Live Sustainably: Eat Your Garden

[Here’s a reminder of why and how to eat your garden. It’s not difficult. As humans, we’ve been growing food for millennia. Surely we can re-learn this foundational skill.]

While you should avoid going food shopping with an empty stomach, you should definitely plan your garden with an eye toward eating. When you start gardening with the goal of harvesting the ingredients for dishes that reflect your flavor and nutritional preferences, the garden becomes a true extension of your kitchen.

eat more salad from your garden

Especially during winter, we try to keep the lettuce going so there’s always fresh salad ingredients on hand. We’re also going to plant some ingredients for a Vietnamese pho soup, especially bok choy, which we like and which grows well in our garden. When the vegetables are ready to harvest, we’ll collect the rest of the ingredients and make that soup several times while the bok choy lasts as well as several other recipes featuring this vegetable. With the greens doing so well in our winter garden, the kitchen needs to be ready. We found some good takes on winter greens including garlicky chard with olives and pine nuts. If you can’t eat your own garden for whatever reason, let the pros grow the veggies for dinner. Because winter squash struggles in our garden, I visit the farmers at our Saturday market who produce a range of winter squash varieties when I want to make my favorite oven-roasted squash with garlic and parsley.

Get Started: Planning to Eat Your Garden

First, make a list of what you generally buy at the store now for at-home meal preparation. Identify foods on your list that seem reasonable to try for a beginner gardener: lettuces? arugula? radishes? peas? beets? Do you have an interest in cooking and eating any of these foods? If not, don’t plant them. Plant something you eat.

Certain crops are more challenging than others: carrots aren’t easy but radishes are a snap. Turnips don’t require lots of attention and nothing really seems to eat the arugula (except us). Lettuce: easy; peas, pretty easy. Swiss chard, kale, and mustard greens? Very easy and prolific.

Get creative in the kitchen with multiple quick, tasty recipes for using the forthcoming bounty from your garden to keep from getting bored with making too much of the same over and over. Challenge yourself to eat every last bunch of Swiss chard, kale, and mustard greens your garden produces. I put ours into spanikopita, lasagna, scrambled eggs, ravioli and any other dish that calls for spinach. Once your plants begin to produce, the garden becomes a source for free food that reflects what you like to eat and what you want to explore in the kitchen. This year, we’ve planted fava beans as an experiment in an effort to get the freshest of this sensitive vegetable.

seeds for 2011’s spring garden

Attract good bugs: Sow some easy flowing plants like cosmos to attract pollinators. Let some plants from last season go to flower and seed. Bok choy is not only pretty with its yellow flowers but it also self-seeds and can come back in subsequent seasons of its own accord.

Defend against bad bugs: Plant enough to tithe to the inevitable pests. Plant lots of onions chives and garlic throughout your garden, which can help repel several species of pest. Handpick nasties like caterpillars and blast aphids off with a strong stream of water and ivory soap. If you try to kill every bug in your garden, you’re going to get the good ones, too. Pay attention to the base of your plants as well as the curled, hidden portions of leaves, where aphids love to hide and do their thing. If you see ants on your plants, you’ve probably got aphids. Unfortunate but not completely terrible, unless you do nothing to intervene.

Research: Discover the gardening and food processing tactics of others who capture their experience online, whether their garden grows in Oregon, California, or wherever. Get inspired by the stories and successes of other folks like you who want to eat more of the garden than the occasional herb.

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