My Summer in a Garden, 1870–Week 2

My garden, early June

This summer I’m comparing each week of Charles Dudley Warner’s gardening journal, My Summer in a Garden, to my own garden. I’m finding that I can relate to many of his perspectives, and this week, his thoughts are centered on weeds.

Hardly is the garden planted, when he must begin to hoe it. The weeds have sprung up all over it in a night.

Ain’t that the truth. Warner continues…

The most humiliating thing to me about a garden is the lesson it teaches of the inferiority of man. Nature is prompt, decided, inexhaustible. She thrusts up her plants with a vigor and freedom that I admire; and the more worthless the plant, the more rapid and splendid its growth. She is at it early and late, and all night; never tiring, nor showing the least sign of exhaustion.

I’m in the middle of that long wait for my seeds to sprout (or not) while weeds merrily enjoy their head start. I always hope I can identify my seedlings by the time they come up, but if I can’t, it becomes a “Where’s Waldo” kind of adventure. Here are two examples from my vegetable and herb garden this week.

Can you see the lettuce seedlings? The teeny light green sprouts in the center of the picture? Besides the fact that the weeds are much bigger than the seedlings, I’m also a little bothered that there are so few lettuce sprouts, but that’s a whole other problem.  I may just have to replant.

And then there’s this little disaster zone. Can you spy the dill among the quack grass? (I can barely see it myself but there’s actually quite a lot buried in there.) Sigh.

On the whole, though, my garden is off to a good start and not completely overridden by weeds, but we’ve had a lot of rain this early summer. I’ve had to watch the weeds helplessly from the sidelines as they have their way with my baby plants. But with no rain in the forecast this week, I hope I can get some of my weedy spots under control.

A final quote from my gardening friend, Charles–

…there is no liberty in gardening. The man who undertakes a garden is relentlessly pursued.

Weeds. They’re after me.

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!

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.

Working without a Plan- 1915

I found out that trying to do too much without planning how best to accomplish it was like borrowing from a loan shark–it meant physical bankruptcy sooner or later. Nature may honor an overdraft for a time, but she extorts pay in the shape of wrecked health, discomfort to the family, and doctors’ bills. -Iowa Farm Woman, 1915

Does anyone in business (including the manager) enjoy working without a clear plan of work that needs to be done, where basic supplies are missing or in disarray, and every day is hit or miss? Would you work for a company that managed the same way that you run your house?

 

Many of a housewife’s tasks don’t have clear deadlines so it’s easy to become casual about our work and not hold ourselves to schedules. It’s also the beauty of the work, that things are not run on a hard and fast schedule. After all, nothing tragic will happen if the curtains aren’t washed on Tuesday, However, if Junior’s bath keeps getting postponed and the cucumbers aren’t picked regularly, everyone will be sorry. There has to be a plan of sorts to keep things moving at a steady lope, so we’re not overwhelmed but also not living in oblivious denial of a disorganized life

Modern-day research backs up Mrs. Iowa Farm Woman’s opinion that stress is responsible for a majority of cases of “wrecked health” and “doctor’s bills.” Even if we assumed the statistics are exaggerated, it’s still a staggering number. Stress manages to find us in plenty of ways and we don’t need our homes to be another source of it.

The Iowa Farm Woman continues:

I realized that rather than feel sorry for myself when the work pushed me, I should be ashamed of my bad management. Anyone can putter around all day with little to show for it, but it takes a smart woman so to manage her work by labor-saving methods that she can do all that is required and have leisure for the development of her better self and for acquaintance with her family.

Did it ever occur to you that an excessive workload is due to mismanagement?

Some days I have a clear plan and actually take the time to look at what I’ve written in my planner. On those days I amaze myself. I get all my errands done, cook an extra meal for the freezer, return emails, and weed the herb garden.

On days when I don’t have a plan and approach the day willy-nilly, my list of accomplishments looks a lot different. It consists of making a dessert recipe that caught my eye on Pinterest (but don’t need), stalking a friend of a friend on Facebook, watching a tv show that really didn’t interest me but I couldn’t turn off, and sorting through half-done craft projects without working on any of them. I can putter with nothing to show for it like the best of them. Even on days that I have plans, but can’t get them done because other things came up, I still feel successful because I didn’t waste my time.

The article mentioned that not every woman could afford “an electric iron, a power washing machine, or a vacuum sweeper.” We have infinitely more ways of saving time and effort than the women of 1915. But using them to our advantage so they truly save us time that doesn’t immediately get filled up by more work and responsibilities involves skill, planning, and of course, relentlessly refusing other time-absorbing options.

Housewifery done poorly is one of the most difficult, unfulfilling jobs there is. But a systematic plan that works for our own lifestyle will bring a measure of peace into our homes. More importantly, it will enable us to participate in one of the most sacred, well-known rituals in all housewife-dom, sitting around eating bon-bons. That’s what we’re known for, after all. It’s high time we found a way to live up to the stereotype.