Gardening Time

Jerry Apps

When I was a kid, our farm garden was the primary source of vegetables for our family of five. As I look back at those days, although it was never said aloud, “If it doesn’t grow in our garden, we don’t eat it,” was what my mother and dad believed. I don’t remember that they ever bought vegetables.

Growing your own vegetables is an old idea—but still a good one.

My mother was in charge of the garden, which was about a quarter acre just to the north of the farmhouse. She decided what should be planted and when what was ready for harvest and what was not. She made the decisions, but she was not bashful in employing my Dad, two brothers and me to help with the garden tasks, from pulling weeds, hoeing, to helping her with harvesting.

In April we planted potatoes, lettuce, radishes, rutabagas, and cabbage. In May we planted sweet corn, green beans, pumpkins, squash and navy beans. In late May she set out the tomato plants that she had started from seed back in March, on St. Patrick’s Day to be exact. She had saved coffee cans, from which she had removed both the tops and bottoms. She placed a can around each little tomato plant, to protect it from cutworms and from the weather.

Now, many years later, my mother’s voice is still in my head as we garden at Roshara—telling me what to do and when. Today, my kids now do most of the work in our garden, which we have now had for more than 50 years. For my birthday a couple years ago, the kids gave me a folding rocking chair, with a sign on the back that read, “Senior Supervisor.”

THE OLD TIMER SAYS: Growing your own vegetables is an old idea—but still a good one.

Jerry Apps, born and raised on a Wisconsin farm, is Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the author of more than 35 books, many of them on rural history and country life. For further information about Jerry's writing and TV work go to