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A Report from the 2021 Victory Garden

Hazleton, Pennsylvania

Have you started your Victory Garden yet? These survival backyards popped up during two world wars. During my childhood, my father, Pasquale Jacketti, planted a significant Victory Garden. It was then my true love of the garden began.

So, why plant a Victory Garden now? You see, we are at war again—this time against a virus.  The garden can provide us with distraction and solace, while at its best we also get to harvest some food and flowers.  Beyond these obvious boons, even the smallest planting produces much needed oxygen.

Garden seed houses have started to run out of stock early since the dawn of COVID-19. So, it is wise not just to peruse the dream catalogs, but to make serious lists, and order your must-haves by January—February.

We waited a bit last year, resulting in our not getting some of the dream seeds on our list. For 2022, I am being as proactive as my wallet allows. Now, if you have not started a garden in some form, ranging from an urban lot like ours, to a patio, to a windowsill, consider why you should plant something and take note of how your plants grow.

            As for the shortages, if you are growing open-pollinated varieties, save the seeds, if you can. You may have already noticed that the price of most seeds has soared. Saving seeds gives you some security during this difficult century of climate upheaval.

            The signs of climate change have been growing in our yard for a solid decade now, and they are troublesome. There are fewer bees, and often those that show up seem to drowse in the center of flowers in a sickly slumber.

            On the other hand, we find ourselves doing endless battle with some noxious insects, particularly fruit flies and gnats.  We use an all-natural geranium oil-based spray to keep them at bay. However, even as I write this on the cusp of winter, I am spraying daily for these pests in the kitchen and other rooms in the house.

            During the good old days, bees ruled, and we had no lack of pollinators.

            Thus, it is really important to have many pollinator-plants in your Victory Garden. Above and beyond all that we plant, bees, the hardiest of them, still come to a big stand of common oregano in the backyard and a planting of herbs in the front. If you like mild oregano, plant it for yourself and the honeybees. It is hardy here in Hazleton, Pennsylvania. Thus far, climate change has not zapped our oregano, which grows with the same vigor as our imperialist mints. If only everything still grew with such wild abandon….

For the Love of Fruits and Veggies

Among vegetables and fruits, we probably had a fifty percent rate of success. Of course, erratic weather is making it hard for plants to thrive in a steady state, at least up high here in the Pocono Northeast. That same abundant mild oregano can make many batches of delicate pesto.

Some dwarf Greek basil also prospered, and we had fair harvests

 of grapefruit mint, sage, lemon thyme, and lavender. When things finally got cold enough to frost near early November, we took what we could inside to grow under lights in Wayne’s man-cave, and in the kitchen.

            Of course, this is not the same, and I tend to feel that the rescued plants never get quite enough sunlight—nor do I!

            The squashes flopped entirely during the Summer of 2021. That was a true let-down after a hybrid Brazilian zucchini, Bossa Nova, had grown and surpassed any squash we had ever cultivated. Cucumbers performed in about the same way.  We grew enough Mexican sour gherkins to can one jar. These cukes are a true oddity and best resemble elfin watermelons. If you like sour foods, plant these.  You will find them ultra-pucker-worthy. Also, they produced very well.

            The biggest stars of our Eden were again the tomatoes.  Love apples simply adore us.  A neighbor gifted us with a half dozen traditional beefsteaks that boomed. A black tomato from rareseeds.com (Baker Creek Seeds) did very well. Our biggest surprise was Burpees Italian Ice cherry tomato that I had been trying to start from seed for several years. The harvest turned out abundant enough, but I didn’t find the taste to live up to the catalog description. I also expected the tomatoes to ripen true white, rather than cream-colored. Nevertheless, they are beautiful. Rather than starting them again from seed, I hope to pick up some when we visit the greenhouses in the Lancaster area in the spring.

About Berries

  Mulberries ruled early summer, followed by a fair crop of red and black currants. Most of those made their way into jam; I also dried some of the mulberries that are now ending up in my morning deluxe oatmeal.  I need to caution you about growing mulberries. The tree can reach eighty feet tall, and if you don’t prune it severely every year, the tree will grow out of your control.

            One mulberry tree should suffice in an urban setting.

            Our blackberries produced a bit more enthusiastically, yet they could not compete with the seed berries, something that many of you have probably not tried planting.

The seed berries from rareseeds.com produced a gardener’s delight: many — but never enough Cape Gooseberries. These husk berries are a must-grow. And while I have purchased a commercial variety of these at Wegman’s in Wilkes-Barre, they did not compare to the homegrown in terms of taste.  The commercial ones have a piquant blah- taste.

It is hard to describe homegrown taste as they vary with each variety:, and there are several with overtones of pineapple and perhaps strawberry —that would have to be a very sweet strawberry, however. I also pick up a hint of vanilla.

            Most homegrown berries are bitter, but that is not the case with Cape Gooseberries. When the tawny husks fall off the plant, the fruit is ready to eat — not before.

            In my next blog, I will talk about several other berries that did very well, and are easy to grow from seed.

So, while you might have to wait years for a good harvest of blackberries or raspberries, these amazing solanum varieties can bring you good harvest the first year you plant them.

Maria Jacketti

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