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Try a modern victory garden

Claudia Spargo

Some of my friends and I were recently sharing stories of our grandparents’ and parents’ gardening experiences. My dad’s family had a fruit and vegetable farm in what is now the suburbs of Pittsburgh. It was the main source of income as they would take the fresh produce into Pittsburgh’s “strip” district and sell everything to the food processors, like H.J.Heinz Co. as well as several grocers. My mother had a different experience. She was a city girl in northwestern Germany. Her family leased a lot in a community garden, known as a “schrebergarten” on the outskirts of the city, before the war. She has wonderful memories of growing vegetables and herbs and having a picnic lunch at their little house on the lot.

These stories led to the topic of “Victory Gardens” in the USA. For those of you not familiar with these gardens, they were vegetable gardens encouraged by the government and planted by civilians during WWI and WWII. The government provided motivation through posters and “how-to” information with pamphlets and booklets. There was a food crisis due to farm workers enlisting in the military. The goal of the government was to provide fresh produce for people in this country and overseas. It was considered a “patriotic” way to support for the war effort.

While the “war gardens” or “victory gardens” began in WWI, they became immensely popular in WWII. The program worked so well, there were six million rural gardens and twelve million urban/suburban gardens. Even Eleanor Roosevelt planted a victory garden on the White House lawn in support of troops! Victory Gardens produced an estimated nine to ten million tons of produce during the course of WWII. In 1944, 40% of the vegetables grown in the USA came from victory gardens.

Now with the pandemic crisis requiring us to stay at home and social distancing, it might be beneficial to consider a “modern victory garden.” It could be a way to be more self-sufficient, have access to healthy food, and provide a fresh air activity for the whole family. Never gardened before? No problem! There are several factors a beginner should consider.

The first thing is to find out about your planting zone. This information is available from the USDA online at https://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/PHZMWeb/

This will help determine the length of the growing season and when to begin planting.

Secondly, the site or location of the garden one chooses is important. It should be level, have eight to ten hours of sunlight a day and have access to water. Short on space? Think about container gardening. Limited sunlight? Choose crops that will thrive in partial shade, like salad greens and herbs.

Next, the type of soil must be considered. Is it clay-like, sandy, or silty? What is the pH (how acid or base is the soil)? A soil testing kit can be purchased on-line at the Penn State Analytics Lab website https://agsci.psu.edu/aasl and sent in for analyzation. The results will explain the pH and recommended amendments you may need to add to the soil for a successful growing season.

Finally, decide what your family likes and purchase seeds and/or young plants to suit their preferences. Maybe they just want a salad garden, or a salsa garden. Your family will be more engaged in the project if they are involved in choosing what to grow. Try a modern victory garden this spring! Enjoy the fresh air, exercise, relaxation, and healthy food that a garden can provide. It will be worth the effort!

Visit the Penn State Extension Master Gardener Website to register for the free “Victory Garden Reinvented” webinar series at https://extension.psu.edu/programs/master-gardener/demonstration-gardens/victory-garden-reinvented

For more information, contact a local Master Gardener, or Penn State Warren County Extension Office at (814) 563-9388, or go to the Penn State website at https://extension.psu.edu/

Claudia Spargo recently completed her Penn State Master Gardener training. Her goal is to encourage people in the community to try gardening

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