Thursday, July 27
Exploring our Gardening Roots
These beets are "Detroit Red." Not quite as delicious as the "Yellow Intermediate Mangel" that I've grown for the past few years, but I had decided to branch out this year. As I checked the beets to see which ones were large enough to pull and share with a friend tonight, a memory from my childhood made me grin.
I grew up surrounded by farmland in the western half of Ohio--farmland for which the old Black Swamp was drained, hence my display name. Mom was a factory worker, and occasional layoffs would happen during summertimes when orders were slow. She didn't seem to mind the timing of these layoffs at all, and her three children definitely looked forward to spending the occasional summer with Mom.
One spring, when my youngest brother Jeff was just finishing kindergarten, we were informed that Mom was probably going to be home with the three of us again that summer. Craig, the middle child, practically bounced out of his seat: "Cool! Can we have a garden, then?" The parents exchanged surprised glances but promised to consider it. The following week, we made veggie wishlists while Dad tilled us up a square bed of our own.
Craig, Jeff and I carefully sowed our chosen seeds: corn, tomatoes, pumpkins, zucchini and peppers. Mom and Dad, knowing that we would be impatient for results, added seeds for a few early crops like green onions, radishes, and carrots. None of us kids had the palate for radishes or green onions back then, but we were excited to see them appear, dutifully tasted one each, and were happy to leave the rest to Dad to devour.
The carrots came next, followed by the heat of summer, and we watched the garden put forth lush growth all through June. One day, in early July, we were finishing dinner when one of the boys looked up from his mashed potatoes and announced, "Well, the corn's not quite ready yet."
Anyone who grew up in farm country can tell you that corn is only supposed to be "knee high by the fourth of July," so his statement was only surprising for its obviousness. "I know that," Mom answered slowly, one eyebrow raised, "but how do you?"
"Oh, we checked today," the other brother piped up, prompting a solemn nod of agreement from the first one. "We pulled up a couple of stalks, and there ain't nothin' down there yet but a whole bunch of white roots!"
Mom, Dad and I burst out laughing... and the puzzled looks on the boys' faces only made us laugh harder. We just couldn't help it. "Good thing we said yes to planting a garden," Mom finally told Dad when she could gasp enough air to talk, "God forbid our boys grow up thinking that corn grows under the ground!"
Well, of course they thought that was the right way to check for corn after pulling up the onions, radishes, and carrots. They didn't know anything about corn except that somehow those tall fields of green stalks produced the uniform yellow kernels that showed up on their plate--and even that little knowledge probably put them far ahead of most city kids!
A trip out to the garden after supper set the boys straight on what to expect from all of the plants that were still growing. But I still think of their "mistake" when I see stories about programs that teach inner-city kids about how their food arrives at the grocery store. They are wonderful programs, and it really is important that people know where their food originates.
I am happy to report that the two little towheaded boys who pulled up cornstalks one July to check for mature ears have come a long way. One grows lovely houseplants in his apartment, and looks forward to the day when he and his fiancee can have a large yard of their own. The other lives with his new bride in a rented house and grows as many veggies and herbs as he can in the small garden bed that his landlord approved--and added a large containers to the back porch when they decided that still wasn't quite enough room to grow.
And as far as I know, neither one still thinks that they can grow corn underground. :)