Home Vegetable Gardening by F.F. Rockwell (original copyright 1911) is a rare gem that looks at how people in the U.S. gardened – and lived – about 100 years ago. It is priceless Americana that shows how far we have come socially (note the sentence in the excerpt below about women and smoking) and environmentally (the poisons that were commonly used back then make me shudder – most of them are banned for use as pesticides and herbicides in the U.S. today, thank God) at the same time how some things remain the same. (The author writes in the preface about how having a backyard garden is a great antidote to “high prices” – at a time when a loaf of bread cost about a nickel.
Home Vegetable Gardening is a public domain book, meaning that nobody owns a U.S. copyright. I thought it might be fun to post occasional excerpts from the book here, starting with chapter 1. I’d love to know what you think!
Home Vegetable Gardening
Why You Should Garden
There are more reasons today than ever before why the owner of a small place should have his, or her, own vegetable garden. The days of home weaving, home cheese-making, home meat-packing, are gone. With a thousand and one other things that used to be made or done at home, they have left the fireside and followed the factory chimney. These things could be turned over to machinery. The growing of vegetables cannot be so disposed of. Garden tools have been improved, but they are still the same old one-man affairs—doing one thing, one row at a time. Labor is still the big factor—and that, taken in combination with the cost of transporting and handling such perishable stuff as garden produce, explains why the home gardener can grow his own vegetables at less expense than he can buy them. That is a good fact to remember.
But after all, I doubt if most of us will look at the matter only after
consulting the columns of the household ledger. The big thing, the salient feature of home gardening is not that we may get our vegetables ten per cent cheaper, but that we can have them one hundred per cent better. Even the longkeeping sorts, like squash, potatoes and onions, are very perceptibly more delicious right from the home garden, fresh from the vines or the ground; but when it comes to peas, and corn, and lettuce—well, there is absolutely nothing to compare with the home garden ones, gathered fresh, in the early slanting sunlight, still gemmed with dew, still crisp and tender and juicy, ready to carry every atom of savory quality, without loss, to the dining table. Stale, flat and unprofitable indeed, after these have once been tasted, seem the limp, travelweary, dusty things that are jounced around to us in the butcher’s cart and the grocery wagon. It is not in price alone that home gardening pays. There is another point: the market gardener has to grow the things that give the biggest yield. He has to sacrifice quality to quantity. You do not. One cannot buy Golden Bantam corn, or Mignonette lettuce, or Gradus peas in most markets. They are top quality, but they do not fill the market crate enough times to the row to pay the commercial grower. If you cannot afford to keep a professional gardener there is only one way to have the best vegetables—grow your own!
And this brings us to the third, and what may be the most important
reason why you should garden. It is the cheapest, healthiest, keenest pleasure there is. Give me a sunny garden patch in the golden springtime, when the trees are picking out their new gowns, in all the various self-colored delicate grays and greens—strange how beautiful they are, in the same old unchanging styles, isn’t it?—give me seeds to watch as they find the light, plants to tend as they take hold in the fine, loose, rich soil, and you may have the other sports. And when you have grown tired of their monotony, come back in summer to even the smallest garden, and you will find in it, every day, a new problem to be solved, a new campaign to be carried out, a new victory to win.
Better food, better health, better living—all these the home garden offers you in abundance. And the price is only the price of every worthwhile thing—honest, cheerful patient work.
But enough for now of the dream garden. Put down your book. Put on
your old togs, light your pipe—some kind-hearted humanitarian should devise for women such a kindly and comforting vice as smoking—and let’s go outdoors and look the place over, and pick out the best spot for that garden-patch of yours.