Planting A Garden

The flooding rain Good Friday caused a lot of problems and delayed those that like to plant their gardens. Folklore around here says Good Friday is the time to plant tomatoes, peppers, squash and other cold sensitive plants. We seldom have freezes after that date.

Growing up we depended on our huge garden to feed us year-round. We never bought anything we could grow. As a kid, I hated all the work but loved eating the results of it.

Potatoes, turnips, radishes and cabbage was planted early in the spring. Daddy always spread the tiny turnip and radish seeds, not trusting us kids to do it right. But we spent hours cutting up seed potatoes, carefully leaving an eye on each piece, to plant. And the cabbage plants were transferred from small containers to rows in the garden.

I enjoyed watching the potato plants break the surface and a few weeks later scratching around the base of them for new potatoes. Those golf ball size nuggets were carefully removed and cooked. Later, when the plants started dying, daddy would use a turning plow to expose the mature potatoes and we would gather them. Many were eaten fresh but bushels were spread on the concrete floor of an old barn where they stayed cool and lasted well into the next winter.

String beans, butter beans, butter peas, black eyed peas, corn and okra rows followed the tomatoes and peppers put out on Good Friday. Dropping seeds for them in the prepared furrows daddy had made was tedious and I wanted to just drop handfuls and get it over with, but I knew that even if I got the seeds covered before he noticed, sprouting plants in a few days would give my laziness away.

For weeks an almost daily job was carefully pulling weeds from the rows of plants we wanted. I learned a lot about identifying good plants from unwanted weeds. It was hot, dirty, boring, tiring work but had to be done.

When string beans were ready, we picked them by the bushel and spent hours at night stripping the “string” from them and snapping them into short sections. Some too mature ones had developed beans, and those were shelled out to be cooked with the snaps. I still buy “shelly beans” with the beans in them when I can find them, they remind me of real ones from home.

The beans were carefully put into jars and canned in our pressure cooker, about a dozen jars at a time.
Our pantry had well over 100 jars of them by the end of summer, at least two jars to eat a week until the next year when fresh ones were available.

Butter beans and butter peas also meant hours at night in front of the TV, shelling them into pans and filling big pots. Mom would spend hours in the kitchen the next day blanching them to freeze. We had a big chest freezer and it would be full by the end of the summer.

Nothing is better than fresh corn-on-the-cob, pulled just a few minutes before boiling, slathering with butter, and eating. Daddy planted short rows a few days apart to extend the time we had it, but there was a huge patch down in the corner of the field.

That patch was watched carefully for the perfect day and at daylight we would be pulling ears and filling the truck bed. Under the shade of a pecan tree we would shuck and silk the ears and take buckets of them inside where mom or one of us kids used a board with a perfect groove to slide the ear over a blade the cut and creamed it.

That cut corn was carefully processed and put into containers to freeze. While mom worked inside doing the cut corn, we had a fish cooker with a huge pot of water boiling under the carport. Ears of corn were dumped into it and blanched, then taken inside to an ice water bath to cool. Each ear was then carefully rolled in tinfoil and frozen. In the middle of winter those ears were almost as good as the fresh ones of summer.

All that work was worth it for the excellent eating all year long.

When I bought my house in Pike County in 1981, I wanted a garden. I cut all the trees in the back yard, clearing about a quarter acre. After buying a tiller I got it ready and planted a smaller version of daddy’s big garden.

I’ll never forget him coming to visit and looking at it, and saying it looked like good dirt. It was, and I was encouraged when my efforts started producing small plants. But I had a problem. The whole area around me drains right through my back yard. Just as the plants started growing a heavy rain flooded it, drowning most of my garden.

I tried a smaller plot on the high side of the area the next year. It did not flood, but just as the butter peas started getting ready a dry spell killed the plants. My well did not produce enough water to keep them alive.

I now have a tiny 20 by 20 foot area where I plant peppers and tomatoes. I set up a pipe from my shower drain to a buried 40 gallon drum with a sump pump in it. Every time we shower the water is pumped to the small garden, keeping it well watered.

Fresh tomatoes are fantastic and I have them during the summer, but I still miss all the other good eating from a big garden.