where to build a Victory Garden raised bed

4 Steps to Choosing the Best Spot for Your Raised Bed Victory Garden

 

So, you’ve been dreaming about installing a Victory Garden in your yard but you aren’t sure where exactly to put it. Maybe you’re a novice gardener and just have no clue how to get started. Or maybe you’ve been gardening since you were little but your new home doesn’t have a garden and you’ve never had to install one before.

No worries! Where to put a raised bed is the number one question we get as we gear up for our own garden building program here in Milwaukee every spring. It’s an important question and we want to be sure that every gardener gets off to the best possible start, so we’ve assembled the top 4 most important things you should consider when picking a spot to place your new garden bed!

 

1. Here Comes the Sun!

Victory Garden raised bed filled with sunflowersThe most important thing is to make sure your garden will get plenty of sunlight! While some crops will tolerate shade better than others, most vegetable plants will need a good 8 hours of sunlight to grow strong and healthy. You’ll get the best results if your garden faces east, south, or west here in Wisconsin to capture that sunlight. North-facing gardens will be best for leafy greens, beets, carrots, and other shade-tolerant crops.

You’ll also want to consider where the shadows fall in your yard as well. With all the tree-lined streets and multiple-story structures in the city, sunlight patterns can drastically change throughout the day. So take note throughout the year where those fall so you can plan your garden accordingly.

 

2. Have You Ever Seen The Rain?

Water is a delicate thing to balance in a garden. On those long, hot summer days your plants are going to need some extra water to stay healthy. But, on the flip side, you don’t want to have your plants flooded. So find a spot where the rain can reach your garden but be sure that there are no gutters that empty right into bed that will bowl over your delicate plants and wash your topsoil away. 

Convenience is also a factor here. You will probably have to manually water your garden a lot throughout the growing season when it doesn’t rain enough. So make sure you have a plan for that beforehand! Will you be using a hose or watering by hand? Either way, you want to be as close as possible to your water source so it isn’t a hassle to do it! You won’t want to be lugging cans of water across a huge lawn or rolling up long hoses to mow your lawn. 

 

3. All About That Base!

Victory Garden Beds being built in front yardThere are a couple of things to consider in regards to the ground you want to put your bed on. First and foremost, you’re going to want to pick the most level spot you can!  This is the path of least resistance. You CAN certainly garden on a slope but then you have to pay more attention to rainwater runoff and may have to spend more time and money to build special frames to keep the bed in place. 

Another thing to keep in mind is whether you are building on top of soil or concrete. There are pros and cons to both. When you put a bed on concrete you don’t have to worry about a weed barrier, removing turf grass, or laying down a weed barrier. You also don’t have potentially contaminated soil to deal with from whatever the prior use of the land is. But, you can only grow crops with shallow root systems. Whereas when you grow on top of soil, you can grow crops with deep roots (think potatoes, daikon radishes, corn, tomatoes, and more!). In either case, be sure to add great soil to your raised beds with lots of compost amendments! 

 

4. It’s Alright! Take It Easy!

Victory Garden Raised Bed in front yardThis last one is all about convenience. Ideally, you want to place your bed somewhere you can access all four sides of the bed. That way you don’t have to try to reach all the way across over top other plants to tend to them or harvest and risk damaging those crops. Prioritize sun, water, and level ground first though! You can always add a nice trellis to the backside of a bed to make it easier to access those crops when you can’t get around to all four sides. People also forget about mowing their lawn! If you need to mow, make sure you can fit your mower of choice around the bed or you’ll be sad later!

Finally, another thing people forget to consider is just the convenience factor of placing your bed somewhere you and your family frequently hang out! While you don’t want your bed to displace your family’s barbecue area or become a tripping hazard when playing games, you also might not want it to be tucked in some far-flung corner of your yard no one ever goes to. While that might be a good use of the space, it will only work out if you remember to care for it! Some busy families find that they forget to water or weed or harvest if the bed isn’t clearly visible and accessible from the main areas you already use. If that won’t be a problem, go ahead and use those obscure spots though!


That was a lot of information! We know it sounds complicated, but just take a moment to skim the tips again and remember that it all boils down to four things: Sun, Water, Level Ground, and Easy Access. Go take a look at your yard and we bet you’ll find several spots that would be a great place to build a garden! Honestly, once you get started gardening you’re going to find that you need more than one raised bed anyway!

Now, if you are ready to put in a garden but don’t want to do all the heavy lifting, check out the Great Milwaukee Victory Garden Blitz! We’ve built over 5,000 raised garden beds across Milwaukee County, so we’re pretty much experts at this by now! We’ll come out to your yard with all the supplies to build your bed in the perfect spot you selected, fill it up with organic soil, and drop off a welcome kit with seeds and other garden goodies!

