It seems appropriate to start my Monday’s Musings series with a continuation of the garden thoughts begun earlier.
Note the dearth of major roads. We weren’t exactly in the suburbs anymore. In order to avoid a long commute, Craig took a local job, which required a major pay cut. At the same time, being new homeowners with aspirations to one day farm for a living (we were young then, and dreamers), our expenses soared.
We were, therefore, broke. Not living-in-a-cardboard-box-and-raiding-dumpsters broke, nor even skipping-meals-and-being-evicted broke, but merely robbing-from-the-kids’-piggybank-to-buy-gas-so-Craig-could-get-back-and-forth-to-work-until-payday broke.
Right off the bat, we had to learn about new things such as wells, well pumps, and septic systems. When the hot water tank didn’t work, at least that was something we were familiar with. But when we turned on the tap and the water came out in rhythmic pulses, or dwindled to nothing by the end of a shower – and when sewage backed up through the floor drains in the basement – we needed a crash course in country living. And did I mention the house had a coal furnace? We decided instead of buying coal, we’d burn firewood that could be had for free in abundance. But that involved spending the summer locating it, cutting it, hauling it home, splitting it, and so on. Which involved buying a chain saw. Which involved…
You get the picture. There were a lot of things to do, buy, and learn when we first moved in. Consequently, though now we had plenty of space for a garden, Craig had to be content once again with digging up a small vegetable patch with a spade and planting a tiny garden. It was bigger than our city garden, but the soil was even more hard and clay-y and full of perennial weeds.
I had to admit, it was pretty neat to be able to go out and pick a cucumber when I wanted one. I was less fond of peas, because they were a pain to shell. We had tomatoes in abundance. I don’t remember if I canned any that year. I think I did – trying out my new book and my new jars and canning equipment, and learning new skills. But for the most part, there were too few to can but too many to eat before they spoiled. I tried, though. In fact, I ate tomatoes for breakfast, lunch, and supper until one morning I woke up covered with so many hives, my eyes were almost swollen shut. Took me three days before I figured out it was the tomatoes that were doing it. (So I’m not that bright, ok?)
Though I’m not real bright, I can be taught; and by the second summer of our Little House life, we were in full swing. Working with a neighbor family who, like us, wanted to get into farming, we pooled our resources to try to make it work. With tractor, plow, and rototiller, we were able to put in a big garden and do the canning, freezing and preserving thing in a big way. Craig started work at the factory at 7 am, left for home at 4:30, and worked on the land until dark. I did what I could; but with a little girl whose delicate complexion burned crisp after five minutes of exposure to the sun (this was before they made good sunscreen) and who was devoured by deerflies if I put her in the shade, I wasn’t a lot of use outdoors.
Gardening at that time was an impossible chore. Something I wished I had more time for. Something I felt I constantly neglected. I wanted to do it, but felt inadequate to perform all that was involved. I loved the concept of gardening, and especially self-sufficient living, but didn’t love the act of it.
But we pressed on. Expanded the operation. Expanded the family; Baby #2 was born our third year there.
We discovered something early on about large gardens. They produce more than a small
family like ours could consume, even when we preserved the excess. I don’t appreciate spending untold hours picking, cleaning, and freezing green beans only to have thirty bags still in the freezer when next year’s crop is ready to pick. It sticks in my craw to have to till last year’s beans into this year’s garden.
But for some reason, where the excess produce was concerned, we couldn’t give it away. We could if we wanted to pick it for them; but when we made our garden available to others to come and get whatever they wanted, we didn’t find many willing to take us up on the offer. Most people wanted us to do all the work.
So that’s why we expanded our garden space even though it was already too big. If we couldn’t give away our extras, we’d sell it. And if we were going to sell it, we might as well plant enough to make it worth our while.
But I’m running out of time and space. I guess you’ll have to wait until Part IV to learn more about purple beans. Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with a few more scenes from our Little House days. I don’t have any pictures of the gardens. Just the characters. And as you can see, we were characters!