Jo Ann Jaacks: Living the Natural Life

Eggs from Chanticleer Acres, 55 Hutchinson Parkway, Litchfield, in the always-open “Gypsy Wagon.”

Eggs from Chanticleer Acres, 55 Hutchinson Parkway, Litchfield, in the always-open “Gypsy Wagon.”

Jo Ann Jaacks

Having been raised on a small subsistence farm in a rural Connecticut town, I’ve always had an affinity for growing things in the earth. As a child, I helped my father plant tomatoes, potatoes, corn, and berries of all kinds. I loved riding on the tractor and walked and ran barefoot everywhere on our acreage until there was snow on the ground.

When I moved to Litchfield from south Florida, both my husband and I immediately began our own gardens. As a child, he had lived in a farmhouse in Germany for a while after his parents’ apartment was bombed during World War II. He created a proper Gemüsegarten in our backyard that was deer-proof, bear-proof, fox-proof and nearly bunny and chipmunk-proof. He also built a bird feeder in front of our sliding glass doors in the back of the house so I could watch the goldfinches, blue jays and cardinals at the feeder, which was eventually reengineered into an everything-proof marvel.

I didn’t know what flowers would be coming up at our new house since I never met the seller of the property, so I asked a local nursery for advice. The staff at White Flower Farm was very helpful and I chose perennials of every color. My husband was fascinated by the dinner-plate size dahlias so he picked out his favorites. He liked the idea that he could winter the bulbs in the basement, and the flowers would come back higher every year. By the fourth year or so, they were taller than him.

I focused on raising heirloom tomatoes, small tri-color potatoes and planted a large bed of low bushes in my favorite color of chartreuse. When my father came to visit, I proudly dug up some of the tri-color potatoes and picked some small yellow tomatoes to give him. His comment: “Potatoes aren’t supposed to be pink and I never saw tiny yellow tomatoes.” When he saw my face: “I guess that’s how they do it in Florida.”

There was only one tree, a magnificent Japanese Red Maple near the house, so we began planting more: Another Japanese Red Maple, three birch trees near the road that were for our three grandchildren, and a weeping cherry in memoriam for my brother.

We planned to build a chicken coop since we had enough space in the backyard and my husband liked to have eggs for breakfast. As a child, it had been one of my chores to lift up the nesting chickens and grab the eggs before the rooster could come after me. I always ran faster when barefoot, but sometimes I didn’t make it back to the house without getting scratches. One of our neighbors in Litchfield said the rooster would also alert us to any foxes or other predators on the property. My husband never got around to building the coop, but by then I had discovered that it was a better deal to buy eggs from a nearby farmer. The farm eggs were different sizes and different colors, which I found delightful, and were tastier than those at the supermarket, plus I would not be chased and scratched by a rooster.