Southern Gardens in the old days – Commentary by Frank Gillispie 4/27/11
“How is your garden coming?” That is a common spring time question in the rural South. The home garden was once a major contributor to rural families’
food supply. My family always had a large one that. Along with the chickens and a couple of hogs, provided us with the majority of our diet. It was
not at all uncommon for a family garden in the mid 20th century to be a half acre or more.
Every meal in the spring and summer contained fresh vegetables from the garden. And the surplus production was canned, dried or pickled for use the
rest of the year. Every garden contained a variety of vegetables. There were tomatoes of course, along with sweet corn, snap beans, butter beans,
Crowder and black eye peas, cabbage, cantaloupe, okra, carrots, squash and onions.
Other crops, intended for cash income or food for the farm animals also contributed to our diet. The yellow corn, used to feed hogs and chickens, was
milled into corn meal for cornbread and hushpuppies. Watermelons that were used to augment the feed for the hogs was a favorite desert. Hot peppers
used to keep flies out of the smoke house were also used for flavor soups and stews.
There were things about the old family gardens that are missing from today’s little backyard patches. For example, Several plants of each variety were
left unharvested to ripen on the vine. These plants provided the seed for the next garden. That assured that each year, the garden would be just a
bit more productive than the year before.
There was no such thing as commercial plant food then. Fertilizer for the garden came from the floor of the chicken coop and the barn. The only other
nutrients used was ammonium nitrate, called “soda” which was used whenever the leaves were not dark green. (At that time, ammonium nitrate was
commonly available. That was before we knew that mixing it with diesel oil created a powerful bomb popular with terrorists.)
Along with the garden, farming families provided their own meat from beef, pork and chickens. They also harvested eggs, milk and butter. In addition,
each farm usually had several bee hives which produced honey for our pancakes, and bees wax for candles.
Of course, a big garden required a lot of work. Hoeing out the grass so that it did not steal nutrients from the vegetables, picking and processing
the beans, peas, okra, corn and squash took up a lot of time. A common sight, if you were traveling past, was the ladies of the family sitting in
comfortable chairs under the shade tree shelling butter beans, snapping green beans, shucking corn and trimming the okra pods. Or, you might find
them in the kitchen cooking large pots of vegetables and putting them in glass jars for use during the winter.
Gardening was a big deal back then, not the little weekend hobby we have today.
Copyright © 2011 by Frank Gillispie
firstname.lastname@example.org, Hull, GA
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