By Bill Bradberry
Niagara Gazette — “… and a time to every purpose under the heaven: a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; a time to break down, and a time to build up …”
— Ecclesiastes 3
I’m not sure what The Byrds had in mind way back in 1965 when they popularized Pete Seeger’s 1950s rendition of Ecclesiastes 3, but I am inclined to agree with novelist Thomas Wolfe who wrote: “[O]f all I have ever seen or learned, that book seems to me the noblest, the wisest, and the most powerful expression of man’s life upon this earth.”
Wolfe, one of my favorite American authors, continued: Ecclesiastes is, “… the highest flower of poetry, eloquence, and truth…the greatest single piece of writing I have ever known, and the wisdom expressed in it the most lasting and profound.”
For me, the words strike very close to home, reminding me of the way my siblings and I as well as most of our neighborhood playmates were raised, with parents molded by their agrarian roots, clenching a well-worn bible in one hand and the tattered remains of an Old Farmer’s Almanac in the other.
Every year, at the dawn of spring, we began our preparations for the planting of our back yard vegetable gardens, some of which were big enough to be classified as urban farms. By this time of the year, we were busy every day after school trying to turn the still semi-frozen earth into workable soil in advance of the planting of the seeds.
Toiling in the garden in the warming early spring air was a great break from the drudgery of shoveling the heavy, wet, late winter snow, and I’m sure it was a great relief for Mom too, glad to get here eight bouncing children out of the house after being mostly indoors for what seemed like an eternity to all of us.
By this time of the year, we were definitely ready to be outdoors, not cooped up in the oil-burning, forced-air furnace-heated stuffy confines of the house. Reading and re-reading the little 5 cent packets of seeds, labeled with exquisite pictures of the beautiful crops they would yield, was a favorite pastime during the dark cold days of the seemingly perpetual winters, perfect fodder for dinner-time chat led by Dad, who was most anxious to get out there, get started.
Spring was welcomed, embraced, celebrated around our house. Mom’s annual spring-cleaning binges were wearing us all out, so we took on our chores in the garden with absolute glee.
We all had garden duties after school. It was the same in most of the neighborhoods all over the city in those days, when “hoeing” meant something entirely different from what it means now.
Having a Victory Garden was just part of the urban landscape then — few families were without them.
Planting our gardens as soon as possible after the winter thaw was a symbol of great family pride. Timing the planting so we got the right things in the ground at the right time was a skill we learned from our parents who, like millions of Americans during the Depression and World War II, depended on their gardens to supplement their pantries.
Like so many others in our neighborhood, Dad was raised on a farm; he taught us how to plant, tend and harvest our gardens. We plowed, raked, weeded, watered, fertilized, sprayed and did everything we could to have the best garden on the block.
We planted rows of greens, cabbage, mustards and turnips and, of course, collard greens, some from seeds and others from tender little starter plants. Dad would drive us out to the farms in Ransomville and Wilson to find the best he could.
Our corn, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes and okra were as good as any, and better than some. But we were most proud of the collard greens. They were the subject of great debates among the neighbors and friends from all over the county.
Back in those days, entire families actually visited each other.
Planting the gardens and tending to them taught us some very fundamental principles. In addition to the joy of spending time together as a family, it taught us the value of work.
We learned that we reap what you sow, and at the same time, it put some incredibly delicious meals on the table.
The garden always produced more than one family could possibly eat, can or freeze, so everyone gave much of it away, or traded; that was probably one of the most valuable lessons we learned — to waste not!
Our good friends over at the Old Farmer’s Almanac (almanac.com) have made it fairly easy to know when to plant and harvest what, which, in these parts of the world, can be tricky.
Their website includes a section (Best Planting Dates Calendar) where you input your zip code to produce a very detailed list of when to plant.
Of course, nature will do what nature does; no list necessary. The wild berries do their own thing, but if you are into planting your own broccoli, cabbage, kale, onions, peas, tomatoes, it’s time!
And, if by chance you are into growing the local economy, this is the perfect time to break ground. I have it from a number of good, honest, reliable sources that the soil is very fertile for a bumper crop of quality hotel rooms, retail stores, restaurants and world-class entertainment venues, some not too far from our very own backyards!
Happy Birthday to William Shakespeare who would be 450 (or so) years old today, and to my dear friend Gene Olson who just keeps turning and turning and turning; he will turn 87 years young on Monday. Blessings to Gene and all of my good friends at the First Friday Club!
Contact Bill at firstname.lastname@example.orgContact Bill at email@example.com