Your elders may be best source of garden information

Nov. 10, 2012 @ 06:59 PM

Okay! I admit it. Procrastination drives me crazy. Of course it doesn’t bother those who practice it regularly. I also admit to not really understanding those who continue to procrastinate. My argument is simple. It takes much more time and energy to say over and over “I’m going to get around to it soon” than perform a chore. If it has to be done, why wait?
There are times when I look back and wish I had initiated a task sooner. In some of those cases I just wasn’t smart enough or mature enough to act. Later, looking back I see an hour of my time would be priceless now. The subject I bemoan is not taking the time to record knowledge. Specifically, I wish I had taken the time to ask questions of my grandparents. Now, for all intent and purposes, the answers I would like to have are gone…forever.
What started me on this subject are two long conversations Nadine and I had a part in recently. We sat down with a young lady who had just celebrated her 95th birthday. She lives alone, cooks, cleans and performs other chores regularly. She actually worked until a couple of years ago. At her birthday party (which she threw for herself) I was amazed at her ability to recall small details about recent events, as well as from years ago. It also made me lament the fact that I know very little about my grandparents. Oh sure, I know the basics. My paternal grandparents tilled the soil out of necessity. They were one horse farmers. They grew their own food from the fields and animals in the pasture. Without that home grown food, they would have starved. That required them to be proficient in growing things. It wasn’t hit or miss or growing for fun. It had to be the real thing.
My grandfather was born in the 1880s. My grandmother was born in the 1890s. Imagine how different the world was that they came to know during that time. I’m referring specifically to gardening. I never remember any seeds being purchased. They saved enough seeds from year to year to make it another year. They had to. Several years ago I penned a column about fertilizers that were used before synthetics, such as 10-10-10. Much of that material came from South America in the form of dried bird manure. The term for this fertilizer was guano. Later, the word became Southern slang and was pronounced “gu-an-er”. This is all they had to help them grow better crops.
I tried to imagine growing anything with all the insects and diseases in the gardening world. Forget about checking a reference book to determine the best remedy. Neither the book nor a chemical cure existed. The only one I have ever heard mentioned was arsenic. A cloth was tied around a small stick. It was dipped into a mixture of arsenic and a sticky substance that helped it adhere to a plant. All of which was applied without gloves. That is a scary thought.
The weather forecasts we can check daily are another thing we take for granted. We now can check daily average highs and lows, as well as future forecasts. We can receive an extended 7 day forecast. All of us probably complain when a weather forecaster (or personality) misses it in some way. Thankfully, there are some things that are on target. We receive warnings about freezes, high winds, storms, hurricanes and other major events. I tried to imagine gardening on a large or small scale without them. It would make everything very uncertain.
My other grandparents, being city dwellers, didn’t grow vegetables. (As far as I know.) What I remember though, were ornamentals of roses and flowers. Again, without other means of information, everything was learned first hand or passed down from person to person. I remember my urban maternal grandmother growing plants in the red clay soil surrounding her home. We made many trips to rural wooded areas and filled large paper bags with composted leaves to enrich that clay soil. She didn’t read about that in a book. It was passed down to her from someone else. What else did she know that I missed? A lot!
I mentioned these things to emphasize the fact that whether vegetables or ornamentals, my grandparents knew a lot. If your relatives were gardeners, they also have/had a lot of knowledge. And, that is my point. Unless that knowledge, family history or memories is recorded in some form, it is probably lost forever. The information can be personal, familial, gardening or other hobbies.
You can accomplish the recording in a couple of different ways. You can take notes in an inexpensive notebook. You just label some sections so you’ll have some order. If you’ll prepare some questions, your relatives will do the rest. You can also record the information. Recording devices have gotten very easy to use compared to those in the past. Everything is digital and holds a lot of information. For less than 50 dollars you can purchase a digital recorder capable of holding about 200 hours. That’s enough to interview a number of people and keep every recording.
Regardless of your hobby, gardening or otherwise, someone you know has some valuable information that will probably be lost unless you act. If not for yourself, do it for your children, grandchildren, or your family in general. You just might discover some great gardening secrets and more!