Gardens are a time-honoured tradition, which in the past served to nourish larger families than there are now and save on grocery bills. Victory gardens played important roles during wartime to help families be more self-sufficient and less affected by shortages or supply interruptions. Today with year-round availability of produce, some of which is reasonably priced, and lack of generational hand down of gardening skills, many people forego putting in a garden particularly when living in apartments or condos. I put in a garden because it’s a pleasant pastime and helps connect with my neighbors. As a struggling novice it gives me some appreciation for difficulties encountered by farmers. A crop loss or screwup for a small plot gardener can be easily fixed by a trip to a greenhouse, but for farmers, screwups could mean physical, mental and financial peril. Working in the garden also gives me some appreciation for what it took to settle the land the way my Grandpa did with a horse, plow and sod hut in southwestern Saskatchewan. Transplant me back about 115 years, emigrating from Europe to the bald prairie to stake a claim, and farming by horse-power, I’d give myself about 2 years before I’d kick the bucket. Lying here in my air-conditioned house on a warm day makes me wonder if I have any genes left that would kick in if I was forced to live off the land.
I can usually get stuff to grow in my garden, and many of my neighbors have complimented me yearly. The truth is I was fortunate to buy a place where the previous owner put in some really nice topsoil, and because I have no fence, I get maximum sun exposure. This year might, however, break my string of nice-looking gardens. This year I could be facing a blotchy looking garden overrun with weeds. This year out of laziness I bought a seeder, with a wheel in front and back, one of which drives a seed dispenser which drops seed into a row then gets covered up. My problem is my garden isn’t big enough for the seeder, and one or two packs of seeds barely fills the bottom of the reservoir. Now as the seedlings start to pop up, I’ve got some almost full rows, some patchy rows and some rows that did not come in at all. Cap this off with birds diving in to eat the pea and bean seeds, and I’ve got a crop failure the likes of which has not been seen since the dirty 30’s. But like any other red blooded Canadian with disposable income, I’ll likely be headed to the greenhouse for bedding plants, and sneak out late in the evening (after my neighbors have gone to bed) and fill in all the spaces.
Truthfully, I’m a bit surprised I put in a garden. As a kid we had a large garden. Looking after it took some work, and summer holidays always depended on whether we’d finished weeding. The garden was rototilled to start the season with an 8 HP tiller that was designed more to shake the operator than scratch the ground. During harvest, myself and siblings would dig and pluck for days to get the potatoes, carrots and other vegetables in, and my Mom would spend days and nights getting things washed up and either dumped in bins, canned or frozen. On top of this we also harvested a few different types of crab and baking apples for jellies, sauces and pies. One year, however, Dad decided to make (hard) apple cider and bought a grinder, cider press and an oak barrel. We filled the 45 gallon barrel, and much of that winter is kind of sketchy for me as trips to the basement often meant popping the bung from the barrel and siphoning off enough for a healthy glow. Kind of makes me wonder how many apple trees I could fit in my garden, as it would certainly cut down on weeding, and might reap both tremendous social rewards and financial savings. Even if things turned sour, I could set up a roadside stand selling organic apple cider vinegar.