In the early years, across Canada’s snow belt women who possessed a green thumb often found the winter months slow and boring. But with the arrival of March, the post office delivered those wonderful books that brought colour to their bleak surroundings, and with that colour, hope and renewal! This magical book was the seed catalogue.
Filled with the offerings of seeds for a wonderful growing season which promised luscious vegetables, beautiful flowers and in some areas, bushes for berries and trees for fruit, the women spent hours reading and re-reading the information and planning their planting for the coming growing season. This food was not just for fresh eating, but also represented a great deal of the food which their families would need for the next winter to come.
Gardening to, particularly rural women, was not just an enjoyable pastime – it also represented a substantial part of their seasonal contribution to the feeding and nutrition of the family. Potatoes were grown in a volume so they lasted 12 months, with enough additional ones to provide seed potatoes in the spring. Root cellars were common, and in these, potatoes, carrots, turnips, cabbages, onions and squash were stored for use well into the cold months, Women were also adept at preserving foods in jars, in making sauerkraut, baking their own breads and other wheat based foods.
The women also craved the brilliant colours and aromatic fragrances of the numerous flowers offered in the catalogues. They ordered seeds and planted flowers for cut bouquets, perennials for flower beds all in such profusion of colours that delighted the eye and the hearts of the gardeners. Sometimes errors were made: I remember planting clarkia, thinking it would make a vivid contrast in bouquets of pink and white phlox. The picture on the seed packet was most attractive – the seeds looked vaguely familiar – but it was a busy day, so I finished and went on to other jobs. In due course the small plants emerged. I diligently weeded them, along with the other seedlings, and one day, I stumbled onto the truth of the matter. Alas, no blue clarkia for our home that summer – but we did enjoy the carrots that grew and flourished in it’s place!
The summers were filled with preparations for winter, just as March was filled with dreams of the garden and flowers for next summer.
And so the seasons rolled on. But March, as drab and colourless and the landscape was, brought the seed catalogues, and some bright and delicious pictures of what the summer would produce.
Enjoy your seed catalogues, your spring and summer efforts and your summer and autumn abundance. And if you want your family well fed, with good nutrition and the freshest food possible, think about preserving for the coming winter – it is most satisfying to reach for that jar of jelly, your own luscious preserved peaches, or frozen fruits. Remember, if you grow it and preserve it, think of the money you will save on your grocery bill!
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