gardening does so much more than provide food

Is there anything better than garden tomatoes?   Twenty years ago, we used to make my sister-in-law, when she was a college student, sing a John Denver song before we gave her any of our garden tomatoes: “Only two things that money can’t buy, and that’s true love and home-grown tomatoes!”

Yesterday, Apr. 5, I planted 1 of my 10 square-foot boxes (this particular box is 5′ x 4′; some others are 6′ x 4′).   In Utah, it’s still cold, nothing’s turning green yet, and we’re 4 weeks off from the date we plan on the last spring freeze.   I describe nutritional properties of, and advocate for planting, quite a few crops in the next chapter of 12 Steps to Whole Foods: Planting a Garden and Using Everything In It.   Of those, you can plant  3 crops  right now:   CABBAGE SEEDLINGS, and LETTUCE and SPINACH from seeds.   That’s what we did yesterday.

Planting a garden is a critically important part of getting an inexpensive, chemical-minimized, disease-preventing, naturally weight-controlling, plant-based diet.   (12 Steppers, although I release this on May 1, if you want to plant now, write me for the draft in its current form.)

Square-foot gardening (the book is by Mel Bartholomew) gets more produce per foot than any other method: 1 cabbage plant per foot, 4 heads of lettuce per foot, 9 spinach plants per foot, 16 beets or onions per foot.   You can even build a grow box on a concrete patio (which I did on the TV show I went on).    

Next week, if you’re in a cold zone like us with a May 1 last-frost date, you can plant onion sets, radishes, beets, and chard.   planting-april-08-35.jpg

Involve your kids so they know where food comes from and so they have a sense of contribution to the meals that will result some weeks or months from now.   I believe they also learn about the law of the harvest (you reap what you sow), and delay of gratification (work now for a reward later)—concepts that far too few modern children understand in the industrialized age of fast food and credit cards.   A sound understanding of these principles lead to children who make better dietary choices, children who obtain education, and children who will teach your grandchildren self-sufficiency someday.


My younger children (10 and 7) love working with me in the garden.   This is Mary Elizabeth (10) learning to plant cabbage and spinach:



blooming garden in the dead of winter

After DH built me some winter garden boxes (removable, on top of my square foot boxes), I planted them with onions and chard and spinach last fall.   I meant to go out and water them, but, well . . . it’s been a bitter winter here in Utah.   I’m kind of lazy and don’t like to be cold.   I  just never even looked in there since about November.   Yesterday, March 28, I opened up the box and look what I found:

Onions and chard are growing away!   I still have a few weeks’ worth of frozen chard and beet greens in my freezer from my garden last fall–I’d better use them, because I’ve actually got a harvest waiting for me already, in March!   And now, this morning, this is (again) what the growboxes look like:

You can read how to make these grow boxes in Eliot Coleman’s Four Season Harvest.

Freebie composting

We’ve had a beautiful  Indian summer in Utah, and the last couple of weeks, I’ve come home from my Saturday run past my neighbors bagging their leaves.   I asked them to drop the bags off at my house instead of the dump, and we layered them in our compost boxes as the “brown” layer to mix in with the “green.”

 I’m told that grass clippings and leaves, mixed together, will break down and become perfect mulch in a matter of weeks.   Also, you can poke holes in the bags of leaves and leave them over the winter, because the rain and snow will get in the holes, but so will air, letting them decompose.   Mindy told me today that you can put PVC pipe with holes in it sticking out of your compost pile, to help it get air.

We almost had a very nice dead goldfish, Emma’s longtime pet, Bob, in our compost.   Unfortunately, this conversation ensued upon Bob’s death today:

Me: Bob might not be dead, but he’s on his way there.   You don’t want him to die slowly, do you?   I don’t think that’s what he’d want.

Emma (looking at me with horror): But he’s not dead yet!   You’re not going to put him in the compost pile, are you?   The dogs might eat him.

Me: You know, most vegetarians would love the idea of dust-to-dust, ashes-to-ashes, Bob becoming part of the circle of life.   He would be part of the earth, contributing to nutrients that feed our family someday.   Remember when we went to the Plymouth village in Boston last year?   All the native Americans putting a dead fish in each hole where they were planting corn?   That’s how they got great corn.

