Gardening As If Our Lives Depended On It

As if I didn’t already have enough to tend, now I’ve planted watermelons and lima beans too. Some unexpected space opened up at the Peace Gardens for me, and I was eager to plant seeds I’d saved but didn’t have room to grow again.  BUT, they’re not just any ol’ melons and beans. These are ‘Moon and Stars’ heirloom seeds that my Grandmama and Mary, our family-maid-turned-surrogate mother-to-me, used to grow, and the beans are Hopi Orange Limas which beat green Limas all to hell for taste and beauty. See nature’s works of art for  yourself:

hopi beans

As a girl, the moons and stars on the watermelons fascinated me and I remember once lining them up in the grass like the solar system in the sky. These are definitely seed-spittin’ melons, but since I’m the only one growing them in the community garden this year, I’m going to be saving some of those spittin’ seeds for the future. The Hopi Limas aren’t new to my garden, but I can’t grow them when other types of Limas are being grown nearby for fear the two will cross and ‘contaminate’ my seed for the future. But this year, no other Limas are in the immediate vicinity, and because I’ve almost run out of my supply of dried Hopis, it seemed the perfect time to grow them again. They can be eaten fresh or dried, and when cooked with butter, salt and pepper and maybe even a tiny piece of salt pork, they are what the Hopi Indians might call “Heap Good” 😉  

 I’ve also planted some ‘Turkey Craw’ beans that were originally given to me by a man that grows them for Baker Creek Seed Company. An heirloom from the southern states of Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee, the original seed is said to come from a turkey’s craw brought home by a hunter who is thought to have been an African American slave in the 1800s. I’ve grown these pole beans and saved my own seeds several times, and enjoy the beans fresh or dried. I love the idea that two centuries later I’m growing some of the same beans that people- and turkeys- have been eating in this tiny part of our world for all those years.

Turkey Craw Bean

To further round out my personal survival food supply, I’ll be growing Hopi Blue Dent Corn again. It can be eaten fresh but I prefer modern super sweet hybrids for that and instead intend to save the dried kernels for making corn meal. One of the first ‘major appliances’ Michael and I invested in when we got married was an electric grain mill and we’ve never regretted it. Not only does this corn make the bluest corn bread around, it is sweet and nutty, just like we love it! So, when the zombies arrive, we’ll have “Heap Good Cornbread” too.

My personal quest for self reliance in uncertain times begins in my garden. It’s my security blanket. It’s a true food ‘bank’ for me, with carefully saved seeds being like money in that bank. You’d think I’d grown up poverty stricken and hungry but happily I was neither. These heirloom varieties I’m growing could not only offer personal survival during hard times, but along with some potatoes, long keeper squash and eggs, yes, eggs! and greens, we could actually thrive, even if it’s all we had. I hope I never have to test that theory, but it is what I’ve distilled from reading a lot of “hard times” gardening advice over the years.

The good news is that these so-called survival  foods can promote health and happiness in good times and bad. Not only can they help us achieve greater control over our personal food supply, they’re also good tasting and able to adapt to endless ways of preparing them. They’re easy to store and offer a gardener the opportunity to never have to buy seeds again, which really is the key to self sufficiency.

If all this talk of hard times and survival gardening bothers you, realize that survival gardening really is a way of life that has been accepted since man first began planting seeds. It was quickly recognized that growing food made it far easier to feed oneself than the methods that hunter-gatherers had to endure in order to survive. Our more modern ancestors, perhaps your grandparents, or even your parents, may have depended on their gardens during wars or the Great Depression; I’ve always heard that Victory Gardens provided the US with 40% of the fresh vegetables that Americans ate during both World Wars. So, survival gardens are nothing new friends.  A line in the tune ‘The Garden Song’, written just 17 years ago, goes like this: “I feel the need to grow my own, ’cause the time is close at hand”. I’m gardening as if my life depended on it and looking at this old war poster, my beans would’ve been welcome during those hard times.

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