End of Summer: Time to harvest the garden

In this photo, taken in August 1918, a lush garden identified as "House Garden-E. Michaelson" fills the yard. Photos of “company houses” were taken for insurance purposes and many of those houses were surrounded by gardens. Although the gardens are predominantly filled with vegetables, there are often flowers along the edges or within the vegetable patches. Many immigrants brought seeds from gardens in their home countries to plant here and those seeds were often flower seeds. You couldn’t eat the flowers, but maybe it eased their homesickness some if they could look out the window and see some little piece of a garden far away.

It’s late August.

That simple sentence might make a person think that it’s time to get busy buying school supplies, or get busy putting in as much lake time as possible or get busy harvesting.

Those who farm large acreages prepare for long days (and sometimes even nights) out in the fields in combines or on tractors pulling mowers. Those with smaller fields and gardens are preparing to dig, stoop over or pick.

The result of a season of good moisture and care of the land will result in a tasty harvest — if the critters haven’t gotten there first.

The Farmers’ Markets are displaying more and more of the bountiful produce from local acres. The canning supplies come out of storage. No matter the fruit or vegetable, the gifts of the land are sure to be savored. This has been true as long as people have understood how to plant, tend and harvest.

Here on the Iron Range, there is a long history of people growing fruits and vegetables. In my parents’ time, the entire yard was given over to the garden since there were so many children to feed and so little money with which to purchase food.

In Keewatin, my mother’s hometown, she would point out the lots where there are now houses that used to be the “school gardens,” where children learned to raise all sort of vegetables that they could take home or eat right at school. While I was growing up, I remember beautifully tended gardens in most people’s backyards.

The following comes from the book “Italian Voices: Making Minnesota Our Home” by Mary Ellen Mancina-Batinich published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press in 2007.

~ Mary Palcich Keyes

One day I asked my father, as he rested on his hoe, why he worked so hard gardening after putting in a 10-hour workday.

“Gardens are a poor man’s farm,” he replied, adding that homegrown produce added real wealth to an immigrant family’s larder. His answer hardly surprised me.

In the Old Country, part of what kept the contadini (peasant farmers) in a socially and economically inferior position was their lack of land; in the United States, the cost of food in remote locations threatened to create an inescapable cycle of economic dependence.

Gardens were therefore not a hobby, but a response to the economic realities of the United States, as well as a reaction against the socioeconomic rigidity of the Old Country …

Immigrants like Rocco Carozza in Kitzville and Eugene DeCenzo at Lake Vermilion laboriously tilled their gardens by hand each spring in the early 20th century, a practice they continued into their 90s, trying to use all of the very short growing season of northern Minnesota.

Families might depend for an entire year on whatever they could manage to grow between June and September. A window box might suffice if the family had no yard.

Otherwise, “Every piece of ground was used for gardens, because you can’t eat grass,” emphasized Dominic Crea of Kitzville.

Young children helped with all aspects of gardening. As a child, Mary Seppi’s garden-related chores on the family’s leased land in Buhl included cutting potatoes before planting, tending to the young plants and removing potato bugs …

The mining companies, which actively discouraged outside pursuits that might detract from workers’ loyalty or job performance, encouraged gardening, which seemed to promote stability and reliability.

As a 1914 pronouncement from the Oliver Iron Mining Company office proclaimed, “The man who has learned to take pride in his garden hurries home from his work, spending little time in loitering and none in the saloon. Therefore the garden tends to reduce alcoholism.”


Big crop of berries

When the Iron Range immigrants’ gardens didn’t produce as hoped, or when more variety was needed, people would head out to the lakes, fields and woods. What could be found by foraging included, for example, dandelions, mushrooms, rabbits, fish and berries of all sorts.

The following article appeared in the Hibbing Daily Tribune on Tuesday, July 20, 1909. A big crop of berries was obviously newsworthy.

~Mary Palcich Keyes

The berry season is now close at hand and many people anxiously await its coming. The strawberries are now ripe and there are many pickers afield.

The northern strawberry is small and tedious to pick but to overtop they are very much sweeter than the larger berries from the lower end of the state. The raspberry crop promises to be as large as any crop previous. The blueberries are commencing to ripen and will soon be ready to pick.

Late last fall there were considerable portions of the berry patches burned out but they have come up stronger than ever and promise good picking for everybody.

About the best picking to be had in a moderate distance from Hibbing are to be found in the old burnings around Wilpin. There are several lakes situated about that part of the country and to go berrying will be also a pleasure trip.

Last year berries of all descriptions could be found right around Hibbing, but the different things that have happened during the winter season have taken up the land formerly occupied by the berries and this year finds the fruit farther out of town.


Looking Back

The following items are taken from the Hibbing Daily Tribune or the Mesabi Ore, which are on microfilm at the Hibbing Public Library and/or Iron Range Resource Center at the Minnesota Discovery Center in Chisholm.


August 18, 1929

A 350-pound bear was killed in the Hotel Duluth’s lounge. The bear had followed truck driver Arvid Peterson and his shipment of fish into the city, and, attracted by the smell of food in the hotel’s coffee shop, broke through the window of the lounge. The hotel’s night watchman, Albert Nelson, and a local unnamed drunk confronted the bear, hitting it with a chair. Others called police, and Sgt. Eli LeBeau shot the bear after first trying to corner it to capture it and return it to the woods unharmed. The bear was the third one killed in Duluth this year.


May 17, 1955

Police Nip Junior Crime Wave as 2 Boys Apprehended: Police Monday nipped a junior crime wave with the apprehension of two 11-year old boys. According to police the youngsters let the air out of the tires of from 15 to 20 cars in the Cobb-Cook area during the past week. The boys also admitted setting fire in a truck cab of the Rolle Ready-Mix company and committing other acts of vandalism at the company’s plant. The boys are slated for further questioning today.


July 2, 1960

Northland Television Service advertises that they will come to your house “Day or Night for Quick Service.” Service calls are $2.50. Further, they advertise that they use RCA Receiving Tubes and Picture Tubes.


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