“Victory Gardens showcase patriotism in its truest sense, with each of us taking personal responsibility for doing our individual part to create a healthy, fair and affordable food system.”
As I sit at my computer to type this for a column I write for a local magazine, I am sure that I join many of you with thoughts whirling with wonderment at the challenging times we are facing. While it is early April, by the time you read my words it will be May. That brings me a huge sense of relief – perhaps our lives will be somewhat back to normal by May? Though, what does that mean anymore? While I admit that I am growing tired of the phrase, “The new normal” – doing things differently than we did before may be a reality that we are facing. Also, because I try to be a glass half full sort of person, maybe adapting and changing some aspects of our lives is not necessarily a bad thing.
When I think back to a few months ago I never imagined that “Zoom Meetings” and “Google Meet-Ups” would become the way I learn how to communicate with my high school students, fellow educators, and administrators. I could not fathom “Shelter in Place Orders” or the bickering I would witness on social media over Essential vs. Non-essential workers. Yet, here we are.
As a teacher, a writer, and a blogger I repeat constantly how one of my guiding philosophies is that our writing is a time capsule. As uncomfortable as it is at times, we are experiencing history and whatever medium we choose to document the Covid-19 pandemic will become a primary source for future generations.
My husband, as a police officer, is one of those Essential Workers and I have to give him credit for being full of grace under pressure. Whenever he detects that I may be feeling anxiety over a situation, or feeling stressed out he reminds me to put things into focus. He is known to ask me, “Is the house on fire? Is it an arterial bleed? Then things are going to be okay.” When I hear his voice of reason it always makes me giggle a little and realize that I need to calm down and not panic. Needless to say, I relied on him often in the past couple of months.
One of the things that has helped me stay centered during a time of confusion and uncertainty is to rely on the things that bring me joy. This means nourishing my family with healthy foods and leaning on nature (even when it dumps two feet of snow on us like it did yesterday). However, there is a sense of satisfaction knowing that the weather is temporary. Our days are already much longer and soon they will bring warmer weather.
Over the past couple of months I have read several blog posts and comments from friends on social media stating that they have enjoyed a slower paced life and being able to sit down as a family to enjoy a home cooked meal together. Perhaps that will be something positive that many families will take away from these trying times and continue to practice?
Home cooked meals are one of the cornerstones of my husband and my marriage. Not only do we delight in making dinner in our own kitchen, but we pride ourselves in raising much of the food ourselves. Having a little extra time at home has brought even more cooking into the mix. Not only did my husband and step son make banana bread and homemade peanut butter cookies, but they also tapped and boiled down maple syrup from our own trees.
In addition to cooking, we started our Victory Garden. Those familiar with history know that during WWII families were encouraged to grow their own fruit and vegetables to help supplement the food rations to aid the war effort, but also to boost the morale of the citizens. Now as you may know from reading my columns, gardening is not something new to the Waldos. However, I dare say that I approached it this year with renewed gusto and vigor. With our family trying to take fewer trips to the grocers, having a backyard full of fresh greens, herbs, and vegetables is even more appealing. So I thought I would share some tips that I have for how to start your own seeds in your own home.
If you have a small home, with limited space, as long as you have a sunny windowsill – you can get seeds to sprout. I find that our windows with eastern exposure and morning sunlight do the best.
While you can purchase fancy seed trays and pots, I make sure to save all of our large yogurt/cottage cheese containers for tomato seeds. Since I like those seedlings to get quite large before transplanting them into the ground, the larger containers allow the roots to grow. A tip from my mom for tomato seedlings is to allow a fan to circulate a couple weeks before getting them into the ground and plant them deeply. The fan allows them to strengthen and become more resilient to the elements outside.
Another great tip if you love to recycle is to keep the large clamshells that you purchase greens in. You can fill them with garden soil and they make the best mini-greenhouses.
Once you are ready to move the seedlings outside, you can move them to a bed outside, or utilize a container garden. For years before I had the land that I do now, I grew gorgeous tomatoes in 5 gallon buckets. Herbs grow great in containers, as well as peppers, and you can even buy or make trellises and grow peas, beans, and cucumbers in large pots or buckets.
As far as seeds go, we like to purchase our seeds in bulk because they are more cost effective. As long as they are stored in a cool, dry place (a jar works great) they will keep for up to five years (or more).
In addition to planting our Victory Garden, one of the things that I have been trying to do to stretch our grocery trips is to make multiple meals out of one main ingredient. Therefore, I have been sharing on my social media accounts tips to help others do the same thing. Since we raise our own pork and chicken, I made the recommendation for others to purchase a whole ham or whole chicken. For example, a ham can be made into sandwiches, ham and scalloped potatoes, and you can toss the bone into your pressure cooker (or on the stovetop) and make bone broth that can then become a pot of Ham and Cheesy Potato and Broccoli Soup. A pork loin can be slow cooked in the crockpot with potatoes and carrots for a delicious roast. The extra meat can be seasoned for tacos and the juices from the roast can be thickened with flour and butter with sausage added for breakfast biscuits and gravy.
The same can be done for a chicken. Our Easter dinner was a chicken roasted in our pressure cooker. I reserved the drippings and thickened for gravy and then reserved the carcass for homemade bone broth. The bone broth can be put in jars and frozen(with about an inch of head room so the jars do not crack) or can be used right away as the liquid to cook flavorful rice or make a pot of chicken soup.
Do you make your own Bone Broth? If not, here is my basic recipe that I believe is a staple in any kitchen, but especially a Victory Garden or Quarantine Kitchen.
*One chicken carcass (I take all, or most of the meat off. You can also use chicken thighs or legs if you have them. Of course this method works with turkey as well).
*4-5 cups of water
*One onion halved (I leave the peels on)
*Few carrots (leave the tops on if you are using whole carrots)
*A few celery ribs (I use the tops that often get discarded)
*A few cloves of garlic or minced garlic (if you use whole – no need to peel)
*3 Tablespoons of vinegar (it helps draw out the healthy minerals the bones)
*Salt and Pepper
Pressure cook for 45 minutes. If using a stove top or crockpot method you can simmer for several hours (the longer the better).
This is just a basic recipe, and you can change the flavor profile by adding other herbs and seasonings. You can add rosemary, thyme, ginger, parsely, cilantro, lemon, and even hot peppers.
As I write this I am not certain what is in store for the future. However, I want to wish you the best and hope you are safe and healthy. Please feel free to reach out to my Facebook page or comment here if you have any gardening, canning, or cooking questions. I am not an absolute expert, but I have learned a lot of tips and tricks over the last several years.
The most important thing to remember in a time of uncertainty is that we are in this together. Check in on each other and let us continue to make our communities a safe place to live. Make sure to do something that brings you joy.
If you have never gardened before, I guarantee you will not regret picking up this healthy hobby. Whether you try to put up enough vegetables for the entire winter like my family does, or simply grow a little kitchen herb garden, there is something incredibly satisfying about growing your own food. If you ask me, nothing tastes as fine as a fresh, juicy garden tomato still warm from the sun. May is the perfect time to start your Victory Garden. Get growing!