Grit Blogs > Pennsylvania Adventures

Early Beginnings

VernThe soil, dark and rich, revealed fat juicy worms. Robins flew back and forth, picking them up as fast as they appeared. Yellow daffodils and a straggly, beautiful forsythia bush at the edge of our garden put on a show. The sky, blue and clear, kept the spring winds cool. The smoke from neighbors, cleaning up the garden and burning wet leaves, swirled around us, and permeated the nostrils: a sure sign of spring's arrival, and  time to plant.  Dad was digging the garden.

At the ripe old age of eight or nine, those past WWII years found me outside with Dad and Mom. Today I again would see them perform their magic.

Dad worked the still very moist and cold soil with a shovel. Money,  not in good supply, prevented him from owning a tiller. He did what he knew to do from years past. Putting his foot on the edge of the shovel, he buried the edge as far as possible, turned the contents over, broke up the larger clumps of soil, then moved to the left and did the same thing, over and over until he had the edge of the garden turned-over. Moving to the next un-dug space, he continued this ritual. Now came the finishing touch.

Mom excelled at this job. She raked over the bed several times to get it smooth, and then a final time to produce a smooth, stone free garden.

Today we are going to stick onions. This job, plus planting peas and potatoes constitute the early garden, always sometime between St. Patrick's Day and April 15.

Dad kept a very straight board, ten feet long, six inches wide and one inch thick, revealing the secret to planting onions. Dad and Mom took great pride in planting a very neat, attractive garden. Mom placed the board on the edge of the tilled soil, stood on it and stuck onion sets thumb deep and three inches apart along both sides of the board, making long nine or ten foot rows. Then she flipped the board over and continued planting until two or three pounds were planted. This produced a very neat onion patch. There is a method to their madness. The six inch board produced a space wide enough to hoe the onions.

Next came the peas, sown in neat straight rows, and covered by hand. Mom then raked a small patch of garden super smooth and planted leaf lettuce.

The last of the Cole crops to be planted, Sebago potatoes. Earlier in the planting week, Dad purchased seed potatoes (when he had the money) and cut each potato into pieces with no less than two eyes or sprouts per piece. As he tilled the soil, the prepared pieces dried.

Planting potatoes has its own set of rules. A mule or borrowed tractor pulled a shovel plow to create a ten or twelve inch deep furrow the length of the patch, usually one-hundred and fifty feet long. 

Us kids applied fertilizer, always 5-10-10 by hand, and the planting started. Dad instructed us. Place a piece of potato. eye up in the bottom of the furrow, place your heel at the edge of this piece, drop a piece at your toe, and so on and so on. We then covered the rows of planted potatoes with Mom's rake. We again had completed the early spring  ritual.

With the early planting done, we could now concentrate on important things: Opening day of trout season in south-central Pennsylvania.

I have many more fond memories of those early gardening days, and wish to share more. 

beth lamie
4/30/2013 1:50:10 AM

Vern, your stories about planting in the spring reminds me of the sweet smell of the soil. I always wondered why it has the very best aroma in the early spring. Thanks for the trip back to my childhood. Beth


nebraska dave
4/29/2013 7:47:59 PM

Vern, welcome to the GRIT blogging community. I too have fond memories of Dad plowing up the garden and Mom working the soil for planting. After plowing the soil with a tractor and maybe running a harrow over the plot, I don't remember Dad ever working in the garden with planting, harvesting, or canning. Dad was the one that took care of the animal chores, row crops, and other outside duties. One of my first farm memories was to fill the two 55 gallon drums from the hand pump well. The drums were on a skid that were pulled up to the barn to water the live stock. My job was to fill them up during the day when Dad was at work. Upon returning home from work, Dad would pull the barrels up to the barn with the tractor and fill the livestock watering tanks. I think we either butchered or sold the big live stock in the fall because I don't remember having to deal with watering stock in the winter. Your childhood memories will be great to read and jog memories of mine. Have a great day in the garden.