Sunday, June 24, 2012

Our Abundant Back Yard

I really didn't expect much from our first year garden. We sort of haphazardly planted as much as we could, thinking only some plants would survive the harshness of Kansas pests, drought, and disease. 32 kale plants, 8 radicchios, 60 onions, 4 anaheim peppers, 4 jalapenos, 1 sweet bell pepper, 1 yellow squash, 4 zucchinis, 5 cucumbers, 4 watermelons, a scattering of spinach, swiss chard and lettuce, 5 planters full of various herbs and a whopping total of 34 tomato plants later . . . and now I think our biggest problem is overcrowding (ya think?). I'm almost ashamed to admit that I even started 24 bush beans, 6 pumpkins, 6 butternut squash, 6 cantelope and 12 beets not really knowing where they would go, and thinking "something's bound to die or stop producing by the time these babies are ready to go in the ground." Wrong again! Does anyone need seedlings?

 So, the lesson I'm learning for year 1 is "less is probably more." But my, has this been a fun experiement!

Swiss chard relaxing in the shade of the squash leaves
I really hope I can dry all these onions properly!
Zuchinni Blossoms for eating!
Zucchini blossoms stuffed with herbed ricotta cheese, dipped in tempura batter and fried
The difference one night makes in "Zucchini Time"
I think I need a bigger bowl!
  We also have a crowded, "survival of the fittest" flower garden with zinnias, cosmos, calendula, California poppies, and a row of sunflowers that are 7 feet tall and still growing (perhaps I should have read the package first - they can grow up to 16 feet tall!).  Every day Hannah checks our flowers, counting them and wondering when she'll be allowed to pick a bunch for our dining room table.

I have loved involving her in this process. Not only has she learned a tenderness and reverence for things that grow, but gardening is a wonderful lesson in patience! There is one cherry tomato plant in the far corner of the garden next to the sunflowers, which because of Hannah's small size only she can access. After checking the flowers she crawls back there and picks the red tomatoes for her own enjoyment. I'm not sure any of us have had a tomato from that plant yet!

 With 34 tomato plants in 9 different varieties, we bought an extra chest freezer for the basement solely for the purpose of preserving our harvest. I feel like I'm gearing up for that fateful day when our kitchen counters are overflowing with tomatoes, and I am a slave to the preservation of those those perfect, juicy red fruits for weeks on end. While I know it will be tiring work, I look forward to the challenge, and the gratification of preserving food from our own garden to outfit us with salsa, spaghetti sauce and diced tomatoes for the winter. No more BPA-lined canned tomatoes for us!

I also tried my hand at pickling last week. We grew a variety of cucumber specifically for pickling when I discovered that my favorite sliced pickles (Vlastic Ovals) include High Fructose Corn Syrup in their ingredients! Really?!? Is that necessary? I'll admit, my first batch of pickles was not so successful. They taste great, but they are soft, and fall apart when you reach in the jar to pull them out with your fingers. 

Not at all the crispy, salty goodness I was hoping for, but this is how we learn, is it not? I've been told to add alum to the next batch, and to be careful about letting my cukes get overripe before pickling. Easier said than done when finding the darn things on the vine is like staring at a Magic Eye poster. I'm sure the neighbors get a kick out of watching me, face to the muddy ground, try to push the leaves aside and find those cucumbers hiding amongst hundreds of bee-covered blossoms. No one ever told me how dangerous gardening can be. And oh, the prickles on those cukes! Never pick cucumbers without a good pair of gloves!

 The kale has been producing for a long while now, and my mom and sister frequent the garden weekly for a bunch of kale for smoothies and salads, but there is no way we can keep up with 32 plants. So I tried my hand at blanching and freezing two ARMFULS of kale, ending up with three meesely quart-sized bags for the freezer, two of which I used to make a tasty kale pesto. We'll be doing this again, I think. And next year, maybe we'll just plant 6 kale plants. Or 8. Maybe 10. Not 32!

If you're still reading by the end of this mammoth gardening post, congratulations, and thank you! I am humbled now by all of you master gardeners out there. Gardening can be emotional, frustrating, and a downright war with the elements and your own silly choices, but it makes me feel productive - like I'm really working to feed my family the right things. And that makes it all worth it to me.


Courtney Thompson said...

well, let me know when your beans start producing and i'll send you the recipe my mom uses to pickle them- called 'dilly beans'. us kids couldn't get enough of them growing up- they are amazing!!

MaryAnn said...

WOW! Your garden is far more productive than ours! I might have to pop in one of these days to learn the ways of the garden from a true master! Impressive!

karen said...

Your garden is gorgeous! Too much delicious home grown food is definitely a wonderful problem to have :)