The following article originally appeared as part of a series titled "Down Home" in the Newfoundland Signal (published in Toronto) on November 8, 1976. In those days the author spent her summers on Red Island with her husband Denis and their daughter Krista. Reprinted by permission.

Clean Out the Sheep House

by Lorna M. Ryan

RED ISLAND, Placentia Bay -- The garden was wonderful this year. We're lucky on Red Island. Unlike many areas of Newfoundland, our little island has an abundance of deep fertile soil for growing vegetables.

There have always been gardens on the island. The potatoes, cabbage, turnips, and beets these plots provided were urgently needed by the early settler. And later, when a shop or two appeared on the island, they stocked mainly "hard grub" and you still relied on your piece of ground for fresh vegetables.

Even today, the outlines of the old potato trenches are clearly visible; the very oldest beds worn nearly flat with the passage of time. If you dig into these ancient trenches, you will find no stones at all - mute evidence of generations of thorough cultivation.

Gardening began every year in the spring with a little ceremony known as Cleaning Out The Sheep House. Once the weather warmed enough to allow the sheep to be driven to their summer pastures, the foot-deep mass of stinking sheep manure would be shovelled out of the shed and spread on the ground by the older boys. Din well remembers staggering under load after load of the smelly stuff, and heaving it onto his mother's cabbage garden along with enough oaths to kill any sheep within sound of his voice.

Funny how life comes around full circle. We don't keep sheep now, but we do have hens. And hen manure is worth its weight in gold. I save it up all winter and pack it, in the spring, in plastic bags inside of cardboard boxes, and Din still ends up hauling manure each spring. First, down to the boat in Placentia and across the bay to the island, and then up to the garden when we land. (And some black looks I get from him, I tell you!)

But it's more than worth it in the end. Fortified with peat moss from the Lighthouse Point, buckets of kelp and capelin, and ashes from the stove, the garden produces in abundance cabbages as big as your head, sweet-tasting beets and turnips, potatoes, broccoli, peas, tomatoes, Brussels sprouts, lettuce, radishes, onions, carrots, cucumbers, strawberries - and more than I can call to mind at the moment.

There were squash last year, but we lost them this spring in late frosts. Actually the tomatoes were withered too, but sprouted again from the stems just below the ground and grew lovely tomatoes just the same.

On the far side of the garden we've planted a small orchard of dwarf fruit trees - apples, plums, and pears. The peaches have resisted all our efforts to keep them alive, but planting them in a more sheltered area might do the trick. We even have a grape vine that has so far survived two winters, so I've come to the conclusion there's not too much you can't grow in Newfoundland if you make up your mind.

I'm sure, by making careful use of what suitable land we have available, we could easily quadruple the amount of food this province now produces.