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.
And then: August. Ooof. Our gardens turn muggy, buggy, weedy and wilty. Even the produce that thrilled us with its first onset starts to seem like a chore, and we secretly hope that the peas peter out so we don’t have to shell one more batch.
For me, vacation plays a role. I have one blissful, cool week on the North Shore, but my weeds and produce didn’t take the week off. When I come back, the garden seems overwhelming, and I start to avert my eyes from offending parts of the yard.
If you’ve been bitten by the garden flu, here are five strategies I use to fight back:
1. Count to 10. Pull 10 weeds from one plot each day. Or spend just 10 minutes weeding – you’ll have given enough blood by that time. I have to squelch my mistaken idea that it’s not worth gardening unless you can spend at least an hour. Six days of 10 minutes each adds up to that same hour, and if it’s really super hot, I’m not going to want to spend an hour out in it.
2. Garden by the sun: Unless your garden enjoys complete sun, chances are good there’s shade somewhere in your yard in the morning or late afternoon.Chase it, and move the minute the sun catches up with you.
3. Start fresh: Give up on beleaguered early season crops like lettuce and peas, and plant some late-season offerings so you restore some novelty. Some fall-loving kale, spinach or colorful Swiss chard will take off where your arugula bolted. A colorful annual on clearance sale at the garden center can perk up a lackluster window box or planter.
4. It’s never too late to mulch. Get off the weeding treadmill by putting down mulch. You’ll get a boost of enthusiasm from having a tidy area of your yard where you don’t mind looking. And any area you get under control this year will make next spring that much easier.
5. Make something tasty. I always get a boost of enthusiasm when I try a good new recipe using my garden produce. Clearly my basil needs topping. Usually I just make a bunch of pesto to deal with the excess, but this time I think I might give this basil aioli a try.
How about you? What are your strategies for getting out of a garden funk? And what's your favorite way to use up basil? (As if there could be too much of that good a thing.)
Remember last year's Edible Estate? That was the front yard in Woodbury where an artist/horticulturist tore up the traditional lawn and replaced it with a dense forest of food crops.
So what's going on this growing season, now that the Schoenherr family is on their own, with no donated plants or free expert help?
Pretty much the same as last year -- that was the surprising news when I visited the family last week. They're still growing more than 100 edible crops, covering almost all their large suburban front yard. About half of last year's crops returned or self-seeded. The rest -- about 1,000 plants -- they started from seed in their basement, under grow lights.
Now that they can choose their own crop mix, they're growing fewer eggplants, but they've added some new edibles, including tomatillos and borage.
And their gung-ho neighbors, who dug in last year to help tend the mini-farm in their midst, are still at it, showing up for weekly "garden nights" to help pull weeds and help themselves to some produce.
"We really do have a lot of help," said Catherine Shoenherr. "It wouldn't be very fun to do this by yourself."
How has the family managed to turn their private front yard into a community garden? Find out in next week's Variety Home + Garden.
I admit it, tomatoes are at the top of my list when planning my vegetable garden. Two-thirds of my tiny plot is dedicated to several varities of the fruit. Roma, Big Boy, cherry, grape, heirloom -- I've never met a tomato I didn't like.
But as much as I love tomatoes, I love vegetables even more. And I have my dad to thank for that. Throughout my childhood I groaned at the parade of fresh vegetables coming into the house (really, I didn't know any better), but it laid the foundation for my vegetable-loving adulthood.
Although I didn't appreciate some of his gardening choices at the time (I can still take or leave a parsnip), I now appreciate the fact that he was exposing me to many different vegetables and teaching me to love the ones many cast aside.
Because we had a large garden, there were multiple zucchini plants. We were inundated, and so were the neighbors. We'd have stuffed zucchini, fried zucchini, zucchini bread, zucchini cake -- you get the idea. So when I plopped in zucchini plants this season, I went in eyes wide open. And those plants did not disappoint! My biggest challenge thus far is to teach my children that there's so much more to zucchini than bread, muffins and the dreaded "vegetable medley." It can add a fresh taste to pasta, a fine addition to a stir-fry, looks good in a tart and can be pickled. Such versatility!
This year I went even further off the vegetable grid and am growing Brussels sprouts, one of my favorites. Admittedly they're a tough sell -- you either love them or hate them -- but I'm hoping that as my kids see them mature and help harvest them, they'll give them another chance.
Next year I'll add more space and vegetables to the mix. And although I don't have the time or talent to garden like my dad did years ago, I do hope that I am giving my kids at least a taste of the vegetable-loving culture that my dad gave me. And if they have an affinity for zucchini, all the better.
What are your favorite vegetables to grow? How about favorite gardening memories?
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?
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