Emma (testy now):   That’s not why I’m a vegetarian.   I don’t care about that.   HEY!   What did you do with my LAST fish that died, Nemo?

Me:   Put it in the compost pile, I think.

Emma:   You did WHAT!!??   You didn’t!

Me:   Okay.   I didn’t, then.

It just keeps giving! On extending the life of the garden—

It’s going to freeze any night now, and I’m leaving town, so we undertook a family project today  to bring  in most of the remaining garden crops.   Since I quit  putting up  sugar-added, processed food in jars years ago, I’ve learned new ideas to preserve nutritional value in my garden’s yield.   Here’s how the garden will “keep on giving” its raw food in the next few months, based on what we did today:

1.   We made sauerkraut, one of  Libby’s favorite  foods.   It’s raw AND preserved for the winter, and it provides good lactic acid and healthy cultures your body needs to aid digestion, when used as a condiment or side dish at dinner.   Dennis cut all the last heads of cabbage out, and shredded them in the food processor.   I banged on  the shredded cabbage  with a metal ladle for a while (couldn’t find anything better to use) to release the juices.   I then packed  it tightly in  quart jars.   Then I  added to  12 cups of water (for my six quarts),    6 Tbsp.  Original Himalayan Crystal Salt,  6 Tbsp.  whey (from my kefir), 4 Tbsp. whole mustard seed, and  1 Tbsp. cumin  (those last two ingredients are optional, and if you don’t have whey, just double the salt).   I stirred  it well and poured it over each of the  6 quarts of cabbage until covered.   I put on lids tightly (used ones are fine—they don’t need to seal) and  put them in my pantry for a few days.    I will transfer them to the basement cold storage next week (but anywhere dark is fine).   It will keep all year.

2.   Emma and Cade cut down all the chard, washed it, cut it in thirds,  bagged it in gallon freezer bags, and put it in the freezer.   It’s many weeks’ worth of green smoothie ingredients.   You can’t preserve greens for other uses, but who cares if wilted, formerly frozen greens go in your green smoothie where it gets all blended up anyway.

3.   I made 3/4 gallon of nutritious pesto sauce with spinach and basil from the garden (I would HATE to see the basil go to waste—see my recipe collection).   I put enough for individual family dinners in containers and stuck them in the freezer.

4.    The kids  brought in all the bell peppers—red, yellow, and green—as well as jalapenos and Anaheims, and I chopped and bagged them in sandwich bags to  add  to big pots of  vegetarian chili (see my recipe collection) this winter.

5.   Cade pulled most of the beets—some as big as softballs!—and  washed/bagged/froze  the greens for use in green smoothies.   I peeled the beets and froze chunks for my Hot-Pink Breakfast Smoothie and Beet Cake (see my recipe collection).   I think I have enough to last  the year in my freezer.

6.   Tennyson and Libby picked all the green tomatoes and laid them on newspapers in the basement.   Once we had fresh tomatoes all the way until Christmas using this method of slow-ripening green tomatoes!   I chopped some tomatoes and froze them in small bags in the freezer, too, for soups and chili when it’s cold.

7.    I shredded all the zucchini (I hate to see it go to waste—those plants are  SO prolific).   We put them in the freezer in quart-size bags, to make zucchini bread and zucchini fritters (recipes in my Sept. blog) and zucchini pitas (in my recipe collection).

I didn’t have much corn this year, but if I did, I’d cut corn off the cobs and freeze the corn for our favorite black bean/corn/red pepper salad (in my recipe collection).   I planted some chard and spinach a few weeks ago, and though it’s much too small to harvest now, it will survive the frost and just explode in early spring!   At that same time, I’ll be planting, so I have plenty of greens from April through June—and chard will take us all through the summer and fall (it doesn’t bolt like spinach).

My husband is building me some winter grow boxes so I can experiment with maiche and other cold-weather greens growing throughout the snowy, cold winter.

So it was a productive day—the kids learning a work ethic and participating in “the law of the harvest.”   And we have lots of food for the winter.