The Family Garden

One of my favorite childhood memories is of planting our family garden every spring.

The joys of working the family garden.

While serious gardeners worked in their plots year-round, we were spring and summer gardeners.

Every April, my brothers and I would clean out the chicken coop and scatter the waste on the garden plot. Yes, it was a dirty job; one that we despised.

After a weekend of shoveling and raking, Dad would use the rototiller to till the freshly fertilized soil, and a week later we made the trip to the local feed store and each of us picked out our seed packets.

For my brothers and I, the family garden was quite the novelty. We took turns watering the plot every day, then stood in wonder when we saw the newly germinated plants sprout up through the soil.

We continued to water and check the garden’s progress nearly every day. After what seemed like an eternity, the sprouts formed leaves, and after a few more weeks of water and care, the flowers were replaced by fruit.

Before long, we were picking tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, watermelons and cantaloupes, among other things.

When I started high school, I enrolled in the FFA. Back then it was called Future Farmers of America, and one of my projects was a spring garden.

My grandfather leased a quarter-acre of land to me. My grandfather taught me many things in life, one of which was the rule of thirds and how it relates to gardening.

For a small family garden, he advised planting three times the amount of food you could provide for your family to be allocated as follows — one third for your family to eat; one third lost to waste, pestilence and vermin; and one third to give away or sell at the farmer’s market.

If you’ve never planted a quarter-acre garden plot, trust me when I tell you it is more land than any 14-year-old should farm and still hope to maintain any semblance of a social life.

During the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of high school, my life was ruled by this garden. To be honest, I loved almost every minute of it.

Pulling weeds was backbreaking work and seemed to be a never-ending process. However, I felt such an amazing sense of accomplishment when I started to harvest late in August that the blistered hands were worth every bit of pain.

Before I knew it, I had more fresh vegetables than I could ever think of eating. Our farmer’s market in town was small, and I sold almost everything I took there on Saturday afternoons. Anything left over was promptly spoken for after church on Sunday morning.

During the rest of week, I picked the vegetables as they became ripe, and between family and friends, we shared in the most plentiful harvest of my newfound farming career.

My mom and dad took bags of vegetables to work during the week to share with co-workers, and members of our Wednesday night Bible study always left with armloads of food. Being able to share my harvest with others was such a rewarding experience.

After graduation, I moved away to attend college. I didn’t start gardening again until a few years ago.

While I have no illusions of ever again tackling a plot the size of my high school garden, I do enjoy container gardening on my townhome patio.

While most of the fruits of my labor these days are lost to the birds and extreme temperatures, I do enjoy the occasional fresh tomato or cucumber in my salad with dinner.

For many people, gardening is a peaceful activity used to de-stress after a long day at the office. Yes, this is true for me as well, but it also brings back great childhood memories of family time spent together and the benefits of discipline and hard work.

What childhood memories of yours make you feel good inside when you stop and reminisce? Feel free to leave a comment, send me an email or maybe send a tweet and share your story with all of us.

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