Sunday, June 11, 2017

A Family Affair: Planting a Garden

Our vegetable garden spanned about two-thirds of our 200 ft. wide back yard from the east edge of our lot. It was about 20 ft. deep from the north edge. There was an extension of about 40 ft by 10 ft. running up the eastern lot line from the main garden in back of the chicken coop. 

In the early spring dad would get out the “man-powered” plow and sharpen its claws with a rasp and oil the wheel. Then he would turn the soil getting the garden ready for warmer weather when we would plant. It was fun to watch the birds scavenging for worms in the newly turned-up soil. The male robins seemed always to be the first to show up.

This is something like what my dad had.
I was a small girl back in the 1950s and loved to help with the planting. I loved eating the fresh veggies even more. It was a family affair – grandma, dad, mom, brother and I. We would have our buckets for watering the plantings, our various vegetable and flower seed packets, and our tomato plants. Dad would stretch the hose as close to the garden as possible. We could pretty much plant the main garden in a day into the evening. Later, dad would plant potatoes in the extension garden. I remember one year he also put in peanuts. He loved peanuts. I don't remember how many we got, but we did seem to get enough for dad to roast and enjoy.

We had a fairly tidy and well-managed garden. We would plant a lot of tomato plants. At least at the time I thought it was a lot. Dad would put three sticks tee-pee style over each one. As they grew, mom would tear strips of fabric to tie up the vines. Corn was also planted. I don’t remember if we planted the “three sisters” – corn, pole beans, and squash, but I remember we always put three corn seeds in the hole — one for us, one for luck, and the last one for the birds. We always had at least one corn stalk come up in each spot. I would wait for the birds to come to get their kernels. I think dad would plant squash with the corn, but I know we planted cucumbers nearby.

Mom would always planted green beans and we had many rows. Dad had put notches on his hoe handle to show how far apart each bean row should be. He had two sticks with a string attached to each the length of the row. He stretched the string the width of the garden which was a guide for the row. It was very systematic how dad would dig his hoe into the ground to make a spot for me or my brother to plant the seeds – always three in a hole. We would plant carrots, beets, celery, and two types of onions – cooking ones and scallions. Our garden also sported green peppers, eggplants, and pumpkins. It was full of good things. I don’t remember if we had any strawberry plants, but probably so. I do remember we had some raspberry and blackberry plants in the orchard. In those days we didn’t have the large super markets like we do today. We would get things we didn't grow in the garden like bananas and oranges (in the winter) from the A & P grocery store in the next town. I remember our best friends would have some of their groceries delivered by the Jewel food store truck. Now we can have a Pea Pod truck delivery...

The far west end of the big garden was for flowers (maybe that is where we had strawberries?). Mom would line that part of the garden with zinnias and I got to plant the seeds. It was fun watching them grow. I couldn't wait for the butterflies and bees to fly from each bloom. The small white butterfly is a garden fairy I was told. If it lands on your shoulder, you make a wish and it will come true. I'm not sure if one ever landed on my shoulder...not for the lack of standing in the garden for a long time waiting for one. 

There was a tall flower other than the sun flowers that seemed to pop up without being planted. The bloom looked like a string of tiny red jewels. Grandma said the plant was “kiss me over the garden gate.” She would then recite a short poem… "never kiss me over the garden gate because love is blind but the neighbors aint!” Recently I planted some heirloom KMOTGG seeds in my garden, but none have come up. Maybe one of these days...I really love that plant and so do the bees and butterflies.

I wish I could grow these in my urban yard.
We had a small patch of shelling peas that would climb a fence a little ways away from the garden. The peas were planted in early spring when the weather was just starting to warm. Peas like cool weather. Later when the peas were ready to harvest, grandma would get out a couple big bowls, mom and I would harvest the crop, and the three of us would sit out in the backyard shelling the peas, with bowls between our legs. I thought it was neat how you squeeze to pop open the pod and then run your thumb under the little green balls releasing them from the pod. Some would land in the bowl and other would fly into the grass. Grandma would laugh with me, but mom was all business. I liked eating the pods. They tasted so fresh and sweet. I couldn’t wait to have peas at dinner that night; mom would “can" the rest.

My brother and I grew up knowing fresh organic vegetables coming from our garden. In the winter we would have the veggies mom had canned. Very seldom did we ever have commercially canned veggies. The commercially grown veggies started to show up in grocery stores and the backyard gardens started to disappear. The resurgence of home-grown veggies is now coming back for my urban community. Maybe not with big gardens as was when I was growing up in a small town, but modest plantings in backgrounds, patios, decks, and balconies. Native plants are showing up in urban areas, too. People are starting to plant for the wildlife. That is nice.