Thursday, September 1, 2011

Holy Harvest Batman!

I haven't done a garden update in several weeks; mostly because I have been busy and have not focused on the garden too much. That doesn't mean that it has been a flop. On the contrary, it has been a raging success!

Since this is my first real attempt at gardening ever, I didn't really know what to expect in terms of harvest. I would honestly have been relieved if I had managed to simply keep more than half the plants alive. As you may have seen in the last few garden updates, I have managed to actually harvest some honest to goodness vegetables. If you aren't familiar with my gardening journey, check out the gardening tab on the top of the blog for some history (or click here).

The great part is, that once the plants are big enough to yield veggies, they are big and established enough to require very little work on behalf of moi. When they are still growing, they really need daily watering. Now that they are established, I can get by with only watering them during dry spells because their root systems are extensive enough to keep things going (and flourishing). They also are dense enough that weeds are a very small problem, and a quick 15 minutes of weeding every other week is enough to keep everything at bay.

So I practically have a turn key operation going at this point. Basically I go out and harvest when necessary. I didn't think it could be this easy, but so far it is! Granted I have been lucky that I haven't had to deal with major issues such as pests or plant diseases. That helps an awful lot in being able to keep my garden organic.

The one plant that wasn't working out at all was my Phooi Leaf (spinach-like plant for those that missed that post). According to everything I have read online about it, it is supposed to be very similar to spinach. I disagree. It doesn't have that nice, delicate, bitter taste. All it has is an overwhelming taste of chlorophyll. I wasn't too impressed with it the few times I cooked with it, and to boot, it attracted Japanese beetles. When I realized this, I promptly tore it out of the garden. It is a perennial so I didn't want to see it again next year.

The celery hasn't been doing so well because I planted it too close to the tomatoes and they have grown so big that they have blocked all the sunlight. I could have pruned back the tomatoes, but I like them way more than the celery so I decided to let them win out. The brussel sprouts have yet to yield anything, but stupid me didn't realize they were cold weather plants when I planted them. The plants themselves are looking huge and fabulous. Maybe there is hope for them yet in about a month when the weather is much cooler -- we will see -- Everything has been a great learning experience and I should have a much better planned garden next year.

Today I went out to harvest because I haven't done so in about a week which is way too long. I started with one large bowl and then realized I was going to need several more:
 Baby Boo helped me out by grabbing a tomato and chowing down:
Nom nom nom tomato!
 By the time I was done harvesting I had more produce than I could ever hope to use myself within a week:
Notice the quick little hands in the upper right hand corner swiping another tomato.

I didn't even harvest everything I could! There are several peppers still out there as well as several eggplant. I know they keep better on the plant than they would in my fridge so I left them for now. I even got my first harvest of carrots:
I'm not a huge fan of carrots so I'm not sure what I will do with them. I really don't know why I grew them at all - probably for the novelty of it. I severely crowded the carrots since I accidentally skipped the spacing step after the seedlings had sprouted. They look a little funky and probably stunted because of it, but they taste like normal carrots.

I don't always have a harvest this big. A more typical harvest is this once or twice a week:
We had green beans galore for a month or so, but those have all been harvested now. They mostly went into some yummy pastas and dinner sides. The kids also loved to munch on them when they were lightly steamed.

I have learned that Baby Boo REALLY likes tomatoes. She kept stealing them and ate 4 whole ones just this morning:
No joke, she ate 4 tomatoes!

So what have we been doing with all this wonderful fresh produce. . . besides letting my daughter inhale it all?

Well, for one, I have been using a lot for cooking and salads - that one's a no brainer. I keep a decent amount of fresh mozzarella on hand and we have been eating lots of caprese salads. They are amazingly delicious. Here is one made with my favorite purple heirloom tomatoes and 3 varieties of basil:
Little Dude adores this salad.
It never lasts long when he is around.

The kids eat lots of fresh veggies of course. They love chomping on sweet peppers, cucumbers, and tomatoes.

I have given several bowls of veggies to family and friends too. I really make an effort to make sure that nothing is going to waste.

A good friend of mine who also is into gardening, has done some pickling and jarring this year. I give her a bunch of veggies, she does her thing with them, and she keeps a few jars and gives me some too. I have had pickled banana peppers, regular pickles, and soon jarred salsa. She gave me some rhubarb, orange, and jalapeno jam too, though those where from her garden not mine (except for the oranges of course - this is Minnesota not Florida). I think next year I want to do some canning/jarring myself. I would love to make my own spaghetti sauce.

It is clear that this garden venture has been massively rewarding and I will be doing it again every summer for years to come. If I had a bigger back yard, and if we were in our long term home I would expand and make a couple more raised beds. But I do have plenty for now at least and I am so glad I dove in head first.

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