Thursday, May 24, 2012

GARDENS! by Lots of Dear Cousins

Sue Kinsella: Stories in the past few weeks about Gladys's and Kathleen Henderson's gorgeous flower gardens got me thinking about gardens in general. They combine so many facets of life nourishment and beauty, of course, and also family, friends, nature, science, business, health, history, simplicity, complexity, generosity, continuity, love, awe, dreaming, inspiration and so much more. I, myself, don't seem to have the farming gene. So I admire all the more those who do.

I asked a few Taylor Baker Cousins who are avid gardeners to write up a paragraph or so about their gardens and I promised I'd weave them together. I knew we'd get a lovely bumper crop! Let's hear their stories - and notice how many more family members appear in them, as well. Nancy Taylor starts us out with a walk through some of the gardens in her life.

Nancy Taylor: When I was growing up on large properties and a farm, my parents always had really big gardens. On the farm, I remember the days of tilling the garden with the tractor and watching the birds waiting for the worms that were tilled up from the rich soil. We had also planted a large strawberry field that we were able to sell strawberries in season by the roadside, along with all of our pears and other fruits. So getting my hands dirty in God's soil was always good for me and I consider it therapy now.

In North Carolina around the Raleigh area, with my kids growing up, we had a medium garden in back of our mobile home. We had 1/2 an acre of land with the place we rented, and a hilly cow pasture in back of us to round up some "fertilizer." I remember the corn we grew — 6 feet tall and we could get lost in the couple of rows of it. Tried Jerusalem artichokes instead of potatoes, which was good. The clay there is a bit rocky and hard to till up, so I had a friend from church till it with his TroyBilt tiller. (He was like the kids' surrogate grandfather as he was just like my dad and had a huge organic garden on 6 acres in town.)

In Florida I started my garden when I first moved down here again in 1990 and had green beans, tomatoes, cukes, and all sorts that I would go out in the middle of the day when the sun had ripened everything to perfection and eat from the garden. That to me is the best part of having a garden.

Most of my gardening since then has been more in containers and raised beds in front of the porch to the house I had for 16 years. Those gardens suffered from a lot of the weather and conditions that are present in Florida, so even though I got to eat some good food from the plantings, there were some frustrations from the extreme heat, heavy rains, and bugs.
In my present situation, I only have room for a few containers on the open patio outside the back door of where I am staying, but I have managed to eat tomatoes, green beans, have cukes coming, romaine, spinach, green bell peppers and yellow banana peppers, a few pumpkin plants, and watermelon plants. Because the patio is more shaded, the plants have fared better — and the eating has been good.

But I can't wait for the day when I get a piece of land for myself back again so I can get out my little tiller and actually start growing some good food in the same place year after year. It is so much good therapy for me to be working with the land, and I really miss being outdoors as much as I used to be. Hopefully, one day soon. Keep those dreams alive and dreaming!

Sue Kinsella: My memories of that strawberry farm are so vivid! One time when I was probably 7 or 8 or so, I spent a week with Uncle Arnon's family, including several hours picking strawberries with Bob, Jim, Jack and George. When we came in, all sticky from the smushed fruit and itchy from the vines, Aunt Alice dumped me right into the bathtub. Later, I visited Nancy in her room and felt so privileged when she allowed me to peel the sunburned skin off her back!

When I was older, in my 20's, I despaired because I seemed to kill any plants I touched. But then one day I decided to try again with some coleus seeds in little pots on my windowsill. I planted and watered and waited. And waited. And waited. Every day I checked them, hoping to see green sprouts but there were none. The best explanation I could come up with was deciding I must have planted the seeds "upside down" and those shoots were growing down instead of up. (Yeah, you can see what an astute farmer I am!)

But then even this simple gardening taught me to trust in life. At last, one morning when I checked the pots, I was thrilled to find tiny shoots and leaves that had appeared overnight, reaching for the sun and bending like elegant diminutive ballerinas. Tom Kinsella writes about that same kind of awe.

