Some say December is the most wonderful time of the year. Not me. I don't do well in crowded malls and I'm awful at consuming stuff--even though I love me a peppermint mocha from time to time.
As it is with my hubby, Robert. We'd rather dig in the dirt and be outside any old day. Nothing brings more joy to our world than when we sow seeds in our backyard Garden of Eatin' each spring. It offers such delicious possibilities, hard, honest work, and sweet and crispy rewards.
The house we bought in 2010 came with a big lot full of weeds and wood chips. So Robert, grandson of a Dutch farmer, saw fit to transform the lot into usable, productive space. When his mom comes to visit, she goes right to work in the garden, too. It's just how they're wired.
It's not just transformed our backyard, it's transformed my whole outlook on food--and with it, the planet.
I marvel in how little spindles of the pea shoots grasp the strings and climb upwards in the greenhouse. I'm giddy when the first strawberry starts to form. I'm always on the lookout for new growth and blossoms. I make it a ritual each morning checking on my little growing children, and noticing the tiny differences from one day to the next. I'm now living a life not just on earth, but of the earth.
The past five years have yielded extraordinary harvests. See for yourself on Pinterest. Yes, there were times when the birds ate our precious and few berries, pears, and pumpkins, but overall we can't complain about the bounty.
I now consider it sublime to taste a freshly picked carrot. Parsley pesto is often on the menu. I add mint to my smoothies--and salads and everything. Rosemary finds it way onto any sort of meat and root vegetable. I eat kale chips, maybe too often. For every summer potluck, I bring some sort of salad with fresh greens and chive flowers. I've become pretty proficient whipping up rhubarb and honey sauce.
The garden goodness isn't just in the food; it's the whole process. Our 7-year-old twins have been playing with us in the garden since they were two, although those early years were often about saying repeatedly, "Don't step on the plants!" Now, they know all about planting, watering, and harvesting. The best part? What might get a look of mistrust on a plate gets a loving pluck and taste right from the source. Forget the table, farm to mouth does the trick!
So here we are in 2016 and the wet--as in really, really record-setting wet--winter is dwindling. It's that time of year to get dirty and start digging.
Let me pause here to say that while Robert spent summers on a farm, I did not. I lived in Los Angeles, in the hills above the San Fernando Valley where most gardening was done by hard-working guys named Rafael and Jose. They'd brave 100 degree temperatures and launch their leaf blowers to keep the Encino homes manicured and neat. We had a pool, grass, cactus and lots of gorgeous trees, some bearing lemons. Intentionally growing food, however, was not on my family's radar. The freshest veggies we got were from Gelson's, the posh neighborhood grocery story.
So this is still pretty new to me. Consider these suggestions experiential, not scientific. Everyone has different amounts of sunlight, time, and luck. With that, whet your appetite because I've got some tasty morsels of advice:
It all starts with the soil. This is Robert's job. He puts his gloves over his very green thumbs, and grabs a shovel.
1) First comes the weeding. He wields tools like a lightsaber and quickly vanquishes unwanted plants that have made it into our dirt. (It's kinda hot.)
2) Then comes the churning. He digs up existing, hardened dirt. With every twirl of the shovel, he helps rejuvenate nutrients that the previous harvest has consumed.
3) Then comes the new soil. He pours lots fresh layer of garden soil, a moist, black earth that introduces a new compost material. For this we thank our local dirt and rock specialist, Burien Bark.
This year, the experiment is to see if rolling hills of dirt, aka berms, will help things grow more efficiently. Will the root vegetables benefit from the deeper soil? Will the big squash leaves fall to the sides of these hills? Stay tuned.
This Year's Food
Deciding what to plant is my department since I'm our family's head chef. The goal is to have food all summer and fall, plus more to freeze. I do a little research on companion planting, which helps you to know what plants do well next which other and what plants to not put side-by-side. Companion plants share nutrients and attract beneficial bugs.
The seeds are there. You're going to have to trust me. Our kids love the carrots best because they're sweet and crunchy like nothing from the store. Plus, like opening a present, you never know what's going to come up when you tug on that carrot top.
Once known only as garnish, I use it often in smoothies and pesto.
I use if for smoothies and chips all the time. I have yet to "massage it" for a salad, though.
Clearly I planted this one, not Robert. It looks sad now, but I promise this will be the root of healthy yumminess! Roasted on salads and in juices, they're like a magic potion that immediately gives me energy.
What's more fun than saying "Walla Walla"?
Great raw, delicious sautéed.
The leafy green that keeps on giving. I've lost track of how many frittatas I've made.
Robert's uncle in the Netherlands grows it so we do too.
It just showed up, so it's time for guacamole again.
Squash does great, and gets grilled, shredded and sautéed every which way.
Digging in the dirt to reveal these perfect oval tubers has made me so happy. I hadn't felt this kind of delight since when I got the Barbra Streisand "Funny Lady" record as a gift.
My only taste of this growing up was at that restaurant at the touristy Knott's Berry Farm in Orange County. Now, I use it as a sauce over ice cream and in a whole lot of baked crisps.
Rosemary and Mint
Couldn't kill it if we tried.
Stalks are rising. You can bet on it.
I didn't realize that I even liked these until I added slivers to fresh greens.
Tomatoes, Basil and Oregano
To be planted when it's a bit warmer. Did someone say Italian food?
Hoping for at least a pair of pears this year. We planted a second tree for cross-pollination, but we still need a strategy to beat those birds.
New for 2016. If our puppy doesn't knock these over, we might have a few by July.
Surprise, it rains in Seattle! What used to frustrate this Southern California girl now gives this Northwesterner hope for the harvest ahead. We collect the runoff from the greenhouse roof with water barrels and use it late into summer. Plus, the kids love to use the barrel faucet and to hydrate all the little growing things.
- Plant lavender and sunflowers to attract bees.
- Water in the morning.
- If you have a greenhouse, remember to have ventilation and a way for the pollinators to make their way inside.
- Worms, once slimy things I avoided, are little friends I transfer if I spot them outside the growing area.
- No pesticides. The only thing we spray is H20.
Something will likely not work this year, but it's ok. There will be some lesson that comes from the effort, and good feelings about how we're using our space and spending our time. That's what I call wonderful.
Tell me what you think. What are your food growing tips?