Where I grew up in northern Minnesota there was only a four-month growing season, yet my family still managed to grow most of the vegetables we ate. Both my parents came of age during the Depression in a rural setting, so they too grew up with a general agricultural heritage. Not farming families, just folks who grew what they ate and ate what they grew. When I was a kid, standard practice for gardening success was lots of manure and compost, lots of rototilling, weeding and watering – and occasional dusting for pests. My mom was always on the lookout for short season varieties. She would start tomatoes in the green house attached to the side of our house. We grew peas, beans, broccoli, and corn which my mom froze. We dug potatoes, beets, carrots and onions and kept them in a root cellar in the basement. A wheelbarrow full of winter squash would round out the harvest.
When I started grade school and had the privilege of school hot lunch, I discovered why kids didn’t like vegetables. My mom’s peas were candy — school peas were mud. Mom’s sweet corn, on the cob or frozen, was sweet — school industrial corn from the giant cans would turn my stomach. I remember stuffing the disgusting substance into my milk carton because it was so inedible – yet I didn’t want to ruin my reputation with the school cooks of being a good eater. It was in grade school that I realized that many people didn’t even know what they were missing!
We had the rabbits, but there was never enough manure from the rabbits for the whole garden. So my dad would find a neighbor with an old manure pile they needed to get rid of, and we would shovel trailer loads onto the garden – year after year.
For a couple of years us kids grew pumpkins to sell for Halloween. We would clean them up and put them in the trailer by the side of the road with a sign and a cash jar.
The Author Selling Pumpkins in 1964.
My folks were never “strictly organic”, after all this was the modern age! Mom read Silent Spring and would not use DDT, but Diazonon for root maggots on the broccoli was OK. To manage a garden the size we had, the rototiller was invaluable. We would till in the manure in the fall before the ground froze and was covered with snow.
What I take from those years is an enormous appreciation for the process and product of the garden. But place and time are different now, and I realize some practices from those days are not the best ways for Oregon wet-side gardeners. The hardest thing to give up has been my rototiller – though I have a few friends who think I should.