Tom Kinsella: I have some early memories of gardens – Grandpa Taylor’s and Pop Kinsella’s. Mom tells me that when visiting Grandpa T, the first thing I would do is take his hand and say, “Come on Grandpa, let’s go look at the garden.” When I was 11 or 12, I planted my own patch, about 2 feet by 2 feet right outside the back door of 2846. Thinking about it now, it was probably pretty poor soil with not much sun. I tried to grow a field of sweet corn, and managed about half a dozen stalks. The prize winner was a 3 inch ear. I dried it, hanging on string in the fruit cellar; left it there for several years.

After that, I didn’t garden or have much to do with gardens until I moved into my current house in 2001. I have a good friend from college, Todd, who had been gardening for several years and talking about how fun it was. He convinced me to plant a 10 by 14 foot plot. “Give me your best tip,” I said. “Arugula,” he answered.

Todd was right about the arugula, and more fundamentally right about gardening. It’s a lot of fun for many reasons – many of you know these reasons. Let me share one. It is something that I experience year after year, although over time the sensation has changed.

I live in South Jersey – way down south to Mom and Dad and folks in Upstate New York. This means I plant potatoes quite early. This year I planted on March 6th, a Tuesday. I went out before classes – I had prepared the ground – and I planted my usual heavy crop. Then I waited, and it froze a few nights, and I worried that this year I had finally planted too early.

Interrupting this story for a bit, let me begin a parallel tale. Last fall, following my Uncle Harold’s advice, I “cut the crap” out of my blackberry bush. I cut that full, flowing, monstrous plant – at least 5 feet in diameter – back to 14 inch stalks. Then I tied them in a bunch with a loop of cotton rope. When I told Mom about the rope, she said, “Daddy [my grandpa Taylor] used to use stretchy material to tie up his cut-back raspberries, like an old undershirt – you could use pantyhose.” Don’t have any pantyhose, I thought.

Here the stories come together. Right around the time that I was worrying about whether I had planted my potatoes too early, I was entertaining vague fears of having finally overcut my blackberry canes. But then in about the second or third week of April, I saw some buds on the canes and the tops of several potato plants peaking out of the ground. On the same day!

And that’s one of the wonders of gardening. You know that the plants should grow, you expect that they will grow, but seeing is believing, and if you harbor a worrisome mind, be it ever-so-slight, you can’t be sure that they really will grow, until one morning, by golly, there they are looking up to the sun. They grow not on my schedule but their own, and for that independence I love them. 

Sue Kinsella: As Tom says, Spring comes later to Upstate New York, even in such a weird weather year as this one. In April, Kathy Taylor Mills wrote to me about how her husband, Gordie, was chomping at the bit to get going on his garden.

Kathy Taylor Mills: It is that time of year again, when Gordie gets wired up for spring planting. He is anxious to get started this year because of the nice weather we had in March BUT it is way too early.

We never try to plant before Dad’s birthday May 20th and even keep some things to plant in June to keep down the bug population (potato beetles).

He had a cover crop this year on the garden — Rye. He wanted to keep the snow and rain from washing down from the neighbor’s field. Funny, though, we did not have much of that this year?

He has a complete rotation system for our whole garden that he has kept going from 20 years of records on what we have planted and where. He keeps comments on the good and bad produce we get each year. This helps for us to decide what we plant the next year.

We started getting plants from the Mennonites down the street from us for the last few years. We are very happy with their plants. We had a year with no tomatoes because of blight from Country Max produce one year so we are very careful where we shop now. All our seeds come from Sauders Store so they are always fresh.

One big issue we have is we do not sell our extras. We give to family or neighbors. We enjoy planting and harvesting our vegetables and fruit. We try to plant enough to have extra always but it is up to Mother Nature if we get to share.

We plant corn, potatoes, zucchini, yellow summer squash, cukes, green peppers, cabbage, lettuce, eggplants, radishes, onions, beets, green beans, red, yellow, and cherry tomatoes. We have an asparagus bed that has been going for years too. Gordie had tried watermelon last year but with seeds. This year we will try ones without seeds, I hope. We have pumpkins and gourds for decorations.

We have two kinds of apples, two kinds of pears, grapes and elderberries. We want to try red raspberries and blueberries this year. We always get black berries from Dad for our jam. 

GOD willing we will have another good year of produce to freeze and enjoy all year long. But of course we have to hope Mother Nature will give us some rain to help us along too. Plus we have to pray that all the raccoons have heard about the world famous raccoon relocator that lives with me. Gordie moved along about 13 little critters last year, along with a few squirrels and an opossum.

