Memories of Gardening with my Amish Mom

gardening

Growing up, in the Garden with my Amish momma

I have fond memories of many days spent gardening with my Amish mom. It was lots of back-breaking work and sweat, but it was so rewarding to reap a harvest from the seeds that we planted.

The Amish take gardening very seriously. Growing and preserving their own food is very important to them. And when you have a large family to feed, gardening is also an important part of survival.

I came from a family of twelve, so it took a lot of food to feed us. My mom was a good cook and an amazing gardener. We had a huge garden full of every fruit and vegetable she could think of to grow and preserve.

By the time March came around, she was itching to get into the garden again. And as soon as we had a few sunny days to dry the dirt enough to get in, she was out tilling it up and getting her early seeds in. After a full day out in the sun again following the winter months, she would come back in at the end of the day with her neck and face beet red.

Hot Bed gardening for early plants

Actually, my mom also had what we called a hotbed. My dad built her a wooden frame against the south side of a building somewhere and put a glass window frame-style lid on top. She filled this with dirt and planted early spring lettuce, spinach, radishes, etc. already in late January or February. It was covered, so these hardy plants could handle the freezing temperatures. And this gave us some fresh garden veggies very early in spring.

Memories of time spent in the garden with my Amish mom

We spent hours planting and weeding the garden, and as a kid, I did not always enjoy it very much. But honestly, I learned so much from my mom, and all the hard work was good for us. We learned to be responsible hard workers. And my mom was a gentle soul. She was firm, but also the most kind-hearted, sweetest person you will ever meet. She was always whistling a tune or singing a song, and I very seldom saw her get angry. I enjoyed working with her, and we spent many hours in the garden together.

barefoot in the garden with my Amish mom
Of course, I was always barefoot in the garden

After we got the dirt tilled up, we stretched out a long string that was attached to two wooden posts, from one end of the garden to the other. This was used to create a straight row. Then we had a garden seeder that we pushed down the row to make the planting go a lot faster. (If you do a lot of gardening one of these would probably be worth buying. But my garden is a baby compared to what my mom had.)

In March, we planted lettuce, spinach, radishes, peas, onions, potatoes, some early cabbages, etc. (that we covered with plastic milk jugs that had a hole cut in the bottom). Then after the danger of frost was past, we filled up the garden with everything else we wanted to grow. We always had some perennials like asparagus and rows of strawberries and raspberry bushes in the garden.

Large-scale gardening is a lot of work

If all you had to do was plant the seeds and then harvest after a few months, it would be easy to garden. But there are always those determined weeds that try to take over the garden. And, of course, the pests that want to eat all your crops.

My mom spent time in the garden about every day except Sunday. And she always kept her garden practically perfect. Her theory was that if you get rid of the weeds when they first start sprouting, you save yourself from the hard work of pulling big weeds and having them multiply from the seeds.

So she brought out her tiller every two weeks and went up and down between each row at least twice. She always walked to the side of her tiller, so that she covered up her footprints on the next round. She used to do the tilling, and we girls got to do the hoeing around each plant. And by the time we were done, it was a beautiful sight. Not a weed, and not a footprint in sight. Just rows of beautiful vegetables with freshly tilled dirt on either side. And what a feeling of satisfaction!

tilling my garden
using my little Mantis tiller

Gardening is one of my hobbies

I still enjoy gardening, and as I am writing about gardening with my Amish mom, I am really missing her. I wish I could spend a day in the garden with her again. But sadly, she was taken from us too young, at only sixty-one years old.

I enjoy having my kids help me in the garden. My garden is very tiny compared to my mom’s. But I like to plant enough veggies for fresh eating, and I also do a little canning.

kids planting seeds in the garden with mom

Starting a vegetable patch from scratch

Unless you have a farm plow or big tiller with a lot of power, it can be difficult to turn a grassy area into a vegetable patch. Because there’s so much thick grass to chop up and turn into dirt.

When we bought our first new home, my husband used a skid loader bucket and just scraped the grassy top off of the spot where I wanted to plant my garden. It worked great because now I didn’t have to deal with all the grassy clumps. I just got in there with my little tiller and cultivated the dirt, and was ready to plant my seeds. But one thing I didn’t like about this method was that he also took some topsoil off with the grass, and you really want a lot of topsoil for a good garden.

So when we bought a new homestead a few years ago, I dug up my entire garden area with a dirt shovel. I didn’t do it all in one day. In the fall I picked my garden area and measured it off by stretching string all around the perimeter. Then whenever it was a nice day, and I had an hour or so to spare, I dug up a few more rows in the garden. It was a grassy spot, so I just dug up shovel full after shovel full of grassy clumps and flipped them over so the grass would decay. By the next spring, the grass was dead enough to get in and till it up.

