The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Spring Planting and Mama's Garden

By George C. Parker © 1985

Issue: May, 1985

In the springtime, I always relate back to Mama's garden... On our little hillside farm, there was very little power equipment to farm with. We had a young mule, a plow or two, a drag harrow made from the top of a pine tree or maybe some slabs from the sawmill, a sled with homemade runners - anything beyond that was hard to find, so for the most part, the power equipment was six kids with a hoe in hand. With the eyes of two parents on us and the limb of a tree so close at hand, we could clean out a fair sized new ground and make it ready for planting in most any 12 hour day.

Many of our fields were on the side of the mountain where mule and plow could not go. But as long as it would grow corn (most mountain soil would), we would have it planted by the time the dog woods were white with blossom

To be sure, this was no easy task, digging among stumps, rocks, thorns, briars, or whatever else might be growing in those hills and doing it barefooted, it added up to a hard day's work.

So, while we took a break, maybe a Saturday would be assigned to help Mama in her garden.

Now I have to tell you Mama knew how to grow a garden! She made sure her garden was properly cared for - mulching in the fall with stable manure, plowing under in the spring when the soil was just right, making sure that no weeds had a chance to grow and reseed - and that no inexperienced kid was left alone to hoe, plant or gather. We were trained to enjoy the pleasure of planting, hoeing and harvesting from Mama's garden. We all knew what Blum's Almanac said about when to plant. We knew where the seeds were kept. We could name every seed by package by sight or feel. We knew if the seed was good or bad for any reason. We knew how to save seed and how to share with a neighbor. We knew what to plant, where, how deep and how far apart; how long it would take for it to come up.

You may ask how Mama kept us so involved. First of all, it was better than working in the corn field. Second, she always assigned us a row or two that was to be our very own garden - a hill or two of about everything in Mama's garden. We had to look after it by ourselves, and while we looked after our own, of course, we were helping look after Mama's - carrying water or mulch, checking for bugs or worms and crushing them between our fingers - doing whatever it took to make sure it grew big and better than anyone else’s.

Now and then a mole would find his way into Mama's garden. The first sign would bring Mama and the family dog out early the next morning laying in wait for the intruder to nudge up the first bit of soil. First Mama would set her heel in his path so he could not back up and get away. Then the dog would dig him out and that was the end of Mr. mole. If the family dog was not around, Mama did her own digging and it was still the end of Mr. Mole.

All summer long we enjoyed working in Mama's garden. Sometimes it would be hoeing, sometimes harvesting, watching for just the right time to pick and can or to dig and store (or whatever method we might use to make sure there was enough set aside to see us through the winter). What belonged to us kids was handled the same way, with a lot of bragging by Mama if we had done a good job. Some would say we were poor, but we ate pretty good. I'll take a pot of boiled new potatoes, fresh string beans, some pinch lettuce and green onions served with a good size piece of Mama's hot corn bread and a glass of cold milk from the spring box. I'll match it up to any steak house in the nation.

Yes, Mama had a way with us children. She had not taken any courses in child psychology. She didn't visit any of Peterson's Classes of parent child relationship. She just passed on to us what had been given to her by her parents and their parents before that. Who came along and interrupted that anyway? Don't worry, I still remember Mama's way.