Using Harvests

It’s abundantly clear by the state of our nation’s food industry and overall health that we don’t eat enough vegetables. Even more so when it comes to greens and herbs. Partly because low quality foods are subsidized and therefore cheaper and partly because we’ve busied ourselves out of the time to do something very important, prepare food.

I really don’t think that people are too busy to cook. That’s something that may be true a couple days a week but the real issue seems to be that our brains are too cluttered to want to  plan, prep and cook food. How many times do you hear people complain about not knowing what to do for dinner? All the time. Myself included.

You’ll find that eating low quality foods or low vegetable content in general is part of the problem. When you eat well, you think well. When you eat well, your head is clearer, you have more energy and you are far more easily inspired, even when you have a lot of things going on in your life.

So we want to grow a garden. It’s sustainable (hopefully), fun and can cut our food budget! Right? Well we find ourselves with a garden that we don’t use. Partially because the things in season in your area might not be things you see in the grocery store much or in those slow cooker cheesy chicken pot recipes. I mean, swiss chard is pretty but what do we do with it? Same with herbs, which are expensive to buy fresh and quality dried herbs are hard to find. Many people don’t use them or settle for the old, flavorless, dried flakes from hyvee.

I want to inspire you. Take the small amount of time it takes to learn the greens that can grow in the spring/summer/fall and invest in perennial herbs. A perennial herb gets planted once and each year come back bigger and better.

Drying

Each year I dry herbs to use during the whole year, until the next harvest. To do this successfully you need to have a bit of a rotation going where you harvest and dry, wait, then harvest and dry so that your plants can properly recover from being harvested.

Yesterday I threw a couple trays each of Greek oregano and common sage into the dehydrator.

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It took a few minutes to harvest and put them on the trays but then I just left it alone til the next day. Once they’re dried I put them in saved glass spice jars.

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Once I have the spice jar filled I can start filling a quart jar for the rest of the year.

I put dried sage on my eggs every day and use oregano in sauces and even my salad dressing. There are endless uses for both flavor and nutrition.

Greens are easy to grow and there are so many wonderful varieties. Even if you just grow kale…salad all year.

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Just a really lovely green that comes in varieties for everyone.

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If you’re not a fan of kale, I get it. It definitely has more texture and flavor than your average lettuce but when you cut out the stem and give it some dressing and delicious toppings, it will rock your world.

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Okay, this salad has a lot more than kale. But kale is my favorite part. It also has arugula, pac choy, swiss chard and herbs. It came from this harvest.

IMG_20160602_093519886Swiss chard is very easy and, like kale, doesn’t have a super short growing season the way lettuce does.

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It’s also very beautiful. There are a few different colors and you should really grow them all.

I have these two amazing planters in my yard and this spring when my dad was trashing the last of the pac choy crop going to seed in the trays I snagged one and planted it in the planters.

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Not only are they really stunning, but those big leaves are edible and I absolutely harvest from them.

In my harvest this morning I had to add a few baby beet plants. Beet seeds aren’t singles, they’re a little pocket of seeds and so thinning is necessary because each seed comes up in sets of three or four. If you don’t thin they can’t properly form and so even though it feels sad to pull them, I enjoy little beet greens in my salads.

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Right now my lettuce and spinach have finished their season and I rely on kale, pac choy and arugula. Arugula has also flowered but the very nice things about arugula is that it continues to have plenty of leaves that seem, at least in my garden, unaffected by going to seed and I’m able to harvest regularly from them until the seed pods start drying.

Finally, I have napa cabbage. This is a cool weather plant and is probably better suited for a fall crop but I planted mine early enough this year to have pretty huge plants now that the weather is getting hot. They haven’t formed much of a head but when one of my big plants decided to go to seed I harvested it for fermenting.

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Napa cabbage has a bit of a fuzzy leave and that is why I don’t like it raw. It tastes delicious sauteed but I am using it for fermenting because it does an excellent job fermenting. I had a head of regular cabbage as well because I wanted to make a half gallon of kraut. Basically you chop them super tiny, massage them with salt and then add your culture. You can add the left over kraut juice from a previous batch or use a packet of cultures. I massage the cultures in well and then put in a few immunity extras like garlic and orange zest/juice (both are prebiotics, aka, food for the probiotics). Then I pack my jar and add enough water to cover the kraut and smash it down using a half orange. You need to keep the cabbage beneath the water level to properly ferment and an orange does a great job of this.

