Big garden memories from the ranch

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With the economy the way it is, more people than ever are planting vegetable gardens this spring.

Planting gardens to help out with the grocery bill brings back memories of the big gardens we planted at the ranch when I was a kid.

In those days, mom didn't buy canned vegetables at the store. Instead, she canned all the produce that could be harvested from our garden - literally hundreds of pints and quarts of vegetables.

Mom sat down and figured out how many meals she'd cook during the year, and from that she calculated how many jars of each kind of vegetable she'd "put up."

The garden, a fenced area that kept cows but not deer out, was just a short walk from the house. Apple, plum and cherry trees grew in an orchard on one side. An irrigation ditch ran along another side.

We had to cross a narrow plank to get across the ditch when it was full of running water. My sister, Charlotte, remembers how she dreaded walking near the ditch because there were always water snakes crawling around it.

In the spring, right about this time of the season, Dad used a disc to get the soil ready. Then, we kids and Mom raked it smooth, dug rows and planted the seeds. Even though the garden was about a quarter of an acre, it might have been five acres as far as we kids were concerned.

The rows seemed to go on forever.

We planted onions, lettuce, radishes, spinach, carrots, corn, zucchini, cucumbers and dill (for pickles).

There were rows of certain vegetables so there would be enough produce to can.

Mom also planted seed for dry beans. When mature, the pods were picked, shelled, and the bean seeds were put on a tarp to dry.

These beans were used for dishes like ham and beans.

A few potatoes were planted near the house where they were handy for making creamed peas and potatoes, but most of the potatoes were planted in a patch of land near the hay field.

Because the ranch is at a high elevation, some plants, such as watermelon, pumpkin, winter squash and tomatoes didn't have enough days before frost to mature.

I don't remember growing any pumpkins, but we did have a few tomatoes.

Most of the tomatoes for canning came from an annual fall shopping trip to Grand Junction.

One year, my brother Duane planted watermelon seeds and got a watermelon, too. It was about the size of a peewee football when the deer ate it.

Deer were a problem, indeed. The family remembers one summer when they were especially pesky.

Dad and Mom put woven wire over the garden plants to prevent the deer from eating them, but the deer just walked on the wire. When the plants grew up through the wire, the deer nipped them off.

Dad had some cherry bombs leftover from winter. The Division of Wildlife gave them to him to keep elk away from the haystack. So he somehow rigged them off so they would go off in the garden at night.

That was the summer that my sister, Darlene, was trying to get some Kentucky Wonder bean plants to climb up some stakes. Day after day, she carefully curled the plants' tendrils around the stakes, but in the morning, the plants were flat on the ground.

Then one day, she got at least one bean plant to climb. Success! But that night, the smoke bombs went off, and the next morning the plant, was on the ground again, and she never got it to climb again.

Later on, Darlene realized that the bombs had nothing to do with the plants climbing. She was winding the tendrils the wrong way.

Once the garden was planted, it was watered from the ditch. And when the plants came up, there was lots of weeding to do.

The weeds had to be pulled out by the roots or hoed out - no cutting off the tops of the weeds. And Mom had learned a hoeing technique from her mother by which the soil was pulled back around the plants, like cultivating.

Boy, were we happy when we got a rototiller!

When the fruits of the plants were ready for picking, we got out the bushel baskets. Picking was a job, but then beans had to be snapped and peas shelled, and that was our kids' job. We sat out on the enclosed front porch and got the vegetables ready for canning.

And the canning is another story.

Good luck with your garden!

Copyright, Diane Prather, 2009. All rights reserved.

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