Chicken Coop Chatter©
*One for the Blackbird, one for the crow, one for the soil and one to grow*. Old farmer's saying when planting corn, that our mother used to recite.
I have had the privilege of visiting some authentic Pioneer Kitchen gardens. Surprisingly the choices the pioneers made for what they would grow were not just healthy but full of the essential vitamins and chosen for other uses necessary for self-sufficiency, along with whatever wildlife or domestic animals they harvested. They also grew plants that attracted beneficial insects such as honey bees so their crops would be pollinated through the growing season. Their choices were very wise indeed.
They may not have had all the selections we have today, but what they did grow had specific purposes and stored well, so they were able to keep in a cellar to use throughout the winter and spring until their crops were planted and harvested again. Some were used as rodent and destructive insect deterrents.
Not all of their plants were used for the table. Though they were plants that provided other needs, such as medicinal and as important pollinators, and often as sweeteners since sugar was not always available and was used very sparingly when they had it.
One plant that surprised me was Orach. It's actually an attractive burgundy green, leafy plant that was used as we use spinach. I have no experience growing Orach, but no doubt it's an easy plant to grow given that there was little time or regular tending of gardens with so many other chores to accomplish and watering could not have been an easy task, since all water would have had to be carried in buckets and not all land was as rich or suitable for gardens as our own Oregon Willamette Valley. Orach is loaded with essential vitamins and nutrients and dates back at least 3000 years of cultivation.
I thought wheat would have been grown for the flour, however pioneer gardens had Amaranth, which when dry, is ground for an alternative flour or used as a cereal grain that is very high in protein, Vitamin C, magnesium, Iron, Calcium and Potassium, making it even more valuable than true grains such as Oats, Wheat and Barley. Even today, Amaranth which is not a true grain, is an important *grain* in many countries, and historically is documented dating back at least eight thousand years. Beans were grown that provided the shell bean and could be dried for dry beans, which can also be ground into an alternative flour. (Refer to my article on making your own alternative flour: http://justfowlingaround.weebly.com/recipes-for-self-reliance/category/how-to-make-alternative-flour).
We hear the stories of Johnny Appleseed spreading the apple seeds around the country, however the apples that reached Oregon territory were actually bare root *whips* or twigs, not grown from the seeds. The pioneer garden had 4 different heirloom Apple trees growing at the edge of the vegetable garden. Apples would have provided desserts, fresh eating, as dried and they stored well through winter, and provided essential nutrients.
The herbs that were planted in the garden, had multiple purposes. One was Mullein. The fleshy, furry leaves were dried and used for fire starters, and also used for lamp wicks because they could easily flame. Concoctions were made up that aided in stomach issues, such as colic and diarrhea. But used as a beverage it helped to relieve lung issues, migraines and earaches. Other herbs were used to sweeten, such as sweet violet petals, lavender and roses, which also made good flavored tea, jelly and syrup, but were also used for potpourri, and tussy mussies (small bouquet tokens) that were given to new neighbors or for a special occasion.
Hops were a surprise at first, but then I realized these pioneers came from far and wide and were accustomed to imbibing at times, hence the perceived need for a crop that could be grown for making their own beer for special occasions. Grapes were grown by some pioneers, no doubt for the wine making. In the Willamette Valley, Hops until recent years occupied hundreds of acres of land. They are fast growing from season to season, making them more practical during the pioneer days, than grapes which could take years to develop and perhaps hardier than some varieties of grapes. Now, in modern times, there are fewer acres devoted to Hops and more acres devoted to wine grapes in our region of the country.
There were a variety of roses including Rosa Rugosa (relative of the apple) and Rosa multiflora which is considered the most fragrant of all roses and used in perfumeries. All roses derived from the Rosa Rugosa and rose enthusiasts have developed colors and forms, however in an attempt to create a perfect rose, many have sacrificed the strong fragrance of the Rosa Rugosa. You may notice when you receive a bouquet of roses from the florist, that the fragrance is missing or very faint an no longer what we recall from our childhood . The roses were likely planted not only for beauty and fragrance but because they were thorny, they were planted as a deterent to rodents and other animals from destroying the gardens. I grow a few heirloom roses and our sis has a lovely little yellow rose that crossed the plains with the pioneers. We've simply titled it *Pioneer Rose*, and it still faithfully grows on her husband's family homestead.
