Pioneer Garden

We may have a few snow storms left, but winter is on its way out and that means many people's thoughts turn to the garden. This week we look back at pioneer gardening.


Pioneer gardens were different in many ways from the home garden today. Now if the squash bugs kill the Hubbard or a late frost nips the beans there is always a store where produce is available. For pioneers if the garden failed gardeners had to hope one of the neighbors did better and was willing to share. We also have more ways of preserving the food we grow. Canning did not become common until the World Wars and the only freezer was a snow drift. If the food was not used fresh much of it had to be pickled, salted or dried. A few things such as winter squash and carrots could be kept in a root cellar with no further processing. 

It is difficult to know exactly what was planted in pioneer times. Most people simply recorded that they had planted a garden, not what was planted. Seed advertisements, letters and journals can give a glimpse into the pioneer garden. 

One of the first things planted when pioneers got to Utah was potatoes. It was mid-July and the potatoes that had been brought would not last until spring, so into the ground they went. Potatoes were an important crop. They are productive, a good source of calories, and will store through the winter.


In "Plain but Wholesome" Brock Cheny gives an example of what the garden may have produced through the season. First were peas and radishes, then lettuce. Beans and corn came next, followed by tomatoes, cabbages, potatoes, and carrots. Also mentioned in histories are beets, cucumbers, melons,cauliflower. parsnips, onions and green corn. This last item, green corn, was not green colored but rather corn picked before it was ripe and hard. Today we would call it sweet corn. Some of today's common vegetables would have been absent in the garden. Zucchini was not introduced to America until the 1920s. Garlic was not used by the Northern Europeans or New Engenders who made up most of the settlers. 

The "Deseret News" advertisements have some more terms we are unfamiliar with today. June peas are also known as English or green peas. These are what is found in bags in the frozen food section of the supermarket. Marrowfat peas are what are made into split peas. The top onions refer to Egyptian Walking Onions which have small bulbs on the top of the plant.

While the purpose of gardening and the varieties of plants in them has changed over time, people today still wait for spring with seeds and hope.