Someone, please think of the children!


If you ask any food gardener who is also a parent why they grow veggies, chances are they'll answer, "I want my children to know where their food comes from." We all love teaching our kids the joy of planting and picking and eating their own food. It's a science project, an artistic endeavour, an exercise in patience, a lesson in nurturing, and a way to burn off crazy kid energy (plus, having them help you hand-pollinate squashes could just form the basis for that big where-do-babies-come-from talk when the time comes). But behind every parent's wish to empower their children with horticultural knowledge is another simple desire: that our kids just eat their freakin' vegetables!

My eldest child, who is now 8 1/2, has always been what you would call a "good eater." She has her taste preferences - she doesn't like peppers or mushrooms, but overall, she's cool with veggies. Brussels sprouts, sunflower shoots, sorrel leaves, beets, she'll eat the lot of it. If I had never had another child, I would probably be insufferably smug, thinking that it was my superior parenting, my attention to foodie detail, and my excellent role modelling that made her this way.

There's nothing like a second child to teach you a little humility. My 3 1/2 year old is that kid, the one who only likes food in the beige-to-faux-cheddar-orange colour range. He will eat corn on the cob in season, but he's very picky about quality. He'll eat strawberries on occasion, but only if they're "fixed," which means "not cut up." Sometimes he'll nibble the tops off some steamed broccoli, if he's being an elephant and the broccoli is a tree, but he has to get down on the floor to do it. Frozen peas (while still frozen), tinned peaches, applesauce, maybe half a banana at a time... and that's about it.

The littlest guy, who just turned 2, is happy to eat nothing but raw fruit, and I'm happy to let him do it, so long as I can sneak a little protein into him in the form of yogurt or peanut butter. Cooked vegetables are pretty much always rejected, and he's still too young for most crunchy raw veggies to not pose a choking hazard. So... more frozen peas. Yeah.

I can't blame them for being fussy. Most of the imported produce we get here throughout the year tastes like wet cardboard. We grownups have the strength of will to force down any old food if someone can convince us it's good for us. Kids are more elemental than that. They want their food to taste good, and aren't about to waste time on anything that doesn't meet their standards.

So thank goodness for garden-fresh summer produce, which my kids, no matter how picky, will scarf down happily and proudly.

Not all of it, of course. They aren't impressed by my bronze fennel or my garlic scapes. They don't care whether I'm attempting to grow eggplants this year, or about my seven varieties of basil. Lovage and lemon balm? Pffft.

But there are veggies that always go over super well. Here are my kids' favourites in the garden:

  • Peas and beans. I'm growing a ridiculous number of beans this year, because I know they'll get eaten, either right away, or over the winter if I blanch and freeze then. The peas don't even make it into the house most of the time, being devoured straight off the vine. Both crops grow quickly, and the seeds are big, which makes planting them gratifying for little, impatient people. Also, my kids like pea shoots, which grow fine indoors or in a shady spot in the garden.
  • Tiny tomatoes. I'm trying "Hundreds and Thousands" and "Hahms Gelbe Topftomate" at my house this year. Miniature veggies seem to go over extra well with miniature humans. My youngest can easily polish off a pint of grocery-store cherry tomatoes if I turn my back, so I'm going to put these up on a shelf, and I'm hoping that the extra sweetness and cuteness of homegrown tomatoes will encourage my middle guy to eat them, too.
  • Edible flowers. I'm not sure whether edible flowers have much of a nutritional profile, but they're fresh and they grow, so I figure they must be good. Weirdly, it's my middle guy who loves these the most. I let the edible wildflower Dame's Rocket (Hesperis matronalis) grow wherever it springs up in the back yard. I also grow violas and violets, calendula, nasturtium, mallows, and tuberous begonias for munching on. Herb flowers like chives and oregano are tasty in salads, as are flowers from arugula, Chinese broccoli, and anything else in the cabbage family. These flowers are all excellent for attracting pollinators and other beneficial insects, so they're educational as well as delicious.
  • Radishes. My eldest likes the roots, my middle guy enjoys the young thinnings, and I like the seed pods. The little guy is indifferent, but he may come around.
  • Fancy lettuce. I'm hoping that freckled leaves and curly red ones will encourage the consumption of salad. Fingers crossed. My kids all like raw spinach from the garden, too, so I'm growing some regular spinach and some with red stems.

