Can a Chowhound be a gardener? Compatible motivations, similar skills.
I have the aspiration to plant, tend and harvest a gourmet garden this spring, one which will multiply my dining enjoyment by providing fresher and tastier produce. It seems that the same dichotomy would apply to vegetables as to beef and pork: there are commercial breeds/varieties chosen for cost and storage considerations, and there are less-known breeds/varieties and methods which produce the superior dish.
SO...suggestions requested for 1) purveyors of superior seeds or plants; vegetables and herbs, and 2) books or other schemes of advice on best practices for best harvest. Thanks, Hounds.
A great resource is davesgarden.com
They have dozens of specialized forums at
In your case, check out the ones on
Garden Book reviews
and any regional forums that apply to you.
You sound like a southwest kinda guy, and they have both
Southwest and Texas area forums.
Their Garden Watchdog lists over 7000 seed and plant suppliers and rates the best ones by subscriber comments.
You need to enroll to post to a thread, but guests can read most forums.
Start small with just a few veggies. If you plant too much too soon, you'll get overwhelmed by the amount of work you have to put into it. Over the years, you'll figure out what you like to grow best, but don't grow it all at once.
Good things to start with: bush beans, squash/zucchini, beets, lettuce, 2-4 tomato plants, basil, parsley, thyme, sage.
and start with things that are easy to grow in your area.
If you start your bonanza with things that are fussy and challenging to grow, it would be way too easy to get discouraged and never want to try again.
I agree to start with a few basics that you know you'll use, and when you have a better feel for how things grow in your area, then you can start to stretch.
(and keep in mind that gardening is one of the few hobbies that relies extensively on things completely out of your control -- if you have a lousy year weather-wise or with outbreaks of pests, no amount of skill or knowledge will necessarily salvage anything!)
(I follow Square Foot planting guidelines in a raised bed, too.)
I liked Fedco Seeds, Johnny's and Baker Creek. I found the best local grower of tomato and pepper plants. She offers an amazing variety but has limited space so you pre-order from a list she sends out and have to pick up the plants on a specific weekend. Since she only charges 60 cents each for most plants and you can buy individual plants, I love buying from her. She only advertises once a year in the weekly farmers bulletin but if you ask around you might find a similar backyard grower.
I think Square Foot Gardening is a good basic book to help you think about what you can do with limited space. There is also no reason to plant an entire packet of basil seeds. The seeds will last a couple of years.
Via gardenweb.com, I found a local group which does a plant swap twice a year. Usually perennials but you might find one for veggies in your area. Also check out meetup.com to see if there is a gardening group in your area.
If you have the space, consider season extending techniques. My husband built a plastic high tunnel for me so here in NH we are able to have fresh spinach year round. I haven't checked to see if the lettuce is still alive after yesterdays below zero temps in the morning. Eliot Coleman has two books on the subject and market gardens in Maine.
You might have to do some reading to find helpful suggestions regarding taste and storage. Some things like garlic are easy. Plant in the fall (hardneck around here), get a garlic scape harvest in June, dig garlic in late July. Easy to dry and you'll have wonderful garlic until the next harvest.
I think cooking and menus are greatly affected by what's available in the garden. You'll find yourself looking for new recipes to use surplus. I gave a friend a small bag of garlic bulbs so she made 40 cloves of garlic chicken for the first time. This year I grew fingerling potatoes for the first time. Easy and fun to harvest a variety after planting the sampler package from Fedco. I think these are pretty expensive at the farmers market yet are easy to grow and I have some in storage.
When you can save some of your own seeds/bulbs/etc I think you get a better appreciation of nature's generosity. And, in turn, you can be generous with surplus.
Highly recommend Lasagna Gardening to build no till beds. Then follow Square Foot planting practices.
We get a light frost mid-September that dooms a late planting of bush beans unless I provide protection with a portable (but bulky) low tunnel. You might not have space and budget for a high tunnel but you can make good use out of Agribon fabric to give your garden a couple of extra growing weeks.
Wow, what a generous post, Frostie! Thanks so much. I have followed every suggestion by the preceding posters, and am immensely pleased. Will follow yours as well. Not eggzackly sure what Lasagna Gardening is, nor what you mean by a plastic high tunnel, but I bet Mister Google will point me there.
Great post indeed! What zone are you in?
With regard to deciding what to plant, as a kitchen gardener, I think first of those things of greatest value in MY kitchen, either because they are expensive to buy, taste best fresh picked or grown in small amounts, easy to grow in my climate, and/or I LOVE to eat them. So for me, that means sugar snap peas and shallots overwinter, and peppers get way more space than tomatoes in the summer.
When we moved from our 25x75' lot in SF to six acres in Oregon I was all ready to order seeds. Our first visit to our Saturday farmers market showed me that they had every heirloom variety seedling I'd planned on starting from seed. Since there were just the two of us, I decided to go that way. So I could one or two's of things and not have a lifetime of seeds remaining. That has continued to work for me.
I also like the Square Foot Garden book.
Haven't been able to grow anything IN the ground since the CRITTERS have taken over... squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, & GROUNDHOGS! Last time I had veggies in-ground, they ASSUMED it was a free "salad bar" and had at it BIG time! Would need razor ribbon and high voltage fence to keep them out, o gave up!?!
When I did garden, was a LAZY gardner & once it got HOT and HUMID here in NJ... well, weeding just wasn't done at ALL! I used grass clippings from lawn as mulch... stuff mower sucked up into bins on back. By the time it got too hot (for my taste) to spend a lot of time SWEATING outside, there was a generous layer of grass around plants, so weeds didn't go wild.
I used plants from local nursery... tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, broccoli, etc. Cukes, green beans, peas from seeds. For peas, I go with sugar or snap peas... just cook/eat after picking & no pods to deal with... my Grandmother always said they HAD to be planted on St. Patrick's day. Green or wax beans are SUPER easy to grow and pretty quick to grow. Have had success growing both peas and beans in large pots on my deck.
In a perfect world... one in which I actually HAD some money... I'd have a few LONG, raised beds put in.
If you're new to gardening, a really good thing to start with is greens and herbs. They're easy and will save you cash. Don't do too much and get discouraged. Search out some ingredients you'd love to cook with but don't have access to or don't want to buy and try those- just be sure they are right for your area.
good point about starting slow. A tomato plant or two. Maybe peppers. Easy to plant seeds like beans and sugar snap peas. Easy greens like Swiss chard. Spinach doesn't do well for me unless I plant it as early in the spring as possible.
I think lettuce can be tricky and will bolt when you aren't looking. I have yet to grow a decent onion or leek. If you can find a local grower of seedlings, it will be a great help. My local grower sells single plants for 60 cents each so I can choose a variety of tomatoes instead of growing a 6-pack of the same variety.
Check at your County Extension Office for recommendations for vegetable varieties for your area. See if there are Master Gardener Extension Volunteers that you can get advice from there.
Have your soil tested first and foremost. You won't know what you need to put in it until you know what you've got.
Find sources for locally grown seedlings, and make it easy on yourself to start.
Good luck! Gardening is a lot of work, but those tomato sandwiches are worth every bit of it.