Garden Dreaming: Will we bite off more than we can chew?

Last year was the first full summer in our new home.  With a three year old running around, a new baby due mid summer and the mad scramble at work before taking leave, it wasn’t exactly the best time to plan a garden of any size.  Too fat to weed, if you know what I’m talking about.  Fact: I would have made a lousy pioneer.  Nevertheless, we planted a few tomatoes that we cared for indifferently and a few pepper plants, which we’ve never had much luck with.

Last spring and summer were mostly about weed control and figuring out what we were working with, since there were a number of plants and trees of indeterminate name when we purchased the property. We had pruned pretty indiscriminately the previous fall and winter just so we could move around the property.

The tomatoes and peppers, I don’t mind telling you were an epic fail. I assumed because of the location of derelict tomato cages and the existence of drip lines and stone raised beds, that the previous owner had been successful growing tomatoes there. Um, no.  What we got was a bumper crop of weeds and about 4 tomatoes.  Blessedly, I was not the only person in the area to have less than bountiful tomatoes last summer. But the neighbors could have just been being kind.  I have great neighbors.

The fruit trees did well, although we didn’t utilize the plums well since they came ripe the same week the Liliputian was born. A good pruning last winter and some experimenting with thinning gave us some nice peaches, not as many as last year but much bigger and very tasty.  Ditto for the grapes.

Our raspberries didn’t do much since they’d been in a state of sad neglect that required us to pretty much chop them down to the ground so we could regain some control. I believe that they mostly bear on second year growth, so this year should be much better.

Strawberries both purposefully planted and volunteer are all over the place. Small berries, but very sweet.  Once we showed Bean that they were OK to eat, she was all over them.  The dog figured out that they were edible and then was caught sneaking berries.  We also watched her eat a large quantity of the low grapes.  The dog, not the toddler. It seems likely that the high grapes are destined for the birds, the low for the dog and the middle for the people.  You have to share the bounty, right?

IMG_3908Since we had more grapes than we could eat, I borrowed a steam juicer from our sitter’s mother and made grape juice. I couldn’t believe the glorious color.

Herbs were quite another matter.  Tarragon, lavender and sage did well. We dug up the mint, since it will get out of control when grown unfettered. I had a large galvanized tub that we used for champagne at our wedding stored in the shed, so I planted the mint in there and Fixer Guy hauled it up on the deck and ran a drip line to it.  It did wonderfully.  The catnip wasn’t as fortunate.  The cat found it and left me with two mangled, sad little plants. The cat left with a very satisfied look. Chives have volunteered all over the property, so I’ll have to dig a few of those up and share starts with anyone who wants them.

Now that the seed catalogs are fairly pouring into my mailbox, it’s hard not to lose my composure and just by every little packet of seeds that catches my fancy.  I flipped thru several last night and noted numerous possibilities.  I’m really drawn to unusually colored varieties of almost everything, which if left unchecked was going to draw me into a garden mostly filled with purple vegetables.  For sure we’re going to try to grow a fancy broccoli variety that’s a charming chartreuse color with crazy pointed florets that make me think of chiton shells. (Google them).  Bean loves broccoli (parenting win!!) so hopefully she’ll find this broccoli as appealing as I do. I also spied purple cauliflower.  Can you see me hopping up and down?   There are also all kinds of crazy things like beans that are eighteen inches long. Wow!

For sure we’re going to plant all the tomatoes we can deal with, since I use them like mad all year for spaghetti sauce, salsa, chili and what have you.  I’ve also been referred to a great peach salsa recipe so we should make good use of three trees worth of peaches. I’m not much for pies, but I imagine we’ll be forced into a few peach pies just to get rid of them.

Since my company grows peas commercially, I don’t care if we never grow any of those. We’re also going to try out some pink popping corn from an heirloom variety.  Ditto for multicolored carrots. The theory behind all these crazy colored varieties is to entice Bean into eating all kinds of veggies.  I think I will skip growing lettuce since I inevitably plant some, usually in a pot on the deck, which does well until I forget about it and it bolts before I get a chance to eat any.

Ultimately, I’d like to see just how much of our own food we can produce right at home. I’ve seen several books that suggest a family of 4 can produce up to 85% of their food on a quarter acre.  That’s a little ambitious for me, but we’ll see.  Here’s hoping canning jars are the limiting factor!

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