The Year Of Food


2012 will be the year, again, that the Fairegarden is devoting more gardening energy to the growing of food.


A similar decision was made in 2008 when the veggie bed was created at the back property line. The photo above shows the work in progress. The space is a fifty foot by three foot planting area of crumbly, compost fortified chocolate cake loam. A cement block retaining wall built by The Financier, thanks hon!, holds up the lower side, for every spot on our lot is a steep north facing slope. At one time this area was planted with a Japanese privet hedge, the same as nearly every lot in our neighborhood, along the property lines. Several years were spent doing battle against this hedge, with old black plastic pond liner from the many pond redos dealing the final, killing blow after the branches were cut as low to the ground as possible. After a year of baking under the plastic, the roots were dug out, again by The Financier. Obviously he does more than just finance things around here, thank goodness.


Two hedges were planted as we waited for the privet to die the slow, painful death. At the high end, right on the property line is a row of arborvitae, Thuja occidentalis ‘Emerald’. Backing the Azalea walk is a row of Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Gold Mop’ that has grown much, much larger than advertised and has to be sheared yearly to keep the walkway passable. In between is the official food growing area, called the Veggie Bed. Many different reincarnations have occurred here, seeds, purchased plants, a cold frame made from old glass shower doors for seedlings coming out of the greenhouse, with varying degrees of success.


After four years, the bed has been divided into sections with somewhat permanent plantings, perennial food. At the far end are the raspberries, Anne and Caroline, gold and red, respectively. The next section is going to be home to asparagus, coming next month. It has been weeded, dug and covered with old reinforcing wire to keep critters from diggging around in there. There will be two rows of asparagus Jersey Supreme. Rock phosphate and organic fertilizer have been purchased. Instructions said to make sure the roots are properly fed at planting, since you only get one shot at it. I am ready.


Next comes two areas surrounded by plastic rabbit fencing to keep out munchers. I can step over this netting and have made sure the bottom is well secured from clever rodents that can dig. Seed started wild strawberries have been divided and spread. Sugar snap pea seeds are planted around squiggly metal posts. Beets and spinach seeds are inground, waiting for the proper conditions to germinate. Carrots from last years crop are still hanging on. There are a few onions in there, too.


Moving on down the line is a dedicated area for saffron crocus, Crocus sativus, that was moved and divided a year ago from the front raised planter. This is a sunnier spot and the bulbs multiply so quickly as to choke themselves out. The foliage will die back over summer and the blooms will arise in October. They look promising, to be sure. Regular ever bearing strawberries, white wild strawberries, Rhubarb ‘Victoria’ and snow peas finish off the fenced safe house.


At the end is a fig tree, Chicago Hardy, replacing another fig that just didn’t make it. The rake tailed bird is to help keep this one protected from evil doers. Blueberries in a raised bed behind the shed are loaded with flower buds. We might get a berry this year. Netting is at the ready to keep the birds out. Sorry feathered friends, this garden is a bounty of other berries, eat those instead, please.


Down by the house, containers have been planted with herbs for the cold season, and the plan is to use summer crops in them when the weather warms for the year. A large old plastic urn planter was filled with Black Kow compost in December and planted with various lettuces and greens. An old glass table topper was just the right size to keep the babies warmer and safe from devil digging squirrels. On warm days, the glass is removed so the lettuce doesn’t cook and some watering can be done with the sprayer coiled hose from the greenhouse. If stretched, it reaches out the back door nicely. A soft misting stream is perfect to not smoosh the young, tender greens. (Closeup at the top of this post.)


Potatoes are going to be sown in fifteen gallon felt bags. There are two bags, two kinds of seed potatoes ordered, Rose Finn Apple and Butte, and two large bags of organic potting mix ready in the garage. We have grown potatoes in the veggie bed with mixed results a few times. This promises to be better, for the downside to the veggie bed is how far away it is from the hose spigot. Our summers have been extremely dry of late, with little to no rainfall from May onwards and the usual hot, humid days and nights. Growing some things close to the house should allow for more regular watering, with good rain water from the rain barrel. That is the plan, anyway.


Just a couple of things have been started from seed in the greenhouse/sunroom. Four kinds of tomatoes with a color coded toothpick system to help keep the varieties identified are in some leftover peat pellet pans. Free seeds of Principe Borghese, Riesentraube and Sugar Sweetie along with purchased Yellow Pear make up the quartet. The preferred pot system is the home made newspaper pots that were written about here. But I need to use up what we have, and tomatoes are about as easy a seed to start as there is, so it’s okay. They will be potted on to larger pots under the lights when they are large enough to handle. The other tray has Black Pearl pepper seeds saved from plants grown in 2008. These are not for eating, but will enjoy the heat mat treatment.


It is hoped that lessons learned over the last four years of veggie growing here will pay off big. Home grown food will be supplemented with the local farmer’s market and CSA. Last fall I roasted all the pumpkins and winter squash from said market that had been used as decor. Pies, soup and this delicious gnocchi were the resulting products. Recipe and instructions thanks to Curbstone Valley, here. Eating healthier is a good goal. Growing your own can help. Onward.

