Wednesday, May 27, 2015

An Historic Garden


As another Lame Cherry exclusive in matter anti matter.

I enjoy the study of human action and reason. I enjoy my prejudice in concluding that James Underwood Crockett was a fine gardener with very sound advice. In that, I am fascinated when I come across an Aboriginal in America and how they gardened.
The following is a historical account of the Hidatsa gardening method in sprouting seeds. There was not any plastic pots, heating pads or sprayers. There was a primitive life and just animal skins and grass. This is the method used on the late spring Great Plains of America, where frosts killed crops in June.


"Squash seed was planted early in June; or the latter part of May and the first of June. In preparation for planting, we first sprouted the seed. I cut out a piece of tanned buffalo robe about two and a half feet long and eighteen inches wide, and spread it on the floor of the lodge, fur side up.

I took red-grass leaves, wetted them, and spread them out flat, matted together in a thin layer on the fur. Then I opened my bag of squash seeds, and having set a bowl of water beside me, I wet the seeds in the water— not soaking them, just wetting—and put them on the matted grass leaves until I had a little pile heaped up, in quantity about two double-handfuls.

I next took broad leaved sage, the kind we use in a sweat lodge, and buck brush leaves, and mixed them together. At squash planting time, the sage is about four inches high Into the mass of mixed sage-and-buck-brush leaves, I worked the wetted squash seeds, until they were distributed well through it. The mass I then laid on the grass matting, which I folded over and around it. Finally I folded the buffalo skin over that, making a package about fifteen by eighteen inches.

This squash bundle I hung on the drying pole near one of the posts. The bundle did not hang directly over the fire, but a little to one side. She should tell it so that the package of seeds could be removed to the next lodge, or they would spoil.

After two days I took the bundle down and opened it. From a horn spoon I sipped a little tepid water into my mouth and blew it over the seeds. I took care that the water was neither too hot nor too cold, lest it kill the seeds. I rebound the bundle and hung it up again on the drying pole. At the end of another day the seeds were sprouted nearly an inch and were ready to plant. I took a handful of the grass-and-leaves, and from them separated the sprouted squash seeds. A wooden bowl had been placed beside me with a little moist earth in it. Into this bowl I put the seeds, sprinkling a little earth over them to keep them moist. I was now ready to begin planting.


 Usually two or three women did the family planting, working together. One woman went ahead and with her hoe loosened up the ground for a space of about fifteen inches in diameter, for the hill. Care was taken that each hill was made in the place where there had been a hill the year before. I am sure that in olden times we raised much better crops, because we were careful to do so; using the same hill thus, each year, made the soil here soft and loose, so that the plants thrived.

One woman, then, as I have said, with her hoe, loosened up the soil where an old hill had stood, and made a new hill, about fifteen inches in diameter at the base. Following her came another woman who planted the sprouted seeds. Pour seeds were planted in each hill, in two pairs. The pairs should be about twelve inches apart, and the two seeds in each pair, a half inch apart. The seeds were planted rather under, or on one side of the hill, and about two inches deep in the soil. A careful woman planted the seeds with the sprouts upright; but even if she did not do this, the sprouts grew quickly and soon appeared through the soil.
We had a reason for planting the squash seeds in the side of the hill. The squash sprouts were soft, tender. If we planted them in level ground the rains would beat down the soil, and it would pack hard and get somewhat crusted, so that the sprouts could not break through; but if we planted the sprouts on the side of the hill, the water from the rains would flow over them and keep the soil soft. Likewise, we did not plant the sprouted seeds on the top of the hill because here too the rain was apt to beat the soil down hard."

Some explanation needs to be addressed here or else the methods will be lost as to why the Indians were doing what they were doing.

The soil in this region is termed "gumbo". Gumbo for those who have no experience with it is a product of clay, which blows like dust when dry and turns into a clay stickier than glue. It literally will lump onto feet and it dries like baked clay. This is what is taking place in the hills, which focus on the softness of the soil worked previously, and that is for root growth, and not for warmth as the seeds were planted not at the top of the hill.

The Indian picked up the hill sprouting method in being taught it. The Hidatsa arrived from Devil's Lake in North Dakota, so this method of growing crops in these farming groups was either from Viking immigrants or further east in America, which had influence again from European contact before the Vikings in the Phoenicians.
What was important was breaking the soil, and not warming the seed roots in hastening growth, which is interesting.

These squash were white according to the Hidatsa. They grew very fast and were eaten as summer squash or dried for winter squash.

"There was a good deal of variety in our squashes. Some were round, some rather elongated, some had a flattened end; some were dark, some nearly white, some spotted; some had a purple, or yellow top."

I am fascinated in these methods as the sprouted seeds are the same methods I resort to in gaining a few weeks, instead of lingering the seeds in cold soil. That is what the Hidatsa were shown and mimicked.

This is for a comparison and your learning. The day may arrive when you will not have your greenhouses, potting sheds and your well tilled garden soils. You are going to need to know now to make things sprout and things to grow when no one else does. The reality is the old Hidatsa are dead as their methods. This though is the world which you must live.

I grew an Arikiara squash, and it was a two type squash, which when I was having intestinal problems, found this squash in one serving making me very ill. You have to find a squash which grows for you and you prefer which will grow in primitive conditions.
Squash are not all equal. The Hubbard will keep most of the winter, as will the Butternut and Buttercup. I dislike the flavor of the Hubbard and Buttercup. Acorns are good keepers, and bland enough.
What I am studying now is the Red Kuri, which I like the flavor of. This is of the Poutimarron type or Boston Marrow. Kuri does not keep the best, but that would bring the drying process which the Hidatsa undertook.

"Sometimes we boiled ripe squashes whole, seeds and all; and we then ate the seeds. They tasted something like peanuts. These seeds of boiled squashes were eaten just as they came from the squash. I would take up two or three seeds in my mouth, crushing them with my teeth; and with my tongue I would separate the kernels from the shells which I spat out. I was rather fond of squash seeds. I have also heard of families who prepared squash seeds by parching or roasting; but I never did this myself."

It is though an intriguing history, a study of soils and a study of methods, as pertinent in sandy Georgia or arid Arizona. The methods matter. The history matters.