Old Salem gardens

The Miksch Garden at Old Salem is planted with peas, Friday, April 3, 2020. More plants will follow as the season moves toward summer.

Businesses, organizations and nonprofits are trying to find ways to help their neighbors and communities during the COVID1-19 virus. State mandated stay at home orders and limited staff have stretched thin so many of us, so we’re all trying to figure out ways to take our lemons and make a little lemonade.

Old Salem Museums and Gardens is no different. They have announced they will transform their interpretive gardens into Victory Gardens, donating all produce to those in need.

This living history site has been a staple attraction for Winston-Salem for many years, providing visitors of all ages interpretive programs and experiences. The COVID-19 virus brought Old Salem to a screeching halt several weeks ago, when they announced their temporary closure. All hourly employees have been temporarily laid off, and the streets are empty of visitors. But this idle time is being put to good use in the open garden spaces.

“It feels good to direct energies in a positive direction right now,” said Eric Jackson, the head gardener at Old Salem. “We’re not gonna have visitors anytime soon, so we might as well make the gardens useful to the new situation.”

The Old Salem gardens that are cultivated and normally used as interpreted spaces will now be used to grow vegetables. The produce harvested will go to food banks and community groups that will distribute the produce to those who are most in need. According to Old Salem, “This could include people who are food insecure, seniors, immunocompromised individuals, and families in crisis.”

A grassroots resurgence of the Victory Garden is sweeping its way through the country, as people respond to the virus. Historically, Victory Gardens were products of the World Wars, where American citizens were encouraged to plant gardens “as a way to minimize demand on an overburdened public food system.” Citizens were urged to use not only their own land, but any idle land to cultivate gardens.

The gardens of Old Salem are the perfect place to cultivate edibles and can serve as a model for community effort to help during this unprecedented time. The gardens currently in production include the Single Brothers’ Gardens and the Triebel and Miksch gardens. These gardens are typically utilized as teaching spaces.

The Single Brothers’ Garden, for example, was to be planted this year to represent crops from the Americas, Africa and Europe — crops that migrated, changed and eventually came together during Moravian Salem. The educational and interpretive plan for these gardens will be put on hold for the time being.

For the most part, Jackson will be planting the same vegetable crops that he normally would — but on a bigger scale for food production. Because Old Salem has a large and diverse seed collection, they will be growing mainly what crops they have seed for.

“We have our seeds that we save,” Jackson said. “We also have extra seeds that were for sale in the retail store, but they can’t sell the seeds because they don’t have an online store.”

Jackson said that many of the crops he’s planting are nutrient-dense and store well. Some of the vegetables he will help grow in the Victory Garden include potatoes, onions, beets, carrots, squash, Seminole pumpkins, cabbage, endive, peas, leafy greens, and a lot of Pink Bermuda sweet potatoes.

“Right now I’ve planted a lot of potatoes, multiplier onions, a lot of beets, a lot of carrots,” Jackson said. “We also have a bunch of sweet potatoes. I’ll plant a lot more of those. They take care of themselves to some degree, and they’re very productive.”

Old Salem composts their own leaves, which makes a great addition to their garden soil. Jackson said that the compost he’s spreading into the gardens now are leaves from 2018. He’s also looking into ways that Old Salem residents can help with the Victory Gardens.

“I do want to facilitate some space where residents can contribute their food scraps and we could put it in our leaf pile and compost it. Residents really want to help,” he said.

I know a lot of us are feeling helpless during this time. I think it’s important, though, that we find a way to utilize what we have and use it to it’s full potential. For Old Salem, they saw their cultivated gardens as an opportunity to help others. Perhaps we can all find a little opportunity and hope in our own gardens? This idle time can prove productive in so many ways.

Amy Dixon is an assistant horticulturist at Reynolda Gardens of Wake Forest University. Gardening questions or story ideas can be sent to her at www.facebook.com/WSJAmyDixon or news@wsjournal.com, with “gardening” in the subject line. Or write to Amy Dixon in care of Features, Winston-Salem Journal, 418 N. Marshall St., Winston-Salem, NC 27101

Load comments