“Victory gardens” or “war gardens” were popular during WWI and WWII. They were promoted by the government to help provide fresh produce to individuals at home and help supplement food rationing. It also provided opportunities for families to “do their part” for the war effort. During 1943, the USDA estimated that over 20 million gardens were planted in the United States.


As COVID-19 has altered many of our normal daily operations, the UF/IFAS Extension faculty in Marion and Columbia counties looked for new ways to support families. The Victory 2020 Garden Project is one project to support families. Many folks are going back to the basics and planting their own vegetable gardens to help save money in these tough economic times and now is a great time to plant. In addition to the potential to provide food, vegetable gardens are providing a healthy interactive activity for kids that are home during this time. Kids are also usually happy to eat vegetables they have grown themselves. The weather is warming and many crops will grow through the summer with the right care. Once signed up Victory 2020 Garden participants have access to the online course, the private Facebook group, the book club information, several packets of free seeds, and the 4-H youth record book.


A few tips if you want to join our Victory 2020 Garden Community:


Register at: https://bit.ly/V2020G


Locate a site. Locate the garden near the house, well-drained site, close to a source of water with at least six hours of direct sunlight. If you do not have the space for a traditional vegetable garden, consider a raised bed, containers, or even hydroponics.


Plan the layout. Before planting, draw a garden plan that includes the name, location and planting date(s) of the vegetables you want to grow.


Prepare the soil, test your soil pH, and apply organic matter. Most Florida soils benefit from the addition of organic matter, such as composted animal manure, rotted leaves, compost, commercial soil mixes, and cover crops. Soil pH is important because it governs how available nutrients are to plants. The best pH range for vegetable gardens on sandy soil is between pH 5.5 and 6.8. You can have your soil tested at your local Extension Service. Compile one measuring cup full of soil taken from 6 inches in the ground.


Follow the recommended planting date(s) listed for each vegetable. Choose adapted varieties with resistance or tolerance to nematodes and the diseases common in your area.


Rotate vegetables so that the same vegetable (or members of the same vegetable family) are not planted repeatedly in the same areas.


Purchased transplants should be free of insects and disease symptoms (such as leaf spots or blights). Avoid transplants that are already flowering. Consider growing your own transplants from seeds.


Monitor or scout the garden twice a week for pest problems. This includes inspecting the plant from bud to soil, including upper and lower leaf surfaces. Learn to identify beneficial insects (praying mantis, spiders, big-eyed bugs/assassin bugs, lady beetles, and wasps).


Plan irrigation and drainage. Vegetables cannot tolerate standing water from excessive rainfall or irrigation. Yet, at the same time, vegetables need soil moisture to grow and produce. Frequency of irrigation depends upon the age of the crop and your soil type. Young plants need frequent, but light irrigation; maturing crops need more water, but less often. Conserve water by using mulch, organic matter, and techniques such as drip irrigation.


Plant flowers in the vegetable garden. They provide nectar and pollen that attract beneficial insects.


Fertilize. Gardeners find it convenient to use commonly available fertilizer grades, such as 6-6-6 or 10-10-10. However, some Florida soils contain adequate phosphorus (the middle number), and additional amounts should not be added as phosphorus is a pollutant in surface water, such as lakes and rivers. Additionally, adding too much nitrogen to vegetable crops can decrease fruit production. During the growing season, it may be necessary to apply fertilizer two or three times at half the rate on the label. Apply the fertilizer just beyond the outside leaves.


The online course will still be available after the growing season when we originally planned to end the Victory 2020 Garden program and with the number of people involved in the Facebook group, Victory Gardeners will remain an ongoing UF/IFAS Extension project into future. It has proven to be an excellent way to communicate with gardeners. Both offices have gardening programs through their horticulture agents previous to this and we will continue to provide those after, although after 2020 the Victory 2020 Garden name will be retired.


For more information or to register for programs call 352-671-8400 or email maxine32666@ufl.edu


— Maxine Hunter is the Horticulture Extension Agent and Master Gardener Coordinator at the UF/IFAS Extension Marion County. For more information, contact the office, (352) 671-8400. The Extension Service is at 2232 NE Jacksonville Rd. Ocala, FL 34470.