Master gardeners grow interest in home gardening

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — During the early to mid-1900s, it was commonplace for families to have a garden in their backyard, not just as a means to grow their food, but also to show their patriotism by providing their excess harvest to war efforts.

In the postwar era, interest in these “Victory Gardens” waned as life returned to normal and the food supply strengthened. However, home gardening is enjoying a resurgence of late — especially in response to the coronavirus pandemic — and the Penn State Extension master gardeners are wasting no time in nurturing its comeback.

Valerie Sesler, area master gardener coordinator, explained that during World War I, Victory Gardens originated when farmers were recruited into military service, thereby causing a severe food shortage. These gardens reemerged during World War II for the same reasons.

When stay-at-home orders were put in place in Pennsylvania in March, the master gardeners suspected there would be a renewed interest in information about home gardens — vegetable gardens, in particular — and the Victory Garden Reinvented webinar series was born. The 10-session series began in April but can be viewed at any time by visiting the Penn State Extension website at extension.psu.edu/victory-garden-reinvented-series.

The webinars cover the basics of home vegetable gardening, as well as newer growing methods including no-till gardening, integrated pest management, the use of cover crops and row covers and container gardening. In addition to popularly grown vegetables, fruit crops and some specialty vegetables also were highlighted.

Presenters are horticulture extension educators and experienced master gardeners who have strong backgrounds in raising specific crops.

More than 3,200 people — in 44 states and seven Canadian provinces — registered for the series, which now is being translated into Spanish. Among those victory gardeners is first-time gardener Andrea Russo, a summer resident of Pocono Lake, Pennsylvania, who learned about the program from the Clymer Library when searching online for a book her son needed for school. She likes the program because it lays things out in a step-by-step manner and because of the expert explanations given by the master gardeners.

While not new to gardening, Fritz Mitnick, of Allegheny County, decided to register for the series to stay busy during quarantine and to glean information on new techniques. Although he had helped his father growing and selling vegetables while growing up, he found that he was learning something new from every session.

More information is available on the Penn State Extension website at extension.psu.edu/programs/master-gardener.

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