Column Editor's Note, by Synthesis
The following article is something a little different for me. It's not an article of mine, but rather is the fifth part of a small unpublished book written around 1990 by my grandmother, Catherine Bertram. She is still alive and 94 years old, and for years I have meant to publish this memoir in some way so that it may live on after she is gone. I'm glad I was able to do so here on Newsvine while she is still with us. It's my hope that by being published online, the warmth and wisdom of her words will gain some measure of immortality.
On Nails, Of Course
by Catherine Bertram, circa 1990
The Vegetable Garden
When February turned to March, I pored over the seed catalogue, planning all the nice things I could grow, at least according to the seed company. I am an enthusiastic gardener. I love to watch for those first two leaves to appear from a seed and marvel how in that little seed are all the instructions for the mature plant.
By early April, I can contain myself no longer and get the bedding plants underway. The windows in the shack were not good for more than a geranium or two, so I used a cold frame in a sheltered location to grow sturdy plants. They had to be brought in on cold nights.
A real pioneer "hot bed" designed to have fresh produce over a longer period was the kind my parents used. A pit was dug a foot or more deep into the ground and a frame built above ground the size and shape to support about three storm windows. When the barn was cleaned in the spring, fresh manure was packed into the pit and covered with good soil at least a foot deep. The fresh manure soon starts to heat and warms the soil. They produced their bedding plants that way, and some lettuce, radishes and early greens. It needed the same care as a greenhouse, because if there comes a sunny day, the sun shining through glass into a closed space can burn the plants.
In early May when the sun has melted away the snow and begun to warm the soil, I looked over my garden, mentally seeing straight rows of tall corn and luscious tomatoes with nary a weed in sight. Somehow, it never turned out quite like that.
The rows in the garden were planted far enough apart to cultivate with a horse pulling a scuffler. One of the boys rode and guided the horse, and hubby or I held the handles of the scuffler. Sometimes the horse was not too cooperative about walking the straight and narrow, and it was difficult to keep the scuffler from rooting out small plants.
Gardening is quite a competition with Mother Nature. Each year, I ponder over just when I should set out tomatoes, and each year, I cover them some nights just in case. When carrots and small seeds begin to pop through the ground I hope for rain to establish the roots. But sometimes, it is a hot, dry wind instead and the two first leaves disappear. So I reseed, then along comes a rain and both the first and second seedlings grow. In July, there could be a few hail stones with a shower that produce polka dots on the pea pods and shred onion tops. Rarely, we get a real hail storm that pulverizes all, but God made root vegetables too, and they survive, and produce enough to "pull us through."
Sometime in July there would be new potatoes and green peas. Now that fresh vegetables are available all year, it will be hard for anyone to imagine the thrill of eating each fresh vegetable as it came in season.
The garden is in production only about two and one-half months, so it was really a feast and a famine. Home canning of peas was not very successful, so I didn't try that. They could be dried and presoaked for cooking, but they were not so flavourful.
I made pickles and relishes from the cucumbers, tomatoes , cauliflower and onions. The extra cabbages were made into sauerkraut, and once cured, it could be canned or set out to freeze. A Scotch husband is not a sauerkraut fan, so I didn't need much of that. My sister, with a family of seven, made about 35 gallons in a wooden barrel, and it stayed in the unheated porch. Because of the salt it does not freeze, so she could get whatever amount she needed to cook.
If the garden had been reasonably successful, it was with great satisfaction that we stored away the potatoes and other root vegetables in the dirt cellar, where they kept very well.
Return to Chapter 1.
Chapter 6 - Fruits From Our Labours
Chapter 7 - Winter Activities
Chapter 8 - Conclusion