Bountiful Victory Gardens during WWII

Office of War Information poster, 1941. U.S. National Archives

Victory gardens were widely promoted during 1943 through 1945, during which time victory gardens gave rise to around 40% of all produce consumed nationwide. This large percentage of crops resulted from an estimated 20 million victory gardens cultivated across the American nation in 1944 –a staggering number when compared with the 5 million gardens cared for in 1918 during the First World War

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These photos from the Library of Congress depict variety of Victory Gardeners around the country, including Vice President, Henry A. Wallace in his Victory Garden!

Join the movement. Plant your own #BerksVictoryGarden and share your stories with other local gardeners the Berks Victory Gardeners facebook group. 

Part of the Berks History Center’s 2020 “Berks History for Victory Campaign.” Click here for more information. 

Maximizing Food Production in Wartime

Victory Garden Layout
Ohio History Connection Collection

Victory Gardens were designed to maximize food production and meet the dietary needs of small families in wartime. During WWII, amateur gardeners were provided instruction pamphlets issued by the US Department of Agriculture on how, when and where to sow, and were offered suggestions as to the best crops to plant, along with tips on preventing disease and insect infestations. These comprehensive manuals were effective guidelines and resulted in an estimated 20 million victory gardens cultivated across the nation in 1944. From 1942 to 1945, war gardening gave rise to around 40% of all produce consumed nationwide.

Due to the wet conditions today, the BHC staff will be getting their hands dirty tomorrow (May 2, 2020), installing our very first Victory Garden on the lawn of the BHC museum. The BHC demonstration garden will be designed to emulate the layout of these historic victory gardens, planting as efficiently as we can in the small sun exposed spaces we have available.

Discover more about the layout of victory gardens and what to plant in this “ABC of Victory Gardens Pamphlet” from the Ohio History Connection‘s digital collection.

Part of the Berks History Center’s 2020 “Berks History for Victory Campaign.” Click here for more information. 

Berks History for Victory!

Berks History for Victory_post (2)

Drawing upon information from their collections and additional historical research, the Berks History Center (BHC) will embark upon an educational campaign and community story-telling project to promote home gardening for food security in Berks County and beyond. The initiative focuses on the revitalization of historic victory gardens, providing both the historical context and practical information for home-scale food production.

The “Berks History for Victory” campaign will launch digitally on Monday, April 13th on the Berks History Center’s social media platforms and will feature home gardening techniques for both urban and suburban residents as well as the national and local history behind victory gardening. Homeowners and renters alike are encouraged to participate and share stories about their victory gardening efforts using the hashtag #BerksHistoryforVictory

Currently closed to the public as ordered by Governor Tom Wolf and the PA Department of Health, the BHC has continued its operations remotely, employing all staff for the duration of the shut-down. Although many day-to-day roles involve interacting with visitors, the BHC quickly re-strategized after closing in March and developed creative ways to continue serving their community in a time of need.

“Despite losses to a significant portion of our revenue stream, our team has been able to adapt quickly, developing creative solutions to allow the organization to retain staff and continue fulfilling our mission,” says Executive Director, Benjamin Neely.

In the first week of the shutdown, the BHC launched “Berks History at Home” an educational resource page on the BHC website. The page allows families to explore Berks County’s history digitally with entertaining videos, a wealth of stories and articles, and a variety of resources and learning activities for families including downloadable coloring pages, junior historian prompts and more. Additional content is being released on the Berks History Center’s social media channels.

As state-wide stay at home measures were implemented, the BHC looked to the history books and discovered that in times of crisis, the American people, and more specifically the people of Berks County, have always been ingenuitive, adaptive, and overwhelmingly generous.

“In the past, producing food at home was an act of national solidarity in times of crisis, collectively taking the strain off of the American food system during the great world wars. Today, with uncertainty in our future, we can look to the lessons of the past to get us through this difficult time,” says Associate Director, Alexis Campbell.

“Gardening can be daunting for some, but we hope to demonstrate that home food production is both possible and fun, not to mention therapeutic. Even if you only grow one potted plant, we hope that gardening at home will be a source of inspiration and comfort, connecting you to the past and uniting our community in troubled times.”

