When I was a kid, or at least the way I remember it, the vegetable gardens — the weeding of which I loathed — always seemed to deliver excessive bounty. Whether it was winter squash, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, or zucchini, we always had plenty to eat, put up, and pack away in the cellar. We didn’t keep much of an orchard then, but we’d purchase apples by the bushel and glean crabapples from neighbors’ trees. My folks tended to buy potatoes and onions in bulk from local, more specialized growers. Our sweet corn came by similar means. But what I remember most about those seasons at the beginning of my path is the overwhelming bounty.
Even as I embarked on my own adventures, my gardens overflowed with abandon. I had more than enough to feed my family fresh food, preserve some for winter, and even give some away. In addition to the traditional crops I grew up with, I added some orchard fruits and lots of the root crops that I so enjoyed, such as beets, turnips, onions, garlic, and potatoes. It seemed as though virtually anything I would plant in those northern Plains soils would burst forth. It never occurred to me that I should spray for pests or fungi. And it never occurred to me to fertilize, other than tilling in a few tons of well-rotted sheep bedding each fall before the snow.
In time, my household shrank to one and then rose back up to two. I still gardened, but it never seemed as urgent as it once did. And oddly, the productivity appeared to wane, as the weather and pests and soil structures evidently worked against my efforts. Was it my compost? Was it my new location a few states to the south? Was it selective memory? Was it simply that I had tried to impose my northern gardening parameters on a more southern location? I suspect it was all of that.
The realities for me after 11 years in Kansas include just dreaming about winter squash, yet thrilling at the okra, onions, potatoes, small but tasty tomatoes, and bountiful peppers. Beans are hit and miss, but that’s OK — we grow them anyway. Corn is a cinch, as are early- and late-season greens. Our experiment with basil this year has yielded a bumper crop, with barely any evidence of the mildew we experienced on it last year. And the bees love our large and diverse sunflower patches.
If you’ve ever tried to balance the memory-reality garden ledger or found yourself in a position of needing to drastically adapt your gardening strategy to challenges that life imposed upon you, I’d love to hear about those efforts. Feel free to send me an email at HWill@MotherEarthNews.com, and maybe we can include some of your stories in a future issue.
See you in December,