For most families of Lyle and Joyce’s era, a large garden was a practical necessity. The family garden provided economical fresh produce when the fruits and vegetables were in season. The excess was canned (preserved) for future consumption. Vegetables like potatoes and carrots could also be covered with leaves, lawn clippings or straw, then dug as needed through the fall and winter.
Both Lyle and Joyce came from families with large gardens. Lyle was more or less in charge of planting the garden but due to his truck driving work schedule, Joyce and the kids shared the bulk of the weeding and watering responsibilities. The only years we didn’t have a garden was when the garden plot was fenced and turned into a horse corral. After a few years, the area was converted back to a garden.
Mom and Dad’s property had dark, rich soil with very few rocks. The garden was located in back of the house, north of the back lawn. Originally, the garden stretched from the east property line (bordering Charlie McBride’s pasture) to under the old red delicious apple tree near the west property line (bordering Tom and Wilma Noel’s pasture). The garden size varied over the years, usually as a casualty of Mom’s grandiose flower gardening, which encroached on the space available for edible plants.
In addition to a garden’s economic benefits, both Lyle and Joyce enjoyed experimenting with new plants and plant varieties. Dad often remarked that he just liked observing how a seed sprouted, took root, developed into a mature plant and produced flowers, then fruit. Mom was probably more afflicted with this bug than Dad, as can be attested by her well-known flower farming history.
Before any planting could occur the garden had to be plowed. In the days prior to the family owning a roto-tiller, Dad arranged for Jule Albretson or Milt Burrell to do the plowing. Jule and Milt each had small, gray and blue Ford tractors with plows. They’d show up, drive across the lawn to the back of the property, then do their best to turn over the soil and break up any large dirt clots and level the soil. Both hated to run into rocks, so usually didn’t mind plowing our garden plot. Their typical charge was $10.
Planting the garden was usually a two-person operation and was spread out over a period of several weeks. Some plants, like peas, were more resistant to Cache Valley’s late frosts so were planted early, right after Memorial Day. Others, like corn, were planted a few rows at a time to make the fresh vegetables available in manageable quantities for several weeks in August.
Dad started the planting process by positioning the rope row guide. This guide consisted of twine or light rope wound around two wooden or metal stakes. Dad stood with one end in hand while one of the lucky children walked to the other end of the garden with the opposing end. Dad kind of eye-balled that first row, attempting to get it parallel to the east fence line and perpendicular to the house. After the first row was set, he usually used the shovel handle, or a portion of the handle, to measure the distance between rows.
In the case of potatoes, one of the earliest planted vegetables, we’d buy seed potatoes from the hardware store or Anderson Seed in Logan, then cut them into smaller pieces, each containing 3-4 “eyes.” The cut pieces went in a bucket. The actual planting went something like this: Dad inserted the shovel in the ground at a shallow angle, then pushed the handle forward, opening up the soil; the potato bucket carrying child then carefully placed 2-3 of the potato pieces from the bucket into the hole with the “eyes” facing upward; Lyle then removed the shovel and stepped on the now closed slit to compact the soil. Lyle was very good at achieving equal spacing between each plant.
Corn was planted in much the same way but the corn seeds were coated with a distinctive smelling, bright pink substance that provided some protection from underground bugs. Again, Dad ran the shovel while the lucky child threw 4-5 corn kernels from a small, white paper sack into each hole. By the time a few rows were planted, the child’s fingers were stained deep pink.
Smaller seeds like carrots and beets were planted in a shallow furrow Dad dug with the squared edge of a hoe. The assistant gardener, one of the children, got down on hands and knees to carefully sprinkle a dusting of seeds the length of the row. Dad followed behind, gently covering the tiny seeds with ½-inch of soil.
Lyle vigorously battled the insects that loved his garden as much as he did. Some of the bugs even attacked the freshly-planted seeds. To aid in the fight, Matt remembers Dad buying a small cloth pouch of Bull Durham tobacco. After rolling and smoking a couple cigarettes, Lyle crushed to tobacco into powder, then sprinkled the tobacco alongside the small seeds in the furrow. None of the kids remember the vegetables tasting funny but we sure did see some fast-moving bugs! (Matt recollection – April 2015)
Over the years, Lyle’s garden produced a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Those the children remember include:
- Prized cantaloupe (Dad saved seeds from year to year)
- Watermelon (but their quality was inconsistent from year to year)
- Large sunflowers, usually along back (north edge of the garden)
- Corn (planted 3-4 rows at a time)
- Hubbard squash
- Summer squash and zucchini
- Pole beans and bush beans
- Huckleberry bushes (for pie)
- Occasionally Lyle tried something a little more exotic like lettuce, eggplant or Brussel sprouts
The Miller garden, like all gardens, was plagued with weeds and we did our best to keep them at bay. The garden produced bumper crops of “red root” weeds and the deep-rooted weed that yielded a little round seed the kids called a “cheesie”. One of the kids’ biggest early garden season fears was that they’d mistake a newly-sprouted plant for a weed. We all got quite good at telling the difference between garden friend and foe.
A weed-free and thriving garden was a thing of beauty and something we took pride in as a family. It was almost like it was our civic duty, similar to maintaining a green and well-trimmed lawn.
Come harvest time, we seldom left potatoes and carrots in the ground for use through the winter on purpose. Lyle, hailing from an era when “root cellars” were not uncommon, contrived his own by burying a large, upright freezer (which had, of course, quit working) in the garden within a few steps of the lawn. The freezer had a single, heavy door that took quite a bit of effort to open but it did hold a lot of potatoes and carrots! Thank goodness none of the children or grandchildren decided the freezer would make a good hiding place during a game of ‘hide and seek.”
Remembering garden foes, occasionally one of Charlie McBride’s horses would escape his pasture and find its way into our garden. Horses, of course, love corn so that’s usually where they’d do the most damage. Not only did they quickly consume several weeks of new plant growth, they’d leave deep circular hoof prints all over the garden, inevitably right on top of some tender plant.
We didn’t have irrigation water to keep the plants thriving so relied on a garden hose. In the mid-1960’s, Dad dug a well near the southwest corner of the garden. An electric pump, with the “on” switch tied to the duplex switch in the house’s backroom, pumped the water through hoses to up to two rows at a time. The kids enjoyed watching the water slowly seep down the shallow ditch alongside each row and out into the soil surrounding the plants. Prior to the installation of Hyrum’s sewer system, the well probably pulled water almost directly from the septic tank drain field. No wonder the plants grew like weeds!
Over the years, Joyce’s flower farming operation and rock collection took over more and more of the garden space but that’s a different story.
Josie (Miller) Mork recalls:
I loved the garden. Grandpa had Concord grapes growing on the north fence which made the most amazing home bottled grape juice. There was a strawberry patch and potatoes, a couple of gooseberries, often huckleberries, corn, green beans, tomatoes. He didn’t much go in for lettuce, spinach and other greens that I remember. I noticed as I got older that as the cherry trees got bigger that [west] side of the garden got filled in with perennials and iris (and rocks). There was a patch of calendula and some cosmos near the old freezer (or maybe fridge) sunk into the ground as a root cellar. There was also an ancient apricot tree with a retractable clothesline attached to it. I think I even remember a steel drum converted to an incinerator, and a dog run where Jigs (the liver colored Doberman) used to hang out. On the McBride’s [east] side of the fence it was always a delight to watch their horses. At least one year there was a baby foal. I remember a friendly palomino and their big old barn (which unfortunately burned down). An old shed in the northwest corner of the garden was converted to a chicken coop for Granny’s bantams. My impression was he merely tolerated the chickens.