The Potager

garden square

        A potager is a French term for a kitchen garden.    Because of my intention to take a break from all things floral, (see the Danger Zone blog), I decided my gardening project for this year would be a vegetable garden.  Flowers are pretty to look at but hopefully this will be a more productive endeavor, with the end result being healthier meals to enjoy plus the added fun of growing my own food.   Who doesn’t like the convenience of a salad freshly picked from their own garden? 

salad on plate

Mandarin salad with raspberry vinaigrette

             My first foray into vegetable gardening was last summer as I had bought a raised garden bed and started with some romaine lettuce and two strawberry plants, lettuce and strawberry plants

 

plus twelve tomato plants, obviously way too many for such a small space, as a Tomato Jungle (see Sept blog) quickly ensued. 

tomato jungleSo needing more space, last fall I bought three more raised garden beds at the New England Arbor Charity sale (75% off, $25 each) and after dumping seventy bags of $1 dirt and compost into them, they were the regular price.  Never underestimate how much dirt a 4X4 square can hold, or how quickly it can settle.  garden squares and lilacs I placed them in the sunniest spot in my yard, but the aroma of lilacs in the back corner is an added perk. 

               I am not completely unfamiliar with gardens.   Growing up on a farm (the homeplace), we always had a large vegetable garden.   It was a way of life back then, as anyone whoever spent the hot summer months canning and preserving can testify, plus it was a healthy and cheap way to feed a family.  The farm garden was always planted in the cornfield closest to the house for easy access, spread out among the rows of corn, so as not to waste precious corn acreage.   It was never planted until the first of June when the danger of a late frost was over.   Sometimes we would help my dad plant it, he dug the holes, and we put the seeds in and covered them up with dirt, but other than that I don’t remember it being any work, it just grew.   We didn’t weed or water it as it was in the cornfield, mother nature did the rest.    It had the usual garden staples, tomatoes, cucumbers, yellow beans, sweet corn, squash plus pumpkins for Halloween.    The beans and tomatoes were canned, and my mother made dill pickles with the cucumbers.   Many a hot August day, in the years before air conditioning, I would wake and go downstairs to find rows of inverted mason jars covered with tea towels on the kitchen counter-top, as my mom would have been up early to can in the cool of the morning.  Later they would be moved to pantry shelves in the basement.   I don’t remember eating the canned goods, (as a child I was a picky eater), but I  recall my parents having the stewed tomatoes with onions and a fried steak, and we would always have the sweet corn in August, slathered with butter.  So, I had great ambitions for my little white squares and visions of a bountiful harvest. 

Garden squares

       Last year I had bought two ever-bearing strawberry plants and had berries right up until October, (what a wonderful idea, why didn’t someone think of that sooner), that is if the birds didn’t get them first.   So this year I bought two more, but covered them up with garden netting.   A few days ago, a big black ugly starling lured by the sight of all those green berries, managed to get under the netting, and in a mad flapping panic tried to get out through the chicken wire.   I undid the top netting, but the stupid bird still couldn’t find it’s way out, so I turned the garden hose on it and sprayed it (gently, on shower not jet) towards the opening.   Bet it doesn’t try that again!   (I could understand a little brown sparrow or a hummingbird getting in but a starling the size of a crow?  It must have been part of the Cirque du Soleil acrobat team).  

 Into the same bed, went some romaine and red leaf lettuce.  Lately I have been buying red leaf lettuce at the grocery store, but it is also nice to mix the two.  The romaine I grew last summer was the best I had ever tasted, or maybe it just seemed that way as I grew it myself.    Because I had these in early before the holiday weekend, they are almost ready for picking. lettuceHopefully, they will regrow after, but I intend to fill in two of the other squares with some more in a few weeks to stagger the crop. 

Into the second square went the tomato plants, big fat Beefsteak for sandwiches and smaller Roma for salads.   I gave up on those tasteless little cherry tomatoes, you can buy those year round in the store, but a big fat home-grown tomato has a distinctive taste and aroma and is a truly wonderful thing.Tomatoes

Into the third square went two rows of carrots, because they are good for your eyesight, one orange, and one multi-coloured.   I imagine they will look pretty curled on a salad like in the food magazines.  carrots

I am hoping these bunnies aren’t high jump Olympic champions in fence hopping. 

bunny and garden square

Somebunny is waiting for me to plant the carrots.

Also, into that square went three seed potatoes, barely breaking ground now but at least they made it. Potato Plant  My dad never grew potatoes, perhaps lingering ancestral memories of the  Irish potato famine, so I have no experience with growing potatoes.  Maybe I will get enough for a potato salad?  

Into the fourth square went my Acorn squash for Thanksgiving, (not butternut as most people prefer), plus one cucumber plant designed for small gardens, so hopefully it won’t sprawl too much.

I did not plant any radishes, because my memories of the farm were the radishes were always way too hot and/or tough depending on the rainfall, nor butter beans as you can buy those in the store cheap and they are often tough as well.   My mother often planted gladioli and zinnias in her farm garden, but I have had zero luck with zinnias, although I do have glads planted along the back fence.   What I planted seemed like enough for a first-time endeavor – I am looking forward to the harvest.   (Next week I will tell you about a new way to cook all your nutritious produce, in my blog, Under Pressure, Instant-Pot for Beginners).  

