How Does Your Garden Grow?
I’m giddy with anticipation!
With Mother’s Day just around the corner, it’s a sure bet that planting season here in northern Illinois will soon be upon us as well. At long last, the nights are warming up and frost is slowly becoming a thing of the past.
I used to focus solely on the flowerbeds, but more recently, vegetable gardening has become my passion. There’s just something about planning what to grow and where to grow it and then seeing the seedlings you’ve lovingly placed in the ground yourself maturing and bearing fruit that’s so rewarding.
My grandparents in Minnesota had a mammoth vegetable garden that, back when I was knee high to a grasshopper, seemed to stretch for miles. When we’d drive up for our annual summer visit, after all of the hugs hello and requisite “my, but you’ve growns” were out of the way, my grandfather would grin, his eyes twinkling, grab my hand, and take me on a tour of his vegetable garden: his coddled baby, his pride and joy – the garden, that is. There were raspberries, strawberries, peppers, rhubarb, sweet corn, kohlrabi, cabbage, cucumbers, sweet peas, wax beans, lettuce, and much, much more. You name it, my grandparents most likely grew it.
I can so clearly picture my grandmother sitting at the oilcloth-covered kitchen table shucking peas while one of her delicious cinnamon coffeecakes baked in the oven. She was a wonderful cook and knew how to stretch the yield of her garden well into the winter by canning and freezing the fruits and vegetables they grew. Every time they visited us down in Illinois, we could be certain they’d be toting a cooler full of frozen fare that we would savor for months.
Because my husband was raised in the city, he had no idea how vegetables grew. I’ll never forget his first visit to my grandparent’s garden. It was almost as magical as my first visit there as a little girl. He was enthralled with something as simple as watching my grandfather pull carrots out of the ground. After all, the only carrots he had ever seen before had been pulled out of a plastic bag.
And now, apparently, it’s my turn to carry on my family’s gardening tradition. Last year, in our two raised, backyard vegetable gardens, I planted:
Yellow summer squash
Make no bones about it, the tomatoes are my favorites by miles. They’re manna from heaven as far as I’m concerned. All that’s needed is a little kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper and they’re fantastic. However, add in some fresh basil, fresh mozzarella, a touch of olive oil, and balsamic and it’s love on a plate. You can read more about my garden-fresh tomato obsession HERE.
I remember deciding to serve ratatouille for supper last year and realizing with wonder that I had almost every item I needed for the dish ready to be harvested in my garden: eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, yellow squash, onions, basil and thyme. Instead of running to the store, I went shopping in my own backyard. Despite the time and attention a vegetable garden requires, there’s a satisfying symbiotic relationship between it and its caretaker. The wonderful feeling of independence and productivity that comes from supplying one’s own produce is heady stuff.
There are several specific reasons that I truly enjoy growing our own veggies.
First and foremost, I know the produce is organic. I don’t spray my garden with any chemicals or even till anything into the soil that isn’t organic. I love knowing that I’m feeding my family a healthy meal. I remember hearing once that Idaho potato farmers don’t even consider feeding their own families the potatoes they grow for commercial use. There are too many chemicals involved. Instead, they keep a small potato garden on the side that’s organic and save the harvest for those they love. Think about that the next time you go to buy a sack of ‘taters.
The second reason is that the flavor of a freshly picked, perfectly-ripened vegetable is out-of-this-world delicious especially relative to supermarket offerings. All you have to do is compare the pink, crunchy, tasteless tomatoes grown in hothouses to ripe, red, juicy ones bursting with flavor that are grown in a home garden, and you’ll immediately understand where I’m coming from.
Thirdly, it’s an eco-friendly way to go. There’s no transportation required except for my own two legs and the bowl I carry the picked veggies in. There’s no packaging involved, nor are there any pesticides used that eventually run off into ponds or streams or rivers. Many residents in Northern European countries that are more environmentally aware than the U.S. often participate in crop sharing programs; one neighbor will grow peas and carrots, while another will focus on tomatoes and melons, etc., sharing the fruits of their labor amongst each other. Who knows, maybe some day this will become commonplace in the U.S. as well. Hey, I’m allowed to dream!
And finally, the price is absolutely right, especially if you have the patience to grow the plants from seed. Not only will you have delicious vegetables to cook and serve at a moment’s notice, but you’ll also most likely have excess to share with friends, family, neighbors, a food pantry, or to can for later use. Last year my canning consisted of jars and jars of tomato sauce, sweet and tangy tomato jam, and two varieties of pickles. Bobby Flay’s deliciously spicy sandwich pickles stole the show and were fun to give away as gifts. I hope to expand my efforts this year by also pickling jalapeños and beans as well as cooking up a huge pot of sweet tomato and pepper relish that I remember enjoying when my dad made it years ago.
So bring on the sunshine, the warm spring breezes, and many happy hours spent tinkering in the garden. I’m raring to go!
Do you plant your own vegetables? If so, what are some of your favorite tips or crops?
If not, give it a try. You just might be hooked!
Cover photo courtesy of nedmartin.org