The seed orders have all arrived. Packets bulging out of their temporary home in the old Blue Lunchbox, they need organizing. The old Blue Lunchbox is like a time capsule taking me back. It was my Dads. I can imagine him as a young man, during wartime, carrying it under his arm to his city job in the Portland Shipyards. Many years later when I was a young child it was where he stored the garden seeds. When he died, nearly 12 years ago now, we were cleaning out my childhood home, and their home for 55 years. I found it on a shelf in the basement, unopened since my Mom’s death 5 years previous, seeds from that season still inside. A lunchbox battered with the patina of time and use. An old Blue Lunchbox with an aged piece of masking tape on its lid, labeled in pencil in his distinct scratchy print ‘SEEDS’. It came home with me.
My parents were children of the Great Depression and always grew a garden. Whether out of duty or thrift it was a yearly ritual. It was behind the house, wedged between apple tree, chicken house and pasture fence. It seemed large to me as a child. It was clayey and cloddy and filled with weeds that were nearly impossible to ‘hoe’. The same crops were planted each year and mostly in the same places. The beloved ‘Golden Jubilee’ corn, ‘Blue Lake Pole’ beans, ‘Willamette tomatoes, ‘Yellow’ onion sets, along with many others all planted like soldiers in a row. Planting day was always on or about May 15th, all done in one day. No flowers only food. No ‘chemicals’ were used, only a yearly application of aged barnyard manure tilled under in early Spring. I have distinct memories of marking rows with stakes and string, the squeak of the wheel hoe making row furrows. Aged hands planting seeds, footsteps marking off potato hills, trellising beans with the ball of string stored in the chicken house and reused each year. Sharing with my Dad the secret of sneaking ears of corn, eating them in the patch and then destroying the evidence by feeding cobs and husks to the cows on the other side of the fence. “Don’t tell Mom,” he would say with a twinkle. That garden grew a lot of food. Summers were spent helping Mom prep and pressure can the harvest. Over the season jars and more jars lined up on the canning shelves in the furnace room of the basement.
My garden today is much different. It is very large and surrounded by deer fencing. The soil is beautiful, earthy smelling, dark and crumbly, filled with life. It is a pleasure to weed not a chore. Weeds simply jump from the soil with the scratch of a diamond hoe. It is a jungle of food and flowers, lots of flowers! Perennials, berries and grapes stay put but annuals move about each year. There are no single rows only wide rows, patches and raised beds. Crops are kept vibrant with multiple succession plantings, mixed plantings and season extensions utilized Spring and Fall. I too have my yearly favorites but also experiment each year with new varieties, new crops, sources and methods. Like Dad there is no place for ‘chemicals’ but I rely extensively on organic inputs of compost, minerals, cover crops and mulches.
I do still use stakes and string to mark rows and beds. Furrows for corn and shell beans are made with the old squeaky wheel hoe. Footsteps still mark off planting distances. The beans and peas are trellised in the same string pattern and the hands doing the seeding are looking more aged these days.
The fondest constant though is that old Blue Lunchbox that safely holds the seeds. A beloved gift from lives past.
The Old Blue Lunchbox. A gift from the past.