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?
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,
plus twelve tomato plants, obviously way too many for such a small space, as a Tomato Jungle (see Sept blog) quickly ensued.
So 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. 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.
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. Hopefully, 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.
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.
I am hoping these bunnies aren’t high jump Olympic champions in fence hopping.
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. 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 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.