"Garden like you're broke"
By Donna Iverson
Living along the shores of Muskegon Lake, I heard tell of a Depression Garden being grown at the historic Solnik House in Muskegon. It sounded intriguing so I went for a look.
These mostly urban backyard gardens were popular in the 1930s when the depression forced many people to grow their own food to survive. My Dutch maternal grandfather was one of them. During WWII, the depression garden morphed into the more well-known Victory Garden.
While we are not in a depression, there is a lot to learn from these back-to-basics gardens that focused on growing staples to feed people. Foods like potatoes, beans, tomatoes, peas, carrots and cabbage.
The Depression Garden at the Solnik House is on the south side of the building. Veggies grow in ground-level wooden boxes that likely date back to the 1930s. It is a no-frills garden with the look of simplicity and austerity.
I thought about my own community garden bed with its mixture of veggies, herbs and flowers...as well as an ornamental scarlet runner bean. This plant I grow mostly for how it looks with its scarlet flowers that attract hummingbirds. I smiled to think that Jack in the Beanstalk would have loved it. But a depression garden it isn't.
Still I was attracted to the depression garden and the lessons it might offer. Such as:
1. Growing your own food as a way to save money and supplement the family income.
2. Insuring that your vegetables are not contaminated by herbicides or pesticides
3. Planting for fresh seasonal produce, lettuce and peas in the spring, tomatoes in the summer, pumpkins in the fall and maybe even a winter crop of collard greens.
But there's more than that. We could all use a dose of depression era mentality, according to Kim Slotterback-Hoyun, a northern Michigan gardener. She advises residents to: "garden like you're broke." Plant from seeds if possible. Use what you have to create beds, trellises, and bee houses. Dig out that old shovel and hoe and put some elbow grease into your efforts, forgoing the fancy gardening equipment.
And help out your neighbors. Back in the 1930s, vacant lots were turned into relief lots. Food was grown for those who needed it. Much like today's community gardens. Although today, more and more community gardens are putting fences around their beds and warning neighbors, "if you didn't grow it, don't take it." In the community garden that I am a member of, we open the gardens to the public after August when veggies would rot on the vine if not harvested.
In summary, depression-era gardens pull us back to basics, growing our own food, using what we have, and helping out our neighbors when possible.