Garden Daybook 1/17/14


Do you ask yourself “What am I supposed to eat?” while you push a cart around the grocery store and realize how far your food budget doesn’t go? Grocery store aisles are filled with packaged, processed ‘foods’ filled with salt, high fructose corn syrup, and fats we should not eat. Many food shoppers choose their foods with a focus on spending less time in the kitchen – keep it easy. Yet we all know that a healthy diet is important. We are bombarded every day with research that tells us to eat more fruits and vegetables. We are told to eat as close to natural as possible. “Choose less processed food and be healthier” is the new mantra. The difficult truth is that, very often, less processed food is expensive and budgets only stretch so far. A home vegetable garden is the classic solution in difficult times. Here you can see beans, carrots, onions, cucumbers in my vegetable garden.

vegie garden 400

I recently heard the perfect “Why I garden” quote while watching a cooking show.  Three American chefs were traveling through Spain and stopped to watch the preparation of fabulous paella cooked over an outdoor fire. As they were gathered around the table to feast, one of them asked the “Zen master of paella” if this paella was as good in other parts of the country. Someone at the table quickly answered “The kitchen doesn’t travel. You must eat the food where it is born.”  Those of us that harvest vegetables and fruits from our own gardens know this to be true. You can afford to eat healthy food “where it is born” if you make the effort to grow your own garden. Here is a picture of a small patch of lettuces in my cold frame. We can cut a small basket of the leaves, add a small onion, sliced, a carrot, sliced, maybe a little cheese or tuna and have a healthy meal. These are mostly leaf lettuces and so, if we only cut the outside leaves, the plants will continue to produce well in a small space.

cold frame lettuce 400

Now is the time to get serious and make plans for this summer’s garden. First, you must be sure that what you grow will actually be eaten by your family. Try keeping a menu journal for a week or two. Simply write down everything your family eats for each meal. Your journal will help you understand exactly what you typically use for a weeks worth of family meals. Spend a little time and break down each menu into an individual ingredient list.  Ask yourself “what on this list could we grow and preserve and so cut down on what we have to buy at the store?”  What could we have cooked at home instead of buying ready made? Make a list of basic ingredients you could buy in bulk and store at home – flour, sugar, brown sugar, salt, yeast, baking powder, pastas, vinegars, etc.. Use these basic ingredients to cook those things you might otherwise have bought ready made.  In a short time you will have a better understanding of basic ingredients you typically need to feed your family. Here are some of my pantry shelves filled with basic “ingredients”.  No tongue twister additives, artificial colors, or HFC here!

pantry 400

When you answer the question “What on this list could we grow and preserve” you will have a list of what to plant in your garden. Choose each vegetable variety wisely because the right variety has the potential to fill your summer table and your pantry shelves. Decide how you will use your garden.  Fresh picked vegetables are a given for any garden but will you also freeze, can, dry, pickle, or store what you grow? Read seed catalogs carefully and match a variety to your needs. For fresh use you might choose varieties that bear for an extended time. Varieties that produce one big crop and than slow down might be best for preserving if you like to pick, preserve, and be done with it. Tomatoes are the perfect example. Determinate tomatoes make little growth after they set fruit. Their harvest is short and this makes them perfect if you want to can all at once and be done.  Indeterminate varieties keep sending out new shoots and blossoms all summer. They give you set after set of fruit and this makes them great for all summer picking. It doesn’t take a big garden to make a big difference in what you eat. This small box of tomatoes, peppers, and basil will find its way to our table in a tomato salad with homemade bread, in a breakfast omelet, and, also, will give us a bit of snacking.

box of vegies

 Our garden always includes paste, slicing, and cherry tomatoes (for canning, fresh use, and snacking), green bean (Blue Lake Pole, for fresh eating and canning), long day onions (Copra and Red Wing because they store all winter), garlic (a softneck variety because it stores well over the winter), leeks (dug any time in fall through the winter), green peppers (fresh and to freeze chopped and whole for stuffing), Alma or Boldog paprika peppers, (for drying whole and grinding for fresh paprika – fabulous!), lettuce and spinach (for fresh salads), a small patch of Kennebec potatoes and a fingerling type (for storage), carrots (fresh and freezing), beets (mostly used fresh and sooo good), cucumbers (fresh and pickling), squash (fresh summer squash and winter storage types), peas (fresh and maybe canning), cabbage (fresh and saurkraut), broccoli (fresh and frozen), corn (if we feel we can spare the room or we buy at least 12 dozen in season and can it for the pantry), and parsley, basil, thyme, and other herbs (for fresh picking and drying). We also add a few extras each year such as celery, celeriac, okra, even peanuts just to make it fun. Don’t make room in your garden for vegetables your family won’t eat.  My family has been known to call each other during the day with the warning “Don’t come home it’s rutabaga night!”
This picture shows my Blue Lake Pole Beans on their vertical support – side-by-side, upright metal bed frames. I call this my ‘Wall-o-Beans’. This system makes for easy picking and is the reason I choose pole beans over bush beans.

wall of beans400

Gardening is a lost art that has to be learned baby step by baby step. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Just dig in and begin.  Picture yourself in your garden, it’s a warm August afternoon and the world smells like tomato plants and basil. Close your eyes and pop a vine-ripened Black Cherry tomato into your mouth. You have tasted food just born. Begin planning now and you can experience that moment for yourself.

Hey from the farm,
Fran     The Country Cousin

Thank you to The Wellington Enterprise  for permission to reprint this article which was, in part, first printed in  my column ‘From a Brighton Garden’ in January 2009.

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1 comment to Garden Daybook 1/17/14

  • Rachele Kelly

    Just planted our first garden last year and I am addicted! Some trouble this year so we are going to “season” our soil next year with manure. Hubby going to make a cold frame (hopefully this year) and also would like to start a compost pile. I love dehydrating and can’t get enough of zucchini chips–ranch, salt & vinegar, sour cream and onion, the list goes on and on! No more, “What am I going to do with all this zucchini?” Last year, I got about 50 zucchini off of 5 plants and this year, only planted 3 plants but they keep on coming. Going back to 5 plants again next year since I know have the art of dehydrating under my belt. I Didn’t know I could harvest paprika. On my list for next year. Thanks Fran, for all the inspiration!

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