My Summer in a Garden, 1870–Week 1

The last frost date is upon us here in southern Wisconsin, and I have officially begun another garden season. Every spring I can’t wait to get out in the garden and by August, I’m wondering what I did with all that spare time I had all winter.

A few months ago, I discovered a book called My Summer in a Garden. It was written in 1870 and unlike many books from that period, it was funny. The author had me laughing over his frustrations and perspectives regarding a vegetable garden, which 150 years later, still resonates with modern gardeners. Here is how he introduces the subject of gardening.

“The principal value of a private garden is not understood.  It is not to give the possessor vegetables or fruit (that can be better and cheaper done by the market gardeners), but to teach him patience and philosophy and the higher virtues, hope deferred and expectations blighted, leading directly to resignation and sometimes to alienation. The garden thus becomes a moral agent, a test of character, as it was in the beginning.”

I can’t disagree with him completely. I have to argue that my garden does give me produce and if not better, it’s definitely cheaper than market gardeners (or farmer’s markets) nowadays. However, along with fruits and vegetables, it definitely provides a healthy dose of character testing and building experiences…

Like last year when I harvested a whopping one sweet potato per plant, only to have them all freeze in my root cellar before I could use any.

Or when Japanese beetles covered my plum tree, threatening my first harvest. I went out three times a day to pick off those nasty things and drown them into a container of soapy water. (But the work paid off, because I got this harvest. And if you’ve never had canned plums, you’ve missed out!)

Or when the spinach that I hadn’t even started harvesting yet bolted and went to seed overnight.

Or when I planted hot summer crops, like okra, melons, and peanuts, only to have a record cold, rainy summer. (And you know what happened the years I focused on cool weather crops…)

But there are the surprises that somehow, make up for (most) of the frustrations…

Like one of my first gardens when I apparently sowed carrot seed with a heavy hand and every single one of them grew (this was not the entire harvest)–

Or the year when one potato fed several people–

Or finally, the year my tomato grew a terrific schnoz and a dimple. It was really hard to eat this fellow, let me tell you.

And so it begins, garden season 2018…deferred hopes, tests of character, blighted expectations, here we come!

Growing Old Gracefully; 1928

“Growing Old” is not a very welcome subject in America just now. [Or in 2018!] Beauty experts and Keep-young-societies are filling the land with Anti-wrinkle Truth, yet the simple fact remains that our yesterdays do not come back.

For most people, the advancing years are a blessing for through them we grow away from the follies and fictions of life to a real understanding of the meaning of things.

Growing old gracefully is largely a matter of living gratefully. 

To me, in middle life, sunrises and sunsets have lost none of their beauty. Mr. Thomas Edison, now at eighty says, “The things which I now do give me as much pleasure as the things which I did when younger.”

There is really no age to the mind or to the soul. What seems to be age is a slowing up of the bodily processes. Glad of each morning, and grateful to God for the blessings of each day, my faith is that our souls defy the calendar.

To grow old gracefully, one must learn to sidestep worry. Worry is the plow that furrows our faces. It is a useless sin and does incalculable harm. Worry tries to tack tomorrow’s load upon the tired shoulders of today. It causes us to reach our little hands to take the reins out of the great hands of God. Every time we give up to worry we release poisons into our blood that unfits us for our tasks, and make us take hold of the tools of life with palsied hands.

Jesus observed over-anxious people and said to them, “If God so clothed the grass which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall He not much more clothe you, oh ye of little faith?”

The amazing thing about Jesus is that he could face all the suffering which he knew was ahead of him without worrying about it. He certainly is our Teacher and Master in the school of trust.

To grow old gracefully one must keep busy at useful tasks. The do-nothing becomes an is-nothing. Someone says, “Suppose a person is so crippled that he cannot walk, what then?” I would reply, “No one ever arrives at the place where he needs to be useless.” I knew of a lady who was bedfast for years. Her room became a sort of shrine where people went to catch her faith and see her smile. Physically helpless, she became perhaps the most useful person in the town.

I once read in an undertaker’s magazine, “If you want a coffin, stop working and you will soon get one.” One is doing a useful task in the world who perfects an even temper in suffering, though he is deprived of active toiling.

To grow old gracefully, it is necessary to preserve faith in oneself, one’s neighbor and in God. How much easier it is to preach this doctrine than it is to practice it! We fail to reach our ideals and then give up trying. Others fail us and we lose faith in them. Life shows its teeth to us and we lose faith in God. Yet, in all this there is hope for us. Even though we fail, we can believe that we are capable of better things. A man is always better than his worst. So is his neighbor.

A better understanding of the ways of God come to us with the passing of the years, making it possible for us at last to sing.

“Blest be the tempest, kind the storm
That drives us nearer home.”

