Original Art by Joe Wirtheim (www.victorygardenoftomorrow.com)
Growing wholesome, organic foods in a Four Directions Victory Garden brings balance and joy.
Gardening is not something that has come easily to me. I was raised in a city, surrounded by concrete. I played with my friends on rooftop playgrounds. My great outdoors was New York’s Central Park. When I got home from school, I had a snack and turned on the television. I learned a lot from that television. But I had no idea how to take care of life. I couldn’t begin to imagine how the meat that came home from the supermarket in yellow styrofoam trays had anything to do with the feathered chickens in my picture books.
After moving to San Francisco, California in my 20’s, I became increasingly drawn to what we in NYC used to call, “the country.” Over the years I have grown some vegetables, herbs, and flowers in foggy Half Moon Bay and Bolinas coastal regions, mostly cool San Francisco, hot and dry Tuolumne County, and most recently Sonoma County. I have come to realize that there is nothing like eating food fresh out of your garden! The carrots are warm when you pull them. You cannot believe the flavors of food when it’s fresh, and come to realize that anything you buy from a market has been sitting around a good while. It’s already lost not only nutrients, but flavor as well. Once you grow your own food, the market produce doesn’t taste so nuanced. You can’t wait until you can harvest another crop of arugula.
Last spring when I moved into my current home, I was excited to garden. I saw a raised bed and assumed it was good to go. I pulled out the seeds I’d been saving, and bought a few more. I sowed those seeds, and I watered, and I weeded. I was a little surprised at how much water was required – it was costing me a fortune and a bit of worry. At first everything was growing like gangbusters. I harvested a few zucchini, a couple of ears of sweet corn, and then all of a sudden the garden imploded. My raised bed had not been gopher proofed, and the creatures that proliferate in the area destroyed the garden. In what seemed like one day, all the plants had toppled over. I was totally disheartened.
This spring, I attended a workshop in my neighborhood on gopher proofing. The first half of the lecture was about trapping, a labor-intensive and murderous approach that was unacceptable to me. During the second half, we learned what gauge wire mesh to line my garden bed with to keep the gophers from burrowing in to reach the tender roots of young plants. Lucas and Tim generously offered their help, saving me from the surging tide of physical and financial overwhelm. While Tim and I were digging out 100 square foot of soil, I discovered that the garden bed was situated on top of the root system of a nearby oak tree. Over the years of drought, the thirsty roots had been competing with the new starts for precious water – another reason I was struggling last summer. I studied the small back yard and determined to move the bed over to another sunny spot, this time away from the tree roots. We placed the gopher wire, mixed 2 yards of compost and soil into the sandy loam on top of it, and I was ready to plant once again.
In the 1940’s during World War II, with so many resources going to the war effort, there were food shortages. The U.S. Government, under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, encouraged families to grow their own “Victory Gardens.” Victory Gardens were a way to boost morale, support the war effort and celebrate the bounty of life. I’ve always loved this idea. My 2016 garden, in its new home, is a Four Directions Victory Garden, in honor of my attempt to create a non-violent solution to growing organic food in my own back yard, at a time when it seems that healthy and pure food is becoming increasingly scarce and hard for most working people to afford, and to claim my place among the directions and within the circle of life.
This first image is the garden before planting. I oriented it on the cardinal points, so like a compass, it points north. The center representing the hoop of life, is where I would plant corn, squash, beans and sunflowers in honor of the ancestors who have planted this way for millennia. I planned it this way to help me learn from the ones who came before, from their wisdom, which they gathered from the earth, water, sun, air and plants, themselves. They knew how to take care of life. Now I am learning too.
Here are my first babies sprouting up. Their source was not seeds but an actual organic russet potato that I had lost at the bottom of a basket and found sprouting eyes in 3 places. I cut the potato up in thirds and planted those 3 sprouting sections. You can see they had a head start over all the seeds that I planted. How many sprouted potatoes have you thrown out or composted over the years?
And this is what they look like now.