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.

 

Tomato Jungle

I don’t even really like tomatoes, so I don’t know what possessed me to plant twelve of them in a 4X4 white planter box I had bought at the New England charity auction last fall for $25 – a real bargain, but you had to be there early to push and grab, worst than a garage sale but worth it for 75% off.   Somehow I had the idea in my head that I would have a garden like my parents did years ago on the farm.   The farm garden was always planted in the cornfield closest to the house for easy access, spread out among the rows of corn.   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.   It had the usual garden staples, tomatoes, cucumbers, yellow beans, sweet corn, squash and pumpkins.    The beans and tomatoes were canned, and my mom made dill pickles with the cucumbers.  Many a hot August day (there was no air conditioning back then), I would wake up and go downstairs to find rows of inverted mason jars covered with tea towels on the kitchen countertop, as my mom would have been up early to can in the cool of the morning.   They would later be moved to the pantry shelves in the basement.  I don’t remember ever eating the canned goods, but once in a while my parents would have a jar of stewed tomatoes with a fried steak and onions.   I can eat a tomato on a BLT but I was never one of those people who rhapsodized ecstatically about a tomato sandwich on white bread with thick slices of beefsteak tomatoes sprinkled generously with salt and pepper.    I ate catsup, and when I was older branched out into pizza sauce and PC spaghetti sauce, the one without the garlic.   OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA   I had bought 3 different types, cherry, Roma and beefsteak, and planted them in half of the planter box as the other half  was taken up with two strawberry plants  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA(which did well and provided berries for salads all summer),  and lettuce, romaine and leaf , (which also did well).  How lovely to be able to go outside and just pick just what you needed for a salad, instead of buying at the grocery store and throwing half of it out a week later.   I also stuck a OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
a squash plant in there for Thanksgiving.
  I guess I had figured on some of the tomato plants dying, like things usually do in my yard, but we had a lot of rain and in a few weeks I had a tomato jungle.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALuckily my neighbour took pity on me one day and thinned the tops (which is supposed to concentrate the plant energy in the fruit), and staked them for me, to let the sun in.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA    A few weeks after that, I had a bumper crop.   But then what to do with all those tomatoes?  There are two types of people – those that love tomatoes and usually grow their own – and the rest.   Luckily I managed to find a few neighbours to share some of the bounty with.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Still there is something memorable about the smell of a fresh picked tomato, so maybe next year, I’ll try making spaghetti sauce –  send tried and true recipes if able, light on the spices please.   

Song of the Day:   Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off – Ella Fitzgerald                                                                                                            click here for music link

Song on Home Page:  Scenes from an Italian Restaurant  – Billy Joel                                                                                                           click here for music link

Poor Brenda and Edie – they should have read the Book of the Day – Secrets of A Happy Marriage – see Goodreads review home page…

Quotes of the Day:   “A bottle of red, a bottle of white, it all depends upon your appetite.  I’ll meet you any time you want, at our Italian restaurant.”

“You like potato and I like potahto, you like tomato and I like tomahto.  Potato, potahto, tomato, tomahto, let’s call the whole thing off….” 

Tomatoes - AMc - 2017
Tomatoes – 2017