ORDER YOUR BLITZ GARDEN AND SOIL HERE

Christine Kuhn laying in raised garden bed

Why We Blitz

by Christine Noelle, Director of Operations & Development

Christine Noelle laying in raised garden bed
Christine Noelle in a freshly installed Blitz bed during the 2019 Blitz

This will be my 6th time Blitzing with VGI, my 4th as an employee. I look forward to the Blitz more than I have any other task I have ever done professionally. The Blitz has a special kind of energy about it. Every time you come to a build site or to our staging area, you can feel the sense of purpose in the air. Everyone who works the Blitz believes so passionately in our vision: to build a community with a strong, vibrant, sustainable, ethical local food system. To make it so that every family has access to affordable, nutritious food.

Since the first Blitz in 2008, we have faced many challenges and have always come together stronger than ever. We’ve learned how to deal with late snowstorms, broken down trailers, keys locked in trucks, no-show volunteer crews, website registration form crashes, thrown out backs, and so so much more. Covid-19 was really a curve ball though. We had to change everything about the way we Blitz, systems that we had perfected over 11 years were suddenly useless! And yet we managed to pull it off because everyone involved believed SO passionately in the importance of the work. It took a toll on us, that is for sure. But it wasn’t the physical changes to how we did things that were hardest, it was the emotional toll it took on us. It was hearing the stories from garden recipients about not being able to find food at the grocery store and about being excited to have something, anything to do that was safely outdoors.

This is why we are once again Blitzing again this year.

I was listening to NPR on my way to the office the other week and they were covering the devastation down in Texas. It hurt my heart to hear about people literally freezing to death in their own homes. There are so many stories of grief from that natural disaster. But while the cold temps have moved on and with it most of the national news coverage from our radios and newsfeeds, there are other tragedies yet to come that you probably won’t hear about. News that NEVER seems to take front and center: the food insecurity that will result from this natural disaster. So many farms were left wasted from the cold temps. Livestock froze to death in their barns when generators went down and crops rotted in warehouses, unable to be shipped or processed. The people of Texas are not out of the woods just because it got warm again and the power came back on. There will be continued food shortages. There will be more families relying on emergency food provisions and subsidy programs like WIC and SNAP. Farmers and processors will lose their entire business from this.  And this is on TOP of the havoc and stress that Covid-19 had already put on their lives.

There is so much more I could say about the stresses on the American food system over the past year. Not just in Texas, but all over the country for many, many different reasons. But the point is:

THIS is why we Blitz.

THIS is why I, and everyone here at VGI, believes so passionately in the Victory Garden Blitz and our mission as a whole. Because the Western industrialized American food system is simply not equipped to provide for us during times of disaster. (I would argue that it is NEVER really equipped to provide for us, but that’s a whole ‘nother blog post for another day!) Every day in this country, people go hungry. And every year we see the holes in the food system grow. The Flint water crisis. California wild fires. Bee colony collapses. Hurricanes. Droughts. Floods. Covid19. Each time, people are left with an uncertain food supply.

The Blitz absolutely will NOT solve this. There is so much that needs to change in our food system and the way we grow, buy, sell, and produce food in this country to have a truly stable food system. But the Blitz can help families weather the literal and figurative storms better. The Blitz is part of a larger movement to return to a food system where people have power over their food supply. Where food is grown to feed families and not refined into unhealthy additives to fill the cookie aisles at the grocery store. Where people of all ages come together to share their knowledge of growing, cooking, and preserving food and pass that along to the next generation. Through the Blitz, we help to give more people in Milwaukee access to local food and connect people to a network of support, education, skill-sharing, and hope.

 

MY hope today is that you will join us. I hope you’ll buy a bed! I hope I’ll see you out on a crew helping to build a bed! I hope you’ll come to community dinner. I hope to see you at our farm, picking berries to take home. I hope you’ll share our social media posts. I hope you’ll donate some tools, time, or money to help us build this vision of a nutritious, socially just, environmentally sustainable local food system for ALL.