Some people like to make raised beds for gardening, by building a frame and filling it with dirt. Those are really great for gardening, but it’s a little more expensive to get started if you have to buy lumber to build frames and then have to buy topsoil to fill it. I did use tree logs for a raised bed once, and that worked great until the tree started rotting.

It does not have to cost much to start a vegetable garden

It doesn’t have to cost a lot to start your own vegetable garden, you really don’t need a lot of expensive gardening equipment. A nice big tiller and extra garden tools are nice, especially if you are going to go big. But if you’ve never gardened before, I would encourage you to start small.

It’s twenty years now since I’ve been gardening on my own, and I still have not invested in a big tiller. I love my little Mantis tiller. I only have a small garden, and I plant my rows close together, with just enough space to get my little Mantis between the rows. And it does a great job. When I till up the garden for the first time in the spring, it would be nice to have a bigger tiller but after that, I probably wouldn’t use it.

You can find similar little tillers for a cheaper price, but I don’t know how good they are? I’ve used my little Mantis for about 18 years now with very few problems. Right now it is needing a new part, but I have done a lot of tilling with that little thing, and it has done a great job.

If you buy a dirt shovel, a little tiller, and a hoe, you are ready to start a vegetable garden from scratch. Find yourself a couple of sticks and string to make row markers, and of course, some seeds to plant and you are ready to get to work.

Container Gardening and Heirloom Seeds

If you don’t have any dirt that you can dig up to start a garden, you can always do container gardening. They make some special plants that produce better in pots. And there is nothing quite like the satisfaction of growing your own food. No store-bought tomato will ever taste quite like that freshly picked vine-ripened tomato.

I like to purchase my seeds from Baker Creek heirloom seeds. But I don’t always buy heirloom, sometimes I just buy seeds from Walmart or the local feed store or greenhouse.

And I buy some of my plants too. You can start your own tomato, and pepper, etc. plants indoors and then harden and transfer them to your garden. But I have not always had the best success, and don’t have a lot of room for extra plants in my house. So I usually just pick up my tomato and pepper plants at a greenhouse.

Heirloom seeds and plants are more like they used to be years ago before everybody started messing with GMOs.

Gardening is a fun project to do with your kids

My kids have always enjoyed helping me put the seeds in the dirt. It is so much fun for kids (and me too) to plant seeds in the dirt and then watch them grow and produce food to eat. When they’re playing outside they can run to the garden for a snack of fresh peas, strawberries, spinach, baby tomatoes, etc. It is always a delight to reap the fruit of your labor!

kids in the garden planting seeds

Weeding the garden isn’t as much fun, and I am actually a bit of a lazy gardener. To avoid having to weed my garden all summer long, I mulch it. We have a huge yard and when I mow, I collect the grass clippings and put them in my garden. To make it even more efficient I put newspaper underneath and pile on the grass clippings. It helps to keep the weeds down, preserves moisture, and is good for the dirt. By fall, I have grass trying to grow in my garden, then I have to cover it again with another layer.

I was out planting my early seeds yesterday and got a few photos. I wish I had photos to share of my mom in her garden. But sadly, I don’t have any photos like that.

gardening
onion bulbs

You can read more of my story here: My Childhood – My Story part 1

A hoe may be the most needed tool for gardening….

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7 thoughts on “Memories of Gardening with my Amish Mom

  1. Hi, I love your story. I’m originally from Philadelphia, PA and have visited Lancaster many times. I currently live in Georgia and just moved to a home that had a previous garden that is fenced in with a gate and wire. I just cleared all the leaves and weeds and am ready to plant. Do you think I should wait to see what will grow from what the last homeowner planted? I’m not sure what she planted except for one area and a few tall bushes which I think are blueberry bushes. so I’m confused how to get started. There is also black weed covering on the ground. Any advice you can give me would be appreciated.

    1. That sounds interesting! Do you know if it was a vegetable garden or a flower garden? I wouldn’t typically put weed covering down unless I’m planting perennials. Or maybe she cut holes in and planted tomatoes, melons, etc. My mom always put black plastic down before she planted tomatoes and viney plants. She just cut a hole in it big enough to put her plant in, andvthisceould keep weeds from growing on our patch that you couldn’t till. She planted things like melons, squash, cucumbers, sweet potatoes, and all that kind of stuff that spreads with vines. It would be hard to plant seeds like spinach, green beans, etc. that you need in rows with a cover on the ground. But definitely you could plant tomatoes, peppers, etc. with that. Not too many vegetables come back year after year. So unless it was a flower garden full of perennials, chances are that not too much stuff will come up. I have had tomatoes come up in my garden before though, from seeds of little rotten tomatoes I left lay in the garden. Good luck!

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