EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ - During World War I and World War II, Americans at home were encouraged to grow "Victory Gardens," using their backyards or small plots of land to grow, preserve, and eat their own vegetables. People grew string beans, peppers, onions, and peas to fill their plates during food rationing and to allow farm-grown food to be sent to soldiers and sailors overseas. Victory Gardens also helped the war effort by cutting back on valuable tin and aluminum used in canning and sending those metals to production plants.
These days, though, a garden like this might be another sort of enterprise, bringing a victory of a different type to Americans fighting the war against COVID-19. A garden of fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs will win some relief from boredom, some creative cooking, and some early interest in food sources and the environment from children. East Brunswick's Jim Giamarese thinks people can win that war and come out better for it.
The best plants for home vegetable gardens in New Jersey are tomatoes, peppers, string beans, eggplant, and herbs like basil. Sounds like the basis of some great home cooking - New Jersey Italian-style. According to Giamarese, lettuces are also easy to grow, but the season is almost done for them. In our soil, they grow early in the season.
Right now, asparagus is the freshest crop available at local farm stores. It is the larger kind, bright green with a purple top. Fresh asparagus snaps easily at the end to remove a small portion that is not edible, but otherwise it is full of nutrients like fiber, folate and vitamins A, C, and K while low in calories. According to the online resource Healthline, there are lots of good reasons to eat it.
Giamarese Farms strawberries are almost ready for harvesting, as the rows of flowering plants attest, but strawberries, especially the too-good-to-be-true Rutgers strawberry can get kids interested in growing a container or window box full of vines of the popular fruit.
Jim Giamarese also suggests starting out by growing a variety of herbs -basil, rosemary, dill, oregano, perhaps - to enhance home cooking and make a good start as a new gardener. The online resource The Spruce has tips on how to grow basil, producing attractive, useful plants year-round. "Container gardening is a great way to start tomato plants," says Giamarese, "And basil can be grown all year long in a container."
The United States Department of Agriculture has made available dozens or resources - like this one - to help new food gardeners grow and preserve food.
According to Psychology Today, there are ten mental health benefits to gardening, naming it possibly one of the best ways to ward off depression, common during this stressful time. The most important benefit? Having a "growth mindset" and a focus on the process of seeing something grow while addressing your plants and their needs. The connection to nature can start small, but it can extend to a greater sense of connection and forward movement.
That's where the Victory Garden helps us all in the war we are currently fighting against the Coronavirus - seeing that growth exists and that nature is always pulling us forward.
*The attached video is from the World War II era about how to start a Victory Garden. Be aware, though, that land that has been treated with pesticides needs three pesticide-free years to release the poison from the soil before it produces edible food.