Covington, Kentucky —- Here it is, already October, a transitioning time for our Victory Gardeners and a chance for us to reflect on the program, its outcomes, and its future. How is it possible that this year can feel like both the longest and shortest ever all at the same time? Starting our gardens in June feels like yesterday, but the normal pandemic-free lives we were living in February seems like a lifetime ago. The last month or so I have learned a lot about transitioning gardens for the colder weather. I’m watching as the beginner gardeners in our Victory Garden program decide whether to put the garden to bed for the winter, or try their hand at another round of veggies. I’m also amazed at their creativity to make proper use of the end-of-season surplus and their excitement for already thinking ahead to next year. 

Mónica is my favorite example of a gardener letting not one piece of her hard work go to waste. She is a beginner in our program and was paired with mentor, Brian. Mónica is the adult-child of Mexican and Japanese immigrants. This heritage combined with her natural love of learning means she has a breadth of interest in food and cuisine and mastering cooking techniques that go far beyond the basics.  This is the part of the season where Mónica shines. She had a small amount of growing experience prior to this year, but never felt secure in her knowledge and felt limited by her lack of a yard to grow in. Even though Brian and Mónica have been neighbors for years, it wasn’t until he invited her into the Victory Garden program that she could see the possibilities for her limited space. Mónica started this year small, mostly focusing on just a few tomato, bell pepper, and jalapeno plants in containers on her third floor fire escape. But boy did they grow! The picture below is Monica’s baby plants in a fire escape ( coincidentally Brian’s house is in the background!) and her full grown plant full of tomatoes!


Mónica has been enjoying a bounty of produce all season long! But as the season winds down she has gone to great lengths to make sure she’ll be continuing to enjoy her fruits, even in the off season. She is making the most of her last jalapenos by canning jars of cowboy candy. She also boiled, peeled, diced, and canned the last of her ripe tomatoes. Even the skins got another life as she dried and ground them into a powder for future use as a seasoning. And not to be sure nothing goes to waste, Mónica is using her leftover brine from the cowboy candy to quick pickle her remaining green tomatoes (not for canning, just for brief refrigeration before going to friends and family).

As collectively we have an end of the season transition, it’s examples like Mónica that have us excited for next year and thinking about enhancements to the program. We’re focused on continuing to grow our group of Victory Gardeners who are learning to grow their own food at home, but also on finding more ways to promote the existing knowledge and the lessons learned among the beginners. This year we developed a process for connecting our beginners with mentors, next year we want to add a focus on connecting beginners with each other as well. When we started this season, we thought there might be an end to the physical distancing requirements of the pandemic and perhaps some late season opportunities for in-person interactions, but that was of course never to be. Next year we’re looking at building better connections among all the participants, so that everyone is supported by the entire network. And so that the learning does not just go one way! Mónica (and likely many other beginners) has a wealth of applicable knowledge that should be made available to others in her cohort! Despite the difficulties of 2020, this year we were able to persevere and put into place a new program that will have benefits for years to come. We are very much looking forward to another fresh start and continued growth in the year to come. 


Shannon Ratterman

Garden Coordinator for the Covington Victories Garden Program