When I was growing up my parents always had a garden, every year, as far back as I can remember. It was fairly large for a suburban city lot. It was at the back of the yard and stretched 2/3 of the way across the width of the lot which was quite large considering it was actually a lot and a half wide. My parents worked together on the garden with my dad managing most of the work before harvest (planting and weeding) and my mom covering most of the work after harvest (canning and freezing). We children were the primary harvesters of the summer bounty.
My dad was the gardener. In it he grew tomatoes, green beans, green onions, lettuce, peppers, cucumbers, potatoes, dill, garlic, and more. I have vivid memories of him hoeing and weeding the garden. When he was a child during the Depression one of the ways his father supported the family was through a small home business greenhouse. He sold seedlings to various businesses who in turn sold them to home gardeners. He helped his father, along with his siblings, and in the process developed a great knowledge of and love for gardening which he continues to do to this day. He most definitely has a green thumb!
My mother was the one who processed the harvest. She canned tomatoes, green beans, and other vegetables. She made jams and jellys too; strawberry rhubarb was one of her specialties. But she was the most famous for her dill pickles; the most delicious, crispy dill pickles you’ve ever eaten. Her reputation for dill pickles was such that it wasn’t unusual to find children knocking on the door begging for them. I remember one of my friends from down the street knocking on the door asking, not if I could come out and play but rather, “Mrs. Kilbourne, can I please have a pickle?” Seriously. I wonder what her mother would have thought if she had known her daughter begged for pickles at our door!
We’ve had a garden of sorts most years since our marriage, and since we lived in close proximity to my parents for 18 years (either above them in a 2-flat, or directly across the street) most of our early gardening was done with the expert help of my dad. He would often get our garden going in early summer and I have several pictures of my son Michael, 5 years old at the time, helping Grandpa prepare the soil and plant the vegetables, both at our house and at his.
Shortly after we moved to our present house my husband built some raised beds. Most years we fill up the raised beds primarily with tomatoes. I mean you can do so much with tomatoes. They’re a staple, used in so many dishes, not to mention eaten fresh with lots of salt. Such a delicacy.
This year the garden was planted later than usual, primarily due to the late, rainy spring. In addition to that we ended up leaving quite a bit of the garden space empty. Well, not empty exactly. The weeds came up with no help from us and are doing quite well.
We did manage to plant one bed of butternut squash, in addition to most of the longest bed in tomatoes. In the shortest third bed lettuce and sunflowers came up as volunteers. Unfortunately a heavy thunderstorm in August uprooted the sunflowers. So sad…
This year I tried my hand at raising tomatoes from seed, heirloom seeds that my sister sent to me. She, like my father, has a green thumb extraordinaire; a serious gardener who grows, cans, and preserves all kinds of vegetables. Last Christmas she sent us a box with several jars of various foods she’d preserved. Everyone’s favorite was the jar of pickled green beans. Oh my goodness. They are to die for!
She has been growing heirlooms for some time and saves the seeds from year to year. She sent me 3 varieties; persimmon, brandywine, and a third one that she couldn’t recall the exact name of. She called it red round and since they are red and round it is a perfect name!
I used a seed starter greenhouse similar to this one and planted many more seeds than I ever intended to plant in the garden. In my optimism I assumed I’d have many plants to give away. By the time they were ready to be transplanted into bigger pots and after that into the garden I discovered why you need to plant many more seeds than you want to actually grow in the garden. Only 5 (red rounds alone) of the many plants I started actually survived to be planted in the garden and produce tomatoes and 2 of those I gave to my dad. So only 3 were actually planted into our garden! Does this say anything about how green my thumb is … or isn’t?
We added 2 additional hybrid tomato plants, an Early Girl and a Beefsteak, to the original 3 red round heirlooms. But they were disappointing. The Early Girls were no earlier than the other tomatoes, and the Beefsteaks were too large, misshapen, and full of blemishes. And we were beginning to think we’d never taste a fresh red tomato. It seems like it took forever for them to ripen, thanks to a cooler and wetter than normal summer. In fact we didn’t begin to eat any until late August!
So while we didn’t plant as many tomatoes as in the past and while they ripened later than usual we have been getting a fairly steady supply since they began ripening. Twice I’ve been able to pick enough tomatoes to make a batch of Italian pasta sauce… Each batch yielded approximately 4 quart size freezer bags.
And this is what I picked this morning….looks like another batch of Italian pasta sauce will be simmering on the stove very soon!
So how did your gardens do this summer? Do you start your plants from seeds? Do you can, freeze, dry, or preserve the produce of your garden?