It’s almost summer in ‘Crockett’s Victory Garden’

By Marica Bernstein
Books Bygone

We survived 16 straight nights of subfreezing temperatures. We let our spigots drip and drip and still our pipes froze. We survived “snow days” without the pleasure of walking the dogs in the snow.

But our seed packets arrived! And between dealing with all that the Southern Season of “Almost Summer” and a pack of restless dogs have to offer, we’ve still found time to start our heirloom tomato, pepper, eggplant and celery seeds inside. But we cannot wait until we can play in the dirt, “as soon as the soil can be worked.”

While we’re waiting for that glorious day, I thought we might skim through an old favorite, “Crockett’s Victory Garden” by James Crockett (1977). Jim Crockett was the first host (1975-79) of the PBS series of the same name. At that time the show first aired, Americans were still suffering from the effects of the Arab oil embargo.

Gasoline had risen from 38 cents/gallon to more than 60 cents in a matter of months and was over $1 by the end of the decade. The first energy czar was appointed to fix things and gas rationing began. Times were tough. Says the show’s producer, “The timing for the show seemed perfect. … Self-sufficiency was both practical and fashionable, even if it meant digging up the front yard to plant tomatoes.”

The book begins with a nice dedication by Crockett, “May your garden, like mine, give you ‘Victory’ over the high cost of fresh vegetables as well as the joy and good health that come from living close to nature.” That’s a nice sentiment. Pass it along.

The television show ran in real time over the course of the year and so the book is organized month-by-month. It begins with March, though Crockett recognizes “the gardener’s year is a circle that has no absolute beginning or end.” He is opposed to the “boom and bust approach that leads to unmanageable surpluses” [cucumbers] “followed by bare or weedy ground for the rest of the season.”

Commenting on the vast number of vegetable gardening books available, Crockett claims “gardeners need more than clear how-to information.” They need to understand the reasons behind certain practices and “logical explanations” for why gardening activities are done when they are. And “because time and the weather are critical factors in gardening” (you can say that again!) the book is designed to help you have “constant and bountiful production all year long.”

Crockett’s book is a clear explanation of common sense year-round vegetable gardening. But because he wrote from a New England Victory Garden perspective, we in Webster County will need to make some adjustments.

For example, we need to back everything up by about two months. Crockett thins beets in May. Our beets are long gone by May. That space has been planted with peppers. And we don’t need to start Giant Red Mustard seeds inside. Sow them to the wind now.

These adjustments aside, this is a great book for the novice and expert gardener alike. I learn something new each time I skim through it. If you are new to vegetable gardening, Lisa Stewart, our county Extension agent, is a local treasure. Contact her at lisas@ext.msstate.edu. Together Lisa and Jim can help you achieve Victory!

“Crockett’s Victory Garden.” James Underwood Crockett. Little/Brown and Co., Boston. 1977.

Available at MUW library, and online booksellers.

Marica Bernstein lives outside of Walthall. She may be contacted at bernstmc@gmail.com.