My front yard grocery store


When you garden in the city, you take your sunshine where you can find it. I have a tiny postage-stamp of a front yard, and a decent-sized back yard (for downtown). Neither one of them gets full sunlight, but from mid-June on the front yard gets blazing, baking afternoon light that vegetables seem to love. I had forgotten this when I started my garden this summer. Slowly but surely, though, I've been migrating pots and containers to the front of the yard, where they flourish, and scratching my head as I wonder about the best use for my backyard space.

Some of you may have heard the story this summer of a Michigan woman who was threatened with jail time for having replaced her front lawn with raised vegetable beds. In the end the charges were dropped, but things like this happen from time to time in the suburbs and in gated communities. In my 'hood, though, I think people are happy just to see something other than cars up on blocks, rampant sticky-buds, and abandoned, rusting home appliances.

Now, my front yard isn't going to win any beauty contests. The fence needs painting, the gate is broken, and there's a mud-pit where there once was grass. Still, people smile when they walk past, and they often stop to ask me what I'm growing. There's always some amazement when I rattle off my "grocery list": potatoes, chard, snow peas, garlic, radishes, tomatoes, fava beans, herbs, edible flowers, carrots, leeks, arugula, and some struggling squash plants... ground cherries... strawberries... did I leave anything out?

For a seasoned vegetable grower, it's easy to tell that I'm harbouring dinner among the pansies, cosmos, nasturtiums, and poppies in front of my house, but to the average passer-by, it all just looks like greenery. And I like it this way. Not that I object to front yards looking like mini-farms - I'm all for growing your veggies in any way that suits your schedule, your aesthetic, and your available growing space. But there's something fun about being able to sneak your edibles past everyone, and I love the way people react when they realize I have the makings of many meals just outside my front door.

There are a lot of inspiring books and websites about edible landscaping (aka "making your veggie garden look super pretty"). British gardening show host Alys Fowler's books, The Edible Garden and Garden Anywhere are both really fantastic (and her climate is similar to ours). Rosalind Creasy is the guru of ornamental edible gardening, and her book, Edible Landscaping, has just been re-released (it's excellent). Ivette Soler's The Edible Front Yard is a new book with lots of great ideas for creating a beautiful garden design with your fruits and veggies.

Of course, no matter what your vegetable garden looks like, it's all about what's coming out of it, and on to your plate. How about some delicious new potatoes? I cooked these ones up with chard, beet tops, and chives, and the next harvest got cooked and tossed with fava beans and dill (and doused with butter and lemon juice). Better than any store, that's for sure!

Livin' the dream: the one-year challenge


I am delighted to say that we have officially come to that point in the summer when I eat something I have grown or gathered every single day. Every day! Sometimes it's part of a main dish, like my grilled rapini pizza from a few weeks back, or like the turnip top quiche I made from my very own home-grown greens last week, or like the tasty pasta I whipped up with my first ever garden garlic scapes. Sometimes it's just a sprinkle of basil and parsley on my pasta, or some rosemary and lemon thyme stuffed inside a chicken. And almost every day it's a salad, or at least the bulk of a salad (sometimes I augment my pickings with local lettuce or microgreens).

Between my vegetables, backyard fruit, edible flowers, herbs, and the berries I'll soon be foraging, I'm sitting pretty. The question is, how long can I keep it up?

Well, let me fill you in on my plan. For the next year, I plan to consume at least one thing I have grown or foraged every single day. For the next few months, it should be a piece of cake (and, indeed, it could actually be a piece of cake... blueberry cake, zucchini cake, green tomato spice cake...). Once winter sets in, things will get a little more difficult, but with some forethought I'm pretty sure I can do it.

I'm not talking about making every meal entirely, or even mostly, from ingredients I've grown myself. I would love to be able to do that, but it's not going to happen this year. No, just a little something every day to remind myself of my ultimate goal of greater self-sufficiency, and to lighten my load on the planet, even just a bit. Here's how I'm going to do it:

  • Put up as many preserves as are reasonable. I emphasize "reasonable" because there are still some chutneys from 2007 in my pantry. My family eats lots of jam, jelly, and fruit butter, and not so much chutney.
  • Freeze lots of berries, grated zucchini, ground-up green tomatoes, whole ripe tomatoes, chopped basil (if I manage to grow enough to warrant freezing, damnable slugs!), and other veggies and fruit for use over the winter.
  • Dry lots of rose hips, mint, lemon balm, and other edibles for tea, and lots of fennel, dill, oregano, and other herbs for cooking. Dry my Filius Blue peppers and use them to heat up winter dishes.
  • Plant my winter garden and see how long I can keep my kale, leeks, lamb's lettuce, purple sprouting broccoli, and spinach growing under cover (I'm reading How to Grow Winter Vegetables by Charles Dowding right now, and it's super inspiring).
  • Bring my potted herbs indoors and tend to them lovingly through the dark months.
  • Fire up the Aerogarden and the grow lights, grow greens indoors, and eat lots of sprouts.
  • If I can find a guide, collect and dehydrate chanterelle mushrooms to use later in stocks and stews.
See? That doesn't look so hard, does it? Okay, maybe it does, but I'm determined. Of course, for most people in the world this is just the normal way of getting by. If almost everyone else on the planet can do it, surely I can too, right? And if I can, then surely you can!
And so the challenge begins... now! I'll write about this soon on my blog, and I'll be sure to keep you up to date on my progress. Now to chow down on a front-yard salad, washed down with a big cup of chocolate mint tea.

(Anyone out there want to join my challenge? Leave a comment here!)

Let Us Do More Lettuce

Let Us Do More Lettuce

We often buy lettuce as full heads, yet when growing lettuce we can harvest it a few different ways by removing the whole head, taking just the outer leaves, cutting the head down to an inch off the ground and watching it regrow another head, or growing lettuce as baby leaf micro-greens for harvest all summer long. Baby leaf harvests are ready in as little as 21 days. I sow succession plantings of lettuce about every three weeks outside in the gardens during warm months, inside in pots throughout the winter, and eat homegrown lettuce all year long.