First promoted during WWI, Americans were encouraged to produce their own food by planting vegetable gardens in their backyards, churchyards, city parks, and playgrounds.

At that time, the City of Reading offered residents several areas around town to start victory gardens, encouraging citizens to raise their own vegetables for consumption and conserve farm produce for the war effort. Gardens sprung up all over Reading, from the Hampden and Buttonwood reservoir plots, to the grounds near Sternbergh’s Stirling and Spring and Weiser Streets. Open city blocks, city parks with reservoirs or open land on private property were all made available to Reading residents for rent or free of charge.

Victory Gardens were again promoted by the U.S. government during World War II complementing a country-wide Food Rationing Program in 1942. Victory gardens were widely promoted during 1943 through 1945. However, once the war ended, so did government promotions and America’s reliance on victory gardens.

BHC Curator, Amber Vroman will share stories from her home garden for “Berks History for Victory”

The “Berks History for Victory” campaign is primarily a digital learning experience, with historic images, stories and instructional videos released on social media. Two BHC staff will provide video-journals of their home gardening efforts. The BHC hopes to expand the program, by installing a small demonstration garden and living exhibit on the grounds of the BHC museum, located at 940 Centre Ave. However, plans to do so are tentative and dependent on the status of the state-wide stay at home order.

The “Berks History for Victory” campaign will complement a “Victory Container Garden” initiative led by District 1 Councilwoman, Lucine Sihelnik. By joining Sihelnik’s District 1 Victory Container Garden taskforce, the BHC will work to cultivate the community food system during the outbreak. Further collaborations are expected to grow, as the BHC and the task force encourage all citizens, community organizations, and businesses to get behind the revitalization of home food gardening.

“Victory Gardens are a positive way to feed our community, inspire stewardship, and are fruitful economically,” says Councilwoman Sihelnik.

The BHC invites families in Reading and Berks County to join them in their campaign to promote food security during the COVID-19 pandemic by learning about the history of victory gardens and growing their own gardens at home, wherever possible.

Follow @berkshistory on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.

Scholla: Business Mottoes June 5, 1944

The following maxims are translated from the Neuer Gemeinnutziger Pennsylvanischer Calender, published by John Baer in Lancaster. All of these sayings are selected from the 1877 edition of the almanac

The sleeping fox catches no chickens.

Foresight is the mother of wisdom.

If you wish to learn the value of a dollar, try to borrow one.

Great bargains have ruined many people.

When a fool talks hold your tongue.

Never brag about your business.

An hour of triumph will finally come for him who waits patiently and measures up to the needs of the hour.

Speak only good of your friends.

Never take a dismissed employee back into your employ.

If you turn over your affairs to a servant you will someday regret it.

No one can succeed who neglects his business.

Lose no time bemoaning loses.

Bring system into your business and do not neglect the small details.

Small holes cause big ships to sink.

Never neglect to take a receipt of sums paid and keep a copy of your letters.

Be prompt and don’t waste time visiting.

The lawyers eat the oysters and leave the shells for their clients.

These are but a few gems of wisdom contained in the old Pennsylvania German almanacs. Dr. Clarence Brigham of the American Antiquarian Society, Worcester Mass., tells us that there has developed a revived interest in studying old Pennsylvania German almanacs on deposit in that institution. People are finding nuggets of wisdom in science, cooking, medicine, agriculture, and many other things which our fathers knew. The American Antiquarian Society houses the largest collection of Pennsylvania German almanacs known to exist.



Scholla: Fancy Chickens

Fancy Chickens

Among the picture that hang on memory’s walls is that of raising fancy chickens. If you talked about chickens in western Berks during the period of 1900-1917 your audience would be as interested as a group of Scotchmen hearing about Bobby Burns. During that period chicken raising became a great hobby. Everyone was interested in it and every available space was utilized. If it was only an eight-by-ten  shack, it was called a chicken farm. The fine blooded stock made up for the small area. Local birds took prizes in shows held in Cleveland, Chicago, and New York.

Great shows were held in this section. I can still see the old Town Hall in Womelsdorf with hundreds of cages, each with the monogrammed lock of the owner. Day and night watchmen were on duty for the birds on exhibit were very valuable.

