Gardening For The Taste of It

Why do I garden? To be sure, I do it because I want to be able to supply my family with the freshest, most sustainably and naturally grown food that I can buy.  I also do it because I love to get outdoors and dig in the dirt; it’s a great way to exercise, be exposed to sunlight and beneficial microbes.  It’s also THE best place to gather my thoughts and communicate with God (hmmm…that gives me another idea for a future post!).

But, I also garden for another simple reason: taste – if you grow your own, you know what I’m talking about.  Nothing compares to the taste of perfectly ripened, fresh from the garden produce that you grow yourself!

After all of these years of gardening, I’ve come up with six crops that I absolutely LOVE the home-grown version of, and are MUSTHAVES for planting in my garden every year.  Won’t you follow along and see if you agree?

  1.  Heirloom Tomatoes.  I love heirloom tomato varieties.  They are sweet, juicy, smoky and fruity, and come in a variety of amazingly beautiful colors and shapes.  While they may not be as prolific as their hybrid counterparts, what they lack in production is easily made up for in taste – there’s nothin’ quite like the taste of a home-grown heirloom tomato, in my opinion.

 

loads of tomatoes

 

2.  Potatoes.  If you’ve ever grown your own potatoes, you know what I mean.  From the minute you start preparing them, you can tell you’re in for a treat!  They have a wonderfully crisp texture, when you cut into them. When cooked, they are creamy and buttery, with out-of-this-world flavor.  I haven’t found one person who has ever tasted a home-grown potato and doesn’t have a story to tell about its wonders.

potatoes

3.  Tree fruit.  Apricots, plums, nectarines, peaches, pluots, and apples are some of the tree fruits I grow out at Whit’s Acres.  Like candy on a branch – that’s what I’d compare these babies to when they are perfectly sun-ripened and ready to eat.  Each heirloom variety has its own unique smell, taste, and texture – things that make them even more of a priority for me to have in my garden.
Apricots

4.  Beets.  I know.  Do you hate them?  I used to, too… until I tasted one freshly harvested from my garden and roasted.  Wow!  So sugary sweet, with just a touch of earthiness.  And the beet greens?  Fabulous!  Mix them together with some fresh shallots and an orange juice-garlic vinaigrette and you’ve got one pretty amazing salad.  I love these things!

beets-lettuce-cabbage-003.jpg

5.  Beans, the kind that you can dry.   Oh, man.  If you haven’t grown your own soup beans, you’ve got to get them in the ground next chance you get!  Once again, the texture and taste of home-grown dry beans are incomparable.  They are silky smooth in texture and provide a depth of flavor that you just can’t get anywhere else.  My favorites to grow are black-eyed peas and rattlesnake beans.  They are so easy to grow and produce like crazy, too!

dry beans

6.  Brussels Sprouts.   I know.  They’re an acquired taste, right?  Maybe, if you’ve only ever had the store-bought kind.  Home-grown ones, on the other hand, are quite addicting!  They are amazingly sweet with a more subtle cabbage flavor.  My favorite variety is “Falstaff” (not pictured here), which is super sweet, mild, and a bit nutty tasting.  They are getting more and more difficult for me to grow here where I live, due to warmer weather patterns, but I will not give up on growing them, because the homegrown varieties just don’t compare with any others that I’ve ever tasted.  They are that good!

brussels sprouts

How about you?  What fruits and vegetables do you grow for taste?  What do you grow that is far superior in taste, texture, and smell to anything you’ve ever purchased?  What other crops would you add to this list?

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My Top Three Food Choices for the Fall/Winter Garden

It’s something I’ve been hearing a lot of, lately, “I didn’t get a garden planted this year.”

“Well”, I say, “the year’s not over yet!”

In fact, the end of summer is a great time to get a fall/winter garden started.

There are a variety of  crops that do well as fall and winter crops and, depending on where you live, you may be able to successfully garden all the way into next spring.

Today, I wanted to share with you my top three favorite food crops to raise in a fall/winter garden.  If you still want to get something growing, this year, why not give these a try?  I chose these varieties for their ease of growing, quickness to produce, beauty, and versatility  in cooking.  I hope they inspire you to get a fall/winter garden, of your own, growing.

1.  Looseleaf Lettuce — also known as “cut and come again” lettuce.  My favorite varieties are: Lollo Rossa, Merveille Des Quatre Saisons, Oak Leaf, and Black-Seeded Simpson.

Lettuce is one of the easiest crops to grow, and it grows best in cool weather, so the end of summer is the perfect time to get a crop started.

I recommend growing the looseleaf type (as opposed to the “head” type) because you can begin to harvest leaves from it in about 45 days after planting, as baby lettuce.  When the leaves get to be about three inches high, you can simply clip them off,  leaving about an inch of growth near the soil, and they will continue to grow and produce even more leaves for you to harvest (head lettuce usually requires the entire head to be harvested at once, and it does not produce another head once it is cut off).