To buy a bed: https://victorygardeninitiative.org/blitz-registration/

To volunteer: https://victorygardeninitiative.org/blitz-volunteer-registration-hide/

To sponsor a bed: https://victorygardeninitiative.org/sponsor-a-blitz-garden/

To donate to VGI: https://victorygardeninitiative.org/donate/

To give an item from our wish list: https://victorygardeninitiative.org/wish-list/

To sign up for our newsletter: https://victorygardeninitiative.org/subscribe/

To follow us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/VictoryGardenMKE

To follow us on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/victorygardeni/?hl=en

 

I’m usually the one behind the camera, but I’ve been caught is a few Blitz pics over the years and it brings joy to my heart to look back at it all 🙂

large basket of freshly harvested carrots, cabbage, broccoli, and fennel

Healing a Food System on the Verge of Collapse

by Christine Kuhn, Co-Executive Director 

     Here at Victory Garden Initiative, we’ve been working on a vision for a community-led, environmentally sustainable, socially just, and nutritious food system right here in Milwaukee since 2008. At our new organizational headquarters in the Harambee neighborhood we run a 1.5 acre urban farm and just finished construction on our community kitchen and classroom space in February! On this “Urban Farm Campus” we envision a community coming together around the garden and table with neighbors to grow and cook food together, children learning about biology in the pollinator gardens in their own backyards, chefs cooking up local produce at local restaurants, and neighborhood stores stocking products created by their neighbors. This food system is as beautiful as it is strong! It provides not only nutritious food for the body, but for the mind as well. Our staff have been passionately working to build the programs and local infrastructure to make this vision a reality.

Like many other organizations, we are feeling the strain of Coronavirus. We’ve had to pause our community events and classes and, aside from our Farm Manager, our staff is currently working from home. But Wisconsin’s Safer at Home orders only confirm what I know to be true in the fiber of my being: that food production is and always shall be an “essential activity.” 

In the time of Coronavirus, we all know that toilet paper has bempty store shelves during coronavirus pandemicecome a hot commodity, but other store shelves are emptying too. Bread, meat, canned goods, dried beans, eggs, milk, and the list goes on.  Meanwhile, I keep seeing news stories and updates from major grocery stores and politicians assuring us that the supply chain remains strong and that shelves are only empty because of panic buying. All will be back to normal soon, they say. We just have to ride it out, they assure.

Personally, I’m not reassured.

The reality is, our food system has been broken for a very long time and it is only now, during an international crisis, that we can truly see the unfortunate ramifications of this.  While some families can afford to stock up for months of social distancing, others are on food assistance and can barely afford a weeks’ worth of food at any time. While videos are cropping up encouraging people to bake their own artisan bread, there are people living in apartments where access to a working stove and refrigerator is not even a reality. And while supply chain experts are telling us that shelves will be restocked soon, one has to wonder how they can be so certain of this, when our food is being shipped from across the country and across the globe? Whole countries are on lock down right now and 30+ states have enacted versions of Stay at Home orders. Yes, food production, manufacturing, and agriculture are all “essential activities,” and life goes on. But how can you ever be certain about the stability of a system which relies on a complex network of moving parts, far-flung across the globe? All it takes is for one piece to buckle under the pressure and the entire system collapses.

What if too many truckers get sick and shipping routes falter? What if too many of the migrant workers and seasonal farm crews can’t work the large farms in California, Florida, and the Corn Belt in the Midwest that supply most of our country’s grain and produce? What if there are outbreaks at grocery stores and they don’t have the staff to stay open? What if all air traffic is grounded? 

Maybe it won’t happen this time. Maybe COVID19 is not the straw that breaks the food chain’s back. But what about next time? What about the next virus? The next world war? The next drought? The next recession? The depletion of oil reserves? Are we certain we will have enough food to feed our families?

Infographic by Tim Norton of Oxfam Australia

I don’t ask these questions to scare you, ignite panic, or bring more dreariness to an already stressful situation. Instead, I ask these questions because I believe there is a better way and that it is not too late for us all to do something right now to build a better food system for today and tomorrow. The answer is for us to stop relying on a global food system and to start building a stronger, more resilient local one, in all places at all times. I’m not saying we can’t have Costa Rican coffee, California almonds, Atlantic Cod, or even Oreo’s ever again. But we can and should produce enough food locally to supply our own communities. Global food products should be a welcome addition to our own food supply, not a necessity.

While we can’t all be full-time farmers, we can all grow some of our own food. We can grow it in our yards, on our WWI poster that reads "Your Victory Garden Counts More Than Ever" with produce and garden in backgroundbalconies, at our schools, in our windowsills, and on our rooftops. We can grow it in our basements with the right lights. So many people have wide open grassy lawns which could be turned into productive growing space, not to mention the number of vacant, overgrown lots scattered across our cities. Now is the time to seriously consider transforming these spaces, and our lives, to build our capacity for self-reliance down the line.

