Burnout and Goals Met

July 28, 2009 at 8:00 am

Brad Moldofsky

A hawk was circling the house the other day for a few moments, calling out in that echoing hawk cry that reminds me how few squirrels and chipmunks I’ve seen in our yard this year. Maybe it’s the fences and cages I’ve put up, and maybe it is Mr. or Ms. Hawk. But the only pest problem I’ve had has been insects.

I watched a small flock of non-hawk birds perch on top of my Square Foot Garden cages and try pecking through the plastic netting at the ants and slugs crawling around the soil. Certainly, any man-made endeavor disrupts the natural way of things, and a garden is no exception (although not as big an affront to nature as a typical American farm). These birds looked legitimately confused, and spent a good minute wondering how to get through the poultry netting. Are the SFGs that tempting? Maybe they’re just impressed with the crops.

I no longer was. One of the problems with relying on the local, seasonal harvest is burnout. I had absolutely had it with collard and broccoli greens, and was in the process of pulling out these plants from the Square Foot Gardens to make way for the potted pepper plants. Then we had dinner at our friends’ house.

I owe a shout-out to Gigi and Tim, who cooked us an outstanding home-grown meal. Granted, between them they have a plant biology degree and generations of gardening in their pedigrees. But they really outshone themselves this year. Except for the dressing, the salad was entirely grown within view of the patio where we ate it (mesclun and green-leaf lettuce, beet leaves and beets, carrots, raspberries and onion). The chicken was marinated in a pesto made from their bounteous basil and the yellow squash had been picked that afternoon.

We contributed the last of our cauliflower heads to the meal, but Tim’s masterful steaming of collard greens with a hint of margarine and salt convinced me that I’m not tired of eating greens after all. I was just tired of eating them sautéed or in my omelets. He convinced me to steam some broccoli leaves along with some freshly picked beans, and I’m happy to say it put them in a whole new light.

I have no elegant recipes to prepare anything I’ve grown. I’ll leave that to Chef Graham. I’m just happy to be consuming my veggies a few yards away from the soil that grew them. I still take pride in finding nothing to eat in the pantry, then going out into the garden and harvesting breakfast.

And I’m pleased to say I’ve met my goal. As of mid-July, I can confidently state that if I had to feed my family of four on nothing but what we grew in our backyard, we could all eat three meals a day for two days! The two whiniest, most complaining days of the year. My children would be through with the collard greens, spinach and beans during the first breakfast.

Chive and ramp flowers
Fortunately, the harvest isn’t over. And, as I mentioned above, we’re lucky to have friends and relatives growing and sharing food as well. Kim has already baked us two delicious pies, filled with raspberries the boys picked from their grandparents’ backyard. There was still plenty left to eat raw off the stems.

I have harvested a heaping handful of wax pencil beans, and my older boy enjoys eating them raw off the plant. Three hot peppers have grown to fruition and our first batch of potatoes was fried up with an omelet just last weekend. It was a bit disappointing to note how few (and tiny) the tubers were compared to their yard-long stems and leaves, but they were very tasty. I’ve become much more conscious of every bite when I eat from the garden. Partly because there’s less food from the garden than is available at a restaurant or grocery store, so every bite counts. But partly because I think while I eat. I think about how much time I’ve spent watering and digging and fretting and building and how it’s all there in each bite of food. I remember watching the boys get their fingernails black with soil as they pulled the potatoes out of the ground an hour before eating them. I eat broccoli and kick myself for not having put the tall-growing plant on the NORTH side of the raised bed. I munch parsley and make a mental note at how easily it grows from seed and how much it sprawls if I let it. I taste the heat of a pepper and consider how growing it in a pot let more solar heat penetrate the roots than those peppers in the ground. I contemplate which varieties I would plant again and which I never want to see again.

So far, it’s been a fairly cheap farming education. And I’m already thinking that next year, I can easily double my goal.

Expenses: $250
Financial Benefits: $95
Last Year’s Meals: Three squares, one day.
This Year’s Meals: Three squares, two days plus most of breakfast.