Thursday, August 2, 2007

Gardening in the Last Century


I know...the last century wasn't that long ago. But my grandma is going to be 93 years old in December, and when she was a girl in the 1920s ... well, that was a long time ago by anyone's calendar, even hers.

When we were flying back home from Florida earlier this year, we somehow got to talking about gardening (imagine that!) and she started telling me about how her mother did things. I was fascinated and wanted to hear more. The more I heard, this idea popped into my head about writing it all down and posting it to my blog. This kind of thing was just too good not to share and keep for a family remembrance.


I didn't have any scrap paper, so I looked for whatever blank anything I could find for writing on. Ah, there's something! The flight attendant walked by and stopped at our seats. "Are you writing on our air sickness bags??" Uh, yeah, I was. It was plain white, except for "Patent No. 7,041,042" and I wasn't planning on getting sick anyway, so I used it. But this
was Allegiant Air, where you pay for every little thing you use, so maybe I owed them a quarter or something.

I had been telling Grandma about my wintersowing and starting seeds inside. She said her mom used to do that, too - sowing things like tomatoes and cabbage in dishpans. She usually had three or four of those going and they sat in the sunniest windows of the house. She grew geraniums in tin cans on the windowsills in the winter, too.


When she could work the ground outside, she grew peas, green beans, carrots, lettuce, onions and 'Late Dutch' cabbage. She liked to make big crocks of sauerkraut out of that cabbage.
She'd put the ten-gallon crock on the porch, fill it with layers of cabbage shredded with the kraut cutter and salt, mix it up really well, then lay a cutting board on top and weigh it down with a rock. Some weeks later, stirring occasionally in the meantime, it was sauerkraut. In the winter, they'd go out and get a scoop of kraut from the crock for eating. It never froze solid, she said, because of the high salt content.

Her mom grew wild horseradish, too. She'd grind it in the meat grinder, add sugar and vinegar and right before serving it, she'd put in the cream. It sounds kind of good...


Her family had a small orchard, where they grew seven varieties of peaches. In Ohio! The best, she said, were the white freestone. They were about the size of walnuts. They also had apples, cherries, strawberries and wild blackberries, as well as a grape arbor. Oh, and gooseberry and currant bushes, too.

There were seventeen kids in that family, so what they grew helped feed them, as was the case in nearly every farm family back then.
They canned tomatoes in tin cans, using red sealing wax to seal the lids around the edges. Grandma remembers helping make ketchup too, where she had to take her turn stirring it on the stove. It required hours of stirring before it would be thick enough. Apple butter was another thing they made on the wood stove. They did cold-pack when they canned that. There was jam to be made from the strawberries and blackberries using Certo. Everything canned was kept in an up-ground cellar. I remember Grandma and Grandpa having one of those themselves and I loved to play in that cool place as a little girl.

Grandma said her dad had a truck patch, which was where they grew the 'big' stuff like potatoes and buckwheat. At harvest time, they'd take the buckwheat to nearby Ottoville, where the canal went through and at Lock 16 there was a mill, where it would be ground into flour.


One thing they didn't grow themselves was rhubarb. That, they'd buy from a neighbor, Mrs. Goodwin, for ten cents a bunch. With all the other 'growings on' it makes you wonder why they wouldn't grow rhubarb, too!


While they grew fruits and vegetables to eat, they also had plenty of pretty flowers. Grandma remembers cosmos, marigolds, snapdragons, asters, and zinnias. Heirlooms. They'd grow nasturtiums with the cucumber vines, too, because they were supposed to keep the beetles away.


When Grandma got married and had a home and garden of her own, she had a cold frame made of two-by-fours at the side of the garage. They'd work the ground, get a wheelbarrow load of other soil and add manure. Then they'd mix it all up with a hoe and plant the seeds. It would get covered with an old house window, with a block of wood stuck in there to keep it open just enough for ventilation. When the seedlings reached the glass, the window would come off.

There's much to learn from the older and wiser members of our family. The more things change, the more some things stay the same, and thank goodness. They experienced the same trials and tribulations that we do in our gardens today. And there's wonderful value in it - learning from their experience.

There's also the feeling of kinship - literally - from knowing these common everyday things about your family. I'm glad I've still got both my parents and my grandma here with me from whom to learn.









