Gardening questions for story I am writing

jojoco(NY 5)August 8, 2011

Could be on discussions, I suppose, but I need actual gardening answers...

I am writing a story that takes place in Alabama in the early 1960's. I need to know when you would plant, month wise, and what, if anything, could be harvested in mid October. Is there a second cycle?

My character also talks about the seed catalog that comes in early January and the long nights spent reading it, mentally planning her garden. Did Burpee do one like that? Or is there a more traditional one? As you can tell, I am not much of a gardner, but want to get the details right.

Thanks for your help.


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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

Could you be more specific about location? There's a huge difference between north & south alabama.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2011 at 5:22PM
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PDF link to ACES gardening calendar:

The calendar doesn't show harvest times, but that's more location specific.

You may also want to keep in mind that many gardeners save at least some of their seeds instead of buying them. And she may very well have a garden still going in January with collards and other hardy crops that she planted in the fall. That will also vary from north to south.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2011 at 7:19PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Can't get much more 'traditional' than Burpee. I remember sitting at the kitchen table with my Dad, looking over seed catalogs with pencil and paper at the ready. Burpee would have been one of those catalogs....and our time was in the 60s.

But, as the others have mentioned, you had better get your location pin-pointed. The differences between Southern, Mid, and Northern Alabama are huge in terms of growing conditions, among other things.

I see from your member page that you live in Upstate NY, in the Finger Lakes area. I was born and raised near Skaneateles. Northern Alabama is a different from Southern Alabama, for instance, as Upstate is to...say...NYC. Vastly.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2011 at 10:41PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

I hope you'll let us know when this story/book is available to read. I think I would enjoy it a lot.

Oct is pecan pick-up time. If your character's house has a pecan tree hanging over it, she may have a few sleepless nights from the sound of the pecans falling.

    Bookmark   August 9, 2011 at 10:06AM
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catbird(z7 AL)

Sounds like you might be biting off more than you can chew by writing about a subject and an area that you know nothing about. Maybe you should consider at least making a trip to tour the state and visit with some gardeners in the area you're interested in. Come hang out with us at our Fall plant swap on Oct. 1 at Oak Mountain State Park near Birmingham. The details are on the Fall Swap thread on this forum and we'd love to visit with you over lunch.

    Bookmark   August 9, 2011 at 10:08AM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

OOps, I think that that would be an awfully strong assumption, catbird. If authors knew 'everything' about their subject matter, the availability of the written word, fiction and other-wise, would be vastly abbreviated. Research on a simple story can take months and a book can take years.

Jojoco might even be from Alabama, for all we know, but never a gardener. Non-gardeners can be pretty clueless as to the importance of local climate and other conditions directly attributable to a specific locale. We've probably all 'been there' and can relate. I expect that she knows a great deal about her subject matter, but needs some experienced information to fill in around the edges, so to speak.

I hope that she will return here and let us know where her story unfolds. With GardenWeb members strewn all over the state, she couldn't do much better than to pick our brains!

    Bookmark   August 9, 2011 at 11:49AM
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jcalhoun(8b Mobile County AL)

I don't remember any of my parents, grandparents, etc. having a seed catalog. They bought seeds and other supplies from the local hardware/feed store. If there was something different they wanted to try they would trade with their neighbors or have the store order it.

Almost all small rural towns had a hardware store the was the "center" of society.

I guess a seed catalog would have been something available to ornamental gardeners.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2011 at 7:32AM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Seed catalogs were staple resource for garden planning in many households. I grew up in a very small rural (agricultural) community and we had a big veggie garden every year. Perhaps it's stored away in my memory bank because I was the only child of 4 who enjoyed the whole gardening process. (My brothers begrudged every moment of garden chores.) I loved sitting at the table with Dad after supper, in the midst of a harsh NYState winter, pouring over the romantic sounding descriptions of tomatoes, beans, turnips and more. We often went with the tried and true hybrids or heirlooms but always experimented with the new-to-us varieties, too.

I recall Burpee, Park, Ferry-Morse, and Stokes, but there may have been other catalogs that came to our home while we were still wrapped in snow drifts. It was sure exciting when the boxes of seeds came in the mail!

Dad was a methodical planner and would use graph paper to plot out the garden. Mom had a big say in how much space was devoted to certain vegetables because she did all of the canning and had very strong opinions about which varieties were best suited for an afterlife of sitting in glass jars for months on end. I don't much like canned string beans to this day.

Sweet memories. Many years later, I LOVE getting those catalogs in the mail and flipping through them...even if I don't have a large garden to plan for.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2011 at 2:57PM
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Dropped in here from next door, Georgia, earlier today and read this. I'm reading Burnt Mountain by Anne Rivers Siddons. She's describing a garden "with symmetrical ranks of tulips bordering it......" - and this is in Atlanta at the time of the summer soltice. Siddons painted a pretty but completely incorrect pic - and she lives in Charleston, SC. Obviously not a gardener nor observant of them. Good luck, Jojoco, and try hard for accuracy.

