Tri-City Ledger -

By Earline Smith Crews
Guest Writer 

Mama and Daddy knew the joys of a garden


May 14, 2020

Daddy and Mama planted a spring/summer garden and a fall/winter garden. The spring garden was my favorite because very early spring gave us English peas, new potatoes, onions and cabbage. Then the squash, tomatoes and early corn came rushing in. The okra pods gave notice of good and plenty. The peas in several varieties came after the heat index ramped up about mid-June, depending on the weather. The field corn was for us, cornbread, course grits and the livestock.

"Never get above your rais'ins."

I gave the bugs and rabbits competition with the cabbage. Mama knew with certainty the rabbits nibbled the leaves from the edge. The bugs went down to lay eggs and wreak havoc amongst the stalk and the stems. Precious little Earline pinched out that tasty head at about the time the cabbage got golf ball sized. Oh my goodness, fresh vegetables… Mama was a calm lady until she saw that cabbage.

"EARLINE, get yourself out here young lady. I ain't having our cabbage messed up by the likes of you. We work hard to feed you young'uns and what the rabbits don't eat and the bugs don't kill, you come along and eat the head out of the cabbages."

"You're acting like a selfish heathen."

The garden was worked to keep the grass and weeds out. Water was drawn from the well, hauled to the garden and our food was paid attention. Nowhere in my entire universe was more beautiful than our spring garden. Neighbors all around had lush gardens, but my most memorable community spring garden was owned and grown by Mama's cousin, Miz Eura Lee Grissett Brown.

I made sure to look out the bus window every morning during the last weeks of school in May as it stopped to pick up Adredth and Robert. Miz Eura was already in her garden working to keep it pristine. She was dressed so as to not allow a single ray of sunshine touch her skin. A long-sleeved shirt, gloves, pants, and that bonnet with the skirted back to cover her neck and the flange shade for her face. Miz Eura had the most beautiful complexion this side of Woodbury face soap. Mama said Miz Eura had peaches and cream skin. Mama and her sisters said their Grissett cousins, Eura and Ruby washed their faces in milk.

It worked.

So back to the garden. I made the garden my private Eden during the growing season. I ate those cabbage hearts, I pulled up green onions to snack on with a slice of hoop cheese and a cold biscuit. I knew when the first tomato showed. I kept my eye on it, because I saw it first. To lay down between lush rows of tomato plants, reach up for a plump tomato to dap into my handful of salt before biting it as the juices ran down my arms to drip off my elbow, down my chin to collect on my shirt. That had to be what God surely must have intended for me.

Everything was growing as the humidity climbed, the foggy nights made for good corn. The down side was the water grass, the coffee weeds, and the iron weeds. They grew faster than we could chop them out. The Bermuda grass thatched.

I HATE BERMUDA GRASS…in the garden.

About the end of May Daddy had us planting the draws from the sweet potato seed beds. We pulled the plants up to carry them in armloads to the "sweet tater" patch behind the chicken house and barn. At least an acre or more had to be planted for our winter supply. Daddy had laid off about half an acre of nice rows that followed the curve of the terrace for planting the potato draws. As the draws grew nice vines, we scheduled a time for cutting the vines in foot lengths to be stobbed into the row hill. To that job was added the duty of hauling tubs of water to soak each newly planted potato vine to give it the best chance for taking root and making tubers.

Did I mention the down side of gardening?

Sweet potato cultivation is the one that put a burr under my tail. As the summer came with all the wonderful produce for us to enjoy, those sweet potatoes caused a hated memory for the first half of our celebration of July 4th. Sweet potatoes had to have the last few rows planted on the 4th of July so as to allow knowledge of when they were ready to be dug in the Fall.

School let out, we ate good and plenty fresh vegetables. Mama worked us from morning to evening helping to can those peas and beans and squash and chow chow and pickles and anything else we couldn't eat before it aged out. Her shelves in the smokehouse was lined with Kerr Mason jars of winter food. Mama took pride in showing her food security. The days passed to get us to the deadline for planting sweet potatoes.

July 4th…

The holiday brought the promise of creek time with town cousins and a creek bank picnic. We hated that last hard sweaty, tater tar-smeared arms, back hurting job; but to help soften the morning we knew at the end of that last stob of that last sweet potato vine signaled the celebration could begin. Oh how we celebrated. We burned out every ounce of energy we owned in having fun that day. Our spring garden was mostly finished, things were beginning to get stalky and brown in our spring garden.

Summer came with the notice of less gardening but more cotton field work. Fall gardens were planted in late September/early October. Fall/Winter gardens were just as important as spring gardens, but not as pretty and as filled with variety, but everything we needed to make our food supply adequate. Today in this quarantine I am deep into a spring garden as I write this article and I'm already planning what I may plant in my fall garden. That is what makes an old country farm lady look forward to the next season.

My advice is, get a pot and some seeds and plant something good to eat, like tomatoes perhaps. That tomato sandwich will leave you feeling glad you did.


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