I grew up in Moscow and it is traditional to have a dacha (дача) - a summer house, where you can go and "relax" during the week-ends and summer vacations, usually Aptil -May through October-November.
I have always loved going to the countryside. My grandma lived about 40 km away from Moscow and our extended family had several small plots of land that were the source of a lot of work and a lot of great food.
The planting season usually starts sometime in May. Most of the dachniki (дачники - people who own dachas and/or plots of land in the country where they cultivate gardens and spend time outside of the city). But long before May, some time in February my grandma will have various containers filled with dirt where she would plant seeds of our future crops. Once the seedlings appear, she would use the cut off bottoms of the milk cartons and other food containers filled with more dirt and she would transplant the stronger seedlings into them - so that there is only one or two of them there. I remember that by May all the windowsills, tables by the windows and surfaces on the balcony contained such home-made containers with future tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, zucchini and other goodness.
In May there are two major holidays in Russia - the 1st of May (Labor Day) and the 9th of May (Victory Day) they tend to get linked and provide people with a week or more of time off. If the weather cooperates, it's the best time to start planting your garden.
Things like tomatoes are best grown in a hot house as the growing season in the Moscow's countryside is fairly short and they will most likely not get ripe otherwise. But for other seedlings we also made temporary make-shift hot houses just to protect them from possible cold temperatures while they got stronger (as clod spans are still possible in May). We would use metal or plastic sticks, that would bend and bend them in a half circle over the row of the cucumber seedlings, for example, and cover that with plastic - thus creating a little tent all over the row.
When time comes, those small tents are removed and the cucumber plant keeps growing. The tomatoes and peppers usually stay in the hot house. We had a wooden hot house built. that we would recover in transparent plastic which would last the whole growing season (with occasional patching ) and it would protect the tomatoes from the clod days and allow them to grow better and ripen faster.
We would also plant beets, cabbage, carrots, dill, parsley, onions, scallions, garlic, lettuce, peas, beans, and lots of other delicious veggies. The fruits would most frequently come from the trees and bushes: apples, cherries, plums, raspberries, blackberries, but we will also always have strawberries.
The other big thing is planting potatoes. You keep potatoes (or potato halves) out in a warm place so they give little shoots. Then they are ready to plant. You need two people. One person digs a whole with a shovel, while the other person puts a little bit of manure (that we would go gather into the buckets on the fields where cows stay all day) and the potato with a shoot and the first person then digs another whole right next to it throwing the dirt to cover the previous whole with the potato and manure in it. Potatoes need to be aerated so you have to use a tool called tiapka (тяпка) to make the dirt around each potato plant fluffy (as it starts growing bigger). However the most fun as a child (and worst part) was gathering the bugs that love living on potato plants. You had to do it several times during the growing season. At the beginning you collected the larvae, but if you missed some (and you always missed some), the next time around you will have the adult bugs and the eggs that they lay on the leaves of the potato plant in addition to the larvae, that you need to collect and get rid of. The thought of it still makes me shiver.
We would also always plant a variety of flowers (annuals and perennials) to make the dacha beaufitul and to have some flowers that we could cut and take home with us.
The gathering begins in June when your first strawberries arrive. Then throughout the summer you get other berries, all the greens and young carrots and potatoes that you can enjoy. Nearing August you will have your first cucumbers and some tomatoes. By the end of August - beginning of September you have potatoes, all root vegetables, zucchini, cabbage, onions, and apples - lot of things come at once.
While some of the fruits and vegetables that are produced on dachas are eaten right there or taken home to be eaten during the week, a large portion of the food is gathered to be preserved, so it can be consumed during long winters.
Each family has their own favorite solenya i varenya (соленья и варенья -pickles and jams). In our family all through the summer and fall you will see the food prepped, cooked and stored..
Berries, cherries, apples and other fruit would be made into varenye (jam) and kompot (fruit juice made by boiling fruit in water with sugar). Cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchili, peppers will be marinated or salted. Greens (dill, parsley, thyme, sage, etc) will be dried in the sun or in the oven and packaged into bags and containers. Beets and carrots will be put into the barrels full of sand in the root cellar. Potatoes will be in the cellar too in canvas bags. Onions and garlic will be tied together and hung in the cellar. All the glass jars of pickles and jams will join them on the shelves.
Once the season is over and the cellars and fridges are full of the delicious results of your labor - you can start enjoying them and hoping that they all last till spring, when the cycle begins again.
The wonderful family recipes that produce a lot of delicious meals would be shared in another post coming soon!