Monday, March 5, 2012

Garden Project Continues...

Last September, not long after my most recent (ugh, I know I'm bad at regularly updating this blog) blog post, I expanded my veggie garden.  By adding 3 more units of raised planters, I nearly quadrupled my available growing space, and hopefully allowing me to grow year-round, and to grow all the odd varieties of seeds I stumble across.  My awesome Mom and Dad helped out, and this project would not have come together nearly as well without their help.  Dad and I hauled nearly 3 tons of compost from my driveway to fill the planters, and Mom helped me plant seeds.  On this same visit, she also taught me how to make pickles and jams, so I can take full advantage of every morsel of veggie goodness this garden makes.

This garden has been full of lessons, many of which were unexpected.  I've learned plenty of the Botany that I missed in college, of course, but the two unexpected opportunities for learning have been in non-attachment, and in keen observation.   In a garden (and in life, for that matter), things don't always turn out as expected, sometimes for the worse, and sometimes, for the better.

My winter garden definitely didn't turn out as I expected.  The bulk of these planters are along a north-facing wall, and many of the plants I put in last fall just haven't produced as enthusiastically as I'd hoped.  My mistake was in not remembering how sideways winter sun is here, and how much that wall would block the sunshine so many of these veggies need, especially in cold winter weather.  Six months after sowing, my cauliflower is just now starting to make a flower head (now that the sun is high enough), and my beets are just starting to make the bulbous roots I've dreamed of since September.  Nothing was lost entirely; they're just going slower than expected.  The plants in full sun, however, took off- and I have become an expert in cooking broccoli rapini, because my garden produced enough to feed half of southern Arizona.  In the first warm week of February, the rapini bolted to flower, bringing me a late winter dose of beautiful yellow flowers, and a ton of very happy bees.

Until this winter, arugula was a special treat.  Now, I'm ok if I don't see it for a little while.  One 3 foot row of arugula gave me more than I could possibly need.  The bitter, peppery leaves went into salads, pastas, and finally (to use up gobs of it before it bolted too) into a neat pesto recipe.  I mixed it with garbanzo beans (following the suggestion of a garden blogger whose link I can no longer find), parmesan reggiano, garlic, and olive oil.  It mixes beautifully with yogurt or sour cream to make a nice spread for sandwiches or a dip for well, anything.  As long as you like arugula.

A month later, the rapini has been delegated to the compost pile, the arugula thinned substantially, and the early summer garden plants are now in the ground: tomatoes, tomatillo, a pepper plant or 2, squash, herbs, melon.  Beans will go in next month, as will a few more chili plants.  All in all, counting the flowers (sunflowers, echinacea, hibiscus) that can be used for tea, the herbs, winter veggies, and summer veg, I have over 80 varieties of edibles growing right now.  I'm eating something out of this garden almost every day.  (Last night, my dinner was blessed with tender carrot thinnings, salad greens, Scarlet Globe radishes, beet greens, and chard.)  Two years ago, I only had broccoli and chard.  Not bad for forward motion.

I know not every single one of those 80 varieties of edibles will be prize-winning champions, but I'm excited to see how this spring and summer garden goes.  I know I shouldn't hold on too tightly to the notion of feeding myself and my neighbors off this garden, but...  A few dreams of heirloom caprese salads, stuffed squash blossoms, and Hibiscus tea can't be a bad thing.   Stay tuned.  There will be more garden reporting soon.

the quiet winter garden, sometime in December '11

the Rapini that took over the world, February '12

early Feb, right before cutting down the rapini and planting the spring garden seeds

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