Monday, February 24, 2014

Sowing the roots of destiny...

Yes, the title is supposed to sound like an adventure from Call of Cuthuluh or even a video game like Assassin's Creed.  It is what it sounds like; this year I wish to continue in the footsteps of my family line, which was lost for a generation.  About four hundred years ago, my family name was attached to a family of farmers: 'Bauer' is German for 'farmer'.  The story which I have been told time and time again, is that sometime between the 16 and 1700's, a farmer of my family line did something important or invaluable for the lord of the land.  That gesture moved that farmer from an ordinary farmer to a farmer that had a coat of arms and more land.  If you were a farmer with more land, you could become a better farmer and thus the line really took off as farming became something more of just a hobby or a job, but a destiny.

So, farming was farming and in the 1800's, an ancestor of mine came over to America, through Ellis Island.  The family, settled in what is now the area of Corondelet, St. Louis. It was there that in the 1854 census of the city, showed that my family of Anton Bauer and his wife and kids had $1,600 worth of farm property.   That would be about $44K in today's money.  I don't have family records of how much land was theirs and what was on it, but I can show that the son of Anton Bauer, did not have a farm.  What I could see is that at some point, Anton Bauer sold the farm, probably to help incorporate the city of Corondelet.  From then it looks like some of his family had moved to what was then Mathis, Missouri and set up a farm there, where Bauer Road is off of Tesson Ferry, in St. Louis.  There are records of some of the family also setting up a bakery in St. Louis.  It looks like the ones who did the farming, kept up with the farming and eventually produced a son, my grandfather, that would carry on the farming tradition, as it moved into a more modern age.  My grandfather grew up on a farm and then went off to fight, in World War 2.  In the war, he was a field nurse, working in horrible conditions to heal our troops and save lives.  When he came back, he used the G.I. bill to go to school and get a degree in Biology where he then got a job at Monsanto as a chemical engineer.

Like swords to plowshares, the first thing, after marrying, that my grandfather did when he had his new job, was to erect a huge garden in his backyard.  Their two story flat, on Virginia Avenue, St. Louis, had a large backyard, divided in two by a sidewalk down the middle to the back of the house.  My grandfather took one whole side of the yard, probably an area of 10 feet by 20 feet, and constructed a giant garden. I remembered that he created not just a simple garden, but a huge one, in that amount of space.  He constructed a wooden frame around the garden space, which rested on a 2 foot tall wall of stacked bricks.  The wooden frame, was a giant rectangle, enabling him to have a 8 foot ceiling.  The rectangle was covered in chicken wire, to help prevent the birds out and the brick wall kept small animals out.  He even constructed a screen door, for entry and exit.  It was a remarkable build for one person.  I remembered looking up and seeing green beans and squash growing down from the ceiling and plants growing all over on the ground with a red brick walkway through everything. I was always thinking that the garden was the coolest thing I had ever seen one person have and it is amazing what you can do with no zoning laws.

Now, my father, being more of the modern times, didn't have a huge garden when he got married and raised a family; including me.  He kept the yard looking like a yard for his 4 boys to play in.  What he did use, was a small 2 foot by 8 foot strip of land on one side of the back stairs and a 2 foot by 4 foot spot on the other side of the stairs.  This is the best he had to work with and he wanting to continue in the farming tradition, did so by doing simple items and even some items in larger pots.  I remembered that my father grew broccoli, carrots and mint.  He grew tomatoes and peppers and even sunflowers.  I remembered getting good vegetables from that tiny garden.

Now, wanting to carry on the tradition, I had two previous tries.  I had been staying in an apartment with a tiny 3x6 balcony and used a few pots to grow mint, hot peppers, and some herbs.  That was it and they grew well.  When I had moved to a house, my gardening activities were all negative.  The subdivision has a rule that you cannot grow anything but flowers in the front as a garden.  That rule came after we grew hot peppers, tomatoes and even Brussels sprouts. So, we moved those to the backyard, which was a bad idea.  Our subdivision was built on a trash landfill.  While digging for our garden we have found everything from soda cans to whole bags of cement.  This place is a mess, as far as gardening is concerned.  Also of note though, nothing grew well in the back and it may have just been because the quality of soil is so bad and because of the full sun and lack of drainage.  When the contractor finished our house, they turned it quickly over to us, without doing any landscaping or grading.  So, we have no drainage at all in our yard and when it rains, we have a small pond in our yard. The yard is flat so when we tried to grow corn and tomatoes, against the house, in raised beds filled with expensive gardening soil, they began to rot and mold.  We didn't get anything from them.  I know that the soil is bad because we had two large rose plants start in the back and when they were not doing well, we moved them to the front and now they are thriving.  I would suggest that there is probably $300 worth of expensive garden soil, tilled into the garden areas in the back yard versus the $2,000 or so worth of work and products that has gone into the front yard.  Before we had kids, my wife and I spent many summer days and nights preparing the ground for plants and herbs so we have something to show for it.

So, this is the year where we get serious.  About a 10 minute drive away, hidden away in behind some farmland, sits a garden spot all set up and ready for use.  This spot, currently on property belonging to my in-laws, will be a testing spot for this year's summer activity: a garden.  We do plan on having a house built near there soon, which means that I hope to follow in the gardening tradition.  This year however, we are taking small steps first.  This year, we are doing sunflowers and tomatoes.  It seems reasonable enough.  What makes this first set up so good, is that if everything works great, I will expand it.  I want to have a garden, a plantation, where my young boys can learn about gardens and fruits and vegetables.  We have a dehydrator and I am pretty good and jams and pickles, so I figure that whatever we grow, I will use half of it as fresh items and the other half as preserving.  I will keep you posted, with pictures as I get them.   

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