Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Mixed Plate: I Dreamt a Garden Green Dream

When I think of gardening, I remember the first bite of summer white corn, picked right from the backyard of my grandparents' house in Maui. It was sweet and fresh, with the taste of mountain rain that nourished the plant and an undertone of mineral richness of the red volcanic soil that makes everything grow strong and healthy. With any luck, it was free of any gargantuan-sized caterpillars that loved the corn as much as us -- husking corn never felt so intimidating. My grandparents lived in a small "Upcountry" town, towards the upwards climb of the foot of the Haleakala Volcano, in Makawao. As a child who was born and raised in the smoggy urban sprawl of Los Angeles, this little farm had a big ol' influence. For all the taste experiences and flavors I've had the fortune of being able to sample, that bite of something fresh and raw, plucked straight from the plant it grew on, is the most significant taste I can think of.

Garden freshness, served right on a plate - Photo by Wasabi Prime
Garden-green memories aside, growing your own food is a labor of love. It's certainly not brain surgery, and with the right amount of care and attention, you could cultivate your own garden no matter where you live. But there's a bit of love involved in raising something from seed. You prepare the soil, starting with the foundation of what your plants will thrive on, you spread some seeds and keep them well-watered. You worry a little when the weather turns fussy -- maybe a cold snap hits, the temperature drops and you wonder if the seeds will ever sprout. And then you're rewarded with a symmetrical line of bright green shoots that peek out from the dark earth. They get taller, grow faster than you realize, and before you know it, you have the beginnings of a crop. You'll have to make the hard decision and thin some of the sprouts, ensuring there's enough room for the strongest plants to grow properly. In a few weeks' time you're given the ultimate reward of harvesting something you grew yourself. When you eat something from your own garden, it's like nothing else. It's satisfying, not just from a food standpoint, but a feeling of self-reliance. No, you're not going to chop down some trees and build a log cabin in the woods, but you're taking an active role in how the food gets to your plate and you gain more awareness over what it takes to produce the produce, as it were.

DIY food on your plate - Photos by Wasabi Prime
This post is to psych myself up for this year's garden. I always plant something; it's like a sign of respect to my grandmother who had such a knack for gardening. Keeping our garden producing something every year is a way to honor them and in a way, and I hope keep them smiling down on us, if you're into that sort of thing. When I'm feeling ambitious, I'll do multiple types of plants, cycling them out depending on cold or warm seasons. Years of lesser gardening ambition has me planting one or two types of plants. I'll be honest, this year will probably be less than gangbuster for the garden, but I've already got some things started. My Lazybones Garden Plan includes peas, tomatoes, carrots and zucchini. I'll buy my tomato plants like I did last year from the farmers markets, picking up unusual varieties and getting the plants as large as possible, so they've got a head-start. Carrots are fairly set-it-and-forget-it, and they sit in the ground for a while without needing to be pulled immediately. Zucchini, once the plants get going, can produce some surprising results -- I got some summer squash that were the size of hoagie sandwiches. Squash easily hide under the big leaves and heavy vines, so they'll get forgotten and just grow huge. My favorite thing to grow is probably peas. They are the ultimate lazybones garden item -- they thrive in those rainy, cold spring months and once the summer hits, they grow quickly and start producing. Even when they're in early sprout phase, you can thin the plants and eat the young greens. The mature plants continue to produce peas, as long as you're picking them regularly. Those are my favorite types of plants, ones that just replenish their crops. I tend to not have bug issues with these. Aphids are always a pain in the warmer months, but a diluted mix of dishsoap with water in a spray bottle will help keep them away and not render the vegetables you're growing inedible.

Garden goodness can come out of a box, too - Photo by Wasabi Prime
I don't want to forget the benefit of getting our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) deliveries. It makes our home garden more of a supplement, as a big box of variety will trump whatever I plant. It's another reason why the things I choose to put in the ground are things that can be easily frozen, if need-be. It's nice to know a home garden and CSA delivery can live together in harmony. I don't feel like we're overwhelmed, and it's just the two of us. We definitely eat our veggies, that's for sure.

We eat a lot of roasted vegetable dishes. I like using portobello mushrooms as a sort of "plate" and piling up a roasted vegetable ragout on top. There's no specific combination of ingredients, it's a dish that's meant to be flexible and easily changed out, depending on what you have. And of course, stir fry-aplenty. In the summers when we're flush with vegetables, it's easier to go meatless or just have salads on the too-hot-to-cook days. It's hard to think of hot summer days when we're still battling the gray skies of rainy spring, but warmer weather will be upon us soon, and that keeps the idea of green garden dreams fresh in my mind. Happy Gardening, Everyone!

Cook with what you have - as long as it's fresh, you won't be disappointed - Photos by Wasabi Prime

No comments:

Post a Comment

Commentary encouraged. Fresh baked cookies, super-encouraged. (hit the 'post comment' button twice, sometimes it's buggy)