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Gardening in a Dust Bowl title image

corn plant during drought
Corn plant during drought SHSND# 0075-058
By all accounts, gardening during the extended drought of the 1930s was discouraging. The wilting garden plants offered a daily, visual measure of the desperate days of heat and dust. North Dakota’s history is fortunate to have two excellent memoirs of those times: Ann Marie Low’s Dust Bowl Diary and Lillian Agnew Foell’s diary (written as a daughter’s memoir), Lil’s Courage. In addition, Nancy Hendrickson’s diary of that time is helpful as are the abbreviated memories of farm women who participated in Homemakers Clubs.

Ann Marie Low (nee Riebe) was a teenager in the 1930s trying to get an education, help her parents at home, and wishing to remain forever on their farm near Kensal northeast of Jamestown as owner/operator. Everyday labor on the farm usually fell to Ann and her younger brother Bud. Lowe’s memoir is interesting in that she reveals how the hardships that gripped the nation in the 1930s had already taken a toll on North Dakotans by the late 1920s. As the bank closed in November 1928, the Riebes stored the produce of their garden in the cellar. The garden was located near the house on good soil with good sub-soil moisture. There the Riebes cultivated currants, rhubarb, horseradish, lettuce, radishes, tomatoes, cucumbers, dill, beans, peas, Swiss chard, beets, corn, cabbage, carrots, pumpkins, squash, parsnips, peppers, strawberries, spring and winter onions. The potato patch was a separate one acre garden. They harvested apples and crabapples at Ann’s grandmother’s place. Except for hail, 1928 was a good garden year, but the hail didn’t come until they had already canned the vegetables and stored carrots, turnips, and rutabagas in the cellar. It was the last good year they would have for a while. (Low, pp. 16, 20, 24)

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