Months had gone by since I’d seen my friend Addy at our last visit together at the Corn Frolic, and I was dying to ask her all kinds of questions about starting my garden. So, I called her up one day and asked her if we could come and visit later in the week; of course she said “Sure!” as usual.
I hadn’t been at her house long when Mrs. Clint came by with her kids to pick up some fresh milk. I guess her goats weren’t producing at the time, so she had to “settle” for cow’s milk. I listened as Mrs. Clint asked Addy what she owed her for the 2 gallons of milk, and Addy replied, “Awww, just bring me some bread.” I thought that was really cool. It makes me think that this must have been the way it used to be back in the “good ol’ days”; sharing and trading with your neighbors. How many of us today even know our neighbors?
Mrs. Clint stayed a while, which was cool ’cause she knows a lot about farm living, and she was able to give me some good advice too. We all sat down in the living room, eight little ones crowded together on the floor watching a video while us Mommies talked. I jumped right into my questions.
I explained that I wanted to start a garden, but I didn’t know where to even begin. All I had was a big yard, ready and waiting. They both told me that really I should have had it “turned over” by now, meaning tilled up and rows ready. I guess it’s good to let it sit exposed to the weather for a few months before you plant in it. Immediately I felt behind on my project. I decided to go home and ask my dear husband that very day if he could borrow his mom’s tiller and get my garden area turned over.
I shared with the ladies how excited I was about ordering my first heirloom seeds off the internet. Mrs. Clint asked me who I used, and when I told her Heirloom Acres, she knew of them and said that she had ordered from them before. I didn’t realize that she used heirloom seeds too. She told me next time before I order I should ask her and Addy if they have any of the seeds I want. Wish I’d known that! Well, it was really nice of her to offer. This perked Mrs. Addy up and she left the room for a minute, only to return with some jars of her own seeds. After showing them to Mrs. Clint, she filled some bags for her to take home. She offered some to me as well, but I had already ordered the very same seeds. I learned my lesson though; ask around before I buy!
I went on to tell them that I had been reading up on how to take care of all of these plants that I planned on growing in my garden, and that it seemed to me like it could get quite expensive buying all of the recommended types of fertilizers and things. Addy told me that gardening is like any hobby: you can go all out and spend a fortune on it, or you can do it in a thrifty, yet productive way. They both explained to me that neither of them use fertilizers or synthetic products on their gardens. All they use is manure. Chicken, cow, and rabbit manure. They asked me if I have access to any manure, and I told them that my parents-in-law have chickens. Addy also said, “Well, there’s a whole pasture behind us full of manure that you are welcome to”. That was so sweet of her! (The inner voice in my city girl head is laughing right now at the thought of my joy over the gift of cow poop…). Really though, it was nice to know that I had some connections.
So I’m going to try gardening their way, the old school, frugal and natural way, and not use any fertilizers or pesticides. I don’t see the point in spending a fortune on a garden when the whole idea of it is to grow my own food to save money! I do want to learn the whole composting thing too. Mrs. Addy doesn’t compost because she gives all of their food scraps to the pigs. I’m not sure about Mrs. Clint… I need to ask her.
While we were talking, Addy remembered that she had planned on showing me how to make butter while I was there. She went over to her kitchen table where she had about 5 quart jars full of the cream off the top of the milk. She handed one to each of us, and to the older kids, and asked us to shake them for a while. So, we all shook our jars as we talked.
I listened intently as Mrs. Clint told me all about her garden, and how to use the manure. She told me not to put manure directly into the hole with the plant, because it heats up and will burn the plant. Instead it is better to work it into the soil long before planting is done. And if, once the plants are in the ground, they begin to look malnourished, it’s good to spread a little manure in a circle around the plant, far enough out that it won’t soak down into the roots and burn them. (She told me all the technical terms and names for the gases emitted in this process and all that, but I couldn’t tell you what all was said. This is just my simple version of what I got out of our conversation.) Good stuff to know.
I expressed my concern that I may be overwhelmed with all that I am planning on planting this year. The ladies gave me some much needed encouragement. They told me not to feel like I have to get all of the harvest picked and canned at once. Mrs. Clint said, “Even if you only get 10% picked and canned, that’s 10% more than you would have had.” They told me not to feel like I have to do it all at once. When the next season comes, I can try getting a little more done; to work my way into it. They both told me that it’s taken them 10 years to get where they are now. It was nice to hear that.
After about 15 minutes or so of shaking our jars, we started to notice that the cream was changing into a thicker, lumpy consistency. Addy told me that that was the butter, and if I shook longer it would turn from the pale color it was, to a bright yellow like the butter we are used to seeing. When the jars were finished, she took them into the kitchen and poured the buttermilk out of the jars, leaving only the butter. As she was doing this she asked us, “Do either of you want some buttermilk?” I envisioned trying to drink a glass of fresh buttermilk and was immediately disgusted. “No, thanks,” I said politely. Mrs. Clint declined as well. But a few minutes later she changed her mind, saying, “You know, I believe I will take some of that buttermilk.” I watched as Addy poured the last bit of buttermilk into a quart jar and handed it to Mrs. Clint saying, “I’m glad you spoke up when you did, I was just about to pour it out.” It was then that I realized that the buttermilk was not being offered as a drink, but to take home and cook with! Duh!! I kicked myself. I totally could have used that to make waffles or biscuits or something with! Oh well. I tried to hide my embarrassment.
I gotta start thinking more like a country girl if I’m gonna try to live like one!
Anyways, Addy went on to show me how she makes the butter. She dumped the unfinished butter onto a cheese cloth and put it into a bowl of water. She squished it around, and worked the water through it, until the water came through clear. She said it will spoil if you don’t get all of the buttermilk out of the butter. Then she pressed the finished product into a small, empty yogurt container, and placed it in her freezer. There she stores it until it is needed. Pretty cool!
I totally lost track of time, and about 4 hours into our visit I realized I’d better head home for lunch. Little Titus had been busying himself in the kitchen playing with a big barrel of pecans. Addy had him fill a grocery bag FULL of the nuts to send home with us. The older kids had migrated outside, and were running amok. I stepped out the front door to find Jada and Mrs. Clint’s little boy, terrorizing the chickens, chasing them with long sticks and laughing together as they ran. (I don’t think she would really hit one with it, they were just enjoying the thrill of the chase.) I rounded up my reluctant little tyrant, and we said our goodbyes.
What a nice visit! I went home with a mission: to get my garden turned over, and to start collecting some manure! I’m so glad to have some help along the way!