Top 10 Best Crops for Your Victory Garden
Victory gardens gained popularity in both WW1 and WW2 when American and Canadian citizens were encouraged to grow as much of their own food as possible so that commercially grown food could be sent to troops and allies fighting overseas.
Today, victory gardens are once again gaining popularity as the world learns to cope with the new reality of the global coronavirus pandemic, and the impact that may have (and has already had) on our food supply, on the economy and on our waning ability to leave home to get food from the grocery store whenever we feel like it.
More and more people are waking up to the fact that we just can’t count on grocery store shelves always being stocked with whatever we need whenever we need it.
After decades of being spoiled for choice and having an abundance of food available to us at all times, for the first time in generations, we’re learning how fragile our system really is and how risky it can be to be 100% dependent on this system to provide for us in times of need.
Now, for those of us who already grow gardens, I’d argue we’re already a few steps ahead of the general populace. But still, when we’re faced with the very real possibility of food shortages and supply chain problems in the near future, it can make even the hardiest homesteader rethink their garden plan for the season.
After all, if we’re going to really have to depend on our gardens for sustenance, it makes sense to dedicate the vast majority of our garden space to crops that can truly sustain us all year long.
While it can be fun to experiment with new and different crops in the garden each year, the focus of a victory garden should be on growing as much food and producing as many calories as possible in the space you have, as well as choosing crops that can be easily preserved to eat throughout the winter too.
In this period of uncertainty, we always have to be thinking a few steps (or a few seasons) ahead, so that no matter what the future brings, we’ll be as ready as we can possibly be to ride it out and keep ourselves and our families safe, healthy and well fed.
So, what are the best crops to grow in a victory garden??
The first rule of growing food is to grow what your family likes to eat. There’s really no point in dedicating valuable garden space to crops that nobody in your household actually wants to eat.
Make a list of your favourite vegetables and start there.
Next, you’ll want to dedicate space to the crops that will give you the most bang for your buck, so to speak. If you’re limited on space, try to avoid crops that take up a lot of space and/or resources for little return.
For example, things like artichokes and Romanesco broccoli take up a lot of space in the garden but do not produce large harvests. These are the top of novelty crops that are better left to try out during “normal” gardening seasons, unless of course you REALLY love eating these foods and have ample space to grow them in.
Instead, focus on vegetables and varieties that produce large harvests, can be grown densely and/or can be vertically grown, in order to get the most amount of food possible for the space you have.
Also, grow crops that are versatile and can be stored well to ensure good eating right through the winter months.
During the world wars, citizens were encouraged to convert their yards as well as empty spaces and vacant lots around their communities into victory gardens because the focus was really on producing as much food as possible on home soil. This should be the focus of your victory garden too.
Top 10 best crops for your victory garden
While you shouldn’t take this list as the definitive guide to victory gardening, the following crops are great candidates for victory gardens because they tend to produce high yields of nutrient and calorie-dense food, require less space (and in some cases less time to harvest) than other common garden crops, preserve well and are versatile staples in most home kitchens.
Potatoes have been a staple “survival crop” for millennia. They’re calorie-dense, carbohydrate-rich and high in essential nutrients like fibre, potassium, magnesium and vitamin C. They’re also easy to grow and can be grown in the ground, in raised beds, containers, grow bags… even garbage cans.
Potatoes will give you more calories per square foot than just about any other crop. They also store well in cold storage and are extremely versatile and can be turned into everything from hash brown and French fries to mashed potatoes, baked potatoes, gnocchi and potato pies and pancakes. They’re truly a must-have in any victory garden.
No garden is complete without tomatoes! Even if you’re not a huge fresh tomato fan, growing a good paste tomato variety means you can make your own tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, stewed tomatoes and even sun-dried tomatoes at home. Not to mention, with a few added ingredients that can almost all be grown at home, you can make your own salsa, BBQ sauce, ketchup and other condiments too.
Tomatoes can be preserved in a variety of ways from canning to fermenting to freezing to dehydrating. They’re one of the most versatile crops you can grow and are high in both nutrients and flavour, which is super important if you need to rely almost entirely off of what you’re growing at home.
All kinds of beans are good options for a victory garden because they’re high in protein, fibre and vitamins and minerals and are relatively calorie-dense too.
While any type of beans work well in a survival garden, green pole beans and shelling bean varieties like black beans, broad beans (fava beans) and pinto beans are especially good options.
