Saturday, June 1, 2013

Garden Planning

Today the kids and I finished the watermelon we bought yesterday.  Suddenly I realized we need to plant watermelon!

Luckily, I haven't finished planting my garden!  Procrastination is my friend (again)! 

I have so many old packets of seeds, my goal this year was really to empty the seed boxes.  I hadn't given any thought to what we eat most, what I have the energy to cook, and which things to process for storage...

I'm not one of those instagram food-posting people.  I don't like cooking.  But I LU U U UV good food!  

Top-of-the-line ingredients change eating from a necessity ("Gotta Eat") to an experience like beautiful weather or early morning light.  Food is a blessing and eating should be one of the greatest pleasures we experience.  

But sometimes our fast, convenient lifestyle leaves some empty spots.

A kitchen garden fills some of the gaps.  If it is a complete failure, you still got to enjoy the weather and early morning light.  The grocery store is still right down the road. ;)

Garden plans will be as individual as each person.  But the steps to great ingredients are the same:

Consider your cooking style and preferences:

- What do we eat most?

- Which foods from the garden are so much better than 'store bought' that they would change the flavor of a dish? 

- What foods are not easily available (or at all) from a store? 

- What can I realistically cook and store?  Do I have any friends that can be recruited to process produce for a share?

- Write down your ideas.

 PHASE II:

 - When do these things grow in your area?  If you love spinach and watermelon, you are in luck.  They grow in separate seasons.  The same plot of land can be recycled into watermelon after the spinach is finished!  Don't believe the plant tags and seed packets.  Your state university has done this research and done it really well.  The information is almost always available online. Your local Cooperative Extension Office will have the answers you seek. 

- How long does each variety take to grow?  

- What soil, sun and water conditions do they want?  (Don't take this to heart.  The care you give the plants makes a difference too.)

Here's the basic list at our house:

Basil.  We eat a ton of pesto.  We could not afford to buy the amount of basil we eat each summer if we had get it from the farmers market.  The grocery store doesn't sell basil in the quantities we need. Lucky for us, it grows pretty easily.  
Process and storage:  We will try to dry or freeze the basil, although fresh to dried basil is like the difference between a grape to a raisin.  We will dry some in the microwave anyway.  I will freeze some small containers of pesto.  It doesn't last in the freezer forever, so these will be used first.  We will also bring in some potted basil and they will limp along until November when we harvest them and send them to that great compost pile in the sky.

Tomatoes.  Home grown tomatoes make a food a delicacy.  Tomatoes can be purchased, but store bought tomatoes are a different food than ripe, red garden tomatoes.  
Process and storage:  I am willing to puree and freeze them.  Not canning any though.  Freezing keeps the flavor better anyway.

Watermelon.  The farthest I want to carry a watermelon is from the garden to the house.  If we don't get a bumper crop we will buy some.
Process and storage:  My cousin dries it successfully.  I have not found a way to process and keep it.  HOWEVER, it does keep for months uncut in a cool location.  It will even ripen if you pick them small before the first frost.

Corn isn't happening for me.  I have no luck with corn.  It's a heavy feeder that needs rich soil.  I have clay.  Corn borers are tough to treat organically too.  I can find good quality corn available to purchase.

Baby okra has the flavor of the best sugar snap pea you ever ate.  It's also really hard to kill and produces like wild every day, all summer.   Since it is indestructible and produces like crazy, it makes the cut.
Process and storage: Not happening.  I am still working on the pickled okra from 3 years ago.

I'm growing luffa sponges.  They are edible when young and you won't find them in a market here in the states. No storage. 

I am growing squash for the flowers and to pick as mini squash.  
Process and storage: I trade some for pickling services. Squash pickles are tasty.  Some people freeze it, but I am not one of them.  I don't like squishy squash.

Pumpkins.  Not many vegetables have as much food in them as pumpkins.  A bumper crop a few years back made pumpkin pancakes and cookies some of our favorite foods.  Now we grow a couple early and a big crop for fall.  Plant pumpkins on the Fourth of July for Halloween.
Process and storage:  Kept protected, many pumpkins will last until Spring.  Check them regularly and toss any with soft spots.  I cook them and freeze leftover pumpkin mush in 1 cup quantities.  They are interchangeable with canned pumpkin in recipes.

Beans.  Will be used fresh and very young.  Some will be pickled with garlic, dill and ceyanne.  None will be canned or frozen.  I have not found that to preserve the flavor and texture well.  My goal is to produce the best quality food.  If I were trying to be self sufficient I would have a very different list.

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