First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt started a White House victory garden during World War II as an effort to help reduce the costs of food for the troops. She encouraged home gardeners to grow food for their families as a way to feel involved in the national effort. It was a morale booster with the built-in rewards of healthy, homegrown food. Victory gardens were planted in backyards, on apartment rooftops and in vacant lots, much the same as community gardens are today. Many of the same vegetables grown in earlier victory gardens can be grown today.
Salad with a variety of lettuce is victory garden food. Romaine, butterhead, red leaf, galactic and green oak leaf lettuces are varieties that are easy to grow in a home garden. Lettuce comes to harvest in 50 to 60 days on average. Lettuces are a cool weather crop best started by seed in early spring and fall. Grow in full sun to partial shade with moderate watering.
Traditional herbs for a victory garden are parsley, sage, basil and chives. These herbs can be grown in a separate garden area or as part of a plan for companion planting. Companion planting uses plants that repel insects, such as basil and chives, to help control harmful insects on vegetables. Parsley and sage can be grown as perennials in climate areas with mild winters.
Black kale or 'Dinosaur Kale' is the variety grown for its peppery strong flavor and crinkled, sturdy leaf structure. It is a winter vegetable which is planted in the fall and in season until February. Kale is easy to grow and ready to harvest in 60 days. Kale is considered a nutritious vegetable that is high in antioxidants and vitamin K.
Growing varieties of summer and winter squash in the victory garden ensures a daily supply of vegetables for the table because it is very prolific. Yellow crookneck squash is planted in spring and comes to harvest in 55 days. The pale green, scalloped summer squash known as "Bennings Green Tint Squash" is an heirloom variety. Squash grows best in soil with high organic content.
Heirloom tomato varieties such as 'Brandywine,' 'Amanda Orange' and 'Arkansas Traveler' are disease resistant, have strong flavor and are easy to grow. Ninety-five percent of home gardeners grow tomatoes. Tomatoes grow well in soil mixed with compost and a layer of mulch for water retention. Many heirloom tomatoes are "indeterminate" in height and need to grow on support systems.