Victory gardens are making a comeback in the Hudson Valley.
When they came into popularity during World War I and II, it was out of necessity. Rationing was in effect across the United States, so home gardens offered an approachable solution to supplementing resources during a time of hardship. Not only were they a boon for families on tight budgets, but they were also morale boosters for citizens who wanted to contribute to the war effort from the home front.
Nowadays, victory gardens hold an undeniable appeal. With social distancing protocol top of mind during the COVID-19 pandemic, home gardens are attractive ways to minimize grocery store trips and grow fresh fruits and vegetables.
Yet for many Hudson Valleyites, gardening is entirely new territory. To learn exactly how to get started, we touched base with Adams Fairacre Farms’ Garden Center Buyer Neil Secor, who’s been with the store for more than 45 years.
For newbie gardeners, Secor can’t stress this enough.
“Don’t plant more than you can take care of, because then you’ll waste time and resources,” he says. “You have to plan ahead.”
To do this, he recommends analyzing the space you have to work with, along with potential growing layouts. In smaller setups, containers and window planters can be more realistic and space-efficient than raised beds. For those who do have enough room for a full garden, Secor notes that it’s imperative to consider total space as well as space between plants. Tomatoes need at least three feet per plant, for instance, so they’re not always suitable for confined areas.
As a gardening veteran – he’s been in the industry for 60 years – Secor has tackled every sort of conundrum faced by first-time gardeners. Of all of them, he says that not doing enough research on individual plants, especially which ones should start from seed and which shouldn’t, is a common source of stress.
“People want to start from seed, but for some things it’s just not realistic,” he says. What’s more, many warm-weather plants that start from seed need to be planted early (think February) to ensure a proper timeline. For more delicate plants, meanwhile, plantings shouldn’t occur until the possibility of frost has passed. This year in particular, the frost has been a challenging element for Hudson Valley gardeners, with the power to stop growth in its tracks before buds even have the chance to poke out of the dirt.
Secor recommends starting victory gardens with a handful of smaller varietals so they’re easier to manage. For new gardeners, herbs purchased as plants are ideal, since many of them are perennials. His top picks include chives, cilantro, rosemary, lavender, Italian and/or curly parsley, mint, thyme, sage, basil, and oregano.
“They will come back without doing much,” he explains, adding that there’s nothing like ripping off a few leaves of basil to toss into a homemade caprese salad. “The stuff you grow tastes better.”
For those who crave something more substantial, he notes that tomatoes can be grown in pots, while lettuces are ideal for window boxes. Vegetables need about an inch of water per week, while container plants, which can dry out faster, may require more water. In both cases, these plants should be situated in areas where sufficient drainage and water access are possible. As for when to water, he advises that the best time to do so is in the morning before the sun hits its peak.
“A deep watering once or twice a week is better than a light watering every day,” he says. “It encourages healthier root growth.”
Not only are victory gardens a learning opportunity for anyone new to gardening, but they’re also a jumping-off point for educating children about food systems. Plus, they’re a great way for families to get outside together to work on a project in which everyone can play an active role.
“It’s a good way for kids to learn,” Secor observes. “It stays fun if you start out small.”