Monday, February 20, 2012

"Plant a radish..."

"...get a radish," as the old song goes.

I did a little bit of gardening this weekend. I had been talking with one of my soils students (he came early to class one day - real nice guy, non-traditional student, probably in his 50s somewhere based on his appearance and the fact that he's mentioned having a grandson). He's lived here all his life and he and his dad apparently ranch and do some truck farming. (And he talks about his dad - who is perhaps a decade older than my  parents - remembering the Dust Bowl).

I commented that I still couldn't get used to the climate here, that I knew well the planting times for stuff in Ohio and Illinois, but couldn't get used to when to plant the "cold season" stuff (like cabbage and beets and spinach) here. He commented, "If you want to plant cabbage-type stuff, now is the time to do it."

So I took his advice. Sunday afternoon I ran out to the garden center and got some soil to top-dress in my raised beds (the higher ones, especially, experience some settling and erosion over the winter). And I got a packet of beet seeds and bean seeds and four plants of green cabbage ("Flat Dutch") and four plants of red cabbage ("Ruby Perfection").

I decided to go ahead and plant the beans - it doesn't look like we're going to get any extended periods of cold weather (they can withstand a night or two in the upper 20s), and even if they do get frostbitten, bean seeds are cheap and I can replant.

There's something satisfying about at least THINKING about growing some of your own food (even if the reality is never as abundant as the expectation is). It's a feeling of being somewhat self-sufficient (though as I've said before: if I had to grow or gather or catch all my own food, I'd probably starve).

I'm even thinking, if the green cabbages are particularly successful (the information on the variety claims the heads can grow to eight pounds), I might turn one or two of them into sauerkraut. (I've never done it, but I helped my mom do it when I was a kid, and I have a recipe with the correct proportions of salt and everything. I'd have to get some big glass vessels to use, but I'm sure I can find large glass jars or containers where the mouth is as large as the inside diameter - and I'll use a bag filled with water as a "follower," like my mother did).

Now that I garden some myself, I'm impressed by the amount of effort my mother put in. True, she enjoys gardening - and in those days she wasn't working outside the home (and I think she preferred to be out in the garden to doing the kind of coffeeklatsch things a lot of the other housewives in our town did, and her standards for how clean the house needed to be were not as exacting as some of the women on our street*). But she grew ALL KINDS of vegetables - corn  and cucumbers and tomatoes, like almost everyone else on our block, but also peas and beans and Brussels sprouts and carrots and sometimes beets and eggplant...and she preserved a lot of it, either canning the stuff that could easily be canned (tomatoes and pickled vegetables - because the acidity made hot-pack canning safe and you didn't need to pressure-can. Though a few years she did pressure-can some other things like beans). And she froze a lot of stuff.

I suppose it saved money. I don't know. I don't know if good vegetables were as expensive in the 1970s as they can be now (and sometimes hard to come by: one of the big reasons I grow beans in my garden is that I hate canned beans, the frozen ones are ok but not great, and the fresh ones they have at the store are usually harvested at a more mature stage than I normally like - and garden beans are really, really good).

(*But a number of them had cleaning ladies who came in. And I know at least one of my friend's mothers never allowed toys outside of the children's parents didn't care as much, they didn't mind if we played with Lego in the family room (as long as no one stepped on the bricks with bare feet late at night or early in the morning). And while the house was always hygienic, it wasn't so hyper-clean as some people's houses. And I think my brother and I were happier as a result, and our mom was probably happier being freer to pursue the things she enjoyed - gardening, baking bread, taking us to the library, taking us hiking...than if she were more worried about a speck of dust being on the coffee table.)

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