It is possible for two people, past the age of youthful labor, to cultivate and maintain eight acres of heirloom produce, with no hired help. Not easy, but possible. When my husband, Richard, and I decided, in 2008, to plant a large garden, we set a mandate for ourselves that we would use no chemical fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides. Fortunately for us, my parents shared my grandmothers’ saved heirloom seeds with us and we became sold on growing heirlooms, which we believe, taste better than any hybrid or genetically modified plants. By 2010, our “obsession,” grew to a small farm and more than one friend doubted our sanity. We dubbed our project “Heart & Sole Gardens” and the name sometimes leads people to offer spelling corrections. Obviously, these well-meaning folks have no idea what we do! It is hard to explain how physically demanding work, combined with a healthy dose of dirt, can bring solace to the soul and enjoyment to the table. Someone once told me that people who grow their own food are more appreciative of all food; I agree. We are grateful. Very grateful.
My maternal grandmother, Lora Bolick Minton, was the consummate Southern gardener. Without help, Granny cultivated, planted, weeded, harvested, preserved and saved seeds. After Granny died, in 1986, my parents stored her seeds in their freezer for many years and I first planted her beans in 2009. In 2010, Granny’s sunflowers and peanuts grew at our farm. Not only did these “old” seeds germinate better than their hybrid cousins, their plants grew better in poor growing conditions and they produced more fruit. My parents thoroughly cleaned their freezer in 2012 and, for the first time in at least twenty-eight years, Granny’s peas were planted. We celebrated an abundant harvest, along with Granny’s squash, cucumbers, peanuts and Mountain White Half-Runner beans. My paternal grandmother, Ethel Hamby, also saved seeds and her Patty Pan squash, pumpkins and marigolds now flourish at Heart & Sole Gardens. Maw Hamby died in 1994, but her heirloom seeds connect us to her today.
As a passionate, Farmer’s Almanac-thumping, evangelistic seed saver, I encourage each of you to collect your own heirloom seeds and the stories they hold. You just might discover, as I have, a connection to the past that offers hope for the future.