So Linton asked me to write a quick guest post from the perspective of growing and cooking from your own garden vs. using store-bought. I guess the best way to approach it is to look at why I took up gardening to begin with.
To be honest, there are two reasons I took up gardening. First is that I’m a bit of a prepper. Yeah, those crazy folks that think it’s better to be self-reliant than to depend on the government to get things done. (begin sarcasm here) I mean, FEMA was so “johnny-on-the-spot” with Katrina, right? (/end sarcasm) Wait! No. I won’t go into why I’m a prepper here. This is for cooking, remember? :
The second reason is indirectly because of my father. You see, my dad contracted cancer almost ten years ago, and something like that tends to make you ask “why?” What caused him to get cancer in the first place? And more importantly, what could we do to help keep him as healthy as possible?
Without going into a long story, two years ago, my wife & I moved up to Oklahoma to help take care of my dad. One of the things we decided to do was to start growing some of our own food to keep his intake as clean of chemicals, and rich in nutrients as was possible. And it didn’t take much research to determine that the best way to do that was to start gardening.
Last year was my first year gardening since I helped my parents with our little 10 x 10 foot plot when I was growing up. So for all intents and purposes, I was a first time gardener. And like most first timers, I made a pretty good mess of things. I read all kinds of gardening techniques, leaning more toward the organic, permaculture influenced styles. Again, the whole purpose was to keep chemicals out of our food and protect my dad’s health, right?
What I ended up with was a 1600 square foot garden that grew lots of gourds, a few peppers, a few tomatoes, a few beans… in short, a few of a lot of things. The only thing I managed to grow a lot of was weeds. (sigh)
I did create a secondary little 8 x 4 foot bed that grew us a BUNCH of cantaloupes, so that was a huge plus.
And I also got an early birthday present. It was a “Garden Tower II” (GT2). The GT2 allowed me to start working with vertical gardening, and kept the items I planted up off the ground, so there were no weeds to worry about. In less than a three square foot footprint, I was able to successfully grow five kinds of lettuce, two kinds of spinach, a few carrots, genovese basil, lemon basil, oregano, rosemary, cilantro, a few carrots… and I honestly don’t recall what all else I had in it.
For a first time gardener, this thing was amazing. I would guess that we got more produce from the GT2 in three square feet of real estate, than I did in the entire 1600 square foot traditional garden.
This year, I scaled back the big garden to half the square footage, and am getting more veggies than I got last year, by far. I’m still not a great gardener, but I’m learning. This year presented new problems (I will NEVER again grow squash or zucchini – can you say “squash bugs”?), but also new victories.
And I’m not making the same mistakes I made last year (no, I’m finding completely new ways to screw things up this year…). Initially, we got quite a few zucchinis, but as I said above, that invited the dreaded squash bugs, and I’ve been fighting those little buggers ever since.
We’re getting a LOT of peppers this year, and since the cantaloupes did so well last year, I’ve got them going again. Additionally, I saved the seeds from the ONE successful watermelon I grew last year and planted them. They’ve been another huge success, and I now have half a dozen Black Diamond watermelons almost ready for harvest, and several more that may be a few weeks behind them. (Woohoo!)
And next year should be even better. I’m still learning, hopefully getting better.
So yeah, I’m a firm believer in growing your own food, whenever you can. And if you don’t have time or room for a big garden, look into container gardening. There are people growing tons of produce using little more than potting soil and five gallon buckets.
Don’t even have that much room? How about just growing herbs in some clay pots? And if you don’t think just some fresh basil and oregano will make any difference, let me tell you, once you get used to cooking with fresh herbs, you won’t EVER want to go back to the dried, processed crap that sits on the store shelves for months before you ever look at it. It doesn’t even compare.
Still not convinced? How about some fun facts about herbs? Did you know that Rosemary has been used since ancient times to help with muscle pain, memory, reduce inflammation and more? And that the natural oils in basil leaves have been shown to have anti-bacterial and decongestant properties? Or that the thymol in oregano is also an anti-microbial and anti-fungal, and that oregano is a good source of vitamins A, B6, C, E, and K, as well as fiber, folate, iron, magnesium, calcium, and potassium?
Wow. Still not convinced? Okay, here’s my last shot:
My Homemade Flatbread recipe –
1 Pillsbury original pizza crust (in can)
About ½ cup fresh basil leaves
About ½ cup fresh oregano leaves
Two or three thinly sliced mushrooms
About 1 cup thinly sliced peppers (we use whatever is ready in the garden – bell, poblano, jalapeño, etc)
About a cup of thinly sliced tomato
About 1 cup goat cheese
Preheat oven to 425º F. Cover cookie sheet with foil for easy cleanup. Coat foil with olive oil. Sprinkle a bit of garlic salt on the oil, then spread the pizza crust on it. Spread more olive oil on top of the crust and again sprinkle with a bit of the garlic salt. Now top generously with your herbs and veggies. Then spread goat cheese crumbles all over the top. Put in preheated oven for 10-13 minutes. Once it’s done, cut it up and I dare you not to like it. You can change up the recipe however you like. I’ve made it with and without red sauce, alfredo sauce, Canadian bacon, REAL bacon (yum!), mozzarella cheese instead of goat cheese… but the one thing my wife and I (and whoever else we’ve made this for) agree on is that the fresh herbs really clinch the deal.
So that’s it… my take on cooking with fresh ingredients. It’s cheaper (assuming you grow your own), it’s healthier, and above all else, it’s tastier!
Guest FoodiThanks, Linton, for giving me a chance to wax poetic about gardening and cooking with what you grow. Stay safe! :
You can find Jeff at his blog, http://jlbrackett.com/.
Jeff happens to be an author of some profound fiction which you can find on Amazon through his Amazon Author Profile here.