Prepared in Summer-Kitchens

Nearly every home had an outbuilding known as a wash house or summer-kitchen. The floor was covered with oil cloth and a few chairs and an old cook stove made up the furnishings. In the summer the meals were prepared here, but in winter it was merely a storage place. Here is where the birds were prepared for the shows. Roosts were put up behind the stove, a fire built and tubs of water heated, with a washboiler of water on the stove to keep a good supply on hand. Putting on a huge rubber apron, the chicken fancier, would start the proceedings. Ivory soap was dissolved in one tub and bluing in the other. The chickens did not like to be washed, so it was quite a struggle to give them a bath without hurting them.

The chicken was dipped in the soapy water, feathers smoothed with a soft brush, then rinsed in the other tub and dried with a cloth.

A small spoonful of brandy (of which there was a generous supply) was given and the bird placed on the roost to dry. The handler was usually soaked by this time, in spite of the rubber apron, so he took some brandy to guard against pneumonia, but did not measure his dose with a spoon.

White Chickens Bleached

Just before the show white chickens were again bleached and butter color put on their legs. Red birds were dipped in dragon’s blood to make the natural color deeper. With each dipping the brandy treatment was repeated – for bird and handler.

Some of the prominent fanciers in Womelsdorf were John I. Fidler, Charles P. Schaeffer, Howard Hafer, John Weiss, John Hoffberger and Irwin Althouse. They raised all varieties, including bantams, to compete for the gold and silver cups and cash prizes. Big prices were paid for eggs – as high as $30 for one setting. Sometimes the buyer were stung. One man paid $25 for a setting of golden barred Plymouth Rocks. A total of four chicks hatched- one lead-colored, one buff Leghorn, one Plymouth Rock and one near-Plymouth Rock. None even good back yard stock.

One of my friends specialized in Rhode Island Reds of the Thompson strain. He and Mr. Thompson were good friends. One time he felt that a certain bird that he had was not good enoguht to compete in a local show, so sent to Mr. Thompson for a bird to enter. The bird arrived, but still did not suit, so finally Mr. Thompson came and brought what he thought was his very best rooster. In spite of all of this he did not win the prize, anyway.

Expert on Judging

Mr. William Mac-Lean, who lived east of Womelsdorf was considered an expert and did judging at the Madison Square Garden show in New York and frequently acted in that capacity at the local shows.

Some strange things happened. Just before one show, someone, to play a joke on Howard (Jack) Hafer, stole the bird he was going to enter in the show the next day and substituted what was thought to be a very ordinary bird. The joke back-fired, for the substitute took first prize. Eggs and birds were exchanged to improve stock. Birds were shipped great distances and competed with birds from the biggest  breeders in the country. Local interest in fancy chickens was lost during World War I and has never been revived

Paul Lantz Womelsdorf,PA October 1943

Jan 2012 170.jpg edited

Image Source:

Scholla: Autumn Days, Corn Husking

Corn Husking

Husking-bees were not common among the Pennsylvania Dutch, for in this section the corn was husked in the field and from there taken directly to the cribs. The corn stalks were put on large shocks (laub-schtoeck) and later brought to the barn for winter use.

When families were large, as most them were, little or no outside help was necessary, for with half a dozen youngsters helping, along with the hired man and hired girl, the husking was usually finished in the first week in November.

While few strangers were employed, relatives, as maiden aunts or older sons and daughters, who had moved to town, were more than welcome, for the more helpers, the quicker the job was done. If the husking lasted longer than mid November, it meant some cold fingers, for by that time they days were getting shorter and the sun was no longer warm.

Seated at Work

The farmer would put a number of shocks on a pile so that the huskers could stay at one place for awhile, for they sat down to work. After they were seated their fingers would fly and their tongues kept going just as fast, for Aunt Kate would tell all the gossip from the other end of the township – who had a baby; and who was going to have one; Sister Annie, who lived in town, would give all the local scandal – all about the new minister’s wife and how “high-toned” she was and what fancy hats she wore, while Mom and the hired girl recounted the latest happenings on the farm – how much milk the new cow gave, and what the huckster was paying for eggs.

