What makes your garden grow: Gardening in the DNE (Part 1)

The first step. Photo courtesy of Laura Nelson-Hamilton.

Well, we made it through May two-four and there was no snow. To some, this is an indication that summer is here, regardless of what the calendar says. To others, it’s a signal that planting time is almost here, with chives, spinach, kale and other cooler weather crops already thriving. Gardening is becoming more popular and more accessible; urban gardeners are coming up with great ideas like square-foot and vertical gardening for those with limited space. Gardening is also Twig’s focus this month; more specifically, the theme is fertilizing. As you might imagine, there are lots of gardening terms in the DNE so keep an eye out for Part 2 over the coming months. A quick search for the word garden in the DNE brings up 80 results so there’s lots of ground to cover.

As a good gardener knows, in order for crops to grow well in Newfoundland and Labrador in amongst the rocks (and sometimes lead), the soil needs to be amended. Some people might use something from a store but there are several free natural fertilizers at your nearest saltwater shore. Offal, or parts of fish used as manure in its first sense, has been around for quite some time; the oldest citation in the DNE materials is from 1583.

Word-file for ‘offal’. Note the spelling. Reproduced by permission of the English Language Research Centre, Memorial University, St. John’s, NL.

It’s almost time for the caplin run and caplin is, of course, not just for eating. It can be worked into your compost or, alternatively, laid right out in the garden. The same goes for nutrient-rich kelp, or oreweed, which can also be used as an additive to animal feed. If you’re out collecting kelp for fertilizer, you are carbucklin’.

Word-file for ‘carbuckle’. There is only one citation of this term in the DNE research collection. Reproduced by permission of the English Language Research Centre, Memorial University, St. John’s, NL.

Caplin isn’t the only fish used in the Province’s gardens. Back in the days when cod wasn’t so scarce, the cod’s stomach could be used as fertilizer. This is known as gulvin. According to the DNE citations, this type of fertilizer was particularly common in the pre-Confederation era.

‘Gulvin’ word file. Reproduced by permission of the English Language Research Centre, Memorial University, St. John’s, NL.

Another fish that could be used in the fertilizer mix is the conner. This fish is also known as Blue Perch and is said to be a flat and sly fish that wasn’t really fit to eat.

Word-file for ‘conner’. Reproduced by permission of the English Language Research Centre, Memorial University, St. John’s, NL.

In the Irish history of Newfoundland, some of those who came here for the migratory seasonal fishery, and ultimately stayed, were involved in agricultural pursuits. It should not be surprising, then, that Newfoundland English retains some Irish farming terms. One example is moryeen, a mixture of fish offal and peat that can be used as fertilizer.

Word-file for ‘moryeen’. There is only one citation for this word in the DNE. Reproduced by permission of the English Language Research Centre, Memorial University, St. John’s, NL.

From Irish, Newfoundland English also hangs on to sulick. This was a liquid or gravy made from kitchen waste. It could include fish, meat, vegetables, or any organic material. You could add water to this mix and use it to water your garden.

‘Sulick’ word-file. The Irish pronunciation of ‘súghlach’, meaning ‘juic or gravy’, is very similar. Reproduced by permission of the English Language Research Centre, Memorial University, St. John’s, NL.

Do you know any other Newfoundland or Labrador words for fertilizer? What about other gardening terms? As always, we’d love to hear from you. The last frost date is almost upon us and many fields and yards are ready for planting. So get out your skullies and half-gallons and stop firkin around because it’s time to grow!

Word-file for ‘firk’. Reproduced by permission of the English Language Research Centre, Memorial University, St. John’s, NL.

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2 Responses to What makes your garden grow: Gardening in the DNE (Part 1)

  1. Edmund says:

    Another interesting Twig article. I can’t add anything about the old ways of fertilizing the ground but it is amazing how folk who settled here knew (or found out through trial and error) what things to put back to nature and provide nutrients to the soil to grow other foods to feed their families. They sure knew how to live off the land and sea and there are still a lot of families doing it now. I remember my father would go to Middle Cove beach to cast for caplin. Most of it went into the ground to fertilize his carrots, potatoes, rhubarb and savory. The rest fried on the pan. Most years his harvest was enough to get us through the winter months. He learned this growing up in Placentia Bay where they had to grow enough crops to support a family of thirteen. We have not set out gardens for vegetables but have plants, shrubs, flowers and some herbs that need fertilizer but we use the commercial products. I usually get stuck with digging up the soil for the gardens and the amount of rocks and the size of them is almost discouraging but watching everything grow is worth the effort in the end. One of these days when we do set out a vegetable garden we will surely use natural fertilizers, even though the smell takes a little gettuing used to. Maybe we will even grow some radishes and invite some kids over for a taste test!!!! That will be a surprise for sure. Looking forward to your next Twig.

    • suzannepower says:

      Thanks, Edmund. Once you start talking to people about gardens and farms, you realize that, although it’s trendy to grow your own food now, people have been doing it here in Newfoundland for a long, long time. Also, it takes surprisingly little space to grow enough food to sustain a family. Commercial products are fine, it’s just amazing that, despite the rocks and bog here in Newfoundland, vegetables would still grow. I’m trying my hand at growing vegetables this year and am using mushroom compost. It doesn’t smell terrible like manure or caplin but I’ll surely be making some trips to beaches to scavenge. So far all the seeds I’ve started are looking great. Hopefully they’ll continue to thrive once they go into the ground. Radishes are a great idea. They take up little space and can help break up the soil a bit, plus they mature in a short period of time. Happy gardening!

      Suzanne

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