Update on My Garden

The summer harvest is nearly over, and I'm assessing my vegetable garden and how I might do things differently next year. I've been delighted to discover how much my 5 year old has enjoyed helping me in the garden. I giggled yesterday as she built her own "trellis" of sticks and a piece of string for a weed located near her playhouse. And both kids love going out each morning to pick and eat fresh strawberries, blueberries, and peas in their pod.
My 5 year old's been far more interested in trying new vegetables - as long as they are from the garden. And she relishes every veggie I set before her as long as she knows we grew it. Some of her favorites are Dragon Tongue green beans, Brussel sprouts, collards, tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, corn (on the cob), and peas (especially if they are in the pod).

I'd forgotten how absolutely delicious everything is when picked ripe and fresh from the vine. Store bought can't even begin to compete. For example, although my family likes store bought Brussel sprouts, I know many people dislike their slightly bitter flavor. I encourage you to eat some fresh off the plant; they are much more tender and sweet - and they cook up in just a couple of minutes.

Disappointments this year included broccoli. Only two plants produced, and in very small quantities. I'm going to try them again this fall, to see if cool weather makes a difference. My chard didn't do well, either. It was so damp this spring, it developed some sort of disease that caused the leaves and stalks to turn brown, so my harvest was quite low. I'm trying again this fall, but I may not plant again. Although we like chard pretty well, we may not like it enough to justify the large space it takes in the garden.

I've frozen lots of collards, some cabbage, and plenty of parsley, cilantro, and carrot tops. I canned lots of carrots and some beets. Otherwise, we've only had enough to keep fresh veggies on our table. That's okay, but I would like to see if I could up production next year. Oh, if only I had more sunny spots in our yard!

The tomato plants are huge and are beginning to produce red fruit. I still hope to can a lot of tomatoes. I'm sure I'll soon be freezing some zucchini, too - and I may have to figure out how I want to preserve cucumbers, also. I may also try my hand at making sauerkraut.

Next year, I will plant more peas up front. We are now on our third round of peas (thanks to winter sowing and choosing varities that need a short time to mature), but I'd like to grow more so I can freeze some. While I knew immediately I should have planted most things much sooner (but couldn't because we had to severely trim a tree first), I especially want to get Brussel sprouts in the ground sooner - or perhaps just save them as a winter crop. They take up quite a bit of space, but are slow to produce and don't produce a huge amount. I might also save parsnips as a winter crop, since they take so long to mature and don't mind the cold weather if they are well mulched. I may keep beets as a winter crop, too, since we don't eat a huge amount of them and the space might be better kept for a different crop.

This year was the first I tried my hand at garlic and onions. The onions I grew from bulbs, and I've harvested the first of two spring planted crops. They look great! I hope they taste much better than store bought, or I may not be able to justify the space they take in the garden. (Store bought onions are pretty cheap, after all.) And while garlic isn't expensive, either, it was fun to grow in containers where I'd normally plant flowers. Although most sources tell you to plant in the late summer and then harvest about a year later, I planted in the spring and harvest a few weeks ago. I'm planting a few of the cloves back in the ground, and we'll see how they do over winter.

I learned a few things about making the most of our veggies, too. For example, did you know you can eat garlic flower bulbs? For the biggest garlic, you should cut off the flower and stem, anyway. Then you can chop up the flower bulb and the less tough part of the stem and use it just like garlic. I also used carrot tops for the first time; use them in place of parsley in cooked dishes. We ate beet tops for the first time also and absolutely loved them sauteed in olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper. And one of my husband's friends taught us this trick: After cutting the main head off cabbage, leave the plant in the ground and it will produce miniature cabbage heads. I removed these small heads when they were about the size of a large Brussel sprout, but you can wait till they get a bit bigger. Small ones cook up just like Brussel sprouts (but are a bit sweeter), or use them in stews, soups, or roasts.

For more pictures of my garden, check out my Facebook page.

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