This is probably the highlight of my trip to Russia (after visiting family), is seeing their dacha! My aunty and uncle had the most amazing garden they planted, and even had a colorful Russian old style dacha, it's worth seeing!
What is a Dacha?
A dacha is like a summer home that city dwellers (who live in apartments) can grow vegetable gardens and have outdoor space of their own. It's not usually a year round residence, but something that you only use in the summertime. They are common in Russia, and in former Soviet countries. Dachas were originally gifted from the Tsar, a practise that goes back to the 17th century. They vary in size, but the older ones tend to by quite rustic, although many improvements have been made. Some dachas are now converted to year round living. They tend to be smaller in size, and sometimes are part of tiny villages or almost colonies.
Most Dachas have a garden where residents grow their fruit and vegetables. The size of the gardens vary, and as you can see in my video, this dacha garden is huge and incredible! This isn't common at most dachas, but an example of extreme Russian gardening! A variety of vegetables are grown in the garden, mostly cold climate fruits and veggies.
Here's some examples; apples, berries like blackcurrants and gooseberries, strawberries, raspberries, chokecherries, potatoes, zucchinis, cucumbers, pumpkins, beans, carrots, broad beans, bell peppers, beets, cabbage, garlic, onions, herbs like dill and parsley and more. In the case of this specific dacha garden, my aunt grew extra vegetables you wouldn't normally find on the edge of Siberia, like watermelon and canteloupe! This will be one of the most amazing gardens you will see!
Why Do Russians Grow Their Own Fruit And Vegetables?
There are many reasons why anybody anywhere grows their own fruit and vegetables. Not everyone in Russia owns a dacha, but those who do, usually have some type of garden. There is a cultural aspect to it, dachas have always had a garden of some variety. Some people do rely on it to save money, so they don't have to buy vegetables. Other people prefer home grown, because they don't like the chemicals that are a part of commercial production.
If you live in urban Russia, you likely live in an apartment that has no room for a garden. The dacha provides you an opportunity to escape the city life each weekend, and tend to your dacha grounds. A dacha is not for relaxing, it's for working. You relax through working, how very Russian, explains so much of my childhood! 🤣
What's a Dacha Like?
Ok, so you might be romanticizing the idea of a dacha, and I don't blame you. However, the reality is often not what you expect. Many Dachas don't have hot water, wait, many of them don't even have running water. Some have wells, others collect rain water. Wait. Does that mean there is not toilet? Now you're getting it. Many dachas have only an outhouse.
Heating only exists if you have a wood stove, and if you wash your hands, you might need to fill up a container that slowly trickles enough water for you. If your dacha is lucky enough to have a shower, it's likely that you need to fill up the water tank above it yourself. A cold shower is exactly what the dacha doctor ordered!
Why do Russians Love a Dacha?
So, it's not all doom and gloom. A dacha is a great place for family to hang out and work together. Yes, you mow the lawn and weed the garden, but then there is food, lots of it. You always make Shashlik Meat Skewers at the Dacha, they are so good. Harvesting your fruit and vegetables is so satisfying, and nothing tastes better than home grown, vine ripened food! It's also a great way to detox from your mod cons and a way to disconnect from the internet because there is probably no internet connection at the dacha!
And don't forget about the Russian Banya! The best way to describe a banya is like a wet sauna where you get whipped with branches. Hmmm, that didn't come out right, but that's kind of the gist of it! After spending significant time heating up in the banya, the cold water shower will be a welcome relief. Russian Banyas are incredible, and you always feel a million times better when you finish. After a banya, there is always food, food, and more food. Then you go and do it all over again.
I wasn't going to include this one, but here it is anyways. Dacha fashion is often where your old clothes, sweaters and pants go to die. It will always be functional, meaning warm jackets for those cold summer nights, clothes for cooking the smoky shashlik, and mud boots for the garden, but it will not always be fashionable. These clothes are meant for working, and function, not fashion. And if it's cold outside and you need a Фуфайка (sweater/jacket) to warm up, you won't care how you look like. Plus you don't want to throw away good clothes, take it to the dacha.
Well that's my view of the Russian Dacha. A great place to spend your weekends in the summer. Hard work never hurt any city slicker either. Check out my other Russian Adventures posts.