Seed catalogs have been arriving for weeks, making me think about planning the garden despite the 5 feet of new snow that buried our local mountains in the last few days. This past weekend only enhanced the spring fever: I led a workshop at the 2nd annual Free the Seeds event and was impressed by not just the four-digit turnout but also the number of booths, workshops, and talks. The local Farm Hands organization lists more than 110 farms, ranches, community gardens, farmers markets, and restaurants and grocers that emphasize local food for a county with a population of under 100,000; nationally, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s most recent survey found that 167,000 U.S. farms locally produced and sold food through farmers markets, on-farm sales, and other direct farmer-to-eater sales.
This means that no matter where you live, it should be possible to grow or purchase locally grown food and use it in Twice as Tasty recipes. Now’s the time to start thinking about what you want to grow in your new garden, add to your existing plot, or ensure will be delivered by your community-supported agriculture (CSA) farmer.
Many new—and experienced—gardeners make the mistake of trying to do too much. Although that giant plot and box of seeds seems like a good idea now, life tends to get in the way. On the other end, many people fear they don’t have enough space, time, knowledge, or interest to grow anything. Either way, you don’t have to miss out on fresh, local, and ultimately Twice as Tasty food.
The key is to think now about what you and any others you feed want to eat: when it’s fresh and out of season. There’s no point in growing a row of Swiss chard, yellow wax beans, or kale if it isn’t a hit at the dinner table. You also need to think about how you can store your haul. If your only freezer is joined to your fridge and you harvest 30 pounds of raspberries, you’d better plan on processing them as syrup and jam. And you need to decide whether you’re going to be happy spending Saturday mornings in July weeding and harvesting instead of biking, hiking—or sleeping.
But if you think small, you really can have it all. A windowsill or balcony can hold pots of fresh herbs and greens; even the smallest pot of mint is likely to produce enough leaves that you can dry them for midwinter tea. A single cherry tomato or zucchini plant will likely produce enough for fresh and from-the-freezer eating, and a 3- by 5-foot strawberry patch will keep growing and producing with hardly any care year after year.
So as you pour over seed catalogs or become inspired by this month’s recipes, here are my recommendations for planning the season.
Who’s Your Farmer?
Start thinking now about whether you want to grow some of your own food, sign up for a CSA, or just pick up what you can, when you can at local farm stands and markets. You can easily do all three: a small plot or handful of pots can support favorite foods, a CSA can deliver a weekly box of fresh staples, and a trip to a farm can yield special treats and storage veg. Even if you decide to hold off on buying seeds, track down and sign up for a CSA now; these farmers rely on advance subscriptions to fill their beds and greenhouses.
What’s Your Favorite?
Vegetables are the core of my diet, but you’ll never find me growing cauliflower or Brussels sprouts for one simple reason: I don’t like them. Instead, I devote extra space to produce I love, such as garlic, cherry tomatoes, basil, and raspberries.
To plan for the season, you should do the same. Make a list of the produce you buy regularly. If you’re new to gardening or have little space, choose one or two items from that list that will grow well in your space and climate. If you have an established garden, make sure that you’re devoting most of your plot to that list.
Where’s Your Storage?
Some fruits and vegetables keep better than others, and most have an ideal way of being stored. I highly recommend growing or buying locally more of your favorite produce than you can eat fresh and saving it to enjoy the rest of the year. But it helps if you know in advance where you’re going to stash your treasure. Here are some of my favorite ways to store certain items:
- Canning: apples, apricots, cherries, cucumbers, eggplant, pears, peppers, plums, raspberries, snap beans, strawberries, tomatillos, tomatoes
- Dehydrating: basil, chamomile, chilies, cilantro, cutting celery, dill, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, sorrel, lavender, thyme
- Dry storage: apples, beets, carrots, garlic, horseradish, onions, potatoes, pumpkins, winter squash
- Fermenting: carrots, chilies, cucumbers, snap beans
- Freezing: asparagus, basil, blueberries, broccoli, cherries, cherry tomatoes, corn, eggplant, garlic, huckleberries, onions, peas, raspberries, rhubarb, strawberries, zucchini
- Refrigerating: beets, green tomatoes, nasturtium buds, zucchini
What Did You Use?
If you already save produce for winter, take stock of what you used and what you have left. If you kept a canning journal or made a freezer inventory as you filled your shelves last summer, you already have a head start. But even if you didn’t keep track at harvest time, looking at what you have now will help you decide what you need to eat up before the next harvest, plant more or less of this season, and store in different quantities or places this year.
Twice as Tasty
To inspire you for the coming season, this month’s posts are based on storable produce. At my house, all of the produce for these recipes was grown in the summer, was stored at harvest time, and is just waiting for me to pull it out at a moment’s notice.
This month, I’ll give you two quick bread recipes that you’ll be able to make year-round if you grow both zucchini and pumpkins this year. I’ll also explain how to make an easy, creamy risotto with any vegetables you have saved, as well as one of my favorite risotto blends. And if you want to make both soups that I’ll share next week (Spanish Potato–Garlic Soup and Italian Broccoli–Pasta Soup), plant the following in your garden this year: broccoli, cherry tomatoes, chilies, garlic, onions, potatoes, and thyme. Happy planning!
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