Things are busy around the casa, with a bit of a deadline to meet for fixing up some of our new house to be able to welcome (!!) the beginning of what I hope to be a long line of guests and visitors. Because of this, I missed writing a blog last week in favour of painting our laundry room and as always, working on the garden.
When I was a kid we had a small herb garden in the backyard and it was a lot of fun to watch the things I planted grow. This love of nurturing perhaps has had it's outlet more recently in cooking and feeding people. I love to do that, and to entertain, and now that we have a home I am rediscovering my love of gardening. Anyone who has seen my Instagram posts on @dawncanada will have noticed more of these of late, I am sure. What began as a child and something that was fun, became a way to support myself in university when I spent two summers working as a landscape labourer in the city of Toronto for an organic landscaping company. It was hard work, very rewarding, and due to long hours and pay far better than the minimum wage at the time, I could work a solid four months and afford school the following year.
Instead of talking about cooking food this week, my discussion is about growing it. I am of the school of thought that when it comes to the garden, whatever we plant should either a) produce something I can eat or b) be a flower I can cut and put in a vase. It's going to be a long and slow process to get there and I am trying to work with what we inherited on the property to begin with because finances warrant a bit of thrift!
When we were looking to buy a house, one of the things on my list for the realtor was a south-facing backyard. This was so that I could get started growing some food (not out on the street, although I am not opposed to that either). Our front yard is currently all trees and perennial shrubs that I am hoping will start to flower and look better now that I am waging a war against a creeping fig...that I fondly refer to as "The Strangler" due to it's desire to grow and suffocate anything it comes in contact with. I am hoping in a few years my front yard will bloom, and maybe I can start replacing any dying plants with blueberry shrubs and rosemary bushes and other edibles.
Our backyard came equipped with a small patch of earth agains the back of the house that gets more or less full sun!
Originally, I had planned to leave this patch unattended until all the painting was finished inside, but the sight of the weeds got to me. So I weeded heavily, moved a couple things around and went on a bit of a buying spree at a local nursery (even though it wasn't planting season). For about $50 I got 2 lemon grass, a rosemary, 2 sweet basil, a parsley, 2 thyme, 2 tarragon and 3 lavender and a pack of mixed radish seeds. Since then a friend returned 3 pots of plants I had hauled to Savannah (by boat) a couple years ago and left in her care when we left to do another yacht job...so that added some mint, 4 hot pepper plants and another rosemary. Then because I had more space and the radishes were growing really fast, I picked up some onion seedlings, some red mustard greens, another Thai basil (you can never have enough) and some red and green spotted lettuce.
Since all this went in, I have not had to buy any herbs at the grocery store. Fresh herbs are usually $3 or $4 for a plastic clamshell. The radish seeds (have only planted half of the $0.89 pack of seeds) started producing within 30 days of planting. I may have spent close to $60 on seedlings, but in the last month I have easily used enough to warrant half of that investment, and by the middle of next month I will likely have recouped all my money and then some. I have given away a few oregano plants because I just didn't need 5 of the things and soon, I suspect my mustard greens will be ready. I cook sometimes for people who want meal prep done and don't have the time to do it themselves, and I am using my own herbs for that too...and giving away a lot of Thai chilis because my plants just don't stop producing...I cannot eat them fast enough!
Did you know that you can eat the tops of radishes? I do that when I buy them in the store, but now as I pull them out of the ground they are being consumed in daily salads. Both Tony and I love the ability and idea of walking outside, pulling out a few plants, snipping a few leaves, washing them and adding them to a bowl with other ingredients to make a salad. 10 minutes from growing to my mouth must make it some of the most local and fresh food available.
If you don't have the money or the space for a garden, then a couple of pots of soil is enough to grow a few things...I currently grow mint in a pot so it won't spread like wildfire and take over the garden. I am also starting chives in a pot. As I said above, seeds are quite cheap, so if you have time but not money, then it is a fantastic way to get started. You just need some sunlight and to remember to keep things watered!
Pinterest is a wonderful source of information, and recently I found out that I can re-grow romaine lettuce from the bottoms of the romaine hearts I buy at the store!!! You can also apparently do this with celery, garlic that is sprouting, onion bottoms...a whole host of veggies. So this could be something even cheaper to try: buy the foods to eat, save the bottoms, sprout them on a windowsill in water and then plant in your pot or garden. My Romaine Lettuce Experiment is coming along nicely, much to my surprise and I am ready to plant the one that has sprouted roots into an empty pot I have outside!!
"But Dawn, I have NO TIME"! What? That's total bollocks. If you have a few plant pots with some perennial herbs growing in them, or some lettuce etc, all you have to do is spend 10 minutes tops throughout any given week watering it every couple days (that's a 1 minute job), and then keeping it weeded (again another minute here and there) and picking it to eat. As for a full-blown garden: someone recently told me that I am lucky to have so much time for gardening. The initial process of weeding the gigantic weeds and moving things and turning the earth in my 6 x 10 patch was a few hours on a blistering hot Savannah day where I easily sweat out my weight in water. It was a project, much like painting the hallway is a project. Then Tony bought a couple 50 lb bags of manure. I spread that to add some nutrients back to the the soil (thank you CrossFit for making that an easier task than I remember it being in the past). We didn't need to add the manure, and that was maybe 30 minutes. Otherwise, when it isn't raining daily, I turn a sprinkler on every couple of days and let it run for an hour or so. Once a week I get out there and weed the garden. I did that yesterday and it took 10 minutes. 10 minutes once a week to pull the weeds and a few minutes here and there to water really isn't all that much time when you think about it.
People with picky children have also found that having a garden and getting the kids involved with growing vegetables makes the kids suddenly WANT to eat those vegetables they produced. Wouldn't that be a neat trick?
Intrinsic value is more difficult to define. There is something about touching growing plants, getting your hands and feet into the soil that is....grounding (ha). Seriously though, humans do seem to get health benefits from contact with nature. If you live in a concrete jungle and cannot find a quiet park and trees or a forest then burying your fingers in soil and collecting your plants for a few minutes here and there can add a peace to your thoughts. Most of my time in the garden is spent when I go outside in the early morning with my tea and check to see how my plants are doing, listening to the birds, pulling an errant weed here and there as I wander around in my bathrobe or PJ's (good thing we have a privacy fence), admiring my handiwork. It brings me joy and peace. The language of flowers is the meaning behind every plant. But what if the true language of gardening is what your plants say to you with their peace and silence, the gift of their nutrients.
Maybe you should try planting a few things and see what you can grow too!
Yours in Health ~ Dawn