Monday, August 2, 2010

Our Vegetable Adventure

So here it is, folks:
One example of the only kind of meal we're likely to make from our garden this year, considering all we've managed to grow is tomatoes and lettuce. There are still a few living pepper and zucchini plants out there, but they all seem to be really good at producing flowers that fall off before any real vegetable forms, so I'm not holding my breath. I think the kids had fun with the experience of planting, and Eva surprised us all by practically eating her weight in lettuce tonight, so I think we're at least minimally satisfied with the outcome. Still, I'm really hoping this will be a learning year in preparation for some more success next summer.

I had a small row garden here before the kids were born, and got a few good vegetables from it each year, but I never seem to be able to consistently raise anything well. This is probably because I have NO idea what I'm doing, and even less experience, and have tried to teach myself with books. We revived the garden again this year with the square foot gardening method. Despite thinking it was going to be the answer to all my problems, the reality was that many of them were still there: the bunnies gnawing away anything leafy and green, those strange black polka dots that take over the leaves of my tomato plants in July, and my general inability to decipher when and how is best to plant and pick things.

You'd think that with all the resources available on the internet I'd look some things up and figure out solutions to these problems. But for some reason this is just the kind of task I tend to avoid. Maybe it's that I get overwhelmed with all I don't know, or am afraid to look like I don't know what I'm doing. These people who know about gardening, where did they learn? Did they have parents who gardened? Did they have several years of mediocrity before becoming good at it? It's funny that I tackle with gusto things like sorting through health insurance run-arounds or choosing and buying a new car, but totally drag my feet to figure out how to prevent all the roots of my plants from becoming exposed. I do seem to eventually make small amounts of progress here and there, and this year was no exception. For next year I at least have the boxes and soil already prepared, and a big roll of garden cloth ready to block the bunnies' access next spring (thanks to my neighbor's suggestion). We may try planting a few fall crops, but will have to commit to that project fairly soon, so we'll see if I get there in time.

Our backup plan for fresh, locally grown produce, though, is only just beginning. Tomorrow we get our first installment of the vegetable subscription we purchased a month or so ago (basically a CSA where we pay a more successful gardener/farmer a fee up-front and then collect part of his harvest each week). The guy we've purchased from seems to be a nice, kinda chatty older man who refers to his program as “the Vegetable Adventure Plan.” Since he chooses each week what will go into our box, and the box is actually quite large, we will surely have plenty of chances to try some new foods. Our friends Madeline and John have been “adventuring” for the full summer, and thus became very acquainted with the many varieties of lettuce earlier this season. I can only assume from talking to them that it is a good thing I learned some basic canning skills last month, as I understand an event called something like “tomato extravaganza” has been foreshadowed in the weekly flyer that comes with the boxes.

Now, I am a particularly planful cook who hashes out a meal list well in advance, so rolling with whatever is in our box each week will really be a challenge for me. In addition to being more relaxed with the planning, I will probably have to look up some vegetables (like what is purslane, anyway?), and push myself to learn how to chop and cook and serve things I've never seen before. In the end, then, the produce subscription will be much like the garden in that it will make me learn to solve food problems I know very little about in a time-sensitive manner. Because the only thing I hate worse than having to teach myself a new skill is wasting good food...


  1. What a great learning experience for you and the children! I love watching all the cooking shows and seeing the wonderful dishes they come up with. I get really motivated and look up some of the recipes on line and make it a point to shop for them at the local family vegetable stand I currently frequent. However, like yourself, I bring home ingredients that I am not quite sure what to do with those unused portions not relevent to any other recipe. I too feel badly about wasting food. So, let me know how your new vegetable adventures turn out and the great tips you might pass along. It is never too late to teach and old dog like your Mom some new tricks...

  2. Erika, I am an unsuccessful gardener myself. From flowers in pots to perennials, I'm a disaster. And food? Well, my sad little pot of basil is well, sad. I did add some to my spaghetti sauce this weekend, but I don't think we'll have any further encounters with Mr. Basil anytime soon.

    As for the CSAs, our visit prompted me to look into a few in our area. I probably won't start until next summer, but I do love the idea. I am relatively planful during the school year when it comes to cooking, but in the summer, I'll just put the kids in the box with the veggies and tell them to eat until it's empty. Or not.

  3. Erica,

    I love canning. It is such a great way to save the season. It is so much fun to have great tasting veggies and fruits in the fall and winter. Make sure though if you are canning low acid vegetables (mostly all vegetables) that you use the pressure canning method. If you need some books to give you more info, I suggest the Ball Blue Book and the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving.

    Right now, I am canning pasta sauce from some garden tomatoes from a friend and making blackberry liqueur syrup from blackberries I got from a u-pick farm. If you have any questions about canning feel free to contact me.

    Ashley Barton