NEWS FROM THE HILLS
Winter has returned after a few wonderfully mild, sunny days that have us all longing for spring. It was just a foretaste of course, but we know that it won’t be long now. The migratory robins have arrived in some places, swarming over lawns with their odd, jerky hops. They are searching for earthworms that are reckless enough to come to the surface.
We’ve heard early morning birdsong already, and it is a cheering note. Mom always told us the birds mate in February; whether that is true or not, I don’t know. It may just be another old wives’ tale. I like to think it is true, and that the songbirds are as anxious for spring as we are.
February is one of the dreariest months in the year, and seems to stretch out forever. It is the month of mud, as the snow melts and the ground thaws. It is marked by patches of dingy, melting snow, and sodden icicles that melt off the rock cliffs and lie in the ditch line in dirty heaps.
Thankfully, it is a short month, and we can take courage in the thought that soon the March winds will be here to dry up the mud and prepare the garden for early crops. Already we are thinking of tender green onions and crisp fresh lettuce right out of the patch.
We’ve read a lot about Victory gardens that folks raised during WWI and WWII. They were called war gardens or food gardens for defense. They were vegetable, fruit and herb gardens planted at private residences in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom and Australia during that time, in order to reduce the pressure on the public food supply.
In addition to indirectly aiding the war effort, these gardens were a “morale booster,” not only because the gardener was contributing to the war effort, but, they were rewarded by the produce grown. Making victory gardens became a part of daily life on the home front.
It became a source of pride to make a victory garden. These gardens were planted in backyards, on apartment building rooftops and in vacant lots. We raised a garden every summer, so it wasn’t anything new to us.
I do remember the ration books that we had to use then to purchase many items such as sugar, coffee, and even gasoline. I distinctly remember the shortage of sugar, as Mom used saccharin a lot of times when we ran out of sugar. It gave cooked apples a bitter taste that we did not like. We learned to “make do,” however, just as most folks did.
With the state of our economy now, and drastic unemployment, it might be wise to incorporate victory gardens again. There is hardly anything more satisfying than to plant vegetables with your own two hands, and watch them grow and flourish. There’s the thrill of picking a sun-warmed tomato straight from your garden, and cooking a pot of green beans fresh from the vines. Food doesn’t get any better.
Not only is it more economical, but, we are eating produce that hasn’t been sprayed with harmful insecticides, or canned with questionable food additives. It doesn’t take a large plot to grow our own produce, and I’ve seen cucumber vines and tomato plants growing alongside flowers in beds on front lawns. Growing a garden is a great stress-buster also. Getting your hands right down in the warm soil, feeling the sunshine on your back and watching tiny plants take hold and grow has a calming effect.
An added benefit we get is needed exercise after the winter doldrums. It seems like a win-win situation to me, and I get anxious to start. Right now it’s the planning stage, ordering seeds and deciding what to plant. I have ventured out into some exotic vegetables, but now we stick to the old tried and true crops.
We like to plant plenty of half-runner beans and Silver Queen corn, in order to can and freeze. We also can lots of whole tomatoes and tomato juice, and raise cucumbers to eat and make pickles. The cabbage patch is used to make sauerkraut, and homegrown apples find their way into applesauce, frozen apples to fry, and canned apples. We always plant green and hot peppers, and set out broccoli.
Raising a garden is to witness a miracle. Tiny seeds are dropped into the prepared soil, God sends the sunshine and the rain, and they begin to sprout and put forth roots. It is a thrill to see the first green leaves pop through the earth and unfold.
Day by day the miracle continues; the plant grows taller and more leaves appear. Keeping the soil cultivated and free from weeds is our job, until the plant matures and is ready to harvest. It is a soul-satisfying job to raise your own garden.
There is another bright note in February—digging sassafras roots for tea. Lucille Stalnaker of Telsa called to inquire about the proper time to harvest these roots, and the time is now. When the ground thaws out and the sap is still down in the roots, it is a perfect time.
She wanted to know if there is a difference in red and white sassafras, as sometimes the tea is pale and bitter. My authority, Criss, thinks that the size of the roots makes the difference. The larger the roots are, the redder the tea is. Also, don’t peel the roots, but scrub them well, cut in small chunks, and simmer until the tea turns a robust red. Ah! What a spring tonic!
Spring is not complete until a person has a good mess of ramps and a pot of sassafras tea. That is a cheerful thought to tide us through the rest of the winter.
Leoma C. Roberts of Madison is looking for the words to a song that her Grandpa sang to her when she was a little girl (80 years ago.) The only words she remembers are: “I am a little shepherd/ I daily go to school/ To learn of Master Jesus/ And the Golden Rule.”
A song has been running through my mind, and I would love to have all the words. It was played a lot on the radio when I was a child. It begins, “Only two little rosebuds, were taken from their home, to make their bloom in heaven, to decorate the throne.”
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