When you’re new to gardening, it’s all too easy to be a dreamer about what you grow. Anyone who already knows this scenario understands how it’s likely to over-plant through well-intended optimism. But then you don’t know what to do with all the food you have, and you hope friends and family don’t mind acting as willing beneficiaries of your garden soil’s offerings.
Nan Reinert who owns Chubby Pickle Farm on the outskirts of Birdsboro “teaches people how to grow and live a healthy, natural, sustainable life,” she says.
And she’s plenty versed in the subject of knowing how to grow what you’ll use.
“New gardeners are zealous,” Reinert says. “They want to plant plant plant, and they frequently don’t think about what the grown plant’s space requirements are and how much edible food they are going to get from each plant. They see a small plant or some seeds and an empty garden or container. In spring, there is plenty of room, but by late summer, they realize they over-planted.”
But remember not to be too hard on yourself because you’re doing the best you know how to do, and as you learn more, you better understand the lessons you’ve lived through in a growing season.
“One of the first things I teach gardeners is to take account of the veggies and fruits they are eating and each year to plant at least one thing new they never tried,” Reinert notes.
And sometimes, people plant veggies they think they like, but once they’re inundated with a crop of them, their taste buds go through a change of tune.
“There are two reasons I think this happens: first is quantity, and second is taste,” Reinert says. “Maybe they purchase 4 heads of broccoli in a month. When you grow broccoli, and it’s time to harvest, you could be having broccoli daily for a few weeks.”
Not expecting to eat the same veggie so frequently can have an influence on your reaction to flavor factors—too much and too constant of a good thing to the point that you get temporarily sick of it.
“Green beans are a great example of this; with 4 nice green bean plants, you will get a ton of beans,” she says. “So you may like the veggie; however, you were never forced to eat it as it was ready for harvest.”
Reinert explains that the habit of going to the grocery store and getting to choose what you want and its quantity, when you are gathering ingredients for a meal, is very different than having plenty of fresh vegetables to eat from your backyard.
When you suddenly you have a harvest, you can’t think, I’m not in the mood for this, she adds.
Well, you can think that, but it won’t be too effective!
But this is why Reinert teaches people how to dry and freeze their harvest.
“It helps them to enjoy all the veggies they are growing—instead of being overwhelmed by them,” she reflects.
But back to taste discussions.
“Homegrown veggies taste different,” Reinert says. “They are full of flavor. So, if you always ate store-purchased tomatoes, a homegrown tomato could be overwhelming to the taste buds. I’ve actually had people come to my house for dinner and be totally surprised by the flavor of the food. Usually, this is a good surprise; however, if you grew up eating prepackaged or grocery veggies, you may not like the flavor.”
Reinert describes what she calls “dead veggies,” which she says many have grown up eating for most of their lives, purchased from supermarkets.
“They are grown in chemicals—they overcook them and then add salt and butter,” she adds. “Their taste buds are adjusted to this, so a homegrown veggie will be a surprise.”
Beans are something which, depending on the variety, can be enjoyed across different stages, not just in a single, short-lived harvesting period, Reinert points out.
Reinert recommends using later-growing beans to dry for soups in chilly months.
“I shred my zucchini and do a quick parboil blanch, submerge them in ice water to stop the cooking process, bag them in 2-cup measurements with a squirt of lemon juice and freeze,” Reinert adds. “This is the exact amount I need for my zucchini bread recipe. Then I can make fresh zucchini bread all winter when I have more kitchen time. I also freeze all sorts of odds and ends in freezer bags. These I use to make a veggie broth in the winter.”
Reinert gladly advocates recipes from her good friend Phoebe Canakis of Phoebe’s Pure Food if you are looking for ways to make use of any overabundance from the backyard.
Here are some of Canakis’ crave-worthy recipes, followed by her eye-hugging photography of her prepared meals which you can test out at home.
Tomato Feta Orzo Salad
(Cherry) Tomato Feta Crustless Quiche
Greek Salad Pita
Chocolate Zucchini Brownie Cake Muffins
And here is this author’s own Mean Green Salad recipe, along with another soirée-goer’s Raw Zucchini Spirals with Zucchini Pasta Sauce recipe (scroll down a bit in the same above-linked blog post) from a few years ago.
Reinert says to try out freshly grown local veggies at farm stands, in addition to keeping updated with tips and insights on her Facebook page.
“Make notes on what you like, and plan your garden accordingly,” she adds. “And always make sure to try to grow just one new veggie a year.”