Lately, I have been neglecting my book recommends.   This book, In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan, plus his first book, An Omnivore’s Dilemma really changed how I think about food and eating.   Perhaps a bit out of date now, with the current popularity of the high protein Paleo diets, but it made me really stop and think twice before eating any processed food.   Much better to eat food in as natural a state as possible, and for those who don’t want to grow their own food, the farmer’s markets are now open!   

  In Defense of Food: An Eater's ManifestoIn Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Simple words that changed my eating habits ten years ago when I first read this book, or at least made me stop and think first. Don’t eat anything your Grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food. Also wise words. This book provides an interesting history and peek into the multi-million dollar processed food industry – what started out as an attempt in the fifties to make food better and healthier and last longer, has backfired so that we now have transfats, plasticizers and softeners in our bread and fast food burgers which never decompose. Certainly an eye-opener – you may never eat the same way again.

 

15 thoughts on “The Potager

  1. HistorianRuby says:

    I grew up with my Mum and Dad growing vegetables in our back garden. I have some lovely memories. Alas, as an adult I have tried to grow vegetables in pots (worried about the dog piddling on them in the ground) and have had little success.
    However, I was marvelling at my ignored garden this weekend, my honeysuckle (bought as a twig) is doing fab and has spread through several large shrubs! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Chomeuse with a Chou says:

    I hope you have better luck than me…I’m on course to lose a couple of plants already this year (no idea why). I really enjoy your trips down memory lane to the farm and am looking forward to your pressure cooker recipes 🙂

    Like

  3. Adventures Of An Anglaise says:

    Fab!! There are three things I most look forward to about one day owning my own house (as opposed to renting an apartment): getting a dog, having barbecues, and cultivating a vegetable garden – or, potager, I should say! I always remember the produce of my grandfather’s vegetable patch as tasting far superior to anything you could buy in the supermarket – and I can’t imagine anything more satisfying than growing your own food and then eating it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • thehomeplaceweb says:

      I’ve already picked the lettuce twice for salads, and it is much better tasting than anything in the grocery store. Keeping fingers crossed for the rest. When you get to be a famous actress and are rich then you can own your own mansion and hire a gardener!

      Like

  4. rhc55 says:

    What an inspiring article. You quite put me to shame with all your hard work and your results are clearly worth the effort. I am a lazy gardener and have dabbled over many years growing the odd things here and there. Last year our tomatoes failed and went black (I put them in too late), I gave up on potatoes after a number of years growing them in big tubs as the yield didn’t justify the effort. Our raised vegetable beds where I did use to grow runner beans and mangetout successfully (and one year grew with my son a huge crop of pumpkins) has become so overgrown by trees that nothing now will grow. I do have so perpetual spinach and rocket in pots on the patio. When we bought our present house 22 years ago there were three asparagus beds, but with working part-time, having a major extension built and raising three young children I could no longer cope (weeding is excessively time-consuming) so sadly dug them up and turfed them over. I do love the idea of growing my own vegetables and intend to make a fresh start when we get round to down-sizing and move. I do have far too many apples trees, plus plum, greengage, quince, mulberry and damson and grow gooseberries, various currants and loganberries, so I d have a lot of fresh produce, but it takes no looking after.
    I agree entirely we should not eat processed food and do at least cook everything (with the occasional relapse…) from scratch. I am in awe of your achievements.

    Liked by 1 person

    • thehomeplaceweb says:

      It sounds like you have lots of experience! Remember I am an enthusiastic beginner…..I may not be so enthusiastic come August when it is hot and dry and I have to water every day. I envy you your apple trees. Our farm had an apple orchard, and the blossoms always smelled so nice in the spring. We also had red and black currant bushes, (my mother would make my dad one red current pie every year, they were so tart no one else would eat it), one blackberry bush, and one gooseberry bush which was so old it would produce maybe 2 or 3 berries. Also a lovely rhubarb patch, (I may blog on that in a few weeks), and an asparagus patch. These are all old-time foods. I am not familiar with mangetout, greengage and damson? Have heard of quince and loganberries, but not grown around here. Did you plant all those or did they come with the property?

      Liked by 1 person

  5. rhc55 says:

    Most of it we planted ourselves – we did inherit some ancient apple trees, two of which have survived, but I planted 6 others to have a variety and all the other trees (including two pear trees and a medlar I forgot about), plus all the soft fruits we planted except for a very productive row of gooseberry bushes which are still going strong 22 years later (and cuttings are now growing in France with Chomeuse). Latterly I have planted trees in large patio pots with a eye on our future down-sizing so we can take them with us. We even planted a walnut tree when we moved in but get no walnuts – the squirrels take them all before we even get a look-in. I love trees as they provide a good habitat for all our garden birds and prefer to have ‘useful’ trees rather than just ornamental.
    Mangetout are thin, flat, sweet peas where you eat the whole pod; greengages are very sweet, small green plums; damsons are small, dark, plums, often found growing wild – they are delicious in a crumble and make excellent jam.
    I am really not a good gardener but should like to be, I don’t have enough discipline as the garden can take over your life.

    Liked by 1 person

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