Frances

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21 Responses to The Year Of Food

  1. Sue says:

    For those of us STARVED for color at this time of year, your little lettuces look stunning!!! Oh, I could just eat that picture……………..
    THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!! :)

    Thanks Sue. That salad mix makes my appetite soar, as well as giving my eyes a splash of fresh greens. Wonderful on so many levels. Soon we will be tasting its bounty!
    Frances

  2. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    The gnocchi sounds divine but I am not a very good baker. Everything that I make that requires that many steps usually turns out tough. You are so lucky to have a great space for your garden. I too try to eat mostly from the Farmers Market when available.

    Thanks Lisa. The gnocchi was so tender and delicious. Once you get going, it goes much faster, practice makes perfect! Thanks to The Financier, the Veggie Bed is being used to its full potential, I hope! Thank goodness for the farmers market.
    Frances

  3. Carol says:

    Mmmm. I’m hungry now. I wonder how many of your raspberries get eaten right away in the garden and how many make it to the kitchen?

    I’ll be starting my own veggie seeds in just a few weeks.

    I can answer the raspberry question without hesitation…100% are eaten in the garden! Same with the strawberries. Warmed by the sun, there is nothing better! I am hoping to start some zucchini later, too.
    Frances

  4. Julie says:

    You’ve inspired me. It’s my business to grow organic heirloom veggies, herbs, and flowers, but honestly–our poor gardens are a bit like the proverbial “shoemaker’s children”–other than our formal potager, the large veggie gardens tend to receive such haphazard planting. And honestly–it’s embarrassing, particularly when our gardens were included on a farm tour, to show how much can be grown in a suburban home garden. Today, after I spend the morning potting up basil, I’m going to take a break and really think about my garden and how to make it more aesthetically pleasing this year. Your gnocchi looks delicious–and aren’t Riesentraube and Yellow Pear yummy? I’m counting the days until we have homegrown tomatoes…Have a lovely week!

    Thanks so much, Julie, it is you who have inspired me! Seeing folks dedicate themselves to growin heirloom food and flowers, and sharing that with others is truly inspirational and such a step in the right direction for land use. Making it prettier is difficult, since job one is just to get the stuff to grow and produce. My Veggie Bed is anything but attractive, but we are hoping to get better results by growing the right plants. I am really excited about the asparagus! Yellow pear is my favorite tomato, close to the species I believe. I can’t believe I had to buy seeds for it, we had it volunteer everywhere for many years. You, too, have a lovely week.
    Frances

  5. michaele says:

    It has to be very satisfying to literally reap what you sow…I admire you walking the walk of eating “grown in America”. I have a bountiful line of blueberry bushes and love the early morning picking time although I sometimes eat my fill before I get back into the house. Maybe this will be the year I finally put in a tomato bush. I don’t understand why I am so lazy about that? It’s not like I don’t have the energy for planting…I am a maniac for bushes and flowers.

    Hi Michaele. I have to admit to being a flower gardener first, although I have always had some kind of small veggie patch at every house we have ever lived in, for tomatoes if nothing else. This is the year that veggies take center stage, going into containers as well as the more permanent Veggie Bed. It is time.
    Frances

    • michaele says:

      Maybe this video is well known to you but if not, oh, my goodness, try to find some time to watch this dear lady show off her vegetable planting techniques…

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Tt-KHUITId8

      Hope the link works …if not, go to youtube and put in ” Ruth Stout”
      in the search bar. The video I just enjoyed was 12 minutes and it was about 6 minutes in that she gets into the nitty gritty of her planting secrets. I want to be her…independent and still doing my gardening thing into my nineties.

      Thanks for this, Michaele. I will watch when I can give it the time it deserves. I hope to also be gardening well into laterlife!
      Frances

  6. Gail says:

    Frances, The garden looks fantastic and so does the gnocchi! I am hoping the fig trees I’ve planted will produce this year…But, even if they don’t I love the big leaves! A friend wraps hers each year, but, another has the best producers and they are just left alone. have a great day. xogail

    Thanks Gail. The gnocchi were a screaming success! Next up will be the same recipe using beets. We already made ones with spinach. Tri-color, soon to be on the menu. There is a large fig tree in our neighborhood, I know it is possible to grow them here. If we just hold our mouths right…
    xxxooo
    Frances

  7. Frances, you are making me want to get going with my veggie garden. It will be another month (actually maybe less this year) before I can plant my lettuce, onions, radishes and spinach outside. I usually just plant these cool weather crops directly in my raised bed. I guess I had better get it cleaned up and ready!

    Eileen

    Thanks Eileen! That is exactly my goal, to get people thinking about getting ready for the veggie year. I am sort of slow about getting the hang of when to do what, but this year has certainly allowed way more working outside days than ever before. We are ready!
    Frances

  8. Frances I have been growing lettuces and herbs in my basement this winter…only way to keep the veggies all yr here in cold 5b. I too have added another veg bed and grow bags for more potatoes…so we shall see this year…I am also starting many of my own annuals from seed this year…look forward to seeing how your veg and fruits do!!