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Wait a few days and you’ll have a lovely product. You can see in the photo of my salad that I put some kraut on it. It really has the power to make you feel amazing on all levels. Fermenting cannot be overrated. It literally is the best food.

So that’s a little bit of what I do with my harvests. It’s important that you find the best way to garden and eat for yourself but always good to have some examples.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask!

 

Harvests Begin

We’ve had some very good weather for gardening lately. Over the past few weeks I’ve been able to get a lot done! Which is exciting. I don’t even really know where to start. So let’s begin with radishes.

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I’ve been harvesting radishes for a week or two now. They’re delightful! A very satisfying sort of crop because they mature quickly. When you’re waiting around for so long for carrots and beets, radishes will tide you over nicely. These were under my row cover and aside from some minor slug damage, they all survived beautifully.

My other harvests are mostly green and I love love love it.

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Some rhubarb (which I chop up and freeze) and I’ve been continuing to dry herbs as they grow. My lettuce has produced pounds of leaves. As it began to bolt (go to flower and seed, no longer producing leaves) I harvested everything, that harvest alone was almost a pound. Here is half of it.

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I only have eleven lettuce plants! I intend to let them go to seed and gather their seeds. Interplanted amongst the lettuce is napa cabbage, arugula and green beans. This is my lettuce bed before the bolting.

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Oh and the exciting news in that my borage reseeded there again this year and I got three plants out of it. So I’m giddy about that.

I’m loving all the different kinds of greens. Pac choy, Swiss chard, kale, lettuce, and of course all the herbs.

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Let’s not forget the radish greens as well. Radishes and their greens are disgusting. I mean, we can be honest about that. Last year I made a point of trying super hard to love radishes. What I discovered is that raw radishes are gross.  Sauteed radishes, and their greens are fabulous. I mean, so good.

Even Ida loves them.

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Which is both cute and nutritious.  And speaking of nutritious, my salads have been just about as pretty and flavorful as you can imagine.

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Only of course I added grilled onions, and avocado and lots of hot sauce. I’m trying to be a healthy person and so I eat my meals on top of salad. If it is breakfast, I add an egg. Lunch is an avocado and dinner might end up being a grilled meat or whatever we have.

Some people like to cook Pac choy…and other choys. I really enjoy it raw.

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Napa cabbage…must be cooked. Or fermented, of course, as all kimchi lovers will tell you. I’ve made regular kraut out of it and loved it so much. However, I’m going to let these head up before I harvest anything from them. I know from last fall that this produces lovely, large heads when planted early enough.

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I tried a new variety of kale this year called Toscano and I’m really into it. It’s very visually stunning. Both the way the plant grows and how it looks and feels to eat. By far the deepest, richest green I’ve grown.

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It got some cabbage worms very early on but the sparrows living in our birdhouse have done a fabulous job taking care of them. I love watching them, with juicy caterpillars in their beaks, climb into the house. That sounds morbid but anyone with garden pests knows the murderous thoughts that happen.

So that’s about the harvest news around here. I need to post more because I’m having a lot of thoughts about crop sizes, space optimizing and resource management. I just also have three children. School is done next week so perhaps I’ll have more mental space for this blog then.

Thanks for reading.

 

 

Sustainable Process

As an urban gardener with limited space and sunlight I want to optimize my remaining resources as best as I can. Saving seeds is an obvious one because not only is it a wonderfully sustainable practice but you can get an exponential increase of seeds each time you let a plant go all the way to seed.  Last year I planted maybe six Pac Choy and three Napa Cabbage plants. They went to seed and I gathered what I could while other seeds fell into the pathways of my garden where they sprouted. The seeds were saved and I planted them this spring. They all sprouted and I have so many beautiful plants. That’s not all though. Those plants in my pathway are currently going to seed which means I’ll have a bumper batch of seeds! This is a picture of one of the few that are seeding in my pathway.

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How many seeds per plant? I don’t know, but near a hundred at least. The birds love them too so I only get some.

Here’s my upper bed and my rain barrel bed. The rain barrel bed houses perennial herbs and my gorgeous rhubarb plant. The end of my upper bed has fencing because I’m trying for the third year to successfully grow beets without them getting dug up or eaten. So far, so good. I have a fake owl on top of my rain barrel fence that seems to be helping with bunnies at least.

