Gardens were not a part of my first hand experience growing up in Bristol, PA in the 50s and 60s. We lived in an apartment. There were of course many in Bristol with yards and gardens but not my immediate family. My Uncle Joe Porfirio (he didn’t Anglicize his name like my grandfather) had a large typical Italian garden on Monroe Street. Once or twice a year, his daughter Mary would host an all day Sunday Italian picnic. I’m sure some servings came from the garden. “Mange, mange.” We ate and drank all day.
On Mill street across from our apartment, Mr. Mignoni had a back yard garden. He even had a fig tree which he toppled and buried each year. When my cousin Bill was cleaning out their house, he offered us Mrs. Mignoni’s canning equipment including dozens of jars (some 2 quarts). We had them until I disposed of them after a Yardley flood. There were many other Italians in Bristol with gardens; I don’t remember any in in the Irish neighborhood.
My first experience with gardening was in the early 1970s. At first it was a small flower garden when we lived on Canal Street. Later it expanded to vegetables when we lived with John and Barbara Paglione outside of New Hope on Old York Road. We were “back to the earth” not a commune (only 2 couples) but an intentional living community. John and I were working on the Daniel Brothers farms in Pineville. Of course we would have a garden.
We borrowed or rented a Roto-tiller. The yard was big and sunny. We planted tomatoes, peppers, squash, beans, lettuce, cucumbers. There is a photograph of Barbara with a huge bundle of beautiful beets. We tried carrots, potatoes, even corn. What we didn’t grow, we bought in quantity from local farms. Corn — 100 ears — in a burlap bag from a local farm. We canned enough tomatoes to last a year (Mrs. M’s jars).
When we moved to Yardley I established a small vegetable garden along the side of the house, railroad tie logs, lots of manure fertilizer. I grew some crops for several years. In the back Diane had an herb, flower garden. Some things never change. But preoccupied with work, Borough Council and other volunteer organizations, I stopped.
About fifteen years ago I started gardening again. About the same time I began making bread, something I did regularly when we lived in New Hope. Back to the earth, part two, maybe. I did the required tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, squash, maybe some lettuce. The railroad ties were gone and no gardening for a few years. Then I started and the garden area expanded to about 3O0 square feet.
About 10 years ago, we had to remove a large oak in the back yard. More sun; a new garden about 30×20, 600 square feet. Last year I put several 18 inch high 4×4 raised beds in the front. This year I added more. Currently have a total of 8. Both years my neighbor, a professional gardener got leaf mold and mushroom soil to fill them. Actually in the first year she planted them to show off her gardening business. She also installed a watering system.
I’ve had great harvests the past six or so years. Sometimes 300 pounds of tomatoes. We can or freeze. Some are delicious heirlooms. We eat peppers but I freeze them to use throughout the year, scrambled eggs. Sometimes I pickle cukes and/or make sauerkraut from cabbage. Most years we have lettuce salads daily through June. This year it will last till at least July.
This spring I planted several varieties of lettuce, kale, spinach, bok choi, radishes, swiss chard, peas, fennel, koholrabi, and beets. Much more green than we can eat. My sister Liz, Jenny and friends have been helping. Also I have tomatoes (maybe 25 plants, this year), peppers (several varieties), beans, several types of eggplants, squash, and cucumbers. Some years we’ve had sunflowers, pumpkins, or winter squash. Actually the pumpkins and squash have some years sprouted in our compost heap. Last summer I planted Long Island Cheese pumpkins but they took over the back garden when we went to Cape Cod in July-August.
Several years ago I planted rhubarb (died out) and asparagus, it was great last year but seemed to have died out this year. Traditionally I haven’t paid a lot of attention to blights or bugs. Neighbor Chris is helping me. I just bought a sprayer and pyrethrum organic insecticide and she’s recommended a copper fungicide for tomatoes plants. Chris has also guided me in planting less, caring more, and increasing variety. I think it’s taking hold and improved harvests are coming.
Gardening is work. The raised beds do make it a bit easier. There is the soil preparation and planting, weeding, harvesting and usually preserving.
But it is so rewarding.