Because of WWII and rationing, the gov’t pushed for everyone to have a Victory Garden. Posters everywhere. However, most of us around New Plymouth were already growing everything we ate in our gardens and had been since New Plymouth was founded in 1895. The founders even made the outside lots around Plymouth big enough to not only have a garden, but to also have chickens and other farm animals. We used to see an old chicken coop behind nearly every house. Imagine waking up every morning to a rooster in the next door chicken coop! Old Abe tended many gardens for town folks when they were unable.
This is my mom, Zola Chandler, in her garden about 1973 (she is about 70). It is late August so most of corn is gone, and some weeds along the edge show up. Where she is standing is on the “flower” side of the garden, where their size would not shade out the veggies. The white building in the background was our chicken coop. Every year I would open the front, clean out the coop, and spread it on her garden to be spaded in. Then, of course, it was time for the annual creosoting of the hen house. Chicken manure cannot be beat for garden fertilizer, but it will “burn” if too much. The straw we spread on the floor and in the nests, was simply great for fertilizer. Mom had used this very same garden size and place since 1934. It had saved our lives during the harsh depression years when everything was very hard to come by and we never had enough to eat. Mom had grown up in the city and had never gardened before marrying dad. Quite simply everything she knew was learned on the job. But, by picking the brains, and help with and from her neighbors, it would be hard to imagined a more determined student. She was simply an expert in her garden.
Mom had no need for the whole garden to produce veggies. She so loved flowers that, instead of letting the space go to waste, she planted her “lovelies” as she called her flowers, in the extra space.
Memorial Day was her favorite holiday. So she prepared and planned to have a full pickup load of flowers for the event. And, she planned many more flowers to give her the seeds for the following year for the whole yard. Zola was the “Johnny Appleseed” of flowers on the Plymouth Bench – spreading her flowers – especially tulips and Iris around to everyone. She would harvest at least a bushel basket more bulbs each fall than she could use herself – all to be given to others. She thought tulips coming up in the spring were the perfect way to welcome a new year.
Our garden had enabled us to survive the Depression. Mom, never forgot how important its role had been. Nor how we stored it in our cellar, stretching it out until a new garden came on line. So she managed her garden with an eye to what would “keep,” and what would not – and what had to be consumed fresh. Not only did she can a lot, but our cellar would always have its share. She knew how to store apples, onions, spuds, squash, etc., so she was quite picky in what she grew. Every square foot had its particular role – some we ate fresh, some was raised for its “storage” value, some for its canning ability, some for taste. All was alternated so new stuff was always “coming on” timely. She always had zinnias and marigolds because they kept the bugs away as did the onions.
So whether she needed to or not, every year out she went and produced an over abundance. And, then gave away what she couldn’t use. She canned up into her 80s, preferring her canned food to store-bought food. She produced enough that she gave a lot to my sisters, and to neighbors.
Mom had a green thumb deluxe! Her gardens looked like they came straight from a seed catalog! She was a great manager as well. We had “new” spuds almost every week thru the summer. Young fresh carrots. Fresh new sweet onions that you could eat like an apple. Beets, beans, peas, tomatoes, carrots, corn, red onions, white onions, scallops. Every year our basement shelves were full of her canning. Often, other friends would come and can with her. She thrived on the camaraderie, and once you had done it – been one of her crew on a canning bee – then they could not stay away.
However, what she produced would spoil me forever. Most of my life was spent in other areas where the taste is simply not there in their local veggies. It was like being condemned to never again having a fresh egg! I have often talked with folks, born and raised in the city, that swear one egg is as good as another, that you can’t tell butter from margarine, on and on. I say great! Because we need someone else to eat all that old stuff!
Mom was a great cook. She knew so many ways to “kick it up a notch!” She was never afraid to experiment with new ways, new recipes. Mom could not bear to throw things away. Very fortunate for our chickens who got tomato worms and damaged veggies. All the dead leaves and plant refuse went into her compost heap, unless it was chicken feed. Into the heap went some chicken manure and it all got recycled and spread around under plants to control weeds. At end of growing year all the garden dead growth got composted for spading in for the next year crop.