In Memory of June Davis Davidson. Your spirit lives on through the many words you left us.
With the ever-escalating cost of produce, you can save money and still feed your family a nutritional diet by planting a Victory Garden in the corner of your backyard. A small plot of earth will provide a family with red, green and yellow vegetables all summer long; plump red tomatoes, yellow crook-neck squash, butter or green beans, purple eggplants, dark green leafy collards, cucumbers and red skin potatoes are hearty choices for the miniature southern garden.
These small gardens were originally called War Gardens and Victory Gardens during World War II when canned goods, sugar, meat and gas were rationed. War gardens helped provide food for the family and prevented a food shortage, ensuring a food supply for the military during the war. There were approximately two million victory gardens in the United States during this period, producing almost half of the food grown in America. .
A family affair
Engaging your children in gardening will be the perfect time to discuss the nutritional value of each vegetable grown. Not all will enjoy planting and gathering their crop, but most enjoy the hands-on experience and learning about soil preparation and the methods of planting and harvesting a victory garden.
The tomato is called the world’s healthiest vegetable because it’s rich in the anti-oxidant, lycopene. In the early 1930s, tomato clubs were formed in schools to teach girls about growing this popular and versatile tomato. Tomato Clubs would later become known as the 4-H Club, which began in Mississippi.
Tomato plants require staking, Wire cages, available at most any store with a home and garden department, can be used year after year. Six tomato plants will be sufficient for most families.
1) Scalding washed whole tomatoes will aid in removing the skin before canning or freezing.
2) Wash all vegetables thoroughly before preparing.
3) Add a tablespoon of vinegar in simmering pot of snap beans to preserve the rich dark green color.
4) Fruit and tomatoes should be refrigerated indoors to prevent fruit flies.
5) Take a soil sample to the County Extension service to test for your soil requirements.
6) Plant in full sun, or at least morning sun in a well-prepared bed to achieve maximum crop results.
7) Plant by the moon phase; underground crops such as potatoes are planted when nights are dark. Above ground crops are planted when the moon is full.
8) The Farmers Almanac’s is free booklet filled with useful information for the beginning gardener.
9) A tablespoon of vinegar in simmering dark green snap beans preserves the color.
Then and Now
Years ago, our grandparent used wood poles, attaching wire to the top, which ran the length of the row. Twine was added and zigzagged from the wire and anchored to the ground to allow the beans to grow up the twine. With Victory Gardening, do what the Native American’s did. Plant beans near the base of corn stalks and let the beans grow up the stalk. Not only will this reduce gardening work, but is aesthetically pleasing to the eye.
From the garden to the table
Instead of a hamburger or hot dog meal, gather a couple of nice size green tomatoes. Wash and slice the tomato into thick pieces, salt, pepper and meal before frying in that seasoned iron skillet grandma gave you. Serve fried green tomatoes between a layer of bread spread lightly with mayonnaise and a leaf of dark green lettuce before you lightly toast the sandwich in a buttered skillet. Serve with a side of vegetable soup made from your garden; tomatoes, beans, corn kernels and okra and a quarter of an onion, simmered with a dash of salt, pepper, oregano and basil for a easy and delicious hearty meal.
Thoroughly washed and freshly cooked collard greens can’t be beat for flavor; garnish them with a dollop of sour cream and serve. A dish of cucumber and diced tomatoes is a cool,refreshing addition to your dinner table during the summer months. These two vegetables contains nutrients that decrease during the cooking cycle. Season and cook young, slender green beans in a wok. Scrap corn off the cob, add butter, salt and pepper and bake until done. Less butter is needed to season food than imitation margarine.
The Gardener’s chore
Victory Gardens are easy to maintain and require little work, other than preparing the soil for planting, just keep the weeds at bay and water. Sit back and watch it grow and produce. A rule of thumb is to plant one row about 14 feet long for each vegetable, except for eggplants, cabbage, cucumbers, and radishes. A tiller comes in handy for breaking up the ground, but this can also be done with a shovel, although this takes longer and requires more effort. You’ll need a hoe regardless, to keep the weeds at bay. A weed free garden helps reduce pests. Some plant marigolds between vegetable rows because they claim marigolds keep insects away from vegetable plants, although there is no scientific proof that supports this theory. After the harvest, can or freeze excess vegetables, but follow FDA safety instructions on canning.
From acres of vegetables on family farms in the rural south to the small Victory Garden in our backyard, we can still supplement our diet with wholesome, healthy and additive free food.
So, grab your straw hat . . . its time to plant!
June Davis Davidson is the author of Country Stores of Mississippi, Images of Meridian and coauthor of Legendary Locals of Meridian. She is a member and former board member of the Mississippi Writers Guild and currently serves as the Meridian Chapter head. June is member of Mississippi Alliance for Arts Education and is listed on the Mississippi Arts Commission as a literary artist.