Memories of the Garden

A better title might be: Questions my Granddaughter Asks.

When my granddaughter asked me whether or not I had helped my mother can, I was surprised. But not nearly as surprised as I was with the next question. Did I know how to make watermelon pickles?

“I have been reading some material written by a lady who went through the depression,” she said, “and she talked about canning and making watermelon pickles.”

I told her that I canned a lot of fruit and vegetables myself for many years, and of course, I helped my mother can from the time I could remember. The queries started  a flood of memories. Most of what we canned came from our garden.

The Farmer’s Almanac was a family friend in most Midwest households. And when the apple blossoms came in the spring, they were so welcome; a bouquet of apple blossoms brightened every home. The first pink signs were signals; maybe the weather would change, but you knew that it was time–time to start thinking about the early plantings. It was time to get the seeds out that you had ordered during the winter months. I loved those seed catalogs. They were almost like a travelogue.

The Almanac, although consulted all year, in the spring it was always left in a handy place for quick reference; it just stayed on the kitchen table. The suggestions for planting were carefully checked. And of course, some seeds were planted during the winter so plants would be ready to “set out” when the weather was warm enough. Tomato, cabbage, parsley, and kale seeds were planted and carefully monitored during the winter months. They occupied an honored place by a sunny window.

When the time was right and the garden soil was carefully prepared, the planting started. Peas and lettuce were an early planting soon followed by carrots, beets, beans of several varieties, another planting of lettuce and peas, and hills of cucumbers, squash, watermelons, cantaloupes, and a first planting of corn. Several plantings of some vegetables were made throughout the summer to make certain they could be harvested all summer long. Mother and Dad were particular about how the garden looked. The rows were straight and the seeds were carefully sown. This was serious business. These crops were not only for fresh produce during the summer, but also to be canned and stored for the winter months.

Now the plants that were grown in the house during the winter were planted. The tomatoes were planted with sufficient space so they had room to grow, and so the sun could reach all sides of the plant as needed to produce the amazing red, luscious vegetables to eat fresh all summer and the boxes and boxes that would be canned during the summer. In the fall when the frost was due, the green ones would be kept to ripen or made into relish. The memory of taking a salt shaker and visiting the tomato patch, picking a warm red tomato, and eating it in the garden was wonderful. A tomato never tasted better. I guess they were as organic and fresh as anything can be.

Potatoes were stored for the winter, and it was from that supply that the plantings for the next year were taken. The potatoes were cut making certain that there was an “eye” on every piece; it was from that eye that the growth would start. The potato vines were faithfully watched during the summer; as soon as they matured sufficiently, we would dig a hill or two to harvest those “new potatoes” to have with fresh peas in a cream sauce or to put with all the other fresh vegetables in soup.

And of course, my mother had to have her flower gardens and her flowers in the garden. There were packages of mixed flower seeds, larkspur, zinnias, and any others that she could afford to buy. Neighbors shared seeds that had been kept from the year before. The dahlia bulbs were dug, separated in the fall and stored for the winter and planted in the spring. These beautiful flowers were shared in huge bouquets at church services in the summer. These bouquets often were the source of varieties shared with those present. People shared because often they could not afford to buy them. Mother always took ”slips” (cuttings) of geraniums from the plants grown inside and outside to share and to make new plants. Iris, glads, tulips, peonies, and anything that was admired and could be propagated was shared. The depression did not mean that beauty could not be available because you were poor. Our Creator made it easy to share.  Even the fields and hills were full of free plants and shrubs.

The garden was a place of family pride. When I was a little girl, I tagged along as mother or daddy took friends and family to show what was new, how to deal with bugs, or talk about planting tips, and to share the bounty of a beautiful garden.

Kera as we plant, I will share with you “what it was like when I was a little girl.” That’s the question you always ask me.

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