There was one very large Rhubarb plant in the pioneer garden. The oldest variety of Rhubarb is *Victoria*. Again, our sis has Rhubarb that crossed the plains and continues to grow on the homestead property and luckily I was the happy recipient of a divided crown from the original mother plant. It's easy to see why rhubarb was grown in pioneer gardens; not just for it's culinary use, but because it is extremely hardy and very long-lived.
Surprisingly I did not see Asparagus in the pioneer garden. This is another plant that crossed the plains during the Oregon territory emigration and resides at the homestead. Asparagus was actually used medicinally as a diuretic and for heart ailments as far back as 200 BC, long before it was ever used as a vegetable. This is another very long-lived and hardy plant that no doubt some pioneers did grow. Each year, sis is able to harvest and can up or eat fresh from the asparagus that was carried long ago over the plains, when watering would have all been accomplished with buckets rather than irrigation pipes and sprinklers.
At the end of harvest, seeds were gathered and dried from those that only grew through the growing season, so there was always a supply of seeds for the next growing season. When we think of the effort necessary to grow a garden in the early pioneering days, it's easy to understand why they were called *kitchen gardens*. They had to be near the kitchen for ease of watering and ease of harvesting fresh for the meals. All the plants, herbs and fruit were practical, nutritious, hardy and essential for self sufficiency where supplies were difficult to obtain and many miles away from most homesteads. In those early days, the pioneers in my area would have had to either raft down the river at least 40 miles or go overland and then cross the river via raft or manned ferry to reach the nearest trading post, that was then owned by the British. Where our sis lives, would have been even farther, and even today, the nearest small town for any supplies is over 50 miles of what would have been very rugged terrain.
I can imagine the tender care given to the seeds, roots and crowns of plants that crossed the plains, as the pioneers knew these were the beginning of a life and future and possibly their only source of food once they were able to plant them in the ground. The hardships of those early pioneers must have been beyond imagination and a crop failure could have meant near starvation in many areas they settled. Not all settled in lush and plentiful areas where they could rely on flora and fauna for life sustaining food sources.
When planning your own gardens, consider some of the heirloom plants of the pioneers, especially if you are attempting to become more self sufficient. The choices they made in garden plants were made for sheer survival and to provide the essential vitamins and nutrients they would need to survive continued hardships.
I have listed below some of the plants that were present in the Pioneer garden. All are heirloom varieties. (See links below for heirloom seed sources).
Fennel (Bronze and common green)
Manarda (Bee Balm or Cleome serrulata~~Rocky Mountain Bee Plant)
Apples (Rhode Island Greening, Spitzenberg, Balwin, and Summer Rambo)
Squash (Boston Marrow or Autumnal Marrow)
Fingerling Potatoes (Rose Finn Apple Potato)
Orach (for salad greens and spinach substitute)
Cabbage (Early Jersey Wakefield cabbage)
Scarlet Runner Bean
Corn (Red Indian Corn--Blood Butcher Corn)
Carrots (Scarlet Nantes Carrot)
Onion (Red Wethersfield onion)
Broom Corn (Sorghum bicolor to use in making brooms)
Beets (Chioggia Beet and Bulls Blood Beet)
The native American *Three Sisters* method of planting Beans, squash and corn was used. Each was considered essential and grown together for the benefits of the three agricultural crops that together provided the needed proteins and vitamins and were considered a balanced diet. A fourth *sister* *Bee Balm* was added in some regions, to utilize the natural pollination needed for healthy crops. The garden also utilized a compost bed to provide enrichment to the soil in the gardens.
To learn more about the Master Gardener Volunteer project, refer to the link provided by Volunteer: Margueritte Kosovich,
CREDENTIALS: Certified Oregon State Master Gardener since 1999. Horticulture degree 2001. Study of Herbs and Horticulture Therapy, heavy research and study of all plants and herbs. Gardening a lifetime.
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