Rosie, Sugar Hill, GA

    Bookmark   August 10, 2011 at 7:12PM
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catbird(z7 AL)

rhizo: I didn't say writers have to know "everything" about their subjects, but if a writer gets into unfamiliar territory it's awfully easy to make little mistakes like rosie mentioned that are distracting to readers who do know about the subject. That's why they study for years and visit places that they want to write about -- and why I invited jo to visit us at the plant sale so she can get can get a fuller understanding of gardening in Alabama than she'll get from isolated questions on the forum.

Jo: Do come visit if you can. We'd love to meet you and hear more about your project and tell you what we can about gardening in Alabama.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2011 at 11:32PM
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jojoco(NY 5)

Finally, a chance to return. Thank you all for your comments. They really do help. In a nutshell, it doesn't matter where exactly the story takes place, plotwise. In my mind, the time and pace feel like Alabama in the 60's with major medical centers several hours away by car. I want it to be anywhere. The only geographical reference I make is to the mother in law, who is from "up north, outside of Atlanta."

I write because I love to. The story is a novella, about 40 pages long, maybe a few less. It is the story of a misfit girl, a box turtle, a homeschooled boy with medical challenges and a friendship that is forever changed by two deaths (the turtle and the boy).

I always considered myself a weekend gardener, but not on the same level as many of you. That is why I came here for accuracy. Here is what I have, which I know is off... I have the mother pore over the catalog in Jan, order seeds, and plant in early March. The turtle gets in the garden in early April and lays eggs. I imagine there would be seedlings by that time. I have the turtle dig the hole where the chicory is planted. The eggs have to hatch by early June (fact, not opinion). Later, the baby turtle will eat lettuce, slugs, wild strawberries, some from gardens some from the wild.(the strawberries, that is). In late October, the mother will go out to the garden with a colandar to gather something. By this time, the turtle has died and she sees that someone has left wild strawberries on its grave. She adds something to it from the colandar. what would grow then? Second harvest?

Eventually, the boy dies and the girl's mom is planning her garden. Not planting chicory again as it was too bitter for their tastes. Asks her daughter (age 11) what she wants to plant in their place. The girl (who is strange,in a friendless way) looks through the catalog and points eventually to strawberries. Big red ones which I describe as a "wanton shade of red". She wants the strawberries because her friend, the boy who died, always brought strawberries for the turtle. Is there a name of strawberries that sounds hussyish? In general, everything the mom plants is useful and intended for canning or the table. Strawberries are frivoulous, and somewhat of a waste of space, considering there are wild ones in the yards (are there?) But she does it to make her odd child smile again.

this story sounds so lame here, but I'd like to think it is much more poignant than I've described.


    Bookmark   August 17, 2011 at 8:15AM
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jojoco(NY 5)

There is a tire swing in the backyard. It will definitely be a pecan tree and there will be mention of the dropping pecans. Thank you for that wonderful detail--I would never have thought of it.

Btw, the last short story I wrote reminded some of the voice in the book "To Kill A Mockingbird". This current story was a direct attempt to channel her style.

Can I ask a loaded question? Would Southern baptists in the 60's ever homeschool their kids? And why? I don't know that evolution was even being breathed about back then, but there is a line in the story about homeschooling. It would help me to have a reason, other than illness, why a baptist might choose not to send his or her children to public school in the early 1960's, (1962 ish, pre segregation. Not sure I want to tackle that, although I could, and I am not trying to suggest for a moment that baptists were anti segregation. I really don't know enough about it to make assumptions like that. I was hoping that there were pockets of staunch baptists that might not want their kids going to school with non-baptists. A reach, I know.) But Peter, the boy who dies, is a baptist. The other character, Lucy, is not. Their relationship is void of religious overtones, except that Lucy names the turtle "Gabriel". Also, would a baptist wake be different than a non baptist one? (The coffin is open, if that matters).

Lastly, and this could be a can of worms, I do have the mom use "Bless her heart" is a decidely non warm thought. She dislikes her mil and yet still makes canned pie filling for her out of duty. She refers to her MIL as "to polite to ask for it, bless her heart, but it was definitely expected."
Does this ring true?

Thank you all. You are an invaluable resource.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2011 at 9:11AM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Don't you mean :pre integration, rather than segregation?

With those kinds of planting and harvesting dates, it looks like your story will need to take place in the southern-most part of Alabama, maybe near the coast. Any harvesting of anything in October might be from a late summer planting of several different veggies and greens.

I spent my early NYS years surrounded by fields of chicory, but didn't see the first blue flower when I lived in lower SC. I've seen it here in Northern Alabama, but wonder if it would be a 'crop' in the deepest south. I'll be interested in what the others say about that. I've always thought that it required some winter chill time, but I may be mistaken about that.

I can't think of any wild strawberry variety that would be fruiting in October. Did anyone plant strawberry SEEDS back then? She might have purchased young plants from the feed and seed store (hardware store).

