My grandparents had what they referred to as gardens and what I called a farm. They grew enough fruits and vegetables to eat fresh, then frozen for an entire year. They probably would have gotten two years of food from each harvest if they hadn’t given so much of their produce to my parents.
As a child, I knew that every few weekends we drove from Memphis to my grandparents’ home in Natchez Trace Park to “help” with the garden. My help consisted of waking up hours after my parents and grandparents had started working in the garden, they even used to have orchids and get online for them. I would casually meander to the garden, pick a handful of whatever was in season, whine about the bugs and wander off to catch frogs or roll down the steep grassy hill.
I spent the afternoons sittings on the a/c vents while my mother and grandmother moved food from sinks to boiling water to carefully labeled ziploc bags. At the end of the weekend, we went home with the car so full of fresh food that we were lucky if our feet were propped on coolers and not cross legged because there was nowhere to put our feet. My grandparents taught me that gardens are buggy places which magically produce mountains of bushel baskets filled with food.
My parents kept a tiny garden in our backyard for a steady supply of tomatoes and squash. Every weekend, my parents sprinkled white powder or liquid chemicals attached to the water hose on those vegetables. I have no idea what those chemicals were, but I remember crossing the bridge to Mississippi once a year to collect something from a cotton farm for the garden. As usual, my contribution to these chores was staying out of the way by doing something useless, like collecting intact cotton hulls.
My parents taught me that gardens require an endless application of toxins in exchange for BLT sandwiches in the summer and fried squash in the winter.
Last year, Doug decided to plant a few tomatoes so the children could watch them grow. Half a dozen tomato plants produced almost exactly that many tomatoes. I don’t know if it was because we won’t use chemicals, because modern plants have been modified so that they have to be replaced every year or if it is connected to the absence of bees, but it wasn’t a very successful garden.
This year, simply because the failure was embarrassing, we decided to put slightly more effort into our garden. Doug spent the winter using his garden as a compost bin on the hopes that it would make this year’s tomato plants happier. I decided to experiment with his “better soil” plan by creating a container garden. My plants won’t have the compost or space that Doug’s plants have, but I can drag them all over the yard to control the amount of sunlight that they get.
Our garden taught us that we would starve without real farmers.