Plant a Victory Garden

Growing healthy veggies now is good for both body and soul.

How many of you are old enough to remember "victory gardens?" They came about as food shortages during World Wars I and II provoked a heroic response by Americans—planting vegetable gardens at their homes or in public places, such as parks. The purpose was two-fold—ease the burden of farmers growing for domestic and foreign consumption and boost the morale of people by giving them a sense of working for the common good. Americans responded. By the end of World War II, nearly five million victory gardens had sprouted.

Today's battles are quite different, but that doesn't mean we can't take a cue from past generations and plant victory gardens when we make it through something challenging. They don't have to be big—heck, they can be a few containers on your deck or porch. But they can improve your family's diet and/or mental health by getting outside and taking positive action, no matter how ambitious or modest it is. Sunshine, fresh air, and rediscovering your creative side beats watching 24-hours news any day of the week.

Leafy greens—lettuce, spinach, kale, collards, mustard, chard, turnip, bok choi—are the first veggies I'd try. They germinate quickly from seed or you can start with small plants from the garden center. They grow rapidly, often sport colorful leaves and stems, and grow well in containers or in the ground. Now is the time to plant, because they prefer cool weather and don't mind frost. In fact, they often taste sweeter after a frost. You get a big harvest from leafy greens per square-foot.

It's also prime planting time for broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower. They like cool temperatures too. You can start them from seed, but I prefer to use small plants from the garden center to make sure they mature before it gets too warm and they bolt (start to flower and set seed). Watch out for white moths flitting about your plants. They lay eggs on the leaves that hatch out into voracious green caterpillars that devour the foliage. You can prevent this by spraying the leaves according to label directions with either of two natural insecticides, Bacillus thuringiensis or spinosad, or covering the plants with a floating row cover.

Wait a bit before setting out summer veggies, like tomatoes, peppers, beans, squash, cucumbers, and okra, unless you're already past your last spring frost. Seeds of these will often rot if the soil is too cool. Plus, the top growth can't take frost. However, go ahead and plant seeds indoors so you'll have seedlings to plant outside when it's safe. Or wait until balmier temps to go buy small plants from the garden center.

Few problems of the spirit can't be ameliorated by digging in the earth, planting seed or seedling, and nurturing it for the good of soul and belly. No matter what you're going through, things will turn around. As that famous Southern philosopher, Scarlett O'Hara, reminded us, "After all, tomorrow is another day."

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