No one can complain about the beautiful warm weather we are having these days. It is so good to be able to walk around outside without freezing. I noticed our plum tree had one tiny bloom on it one day, and the next day it looked like a white cloud. We have at least 25 camellia bushes in bloom at this time and each one is my favorite. People say “Just wait for the Easter snap.” Well, it may snap later, but right now everything is beginning to pop open. This time of the year reminds me of Daddy and his planting time.
I still can see Daddy sitting in his chair by the fireplace at night, thumbing through the seed catalog and selecting the kinds of garden seeds he preferred. He placed the order early in the year so he could be certain to have his seed when planting time came.
Daddy checked the almanac to select the right planting times for each variety of seeds he intended to plant. I watched him look at the page that had the man drawn on it and funny symbols pointing to parts of the body. It all looked Greek to me, but Daddy thought it meant something. Then he checked the dates in the month and all the moon phases. He knew to plant peas on twin days so they would make twice as many and when to plant them to avoid insects. He knew not to plant on barren days. All of this is valuable information to farmers.
Feb. 14 was the day to plant Irish potatoes unless it fell on a Sunday. It was only after I started school that I learned Feb. 14 was Valentine’s Day. Maybe that was why we loved potatoes. We would cut a large bag of seed potatoes into small hunks, making sure that each hunk had an eye on it. We carefully placed them with the eye up in the bottom of the furrow. Potatoes were the first produce ready to eat. We watched them like hawks for the cracking of the dirt around the hills. With kitchen spoons, we dug the new potatoes as soon as we found the cracks. Mama removed the thin skins and boiled them whole until tender and then added milk to the gravy. As soon as the first green beans were ready, we cooked them with new potatoes in them. After the bushes died, we dug all the remaining potatoes and stored them in the corncrib. We never got tired of eating potatoes, especially if they were sliced round and fried. We never had heard of French fries.
Good Friday, the Friday before Easter, was the day Daddy usually planted our garden. If his work kept him from planting it on Good Friday, then he planted it on Holy Saturday so all of us would be home from school to help. Just after breakfast, he hitched the plow to Old Maude and headed to the garden spot. I loved to walk behind him in the newly plowed dirt and feel it beneath my bare feet. Freshly plowed dirt has a good smell. I tried to step in Daddy’s footprints, but I could not reach from one to the other.
Large earthworms were uncovered, and I caught them and put them in an empty tomato can full of dirt to use later for fish bait in the small creek running under Baxter’s Bridge. We also found white grub worms. After breaking the garden, Daddy changed plows and laid out the rows. He planted yellow crookneck squash, Henderson bush butterbeans, Blue Lake snap beans, Clemson spineless okra and long green cucumbers.
We grew seed beds of Marglobe tomatoes, hot peppers, eggplants and Puerto Rican red sweet potatoes. Then we pulled the plants and set them in the garden or field at the right time. We stuck wax myrtle bushes next to the small plants to shade them for a few days. We set a large quantity of tomatoes because platters of fried green tomatoes were in our thoughts. They have such a good, unique, tangy flavor to them. We ate our share of firm, half-ripe tomatoes, stewed tomatoes and okra and tomatoes combined. Mama enjoyed a ripe tomato cut up in grits for breakfast. We canned several bushels for winter use. I remember the good taste of opening a pint of canned tomatoes and adding some salt and black pepper and eating them straight from the jar.
We did not plant mustard and turnips in the garden in rows. We planted them in patches. Daddy broke up the ground and broadcast the seeds. Almost all year we had greens growing, ready to eat. We all liked them, so we often had a big iron spider of corn bread and a pot of greens with pot liquor on our table. Today, Mama, 91, still enjoys fixing a mess of greens.
Mama took care of the garden while Daddy worked away from the home. She hoed and replanted and transplanted. We had to carry buckets of water — thousands it seemed — to water the new plants. The success of our garden largely depended on the amount of rainfall we received during the season. Sometimes the garden parched in the hot sun and sometimes it drowned. We did not have running water, garden hoses or sprinklers in those days. But, Daddy never became discouraged enough to think about not planting a garden.
I enjoyed helping gather the colorful vegetables. It is so refreshing to pick the vegetables early in the morning while the dew is still on them. Of course, we got awfully tired picking peas. We planted the peas in between the corn rows, and the vines ran up the cornstalks. Peas could be picked until the fall. We picked bushel after bushel of these and canned them in half-gallon jars. I often said that I would not like peas when I grew up, but I still do.
Daddy planted plenty of watermelons. There were several varieties, but we liked the long, dark green striped ones best. Later on in the watermelon season, we were able to go to the field and choose the one we wanted and bust it open in the field. We ate the heart and threw the rest to the hogs. We grew round cantaloupes and long banana muskmelons.
We planted at least a dozen long rows of okra through the field behind the house. Daddy did know how to produce okra. This was a good money crop for him. He sold it to the rolling store and others. Mama cut the okra every other day without fail while I dragged along the foot tub for her. We filled two large wash tubs while they were at their best bearing stage. The okra leaves stung our arms and caused rashes. I recall Daddy getting very angry with a man because he had placed an order for a tub full of okra and then would not take it. Daddy already had turned down two offers for it. We had plenty of okra for dinner the next few days.
I had my own little garden each year and planted radishes, zinnias and marigolds. The radishes grew faster than anything else, but I enjoyed the flowers more.
A few years after our horse died, Daddy was using a push plow to break up some new ground and was not having much luck. He came up with a brilliant idea, he thought. He gathered some plow rope and hitched my sister Hazel, 12, and me, 14, to the plow. We pulled it halfway down the row and were doing a pretty good job until he hollered, “Gee, now haw.” I got so tickled thinking about us acting as mules that I balked and could not take another step forward from laughing. I was as stubborn as an old mule. He threatened to pop me with the pop whip, but he didn’t. He saw that it was a useless task trying to get us to pull the plow any further, so he unhitched us. That would have made a cute video, but such things did not exist back then.
When Daddy was 80, he asked me if I had a Hastings Seed Catalog that he could borrow to order his garden seeds. He still could grow one of the finest gardens around and shared with everybody. Between him and Mama, they were able to keep something growing all year round, even if it did take them all day to hoe a short row or two. Daddy has been gone for 19 years this July, and I surely do miss him and his fine gardens.