“When I was a teenager, my father always had a garden,” Herman said. “There was no cheaper better way to feed the family. Those were tough times. Our garden for many of those years in the was a ‘Victory Garden.’
“It was the government’s way of encouraging everyone to save for the war effort. It worked. Even in those days, seed was the cheapest way to go. We would always have a garden.” I knew what he was talking about because I’d recently visited the old WurliTzer building nearby on Niagara Falls Boulevard and seen an enlarged photo of the promenade, in front of the old music factory, filled with World War II Victory Gardens.
The photo intrigued me enough to do some additional research. Men like Herman came from hard scrabble backgrounds. That meant making due with what you had. He brewed his own dandelion wine. He saved seeds from year-to-year. He raised chickens in a coup behind his home, “grandfathered in” years after his city had passed an ordinance banning such endeavors. The basics of Herman’s garden, however, were simple.
“Treat your soil right. You can add organic matter all you want, but no fresh chicken crap – it’ll burn your plants. Commercial fertilizer costs too much. “You can grow from seed right in the garden. You won’t know the difference.” He also explained the importance of reading the notes on seed packages and
keeping things watered. “I like heirloom tomatoes best because if you find one you really like, you
can save the seeds,” he told me. He cautioned about the most common mistake novice gardeners make.
“Don’t over plant. If the package says tomatoes need to be 24 inches apart, don’t plant them 12 inches apart. Plant some seeds in the ground too early. Some years, you will get an early crop. Other years, a late frost will kill everything or they won’t germinate, but seed is cheap. “Pay attentions to crops that like cold – you can stretch the season with late planted broccoli, spinach, lettuce, peas and radishes.”
Every time I talked to the man, I seemed to learn some more about what I didn’t know. The bottom line, though, is to find a mentor like Herman (or Mike the Gardener) and follow his or her lead.
About the Author
Joe Genco is a contributing writer for Mike the Gardener Enterprises, LLC the exclusive home for the Seeds of the Month Club.