Pole beans are great because they can be grown vertically so you can get a large harvest in very little space. They can also be pressure canned and eaten throughout the winter, and are a versatile vegetable that goes well with everything from roast dinner to stir fry.
Shelling beans are a fantastic candidate for the victory garden because the shelled beans can be dried and stored easily without any special equipment. Shelling beans are the quintessential “rice and beans” style beans that most people think of when they think of high-calorie, high-protein survival foods that can see them through any crisis.
While we often think of sweet corn when we talk about corn nowadays, but if you’re focused on growing crops for survival and sustenance, you might want to consider growing field corn varieties like dent corn, flint corn and flour corn.
These types of field corn varieties differ from sweet corn because rather than being eaten fresh on the cob, they are dried and turned into cornmeal and corn flour, which can be made into everything from cornbread to corn tortillas and corn chips. It can also be used to make animal feed.
Corn is a great option for a grain that can be grown at home in a relatively small space, especially compared to other cereal grains like oats, wheat and barley.
Both summer and winter squash varieties are good options for any victory garden because they’re high-yielding crops that produce a lot of food for very little effort. But winter squash like pumpkins, acorn squash, butternut squash and spaghetti squash (to name a few) are especially good crops to grow because they’re high in vitamins, they’re prolific growers and they produce a lot of food per fruit (think of how much flesh you get from a single pumpkin). But most of all, winter squash store extremely well for an exceptionally long time with pretty much zero effort.
While it’s possible to can pumpkin and squash or freeze the flesh or pumpkin purée, thick-skinned winter squash will store well in cold storage or even on your pantry shelves for months on end without any special treatment. In fact, we still have spaghetti squash sitting on our shelves right now that was harvested back in September… A full six months ago!
Carrots are another solid staple crop in any home garden. They’re high in antioxidants and nutrients like vitamin A, they’re a pretty easy to grow crop that produces high yields in a fairly small plot of land and they’re cold-tolerant and can survive light frosts in the garden.
Carrots store well in cold storage, especially when they’re buried in sand. Alternatively, they can be left out in the garden in more temperate climates and pulled out of the soil whenever you’re ready to eat them!
While cabbage isn’t the most calorically-dense crop, it is a nutritionally-dense crop that actually retains most of its nutrients even when cooked. Plus, it can be fermented and made into sauerkraut or kimchi which only makes it even more nutritious!
Fermented cabbage stores well in the fridge or in cold storage, but cabbage is a great storage crop on its own and can be stored whole in cold storage for several months. It’s also a cold-hardy vegetable that keeps going in the garden well into the winter months.
Green leafy vegetables are extremely high in a wide variety of nutrients including vitamins A, C and K, iron, calcium, folate, magnesium, fibre and potassium, to name a few. But some leafy greens like lettuce don’t store well, so you’re better off to choose a hardy alternative like kale.
Kale is a high-yielding plant that provides fresh greens all through the summer and fall and it’s also a very cold-hardy crop that will last in the garden right through the winter in many places. Alternatively, it can be blanched and frozen or dehydrated and turned into homemade kale chips.
Garlic is a must-have in any victory garden. While it’s not a calorie-dense crop, garlic is extremely high in essential nutrients and has medicinal properties such as being antiviral, antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal and antimicrobial. Not to mention, it’s extremely flavourful and super versatile in the home kitchen.
While herbs aren’t necessarily a staple crop like beans or potatoes, growing a variety or herbs in your victory garden will provide you with both food and medicine, and will add flavour to all your home-cooked meals.
Rosemary, thyme, chives, oregano and basil are must-haves in any home garden, but there are many more herbs you might want to consider for your victory garden, especially if store-bought herbs and spices become harder to find. Check out these 13 culinary and medicinal herbs for your home garden.
Grow your own for victory!
At the end of the day, there are so many more vegetables (and fruits, nuts, herbs, etc.) you might want to consider adding to your victory garden, and I definitely encourage you to not stop at this list! However, if you’re limited on space, these 10 staple crops will definitely help see you through hard times.
Are you ready to grow your most productive garden yet?
Given the demand and the need at this time, I’m reopening my Seed-to-Soil Organic Gardening Course for two days only (March 26th and 27th). So if this is the year you finally commit to learning how to grow your own groceries at home (and honestly, if not this year then when?) then don’t miss your chance to enroll!
Wishing you homemade, homegrown, homestead happiness 🙂
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