In today's current era of abundance and excesses, it's difficult to imagine that in 1943, in the midst of World War II, foods were rationed and expensive and choice was limited. Many Americans turned to backyard gardening to produce their own fruits and vegetables and become more self-sufficient. Out of this movement came a book, The Have-More Plan, by Carolyn and Ed Robinson, he being one of the founders of the National Gardening Association. It was a book about living off the land by producing not only fruits and vegetables, but by raising animals as well.
Today, looking at The Have-More Plan's vegetable garden section, we noticed how some things (the emphasis on soil health) haven't changed, while others (the dependency on harmful chemicals for pest control) have. It made us wonder what a typical food garden "plan" in the year 2000 might be.
Self sufficiency is no longer the primary reason for food gardening; the issues shaping food gardening today include lack of time and a desire for outdoor beauty, a clean environment, and high-quality food.
The modern vegetable garden is small, only about 200 square feet on average. Although we don't expect our garden to supply all our vegetable needs, we still want it to look good and produce abundantly. Plant breeders have addressed the issue of limited growing space by developing dwarf versions of traditional space-hoggers such as tomatoes, winter squash, and cucumbers. We like variety, too. Herbs are tucked into the plan, and fruits, which usually demand lots of space, are selected primarily for dwarf characteristics, which allow them to be grown in space-saving containers.
We have less leisure time than ever, so the garden must be as efficient and maintenence-free as possible. This often translates into using intensive gardening techniques such as raised beds, succession planting, and trellising, as well as time-saving products such as automatic watering systems, and mulches to reduce weeding.
Because of smaller lots, a vegetable garden can no longer be hidden away in the backyard. Now it is often in plain view, so we want it to look good. It likely has attractive, edible flowers such as calendula and nasturtium growing in it. Vegetable varieties are selected for their ornamental as well as culinary qualities. 'Bright Lights' Swiss chard, 'Red Russian' kale, and 'Thai Hot' peppers are among varieties that paint the vegetable garden with colors usually reserved for flower beds.
More than ever, we're concerned about the air we breathe and the water we drink. In the 1940s, it was assumed country living meant cleaner living, and in general that was true. However, today we know pollution is more widespread, and we consciously try not to contribute to it. We want the most environmentally friendly garden possible. We are more conscious about growing disease-resistant varieties, applying low-toxic sprays such as insecticidal soap and oils, and using techniques such as floating row covers to prevent or lessen insect and disease attacks.
This issue hasn't really changed since the 1940s; it's just become more multidimensional. Anyone who grows a food garden has a primary goal to produce the freshest food possible. However, now we don't just want the freshest, most vitamin-packed vegetables; we are also aware that certain vegetables, such as kale and tomatoes, are loaded with cancer-fighting compounds that can help us stay healthy.
We also are much more aware of what good food looks and tastes like, and we're more open to trying unique heirloom as well as international varieties, such as multicolored tomatoes and Taiwanese eggplants, that feature unique shapes, colors, and flavors.
Today's garden might include the following characteristics and plants:
Article published on May 4, 2011.