda surrounding Victory Gardens focuses on men as the growers, with women reduced to the role of harvesters or processors (this is deftly pointed out in Amy Bentley's Eating for Victory: Food Rationing and the Politics of Domesticity).
By the way, the Rational Living experiment mirrors this quite nicely, with TMOTH doing most of the weeding and such while I'm at work, since he is off four days a week. And then I do the canning and other processing on my days off, while he's at work. Sigh.

Anyway, what's my point in all this? My point is that it's really really easy to feel like a failure at Victory Gardening. And I imagine the same was true in the 1940s. With ridiculous charts like the one above it's easy to feel beaten even before you begin. And I'm sure there was always someone else's Victory Garden that was bigger and better than yours.

So yeah, I'm disappointed that our gardens don't match the WWII ideal. And I'll miss having all those preserves to choose from during the winter months. But I won't miss storing all those jars, and I won't regret spending time at the girls' swim meets instead of weeding.

And I won't be defeated. I'm already planning next year's garden.

--Rational Mama


  1. We have realized the extent to which space is necessary in order for our family all our own food. The Department of Agriculture recommends 1/4 an acre per person. After four years gardening on our 1/20th of an acre, we are trying to purchase acreage for the intent of growing a whole years worth. My grandparents were depression folks and I was always amazed at the size of the garden as well as how they could maintain it. Now we will hopefully have the same!

    Don't feel discouraged. In today's times even growing a modest amount is a subversive act.

  2. Did people live in apartments back then? lol! My backyard is a parking lot, I can't garden in the front and no matter how hard I try, container gardening just doesn't work for me, plus there weren't any community gardens this year but family grew extra to share. I decided that I would support local farmers instead of stressing myself trying to grow enough :)

    I think this is one of those things that make you realize life today is a lot different than it was back then. You are doing an amazing job. Don't beat yourself up!

  3. No one who makes her own ketchup should feel so hopeless!

  4. I found a victory garden pamphlet on flickr and it shows different amounts.

    Take a look at this page showing a garden plan for 4-7 people: