The Colonial Kitchen Garden at the 1750 Ogden House
The colonial family’s survival during the winter depended a great deal on the culinary, household and medicinal produce of the summer kitchen garden. This serious work was managed by the housewife and helped by children and servants, if she had them. For more than six months of the year the garden took priority over other domestic chores and required a good deal of time to support the average family. Raised rectangular beds made the most of the space and allowed the soil to dry out quickly in early spring, providing a longer growing season. The bed pattern of a rural kitchen garden was not necessarily symmetrical or regularly patterned. There was no particular order, tall plants might obscure short plants, and flowers were mixed with vegetables and among them, herbs. The path between the raised beds would be made of straw, stones, or oyster shells.
In Connecticut the garden year began in early April. As the ground began to thaw the barnyard dung was worked in where it had been laid the previous fall. Seeds of cool weather crops such as lettuce, spinach, radishes, parsnips and turnips were sown. As the days grew warmer weeding became a daily chore. At the end of May, melon, squash, and cucumbers were planted in well-manured hills. Jane and her daughters began to preserve food for the winter at the end of June; this went on through the fall. The children were responsible for removing the weeds. They fended off the barnyard animals, rabbits, birds, and woodchucks and picked insects, snails and slugs off the plants. After the last harvest in the fall, the soil was turned, ashes from the hearth were spread on the top, and barnyard manure was spread thickly over the vegetable beds. After these chores were completed, Jane Ogden closed the garden gate for the winter and turned her attention to her other work.
Beekeeping in the Colonies
New in 2013, the straw bee skeps in the Ogden kitchen garden represent the importance of beekeeping in the colonies. (There are no bees in residence). Apple trees and honeybees (Apis mellifera), used to pollinate the trees, were brought across the Atlantic in the early 1600s so the settlers could make cider. Cider and rum from the West Indies were the two sources of drink as water was considered not potable. The honey was used for medicinal, culinary and household purposes. Medicinally it was used in combination with many herbs and was solely applied to open wounds to prevent infection. An important sweetener, it was also an instant energy source. It was used as a preservative for ham and fruits. Beeswax was used for waterproofing leather, binding wounds and making candles. Honey and beeswax were so valuable it was often used in place of hard-to-find currency in very rural towns.
Find out more about the Fairfield Museum’s Honey Bee Project
Restoration and maintenance of the Ogden House Garden is generously provided by the Fairfield Garden Club.
Colonial Gardens, Rudy Favretti, Arnoldia, Vol 31, Number 4, July 1971 Arnold Arboretum Harvard University Gardening With New England Colonial Plants Their History, Uses & Culture, Katharine C. Weeks, 1993 Bees in America, How the Honey Bee Shaped a Nation, Tammy Horn, The University Press of Kentucky, 2005