Ever heard of burning the garden? A recent post by Granny Sue brought back a memory so sharp and real that I could smell the smoke, hear the fire crackle as it caught and took off across the field, feel the heat as my cousins and me ran laughing pretending it was chasing us all the while being comforted by the sound of the grownups talking knowing they wouldn’t let any of us get close enough to be burned-maybe close enough to teach us a lesson, but never close enough to be hurt badly.
My Mamaw, Pap’s Mother, died when I was in 5th grade. In the years before her death, my family would have a garden of our own at home, but also go in with Mamaw, Papaw, and my Uncles to make a larger one. Usually the one together would be a huge potato patch, a big corn field, or maybe both.
In the Spring of the year, they’d burn off the gardens. Seems it would be one of those warm March or April days when the heat of the day teases you of the summer to come, but as soon as the sun goes down you realize Old Man Winter isn’t completely ready to let go yet.
Pap tells me when he was a boy, folks would not only burn off their gardens each spring they would also burn off the woods surrounding their homes. I found this quote by Lillie Nix in my Foxfire 11 book:
“In the spring of the year, about March, the men of the community would go out and burn the woods. It didn’t kill the timber because the sap wasn’t up, but it caused the grass to come up tender, and the cattle could feed on that.”
Pap said they burned the fields and the woods to kill off insects/disease, to keep the undergrowth of the forests down, and to make the grass grow better.
Burning the garden beds aided in killing disease as well as weed seeds and added potash to the soil. Pap especially remembers them burning the tobacco, tomato, and cabbage beds. After they were burned, the seeds would be sowed directly in the warm ground, and a sheet or old piece of cloth would be tented to cover the whole bed much the same as Granny Sue and Larry did their lettuce bed.
Pap said once the Forest Service was established, they stopped the annual burning of the woods. According to Pap, in the beginning they couldn’t keep up with everyone but as time went on they got better at finding the folks who were burning and each year it seemed there was less folks who grew a garden or kept animals anyway.
Pap believes the annual burning of the woods kept them purified, he thinks all the diseased timber we have now (pine beetles, wooly adelgid, oak decline, etc.) is a direct result of the ban put on burning. Does make you wonder, of course there are far too many houses for burning the woods now. We don’t burn our gardens anymore I could say mine is too small and laid out in different parts of the yard, but truth is I guess we’re lazy and guilty of letting another part of our heritage fall by the way.
After getting my memory jolted by Granny Sue, I haven’t been able to shake the feeling of it. Makes me wish I could go back just one more time too being the little girl with a ponytail standing at the edge of the big garden, go back to feel the safety and love of the circle of grown ups who not only watched out for me but taught me the things I know—taught me who I am.
The Deer Hunter and I are following in Pap and Granny’s footsteps. We have our own garden at home and then a bigger one with Granny, Pap, and my brothers. Chitter and Chatter are making their own memories, working in Pap’s big garden along side their cousins just like I did once upon a time.
Do you burn your garden? Did your parents or grandparents?