In Birdland, we have been through a couple of seasons this week. Winter returned on Tuesday and Thursday. But now it is spring again, and I’m ready to begin.
Last night, I was talking to my mother on the phone. Usually mild-mannered, when she gets mad ... well, if you want to hear an 81-year-old woman cuss, just show her a news story about farmers ploughing potatoes under because they can’t afford to harvest them, or pouring milk out on the ground while people are standing in lines waiting for food! You might even learn some new words. I certainly did.
I had already been worried about food shortages and thinking I needed to get busy. In Birdland, we tend mostly flowers, trying to turn more of our lawn each year into native prairie plants, especially ones that our bees will like.
In May, when I’ve turned in my grades, I usually plant some tomatoes and herbs, but that’s about all I can manage. This year is different. My semester will go through May and into June, and we have a more exigent reason to plant vegetables now. Teaching from home gives me only a weak excuse to put off planting.
I’ve been thinking about Victory Gardens, the patriotic effort during World Wars I and II to get Americans to grow their own food. I scroll through posters in nostalgic colors: In one, simple graphics of vegetables fill the foreground (a giant pea pod hovers diagonally over a cabbage, a tomato, radishes, a potato). Neat rows of a vegetable garden under a blue sky form the background. “YOUR VICTORY GARDEN COUNTS MORE THAN EVER!”
I even found a modern poster in the same style: A sturdy crate holds an array of the same honest vegetables plus a parsnip, a carrot, an onion, a leek, a handful of green beans. On the crate, words are stamped: “DIG for ... CLIMATE.”
In the corner, the poster encourages us in the same industrial font to “GROW FOOD IN YOUR GARDEN TO FIGHT CLIMATE CHANGE.”
It’s the recycling of an old idea that worked. In 1944, the True Republican printed a news story: “PRESIDENT ASKS EVERYONE TO GROW VICTORY GARDEN.” It quotes President Roosevelt congratulating folks who planted 20 million Victory Gardens to help the war effort during World War I. He cited an estimate of 8 million tons of food grown in 1943 Victory Gardens.
Now embroiled in a second World War, the president had even higher hopes for 1944. He wanted to double the production of 1943. What a novel thought! A leader urging citizens on to a greater altruism!?
We are all in this together, so I’d better start acting like it and do my part.
I asked my mother if she remembered Victory Gardens, and she said my grandmother and her grandmother had one together where they all lived on Second Street. My grandfather, a traveling insurance salesman, was maybe too busy to garden. Or maybe not. Although Nanny always put in a big garden with tomatoes, peppers, her famous rhubarb, my grandfather always had his row of green beans in back of the garage. He was always so proud of those beans, stringing cotton cord up through nails on the eaves of the garage for the beans to climb. Mom also remembered her mother and grandmother pulling her in a little red wagon down to the corner store (she says it is a tavern, now), Nanny armed with her ration coupons.
A few days ago, I had an inspiration. I’ve been thinking about raised beds and salad tables. With chickens scratching all over the yard, it’s hard to keep seeds planted long enough to get established. I thought I might keep them off of some raised beds a little more easily. I dragged the old horse trough out to the western side of the yard next to where we have a prairie plot. There have been no horses on this farm for about 45 years, and anyway, it had a leak in the bottom. I used to plug the seam with plastic bags and fill the trough with water for the boys to play in on hot days, but that’s the last use we had of it. For drainage, I filled the bottom with broken pots I wanted to get rid of. Then layered soil and good, strong compost from the chicken coop. I’ll plant the kale seeds I got from Carolyn’s community garden in Philly last summer and lettuces and tomato plants. That will be the beginning of my Victory Garden, and maybe I’ll have another good idea next week to expand it.
Walk in beauty; Work in peace; Blessed Be.