Thursday, January 5, 2012

Gardening Simplicity

When I was young, the Old Order Amish family that lived down the road
from us always had a large vegetable garden. The work on it included
daily tending to keep it weeded and in good condition. From that
garden, Katie would feed her family of 9 for a year. Their garden
wasn't just a backyard produce store for their daily meals. It provided
the basic vegetables that she used in her cooking year round. The
harvest from her garden needed to last at least until harvest the
following year. To grow enough vegetables for her family, she had to
plant simple and smart.

A well stocked garden doesn't mean that you have to plant dozens of
varieties of vegetables. You plant large amounts of about 12 vegetables
that you know you use the most. Tomatoes are one such vegetable. One
year, I remember asking Katie about her tomato plants. She had so many
that I wondered if she planned to sell tomatoes that summer. "Ah no,"
she replied. "I just grow for my family and a few extra for others who
may not have enough in their garden." That year, she had planted 50
tomato plants. From those plants, she had enough to can for her family,
eat fresh in salads, and to share with others in their community who had
a need for the extra tomatoes.

Other vegetables that were a staple in Katie's garden were carrots,
potatoes, cabbage, lettuce, spinach, peas, green beans, squash, and
corn. She loved to make pickles, so she grew the slicing type of
cucumber for salads and for making bread & butter pickles as well as the
smaller pickling cucumbers for her dill pickles. Katie grew her own
dill for making her pickles as well as a few other culinary & medicinal

I think about many of the gardens that I see planted in our area. They
are often what you would consider to be a hobby garden or a backyard
produce department. Families growing just a few plants of this or that
vegetable to be eaten over the course of the summer. It is easy to get
caught in that category. You plant what you enjoy eating fresh, but
neglect planting enough to feed your family throughout the winter. In
planting a garden, you have to consider your purpose for that garden.
Is it to be a fresh produce patch for summer meals only or will it be
stocking your pantry for winter?

This year, I am going to do my garden a bit differently. I am going
back to the basics of Katie's wisdom. Plant less variety, but more in
quantity. This serves several purposes. Not only will it provide more
for my family to enjoy later in the winter months, but I will have far
less concern about cross-pollination. In Katie's garden, she never had
a concern about cross-pollinating issues. She saved seed from her
plants each year and I never knew of her buying seed. She chose the
specific plant varieties carefully from the beginning. The plants were
those which gave the maximum yield of harvest in the least amount of
space. She never chose the trendy varieties, but only those which were
tried and true.

There was much wisdom in Katie's garden. She knew exactly which
vegetables they used the most and planted only those. By doing so, she
was able to help out other families in need within her community. The
very same vegetables that were standards in her family's diet were
standards in the diet of other Amish families. Nothing was ever wasted.

Now, before I get ready to plant a garden this spring, I have some
planning to do. Time to take stock of our pantry and see what we use
consistently throughout the year. Those vegetables will become the
staples in our family garden. Thank you Katie for all of your wisdom
and grace in teaching me all those years ago. I will never forget you
and your gentle ways.