Thursday, February 09, 2006

the garden path, Part 1: the early years

With my thoughts turning to gardening and seed catalogs this time of year, I realize that growing food has gotten to be more than just a hobby for me; it's a way of life. Now that I am on land where I can sink my roots, I have settled into the cycles of the seasons so well that it comes without thinking. It's not a question of whether I will plant a garden this year, it's a question of which varieties I will plant and how they will be arranged.

How did I come to be this way? I was not a born gardener, I did not grow up on a farm. I wasn't even remotely interested in gardening until I was an adult. In the next few posts, I am going to explore and share the path that leads to my garden.

You could say, at least on my mom's side of the family, I was of the first generation removed from the land. My mom grew up on a farm until her teens, and although my grandpa was never a full time farmer, they had a garden and a cow. But I grew up in the suburbs, with a back yard just big enough to play a very limited game of wiffle ball. We had a few flowers growing in beds next to the house, and raspberry bushes, which provided a good quick snack during those ball games. When gardening became somewhat popular in the 1970's, my dad tilled up a 6 by 15 patch in a corner of the back yard. He and my mom would plant tomatoes, cucumbers, and green peppers from plants bought at K mart. One year we planted sunflowers and ended up with some giant plants over ten feet tall.

My grandparents had a small garden too, at their lake place where I spent many weekends. They grew tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, radishes, and green beans, the usual Minnesota garden fare. I remember my grandma canning tomatoes and applesauce, and she made the best dill pickles. Later on, after I was married and had a house and garden of my own, I would learn the basics of canning from her. But that's getting ahead of the story.

So I grew up with a little exposure to growing things, although I was never particularly interested in helping out or having my own garden. I was in 4-H, but my projects stayed far away from any livestock or horticulture. I was into rock collecting, photography, and sewing.

Later on in college, I would major in biology. I wanted a work study job in the biology department, but the only job available was in the greenhouse, watering and repotting plants. I was not specializing in botany, but it was kind of fun being in there among the tropical plants in the cold days of winter. Looking back, the college should have been starting vegetables and growing salad greens for the cafeteria, which I hear it has started to do now, but such ideas were uncommon in the mid 80's. I certainly did not have any such innovative notions; I did not even know what I was going to do with my biology degree after graduation until the second semester of my senior year. I guess you could say I kind of drifted aimlessly through college.

What I did not know was that one year after I graduated from college, I would be planting my first vegetable garden, sowing the seeds for the future. But that will be the next installment.


Katie said...

I look forward to reading your journey.

madcapmum said...

I spent several of my growing up years on an acreage, and we had a huge (at least it seemed huge to me) garden that I loathed because a) I hated the garden serfdom of weeding and b) I hated most vegetables. And now here I am in my 30s and panting for more dirt, more vegetables! Maybe the secret is denial, some kind of reverse psychology... gotta keep that in mind with my own kids regarding the garden.

"No, you can't weed! Get the heck out of here!"

Maybe when they're teenagers they'll be sneaking out the window to feast on raw rutabaga and dig out quackgrass. ;-)

Floridacracker said...

Very interesting. No farmers here either, but my Dad and Granddad are super greenthumbs and it took.

...not the super part.

Liz said...

My parents got into gardening in the 70s, too (and beekeeping), and my dad still complains about all the farm chores he had when he was young. My grandparents only had chickens and a large garden by the time I came along, and I wish I had been more interested... they certainly would have had a lot to teach me.

I like knowing that I'm honoring their way of life. :)

Rexroth's Daughter said...

I love this journey you are taking us on, Deb. Looking forward to your installments. I had no gardening in my childhood whatsoever! My grandparents came to the states from eastern europe. We lived in the city until I was 8, and then moved to the suburbs. My first garden wasn't until 1972, when I 20 and moved to Oregon and rented a 14 acre farm with a bunch of other "commune" spirited friends.