If you’re like me, you’ve already harvested a few early spring crops like kales, lettuces, and radishes. But if you haven’t touched your garden yet, don’t worry. There’s still plenty of time!
In fact, Google searches about gardening don’t begin ramping up until April each year. Perhaps not surprisingly, interest in gardening content on the internet has steadily declined since April 2004, when Google first began tracking trends in search results.
The surge in interest we saw at the beginning of the pandemic was short-lived. As more and more people receive COVID-19 vaccinations, the concern is waning despite recent headlines about shortages of products ranging from ketchup to chicken.
Slate magazine interviewed Anastasia Day, a University of Delaware graduate student, in 2020 about her dissertation on victory gardens. She said that 1920 was the first year the Census recorded more people living in cities than rural centers.
“People who lived in cities didn’t have direct connection to gardening, except maybe vague memories from childhood,” she added.
The Great Depression put American families in a vulnerable position where they needed to develop independent food production in the midst of economic collapse--which meant tools and supplies were harder to come by.
As each new generation is born and the few remaining Great Depression survivors pass away, our society is further removed from the experience of self-sufficiency. Traits like frugality are rare in our modern consumerist culture, which weeds out Baby Boomer ideology like dandelions in a front yard. A fitting comparison, as dandelions are actually a highly-beneficial plant to have in your yard.
Similar to the way dandelions freely provide benefits for us, the oldest living generation shares gardening knowledge that comes from surviving a decade of widespread poverty. I reached out to homesteading and gardening friends across the country to collect some of the tips and advice passed down to them from their elders.
1. Plant corn when the dogwood blooms
Tip from Jodie Murphy Smith
This tip from Jodie’s grandparent about when to plant corn stuck with her. Most of the year dogwoods are quite inconspicuous and might look like any other tree to the untrained eye. But in late March or early April, dogwoods bloom with a mass of white flowers that is impossible to ignore. They are a great visual cue for gardeners.
It is said that Native American tribes timed their planting according to the dogwood blooms. There could be a scientific rationale for this as well. Corn typically grows best when the temperature is between 75 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit. Dogwoods begin blooming about the same time temperatures begin rising.
I find it fascinating that this piece of ancient wisdom was passed between indigenous peoples and the early European settlers.
2. Plant your rows from east to west
Tip from Gloria Brizuela
Conventional wisdom would suggest that you plant the rows in your garden running north to south. If you want every row to get the same amount of sunlight during the day, this is the best orientation.
To the contrary, Gloria’s grandparents suggested that she plant her rows from east to west. I was skeptical too, so I did some research. I found that this method is preferred for gardeners who like to plant early and want to be prepared for a potential cold snap, because this orientation helps the rows collect and store heat.
This made me wonder if gardeners were less concerned about waiting for the last frost date when their food supply for the year depended on getting plants in the ground as early as possible. They likely took plant deaths a little easier than most modern gardeners, who avoid planting straight into the ground before temperatures are consistently above freezing.
Another instance when you might choose an east to west orientation for your garden would be when planting wind-pollinated crops such as corn, beets, spinach, and Swiss chard—all members of the Chenopodiaceae family.
This plant family even includes a foragable weed, lamb’s quarter, which often grows wild in most parts of the United States.
The prevailing wind comes from the west to move pollen released by these plants east across the row to aid pollination of female flowers and plant growth.
Want to read more? Get the rest of the story FREE by signing up for the full May edition of Finding Country Magazine!