Have you ever been seduced by those gorgeous gardening catalogs or the bright photographs on the seed packages? Perhaps you’ve filled your garden beds with tomatoes and lettuce and all the standard crops because that’s what is available at your local nursery. Sometimes when we plan our vegetable garden, we get stuck in the mindset of simply planting a garden, but the whole point of planting a vegetable garden, is ultimately eating what’s in the garden. This year, Instead of planning what you want to grow this year, plan and plant what you want to eat.
The first few years we planted a vegetable garden, we filled it to the brim with the same beautiful crops, planted with a similar number of plants for each crop. After a few years, I started to make observations about what we grew and what we ate. Here are just a few things I noticed:
- We don’t like radishes, yet I kept planting radishes
- We never had enough tomatoes.
- Even though we love cilantro, I would only get a good harvest for one week a year and the plant would bolt
- I always seem to have more squash than I know what to do with
What I came to realize was that my gardening practices were impacting what I cooked, instead of my cooking influencing my gardening. As you get ready to plant this year, consider how you can plan your garden with cooking in mind.
Grow What You Like to Eat
This seems like the easiest place to start. If you don’t like a crop, don’t grow it (or at least don’t grow a lot of it!) Look carefully at what your family likes to cook and eat, and what you buy at the store and start with your family’s staples. It’s always good to experiment with a crop or two, but stick to your family’s favorites and just add a few extras for fun.
Grow Things You Can’t Find in Your Area
Depending on where you live, it may be incredibly easy to find certain vegetables. Our local farm store sells organic, inexpensive corn for most of the summer. Instead of dedicating a large area to growing corn, we now use that space for other crops. Growing your own food means you have the opportunity to grow those hard to find vegetables you enjoy.
Grow Things That Taste Better From the Garden
The best food comes from fresh ingredients. Select crops that simply taste better and will be a better addition to your recipes. Tomatoes are a great example of something that simply tastes best fresh. When you cook with a fresh tomato, your meal goes from good to great. Look at what your family eats and grow the vegetables that will take your meal to the great level.
Plan your Harvest, Succession Plant, and Plant for Preserving
Just like gardening, cooking is seasonal. Make sure you plan your garden so you can harvest your food when you want to eat it. Also consider planting seeds every few weeks to ensure a steady stream of food; this is especially important with crops like lettuce, cilantro, peas, and other vegetables that produce for short periods. If your family has a favorite prepared food to eat all year, grow a vegetable that can be preserved and enjoyed throughout the seasons (think pasta sauce).
The only thing that might be better than gardening, is eating the food that comes from the garden. This year when you plan your garden, think carefully about how you will use that food in the kitchen. Don’t let your garden dictate what you eat, instead grow what you know you will eat.
About our guest…
Gretchen Stuppy Carlson lives with her family on an emerging 2.5 acre backyard farm in Upstate NY. You can read more about growing and cooking fresh food in her new community ebook: Farm to Table Through the Year, which you can find for free on her blog: The Backyard Farming Connection. You can also read about her daily life at Simple and Joyful Living.