My grandparents’ house stood on an acre of land, half of which was given over to gardening. Most of it was taken up by vegetables: peas, potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, even a few pumpkin plants for the grandkids come Halloween. There was a small strip that I always thought of as The Orchard: an elderberry tree, pear, apple and cherry trees, as well as a few grape vines. The perimeter of the area was ringed by berry bushes: gooseberry, currant, Chinese cherries. Having raised five kids on little money, my grandparents, my grandmother in particular, had the cultivation and production of foodstuffs down to an art.
From early spring to late fall, Grandma was always engaged in some aspect of stocking her pantry. The cabbage would go into a large ceramic crock in a back bedroom, weighted down by a plate and a smooth rock the size of my head. The smell of sauerkraut would fill the entire house until it was canned and put away until it could be dumped into a crockpot with pork chops. When grandkids came over, we were sent out to collect peas and green beans for dinner, and allowed to pull up carrots, or raid the berry bushes for snacking. In late summer there as strawberry and rhubarb pie. Fall saw the emergence of an enormous pressure cooker that would squat, sputter, and squeal atop the stove. From its steamy maw an army of jars would march into steel lockers—canned potatoes, pickles (dill, and sweet bread and butter), tomatoes, green beans, apple butter and jam. Their elderberry tree only ever provided enough for a jar or two of preserves thanks to the birds.
As far as I can remember none of my extended family had gardens of their own. Grandma’s pantry was always open to her children. And there was more than enough for everyone.
That garden left an indelible mark on me. It was my first introduction to using what you have. That’s not to say I’ve been super gardener myself. I’ve had small scale gardens over the years: a couple of tomato and pepper plants, some cucumbers and herbs. The effort required to maintain anything more than that always felt like too much. I always had other things that needed my attention.
Now, though, we’ve decided to go all out. Neither Stephan nor I are fond of lawns. The expense and effort required to maintain one isn’t worth what we get out of it. So we’re going to turn the back yard into a garden and fill the front yard with berry bushes. With the movements today towards urban farming, front yard gardens and suburban farming I see something familiar. And with the problems of food deserts, cuts to food stamp programs and increasing income disparity, it makes sense to turn to gardening to help fill in the gaps.
To that end, November was winterize and lay the groundwork month. The goal was to spend as little as possible, make sure the yard is ready for winter, and have a plan for spring.
Start where you are: Our back yard doesn’t have much to recommend it, other than space. The grass is patching in many places, too thick in others. The ground is improperly leveled so there are swampy places, and holes waiting to trip one up. However, that just means there is nothing holding us back from tearing the whole thing up and starting from scratch. Well, nothing but time, money, aching muscles and how cooperative children and dogs are willing to be. Other than those factors, the sky’s the limit!
I didn’t realize how long of a post this was going to be when I started it, so I am breaking it up into parts. Click on the links below to read on: