The residents of St. Petersburg and other cities, and especially families with children, try to get out of town during their summer vacations; it is commonly held that the city is no place for kids in the summertime. This was the case during the Soviet period, as it was before the Revolution, starting in the middle of the 19th century. The overwhelming majority of those on vacation stay at dachas.
The word dacha can mean either a house outside the city which belongs to the family, and which is used primarily for summer vacation, or a space (usually part of a house, such as two rooms and an enclosed porch) which is rented for the summer months from the permanent residents of a rural community. Usually a family’s dacha is no more than two hours from the city.
Soviet citizens worked hard to gain rights from the government to small parcels of land, where they could build something of their own. By law, the land itself could not be owned, but anything built on the land would be your own property. At the end of the 1950s, the government started to meet the demands of the populace by dividing large areas of unused land into parcels of around 600 square meters (sometimes twice that big), in dense settlements with many adjacent strips of land. Thus arose the Soviet pattern of gardening—clusters of tens of thousands of tiny houses and sheds, where city dwellers dedicated their leisure to building their little nests. In contrast to rooms in a communal apartment, these summer nests were really one’s own. The majority of city dwellers devoted themselves to growing vegetables and flowers. The overcrowding and lack of privacy in these garden communities are distinctly reminiscent of conditions in the communal apartment.
Among those who lived in communal apartments at the end of the twentieth century and live there now (2007), many (at least every third family) have a small house in such a settlement or a larger house further out in the country, left to them by relatives or just recently purchased. Building materials and tools needed at the dacha are stored at the urban residence; in a communal apartment the place for all this inventory is usually the "empty room." Gardeners plant their seedlings and even raise live animals well in advance of the summer; see the clip called "Quail Farm". Pensioners often dedicate the greater part of a year to their dacha.
Etymologically, a "dacha" is that which has been "given" to you (from the infinitive dat', to give). In Soviet times, the giver was the state, and people received dachas through the same channels (and hierarchies) as they received other social benefits.