Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

Tansi Smoke Signals

May 28, 2014

V is for Victory Garden

CROSSVILLE — “Plant more in ‘44” was the slogan. World War II was the times. Victory Gardens, also called War Gardens and Gardens of Defense, became a way of thwarting the inevitable shortages wartime propagated during the first World War. The practice of Victory Gardens peaked during WWII, which accounted for 40 percent of all the fruits and vegetables consumed in the US in 1944.

The Victory Garden was a patriotic push towards self-sufficiency and community sustainability. With shortages on just about every viable resource in the U.S., government agencies, private foundations, schools and seed companies began a campaign to encourage citizens to produce enough food for their immediate families and neighbors. The campaign sought to ensure there was an adequate food supply for civilians and troops. Not only did the movement relieve pressure on the food supply put on by the war effort, but aided the war effort and boosted morale by fostering empowerment among citizen gardeners.

Organizations motivated by the Victory Garden campaign committed land, seeds, educational provisions, and instructional posters for communities to grow food. From coast to coast, Americans prepared Victory Gardens in their backyards, vacant lots, public parks, baseball fields, and schoolyards in order to provide sustenance, combat malnutrition and support troops from the home front. A secondary motivation due to the Victory Garden campaign came the preparation and canning of excess produce to preserve it until the next season’s harvest. The campaign championed year-round gardening with set timelines for each growing season and the different crops those seasons could render.

It has been 70 years since the WWII Victory Garden campaigns, but the teachings are still invaluable given the stagnant economy, epidemic health crises and the push toward DIY, organic dieting and homesteading.

Having spoken to several Lake Tansi residents about Victory Gardens, the consensus is that many residents remember their parents always having had a garden. Whether or not they called it a Victory Garden was a different story altogether.

Judy Koletar and her husband, Pete, set out a rather sizeable garden every year. This year, Koletar said she didn’t put out as much because of her impending back surgery, but you wouldn’t know it. The Koletars have 900 ft. of corn, 200 ft. of bush beans, 100 ft. of strawberries, 35 tomato plants, and an endless row of cucumbers. And the garden isn’t even full, yet.

“I tell everyone to come get what they want,” Judy Koletar said, as she seeded the gaps in the row of bush beans. “They just have to thank God before they go.”

Gracious and sharing, the Koletars love gardening. In fact, as the seeds go in the ground, Judy Koletar encourages them to grow well by talking to them.

“It’s my favorite time of year,” said Judy Koletar. “I love to be up here tilling with the wind in my face when the orange Poplar blooms. It smells so good!”

As she formed a row in the finely tilled earth by dragging her foot along, she said, “I plant with my feet. God made feet long before He made a hoe.”

The endearing practice of planting with her feet came from her grandmother, who instilled in Koletar a passion for gardening. Judy Koletar’s father was in the military and gone a lot, so she lived with her grandmother. Koletar learned her grandmother’s every charming secret and was trained well in the arts and sciences of cultivation, preparation and preservation.

“My grandmother,” smiled Koletar, setting out a half row of white half-runner pole beans, “used to start her garden in February in Dixie cups.”

Koletar reaffixed the gate post to close the perimeter, saying they had been fighting the geese and fighting the geese and finally decided to fence in the garden. She and her husband insist on growing an organic garden — no pesticides and no herbicides. They enjoy working hard to keep it tilled and mowed because, like Judy Koletar said, “It’s like having all your ducks in a row.”

For a Spring Victory Garden, the list included WWII-era plantings of carrots, lettuces, kales, onions and radishes. The prospective timeline set January as a time to research and plan, February for ordering seeds, March for starting seedlings indoors and planting cool-weather greens, and April to continually plant outdoors and begin harvesting early greens.

But, if you haven’t already set out your garden, there is still time. Two growing seasons are still at hand to create a haven for backyard groceries. Even if you don’t have a backyard, simple and creative solutions are at the tips of your green thumbs. Consider potting vegetables on your porch or “gardening up” on the side wall of an outbuilding in multiple pots. Don’t forget to put out pollinator favorites to entice your bee and butterfly friends to help out with your gardening.  

The Summer Victory Garden plant list included WWI-era varieties of basil, bush beans, lima beans, pole beans, both corn and popcorn, sweet corn, cucumber, eggplant, muskmelon (often referred to in the South as “mushmelon”), okra, peppers, pumpkin, summer squash, winter squash, tomatoes, and watermelon. The timeline set May to put out warm weather plants and prepare soil for summer crops, June marked the end of cool-weather crops and was noted for replacing them with warm-weather plantings. July was reserved for weeding, mulching, pest control, and watering often. August marked the early harvest season to begin cooking and preserving crops and setting out cool-weather greens.

As for a Winter Victory Garden, the plant list of WWII-era selections of beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, lettuce, kohlrabi, parsley, radishes, spinach, Swiss chard and turnips. The timeline begins the winter garden in September with the final harvest of lingering summer veggies and tending the cool weather crops planted in August. October was reserved for clearing out unused portions of the garden, adding compost and sowing a cover crop of barley, oats or ryegrass. November was a month of preparing for the frost and setting out frost protection. With December comes a big finish of harvesting cool-weather crops and reevaluating the year’s harvest success to assist with January’s planning for next season.

As the summer growing season progresses, it will be interesting to watch the Koletar garden develop. Try your green thumb or planting feet out this season and see what wonderful things come of it.

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