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Aside from a few okra and pepper plants I just put into this bed, it is entirely populated by my saved seed plants. Napa Cabbage, Arugula,  Pac Choy, cilantro, calendula and the never endingly prolific comfrey. I haven’t counted how many seeds came up but as they come up I move them to get proper spacing. It’s so important that they have room to grow to their full size. I’m harvesting so many greens now. I can easily eat salads daily! This is nice.

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Soon it won’t just be greens! My radishes are starting to ripen as well.

Here are my lower beds also mainly populated by seeds but with a few added kale and a lot of sprouting green beans. There is lettuce in the far bed.

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My fence bed is a combination of perennial and annual. The leaves are present to keep my asparagus (first year) protected from my nibbling bunnies. It’s working. The cages house my four tomatoes. Yep, four. I’m trying to optimize my space and part of that is knowing my limits. My biggest limitation being lack of sunlight. I have again been toying with tree removal thoughts…..Not the mature trees in the back but my smaller tree in front.

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Some napa cabbage and cilantro from seed there and a few added basil to companion with the tomatoes. The second half is all beets covered with chicken wire so the squirrels won’t dig while the seeds come up. Now that the beets have sprouted I’ll have to fence them to protect from bunnies. I’m thinking of using the chicken wire for that. I don’t have enough fencing or the desire to fence in all my beds but I’m just crossing my fingers that the bunnies will stay scared of the owl and not munch my green bean babies.

I’m working on a few other projects around the yard as well.

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Trying hard to keep my focus on making each space sustainable using the three components at my disposal. Those being, my compost pile, my rain barrel and seed saving.

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I do all my gardening with my companions. I garden because I love it, because it is a positive contribution to the environment, because it promotes the health of my family, because it is more important that grass and because it puts me in touch with our beautiful earth cycles that our flawless creator put in place. It is therapeutic for my soul and that of my children. If you don’t garden, you should try it.

Full Potential

I have a small yard. I think our lot square footage is somewhere in the neighborhood of eight thousand square feet. Which is less than a quarter acre.

In that small lot I have a far smaller space with optimum sunshine. I actually don’t have any place with optimum sunshine but it gets close enough so I can do a fair amount of vegetable gardening. And then I have a bunch more places without the possibility of gardening vegetables but that can grow so many other things.

So this year I’m trying to find ways to use my whole space up to its full potential.

Last fall my dad came over to help me clear out some bushes and a small tree on my back fence and then he sowed a bunch of his cover crop turnips to get the soil nice so I could use that space as a garden bed. It’s exciting. I’m stoked but since that space spans the little stretch between my two heavily populated (with squirrels) trees I knew that I’d have to establish protection as soon as I planted anything there. So I put beets, radishes, turnips and carrots and then put this up.

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Forgive the slightly uneven hoops.  It was my first time converting 9 gauge wire into hoops with naught but a wire cutter, my two hands and also two toddler helpers. I bought the frost cloth, or floating row cover from Burpee because they gave me free shipping on my first order. I’m sure you can get it at any supply place.

Beneath the row cover are all my pretty little babies.

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This is my biggest vegetable bed and I get really excited thinking about what I can do with it. Today I planted a row of green beans in there, just hoping no cool weather returns. If it does, at least I have the cover over it!

The rest of my vegetable garden is all baby baby.

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I saved seeds last year from my pac choy, napa cabbage, arugula and planted them a bit ago. They’re coming up nicely! My calendula reseeded! You can maybe see the little sprouting plants if you have a keen eye. It’s exciting because I also saved seeds from that plant ( as well as from my marigolds and nasturtiums) so I was able to use those seeds elsewhere.

This is my entire veggie garden aside from the back covered bed.

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Right now I’m just eating herbs and greens (mostly just lettuce at this point). We have had almost no rain for quite some time so I’ve been using my rain barrel water to keep my seedlings hydrated. It’s still over half full and rain is expected early next week so hopefully that happens!

I had my first harvest last week.

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Since then I’ve harvested a lot more herbs. I’m drying some parsley, sage and thyme at the moment! And also some more greens. I can’t wait for all my baby greens to grow just a bit bigger. I’m guess in a week or two I’ll be able to get daily salads from my garden.

I have some very super adorable and incredibly cute children out with me always.

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This stage of motherhood has been really special. I don’t have an infant. My hardest child, Eli, has developed SO much with special ed preschool and iron (which has him sleeping really well). Avery is a HUGE help all the time. Ida is amazing. She wants to be able to do everything with me.

