In response to cat digs dirt‘s chard portrait-let’s start a movement!
This year’s veggie garden theme is Organization. While I foster wildness in the flower gardens, I’ve learned from previous failures that a chaotic approach in the veggie garden decreases the harvest. To be honest, though, beauty is probably my biggest motivation in taming the veggie patch. Wild veggies look unbelievably ugly by July or August. And I need more than nutrition; I need beauty.
A creative approach in plant placement that works in a flower garden will undermine all beauty in a veggie garden. Yes, it’s counter-intuitive. The more rows, repetition, and regimentation in a veggie garden, the more lovely it becomes. Veggie plants grow very quickly, and some like tomatoes and cucumbers are very disorderly vines hell-bent on the destruction of all logic in their mad rush to reproduce. Others like cilantro and spinach bolt into flower suddenly, ruining the leaf crop. With a combination of good vertical support, careful attention to warning signs of bolting, and successional sowing, I hope to have a beautiful and productive garden this year all the way through Fall.
I’m also trying to be really really healthy by eating my own chemical free organic produce. Surprisingly this doesn’t translate into thriftiness or time saving. Since I can buy less at the grocery store, I just buy more expensive stuff; but it’s so yummy! How could I not? As far as time management, I’ve spent a lot of time washing my lettuce with obsessive-compulsive vigor since I discovered caterpillars munching it. I am fully aware that insects contain ridiculously large quantities of nutrients, and when the world ends and there are no stores and everyone’s starving I’ll know what weeds I can eat and I’ll be glad about all these bugs…but not yet. Not until the apocalypse. For now, I just want salad in my salad.
The Texas Tomato Cages are performing beautifully, and I’m using the regular tomato cages for my eggplant. I start my tender plants earlier than weather allows by using water cloches, and I already have one green tomato starting to ripen up! My favorite tomato, the German Queen, has lots of flowers. She makes very ugly tomatoes, after all, she’s a German Queen; but they taste astounding.
I discovered radishes this year. We finished batch one last week, have batch two almost ready to harvest, and seeds sprouting on batch three. They sprout fast and are very easy. I use radishes in salad, and as a chip substitute with humus or guacamole, and like a cracker with goat cheese and chives on top. Basically I’ve decided radishes are nature’s crunchy peppery potato chips, and I need to grow an infinite quantity.
Bolting continues to be my Evil Nemesis. I had to abandon rapini after about two and a half harvests (one very substantial), and my beloved Mizuna mustard seems to want to make flowers instead of leaves. The spinach is threatening to bolt despite its shady spot, so tomorrow I’ll harvest all the leaves I can for dinner. I thought these plants could keep producing all season, the mustard especially. There’s so much I need to learn.
Beets and carrots are lined up like little soldiers, and I have respectively two and three batches started a few weeks apart so there won’t be a glut of one thing, or too much food for a family of two. I’m proud that I thinned the beets and carrots this year; it’s hard to pluck out your darlings and toss them in the compost. I always taste things just for the hell of it, and those beet thinnings were delicious; I included them raw in a salad, and they lent a nice woodsy/meaty undertone, so now I can relax about thinning the beets and get some use out of them.
I did the same salad treatment with radish thinnings on my first batch, but then decided with the second batch to plant the seeds farther apart. It worked; no thinning was needed, and no seeds were wasted. I kind of tried it with carrots, but those damn seeds are almost microscopic. I don’t have time to sort out that kind of nonsense.
Peas are climbing their vertical support, mint is taking over a rocky corner by the back door, and red leaf akashiso which I couldn’t find seeds for this year obligingly self seeded. Now I’m just waiting for the Armenian cucumber to start climbing the black obelisk.
The lack of chaos in the veggie garden so far this year fills me with pride. The interplay of colors is pleasing, the plants are growing well and making food, and no pesticides, fertilizers, or other chemicals have gone into the food. There’s an almost zero carbon footprint compared to produce trucked in from California and Mexico. No one was exploited or injured in growing or harvesting this food. I hope I can learn to do this better and better every year, and I hope the veggie patch isn’t a hot mess by August.
Every year around our anniversary, we scatter the rose petals from Valentine’s Day in the garden.
The Goth in me loves watching the roses age in the vase and turn spooky. The romantic in me wants to do something more poetic than toss them straight into the compost. After spending too much time wilting on the dining table, the petals go into a crystal lotus bowl that came into my possession through a maze of curious events just before the millennium. When the petals get a bit old and no longer have a pleasant fragrance, they go into the garden as mulch.
This yearly gesture started with our commitment ceremony. Our minister was utterly on board with creating a highly personal set of rituals. She encouraged us to do what was most meaningful to us, regardless of what people expect at a wedding. It made sense to me to let go of the first rose my partner gave me, so we scattered the petals in the garden.
Commitment is about holding on, but it is also about letting go. It’s kind of like deciding to be a whole garden instead of a single plant. It’s intriguing in the garden to watch how plants change each other over time. Nothing stays exactly the same, even with dividing and weeding and pruning, because plants need to keep growing (just like people do). Plants have different rates of growth (just like people do), and behave differently depending upon their planting companions. Then there’s the weather, always crashing the party with a heat wave or a pummeling storm.
Letting go is as simple and complex as breathing. If you decided you would never let go of your breath, you would suffocate. Life requires a constant dance of hanging on and letting go, breathing in and breathing out. All living things breathe, and a living relationship has to keep breathing to stay alive too. Holding on is easy when you feel great love for another person. The true test of commitment is to also let go. In letting go moment by moment, we become bigger than mere individuals, greater than the sum of our parts, a growing garden instead of a single transient flower.
A quick word before dinner: Oh My God fresh greens are delicious. I know they look like every American child’s nightmare, they look like the salty crap you dump out of a can when you’re on the receiving end of a food drive; but Lord-A-Mercy ya’ll need to grow your own.
Leafy vegetables grow easy and fast from seed. All I did to grow my greens was water the seeds once every morning until they sprouted, and then once a week if it didn’t rain. Four weeks later now I can come home from work, cut some stuff out of the garden, throw it in a pan and have a good fifty percent of green stuff for dinner. (That’s my new Color Diet: at least fifty percent green stuff. I made it up. Maybe I should patent it? I’ll let you know how it works out.)
Having a variety of greens and herbs is essential if you love food and flavor like I do. I get bored with food pretty easily, and I like punchy flavors. As much as I love chard for its flavor and ease of cultivation, I could never have a monogamous relationship with just one leafy green. This dish has no chard at all.
For this dish I used spinach coarsely chopped and the few remaining rapini florets left before bolting, and wilted them in a saucepan with sesame oil and salt. Then after maybe two or three minutes I added Mizuna mustard greens and cilantro, both more finely chopped, and cooked for just another minute or so. After removing from heat I added some chives.
Finely chopping the stronger flavored herbs is important to distribute the flavors. Mizuna greens taste just like that super-hot mustard at Chinese restaurants, and cilantro cooked in a dish is lemony and tangy, but verges upon rubbery when it is too concentrated. Of course you never cook chives.
Fresh spinach is a miracle, plain and simple. My husband asked me what meat stock I used to flavor this – none! Spinach is just that rich when it hasn’t aged in a plastic bag for a week or two, or suffered the ill-effects of refrigeration. I ate half my greens while I was making the dumplings (yes they are freezer dumplings; I do have a fulltime job after all) and considered eating only greens for dinner because they were so satisfying. However, the lures of dumplings in chili garlic sauce and a nice Shiraz to accompany the greens won me over, and a wonderful supper ensued. *Happy sigh*