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Chuck Hinman: IJMA. Large Gardens - A Lost Art?

Chuck Hinman: Large Gardens -- A Lost Art? Chuck recalls gardening as a family endeavor, as "character building" and as the place he became a little character in the summer time, barefoot and wearing a straw hat.
Next earlier Chuck Hinman column - Running Away From Home

By Chuck Hinman

Large Gardens -- A Lost Art?

I can't think of many things that provide fulfillment like gardening does. What is there about stirring up the soil, planting some tiny seed, watching them come up and produce food to eat that is so satisfying? It's unlike anything else you do. Simple and yet so complex, it has to be divinely involved.

When I was growing up in southeast Nebraska in the 1930's it was necessary that we produce most of our food. We always had a large garden from which Mom canned a wide variety of vegetables and fruits. She also canned meat that we butchered. Can you imagine an entire dinner meal prepared out of our food cave?

Seed catalogs were winter tools to make order list

In the 1930's there were two competing businesses in distant Shenandoah, Iowa that sold gardening products, Henry Field and Earl May. Even though 150 miles away, they were well known because of their seed catalogs and radio advertising over radio station KMA.

Not long after the first of the year, they sent their gardening catalogs all over the country. Even little kids like me enjoyed looking at these colorful seed and nursery catalogs.

During the long winter months Mom and Dad collaborated and made their order list of garden seed (and onion sets) for this year's garden. It was before the days of Walmart and every store in town selling packaged garden seed. Seed in the early days was sold in the bulk, not packaged with a little dab in an envelope.

Cosmo seed price today, what we planted back then

I noticed the dining tables here at Tallgrass Estates have a colorful centerpiece. It consists of a bouquet of artificial pink and white cosmos with a package of cosmos flower seed stuck in the center. I felt the contents of the envelop of seed and estimated there were 10 seeds for 59 cents. At that rate, a bushel of Cosmos seed would be $39,978. Too bad that seed will probably never be planted in the small garden plot created a few years ago for resident gardeners.

These are some of the garden seed we ordered by mail: radishes; both red and white icicle, leaf lettuce; two pounds each of white, yellow, and red Bermuda onion sets; English peas; green beans; parsnips; parsley; beets; carrots; cucumbers; cantaloupe; and watermelon. You may wonder why we didn't order sweet corn seed. If you catch plain old field corn at the right stage, it is as good as or better than sweet corn and cut off the cob and canned, it is better than sweet corn. But don't wait until the kernels begin to harden.

We bought cabbage, tomato, and green and red pepper plants locally when it was time to set them out.

Potatoes planted on Good Friday

Of course, not all that seed was planted at one time. I have recently written that we planted potatoes on Good Friday. A few weeks later and with an eye toward damaging early frosts, we planted all the onion sets without fear.

There is a knack to planting everything including onion sets. I will only describe what I, as a little kid, learned about a few. First you had to rake the soil so there were no clods. Then with a ball of heavy twine and your pocket knife, you cut a length of twine the length of the garden rows. You tied the twine to two stakes and pounded them in the ground to mark the rows. Then with a can of onion sets and down on your knees, you pushed each onion set an inch into the soil -- each pair of sets set 3 inches apart. When onions mature, they will be 3 inches wide so you don't want to crowd them.

The first planting of radishes and leaf lettuce was done the same day as all the onions. There is a trick to radish and leaf lettuce planting. They both mature quickly and become unusable. Most gardeners plan on a couple plantings, a month or so apart. Lettuce and radish seed is so tiny, you don't want to risk a little kid planting all your seed in a two foot long row! A momma or daddy knows just how to scatter and cover the seed. You then put a marker identifying what seed was planted in each row. Watching the weather forecasts you continue to plant seed until all the seed is in the ground. Melon and cucumber seeds were the last to be sown and they were sown in hills with plenty of room to grow!

When all seed planted, work not over

When all the seed is planted, the work is not over. Weeds and insects need controlling on a daily basis.

Gardening was a family endeavor and I remember taking my turn hoeing the garden. It was "character building" and I became a little character in the summer time, barefoot and wearing a straw hat in the Hinman garden.

Written by Chuck Hinman on 28 March, 2008.

This story was posted on 2013-03-24 08:04:41
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