From the Farm:
AUTUMN DAYS: TEACHING CHILDREN THE LAW OF THE HARVEST
Published in the Casper Journal October 27, 2010
Fall is finally here, and the harvest is in full swing. Thank goodness! When summer days are hot—and there are weeds to pull, rows to hoe, and plants to water—it’s hard to explain to children what a harvest is.
“Didn’t we just weed the garden yesterday?” “It’s too hot to work today,” and “Do we have to?” are phrases I heard often during the summer. But at last, we now have something to show for our labors.
In Las Vegas, our garden was the size of a small sandbox. The days were hot and the summers never-ending, but we still planted every spring (that is, in January.) The neighbors around us would lean over the fence and say, “You can’t garden in Las Vegas.” They would watch, smiling, as we dutifully plowed the postage-stamp area, planted the seeds, and put out a water drip system. Surprisingly, we had great gardens every summer. Perhaps it was the compost, or the watchful tending of our many children, but we always produced plenty of vegetables to eat.
In addition to our garden, we also enjoyed a yearly harvest of grapes from our patio vine. We ate, juiced, dried, and gave them away—by the bagful. Our neighbors soon adapted to the idea that they would often open their doors and find a bag of produce waiting for them.
Moving to Casper last year made our gardening efforts even more ambitious. The previous owners of our house already had a huge garden, but we decided to till twice as much land. Then we eagerly planted everything we could think of. Just like in Las Vegas, our neighbors watched and commented on our progress.
“Why aren’t the deer bothering your garden?” “Why did you plant so much corn?” “Do you think all of that will grow?” I’m sure that gardening activities of any kind with eight children are entertaining. Still, we persisted.
The summer wore on. The hot days came, and we wondered if we had outdone ourselves. Our children, remembering our tiny Las Vegas garden, wished we were back in the big city. “Why did we ever complain before?” they groaned. “These rows are ten times as long!” We persevered, hoping our efforts would produce something of worth.
And now, the harvest is here! The first to come was the lettuce, chard and peas. Then, tomatoes, onions and zucchini. Soon we had yellow squash, carrots, corn and potatoes. Last week we made autumn soup—all with homegrown vegetables. Complete with hot, homemade bread, it was a wonderful meal which made it all worth it. There is something indescribable about eating food you have produced yourself. Even the most doubtful children could taste the victory of it.
The next night we had fresh corn and tomatoes with our rice, and then had red, juicy watermelon for dessert…homegrown! The finished rinds we fed to the chickens, and felt especially good about the food going “full circle.”
My three-year-old son has been the most excited. “Can I go dig potatoes today?” He asks every morning. Then he takes his yellow bucket and red shovel, and digs up our dinner. He also gives a daily report on the pumpkins: “They’re getting big!” “We have seven now. There are two little ones for the babies.”
Our first year of Wyoming gardening hasn’t been without incident. We certainly never dealt with deer or antelope in Las Vegas. After returning one July weekend to find our rows pocked with hoof prints, we quickly invested in a tall fence.
But, deer aren’t the only ones who want to share our harvest. Once, we accidentally left the garden gate open. As we were eating dinner, we glanced out the window and noticed that the chickens were inside the fence.
“The chickens are in the garden!” yelled my daughter. Everyone immediately jumped up from the table and went running outside. Soon there were eight people and ten chickens—racing around the squash, jumping over the potato plants, and dodging the corn stalks. If you’ve ever seen chickens run, you can fully imagine the scene which unfolded. Fortunately, even the youngest in our family can catch chickens, and soon all ten of the wandering birds were outside of the garden gate.
I know that winter snows will be here soon enough, and this year’s garden will be a thing of the past. But the real harvest of the summer is the truth learned by our children: we reap what we sow. In future years, when they are making their own choices, I trust that they’ll look back on a hot summer day, weeding a garden row, and then remember the taste of homegrown watermelon in their mouths, or the joy of husking their own corn. Perhaps this experience will help them to plant other fruitful crops—both in garden rows and in life.
And when spring comes again next year, we’ll head back outdoors to start planting. This time we’ll already have our deer fence in place. I’m sure the neighbors will be watching again. Who knows, we may even till twice as much earth.