Greengirls Helen Yarmoska, Nicole Hvidsten, Martha Buns, Connie Nelson, Kim Palmer and Mary Jane Smetanka are dishin' the dirt from the back-yard garden and beyond. Whether you're a greenthumb or greenhorn, they're eager to learn from your mishaps, mistakes - and most importantly, your sweet successes - all growing season long.
I have tomato envy.
The feeling is all of my own doing. I chose not to plant my garden until Memorial Day. I chose not to plant cherry tomatoes this year. I chose larger variety tomato varieties. However, when my neighbor is already giving away tomatoes from his garden, it sits poorly in my craw.
Yes, he planted Early Girl and his tomatoes are on top of a berm in front in full sunlight for 10 hours. But jeepers, he has picked 5 tomatoes already and has 5 more that will be ready this week (not that I’m counting).
In my frustration, I checked the label of the Mortgage Lifter tomato I planted – 85 days to maturation. 85 days! What was I thinking? I won’t have a red tomato until August 25. That’s AGES away. My basil is ready; my feta cheese is sitting in the refrigerator ready for a nice caprese salad; but my tomatoes refuse to turn red.
Perhaps I can convince my neighbor that he really must eat more kale then do a swap for some of his tomatoes. The trade will fill my belly, but not my craw.
How about you, got any frustrations in the vegie garden right now?
Does gardening save you money? Well, it depends on what kind of gardener you are. Gardening can be an expensive hobby, if you're in to exotic plants, or a cheap hobby, if you shop farmers markets and pick up freebies from neighbors.
I do keep track of my gardening expenses so I know where the money goes. There are usually a few splurges each spring on a few new perennials, but those pay dividends down the road when those lily bulbs naturalize. To offset the cost of some fancy pants new plant, I do the math to figure out how much my vegetable garden produces.
Here are five ways I rationalize that my garden saves me money, both the quantifiable and the less tangible:
1. Vegetable gardens rock: If you figure one four-pack of basil from the farmers market costs about the same as one of those plastic packages of fresh basil leaves at the store, by the time you get to your fourth meal involving basil, you're definitely coming out way ahead. Plus, the basil in the store package goes bad quickly, while the plant outside stays fresh. One kale plant produces oodles and oodles of the equivalant of those plastic boxes you can buy at the store for more than $4. Packets of seeds are available for under a few bucks, and each time I go out to pick peas, I bring in fresh bounty that would fetch $3 at the farmers market. And being able to pick veggies at their peak when you're ready to use them cuts down on food waste.Yes, I know there are watering costs, but factored out over the summer, I definitely come out ahead, and eat healthier to boot.
2. Fitness regimen. Healthy eating may well save you on medical costs long term. And if you put your back into it, so to speak, you can skip the gym dues for the summer. If I ever really got my garden in shape, I'd get myself in shape, too. Weeding might not seem like a workout, but even my fitness fanatic husband acknowledges that yard work counts.
3. Gardens keep on giving. Naturalizing is just a pretty word for describing desirable plants that spread. That packet of oriental lily bulbs I splurged on 10 years ago? Double the coverage now. The mini "emerald isle" hosta collection I indulged in? I've divided it a couple times now, covering more of my gaps and using the extras to trade for some heirloom tomato seedlings, herbs and canna bulbs at the plant swap this year. The mallow I planted one of a decade ago may not always self sow in the places I want it to, but I just yank the ones I don't want and say thank you to the ones that I do. The price per unit comes down over the years, which is handy since not every perennial is a survivor.
4. Jumping off the hedonic treadmill. Humans supposedly keep needing more of everything to be happy: We quickly adapt to any increase in pay, new possessions, etc., and want more. Basically, new car smell only lasts so long. Put that up against the heavenly scent of a peony. Sure, the blossoms are fleeting each season, but the plants, as our grandmothers could tell us, will outlast us.Gardens help gratify our need for new things by providing fresh surprises each time you come around the corner: The peas are up! The delphinium are blooming! Oh, yeah, I planted a campanula there last year! With a ready supply of novelty, the need for newness is at least partially satisfied. To heck with new clothes; I'm just going to put on old ones to garden anyway.
5. It's cheaper than therapy. You may not always get tomatoes, depending on the weather and the squirrels, but the satisfaction of seeing reward for your efforts, and the tension-relieving benefits of garden work are worth a theoretical bundle. Plants really are good listeners. (Although the squirrels, not so much.)
How do you rationalize your garden costs? Do you figure you come out money ahead or do you care?
I'd made a few efforts this weekend to try to ward them off, knowing that the riper the tomatoes got, the more vulnerable to marauders they become. But a ring of netting didn't deter the varmints, so I'm going to have to take sterner measures.
In the meantime, until I get to a store for more defense supplies, I've started taking the precaution of picking them far sooner than I would ordinarily prefer, just so we get some tomatoes this year, even if they're counter-ripened.
Do squirrels attack your tomatoes? And what measures have you had success and failure with when it comes to protecting your bounty?
In my world, certain foods connote certain feelings or memories.
The glee of seeing the first fruits of my labor never gets old. Is it wrong to get excited over a couple of grape tomatoes and bell peppers? Perhaps. But when gardening isn't second-nature, so to speak, even the small victories are worth celebrating. Now, after a confusing start to the gardening season, the herbs are being incorporated into meals (although my basil is really pale this year), tomatoes of all varieties are waiting to turn, zucchini plants are ready to take over the world and the Brussels sprouts are starting their ascent. The weeds are also doing very nicely, thank you very much. Aside from the birds always beating me to the strawberries, it's shaping up to be a good year. The key will be to hold my enthusiasm throughout the growing season. I can't be the only one who sometimes feels like quitting by the time mid-August rolls around. By then I've had plenty tastes of summer -- more BLTs than a person should ever eat, sweet corn for every other meal, cucumbers garnishing anything I can think of and zucchini, well, everything.
But come fall, the tastes of summer give way to the tastes of fall: squash, apples, pumpkins ... and the cycle continues, with little bursts of excitement with each growing milestone.
The more I think about it, gardening is like seasonal parenting -- you start out with a seed or a young plant, give it food, water and a lot of attention, and finally it blossoms. And although it seems like a lot of work, the end result makes it all worthwhile.
Are you an emotional gardener? What tastes like summer to you?
Another way I enjoy using herbs is with infused vinegars. I’ve used basil, rosemary, tarragon, and even garlic chives for my vinegars. They ad punch to homemade dressings and make wonderful gifts.
· Cut your herbs in the morning, rinse them clean, DRY THROUROUGHLY
· Stuff as many herbs as you can in a clean, dry canning jar
· Fill to the rim with white vinegar
· Give it a shake every day for a couple of weeks
· Strain off the vinegar and put in decorative bottles (or leave in the canning jar for home use)
Herbs are fast and easy to grow. And it seems the more you cut them back, the better they look and grow. So I try to only plant one herb plant and harvest from June to October.
I want to try creating my own salt substitute recipe. The store-purchased labels have dried citrus. Does anyone know of recipes without that? Or should I just try to peel the zest off and orange and put in my dehydrator?
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