“Wasser,” the shepherd dog, went along the field and stayed with the huskers. He liked to hunt rabbits and when he found one, what a chase there would be, for the shepherd dogs were vary fast in spite of their size so he frequently caught the bunny. Some dogs would bring back the rabbit in such a condition that it oculd be used for food, but the end of the chase usually meant a meal for Wasser. A chase was time off for the youngsters, for they joined in the fun and welcomed anything that gave them an excuse to stop work for a time.

Taken November 3, 1920. Cornfield on Valentine Farm (James Long) along road to corner church (St. Daniels, Robesonia). Courtesy of the Berks County Historical Society.
Taken November 3, 1920. Cornfield on Valentine Farm (James Long) along road to corner church (St. Daniels, Robesonia). Courtesy of the Berks County Historical Society.
Taken November 3, 1920. Cornfield on Valentine Farm (James Long) along road to corner church (St. Daniels, Robesonia). Courtesy of the Berks County Historical Society.
Taken November 3, 1920. Cornfield on Valentine Farm (James Long) along road to corner church (St. Daniels, Robesonia). Courtesy of the Berks County Historical Society.

Scholla: Herbs – (Yarbe) By M. Walter Dundore

Herbs – (Yarbe) By M. Walter Dundore

The Pennsylvania Germans brought the art of herb cultivation with them to Pennsylvania. For untold ages onions, Zwiwwele, had served their forefathers and their salads did not lack allure for the lack of onion flavor. Even the most powerful member of the tribe, the much discredited garlic, Gnowelloch, was considered absolutely essential by the settlers in order to bring out certain salad tastes.

They would not think of Schmierkees without chives, Shnitloch, the mildest member of the onion family. Chives provided mild onion flavor from the earliest spring until frost stopped further growth.

Second only to the onions, the settlers valued parsley, Peterli, an herb which was put to a great variety of uses. The extra curly or double type was used for garnishing, while the single type was strongest in flavor and was used with vegetables, meat, fowl and fish.

Garden thyme, Quendi Tee, was a close competitor to parsley as a great herb for seasoning. This was freely used in stews and clam chowder, in sausages and other meats.

Sage, Salwei, was a favorite for seasoning, its dried leaves making an important ingredient for the dressing of fowl, lamb and veal.

Rue, Raade, was a cure for boils and concocted by brewing a tea from its leaves. Judges, while holding court, kept it on their benches to ward off flies, noxious insects and contagious diseases which were apt to invade the court room with the prisoners.

No housewife thought of boiling beans without a few sprigs of savory, Brunnergreidel, which provided a savory dressing equally palatable with fish, fowl or meat. As an addition to soups and stews it was unequalled, while a judicious use lent additional qualities to salads. Blanched lovage, Laabsdeckei, was also used to flavor soups and salads. Wormwood, Warmet, was esteemed as a reliable remedy for stomach and liver ailments.

Garden at Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum. Source:
Garden at Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum. Source:

Scholla: A Bit of Folklore July 29, 1943

A Bit of Folklore 7/29/1943

In the writings of dialect poet, L.L. Grumbine, circa 1900, we find a reference to a day as “Abduhn Daag;” a day dedicated to the performance of farm tasks. Chief among these tasks was the mowing of the weeds in fence corners, or abduhn, taking off the briers and brambles. Grumbine mentions that the day set for this task was late in July, but fails to mention the specific date.

In the old Pennsylvania German Almanacs we find the 30th of July designated in the calendar of ‘saint’s days as “M. Abdon.” Abdon was one of the judges of Israel and was honored by the Catholic Church by having a day designated for him. The Protestant calendar marked the day July 30 as the day of Ruth.

Now we will hazard a theory and invite your analysis and criticism. The name Abdon lingered in the minds of the early settlers when they came to this country, 100 years after the Protestant Reformation. The Catholic significance of the term was forgotten as was the true significance of the word Abdon. But suiting action to the phonetic sound of the word the early farmer interpreted abdon as “abduhn” and the proper thing to remove from the farm at that season of the year is weeds and briers from fence corners in preparation for fall plowing.

Superstition! Yes, perhaps, But note, the fences were kept neat and clean.

