We worked hard, so we ate hearty meals when I was growing up on the ranch. Dad was big on meat, potatoes and gravy, so that’s what most often was fixed. It wasn’t unusual for us to have meat, gravy and biscuits for breakfast, either. However, Mom believed in serving balanced meals, so she always included vegetables and salads.
Nearly everything we ate was homegrown, so that meant planting a big garden. I have been thinking about the ranch garden this week as I walk past our tilled but yet unplanted garden spot next to Pipi’s Pasture.
It was about this time of year that we planted the ranch garden. The garden was a short walk from the house. Getting there involved a balancing act in order to cross a plank placed over a rather deep irrigation ditch that ran along the garden.
It seemed to us kids that the garden space took up several acres. It really didn’t, but it was a big garden, nonetheless. An orchard with apple, cherry and plum trees stands next to the garden.
Each spring, Mom figured out how many vegetables she’d need to can that summer. Sometimes there were jars of vegetables left from the previous winter. I think she ordered the seeds. Sometimes she experimented with new varieties of plants.
Dad’s job was to till the garden soil. At first he used a team of horses to work the soil; later on he used a tractor. There was always the danger of frost, even in June, but when we thought it was safe, we kids and Mom gathered up the hoes, rakes and seeds and headed for the garden.
The rows were long — really, really long — and Mom was particular about the way we spaced the seeds. There was no “sowing” of the seeds the way I sometimes plant these days (to save time). We had to space them just right in order to have enough seeds to plant the garden.
I can’t remember how many rows of beans and peas we planted, but there were green bush snap beans, green beans that climbed poles, yellow wax beans and a special variety of beans that was harvested when they were dry, to be used for soups and ham and beans. There were different kinds of peas, too.
We also planted carrots, onions, lettuce, radishes and spinach. Although Dad sometimes planted a large plot of potatoes elsewhere on the ranch, Mom planted a few in the garden because she wanted them handy when the peas came on. What a treat to eat the first new potatoes and peas, creamed together.
We planted corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, winter squash and pumpkins, too, even though the growing season was short. Amazingly, we harvested some of these vegetables, depending on the fall.
One year our brother Duane grew a watermelon plant and was rewarded with a watermelon. It was just about ready to harvest when a deer ate it. The same thing happened when Duane planted some grape vines. They produced grapes, and the deer ate them, too.
Today we water our garden using a hose and a sprinkler. But back then we irrigated our garden with water from the ditch. That meant getting the water down to the end of each row and letting the water soak into the soil. Irrigating the garden was a job in itself!
After the garden plants came up, it was time to weed. Whenever there wasn’t something else going on at the ranch, like haying or checking cows, Mom and Dad said those dreaded words: “You can hoe the garden.”
The ranch garden is made up of adobe soil. When dry, the soil is as hard as a rock, so a hoe just bounces off the ground. Most of the time we just chopped off the top of the weeds, even though Mom showed us how her mother weeded a garden. Grandma pulled up the weeds or dug them out, and then she used the hoe to push the soil back up around the plants. Our grandmother would never have approved of the way we kids weeded the garden.
When the garden came up, it wasn’t long before we harvested the vegetables for canning.
More about harvesting later.
Copyright Diane Prather, 2013.