Sunday, November 29, 2009

Planning ahead

My Chicago ristra : the last of the garden chili peppers

The first of the 2010 seed catalogs have arrived, and I have been spending a good many hours poring over them. I have a very small garden, and this is the time of year when I feel the most regret: I could grow so many more types of vegetables, if I only had the space! Of course, in late August, when I can barely keep up with the weeding and harvesting of my tiny plot, I shudder to think of how I would handle even five more square feet. And most folks I know who do have larger garden plots also lament that they do not have enough space. No matter how big your plot, it may just be the nature of gardeners to always want more space to try other plants, other methods of culture.

The tiny garden forces me to consider my exact intention for the vegetables I raise. If only my intention could be to live largely off my own land! Self-sustenance, for reasons of size and time, are out of reach. For now, my efforts are largely divided into three categories. The first two were my most obvious starting place: growing things I cannot buy easily and growing things that taste significantly better than store-bought. Into the former category falls my herbs, rhubarb, and zucchini (for blossoms and young fruit). Into the latter category falls my tomatoes, strawberries and pole beans. After several years of buying wizened shallots at inflated prices, I am adding shallots to my garden in 2010. Since I can only find them occasionally, even at this inferior quality, file them under both categories. And, after my rousing success with strawberries, I am also trying out container-grown blueberries this upcoming year. They should be virtually guaranteed to taste better than the mealy, overpriced fruit sold in the nearby stores.

Finally, there is the category of vegetables I grow just out curiosity: asparagus, eggplant and hot peppers, for example. Heretical though this may be, I am unconvinced that these plants taste better than store-bought or offer any economic value. Yes, I know I can tell myself that there is an indescribable flavor added to anything one has produced from ones own land and efforts. And there is something to be said for the health benefits of moving off of the industrial agriculture grid in any way you can, even with a postage stamp garden. But from a sheer culinary perspective, I remain unconvinced. I grow them because I want to know how to, and I imagine that one day, when I try to go for a sustenance-level garden, I will need to know how to.

This final category offers the most flexibility, except with the asparagus, which, as a perennial, I am stuck with for now. I could dig it up, but it is very exciting to see the spears pushing up out of the ground. And even if it doesn't taste better than store-bought, it doesn't taste worse. I am, however, editing out the eggplant totally. And I am downsizing to one Thai bird pepper plant this year. No more serranos! I can buy them off the local farm truck for pennies. This means I have room for some heirloom carrots this upcoming year, as well as some cold-weather greens and onions.

The plant that I know I shouldn't grow -- but have become totally obsessed with growing over the past few years -- is horseradish. It can be invasive. It is unnecessary. I only cook with horseradish a few times a year: cocktail sauce for our annual shrimp boil and a spicy condiment for the occasional steak sandwich. It is not a critical part of my cooking repertoire, to say the least. But I really want to know what fresh-grated horseradish tastes like, and I am always a bit dubious of the sad little jar of the prepared root that I buy at the fish store. I certainly only need one plant, but my favorite catalogs sell them in packs of five or more. So, I will order it. I will foist off the extras on gardening friends, as I did with my extra asparagus crowns. Because I know gardeners. They can't truly say no, neither to seeds nor crowns nor rhizomes. They'll likely snap up whatever new plant is offered for the taking, no matter how small the garden. There's always a space somewhere -- and after all, they're curious.

1 comment:

  1. I have been expanding my garden for lack of space in the past. Raised beds are a great option for growing a lot in a little space - also, crop succession. I can grow a couple of different things in the same space in one growing season by planning out when one will end and I can begin the next.

    I love to grow eggplant as it is so beautiful! Eggplant also tends to be a little too pricey in the stores. That is another great decision factor for choosing plants -- how much do the things cost in the store verses how easy they are to grow yourself. Herbs, as you mentioned, are a great cost saver when grown yourself.