It does not take much room to grow lettuce — it can  be grown in containers and small pots.  There is no need to plant it in rows, or even dig furrows when planting.  When I sow my lettuce seed, I simply scatter the seed on top of the soil, then gently rake through it, or cover it with straw hay, and keep it well watered until it sprouts.   I allow the lettuce to grow very close together, leaving only a couple of inches between heads.

Lettuce is one of those crops that I try to grow year-round in my garden — it definitely pays big dividends in terms of cost savings at the grocery store, and there are so many colorful, tasty, heirloom varieties that I just can’t get anywhere else except my own backyard.  Last year, my lettuce made it all the way through the mild winter right into the spring.  Whenever a deep frost was expected, I simply tossed a covering of plastic over it, and it kept right on producing.  If you’re looking for a sweet, delicious, healthy, and easy to grow crop for a fall/winter garden, lettuce can’t be beat!

2.  Garden Peas — varieties to look for:  Corne De Belier, Sugar Ann, Sugar Snap, Lincoln (garden) , and Tall Telephone (garden)

Talk about another easy-to-grow garden goodie!  These are one of the first plants I learned to grow in my garden, and let me tell you, they are totally user friendly.

The only thing that stops this wonderful, edible gem from producing  is the heat.  So, as we head towards the cooler days of fall, it’s the perfect time to sow seed for this sweet, green snack.

My preferred method for growing peas is on a trellis system (I just love the way they look spiraling up a tee pee trellis)  Therefore, I am biased towards a “pole” variety.  I make my own trellises out of tree limbs (three of them) that I form into a “tee pee”.  Then, I wrap around it with twine, leaving about six inches of space between each level.  If you don’t want to mess with a trellis system, simply purchase a “bush” variety that will support each other when they are planted close together.

There’s not many other veggies that can compare to the sugary, sweet, crispy goodness that garden peas provide. True garden peas are grown for the peas that grow inside of the shell, while snap and snow peas are grown for their edible pods.  Both types are grown in the same way.  When planting in late summer, it is best to plant them in a shaded area, where they will not be stunted by the hot sun.  They can also be planted out  later on, after the weather turns cool, but before frost sets in, and they will be ready to harvest the following spring.

If you’ve got kids, garden peas are a must!  I haven’t met a child, yet, who doesn’t love the taste of fresh, vine-picked garden peas.  They are delicious raw, stir-fried, boiled, or in salads… a perfect crop for the fall/winter garden!

3.  Beetroot — Types I’ve grown:  Bull’s Blood (pictured) and Chioggia

Before I started growing my own beets, I had an aversion to their earthy taste, but now that I know what a homegrown beet tastes like…wow!  It’s one of my favorite things to grow in the garden.  Like the two veggies I listed above, this one is incredibly easy to grow.  The seeds are large, making them really easy to handle, and they don’t take much care once you’ve got them planted in the ground.  They are fast growing and can be grown just about anywhere.

Not only is the root edible, but the tops are, too.  I love to harvest the young tops and add them to my salads and smoothies.  If you leave the bulbs in the ground, you can continue to harvest the tops for a long while – simply cut the tops off at the base, and the beet will sprout new leaves for you.  I’ve been harvesting beet tops from a crop I planted almost two years ago, when we first moved on to our property!

I also enjoy eating the beet roots fresh, peeled  and chopped into matchsticks to top a  salad, and juiced and added to my smoothies (they give it a beautiful color!)  One of my all-time favorite recipes that makes use of both the roots and the  tops is a Roasted Beet Salad With Oranges and Beet Greens  that I found at Epicurious.com.  It makes a fantastic fall salad – one that adds a touch of beauty and health to every meal it graces!

So, to everyone who has been lamenting about not getting in that  spring garden, I say, “fah-get about it!”  As the Chinese Proverb says,  “The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is now.”  Okay.  We’re not talking about trees, here, but you get the point:  if you missed out on spring planting, this year, the second best time to plant is now.

So, why not grab a packet of lettuce, pea, and beet seeds and get growing?  Remember, it’s best to choose heirloom, open-pollinated, and non- genetically modified seeds.  My favorite places to order seeds from are Bountiful Gardens, Baker Creek, and Renee’s Garden Seeds (the other thing that’s nice about starting a garden, this late in the year,  is that  seed companies may be offering a discount on their end of the season seed packets).

Do you garden through the fall and winter?  What are your favorite varieties to grow, and why?

September Planting Guide

Summer’s nearly over and most Central Valley home gardens are starting to look at little tired, but, due to our wonderfully, long growing season, there are a lot of great veggies that can still be grown at this time of year here!  September is the perfect month for starting the following vegetables from seed:

  • Asian Greens
  • Arugula
  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Cilantro
  • Lettuce
  • Onions
  • Radishes
  • Rutabagas
  • Turnips

If you don’t have a prepared plot to start them in, you can create a quick and easy “no-dig, bag garden” for growing.  Complete instructions for a bag garden can be found at Mother Earth News.  Follow their planting guide for the late summer season or, if you live in the Central Valley of California, plant the varieties I listed above.

Happy growing!