    Cool, Donna! I have grown lettuce inside the greenhouse/sunroom under lights, but they are pale and thin. These babies in the big urn planter outside look perfect, and soon we will be tasting them. It might be that it was this year only with the warmer temps allowed this growing method, but you never know. I want to know about your potatoes in bags. Have you done that before?
    Frances

  9. You certainly have done your bed prep and planned everything out well. Can’t wait to hear about all the wonderful taste treats you will be harvesting.

    Thanks Janet. I hope to have some wonderful stuff to eat this year. The Asparagus will take a couple more to give a proper harvest. But there should be potatoes and strawberries and raspberries for sure.
    Frances

  10. VP says:

    Love the toothpick idea – now why didn’t I think of that?! Ah one flaw – our toothpicks are wooden ones ;)

    Looking forward to hearing more about your sowing and growing :)

    Hi Michelle, thanks for stopping by. We also have colored wooden toothpicks, but it seemed these plastic picks might be longer lasting. I hope to have lots of food to share, virtually!
    xxxooo
    Frances

  11. Barbara says:

    Very much enjoy your blog. Have never commented before, but am curious about how many crocus sativus stigmas (saffron) you harvest & is it a usable amount for cooking? I have been meaning (for years!) to plant some… Someday… I garden in Blue Lake, a little town in far northern California (redwood country), about 7 miles inland from the sea; USDA zone 9; there is no lake, but there is a river running through it (long story).

    Hi Barbara, thanks for being such a loyal reader, I really appreciate you! As for the saffron Crocus, the name in the post is a link to a story I wrote about harvesting the threads. They are really tiny and thin and it would take a whole lot of flowers to make very much saffron. That said, I did get one meal out of the dozen bulbs that were initially planted. I hope to get enough for a couple of meals, at least from the fifty or so divisions we have now. I suggest you go back and read the first story, it contains much info about harvesting. Here it is, too: Mad About Saffron. Your garden paradise sounds wonderful!
    Frances

  12. My Kids Mom says:

    I’ll ditto Barbara (above) about the saffron. Could you tell us more about this? I’ve had the idea on my radar but haven’t tried it yet. I’m not sure I could find a sunny enough spot for it.

    Hi Jill. See my response to Barbara, but here is the link to as much information as I have about growing saffron crocus: Mad About Saffron. I guess I was too subtle with the link! HA
    Frances

    • My Kids Mom says:

      Order them late summer then? And yes, I assumed the link was about the plant, not about your experience with the plant. I should have checked!

      Yes, or sooner. They will be shipped at the proper planting time for your area. As for the links in my posts, unless otherwise stated, anything highlighted in a different text color will be a link to one of my older posts that is pertinent to the story.
      Frances

  13. Jeannine says:

    I agree, the salad photo is beautiful!

    Thanks Jeannine. I am salivating at the thought of eating those tender greens. Soon they will be pickin’ size!
    Frances

  14. Julie says:

    Enjoyed seeing the picture of your Chicago Fig trees. My Chicago Fig trees are about 5 years old now. I noticed that they were budding out in the breezeway this morning so I pruned them back about six inches. They enjoy the Minnesota winters inside of my non-heated breezeway but grow like crazy out in the gardens in the summer. There is a giant fig tree at the Como Park conservatory in St. Paul. There is a note on the tree that says they flower and fruit the best on well pruned branches. We have enjoyed their fruit, it’s wonderful!!!

    Thanks for that info, Julie! I am still just trying to get a fig tree to live here. The slope is very dry in summer, but all of this winter rain may be helping the roots of this small tree get established deeply to better survive the conditions here. I can’t wait to taste the fruit, and will do some pruning when, and if it ever gets large enough.
    Frances

  15. Mmmm…now you have me hungry for fresh Lettuce, Tomatoes, and Strawberries! Good luck!

    Thanks Plant Postings. Writing about this food has made me hungry as well. There is a flower bud already on one of the strawberry plants!
    Frances

  16. Rose says:

    Looks like you have a wonderful start to this year of food, Frances! My first experiences with gardening were helping my mother in the vegetable garden as a young girl. I grew vegetables long before I knew the difference between a daylily and a coneflower:) But I have never gotten around to planting asparagus–i’ve vowed 2012 will be the year of asparagus for me!

    Thanks Rose. Yes, food will get more attention this year in the garden. I have planted tomatoes since I was a child and cut an edge out of the lawn along the sidewalk to plant some. My dad complained about it messing up his mowing, but I was not deterred. Good luck with the asparagus, oh to have your space to plant a huge bed of them!
    Frances

  17. Frances — Just learned about growing veggies in the 99 cent cloth grocery bags sold at grocery stores this past Saturday. I can easily get those but your felt bags I’ve never seen anywhere. I enjoyed the Ruth Stout video that Michaele recommended. –Mizz Chairman of the Garden

    Hi Mizz Chairman, thanks and welcome. That is a great idea about those bags, I have a kajillion of them. The bags I bought for growing potatoes are very thick felt, found on Amazon. I was happy to see they are made in North Carolina, too.
    Frances

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