Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Gardening Like Your Life Depended On It

Yesterday was a busy one!  We spent the morning picking free raspberries at a friend's Uncle's place, and the afternoon was spent in the garden picking beans and peas and staking up plants.  As silly as it sounds, I felt like I didn't have time to go pick berries because I have SO much to do in the garden, and MANY pressing tasks around the house to deal with.  But, I gave my head a shake and knew I couldn't pass up a large quantity of free fruit, so off we went to the berry patch for the morning :)

Because the garden growth has really taken off, the plants have become rather unruly and need a little TLC in order to support the weight of the ripening vegetables.  It seems that there is always a task that needs urgent attention in the garden, and with my busy week of jam making, the garden is reflecting the redirection of my energy. It's shocking how just one week of sparse attention can show in the garden!

After all the months of hard work and effort, there is nothing like the reward of the first substantial picking of a vegetable or fruit just coming into season!  We've been picking the odd handful of peas and beans here and there but yesterday was the first day I could pick enough for a decent side dish for supper :)   Because we already had a meal prepared, I blanched and froze the peas to enjoy in the winter months and prepped the beans for tonight's supper.

There will be many more beans to come, so I need to plan how I'm going to store them.  I'd like to salt some like both my Great Grandma and Grandma did, as I hear that it is a simple, old fashioned, time saving, successful method.  They both used a crock to store the beans, but I'm considering new food grade plastic buckets that I already have on hand.  I'd much prefer a large crock but I don't want to buy one - they are really expensive!

Picking and shelling the peas got me thinking about how difficult it must have been for the first homesteaders who came to Canada.  They had to fight incredibly hard for every morsel of food that passed their lips.  It would have taken me 30 seconds to open a bag of frozen store bought peas vs. the hour it took me to pick and shell the peas (that doesn't count the time spend seeding, watering, weeding and staking).  Those facts made me really THINK about where our food comes from and how it gets to the table.  I've read many books about the homesteading days here in Canada, and the majority of those families went very hungry during our long cold winters.  They worked terribly hard in horrifying conditions just to survive (the bugs alone made all outdoor work insufferable) and if they didn't grow enough food in summer (and store it well for winter), they most certainly did NOT have enough food for winter.  There were no stores to buy anything if they ran out, and many settlers had virtually no money.  The land was rough and hard to clear (by hand), crops failed, and the weather was unpredictable (as it always is).   Many things went wrong, year after year contributing their difficult existence.

Life was hard then, and it makes me feel very grateful that should I need to, I can buy whatever we need to in order to feed our family.  When I have a hard or particularly busy day (like the past few days), I like to think about what a wife and mother would have done here in my part of the world just a few hundred years ago.  Nothing that I think is hard or tiring now, is EVER as hard as what those people faced.

So while my very life doesn't depend on my garden, I am purposing to grow more of our own food and I am working harder to not waste any of it.  For the first time, I'm growing dry beans to store and use in winter as one more small notch on the post of self reliance.  I'm growing heritage crops that are tried and true and most importantly, hardy.  I'm more organized with succession planting, to maximize the production right through into late fall.  None of these things have gone perfectly and I've made many mistakes.  Plants have died and plans went sideways.  The rains came... and stayed.  I've learned a lot and have more to figure out but at least I'm trying.  I'll gain more experience each year and hopefully, along the way, there will be food.  Good food that I grew with my own two hands.  That feels good to me :)


  1. Good thoughts. I've thought the same, what if I had to grow and produce anything we ate. Wow, that would be a big task. I want to do more of that, growing and producing more and more of what we eat, it just takes so much time. And I think, maybe when.... I think I just need to decide to do it and start on it. My goal is grow lots of leafy greens this fall: lettuces, spinach, kale, cabbage.

    I"m learning a lot from you, and I appreciate you posting about your activities, it gives me a better view of what I want (instead of vague ideas).

  2. Such fresh and healthy veggies! I had a neighbor, growing up, who used salt and sand to store things in tubs. I wish I was smart enough to ask questions back then! (but thanks to blogs like yours, I can learn now!) With all your garden work, I'm thinking winter might be a "vacation" for you! ha. love,andrea

  3. Rachael - Starting small is a very good idea. I have had years when I have had very small or non-existent gardens... years with pregnancies, new babies or moves.... I find that the easiest crops to grow (for me, here), with the least maintenance but the best storability are potatoes and carrots. They keep well, require little maintenance and are SO much better than store bought! Good budget helpers, too.

    Andrea - sand is excellent for storing carrots whereas salt is good for beans. Yes, winter will be a season of indoor work (sewing, finishing indoor renovations, etc.) It's a change from all the outside work, but because we get winter for 6 months, it gets "old" fast!

  4. You should feel good, I think you have come a long way from when you first started...and yes we keep learning.....I often think of my ancestors and their struggles...It's a habit that comes with studying family trees....
    You have written a lovely post...and I'm sure your food harvests will only increase.....Your doing a wonderful job.

  5. What a lovely post - and good looking crops too. We have been growing nearly all of our own fruit and veg for 4 years now- we are still learning and have been affected by the cold summer this year. The allotment we grow on was turned over to allotmenteers in the 1800s. I often think about the hard lives they lived, working in the nearby cotton mills and living in appalling conditions. Our connection to them and the past is made all the more real when we come across the clay pipes that they smoked that are buried deep in the earth.