I look forward to my vegetable garden each year.
The garden catalogs have been arriving since January, ready for me to plan my 2014 garden.
As I open each catalog, I feel as excited as I did as a kid when the Sears catalog would arrive at Thanksgiving, and I’d sit and pour through the book, planning my “wish list” for Christmas!
I’m convinced that gardening and canning the fruits of the garden are in my blood.
My grandfather always had a large garden, growing tomatoes, all kinds of peppers, onions, potatoes, green and yellow beans, cucumbers and cabbage for sauerkraut. We’re Austrian-Hungarian and sauerkraut was a staple for New Year's with pork that my grandpa and his brothers cured each year. He also had pear, plum and apple trees for delicious fruits.
While Grandpa grew the vegetables and fruit, my grandmother would do all the canning, preserving everything for the winter.
At that time, they didn’t have a large freezer so Grandma would start the big enamel canner, putting up tomato juice, chunk tomatoes, tomato relish, chili sauce with peppers and onions from the garden and beans and applesauce. She also made homemade bread and noodles every week.
Like Grandpa and Gandma, I enjoy vegetable gardening and canning. For me, it’s good for the soul to go out and work in the earth. Gardening can be a wonderful stress reliever!
My earliest memories are of “helping” my grandfather as he worked in his vegetable garden. I would grab a scallion, wipe off the dirt, peel the outer layer and munch away. I would also grab cherry tomatoes and munch those right along with the onions. And, of course, I had to get a ripe apple.
My methods of gardening are a little different than my grandfather's since I don’t use any pesticides; everything is raised in my garden in an organic way, using natural fertilizer provided by my two miniature donkeys.
The natural fertilizer is put down in fall when the garden has been “put to bed” so it can leach into the soil as the snow melts in spring.
I have a large garden plot and several raised beds that hold the lettuce, onions, Swiss Chard and such. The large area is for tomatoes, peppers, pumpkins and squash. I also have an area for planting potatoes and another for my storage onions, Italian flat Chipolini and big red ones. I also have an herb garden, asparagus bed and a strawberry bed.
I like to grow heirloom varieties of tomatoes; Cherokee Purple, Brandywine, Amish Paste, Mortgage Lifter, Hungarian Heart or Oxheart, Castaluto Genovese, Hillbilly, San Marzano and Yellow Pear and Black Cherry Cherry tomatoes.
When I go through the catalogs, I have to admit, I do get carried away with ordering plants!
Last year, I had the garden plowed and was ready to put in the tomato plants I had ordered and purchased locally. They had been staying in my small greenhouse, to “harden off.” I figured I had plenty of tomato stakes left from the year before.
As I began getting everything ready, I suddenly realized I had 60 tomato plants!
Then it was a quick trip to Elzy Milling and Trade, our local RFD, to get more stakes!
It took quite a while to get the tomatoes planted, pound in the stakes, lay old newspaper down and cover the whole area with straw for weed control, but we got it done.
My poor old scarecrow in the middle of the garden looked like a prisoner in a jail cell with all the stakes around him!
As the summer progressed, so did the ripening tomatoes! Each plant was loaded with tomatoes, the most I had ever seen in my garden!
By mid-summer, my friends and neighbors ran the other way when they saw me approaching with a big smile and a couple of bulging bags full of tomatoes!
By the end of the growing season, I had also donated several large quantities of tomatoes to the local Food Pantry and still had more than enough tomatoes to begin canning.
I thought I had learned my lesson but, as I sit with my garden catalogs for this year and make my list, I can feel the excitement of planning my garden.
I still have all those tomato stakes ....