Most of us know the legend of Maria’s annual journey “over the mountain” on July 2, but do we know that among our forebears she was believed to return early July 22 to examine the walls and ceilings of her home. If she found cobwebs she was highly displeased. Therefore, good housewives saw to it that all cobwebs were cleaned before July 22.

Superstiton! Yes, perhaps, but note, the cobwebs disappeared.

Woman using a scythe in a field. Photograph courtesy of the Historical Society of Berks County.
Woman using a scythe in a field. Photograph courtesy of the Historical Society of Berks County.

Scholla: Weeds in V-Gardens 7/22/1943

Weeds in V-Gardens      7/22/1943

How well do you know the names of the weeds that crowd your growing plants? Perhaps many of us would find that the dialect names of weeds are better known to us than their English or Latin equivalents. Most of us know what Harsche-Graas looks like; we wrestle with Bitter-Schtengel, Walwer Gaul and Buwwe Leis, but we know that it is incorrect to translate these terms directly into English, lest friends smile or look puzzled.

But then, stop and consider how many weeds do you know by their English names or how many does the ordinary city dweller know?

Here are a few names, the first dialect, the second English, and the third scientific.

Deschelgraut – Shepard’s Purse- Capsella-Bursa pastoris

Brenesel Nettle – Urtica Dioca

Biskatzegraut – Skunk Cabbage – Symplocarpus foetidus

Flae graut – Smartweed – Polygnum Hydropiper

Bitter-Schtengel – Ragweed – Ambrosia trifida

Buwwe Leis – Beggar’s Ticks – Bidens

Maed Leis – Tick Trefoil – Desmodium

Darrich Wachs – Boneset – Eupatorium perfoliatum

Raade Cocles – Petunia –

Seigraut – Blue Vervain – Berbena Hastata

Smartweed. Source:
Smartweed. Source:
Ragweed. Source:
Ragweed. Source:


Scholla: Barn Raising (Scheier uffschlage) April 7, 1943

Barn Raising        4/7/1943

Barn raisings, or Scheier uffschlage, are not as common today, as they were a generation or two ago. Now and then barns are replaced and new ones built but the time has passed when new farms are being developed, calling for new houses and barns.

In times past barn raisings were social gatherings attended by almost a hundred neighbors who donated their time and effort to place the beams and rafters and push the huge sides of the barn into place.

Timber was cut and hewn in advance of the day set for raising the barns. Every piece of lumber was marked, usually with some code, designating the place it was to occupy in the completed structure. All of the timber was brought to the spot where the barn was to be erected and placed in readiness for many hands that would arrive on raising day.

Stone masons built the foundation walls in advance of the actual raising. Master carpenters had cut the notches and pegs; measured all of the areas, and sawed the pieces to fit. Frequently the sides of the barn were completed in advance with all boards nailed into place while the huge frames lay upon the ground like wooden platforms.

On raising day the neighbors assembled. The more agile ones climbed with the rising structure to fit the rafters and beams into a roof while the husky ones applied brawn and sinew to carrying the heavy pieces and raising the barn sides into position.

After the work was done all hands moved to the cellar of the farm house where great kegs of cider or whiskey were disgorging their contents to the thirsty ones.  The long butcher-table was loaded with food for the hungry. This was their reward picnic time all over again.

The Swiss-type bank-barn is to be found only in Pennsylvania Dutch communities. If you espy a barn with a “forebrau” in some other section of the country you will find that it was built by a Pennsylvania Dutchman. Because of this unique feature on the American scene it may be worthwhile to list the names of parts of the barn as they are known in the dialect and ask readers to give the English equivalents, if possible.

Here are some of the dialect words, referring to parts of a barn, with which we challenge you. Send your answers in care of Scholla:

  1. Spanpett
  2. Darrich zug
  3. Mauer-latt
  4. Forebau
  5. Owwer-den
  6. Frucht Kammer
  7. Dachstuhl
  8. Fuder-gang
  9. Leede
  10. Zoppe
  11. Bohre
  12. Schprusse
Barn Raising in Berks County. November 25, 1913. Courtesy of the Historical Society of Berks County.
Barn Raising in Berks County. November 25, 1913. Courtesy of the Historical Society of Berks County.