Saturday, August 3, 2013

A summer harvest

Despite below-average summer temperatures and perhaps a little too much rain, the Eagle Heights Community Gardens has been showing off abundant produce for the last few weeks.

The average first-time gardener has many worries: "what do I plant? When and where do I plant it? Do I water it?  Fertilizer?  What am I doing at all?"  Although simply keeping your plants alive through a single season may seem a daunting challenge if you are a beginner, by this time in the year you have probably discovered any entirely new and foreign worry.

"How do I eat all of this?"

Never thought you'd outpace your own appetite in the garden?  You're not alone.  One inescapable law of growing food is this: you either grow way too much or way too little.  Chief offenders in the "too much" category include zucchini and other summer squash, cherry tomatoes, beans, spinach, raspberries...the list goes on.  If you weren't prepared to be inundated with pounds of produce by late July or early August, you may at a loss for what to do with all that food.

There are many ways to face the challenge of using up one's garden bounty.
  1. Eat as much of your fresh harvest as possible.  In the summer months, make self-sustainability a priority, and think ahead to plan your meals around what is available to harvest.  Craving salsa and chips?  Skip the jarred stuff at the store and take a quick trip to your plot to harvest just-ripened tomatoes.  Italian sounds great?  Turn your ripe eggplants, zucchini, tomatoes, and basil into a garden-fresh lasagne.  Focusing your meals on what you have ready to pick will prevent fruits and vegetables going to waste in your plot, and will be easier on your wallet.
  2. Save some for the winter.  Most vegetables can be frozen after being blanched, or briefly boiled (obvious exceptions include lettuce and cilantro).  Canning has also become quite popular.  I'm no expert with either of these, and am trying both for the first time this year.  Thankfully lots of information is available online with a quick google search (ex.
  3. Share with friends!  You can generally find some friend, family member, or even acquaintance interested in unloading fresh produce off of you for free.  
  4. Share the Bounty.  At EHCG, we have a program with St. Vincent de Paul that allows our gardeners to donate produce to those in need via distribution through the food pantry.  Fruits and vegetables are collected on Saturday and Wednesday mornings.
  5. Let your crops rot in your plot.  Just kidding!  Don't do this.
I've chosen to write about this tonight because I, too, still run in to this pervasive gardening dilemma.  Walking home from the gardens today, I was carrying four zucchini, two pounds of cherry tomatoes, four eggplant...well, instead of listing it I'll just show you what kind of harvest I walked away with today.
Cherry tomatoes (Mexico Midget and Sungold), raspberries, zucchini (Ronde de Nice), pattypan squash (Patisson Panache jaune et verte, although all I see is jaune), eggplant (Udumalapet), green beans (french climbing) , fava beans, bell pepper, one single tomato (Federle), tomatillos (Green Husk), and finally a bag of ground cherries (Loewen).  That's a lot of veg!
 Once I had sized up my haul, it was time to get down to business.

I am often tempted to scout out entirely new recipes as the seasons change, which is good fun, but I do have a few go-to options for days like today when I have a large haul of in-season goodness.  If you find yourself loaded down with your summer harvest as well, feel free to try the following to make fast, sensible, enjoyable use of your bounty.

Confronted with a large quantity of diverse vegetables, I roast first and ask questions later.  (Seriously, there will always be more cherry tomatoes,eggplant, and zucchini left for snacking and other meals: may as well get this high-volume meal out of the way first.)

Tossed with a bit of oil and topped off with sea salt, my garden veggies have roasted at 350 F for about 20 minutes.  

I simply eat the roasted vegetables over fresh pasta with some Parmesan and fava beans.  The fava beans weren't roasted, but blanched and shelled.  I know that you can only see a glimpse of pasta in this photo, but that is the point: in the summer, maximize your veggie consumption even if it means less of everything else.  There will be plenty of carbs to eat this winter, won't there?

Not so tough, right!

Of course, after this massive veggie feast, I've really barely put a dent in this week's harvest.  I need to do some more brainstorming and planning to make sure all of this gets used up in the coming week!  

I'm sure it seems a little nuts to some people to really put time and energy in to planning meals around the seasons and the harvest.  Why stress out about gathering and cooking what's in my plot when there is a fast food joint right here?  Well, it's my opinion that taking a little time out of the day to harvest and prepare my own crops is worth extremely fresh, extremely local food, even if it's outside of the on-demand, high-stress mainstream perception of food, eating, and life in general.  I'm also certain that my great-great-grandmother didn't eat the kinds of things you can buy quickly and cheaply today: red meat on snow-white bread, beef in the spring, tomatoes in the winter, everything year-round and shelf-stable.  Although I know that my ancestors ate in-season because they had no alternative, I like the idea that what I am giving my body is not so divorced from what they gave theirs.

Plus it's fun!  When you think of tomatoes as unique to mid-to-late summer, they become a real treat.  Fall leeks lend something really special to soups.  And kale harvested in the dead of winter, from beneath a cold frame!  The link between the seasons and our foods is really quite magical, and tells a beautiful narrative of death and rebirth, sowing and reaping, all year round.

On a final note: ground cherries!
The empty husks do indeed indicate that I ate a few on the walk home.

My friends Uyen and Phia, fellow gardeners, helped me to harvest these ground cherries earlier today.  These fruits are extremely prolific and make a great snack for a short break from weeding.  It's too late to start these little guys this year, but I would encourage anyone to try growing these sooner or later.  Aside from being sweet, these fruits are actually fun!  They are called ground cherries because you only harvest them when they have fallen on the harvest includes a lot of bending over, searching through branches, false leads, and sudden successes.  We agreed that it was a sort of late summer Easter egg hunt for adults.

One (other) final note: fall crops!  I have noticed that few people tend to agree on exactly what to plant when; however, here is a link to the Seed Savers Exchange guidelines for putting in cool weather plants in the fall.  I must admit that I have already planted all of these myself, as I prefer to err on the side of too early.  With the recent cool weather, I really do feel that Autumn is just around the corner.  With a little planning, you can (almost) guarantee a satisfying fall harvest of root vegetables for stews if nothing else!

That's it for tonight.  Happy gardening.