To me, old age is a beautiful thing and I am going to strive to keep to the above directions, hoping that I shall be able to prove them, should God give to me the time of gray hairs.

The Bible says, “A hoary (gray) head is a crown of glory if it be found in the way of righteousness.”

Robert Browning adds:
“Grow old along with me,
The best is yet to be.”

So I Shall Forget Me; 1923

When I was a little girl at home, I was unsatisfied. I had lots of troubles and disappointments, brooded over them and could never see the bright side of life. An old lady who had lost all her relatives came to live with my folks. She had her share of troubles, the poor old soul. We adopted her and called her Auntie.

She took a liking to me, although I do not see why she should as I often thought I was the most miserable child in the world. I was sensitive and easily hurt and many times I would go off by myself and cry myself to sleep. Old Auntie would come and sit down by me and read to me from her Bible. Then she would listen to my troubles and tell me they were very small to what other people were suffering in this world and she always would end up by saying: “Troubles and cares will do you good, my dear. Ask God to help you see the good.”

One day Auntie told me about New Year’s Day. I did not know that it was the day to “turn over a new leaf” and try to be a better girl. I was nine years old at the time and have been trying to change ever since.

I did not marry a rich man but I married a good man. We started out on a homestead in Montana. We were out on our homestead five years and were dried out every year but we proved up and it is ours now. My husband had to work out away from home and leave me to hold down the claim. We had two children then and I would take the two and the rifle and hunt rabbits and sage hens for food. When I would see anything to shoot, I would put the baby down on the ground and tell the other child to stand by him and then I would shoot my game.

One day, my tooth began to ache and I walked the floor for three days and nights and could not find any relief. Then baby got sick and I carried him on one arm and held the hot water bottle to my face with the free hand. I walked the floor this way until I was so tired I could not feel. Finally my jaws swelled shut and I could not eat. Then I took the two children and put them in the baby cart and hauled them three miles over sage brush and rocks to my neighbors’ house. They took me to the doctor, twelve miles away, and I had my tooth pulled. All the time I was suffering so, I could just seem to hear old Auntie say, “troubles and cares will do you good, my dear.”

The did do me good. I see life in a different light now. We came to Wisconsin and here is our great purpose for 1923: to get a farm and make good. And I want to help everyone I can to see the bright and better way, and to remember this: one can never have such great troubles that others have not had worse. So I shall forget me and think of others.

 

Consider the Garden Huckleberry

 The problem with growing your own fruit is that you often have to wait years after planting the trees and bushes to get a decent-sized harvest.  Enter the garden huckleberry.  Garden huckleberries are unique because they are annual plants. The berries are firm, shiny, black, and grow in clusters on bushes approximately the size of a tomato plant.  (For my “way up north” readers in Alaska and Canada, think of big crowberries.)  This isn’t the sweet wild berry popular in the Pacific Northwest that resembles a blueberry, but a completely different berry.
Growing them couldn’t be any easier. It’s not even necessary to start the seeds indoors, just plant the seeds right into the ground. It will begin producing mid-summer and yield an abundance of berries until frost.
You may have read (as I did) that this berry is a great substitute for blueberries and can be used the same way.  Not even close.  Make sure that the recipes are meant specifically for garden huckleberries.  Tossing a handful of these into a batch of pancakes would result in mutiny at the breakfast table and you’d find yourself leading the charge.
It is absolutely essential that they be cooked–boiled, actually–and they need some added acidity, like lemon juice.  When properly prepared, however, you may use huckleberry sauce as an ice cream topping, a layer of filling in a coffee cake, as well as the filling in a beautifully dark purple pie.  Some say that a second round of cooking (baked into a coffee cake or pie, for example) makes the taste milder. It has a unique “wild” taste that may not be liked by everyone.  We have mixed reviews on them around here. But if you’re adventurous, want to try something different, and have a little space in your garden, you should give them a try.
Here’s the recipe that I use.
 
Print Recipe
Garden Huckleberry Pie Filling
Servings
pints
Servings
pints
Instructions
  1. In a large saucepan, cover huckleberries with water and boil under tender. Drain water, and mash berries using a potato masher.
  2. In another large saucepan, combine sugar and Clear Jel. Whisk in 2 c. water. Bring to a boil and stir until mixture thickens and starts to bubble. Stir in zest, if using, and lemon juice and cook for one minute, stirring constantly. Fold in the berries.
  3. Ladle into hot jars, leaving a 1" headspace. Process in a boiling water bath canner for 30 minutes. Yields approximately 4 pints.
Want to order some garden huckleberries for this summer’s garden?  Seed Savers carries the seeds that I use. (I’m not promoting, just sharing info!) You can find them here.