January 1 marks the beginning of one of my favorite times of year: garden planning time. I tend to make plans rather than resolutions, and planning my garden is always so exciting. I imagine the beautiful flowers and delicious foods I’ll grow, ignoring the possibilities of weeds, droughts, and pests. Flipping through those glossy, colorful seed catalogues is enough to make my mouth water. 2012 will mark our fourth gardening year here at our home, and before that I lived on a farm surrounded by orchards and fields of a variety of different crops. Even with those experiences, I’m far from a gardening expert.
This year, I’ve made a list of ten foods that I’ve never grown before. I want to learn about them and learn to grow, cook, and preserve them. They’re not “new” foods, but they’re new to my garden.
1. Peach Trees
Peaches are my husband’s favorite fruit, and his favorite dessert is peach pie. I was spoiled enough to have a peach orchard on the farm, and so I know that a supermarket peach just cannot compare to one that you pluck off the tree yourself. When you bite into that peach, still warm from the hot summer sun, and the juices run down your arm, that’s a pure delight that everyone should get to experience.
I plan to plant three trees to add to our tiny little orchard of six apple trees that we planted a few years ago. Growing fruit trees at home is different from those grown in a bigger orchard, and I like to select trees grown on dwarf roots, which will keep them smaller and enable us to pick them without climbing a ladder. I haven’t chosen the varieties yet, but I want them to all be freestone, which means the flesh will separate easily from the pit when sliced open, and I plan to eat them fresh, bake with them, and preserve them by canning and freezing.
2. A Cherry Tree
To continue adding to our little home orchard, I’m going to plant a cherry tree. I am a huge fan of sweet cherries and love to eat them until my fingernails are stained purple. The problem is that my wallet can’t support my cherry habit, with the price sometimes topping $5 per pound.
I would like to plant a multi-variety tree, which consists of three to four different varieties grafted onto one dwarf root. There are a few benefits to this, including saving space in our yard, elongating the season because different varieties will ripen at different times, and giving us the flavor excitement of white cherries growing alongside dark ruby cherries. Again, it’ll be a few years before any cherries are harvested.
3. Golden Raspberries
Continuing with our discussion of ridiculously expensive fruit, the golden (or white) raspberry is another favorite. I’ve seen these golden beauties priced as high as $6 per half-pint. A half-pint is about how much I can shove into my mouth at one time! We have a little berry patch in our yard, and I’m going to add six golden raspberry canes to it this spring.
My son Joshua (who is currently 21 months old) loves to pick berries and pop them into his mouth, so our berry patch is one of his favorite summer hangouts. It’s fantastic that he will be able to enjoy a small crop of golden raspberries in their first season at our house.
I have seen the health benefits of blueberries plastered all over the place. It seems that they are a superfood chock full of antioxidants and phytonutrients. I don’t really care about the health food buzz word du jour — all I know is that they’re a favorite around here.
We’re going to add two blueberry bushes to our berry patch this summer, and hope for a good harvest in the following year. I’m also going to have to invest in some bird netting, since blueberries are a favorite snack for local birds. Nets are a great, safe alternative to pesticides, and I have vivid memories of playing dress up in blueberry nets as a kid. They make beautiful bridal veils, in case you were wondering.
Who doesn’t love watermelon in summer? It’s a staple at summer picnics, but I have shied away from growing it in the past because of the space it takes up in the garden. Those vines needs space to spread out, and this year I’m going to look for a variety that is good for home gardening and I might even try to have it climb a trellis. We’ll see.
I’m a big fan of the “Sugar Baby” watermelons, which produce small, dark green fruits with bright pink flesh and black seeds. I don’t know why, but something just feels wrong to me about seedless watermelon. Plus it is fun to spit out those seeds. I have heard fabulous things about dehydrated watermelon and how sweet it is, and I would love to try dehydrating any that we don’t gobble up fresh.
Need I say more? We all love garlic, don’t we? Garlic makes everything better. I use garlic in my cooking almost every night, so it’s about time for me to learn how to grow it. Garlic is planted in the fall, so I’ll have a long time before I have to pick out what variety I want to grow.
After garlic is harvested, it can be dried and the stems can be braided together and hung up to continue drying. This will have the benefit of decorating my kitchen pantry while at the same time warding off vampires.
I’ve grown cabbage in the past without much success. It has a long growing season, with planting it early in the spring and not harvesting it until late summer or into the fall. I’m usually too impatient for it to be taking up space in my small garden. But this year, I’m going to grow some green and red cabbage.
We love to eat cabbage raw in coleslaw, sauteed in butter or chicken broth, or fermented in sauerkraut. There are a variety of health benefits of eating fermented foods, but I’m pretty sure those are negated if you put it on a hot dog. Either way, I would like to learn to make sauerkraut and a friend has promised to teach me her crock pot method, while my uncle is going to teach me his pressure canner method. Now I just need to grow some!
It seems to me that no veggie better represents the “back-to-the-land” or “urban homesteading” movement than kale. Its dark, frillly leaves are beacons of health, but I have a confession: I don’t like kale all that much. I know I should, but I just don’t. I think it is really pretty and have always liked the ornamental purple and green kale that’s sold in the fall, but this year I want to learn to cook it so that I will enjoy eating it.
Kale is rich in folate, an important nutrient for all women, especially moms-to-be. Since we are thinking about adding to our family in 2012, kale is a good food for me to learn to love. These kale chips look like a good place to start!
9. Baking Potatoes
I have found that both red potatoes and Yukon golds are relatively easy to grow in my home garden. I basically plant them and ignore them until they look like they’re dead, then dig up a bounty of potatoes. I’m hoping that baking potatoes will be just as simple. I know that Joshua will love digging in the dirt this coming season!
In the past, I’ve timed my plantings poorly and had all of my potatoes ready at the same time. This year, I’d like to do a better job with succession plantings so that I can scatter the harvest and have them fresh for a longer period of time. I would also like to learn more about cold storage and keeping them throughout the winter months.
Yes, I am aware that eggs do not grow on trees. I’m planning to get chickens this spring! Now, anybody who knows me knows that I have been pining for chickens and planning to get them each spring. Well, this year I mean it! Eggs are so good for us in so many ways, and it won’t take many chickens to keep up with our family’s needs. I’m thinking a small flock of four hens will be sufficient.
I’ve already checked on zoning regulations, and our town allows for a flock of up to 20 hens in a yard our size. My husband, who is a builder by trade, will build a small, safe coop with an attached yard for them. We will be able to feed them kitchen scraps and compost their waste for use in our gardens. I have my heart set on chickens that will lay colored eggs, and I think that chicks will be the perfect Easter present for Joshua.
Now that I’ve got my top ten list, I can go back to daydreaming and thumbing through catalogues. I will post updates throughout the year, so you can see how my garden is growing, try out some recipes, and learn about preserving this food, too. Not only will we benefit from nutritious food, we’ll also be reducing our environmental impact and learning while growing together as a family.
Are you making any healthy food resolutions for the new year? Do you have any garden plans yet? Can you give me any tips?