Saturday, February 16, 2013

Flower Pits and Their Uses

  In the South sixty years and more ago when home heating was done with a fireplace, elaborate preparations had to be made for winter for the plants. It was typically not possible to grow anything from year to hear that could not take at least a little cold. The kitchen/sitting room was heated , but warmth in the bedrooms was supplied by quilts, often to the point where turning over in bed was a problem. Since heated space was at a premium, most plants were not overwintered in the house.Very few houseplants as such graced the window sills. There were exceptions, like the Aspidistra (cast iron plant) which could even survive, if a little tattered, winter outdoors. Sometimes a pot of Aspidistra would grace an unheated room. Cuttings could also be taken and spend the winter in a jar of water near both a window and the stove, if possible. Impatience and wandering jew were good candidates for this.
  The usual solution was to have a" flower pit"about four or five feet deep dug. The bottom of the pit was sloped so that water ran off and collected in one end, and plants were often staged on buckets, blocks, and boards to keep them from sitting in water over the cold wet days. Boards were laid across the pit, and the whole thing was wished well and closed. If there were a few bright warm days the boards would be removed so that the plants could get sun and be watered if necessary.
 The combination of damp cold and lack of light meant that most of the plants looked pretty sorry in late February or early March when the boards over the pit began to be lifted in stages to let light in. The dead, dying, and fungal infected spots on the plants were pruned away, and they were repotted as needed or top dresses with fresh soil if the pots were large.
  In the warmer months, the flower pits served  as wonderful play places for children. Footholds were dug in the side of the pit for easier access than just jumping in. Jumping in did work though when the Indians were after you. I made playhouses in the flower pit and my brother made it into a box turtle cage.
   My brother's squirrel and bird hunting carried him over field and stream, far and wide, and he collected every box turtle he came upon. Sometimes he had upwards to 25 in the flower pit. Once he had so many that they climbed onto each other's backs and the last several were able to escape over the top. After that it was my job to check on the turtles several times a day and unstack any that seemed to have escape in mind. He feed them all kinds of vegetation, both wild and garden variety plus bugs, worms, and grubs. It seemed that tomatoes were a favorite, but they may have just enjoyed walking through the tomatoes and smashing them.
   In the fall, before the potted plants were put back in the pit, my brother scrounged up any paint he could and painted their backs or wrote his name in paint on the top of the shell. he released them in places where he thought they could find good winter hiding places. Now we are told that box turtles memorize their home territories, so release in unknown places was probably a problem for the turtles. There was always joy and celebration when one of the painted turtles was found and (unluckily for it) got to spend another summer in the pit. The whole enterprise came to an end when one of the turtles laid an egg. Daddy made us release the turtles right then. By the next year, my brother had moved on to other pursuits.

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