Sue Kinsella: I was drooling just reading Kathy's list of all they grow. I asked her how the two of them could possibly keep up with managing all of it, especially because she's also working full time. She answered, "Gordie spends all summer in yard and garden. It is his pride and joy. I am slave labor after work and weekends. Freezing and canning whether I want to or not lol. That is one good reason to pass to neighborhood. He does seem to understand 2 people can only eat so much in one season. But both of us love fresh vegs so it is easy to eat them during summer." How I wish I lived close enough to stop by for some of those extras! I'm especially impressed with how dedicated Gordie has been to keeping decades of records and working out rotation plans.

There's so much that goes into a garden's success — the hard work of gardeners and farmers and then all the constants, mysteries and whimsies of Nature. While there often — although not always — are beginnings and endings to growing seasons, many aspects of gardens are continuous cycles. One of the most important is bees! As Eve Taylor says, "If it were not for bees, there would be no gardens!!!!!" And all those exclamation points are well deserved.  

Eve tells a three-generation and two-continent story about when her family started a family beekeeping business they called Honey Acres Apiaries.

Evelyn Taylor: It all started when a swarm of honeybees took up residence at Floyd Taylor’s home. A beekeeper was called to take care of it, and when he saw the interest of Floyd Taylor’s 12-year-old grandson, Mitch, he gave him the swarm and his first hive. From that moment, Mitch immersed himself in the nature of bees and their production of honey.
Since we had 10 acres of land just outside the village, we had the hives lined up along a fence line to the west. After much expanding, the Taylor family was into the honey business. We all had a part in the process in some capacity.
When it came time in the fall to extract the honey, we were busy. The hives were opened, the bees sedated by smoke, and the frames of honeycomb were removed. These then had the thin coating of wax removed by an electric hot knife, before being put into the extractor where the honey was spun out by centrifugal force. Then began the process of straining, heating to a certain temperature, and bottling. Labels were pasted on and they were ready for sale. We had a stand out in front where we had a self-service set-up. Only once did anyone steal the money, and we knew who that was — a neighborhood boy.
We also cut out squares of the comb to sell. Many older people liked it this way. What was cut off the frames we sold as cappings, which people with allergies bought to help them get through the allergy season.
In the time we had the bees, numbering many hives eventually, their location was changed several times. The first time was because a neighbor on Keeney Rd., which ran along the side of our property, complained that their white house was being spotted with the yellow droppings of our bees, flying over.

This was a unique learning experience for all of us. The boys had an observation hive as a Science Fair project which intrigued everyone. Bryant had some of his own hives after we came back from Australia, and Mitch worked for a commercial beekeeper in New Zealand at one time.  Now he still maintains 3 for his own use and as gifts to friends.

Sue Kinsella: I was fascinated by Eve's reference to "cappings" and wondered what that was. I learned that the capping is the wax the bees use to seal a honey cell. When the beekeeper opens the hive and harvests the honey, one of the first steps is to cut off these cappings, which form the top layer of the comb. People with allergies start eating the cappings around January, months before the trees and flowers leaf out, so that they can start building up their immunity to the local pollens. In addition to being an essential part of the agricultural system, the bees that spent the spring and summer pollinating all the local plants then also become part of the health system, helping to prevent illnesses.

Eve sent another story, as well, about A Garden to End All Gardens. I love it because it combines beautiful flowers my mother carried an armful of gladiolas at her wedding — with the hilarity of an I Love Lucy show, spiced with vignettes of the lengths that parents will go to in order to help their beloved children. Obviously, there are many things that are attempted only by people who have no idea what they're getting into!

Evelyn Taylor:  When Rex Taylor and Bryant Taylor came home from service in WW II, we two couples lived at The Greystone, which was a house made into two apartments. These were owned by Floyd Taylor. The previous owner had had a business of raising and selling gladioli flowers. He offered to sell them to Dene and me. So, na├»ve as we were, we bought them.    

