“Watch out for the hole!” I was always told as I was running for the back yard. The perfect place to play while the adults chatted about boring things children wanted nothing to do with. How tall was the corn? How many green beans are there for me to pick? Is there any zucchini hiding behind those enormous leaves? Can I help pick some mint to place in my big girl cup of tea? If I am lucky, there will be a cookie to go with that tea as well. These are the things soaring through my mind as I race up the side of the house, my Grandma yelling “Watch out for the hole!”

My Grandpa John always dug an enormous hole at the start of every growing season. Throughout the year he would throw just about everything in the hole. All the refuse collected from the spring yard work. All the weeds from the garden would go in the hole. A variety of things from the kitchen also found their way into the hole. My Grandma kept a little basket in the sink for egg shells, vegetable peels, used tea bags with the staple removed, bits of fruit that were over ripened and the sort. At the end of the day the basket was emptied into the hole. In the fall all the leaves were collected and dumped in the hole. At the very end of the season, before the first flakes flew, my Grandpa would cover the hole with dirt. Next year, this space would be his tomato patch. Every season this process continued and every season the tomato patch would move. Best darned tomatoes I’ve ever had, never have I found another to rival their flavor.

Now, I learned at a young age you really did need to watch out for the hole, especially in the spring when the venue had just been moved and the hole was especially deep. The newly dug spot would be randomly placed in the yard. There was really no telling where it might appear; only that it would be a new spot from the year before. Peering into the newly dug soil, I remember wondering how he had dug a hole so deep. I never thought of this annual ritual as strange or forward thinking, just something you did in order to get the best tomatoes. Turns out that wasn’t the only reason.

My Grandpa John was composting, long before I would learn what that word meant. He was also getting an amazing crop of tomatoes because of the rich, fertile soil he was fostering. These are the things I remember about John. My mother imparted a new piece of the story for me, her perspective and memories of these events. Grandpa John refused to pay to have his garbage removed. The fact that he would pay for such a thing left him aghast. He reused, recycled or composted everything to avoid an unnecessary expense, as he saw it. This made me laugh, because it was so John, so true to his character there was no denying it.

Nestled on a 1/4 acre in Central New Jersey is where we begin our self reliance experiment. Right on Main Street across from the library you’ll find our homestead.  The house was built in the late 1800′s. A large maple stands at the front corner of our lot, it can be seen as a sappling in a photo taken of our home in 1898. The basement is old stones, pulled from the dirt as they dug the foundation. The house has roots, I can feel the age in the creaks of the floorboards as I mount the stairs on the front porch. This is where we begin.

It started as a very small dream. I wanted to start that garden for John and grow our own food for our children. So many of us don’t have the simple pleasure of going out to the yard and choosing a fresh morsel to pick and eat. I wanted that for our children, I wanted them to see the magic in the garden as I had as a little girl. So one year for Mother’s Day, my husband built me a garden. It was modest at first, five tiered plots with stone walls cascading down the side of our yard. I was ecstatic. Each person in the household was allotted a plot, including our tenant who shared our home. We each carefully chose what plants we wanted in our beds, the memories are sweet of those first cautious steps into homesteading. The garden now reaches Main Street, every year we got a little more ambitious.

Our House 1890s

My first memories of the garden are at my Grandparent’s house. My Grandpa John never missed a growing season. His garden stretched from one end of the backyard, to the big tree on the other side. Neat rows of vegetables all lined up. By mid summer the garden would be lush with vegetation. Plenty of picking to be done, my Grandmother would remind anyone who was listening.

His garden was magical to me. I caught fireflies at night for a nickel a piece in rows of green beans. We played hide and seek. I hid in the corn giggling, waiting for Grandpa to find me in the fading light of dusk. The little tree in the back corner of the yard is where I first learned to climb, where I first learned to fall too.  His chair sat under the big tree at the corner of the garden, I can still see him there.

John's Tomatoes

John’s Tomatoes