Grasp gardeners develop curiosity in residence gardening

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UNIVERSITY PARK, PA. – In the early to mid 1900s, it was common for families to have a garden in their back yard, not just to grow their food, but also to demonstrate their patriotism by putting their surplus crops for war effort.

In the post-war period, interest in these “victory gardens” waned as life returned to normal and food supplies increased. However, home gardening is enjoying a resurgence lately – especially in response to the coronavirus pandemic – and the Penn State Extension’s master gardeners are wasting no time promoting their comeback.

Valerie Sesler, coordinator of the master gardener, explained that Victory Gardens was created during World War I when farmers were being recruited for military service, which resulted in severe food shortages. These gardens reappeared in World War II for the same reasons.

When home stay orders came in in Pennsylvania in March, master gardeners suspected renewed interest in information about home gardens – especially vegetable gardens – and the Victory Garden Reinvented webinar series was launched. The 10-session series began in April but can be viewed anytime on 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 such as no-till, integrated pest management, use of cover crops and row covers, and container horticulture. In addition to popularly grown vegetables, fruit crops and some vegetable specialties were also highlighted.

Facilitators are horticultural extension educators and experienced master gardeners who have a strong background in rearing certain crops.

More than 3,200 people – in 44 states and seven Canadian provinces – have signed up for the series, which is now being translated into Spanish. Among those winning gardeners is first-time gardener Andrea Russo, a summer resident of Pocono Lake, Pennsylvania who found out about the program at the Clymer Library while searching online for a book her son needed for school. She likes the program because it describes things step by step and because the master gardeners provide expert explanations.

Allegheny County’s Fritz Mitnick, while not new to horticulture, decided to sign up for the series to stay busy and learn about new techniques during the quarantine. Although he had helped his father grow and sell vegetables, he found he learned something new from each session.

For more information, see the Penn State Extension website at extension.psu.edu/programs/master-gardener.

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