Near the community house at Frostpocket was a clearing that was used by loggers to store their equipment and the cut logs. In 1970 a few rotten logs lay in and around the clearing. The clearing had been used as a potato and hay field for many years and was free of stumps and rocks. In 1971 the new owners picked the clearing as the site for the community’s garden.
The following description of the community garden was a class assignment written by Colleen Mullins after she enrolled in Austin Community College in Austin, Texas. It refers to the community garden at Frostpocket. It is reprinted here with her permission.
“In a supermarket in deep-east Texas, I overheard two women shoppers talking. One asked the other how her garden was coming. The lady breathed a very audible sign and said she was glad to report that she had pulled up the last of her plants and was done with that job for the year. The first woman agreed with her, adding that it was so good to be finished with the canning and freezing and just wonderful to be able to look out of her kitchen window and see a nice, neat garden plot again.
I was surprised and yet relieved by this conversation. It explained to me why more and more of my vegetables were giving up the ghost and succumbing to the intense heat. It was mid-July and my first year gardening in the Deep South. In Ontario, where I’ve gardened for ten years, our produce would just be starting to come into the house. Peas, lettuce, spinach, summer turnips and Swiss chard would just be getting big enough to eat in the early weeks of July. Soon afterward we’d be eating tomatoes and sweet corn and summer squash and green beans.
In Texas we planted peas and potatoes in January, ate fresh lettuce and carrots all winter long and put corn in the freezer in May. The cucumber vines dried and turned brown in June. By mid-July the tomato plants looked totally dead after bearing abundantly for two months. It is too hot and dry in July to think about putting any seeds in the ground but my neighbors assure me that in another month or so we’ll get enough rain to plant a second garden.
I’m continually amazed at the differences between my two gardening experiences: one in Texas’ Big Thicket, characterized by long, hot and humid summers, and the other a few miles from North Bay, Ontario, on 100-acres of land we always jokingly referred to as Frostpocket. North Bay is considered to be in southern Ontario and has weather similar to northern Wisconsin and parts of New England. It is 1,500 miles straight north of Texas and the climates are as different as day and night.
In Ontario we have barely three months of frost-free nights. Very long days gave us plenty of time to grow food most years though we do remember some wet, cool Augusts when nothing would mature. Once we got only a six-quart basket of tomatoes from a 50-foot row of plants. We followed our neighbors’ advice and planted the tender seeds and set out bedding plants after the full moon in June because often the last hard frost of the winter came on the night of the full moon in June. The first frost of the fall usually came near the beginning of September and it, too, was likely to coincide with a full moon.
In both east Texas and Ontario we gardened in acid sandy soil. In Ontario, we never lacked compost materials: manure, old hay, leaves, weeds and sawdust. Because of the cold, our compost took much longer than we expected to become black and fertile. Our neighbors laughed at our first garden in Frostpocket. We made beautiful wooden signs telling which row were cabbages and which was planted in beans. The signs were almost the only way anyone could tell what we had planted. We had tiny little sickly-yellow plants and marble-sized beets that first year. The soil texture improved considerable after we spread crushed limestone and compost in the garden area. The second year we had a good harvest and the third year we were overrun by produce.
Our Texas neighbors have never heard of compost. The gardeners burn their leaves while complaining that the soil is “plumb wore out”. My 70-year old widowed neighbor observed us raking leaves and asked why we didn’t burn them. We told her we were digging them into the garden and she approved, saying that leaves were good fertilizer. Even though she had heard of the idea, she doesn’t do it. It is too messy, she says. Most of the people use 10-10-10 fertilizer and water everyday. They even burn weeds rather than allowing them to dry and then digging them into the garden soil.
Despite our efforts we were never able to grow, in our Ontario garden, certain vegetables that we liked, probably due to the cold nights. We love peppers of all kinds but were reduced to buying them when our plants would not set fruit. Okra made beautiful flowers but no pods. Tomatoes were almost not worth the trouble of protecting them from the cold nights all summer. We grew a few tomatoes for salads but I ended up buying them in bushel baskets from growers further south. We were, however, able to enjoy snap peas, lettuce, greens, cabbage, carrots, radishes, turnips and zucchini all summer long and the surrounding country-side was dotted with apples tress that had been planted by settlers of previous generations.”