This past weekend, my friend Anya invited me to her parent's dacha in Myrivka, a village about an hour's drive southeast of Kyiv. Her mother Luda was gracious enough to take me to meet a couple villagers, so I could see a bit more of village life. Above is Babushka Natasha--she's 85 and lives with her husband, a veteran of the Great Patriotic War, who's 89. She gave me a tour of her garden, which is a great look into how one small woman feeds her family--and finds beauty--here in a village.
But first, her yard. Village houses here all have fences and gates shutting them off from the street--but inside the small yard is where flower gardens most often are. There were lilac bushes, many different kinds of tulips, iris just starting to come up and more. All kinds of flowers! I loved that her green thumb and love for flowers extended inside, to this beautiful geranium, and to beautiful rushnyky embroidered and cross-stitched by her which she carefully brought out to show us.
But now to the business end of the garden--the kitchen garden. When I think of a kitchen garden, I imagine a small plot, planted with herbs, etc (possibly too much time spent in and around US historic houses). But here, kitchen gardens are serious things. Here's an overall view:
Yes, that entire plot, including the wheat on the left, is her garden. What's she growing? Here's a partial list as I remember:
- lots of potatoes
- turnips or rutabagas
Ukrainians love fruit and fruit trees so Babushka Natasha also had a grape arbor and numerous fruit trees: apple, apricot, cherry and pear. Also raspberry bushes and the fruit that symbolizes Ukraine to many: the kalyna. Kalyna is a red berry, actually a kind of cranberry, much written about in poetry and song. All these things--from the fruit trees and garden, are things that can be canned or put down in the root cellar for the winter to sustain Natasha and her husband until spring.
I'm a quite a bit of a lazy, very sporadic gardener myself and part of what was so impressive here (aside from the incredible black earth) was how perfect every single row in this garden was--not a weed to be found. Natasha awakens every morning before sunrise this time of year and works all day long in the garden and around the house. She was living proof of the time and effort it takes to really be sustainable in terms of food production. And she's not the only one. I looked across the fields and saw many women out at work, as the light began to fade into evening.
As we said our goodbyes, Natasha thanked me for coming, and asked us to wait a moment--she then returned with a present for me--a plastic bag with a dozen or so fresh eggs gently nestled inside. I rode with them on my lap back to Kyiv, and the next morning, my poached eggs served as a reminder of Babushka Natasha, her generous, hard-working spirit, and her wonderful garden.