In Touch with Prairie Living
By Michael M. Miller
The Germans from Russia Heritage Collection at the NDSU Libraries
in Fargo reaches out to prairie families and former Dakotans. In
various ways, it affirms the heritage of the Germans from Russia
is an important part of the northern plains culture. This month
Cora Wolff Tschaekofske, Dickinson, N.Dak., shares her memories
of gardening by her parents and grandparents. Cora returns again
in May to the Ukraine to visit her ancestral German villages of
Glückstal, South Russia (today in Moldova of the former Soviet Union).
The Germans from Russia who immigrated to America proved to be
good gardeners. Their gardens were, above all, an exercise in faith,
that same faith which had kept their families fed in the land from
which they came. This faith had given them the foresight to bring
garden seeds with them when they immigrated. Later they planted
these seeds: nourished and tended their gardens with a knowledge
and expertise acquired only through a love for their labor to the
soil, and for their families who would be fed with their accomplishments.
Gardening by these immigrant families was usually a joint effort
of husbands and wives, with the husbands doing the tilling and the
wives placing the seeds into the tilled soil in neat, well spaced
rows. The task of hoeing was often done by husbands who would rise
early morning to hoe before breakfast. Plants for the garden were
often started in small containers inside the house, to grow near
large windows until planted outside in the garden after danger of
frost had passed.
Some early immigrants continued their tradition of planting a
"Bastaan." This garden, planted into freshly broken sod, produced
watermelons, muskmelons, pumpkins, squash, citrons and cucumbers.
These seemed to thrive in the newly broken soil when moisture was
sufficient. During a long, dry spell, farmers would haul water in
barrels on stone boats, carefully watering these plants so they
could grow and produce. Planting of seeds was scheduled with phases
of the moon.
Immigrant families always enjoyed eating cucumbers, watermelons
and pumpkins. They were careful to save seeds from their best fruits.
These seeds were washed, dried and then stored for next year's planting.
Seeds for root crops such as carrots, beets, turnips, and rutabaga.
were gathered. Leftover vegetables that had been stored for winter
use were planted directly into the soil to grow and produce seeds
that were carefully gathered at maturity and, too, stored for seed
for next year's garden.
The immigrants' gardens were usually very large. Besides vegetables
most gardens had several Gooseberry and Red Currant bushes which
provided fruit for desserts and jellies. Large patches of Rhubarb
were grown and harvested for pies, kuchens and sauces. Along garden
edges, the women planted Chamomile, a small plant which produces
a small daisy-like flower. The flowers were picked, dried and then
used to make tea. This tea had medicinal qualities which soothed
tummy aches in children or was brewed into a "sleepy time" tea for
adults. Chamomile seeds scattered vigorously. Wherever the seeds
fell, there are still Chamomile plants growing that originated from
these immigrant gardeners. These gardens grew several kinds of mint.
There was a broad leafed light green mint and a small, dark green,
jagged leafed mint. The leaves of mint plants were dried and used
to make pungent tea which also had medicinal qualities. Grandmothers
would fold a mint leaf into their handkerchief when they went to
church on Sunday for the fragrant and scintillating aroma. Many
varieties and colors of flowers could be found in all gardens.
A plaque available in some gardening catalogs states, "You are
closer to God in a garden than anywhere else on earth." The immigrant
families most certainly felt that closeness because they planted
their gardens in faith that God would provide.
Information about the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection
For further information about the collection, the future Germans
from Russia television documentary, the Journey to the Homeland
Tour to Odessa, Ukraine in May, 1999 and German-Russian heritage,
contact Michael M. Miller, NDSU Libraries, PO Box 5599, Fargo, ND
58105-5599 (Tel: 701-231-8416; E-mail: Michael.Miller@ndsu.edu;
GRHC website: http://library.ndsu.edu/grhc).