What my kids like and what anyone else's kids like may be totally different. My guys don't get excited about growing carrots; the tiny seeds, the slow germination, and the summer-long wait make carrots less of a thrill than I would have thought (I still grow a few, though). My kids like planting zucchini, with its big, easy-to-handle seeds, but they're not all that interested in eating it. I'm not holding my breath for them to go crazy over the parsnips and kale. More for me, I figure. Who knows, though? Perhaps this will be the year that my children and I sit down to a big plate of steamed rapini together. Or maybe they'll at least try it.

(If you're looking for a great book about growing veggies with kids, I've found The Family Kitchen Garden really useful. It's a British publication, so the planting and harvesting dates are a little different from ours, but it is very well-written, funny, and realistic.)

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!)

That's so immature!


The weirdest thing happened in my mom's back yard this year. Garlic revenge. You see, two autumns ago, my mom planted a whack of garlic in a raised bed. When it came up in the spring, it looked pretty sickly and unhappy. Mom ripped it out and went on with other things, but she didn't get around to planting anything else in that bed. Fast forward to this spring, and guess what? The garlic came back! Multiplied by ten! Aaaaagh! Before the garlic attack, I had planned to use that bed for some other veggies (I've taken over the vegetable beds over there, and I'm calling it a yardshare, because that sounds a bit more sophisticated than "Mom's house"). Given the unexpected garlic population, I decided to shift things around and interplant the established garlic with carrots and beets. Carrots and alliums (that is, onion-family plants) are often planted together because they're supposed to deter one another's insect enemies, and the beets just seemed like they wanted to go along for the ride. So I pulled out the more spindly-looking of the garlic stems in order to make semi-straight rows, then put my seeds down in the new spaces.

What I was left with was a heap of skinny, delicious-smelling immature garlic. Was I about to chuck it in the compost heap? Heck no! I took it home, gave it a scrub, and ate it!

This handful went into some delicious risotto. I make risotto a lot to use up bits and pieces of local veggies, especially things from my garden that aren't quite plentiful enough to make a full side-dish. Jamie Oliver's basic recipe is a good place to start: you can just add in whatever vegetables you have on hand.

There are so many vegetables that can be enjoyed in their immature form. Pea shoots are delicious if you find you've placed your peas too close together in the garden and need to get rid of some. Beets, chard, and spinach generally need to be thinned once they sprout, and those thinnings are delicious in a salad or on a sandwich. Any member of the cabbage family - Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, broccoli, whatever - can be eaten at any stage. Brussels sprouts actually benefit from having their growing tips pinched out and lower leaves removed as the season progresses, and those are absolutely delicious steamed or stir-fried. Young radish and turnip leaves are delicious. Broad beans (fava beans) have tasty leaves at their growing tips that can be steamed and eaten like spinach; like Brussels sprouts, they benefit from having their growing tips removed when the plants are a few feet tall, so that the energy goes into producing more beans rather than growing into towering bean forests. And, of course, salad greens and herbs can be eaten as microgreens as soon as they emerge, if you like.

Since I tend to be pretty heavy-handed with my seed sowing (I just never believe that they're all going to come up, and then I freak out when they do), I eat a lot of baby greens. Thinning out your garden beds seems like much less of a hassle when you know consider it a mini-harvest.

(A note: While most vegetables have edible leaves, members of the nightshade family - potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, etc - should not be eaten in leaf form. They're a little bit toxic. They're not very tasty, either, so you're not missing much. I don't know if the leaves of cucurbits - squash, zucchini, melons, cucumbers - are toxic, but they're tough and generally hairy, so give them a miss, too.)