Growing up Gardening
Rural Gardening Roots
I grew up gardening in rural Illinois farm country on what my parents called an “Old McDonald Farm.” To them that meant we had a little bit of everything and farming wasn’t really what my dad did for a living. Mom and dad planted a quarter-acre garden and had a parade of several cows, sheep, a horse, chickens, ducks, and pigeons that came and went. My dad also planted an orchard with cherries, apples, peaches, and many other kinds of fruit. Gardening was just a part of our lives. Most days of the week we worked together to weed the garden, pick fruit, gather eggs, pick wild mushrooms, care for our animals, and bale hay. My parents taught us about pruning fruit trees, and grapevines at a young age. We also canned and froze a majority of our food for the winter. Working and playing together gave us lots of fun memories together.
A Vision for Adventure
A majority of the families in our area rarely left the state. My parents raised farm animals for additional income, so we could travel. If our animals sold well for the year, we would have a two-week-long road trip (usually ending in Northwest Washington where my dad grew up). Mom and Dad were great, by the time I graduated from High School I had been in every state west of the Mississippi and a substantial group of the ones east as well. We seldom took the same route twice. So all year we bottle-fed baby lambs and pitched hay to the cows with the hope for our long vacation was in our future.
Then I moved to Oklahoma City for a job where I met and married my husband. After our son was born, I freaked out! Nothing about the environment where I was parenting was similar to what I had experienced as a child. I desperately wanted to give my kids what I had as a kid, but that seemed impossible with my current environment. (I mean have you tried gardening in Oklahoma?!?! Also for some reason they don’t smile at people bringing farm animals into backyards.). It stressed me out for about a year and gave up. There was no way I could take the gardening lifestyle I grew up with and infuse it into my kid’s life. I could see no way that we were moving onto acreage with the kind of job my husband has.
Gardening takes Root
At some point, I had a change of heart. I started reading about raised bed gardening and lasagna composting. We decided to do a modified version of gardening for my backyard. That fall I started collecting bags of people’s leaves from beside the road and topping them with dirt and chicken manure from a friend. (People recommended buying cow manure at Lowe’s but the farm girl in me rebelled. My husband put his foot down when I considered dragging some back with us from Illinois. Thankfully, a friend with chickens stepped in and saved me from insanity. I watered it a few times over the winter, and stirred it up with a shovel! Come to find out it works great. My baby would play on a blanket nearby, while I worked. It was a motivating reminder for me to take him outside whenever the weather was nice!
Our Growing Gardeners
Fast-forward two years, our garden isn’t perfect, but we have so much fun. We now have 4 raised beds and the dirt is incredible. Since I’m not a huge fan of just sitting outside with my son, I’ll pull a weed or two, straighten my tomato cages, or pick lettuce while he plays. I have learned how to plant Marigolds, and basil at the bottom of my tomato so the hearty Oklahoma bugs don’t gobble them up before we do. I am amazed that here I can plant a winter garden that we harvest in the spring! Of course, I still go back to Illinois and have garden envy. Their plants are always bigger and more green than mine are, but that isn’t my goal. I have learned these things along the way that has made it easier. My goal is for my little, boy to know where our food comes from. On that level, it is already a success. He begs me to pick him organic sugar snap peas, so he can eat them while he swings. He loves for me to point out ripe tomatoes so he can pick them himself. We talk about what plants are weeds and which are vegetables. At some point, we hope Oklahoma City will sneak through a law allowing chickens again, but until then we will play with what we have!