With all of the recent blogs about seed starting and plant buying, it makes me wonder how in the world my grandmother managed to harvest anything! I don’t recall her starting anything indoors except a jar of sweet potato starts. She had no peat pots, no plastic trays, no heating mats, no special lights or sterilized potting soils. And yet her pantry was always filled with jars, the basement shelves and bins were full, and in later years when she finally agreed to get one (they seemed to be an unnecessary, expensive frivolity) her freezer was full.
She did save seeds and kept them in tins or jars in the pie safe shown above (the one I now have in my Lady Cottage) on the unheated back porch. She just had to wait for the ground to get warm, plant lots and plant fast, and hope for enough good weather for everything to mature.
I do remember going with her, when I was about 5 or so, to the local feed store to get a few tomato plants. The plants were growing densely in a shallow wooden box, about 4″ deep. She told the clerk the amount; the clerk sliced a square of soil containing the correct number of plants, slid it out of the wooden box and onto a piece of newspaper, which he wrapped around the plants like a cone. He dipped it in water before wrapping a couple more pieces of newspaper around them (no plastic bags or Scotch tape in those days,) folding the top edge to secure it. I don’t remember there being more than one box, so apparently there was no choice of variety. I remember how proud I was; I got to carry them home! Gma explained that these were special slicing tomatoes that would be much earlier than the seeds she’d sow directly in the ground for the canning tomatoes.
And seeing the variety of peppers people are growing today; it’s just amazing. When I grew up, pepper was black and in a sprinkle jar like salt. The green bell-shaped things were always called “mangoes.” Really! Not the fruit, the green bell pepper. Maybe that’s just a Hoosier thing, I don’t know, but regardless, that’s the only variety I ever saw in anyone’s garden until I moved to Texas in 1969! No one in our area ate hot peppers! Growing up, we never ate the bell peppers raw. They were tricky to grow, needing such a long growing season, but I can remember we always chopped them and cooked them with the tomatoes that were destined to become ketchup. Yes, we bottled our own ketchup, and my mother still does. There are some family recipes that would just not taste right with store-bought ketchup! “Mangoes” were also chopped finely to add to pickle relish, and yes, we still make that and can it, too!
Gma grew lots of potatoes, and some years no one ate potatoes after mid-February, because all that were left must be kept for planting a new crop. Otherwise, potatoes were served at least once a day on the farm (often more) and were kept in big, big bins in the basement. There were three bins, probably 6′ x 6′ and 5′ deep. The front had horizontal boards that slid out one at a time to make reaching the potatoes easier as the pile dwindled. I wouldn’t want to have to dig the bushels and bushels of potatoes she grew each year. Fortunately, digging the potatoes was a job for the menfolk, but kids had to pick them up, wipe them off and put them in wooden crates that the men carried to the basement to be dumped into the bins.
Onions were harvested, cured, and stored in burlap bags or flour sacks hung in the basement. I only remember yellow onions. She only grew bush beans, and saved her seed from year to year. I don’t know the variety, but I remember they had brown seeds, because she canned most as green beans, but a few canners of green and shelled beans mixed together. Carrots and beets were all canned. I don’t know why she didn’t have a root cellar or store them in the basement, but she didn’t.
Cabbage seed was just planted in a short row in the garden, and when they were about 3″ tall, they were dug, separated, and spaced apart in long rows, usually where the early peas had been. Cabbage was a major crop, used for a variety of slaws and of course, canned as saurkraut (except during WWII, because then it was too “German” to tolerate, and they were the enemy, after all.) And yes, we still make our own saurkraut, using Gma’s “Never-Fail Kraut” recipe. For the recipe, visit my website at http://www.caroleesherbfarm.com
One of things I remember was her “End of the Garden,” which was a mixture of bite-sized anything left at expected frost time pickled together, or immature cucumbers, or carrots, onions, etc. that were still in the ground and wouldn’t grow more once it froze. We always had it for Christmas dinner, along with cans of tiny green tomatoes pickled with garlic. Mind you, these were not cherry tomatoes, but 1″ tomatoes that were still on the vines. Any that were slightly larger were picked and chopped for green tomato relish. NOTHING was wasted.
It’s fun to have those memories, and to know that I could (and did during my homesteading days) grow without plastic or modern techniques, but I’ll keep my heating mat and divided trays and plastic domes, and soaker hoses and fluorescent lights, thank you. And I’ll also keep my seeds in the antique pie safe, just as my grandmother did. There’s no better place!