For the first time, I've decided to invite a guest to write about a particular book. To say "My daughter, Joanna is into gardening", is a vast understatement. That's just about one third of her garden in the fore front.... herbs are growing close to the house and there's garlic, radishes, rubharb and more in the front yard.
BTW, this photo was taken on the weekend (August 7th, 2011) and is already producing everything from herbs and garlic to carrots, radishes and greens. The tomatoes are growing Eggplants, zucchini and pumpkins are flowering...
But I'll let her tell you all about it...
If you follow my mother's blog, I can rest assured that you know that I grew up in the kitchen. I find food to be exciting, and the fresher the better. I also have to admit, before you read the meat of my blog, that I am a baby gardener. Enthusiastic, already addicted, but a rank amateur, through and through. This is technically speaking my third time having a vegetable garden, but the first that I did after research, reading, and harrassing my knowledgeable neighbour.
On a cold dreary day in February, my mother hands me the book, Backyard Harvest, by Jo Whittingham, and I was inspired. The basic premise is that you can eat, every day of the year, something that you have grown; fresh, frozen or preserved in some way. And I have adapted that philosophy to include things that I have picked myself- either wild, or at a nearby farm. It's not quite a zero mile diet, but I know that it is ripe when picked, and only within an hour of my house. I know that it's not certified organic, but I know what's (not) in it. It's not that I mean to grow everything that I eat. I am not a farmer, and I do not live on a farm. I have an acre of shady trees, 20minutes outside of a city, with 2 little kids clamouring for yardspace to run and swing and hopefully not fall into my tomatoes. But I am growing an incredible amount of food in a small space, and every bite is precious and delicious.
There are a few recipes in this book- but it is really a book for gardeners who love to cook, or cooks who want to take their herb garden in the window to the next level. It gives the very beginner (myself included) basic and readable gardener planning instructions, soil and pest information, etc... just like most gardening books will- but the month by month guides are what is so amazingly cool about this book. Okay- let's take February as an example (but each month goes in the same formula). Remember, my mom hands me the book over tea. It's freezing, snowing- the last day you'd think about growing raspberries...
February: ready to eat - and here is a page filled with pictures and ideas like using the last of last summer's jam, sprouting seeds as a crunchy salad topping, using stored rutabagas in a stew, use your cut and come again salads through the winter, purple sprouting broccoli is getting into it's stride. All of a sudden, I am swimming with ideas! What? Fresh food in February? That I could grow MYSELF?
I turn the page.... February: what to sow - 9 different vegetables! celery, chili peppers, broad beans, peas, globe artichokes, parsnips, brussel sprouts kohlrabi, spinach. SERIOUSLY? I ordered seed catalogues the next day!
Then each month has a feature technique (this one is sowing seeds, inside and out, with step by step photographs that just made it so accessible), then a planting section, then a "February: what to do" section on fruiting trees, pruning and compost.
Then this amazing feature on potatoes. Loads of info, and 8 different kinds pictured. I'll be honest, when I first started contemplating growing vegetables, potatoes didn't make it onto my list. Why grow something that costs only a few dollars at the grocery store? I have to admit, I kept going back to this page (because it looked so cool), and I bought 4 seed potatoes- 2 red and 2 white.
I had 12 plants growing so nicely- and I have already harvested and eaten the potatoes from one of them- with chives from the garden, butter, freshly crushed black pepper and dobs of sour cream. It was indescribably good. I was calling my kids to see them come out of the ground! My 2 year was jumping up and down! All because they looked too good to pass up on page 49.
The last section each month is what to harvest- even in February (when you'd expect to eat only kale and turnips) there were 10 different vegetables and herbs. it was so inspiring that I have just started new seedlings to prepare my beds for winter, so that I can try the tatsoi greens and curly kale myself.
So would I buy this book for the recipes? Probably not, although I will probably try almost every one- cold dill pickles, spiced pear pickles, spicy plum and apple chutney, leek and potato soup....
I WOULD DEFINITELY buy this book for the ideas, excitement, inspiration and innovation. I have read it cover to cover, twice. Really. That's how much I loved it.
And this is what I am now growing in my garden (year one, summer)
3 types of basil, 2 of parsely, 2 of coriander, dill, chives, oregano, green onions, summer savory, rosemary and thyme. Arugula, 3 types of lettuce, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, 5 types of tomatoes, 2 of cucumber, 2 kinds of pumpkins, 3 kinds of carrots, turnips, zuchinni, pettey pan squash, corn, peas, green beans, red and white potatoes, 2 types of cucumbers, dwarf striped eggplant, garlic, rhubarb, asparagus, broccoli, red cabbage and radishes. And I planted a grafted 4 in one apple tree and a red currant bush for the years to come.
Some are in pots, some tucked in amongst my flowers, most is in a strip of my yard that is terraced into a hill- in less than 60 square feet.
A Backyard Harvest will be mine. Thanks Jo Whittingham, and thanks mom, for passing it on.