Margaret MacDonald jokes that she was born in the garden. The historian for the Yorkton Horticultural Society, MacDonald has been working in the garden all of her life, whether on the farm or in town. She’s planting today, and encourages everyone to get in the garden and growing.
“When we were kids, those were our chores, to weed the garden, harvest potatoes, pick carrots and all of that sort of stuff… It stayed with you.”
Not everyone has had over 60 years of gardening experience, some people are getting their first chance to try gardening on their own, whether it’s because they have more time, or because they’re moving into their own house for the first time. Does MacDonald have any advice for them? She said that the best way to do it is to start slowly, working the soil for a year “to do it’s own thing.” Then, start with a crop of potatoes.
“They always say if you have fresh soil, work it really good for one year, and then you grow your potatoes, because potatoes are easier to keep the weeds down.”
Once you can grow them, start to venture out and experiment, and grow what you enjoy, whether that’s food or flowers. She encourages people to look for what they want to grow, what they enjoy eating, and make the garden their own.
“Everything is easy to grow if you take the time and look after it.”
She said that she was told she would never be able to grow corn in town, for example, and she’s been growing it every year since moving into Yorkton in 2003.
And it’s worth it, MacDonald said, because you can go outside and grab the best tasting produce you’ll ever eat.
“A person who has never grown a garden will not know how delicious they really are!”
She has had a garden every year, and she said she looks forward to getting the garden ready every year, organizing the soil and the plants, getting new seeds or using ones from the year before, getting the soil worked and starting to plant.
“Then all year long, you’re eating fresh vegetables.”
This year is bringing its own challenges for the avid gardener, as every year does. MacDonald said that the challenge right now is just how dry it is, as well as the cold weather lasting well into May giving her a late start. But the main issue right now is just how dry the topsoil is, and MacDonald said that she’s going to have to water in order to make sure her plants get a good start.
“They need that moisture from the top to get going.”
That said, there’s always an element of luck when it comes to gardening, something familiar to anyone in the food business, MacDonald said.
“Get them in the garden and hope for the best, that’s all you can do. It’s just like farming.”
Once the vegetables are out of the garden, things have changed since she started, MacDonald said.
“When I started, you had to can everything, because there weren’t freezers around at that time. It’s so much handier to freeze your vegetables, and you have good vegetables all winter long.”
The result is that MacDonald never has to buy a vegetable at a grocery store, and she said that the only thing she can’t grow for the past twenty years has been turnips. The problem there, she said, is that the rise of canola in local agriculture has meant the rise of pests like the canola beetle, and they happen to find turnip plants to be another favorite food.
She’s been collecting the history of the Yorkton Horticultural Society, and said that the local society has been doing very well. While they haven’t been able to meet this year because of COVID-19, she said that it’s a great group because they share their expertise and their plants.
“It’s an awesome learning curve for anyone who wants to learn how to garden.”
She said that the expertise of the group can help all gardeners, whether they’ve been at it for decades or are just starting out.
But, to her, the most important part of gardening is that you can’t limit yourself.
“Don’t be afraid to try, try anything.”