It is my understanding that box turtles hatch in the late summer/early fall. Maybe there's a difference between species. Your story turtle might be the Gulf Coast Box turtle. They usually lay their eggs in the late spring/early summer.

It occurred to me that a local country extension office MIGHT be a great source. Once you select your county, you could entice someone to do a little check for you in the files for some old planting guides. Might even find an old Farmers' Almanac for your time frame, on line.

Mercy, there are about a zillion different Baptist sects in the south! And each with their own practices. You're going to have to really narrow that one down, Jo. I've been to rip-roaring Baptist services and very staid ones.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2011 at 12:39PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

Lastly, and this could be a can of worms, I do have the mom use "Bless her heart" is a decidely non warm thought. She dislikes her mil and yet still makes canned pie filling for her out of duty. She refers to her MIL as "to polite to ask for it, bless her heart, but it was definitely expected."
Does this ring true?

As someone who moved to AL from OH 4 yrs ago, I think it does sound realistic. It's not a phrase that I'd heard in person before moving here and seems to be used when people are gossiping and want you to know they aren't passing judgment, just sharing info. Or to indicate they still love or value someone in spite of a disagreement or circumstance. It's also used in complete sincerity, but usually directly to someone, "bless your heart."

Glad you liked the pecan detail. I'm only 18 miles from the FL border, so if you decide on a more northern location, the timing may be a little later for ripeness. The squirrels are already throwing pecans around, in regard to noise, but the ripe ones fall on their own about mid-Oct here.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2011 at 2:36PM
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Chicory is a perennial, so it probably wouldn't really be planted in a vegetable garden. Perhaps along the edges with some other perennial or hardy herbs. I am pretty sure it will grow in southern AL since it's used in cajun cuisine. It's never been broadly popular except for brief periods as a coffee substitute.

I think an important question here is how serious Mom is about feeding her family from the garden, and the other things you say suggest to me the answer would be "very serious." Someone growing food because they NEED to in southern Alabama might be buying seeds in winter, but I would expect them to be doing more than just a summer garden. In March she'd be planting her warm weather crops, but many cool weather crops would be long since in the garden and some being harvested, like turnips, radishes, beets, mustard, lettuce and peas. By October she'd be planting those again and still harvesting some lingering summer crops.

There are wild strawberries that are invasive non-native ("indian" strawberries, Duchesnea indica) which are tasteless with the yellow blooms. And then there there are the wild, native Virginia strawberries F. virginia which have white blooms and a tart taste. Both wild varieties grow in S. AL now, but I'm not sure when the asian version arrived. Neither would be blooming or fruiting in October but the plants would be green then. I mention this because you might want to be careful with the bloom color and stick with white instead of maybe referencing a plant that wasn't here yet. Unless someone knows the answer to that? Anyway, while looking for that answer I found this link with some old strawberry names:

Here is a link that might be useful: Heirloom Strawberries 1900-1965

    Bookmark   August 17, 2011 at 5:55PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Did anyone see that program on TV tonight about the South? Can't remember right now what channel it was on. SO interesting and fun. Oh...Robert says it was on the History Channel and called "You Don't Know Dixie".

Anyhow, the phrase "Bless his/her/your heart" came up. The person who talked about it said that it was just a polite (and we Southerners are always polite) way of saying "you're stupid", which is a little bit strong, but the emotion behind the phrase is about right, lol.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2011 at 10:16PM
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jcalhoun(8b Mobile County AL)

Alabama gardener's calender:

Being Baptist I can tell you they wouldn't have worried about sending their youngins to school with non-Baptists. It's not like we're a wierd Koreshian cult or something like that. The educators would have been friends and neighbors anyway.

Baptist funerals are the same as any other Christian funeral. We have preachers and/or pastors rather than elders, bishops, fathers, etc. We don't do anything strange but we do provide home cooked meals for the greaving family after the funeral.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2011 at 4:07AM
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There are books available about gardening month by month in Alabama and Mississippi, which is one I bought from Lowes. So that could be the source for many answers to such a request.

    Bookmark   August 27, 2011 at 5:29PM
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catbird(z7 AL)

I agree that your story will need to be in South Alabama, specifically South East Alabama since major medical centers would have been available in Birmingham and Mobile, and, I think, not as big in Montgomery. I grew up as a Southern Baptist. It was a pretty mainstream group and would not have been any more inclined to home school than anyone else. In fact, I don't remember hearing of anyone homeschooling till well after the 60's unless there was a serious medical condition that prevented school attendance. As for the strawberries, there are wild strawberries invading most gardens and yards in Alabama :-( but the berries are tiny, not at all showy, and not good to eat. People grow the edible ones from purchased or pass-a-long plants, not seed as far as I know. They spread freely, so offsets are easy to come by. Be sure to let us know when/where your story becomes available. Hope it goes well.

    Bookmark   August 28, 2011 at 1:47PM
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