Thursday, October 1, 2009 By: Uwharrie Heirlooms

Reminiscing . . .

The Little River Band, back in the Fall of 1978, sang of "all the time we're missing, spending the hours reminiscing," as if that's a bad thing.

Maybe so, but I find some comfort in doing that, as well as a fair amount of angst over what I should have done, or "where would I be now if only . . ."

One thing that has stayed constant for me, however, is the fact that when things are looking bad, I can always turn to the soil. If you take care of it, it will take care of you.

In my first post I told you about the people in my community that pointed me toward horticulture, and some that actually gave me some small shoves in the right direction. But, back then (the mid-1970's) there were a couple of other people who helped me, and probably millions of others. Both are gone now, but I would like to give them the credit, on my behalf, that they deserve.

First is James Underwood Crockett, or Jim, as he was better known. Jim had a weekly program on PBS called "Crockett's Victory Garden" that was a no-nonsense show about gardening.

Jim would begin the half-hour show by demonstrating hands-on demonstrations of almost everything that could be done in the garden. He would start seeds, help them along, harden them off, get down on his knees with a trowel and put them into the soil. He would nurture the plants until they either bre fruit or flowers, then harvest them and show you how to enjoy them.

Jim was the first person to ever mention composting to me, although he never knew it. When his first book from the series, appropriately entitled "Crockett's Victory Garden" was released, my parents gave me a copy for Christmas. I still have it, the inside cover inscribed by my mother as a gift for me, a sixteen-year-old boy who was starting on a journey that, thirty-three years later, is still winding down the road.

The great thing about Jim's book was that it was divided by month, so that you could follow what he was doing each month and apply it to your own garden. Now, his garden was in Boston, so I learned to adapt his schedule to fit mine.

For the time, Jim was a great mentor for me. I didn't know then about the negative effect that the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers had on the soil, and Jim used them in his gardens.

Crockett died from cancer in 1979 at age 64.

The second person of influence, although I didn't realize it until years later, was Robert (Bob) Rodale. Rodale published a little magazine called "Organic Gardening and Farming," and it really was little. It was about half the size of a traditional magazine with a somewhat glossy cover and pages of newsprint-quality. But those pages were jam-packed with good information. Even if you weren't an organic grower the information within those pages was priceless.

I borrowed the photo at right, although the issue pictured is much older than the ones I started out with.

Rodale, following in the footsteps of his father, J.I., were pioneers of the past. Following World War II, when gardeners and farmers were jumping on the chemical bandwagon, these men were leading the charge of soil building and the benefits of healthy food and living. They practiced what they preached and established a farm in Pennsylvania where organic practices, both old and new, were carried out. The pages of the magazine spread the news of what they were doing, and failures were reported along with triumphs.

Son Robert was the man in charge when my sister first introduced me to the magazine back in the late 1970's. He traveled the world to spread his message, and was in Russia helping to launch a similar magazine when he was killed in an automobile accident in 1990.

After his death, I feel like the magazine lost it's focus for a while. The little magazine became a bigger, glossier publication, probably to attract the more "yuppie, Martha Stewart type" reader. Where the old magazine had ads for tractors and worm kits, the newer one touted luxury automobiles and skin conditioners.

I will admit that I rarely read the magazine these days, although the ones I have seen seem to have moved a bit more back to the old one. But it's still glossy and the "and Farming" was dropped from the title years ago. The website is pretty good,, and you can probably spend a day there following links and just surfing in general, but it just hasn't been the same since 1990.

I realize that different people have different visions, and employees almost never have the passion for a business that the owner has, but give me a break. How can PBS get away with calling a show "The Victory Garden" when the hosts have probably never had dirty pants or even grown their own food for that matter. Just dropping the name of Crockett doesn't make it anywhere near the same show.

What do the majestic gardens of estates in Europe have to do with "victory" or "gardening" for that matter?

Thank you Jim and Bob, for keeping it real.


kriips said...

hei Hugh,
just found this - will add it to the garden blog list if you don't mind:)
I saved some seed from the tomatoes from your seed, hopefully they can be useful to both of us in the spring!

Marilyn said...

Hugh, I just checked my bookshelf, and I still have my copy of Crockett's Victory Garden (Christmas 1979) and I, too, have been composting ever since. I'm enjoying your blog.

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