Our First Garden.

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Hi Friends! I know it has been a long while since my last post, sometimes when there is just so much going in, it is hard to know what to share next. Today I’m going to share our experiences growing, harvesting, eating, and storing the food from our first real garden at the Sunshine Farm. Prior to this year, we had only ever grown a few fruits & vegetables at a very small scale (4×6 ft. raised bed), and I knew very, very little about growing things coming into the 2018 gardening season. Thanks to some good friends, shout out to to Hannah Whitney (you can find her on Instagram), and many knowledgeable organic gardeners, I have learned so much in the past 6 months. A few of my go-to places for information are Fruition Seeds, Jessica Sowards with Roots and Refuge Farm (on Instagram and YouTube), Under A Tin Roof , and Seed to Fork. Please check out their pages to learn from them!

Growing

What went well.

1. Tomatoes tomatoes tomatoes! SO many tomatoes. I was so happy with how well my 26 or so tomato plants did, we were able to can lots of salsa, pasta sauce, and tomato soup, in addition to using the tomatoes all summer long. It’s mid-October and I still have tomatoes to pick!

2. Hot peppers also did amazingly well. They had a very slow start but produced hundreds of peppers by the end of summer, from 12 plants total. They are also still providing me with harvests through early Fall. I’ve made a batch of hot sauce, pickled a batch, and will be making another large batch of hot sauce hopefully soon.

3. Pumpkins & Buttercup Squash blew me away with their productivity, despite running into some rot issues due to the somewhat erratic summer weather (hot and dry!). Buttercup squash are absolutely delicious, possibly my favorite thing to eat from the garden. Similar to a butternut squash but more buttery in flavor, and also much less stringy. It is delicious roasted, and I am also going to experiment with using it in a winter squash soup and a winter squash pasta sauce. The large pumpkins I have been using for decor, and the small pumpkins I have been using primarily to make pumpkin soup. I’ve linked my favorite recipe that uses only a few ingredients, is plant-based, super easy, and so delicious!

4. Carrots & Radishes are a couple of my favorite things to grow! Root vegetables are so much fun, because you wait and wait, and you just don’t know what is going on underneath the soil. Both of these did well, the carrots thrived in the low-nutrient raised beds, while the radishes thrived in the in-ground garden. I will definitely be filling the raised beds with carrots and other vegetables that prefer lower-nutrient environments. My favorite carrots are the purple dragon that you can see in picture on the left below. I also enjoyed growing watermelon radishes (middle picture) and french breakfast radishes (right picture) and I am going to be adding a number of different varieties next year.

5. Potatoes are so much more delicious when they come fresh from the garden! This was definitely my favorite thing to harvest, it felt like a treasure hunt under the soil. The greatest things about potatoes is their storage life and versatility. Especially being plant-based, potatoes add a heartiness and substance to meals, making them much more filling. We are absolutely going to plant potatoes again next year, and will definitely plant a whole lot more of them as well.

6. Herbs all did well in the raised bed I used (a stock tank with holes drilled in the bottom). I grew dill, chamomile, parsley, cilantro, thyme, oregano, sage, and rosemary. The basil I planted in the in-ground garden did not do nearly as well as I hoped, but we still had plenty of basil regardless.

7. Brussels Sprouts required the longest growing season of anything I planted. I started them indoors in April and they are just NOW coming in! That’s an insanely long growing season. I also think planting them in the low-nutrient raised beds caused them to take longer since the nutrients were more challenging for the plants to absorb. Even though they took a long time, they are coming in at just the right time for fall dishes. If you think that you don’t like Brussels sprouts, you must try them roasted at a high heat until they are nice and crispy. Drizzle them with some olive oil and balsamic and they are so delicious! You can also shred them or chop them up and use them raw as a crunchy topping on a salad, or in place of shredded cabbage.

8. Cantaloupe. We had about 8-10 Cantaloupes total and each one was sweet as candy. They were great to serve as a fruit side over breakfast.

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9. Kale, oh how I love it. Kale chips, sauteed kale, roasted kale, raw kale, so many ways to use it. I also love to freeze it and use it in smoothies as a nutrient booster. This is another food, like Brussels sprouts, that people often reject right off the bat, without experimenting with it a bit more and finding a yummier way to enjoy it.

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10. Celery. I only planted two celery plants, but both are now huge and ready to use. Now I need to find ways to use it.. hmm…

11. Flowers planted included Zinnias, Poppies, Marigolds, Sunflowers, Nasturtiums, and a few other varieties I never learned the names of. Each variety did well and added a lot of beauty to the garden.

What didn’t go so well.

1. Cauliflower & Broccoli. A picture can be quite deceiving. Based on the photo below you might think we grew Cheddar Cauliflower quite successfully…however, just days after this was taken we had early heat and dry weather, which ruined all of the Cauliflower I had planted. Oh well.. there’s always next year! Broccoli went a little bit better. I was able to harvest two heads out of my two plants, although neither were very impressive.

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2. Corn was not a complete flop, since I was able to harvest some beautiful glass gem corn (seen below), but it was definitely not as productive as it could have been. Next year I’m going to plant in a block instead of a row, and see how it goes.

3. Green Beans did not do as well as I hoped, but I think most of that was due to our hot, dry summer.

4. Cucumbers have always been a challenge for me, and I’m not sure why. Next year I’m going to start them from seed and try a few different methods.

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5. Beets. I had some success in the spring with beets, starting from seed and buying from an organic nursery as transplants. However, throughout the summer none of the seeds I was planting were germinating so I only had my own small spring batch, which didn’t last long.

6. Arugula & Other Greens. Like beets, arugula would not germinate in the raised beds, I think it was a nutrient issue. Next year we will try again! Other greens (mixed lettuces, chard, etc.) did much better, but grew very slowly and once mature would bolt quickly. Next year I’m going to try some new methods to see if I have more success.

7. Watermelon was perhaps the most disappointing crop this year, and I have no idea what went wrong. Spring 2019 I am going to source regionally adapted seeds and see if I can have more luck!

Harvests

Harvesting is one of my favorite parts about gardening. It is so rewarding and exciting to reap the benefits of all of the planning, hard work, and manual labor that gardening requires. Here are some photos of the many harvests that I had this first year gardening.

The Best Part…Eating!

Of course I have to include a brief note about the joys of eating home-grown, organic fruits & vegetables. Not only is it rewarding after all of that hard work, but the food itself actually tastes better! It has been so fun coming up with creative ways to prepare meals with all of the home-grown food, and it has helped us eat much better as well. One of our favorite things to do is to serve roasted veggies over grains with a fried egg on top, or to make a breakfast quiche or frittata using seasonally grown veggies. We also made plenty of salads, fresh juice, french fries, pasta sauces, and more. It is especially fun trying to make a meal out of only food grown on the farm. It is such a sustainable, healthy, and low-cost way to feed a family, and I can’t wait to continue doing it in future years and expanding on what we were able to do this year.

Canning

Here is a list of the things we canned this year:

1. Pickled Vegetables

  • Hot peppers
  • Watermelon and french breakfast radishes
  • Cucumbers
  • Beets

2. Tomato Pasta Sauce

3. Tomato Salsa

4. Tomato Soup

5. Buttercup Squash

6. Wild Grape Jam, using foraged grapes from our property

7. Mixed Berry Applesauce

8. Hot Sauce

I hope you enjoyed this garden post! I would love to hear about your experiences growing your own food, in the comments below.

All my best,

Jenn

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