I have always enjoyed gardening. As a little girl I remember working in our family garden in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. We would begin at 8:00 in the morning while the temperatures were cool. Each of my siblings would choose a row in the garden to weed or harvest from. Being the last of five children, I seldom got first choice. The corn rows became the most popular rows to work in. We would hide beneath the tall plants, taking breaks as we pleased and stopping to play in the soil. By the time the sun shone hot in the summer sky, lunch time had arrived and we took a break from our work. After lunch we all sat on the front porch shucking corn, shelling peas, and snapping beans. We sang and told stories as we worked. As soon as we had a bowl prepared we would take it to my mom in the kitchen. Steam filled the kitchen as my mother worked at blanching and canning the vegetables. I have such fond memories of those summer days. I remember laughing and playing while we worked. My older siblings my have a different story but I only have wonderful memories of these summer days. By the end of the summer, our basement was full of canned beans, pickles, jams, and tomatoes.
Once my husband and I moved to Vermont, we began our first garden. We entertained our neighbors as we stood in the middle of our freshly tilled garden reading from our Cold Climate Gardening book. I would read aloud to my husband as he dug the rows, mounded the soil, or prepared the beds. It seemed every year the garden grew in size. We added a stone patio to the end with an herb garden. Then we surrounded the patio with flowering shrubs for privacy. The next year, we added an arbor and grape vines and then a row of raspberries came. Blueberry bushes were added next as well as a hoop house for early planting and wintering over greens. After 16+ years, I knew my garden well. I learned which crops grew well and which ones to avoid. I had virtually eliminated potato beetles by rotating crops. Our garden flourished, our freezer filled to overflowing, and our shelves were beautifully decorated with jar after jar of jam, relish, and pickles. As our children came along, they worked and played in the garden. My son, at age one “helped” plant potatoes. As fast as I put the tubers in the rows, he went along behind me tossing them into the yard. I planted pole bean houses for afternoon tea parties with dolls and gave each of them a section of the garden to plant whatever they wanted to.
Six years ago we moved to our new farm and I had to leave my garden behind. I brought rhubarb with me and various other perennials but the soil, stone patio, and berries had to stay. Since then, I have struggled with gardening. The farm has brought along new responsibilities that fill my time and the soil and weather conditions on our hillside farm have brought new challenges. Every summer I tell my husband that I just can’t do it anymore. I feel overwhelmed by the size of the garden and frustrated by having to start again so to speak. Despite all of this, I miss all that gardening represents.
For my birthday this year, my husband bought me a copy of my friend, Jenn Megyesi’s new book on preserving vegetables, The Joy of Keeping a Root Cellar. I love Jenn and her farm. Through the years, she has taught me endless knowledge, inspired me, and encouraged me in our efforts to provide food for our family. After just reading the introduction in her book, I felt a new energy and desire for making gardening work here on our farm. As our family has grown and shifted in size, I realize that I no longer need to have a huge garden. I can reduce the size making it more manageable. I also have Jenn’s farm, Fat Rooster Farm, to provide me with the vegetables that I can not grow well here. So with renewed fervor, I pulled out the seed catalogs which abound this time of year and filled out my order form.
My daughter and I drew out a sketch of our new garden complete with a pergola and earth oven for cooking pizza in the garden. I have begun to design the irrigation system to go in our greenhouse which will greatly reduce the amount of time I spend in the garden watering. I have also realized that it is okay to hire help and have found a willing teen to accept the job of “farm hand” for the summer. Once again, Jenn has inspired me, pulled me out of my slump, and encouraged me to carry on the tradition of gardening!! Thanks Jenn!