Years ago several of my relatives had enough land to grow their own fruits and vegetables. My grandparent’s fruitful garden and Aunt Myrtle’s fertile plot remain fresh in my mind.
There was a planting pattern that they shared. There were rows, neatly furrowed and maintained on a weekly basis. Corn was planted in the outer rows, so their height would not create too much of a shady shadow. Then came the pole beans & peas and so on, according to anticipated height. Next to the last were rows of mounds of squash, cucumbers and watermelons. The last of the rows were dedicated to growing tomatoes with the final rows reserved for marigolds and other flowers. My grandmother would plant marigolds between her tomato plants. The gardens were neat and tidy and a place that the chickens enjoyed visiting.
While chickens were the source of fresh eggs and finally fried chicken dinners on Sundays, they were also used during the growing season as weeders, tillers and de-buggers. Everybody and everything had a job. My Uncle Frank was proficient at putting up chicken wire in temporary sections of the garden, then skillfully with little effort on his part, he’d guide his hens into the area. The chickens seemed to be so cooperative with my uncle and for good chicken reasons. Once in their designated temporary spot in the garden, they would feast on the grubs and pests that liked to feast on the plantings and their roots. They would peck and pick through the soil, peck at and eat the weeds and just have a chicken good old-time. My young eyes enjoyed watching the garden flourish, while waiting in anticipation for the coming bounty.
Later in life I learned that my family used excellent farming practices and to some point practices of organic gardening. I never heard the word organic used by my Shenandoah Valley family members. They were outstanding farmers, men and women alike. Each had a hand in growing. The women canned tomatoes and peaches and you name it and put up preserves, jams and jellies and pickles. My favorite bounty from the canning shelves in the cellar was the bread and butter pickles and the watermelon rind. I looked forward to my grandmother serving them proudly on her condiment tray at Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Now I visit our local farmer’s markets for produce and flowers. Do I wish that I had chickens and some land for a good size garden? Of course I do, but I am grateful for all the memories and knowledge of farming given to me.
And the farmers markets are incredible.