Sunday, May 24, 2009

Plant your victory garden with seeds of hope

Last summer, I labeled my three tomato plants and one wayward pumpkin plant a "victory garden."

The term actually meant something during World War II. For many, growing your own was a necessity. Food was rationed for the war effort and gardening meant that you and your family and neighbors would have fruits and vegetables. "Victory," of course, had a symbolic meaning, as in victory over Germany and Japan. Growing beans and corn and squash was not only necessary but patriotic too.

Calling my minimal patch a "victory garden" last year spurred me on to work as hard as I could for victory in the November elections. I would tell myself to water the tomatoes and then hit the neighborhoods for presidential candidate Barack Obama or U.S. House candidate Gary Trauner or U.S. Senate hopeful Nick Carter or local Dems running for the state legislature: Lori Millin, Jim Byrd and others. My victory garden symbolized potential victory over McCain-Palin and Cynthia Lummis and tired old Repub non-ideas. The larger the plants grew, the closer we got to the election and the more effort I invested in the cause.

The harvest -- such as it was -- was in by early November, and it was a mixed bag. Wyoming went for McCain-Palin and the Repub slate for U.S. House and Senate. Lori Millin won in a squeaker (early projections said she lost) as did Jim Byrd. Katherine VanDell was defeated.

Still, we had a major victory in Pres. Obama.

So where's the "victory" in Victory Garden this year? In Wyoming, you are dedicated and lucky if you get anything to grow at all. It's not the bugs. But it is the altitude (6,200 feet), the short growing season, the wind, the hail, late or early frost, the anemic soil, etc.

This year, I'm going all out with a real garden. Dug up a patch of soil east of the backyard covered porch. Dumped into it multiple wheelbarrows of humus from the compost pile. Mixed it all up real good. Built furrows. Surrounded it with a fence to keep out the dog. Bought some garden soil and mixed it in. Last weekend bought some of my plants at the annual plant sale put on by the excellent Cheyenne Botanic Gardens. Selections were made quickly due to the fact I didn't wear my parka on a foggy 42-degree spring morning. Signs all over urged us not to plant before Memorial Day. The next day, more than a week before Memorial Day, I planted. I was expecting the skies to open up and dump ten feet of snow on me. Or for an Oz-like twister to drop out of black clouds and carry me and my seedlings off to Nebraska.

But my daughter Annie and I got the plants in the ground and seeded the rest. We put in three mounds of squash and zucchini seeds. Planted some marigolds in several strategic places. Some pole beans on the side yard. We dug up some of the pumpkin plants that seem to grow just fine on their own. We settled back and contemplated the fruits of our labors. Well, I dreamed about the fruits and veggies of my labors.

I'm not a johnny-come-lately to gardening. I've had gardens in Central Florida, Denver and Fort Collins, Colo., and at our old house in Cheyenne. I like growing things, especially if I can eat them later. I'm a cook too, and preparing dinner is more rewarding if I can use my own produce. That's also a victory.

Gardens have become a huge fad as millions jump on the "locavore" bandwagon. Growing and eating locally is very big. Farmers' markets bloom everywhere, even in Cheyenne which now has at least two. Old-time gardeners in the neighborhood find their skills in demand, especially by their Yuppie neighbors striving to be part of the new trend. Some of them dig up their front yards and plant their gardens there. "Look at me," they say, "I am locavore with a capital L." They can also Twitter -- or blog -- their accomplishments without leaving the garden.

What the hell. Let everyone grow gardens. In the front yard, in the back yard, on the roof, in containers on their porch, in community gardens. It's good for you and good for the planet. It teaches patience and persistence. You become an amateur horticulturist and meteorologist, all at the same time.

My garden this year is a victory over complacency. A tribute to Mother Nature -- and to Michelle Obama's White House garden.

Now let us pray. No hail! No hail!

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