We began our work on the garden in the fall because Gramps had a load of horse manure delivered and with that came an abundance of the dreaded mustard weed which Gramps said we should pull up by the roots and throw down the hill behind the barn. So there we were yanking up those weeds out in the garden and Gramps began to reminisce.
‘Well’, he said, ‘I was helping my mother in the garden when I was four years old. We depended on that garden to feed the summer paying guests. Tomatoes, beans, cukes, squash, pumpkin, turnip, carrots, potatoes – Ma grew all of them and we children helped with the planting, weeding and harvesting. We knew we had to pitch in to have enough food for the Walden Farm guests in the summer and the family in the winter.
‘One year we had a field of potatoes that was just too darn sweet and somewhat scabby. That was because my Grampa Edwin Walden who cleaned out outhouses for a living spread you-know-what on that field. The PH was not balanced well. Our guests enjoyed the potatoes remarking on their sweetness and we made sure not to mention what made them that way.
‘Every year we put 1000 bushels of potatoes down cellar. We had a potato digger hooked up to the tractor; Dad drove and we kids followed and picked the spuds. Two bushels went into a bag. Then the jigger came along and we put the bags on the jigger and off they went to the cellar.’
‘Why do you call it a jigger,’ I asked Gramps. ’Well, got to call it something’, he says.
Gramps leaned on his hoe and continued, ‘Ma would send me to Sanders’ store to exchange potatoes for whatever she had on her list. A bushel was worth about a dollar in the best of times and 25 cents in the depression.
‘I would load up our 1928 Chevy Hatbox with spuds and go down to Sanders to trade for material by the yard and Ma would make my clothes. I graduated in tan wool knickers and a cotton shirt made by my mother. Shoes and underwear we had to buy.
‘One time Eleanor Marie Duval, a wealthy summer guest at Walden Farm for many years, gave me a pair of Bavarian pants she brought back from a trip overseas. They had a wide front with a flap in front like long underwear had in the back. I happily wore those odd pants to school where I was a hit. It was nice to have an extra pair of pants to change off with the ones Ma made.’
I asked Gramps for a list of his top gardening tips. He mentioned soil testing, PH balancing, adding lime to the soil, crossways tilling and blue vitriol poison to kill the bugs. But first on his list was – Put your boots on! Before the harvesting of a hopefully bountiful crop of vegetables comes the hard work in the dirt.
Duly noted, Gramps. I’m off to get a pair of Maine gum rubbers, size 5; when spring comes I’ll be ready! I wonder if the old Sanders store- now Northwoods Outfitters will accept potatoes as payment! We figure the purchase will come up to about one and a half bushels.