L to R: My mom, my aunt, and my grandma. Circa 1944



13 comments:

Naturegirl said...

I adored reading this post! I am so pleased that you shared your grandmas ~history~ in the garden with us..Thank you!
My mother suffers from dimentia so I am talking to her about her past history (as long term memory still there) there is so much that we can learn from our precious aging parents and if lucky grandparents as you have shared!!
Nasturtiums keeping beetles away...I think next year I shall plant them among the roses to keep that destructive Japanes beetle away!!

Give your grandma a big hug for me and tell her I LoVed her stories of gardening ~back then!~ hugs NG

Bob said...

Wonderful story. It's easy to see where you get your passion for gardening. It's in you blood.
Thanks for sharing,

Happy gardening, BOB

ps, I dont know if I told you, but I enjoy your blog so much I put you in my links area. Hope it's ok.

KC MO Garden Guy said...

I too loved to hear about your grandmothers garden and the way of life she had. My mother is just a few years younger than your grandmother and she tells us stories of what things were like for her growing up. Sometimes I feel lucky to have grown up when I did and not have to suffer through the depression and WWII. Thanks for sharing!!

Wayne Stratz said...

thanks for sharing. I am seeing my parents this weekend. I hope I can get a story or two out of them.

Robin's Nesting Place said...

It's good that you are writing this down. My sweet mother-in-law has alzheimers and she used to tell me about her life in the country. I've forgotten so many things she has told me. I wish I'd written them down.

Annie in Austin said...

Your grandmother must be glad that you're keeping her stories and passing them along - what a variety of things she grew, Kylee!

One thing also amazed me as an amateur family historian - you had a post about your 32 years of marriage [congratulations!], but your grandmother is only 92. It seems that the farm generations in Ohio were more compressed than my urban Chicago generations.

Have you now resolved not to leave home in future without a small notebook in your bag?

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

Blackswamp_Girl said...

What a wonderful post, Kylee! I know "Lock 16" in Ottoville as a catering place (*grin*) so it's interesting to know some of the history behind the actual place there. And how funny that "winter sowing" isn't nearly so new an idea as Trudi and a few others who promote it sometimes make it seem.

You make me want to go home and call my grandma, notebook in hand. She's always got good stories anyway... :)

Dorothy said...

Kylee you are so blessed to have your Grandmom tell you her stories, and good for you for keeping them in your blog.
My own mom lived till the age of 91, and she too was a gardener and loved nature. She had the most amazing green thumb. Loved the picture at the end...it is a wonderful story!

Kylee said...

naturegirl ~ I will certainly give my grandmother your sentiments. She'll love that.

bob ~ Thank you! Of course I don't mind! :-)

kc mo garden guy ~ You know, my grandma said it wasn't that bad, really, as she looks back on it. She said everyone was in the same boat.

wayne ~ Oh, you really must. So much is lost when we don't do this, because even if they tell us things, if we don't write it down, in time it gets forgotten or remembered incorrectly.

Robin ~ Exactly.

Annie ~ I know what you mean. My grandma got married two days past her 18th birthday and had my mom two years later. My mom got married two days after her 18th birthday (like mother, like daughter!) and had me five years later. I got married six weeks before my 18th birthday and had our first child five years later. We were able to do a five generation picture when Kara was born, because my great-grandma was still living. In fact, Kara was six years old when she passed away right before her 95th birthday.

We have a history of being long-livers! ;-)

rowena said...

Hi Kylee,

What a very warm and touching post you've shared about your family. Everything that you wrote here...I will have to make note of it for when we attempt to tackle the back plot of brambles and weeds next year!

Thank you for stopping by...I'm glad to have stirred some fond memories for you. :-) Lake Como is indeed a beautiful place...sometimes I have to pinch myself, it's just so unbelievable!

Connie said...

A great post...thanks for sharing!

Kelly said...

such a wonderful read, full of the wonderful details of a life well-loved. Thanks so much for sharing it with us.

kate said...

There's nothing more special than hearing stories of what life was like in a time that is different from ours.

You are so fortunate your grandma is alive. It is hard to imagine all the gardening and canning that was done at the same time that there was so much other hard work to be done.

Wonderful post!

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