Down on the Farm - Part I - Kitchen Gardening

Psalm 128: 1, 2 How blessed is everyone who fears the LORD, Who walks in His ways. When you shall eat of the fruit of your hands, you will be happy and it will be well with you.


On returning from our rather difficult vacation to Maine and Nova Scotia, I found myself repeatedly being drawn almost irrationally into the kitchen for some new project. (I tried to write about our trip, but upon hearing what I’d written, Kara told me that not enough time had elapsed for me to be sufficiently rosy colored. On her blog she put it this way: "My family and I went on vacation to Maine and Nova Scotia a couple weeks ago, saw some beautiful places, stayed in a wilderness area with constant access to a fleet of kayaks and canoes, and got food and water poisoning." She forgot to mention a few little things, including the accident in the rental car.)

Anyway, home had never looked so good! And the best therapy was concocting interesting things in the kitchen like lots of basil pesto for the freezer, strawberry jam, fresh bread, and homemade mozzarella cheese.

I don’t exactly have a green thumb. I can kill just about any houseplant. Nonetheless each spring finds me once again getting the garden ready and setting out baby plants. And I keep adding edible landscape plants, (if you can call what we do landscaping.) Working with my children to grow some of the food we eat is just so satisfying! Who can resist playing in the dirt, watching plants grow day by day, and then enjoying the fruit of your labor?

The system we use is “Square Foot Gardening” based on Mel Bartholomew’s book by that title. This method helps you get a lot of bang in small garden spaces. Basically you construct as many 4x4 feet square gardens as you need, then build your soil by adding to what is already there or making it from the “perfect soil” recipe in the book. With this soil you can plant more intensively than if you are using traditional row gardening, and by planting successive crops you will be able to enjoy fresh veggies from spring-fall. We usually assign one little garden to one or two little people. They help plant, weed and harvest. It’s easy to start small and add gardens over time. In the years with frequent babies and toddler we could only handle a few small gardens, but we’ve added fruit plots and trees and separate herb gardens over time. Now with larger children and appetites, we’re working on expansion plans for our vegetable gardens for the coming season. And guess what? If you are considering gardening next spring, this fall is the best time to prepare your soil!

Here are a couple of books that I have found very useful this summer:

The Busy Person’s Guide to Preserving Food (Janet Chadwick)

Recipes from a Kitchen Garden (Renee Shepherd and Fran Raboff) – Not sure what do to with all those leeks or zucchini? This book has interesting recipes to help you use fresh produce when it is coming on fast. Because the author runs a seed catalog that specializes in basil varieties, she has lots of great ways to use that wonderful herb.

If I could only grow two things, they would be tomatoes and basil. But here are my top five picks of both herbs and vegetables. (These are chosen for ease of growing, taste difference compared with purchased produce, and money savings.)

Annes Top Five+ Vegetables:
1. tomatoes - pretty much everyone agrees on this!
2. spinach and lettuces – use a nice variety seed pack of lettuces for colorful salads
3. broccoli – you won’t believe the difference between fresh and store-bought!
4. green beans – a smooth type like Jade
5. peppers – try several kinds! With your tomatoes, some onions and cillantro, you can make awesome fresh salsa!

Anne’s Top Five Herbs:
1. basil – lots of varieties! Use in pesto, vinegars, spaghetti, etc.
2. parsley
3. oregano
4. mints and lemon balm (Great teas - soothing to children's upset tummies)
5. chives

My hands-down favorite fruit is blueberries. They are easy to grow (just make sure your soil is kept acidic), wonderfully easy to harvest and preserve, delicious to eat, and filled with antioxidants and other nutrition. Every home ought to have several bushes!

Next time I’ll write about our experiences making simple cheeses and the easiest way to make yogurt.
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