Growing Your Own Food, Russian Style

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Russian dacha garden

I am more of a stay-at-home person than a world traveller, yet I am fascinated by the different ways people garden around the world. Lately I've been studying Russia, where growing wholesome food is a summer priority for over half of the population. Food gardening is generously laced into the fabric of Russian society. Millions of Russians commute to rural dacha gardens from May to September. While some Russians do have a garden by their primary home (ogoro), many more commute an hour or more to reach the family's dacha garden.

Working with an average space of 6 sotkas (600 square metres, or about 6458 square feet) and a growing seasons of less than 120 days north of Moscow, Russian dacha gardeners (dachniks) provide half of Russia's food supply by working hard, making the most of what they have, and generously sharing the bounty with one another. According to Leonid Sharashkin, the leading published authority on the Russian food gardening, "self-provisioning culture permeates all aspects of contemporary Russian life."

Potatoes and dill

What Russian Gardeners Grow

The minds of English-speaking gardeners tend to separate the vegetable plot from the fruit orchard, but Russian gardeners fuse them together, permaculture-style. Russian dacha gardens typically include an abundance of perennial crops, especially berries and other small fruits. It is not unusual for Russian gardens to include six or more fruits, including currants, apples, raspberries, gooseberries, plums, strawberries and pears. Those of us who are adding fruits to our gardens are adopting a Russian style of gardening without knowing it. This is especially true if the boundaries of your garden have been transformed into edible fences with fruit-bearing bushes and trees.

Potatoes are so important in Russia that they are often regarded as a special staple crop, distinct from other vegetables. Businesses frequently offer unused space to employees for growing potatoes, and people who can't grow potatoes themselves may receive good supplies from relatives or friends, or even as part of their retirement pension. But rather than grow potatoes on big farms, it has been estimated that 90 percent of Russia's potatoes are grown in dacha gardens or on small farms. In a Russian gardener's mind, potatoes are simply too important and precious to be entrusted to someone else.

Dill

Beyond potatoes, Russian gardeners take pride in their carrots, onions, cucumbers, garlic, beetroots, tomatoes, squash and radishes. In the herb department, no garden is complete without dill, and most gardens include a clump of horseradish, too.

Russians also grow their children in dacha communities, where open spaces and long-term relationships among dacha neighbours create a safe environment where kids can roam and play as country kids do, while the adults work in the garden. Spending time in harmony with nature has long been a priority in Russia, and its importance to one's physical, mental and spiritual health has been brought into new focus by the visionary "Ringing Cedars of Russia" books by Vladimir Megre. Now more than ever, Russian parents use their gardens to teach children earth stewardship, Russian style.

Gardening By Hand

The majority of Russian gardeners use only hand tools, and though the only word I can understand is "compost," I enjoyed this video of a Russian gardener explaining the use of his various hoes to control weeds, several of which look very similar to the hoes in my tool shed. According to extensive surveys done by Sharashkin in the Vladimir region, 190 km (118 miles) east of Moscow, most dacha gardeners save at least some of their seeds, and more and more Russian gardeners are using plastic tunnels to bring on spring a few weeks earlier. Small walk-in greenhouses are often used to grow warm-natured tomatoes.

Heritage raspberry

The similarities go on, but a striking difference emerges as each crop is ready to harvest. Yes, Russian gardeners pickle, can, dry and otherwise store their harvest, but they also share what they grow with friends and relatives. As the owner of a three mature apple trees, I envy the Russian gardener in my shoes, who would easily place their excess apples through a network of sharing relationships.

And then there is dill, which I sow at least twice each season so I will have a steady supply of leaves and flowers for pickling all summer long. After hours of studying books, photos and videos of Russian gardens, it is clear that every gardener grows dill, and plenty of it. Cucumbers are huge in Russia, too, and cabbage is an essential crop. Oh, dear, I'm back to listing similarities again, which is one way of saying that we are all gardening like Russians, albeit with a little less heart.

By Barbara Pleasant

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Comments

 
"Wow what an artical I work with a Junior GS troop and we will be doing some gardening this spring and summer we might take that path. It's the GS way isn't it. Thank you for the ideas. "
Vicky Mareler on Friday 24 February 2012
"I lived in Moscow for a year and had the pleasure of visiting a friend's mum's dacha which had been theirs since early Soviet times. As you mentioned, berries were the order of the day and one day, suffering a huge cold, I was ordered into the garden to eat as many blackcurrants as I could manage to stave off the cold. "
andrea osbourne on Friday 24 February 2012
"... and the Sunday evening trains back to Moscow were always full of people struggling under the weight of cloth-covered buckets of produce for the week ahead. And for those who had to produce, there was lots of buying and bargaining taking place. Lovely times"
andrea osbourne on Friday 24 February 2012
"I feel more and more I am gardening to provide good food. I have chickens running under my 5 appl trees and my allotment will house my bees. In the worlds financial predicament my gardening gives me food and sanity! Thanks for the research. "
Susan Osborne on Friday 2 March 2012
"What a briliant and inspirational article, would love to see more of this!"
Corri on Friday 2 March 2012
"As the grand daughter of Russian immigrants, I am grateful to have inherited the gene for food growing. Helping others to create gardens on shared land is how I've been able to not only grow food, but also build resilient communities. Speciba!"
Susan L. Miller on Friday 2 March 2012
"This is how I was raised; my parents are Ukrainian. We grew almost all of our own food and spent many, many days/weeks gardening. Dill is copious and used not only for pickling but also for seasoning in many traditional cooked dishes. Reading about how others garden (raised beds) is very foreign to me but interesting. Thank you for this article. It reminds me of my baba and mother. :)"
Carolyn on Wednesday 1 June 2016
"Very nice article. There's something about working with nature, growing food, being outdoors that makes a person feel whole. "
Gipsie on Thursday 29 September 2016
"Suggestions for gardening tool gifts for an approaching trip to Yekaterinburg in August 2018, that can be taken on a plane. My cousin is in her mid 70s with a small plot outside the city. Mentally strong, but not so physically! Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated"
Olga Roth on Thursday 1 February 2018
"Good article! My father is a Russian immigrant (U.S.S.R. at the time) and he would always plant veggies and fruits every space he could even here in the U.S. Nice to read something different and interesting instead of the usual gardening articles."
Amy on Wednesday 27 June 2018

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