We grew up with a garden that most of our groceries came from. We were the kids who would ring the doorbells of next door neighbors and offer them bags of cucumbers. You can still find me bringing tomatoes to many of my clients at work! I’ve grown to appreciate the very unique way we garden – it’s all natural even down to the soil.
My parents have been doing this for over 30 years. It’s been a fun journey learning hands on how to continue the tradition – especially when produce is not always healthy in most supermarkets.
Some of the most popular questions we get are: “Why do we do this? I asked my father (garden extraordinaire) this question once and the answer he gave was simple: “We want to eat healthy food.”
The second question: “Do we lose much of our crop because we aren’t using pesticides?” We get this question a lot. We will inevitably lose a percentage to our crops to bugs and critters, however, the importance of avoiding pesticides outweighs losing a few veggies!
One tip is: Planting marigolds around the perimeter of your garden to keep most small animals away. However, if deer, raccoon and other animals know where “the goods” are, a fence is best. My dad built this one by hand and is our newest addition to the yard.
Another question I get emails about are: “What kind of soil do you use?”
New England soil is traditionally rocky and may be nutrient lacking. We use a very natural approach every year which involves recycling old crops and integrating compost from our kitchen into our garden – including leaves.
Throughout this process, we also compost.
“What is a compost?” Put simply – a bucket that you keep under your sink, collecting banana peels, orange peels, apple cores or anything biodegradable. We empty this frequently into a separate pile of soil in the yard and when it’s time, incorporate it into the garden.
Let’s say fall is approaching. As the crops die out, we simply let them. We add leaves from raking, brush, grass, branches and burn a large fire once a year. That plus compost gets incorporated into the soil by shovel or rototiller.
All of these fruits, veggies, leaves and old crops make the soil fertile year after year. This method can also work smaller scale in raised garden boxes. In between each row, we place grass clippings down so it’s easier to walk through each row. When you weed your garden, you can simply toss the weeds into these grass clippings and they will dry out/blend right in.
How do we cross that bridge? (shout out to our dogs Dublin and Via)
“What do I plant that is easy?” Fresh herbs. The best! I always make sure each one of my dishes has fresh herbs in it everyday and wanted to grow my own.
Here are some ideas if you’re new to gardening. Get your hands dirty! The 5 herbs I like the most, are rosemary, tarragon, dill, basil and thyme. You can basically put these on anything – chicken, fish, vegetables like zucchini.
Prepare the area for planting by loosening the soil. Heavy soil with clay is not ideal. That is what we have a lot of in New England. To improve it, add some compost, peat moss or coarse sand especially if you’re growing your herbs window-side in small pots. Work these goodies into the top of the soil before you plant.
“When do you plant certain things?” We tend to plant in sections. This is because certain seeds are very delicate and can’t survive the cold. The heartier, stronger root vegetables go first (like carrots, parsnips, beets), followed by herbs (like cilantro, parsley, basil) then lastly tomatoes (we plant beefsteak, pink, yellow, heirloom and cherry).
“When can you pick?” Root vegetables in June, herbs in June/July and tomatoes in July/August.
Plant sweet basil seeds about 1/4” deep into soil. Make sure they have plenty of light! 6+ hours daily. Here we are planting rosemary bushes.
The seeds below are beet seeds. This year we will have 3 varieties: red, golden & candy cane beets. Those are not their technical names of course 🙂 I anticipate making lots of beautiful salads.
(Did somebody say food)
Easy recipes incorporating your fresh herbs:
Caprese Salad – Sliced Beefsteak tomato, Mozzarella Cheese or Burrata, sweet green basil, olive oil, aged balsamic
Red baby potatoes with rosemary – Preheat oven to 450. Wash and slice baby red potatoes, sprinkle with garlic, salt, pepper, chopped rosemary, olive oil. Bake until soft, turning potatoes once. Top with chopped dill
Salmon with Lemon and Dill – Salmon filet, chopped dill, lemon, grilled or on stovetop grill
Mussels with garlic and fresh herbs – 1-2 bag fresh mussels (Wholefoods or fish monger), clean beards (hairy ends off mussels), wash mussels and discard any already opened shells or dead mussels. On stove in large pot on medium heat: 1 cup dry white wine, 3 chopped shallot, 3 cloves chopped garlic. Increase heat to high, add mussels. Cook until mussels open. Add 4 tablespoons butter, 1/2 cup finely chopped parsley, dill, basil. Serve with crostini or crusty bread.
Tomatoes – beefsteak, cherry, pink, yellow, heirloom
Sugar snap peas
Chioggia beet (candycane striped)
Golden (yellow) beets