Tilling the Soil
By Beverly Sce
Rich, brown soil is a farmer’s dream for a bumper crop of summer vegetables. Sweet yellow or Silver Queen corn picked fresh each morning, shucked of its silky coat, boiled and slathered with butter is mouth-watering good. Plump blueberries bursting out of their skins waiting to be devoured in homemade pies, muffins or pancakes. Or maybe the palate is tempted by ripe, sweet strawberries, piled high on short-cake, pound or sponge cake and topped with Readi-whip whipped cream.
Nothing beats a vine ripened Rutgers, Ramapo or Moreton tomato. How about a peck of shiny green peppers to be stuffed, pickled, fried or roasted? To add to the list of farm-fresh summer produce, perhaps shiny, purple skinned eggplant sounds appealing. Whether fried, parmigiana, or in a casserole, eggplant is a staple in many cuisines and enjoyed in ethnic dishes throughout the world. To complement the eggplant, a ripe crop of fragrant green basil leaves sounds like a welcome addition. How about making pesto, always made to taste and based on the ingredients on hand in the kitchen? A powerful herb, a little goes a long way. Chopped, added to imported olive oil, along with pignoli nuts, garlic, salt, pepper and pungent Parmesan or Romano cheese. Mangia tutti! (Everybody eat!)
My dad grew up on a farm in southeastern Pennsylvania. The older of two boys in a family of eight children, he worked with my grandpop and uncle to plow, hoe and prepare the fields for planting. The land of the farm was rich and the fields produced fruit and vegetables in abundance. With a family of ten hungry mouths to feed, the head of the household prays for a bumper crop of whatever was planted.
Preserving and canning throughout the growing season provided jams and jellies along with preserved peaches and berries to be enjoyed during the long winter months. Having a repertoire of recipes enabled my grandmom to cook and bake delicious dishes and desserts. The rich earth of the farm was good.
My dad never lost his love of the farm and it’s planting, tending, weeding, watering and picking. It was a labor of love that followed him throughout the seasons of his life.
After eleventh grade, my Dad went to work for the railroad before he was drafted to serve during World War II. When he returned from the service, he worked in a pottery factory in Trenton, New Jersey. Trenton was rich with manufacturing and the sign on the bridge linking Trenton to Morrisville, Pennsylvania that says, “Trenton Makes the World Takes,” could not be more true.
But my dad decided to pursue the plumbing and heating trade and enjoyed a long career holding a Master Plumber license. He married my mom in the late 1940’s and together they raised three daughters. Our home in the suburbs had a large backyard. The surrounding land was wooded, but not yet cleared for new home developments. Around the backyard perimeter, wild blueberry bushes grew like weeds producing plump berries we picked throughout the summer.
With buckets we filled to the brim and purple stained faces and hands, we proudly presented mom with the fruits of our labor that she would turn into tasty pies or frozen for enjoyment in the winter. Life moved forward and the earth remained good.
Dad made part of the back yard into a vegetable garden. He carefully lined the border with cinder blocks to stake out this sacred area. Faithfully Dad hoed the soil, pulled out the weeds, sprinkled dried manure and carefully watered his masterpiece if rain didn’t fall.
Each year my Dad talked to us about the snow. “The garden needs the snow, it’s rich with nitrogen. Everything will grow very good” were words of wisdom spoken by my Dad. “I hope we get some snow before the ground freezes, that would be even better,” Dad shared. He continued our lesson by talking about “how snow prevents plants from beginning to grow at the wrong time.” While Dad’s lessons were rich with wisdom, his garden was rich bounty that provided for family. The earth continued to be good.
Year after year, Dad gave us the lessons about snow and the garden. He also talked about the importance of rain. “Rain falling from the sky has nitrogen too.” “It helps protect the dirt” instructed Dad.
Year after year Dad planted the garden with the help of my sisters and I. We often went with him to buy the tomato, eggplant and pepper plants. Another trip had us buy the various seeds to be planted that would yield crisp, green beans. We helped to prepare the soil and dug little holes for the baby-size plants and seeds. Longer days, bright sunlight and good old-fashioned care helped the garden grow full and lush. Soon it was time to pick the results of our hard work.
At the end of the season, we picked green tomatoes that would be pickled and cucumbers that would be jarred to make “bread and butter” pickles.
As Dad got older, my middle sister who had a naturally green thumb assumed the role of chief gardener, but under Dad’s experienced eye. They were a great team. My dad passed away in 1996 and my sister continued the tradition of the family garden for many years. For all that time, the earth was good to our family.
I think my Dad knew a secret because when I became an adult, I often heard snow referred to as the “poor man’s fertilizer.” Perhaps it is. Maybe that’s why year after year snow helped to make our garden fruitful. Indeed, our garden was part of the good earth.
Beverly Sce, Ph.D., author and inspirational speaker, has been featured in health care publications and enjoys writing stories that inspire. From thought provoking essays to memoir that entertains or brings a tear to the eye, her work has appeared in magazines and books including “Christmas Moments #3” and “The Extraordinary Presence of God.”