We had 3000 glad bulbs which we planted in rows in a patch behind and at the side of the house. As they grew, the weeds grew, and we found it very difficult to keep up with them. Floyd, who was a perfectionist, watched our progress and finally gave us an ultimatum: if we couldn’t keep the patch weeded, we could not have it.
One hot Saturday my dad came down from Rochester to help. He worked so hard and long in the heat and sun that he got heatstroke and ended up in bed upstairs. The fellows had their new jobs to learn and work at (both under their dad as boss), so they did not have much time to help us.
Well, we managed to squeak through that first planting and sold a lot of gorgeous flowers for 50 cents a dozen. As winter approached, we learned that all the bulbs had to be dug up and stored in the basement to dry. What a relief when that was done!  But another stage was to come.  After all were dry, the little corms (baby bulbs) had to be rubbed off, saved, and planted in a separate area in the spring to grow large and increase our number. We had Dene’s father to help us with this phase when he was here on a visit.
Spring rolled around again, but we had still another operation to do. This time we had to soak the bulbs in a big galvanized tub of a solution to prevent thrips (insects that attack glads).  Then on to the planting, weeding, etc. cycle once again!
When we both became pregnant, our flower business had to end. I cannot say that we were sorry to get out from under that load. We never made any money, as we had to pay for the glads in the beginning. All this was a learning experience for us. So many money-making ideas just don’t pan out!

Sue Kinsella: One of the things I love about stories like these is all the people who come back to us through them. I feel like not only did I get to visit with the cousins who wrote up these wonderful descriptions, but also I got to see Aunt Gladys, Kathleen Henderson, Uncle Arnon and Aunt Alice and their boys, Grandpa Taylor, Pop Kinsella, Aunt CB and Uncle Jack, Uncle Harold (twice!), Floyd, Bryant, Mitch, Rex and Dene, Eve's and Dene's fathers what a great family reunion!

Thank you so much, everybody! May all the Taylor Baker Cousins have abundant and delightful gardens this year!


Pat said...

Wow! Wonderful stories--thank you to all!

The green thumb that so many of you have did NOT pass on to me, but we just planted a blueberry bush this evening, right next to my beloved lilacs, so I am hoping that it survives.

Keep sending gardening thoughts my way--and so wonderful to read about all of you and your gardens!

Thanks, Sue,


Anonymous said...

Sue, you did a really great job at the compilation of all of our stories and I enjoyed it very much! I agree with you that it brought us together with the extended family members associated in the stories. What a great reunion of family times to share! Thanks so much for brining this together!

Love ya -- Nance

Judy said...

I agree with the WOW, what wonderful stories to read. Love me some fresh veges, grew up with a garden...tried to grow in Seattle, did much better with flowers than veges. Now in Florida, I grow orchids and aloe vera!! Have not tried veges YET. I will, but thank God for a close farmers market. Love the Amish people!

Diana said...

Arnon Taylor - some might remember had bees. I remember one time that someones shipment of bees got loose in a post office and they called him to come and 'catch' them. As with all other creatures - somehow they all came to him and he never got stung.

We also grew up with a HUGE garden - and I remember weeding and it seemed like you would just get done and it was time to start over - when it was time to freeze or can - I would try to go visit my Sharkey cousins in Utica and not come back until it was done. I'm sure they NEVER figured that one out.

Jack (Dad) said...

Speaking of gardens, nothing could beat my father’s garden. Everything in it grew— lettuce, onions, peppers, beans, cucumbers, and best of all, tomatoes! Dad’s tomatoes were just super and they were that way year after year. My brother, Dick, probably listening to the ag teacher at school, heard about crop rotation and realizing that Dad’s tomatoes were always planted in the same spot year after year told him he should plant them in another part of the garden. Next year Dad did and it was the only year he had a failed crop of tomatoes. The following year they were planted in the old spot and as you might expect they came up as luscious as usual!

CB/Lucille said...

This is the third time I have tried to tell you about My [ Tom's ] potatos! He sent me some to plant and Did so in big flower pots! Now they are lovely and bushy and hopefully doing their thing under neath!! MY thumb is NOT green!

Pat said...

Thanks, Ma. I know it can be difficult to leave a comment, so I much appreciate that you keep trying until you get it!


Norma Bruscani said...

Wow, I loved all the garden tales. I was just recently introduced to Sauders that Kathy mentioned (Lucille(CB)and Harold took me there). I even went back once with my granddaughter.