This, my friends, is where Victory Gardens come in. Victory Garden Initiative has been on the front lines of this work in Milwaukee for 12 years now, building infrastructure in Southeast Wisconsin for growing local food. Each year, we install 500+ raised garden beds across Milwaukee. In 2020, we had hoped to finally breach the 5000 mark but with the current state of the world, we probably won’t make that milestone this year. But we also won’t be closing up shop either. Now more than ever we are determined to forge ahead and install as many gardens as we can to increase Milwaukee’s capacity for local food production. As of writing this, we’ve already sold 120+ gardens so far and, barring any drastic changes in the pandemic situation and recommendations from health officials, we are committed to installing each and every one of them! Not only that, but we are hopeful to sell even more, particularly in our organization’s home neighborhood of Harambee, a neighborhood that already faces food insecurity and economic disparities. These will only be heightened after Coronavirus sweeps through our nation.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

In addition to building more beds for individuals to grow food, we’re also ramping up production at our own urban farm. The Victory Garden Urban Farm in Harambee has always been a community farm, serving as a greenspace for the neighborhood to gather and a hub for educational activities to teach youth and adults how to grow their own food. In the wake of Coronavirus, it is even more important to provide these services. Our new Farm Manager, Aaron, is already hard at work planting the crops for this season and plans are underway for expanding our Pay-What-You-Can Roadside Farmstand, free Community U-Pick area, and on-site Community Gardens! We urge everyone who is growing food to consider sharing the bounty of your harvest with your neighbors or local food pantry!

If you can’t grow food (we’ll dispel those myths later), you can still do your part by supporting local producers. Unless you are reading this from Antarctica or the International Space Station (please drop me a line if you are, that newly prepared beds ready for plantingwould be incredible!) I guarantee that you have a local farmer within ~100 miles of you. Someone, somewhere, is growing and selling food. Support them. Buy from your local farmer’s market. Visit your local co-op. Look for products from your own region at the grocery store, or talk to the store manager about getting those local products in. Visit roadside farm stands and eat at restaurants that source local ingredients. Finally, be sure to talk them up on social media and leave a positive review so others can find and support them them too!

 

We will eventually beat Coronavirus and the world will return to some semblance of normal. But it will have a lasting impact on our society and it is up to all of us to make sure that we learn from this experience and make the world a better place because of it. We can’t return to the status quo. Now is the time to Move Grass and Grow Food!



For information and updates about the Great Milwaukee Victory Garden Blitz, please check out our website here or reach out to Montana, our Community Programs Manager at montana@victorygardeninitiative.org.

Christine can be reached at christine.kuhn@victorygardeninitiative.org

 

woman holding sign that reads "I pledge to grow more food"
Montana Morris, Community Programs Manager
woman laying down in a newly constructed raised garden bed
Christine Kuhn, Co-Executive Director

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interning at the Great Milwaukee Victory Garden Blitz!

My name is Jenny Lehner, and I started at VGI in January 2019 as a Community Programs Intern. The 11th Annual Victory Garden Initiative BLITZ was the focus of my internship, as it was the main focus of Montana, the Community Programs Manager and my supervisor. Working with Montana and Lexi, the other Community Programs Intern, throughout the winter to help plan this event was an amazing learning experience. Lexi and I worked closely with Montana to reach out to donors, help recruit volunteers, and create and distribute promotional material. I feel honored to have been a part of the VGI team, and getting to know the other staff and interns really made my experience as an intern more than just busy work. Even on days when it was below zero, we would still be in the office at the farm house working to plan this event in May.

Jenny, modelling one of the donation drop-offs of burlap sacks from Colectivo to be used as weed barriers in the Blitz beds!

For me, the most rewarding part of my internship was actually getting to work the BLITZ and see this event in action. Even in the days right before the BLITZ I honestly wasn’t sure how it was all going to come together. To make things even more hectic, the BLITZ fell right when Lexi and I were taking our finals and graduating from UW-Milwaukee. Still, the time that I was able to spend working the event was extremely rewarding, fun, and exhausting. By the end of the two weeks I felt even closer with Montana, Lexi, and other members of the VGI staff. I also got to work with and know volunteers who shared our passion for this event and had been working the event for years. Actually getting to get out in the city and installing the garden beds with these people made my sore muscles totally worth it.

Jenny (front row, center) with VGI staff Montana (back row, right) and Christine (front row, right) and some amazing Blitz volunteers!

 

Seeing the community come together like this really gave me a sense of being a part of something bigger than myself. I genuinely felt more connected to the Milwaukee community after those two weeks than I did during my three years of going to school there. The homeowners who received the garden beds were so grateful and excited. Being a part of this year’s event from start to finish not only taught me a great deal and looks great on my resume, but it also was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had.