The Garden Expansion Project

I love having a garden.

About a year and a half ago, I built a square foot garden and planted kale, rainbow chard, cabbage, and some herbs. A couple months later, I supplemented the square foot garden with tomatoes, an earth box with eggplant, and a salad greens table.  The backyard garden has provided Jill and I with a plethora of vegetables and herbs to supplement our store bought groceries. Many of these homegrown items been the inspiration behind the foods we’ve cooked and featured on the blog.

This spring I decided to expand the backyard garden. With predrilled lumber and decking screws courtesy of my parents, I assembled a garden box a few feet away from the square foot garden. In this box, I planted three varieties of small heirloom tomatoes and some okra.

Artie and his garden
Photo Jill took of me with the garden

I received a couple more earth boxes from Jill’s family and planted golden zucchini and eggplant. The zucchinis have the most beautiful, golden yellow blossoms.

Flower on the summer squash
Summer squash flower

The garden’s first yield of the season was two gorgeous golden zucchinis.  Except for the rich golden color, these summer squashes look much like their dark green counterparts commonly found in the grocery store.

Yellow summer squash
Yellow summer squash

As the  season progresses, I look forward to featuring some more of the garden’s harvest on the blog.

A Handful of Summer

Artie picked this from our garden this week.  So fresh and vibrant.  This is what it is all about – enjoying seasonal foods when they are at their peak.  This basil was still warm from the hot Florida sun shining on our garden.  The smell of the handful of basil perfumed the kitchen with the essence of summer.

Oh basil, how I love thee; let me count the ways: I love you in herb butter on ciabatta bread.  I love you with tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and a drizzle of olive oil.  I love you on pizza and pasta and pretty much any Italian dish.  I love you in pesto (duh!).  I love you with watermelon, feta, and a sprinkle of salt (it’s good, I promise!).  I love you on top of Thai eggplant, in tomato soup, and in tofu and broccoli stir fry.  So many ways to love basil!

In her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver talks about her frustration with her local newspaper food columnist who writes recipes for basil pesto made with “tender, young basil leaves” in December.  December?  In December, our basil plant will be a frosty memory and acquiring enough basil to make pesto from Publix would cost a small fortune.  But, we can enjoy this delicious treat all winter long by taking a little help from the freezer.  The easiest way to store fresh herbs is to wash, dry, chop, and mix with olive oil (basically make a pesto) and then freeze in ice cube trays.  Once frozen, the herb cubes take up very little space and can be added to soups, stews, or pasta sauces all winter long.

Oh basil, how I love thee; let me count the ways…

Garden Salad

A couple of months ago, I received Sean Conway’s book Cultivating Life as a gift from my parents. Thumbing through the book, I took note of a number of projects. One project in particular grabbed my attention and left me helpless against the urge to run to Home Depot and start building. After making the list, buying the supplies, and checking the weather forecast for rain, I immediately began work on my Portable Salad Greens Table.

After a couple of hours in the backyard, I turned wood, screws, window screening, mesh hardware cloth, nails, staples, and dirt into a small garden box for salad greens. I checked Target and New Leaf Market, our local co-op, for lettuce seeds and came home to plant Jericho Lettuce, Red Oak Lettuce, Little Gem Lettuce, Bellesque Endive, Wild Arugula, and Sweet Valentine Lettuce.

Within a couple of days, the seeds began spouting:

Salad Greens Table Top View
Salad greens table
Salad Greens Table Side View
Side view

After a few weeks, the salad greens had grown a few inches:

Salad Green Table - A few weeks later
A few weeks later

When our friends hosted an indoor barbecue last week, I checked and the salad greens were ready to be harvested.

Grown salad greens ready to harvest
Grown Salad Greens

After harvesting the salad greens, I cleaned them well and dried them using a salad spinner. I then added some heirloom carrots slices, a chopped orange pepper, Sahala Snacks brand Valdosta pecans nut blend, and organic feta cheese.

Garden Salad
Garden Salad

The garden grown salad greens had a more robust flavor than most of the salad greens I have purchased from the grocery store in the past. The wild arugula had a distinctively peppery taste that complemented the feta cheese and the pecans while the Bellesque Endive had a bitter, but not unpleasant, taste. The heirloom carrots rounded out the subtle earthy taste that should be characteristic of every good garden salad.

We’re looking forward to more delicious salads from the salad greens table garden!

Square Foot Garden

Maybe it’s in my genes or maybe it’s in my blood, but I love growing things. I have fond memories of digging up sweet potatoes with Papa Burnum and riding in the field checking on the cows and the garden with Papa AE. In school I enjoyed putting dirt and seeds into mason jars and learning about plants while watching the seeds sprout and grow.

Perhaps trying to recapture some of childhood wonder, I decided earlier this year to build a square foot garden in my backyard. It is called a square foot garden, because the grid layout results in individual one foot by one foot squares.

Creating the Grid System
My knot work

Since my garden is four feet by four feet, I have sixteen cells to plant. After constructing the garden, I filled it with a mixture of compost, potting soil, and garden soil. I then planted a variety of herbs and vegetables.

Square Foot Garden
My Square Foot Garden

For the initial spring garden, I planted rainbow chard, kale, cabbage, parsley, lavender, oregano, and a bird eye pepper.

Parsley
Parsley

The bird eye pepper died almost immediately, but the chard, kale, and oregano grew incredibly well. Basil quickly replaced the bird eye pepper spot.

Rainbow Chard
Rainbow Chard

In about a month, the cabbage grew from this:

Baby CabbageTo this:

Adult Cabbage

The garden fresh vegetables have been used in a variety of dishes ranging from Scallops with Chard Risotto to Cheesy Polenta with Kale. Check back for garden updates and recipes featuring our garden fresh herbs and vegetables.