This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for March 18, 2021, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.
Springtime triggers memories of my parents who were excellent gardeners. If they were still alive, they would not like my referring to them as “excellent gardeners”; they would think calling them “gardeners” was too “highfalutin,” a word they frequently used. It was a word they used with disdain to refer to being pretentious or putting on airs. They both grew up on farms, and still did farming on the side, so, hey, of course they knew how to plant and sow!
In their eyes, only “city folks” should be called “gardeners;” nevertheless, they were excellent gardeners; and the only book they planted by was The Old Farmer’s Almanac, the oldest almanac in the United States, going all the way back to 1792 and still being published today. It contained everything from weather forecasts and planting dates to folklore and astrology. That almanac was probably the reason they insisted on planting Irish potatoes on George Washington’s birthday, February 22.
There could be frost on the ground, or even snow, but they would still plant their potatoes on February 22. I remember helping them, wearing a coat and gloves.
Out of curiosity, I just went online and looked up what modern gardeners are saying about planting potatoes in Texas. One source said to plant them in February or March; another source said March, April or May (May must be for the Texas Panhandle). My parents never veered from February 22.
It was a tossup as to which parent loved to plant a garden the most, but each had their own special vegetables or berries they liked to plant. The two of them together planted a HUGE garden every year, — it was much more than just an oversized flowerbed (which is the best I can do). Mama planted to can. Daddy planted to eat.
Since we, her family, loved pickles and sauerkraut, as did she, my mother’s top-of-the-list vegetables to plant were cabbage and cucumbers. It was her custom to grow cabbage seedlings in small boxes of dirt in her wash house. She would plant the cabbage seeds about four or five weeks before the last frost if she guessed right, and then she would set out the baby plants (usually) in early April.
Cucumbers were much simpler, — you could plant the seeds directly into the ground in late March or early April. Cucumbers love sun and warm soil. Because she canned enormous quantities of garlic dill, bread and butter, and sweet pickles, not to mention the ones she put up in a stone crock, she had to fight my father for garden space.
Daddy’s Number One contender for garden space was corn. Not sweet corn, but field corn. He was convinced, as was my mother, that field corn-on-the-cob was more delicious than sweet corn-on-the-cob. Since my father shared the field corn (cracked) with the animals we raised, I’m sure they were part of his reason for garden space.
His other growing passion was for “tame black berries,” as he called them, and strawberries, another point of contention with my mother. She argued that it was foolish to give up five rows of the garden to berries, especially black berries, because wild dew berries grew abundantly in the pasture and on side of the road. Over the years, his berry rows shrank from five rows to one lone row of strawberries. No doubt Mama won that battle.
Although I learned a little about gardening by watching (and helping) my parents, I never carried on their huge-garden tradition in my adult life. My wife belongs to the Wharton Garden Club, but I do not. She does share with me a few of the growing tips she learns from some very excellent plant-growers in the Garden Club. However, I confess that nothing in my background qualifies me to walk tall as a gardener along with my parents and the Garden Club members.
Perhaps because of the brutal winter storm we all experienced this February in Texas, my nostalgia for tilling the soil, sowing seeds, and setting out baby plants has burst forth with the sunshine we are being blessed with. But I can be excessively nostalgic without picking up a hoe, or getting the Mason jars ready for canning.
Ray Spitzenberger is a retired WCJC teacher, a retired LCMS pastor, and the author of two books, It Must Be the Noodles and Open Prairies.