A Rural Home in La Porte, Iowa

Reader Contribution by The Mother Earth News Editors
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This story is from Deborah Michel, submitted as part of our Wisdom From Our Elders collection of self-sufficient tales from yesteryear.

My grandparents kept an extensive garden at their rural home in La Porte, Iowa. I visited them summers from the early 1960s through the 1980s. They tried a few alternatives to pesticides, although it was still a new idea.

They put a large Martin birdhouse on a high post, and its many avian residents consumed many pests. They also kept numerous bird feeders all around the property, which probably reduced the mosquitoes a bit.

They planted a yellow cherry tree alongside a red one, and birds ignored the yellow fruit almost entirely.

They kept an extensive flower garden near the fruit and veggie garden, and there was always ample pollination from the many bees drawn to them.

Gramma would put salt on freshly picked raspberries in a big sheet pan, and within 20 minutes all the little bugs in the berries crawled out — then she plunged the pan into a sink full of cold water, rinsing away both bugs and salt!

She made pickles from watermelon rinds, and poured pancake batter over sautéed sliced summer squash for a delicious pre-foodie frittata.

They saved all table scraps and kitchen waste, which they gave the farmer up the road; he fed it to his pigs, and gave my grandparents deep discounts on eggs and milk. This made up for the high odor from the hog wallow in summer.

There were many other tips I learned from them, but as a child what I noticed most was how much work went into processing and preserving fresh produce so there would be plenty all winter; they never bought frozen or canned vegetables or fruit; they had their own.

Gramma taught us how to sew, crochet and bake all kinds of things from scratch; Grampa taught us how to use the hand-crank apple cider press, ice cream maker and push mower, and how to haul buckets of water out to the hills of squash where the hose didn’t reach.

In retrospect, I chose to plant all my own squash and melons near the hose!


Image by Fotolia/Mila Petkova

Please send email submissions toLetters@MotherEarthNews.comwith the subject line “Elder Wisdom” or send mail to: attn: Heidi Hunt, Re: Elder Wisdom, Mother Earth News, 1503 SW 42nd St., Topeka, KS 66609.