The Joy of Growing Food

 

Chard & Nasturtiums

Above: Swiss chard and nasturtiums. The latter aren’t just pretty, they’re edible. They have a delicate, peppery flavor that’s good in salads or on sandwiches.

There is something so magical, so optimistic, so wondrous about putting a tiny seed into the dirt and watching it grow.

Vegetable gardeners have the added pleasure of their beautiful gardens being tasty & nutritious, too. When you grow it yourself, you know what’s in it, what’s on it, who’s touched it, and how long ago it was picked. And you can wait to pick it until it’s actually ripe, which grocery stores (& even some farmstands) don’t do. Once you’ve had a warm, fully ripe, juicy tomato plucked from the vine & popped directly into your mouth, you’ll never want to buy tomatoes at the grocery store again. It’s a completely different vegetable! And the same holds true for most other veggies, too.

I always knew gardening was good for the soul. I read recently that there are actually soil bacteria that have a positive effect on brain chemistry, as well (I don’t remember where I saw this first, but here’s a reference to the same study: Antidepressant Bacteria).

I first got hooked on gardening as a kid, helping my mom with her garden. She mostly grew flowers, but I remember planting carrot seed one year and being amazed at how such a big, sturdy, tasty carrot could grow from such a tiny seed. When I lived in Buffalo, my apartment had a rather barren spot outside the living room window. I asked at the garden center for something relatively low maintenance that would spread to cover it. One 6-pack of cucumber plants later, I was fully hooked on vegetable gardening. And after I moved here, I was fortunate to have a garden out by Gup’s (my husband’s grandfather) garden. We spent many hours together in the summer, digging in the dirt. He had a good laugh at me trying to eliminate quack grass by pulling it up. I think the quack grass was laughing, too! In 1990, Gup planted 50 crowns of asparagus. He was 87, & out there with the big rototiller every week, keeping the weeds down. He said to me one day, “I bet you think I’m a crazy old man to be planting this, since I might not be around long enough to enjoy it.” I told him I hoped he’d be around to enjoy it for many seasons, but that if he wasn’t, I promised to think of him whenever I ate any. Unfortunately, he died just a couple of months later. I ALWAYS think of him when I eat asparagus. I kept up the patch for many years, until I was no longer able. In spite of many more years of neglect, there are several crowns still producing!

1997 was the last year of my big garden. (That’s Daffodil, posing for the photo) It was 250 sq ft, with 14 raised beds, a corn/pumpkin/watermelon/cantaloupe/sunflower patch,  a sandbox for the kids to play in, Adirondack chairs for a break, a bluebird box (lived in!). I grew 2 varieties of corn, 2 varieties of sunflowers, strawberries, tomatillos, garlic, brussels sprouts, 6 varieties of tomatoes, pole beans, 4 varieties of bush beans, kidney beans, 6 varieties of sweet peppers, 5 varieties of hot peppers, 5 varieties of onions, 4 varieties of pumpkins, watermelon, cantaloupe, 3 varieties of carrots, 4 varieties of radishes, 6 varieties of lettuce, spinach, garlic, nasturiums, snow peas, shelling peas, and about 10 kinds of herbs, plus 3 compost bins and the 50 crowns of asparagus I inherited from Gup. I’d have been happy to keep playing in the dirt forever, but my spine had other ideas. I went from 250 sq ft to nothing, practically overnight, and a long dry spell followed.

Then in 2009 I found Earthbox, & my husband built me some tables for them. They’re great for patios & porches, too, or if you just don’t have the time or desire to do a lot of weeding. (I actually miss weeding. I know, I’m weird.) I water them with a lightweight hose, and there’s no bending, lifting, or weeding involved. And I get to grow stuff again!

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Here’s a pic of my brussels sprouts from May 2016. I started all 4 plants from the same packet of seed, on the same day. When they got big enough, I put 2 into pots for a friend, & 2 into one of my Earthboxes. My friend was out of town, so it was a couple of weeks before I could give them to her. Just look at the difference in size!

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I love fresh herbs, too, and use them a lot in cooking. Towards the end of the summer, I start some herbs indoors to tide me over until the next Spring. Here’s one of my Aerogardens in June 2016. The cilantro and parsley gave up a month or so before, but the basil just won’t quit. It was planted in late August 2015, & the photo is from June 2016! So you can forgive the bottom for looking a little sparse & woody. That plant is nearly 2 feet tall, and I had just harvested enough off the top to make a cup of minced basil for Lemony Basil Chicken. I’ve also grown chives, cilantro, parsley, thyme, mint, lettuce, cherry tomatoes, and flowers. And I start my tomato, pepper and brussels sprouts in the Aerogardens, too. Good ingredients make a huge difference in cooking, and herbs smell and look so wonderful when everything outdoors is still brown & grey. You can also use an Aerogarden to root cuttings. I got a particularly pretty bunch of fresh mint from Whole Foods one day last year. I put a cutting from it into my Aerogarden. It rooted very nicely, & I planted it outdoors. Here it is in early Spring of its next season:

Mint

Mint can be pretty invasive, but nothing else wants to grow in that corner, so it can go to town. And I have a few great recipes for mint, too!