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She also is generally the happiest thing ever. So sometimes I turn around and just find her happily reading a book on a chair next to the climbing tree or next to a blooming pac choy from last fall, picking away and feeling so proud of herself.

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Last year I couldn’t have imagined how wonderful having this little garden companion would be. She has really been the most unexpected joy I’ve ever experienced.

I’m looking forward to summer break and lots more of this.

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So what’s cooking in your garden!? If you haven’t started yet, don’t worry, there’s still time. Do it. The benefits are uncountable.

Brown, but Teeming

I’ve been in the garden a lot this week. Like, all day, every day. Well, except Tuesday but that was just because it was really rainy.

Sometimes in the early spring it seems like my whole garden is just super brown. The boundaries are brown, the walkways are brown, the soil is brown and even the gosh darn compost pile is brown.

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Excuse the little plastic bags. They’re sort of working to scare off the bunnies while I wait for my row covers to get here.

This year is unique because it is my first year where I’m not pregnant or have a teeny tiny infant. The freedom is amazing and the kids have been loving hanging out while I work.

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Anyway, the exciting thing is, that everything is not brown. In fact some of the most adorable green things are present when the world is still brown.

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This will be my third year of gardening here and last year I made a very concerted effort to get some perennial plants (flowers, berry bushes and even vegetables) in place because there’s something incredibly encouraging about watching things pop up after laying dormant all winter. This bud is on a black raspberry plant I bought from my local hardware store at the end of the season. I got six plants. For six dollars. Couldn’t pass them up. It was a rescue mission. I’m sure every single berry, despite all my efforts, will be consumed by the vermin that thrive in more urban areas. It’s alright, at least I’ll be attracting bees.

Next up is rhubarb.

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It has a large bulb under the ground and the leaves come unraveling through the soil pretty early. I bought this plant a couple years ago from Family Tree and it has given me nothing but awesomeness. Even after I moved it. Twice. In fact, last year I got a half gallon of rhubarb stem from it.

 

Yarrow.

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I love seeing yarrow along the road in the summer and so I put one or two in the back of my yard. They’re from my dad’s greenhouse (Sullivan’s Greenhouse, you can check us out on facebook) and though it was a trying year last year, they’re coming back like champs and will likely do quite well this year.

Viburnum buds.

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These were here when we bought the house. It’s a lovely little row. Dad helped me rip out the viburnum bushes in the back because they didn’t get enough sun to bloom and instead grew insanely big. So I’m glad these ones on my east side do well because their blooms are truly lovely.

Perennial herbs are my all time favorite. Because I get to eat them. After a mild winter like we just had, they seem to be pretty giant, pretty early.

Chives. You only plant them once, people. Totally worth it. I have a couple because I’m greedy.

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Parsley. Not a regular perennial but it definitely survived last winter just fine.

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Later today after I took this, I cleaned up the leaves in that bed so just pretend this looks neat and nice.

Oregano…Greek. But also I have a Turkish somewhere. The difference is that Greek has round leaves and kind of stays close to the ground and Turkish has narrower leaves and grows straight up. Both are tasty.

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This doesn’t look like much but give it a month and it’ll be really large. I literally use oregano in everything. It’s one of those herbs that just makes a dish. Like, pizza doesn’t taste like pizza until it has oregano. That’s a fact.

Sage. This one needs to be cut back but the growth is pretty intense.

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I have a few more I didn’t photograph like the garlic chives and the comfrey I’m continuously trying to eradicate just so that my garden isn’t a jungle. I broke my shovel last fall trying to dig up all the comfrey and I felt like it was some sort of sign from above saying “Oh my dear, darling, Diana…you can’t get rid of comfrey. But that was a cute thought.”

Finally, I planted some seeds like pac choy, onions, and arugula and am frantically trying to protect them from the ravenous bunnies.

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They’re sprouting and my row covers are coming but I’m hoping the plastic bag trick works for a couple more nights.

So, everyone is asking what to plant right now and all I have to say is, basically every single spring crop you can think of. Green beans, carrots, beets, radishes, onions, greens of all kinds, sugar snap peas, potatoes, etc. So far this spring has been dry but for the rain we just had and looking at the forecast it will be unseasonably warm with occasional small rains. I’ll be picking up a soaker hose to help me use my rain barrel more efficiently and the row covers will help keep moisture intact.

What is going on in your garden? Have you started?

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