The Lone Garden Survivors
Dear Readers, as I wrote last week, we are currently experiencing autumn in all of its glory here in the upper Midwest of the United States. These changes in the season have meant that I have had to remove my warm season crops from my garden, such as my tomato and pepper plants, a couple of weeks ago. On the other hand, my kale, radish, rainbow chard and pac choy plants have been growing quite well in this cooler weather, thank you very much!
The fact that I still have these plants growing is not so much due to planning and planting a fall garden, but because this is simply when these particular plants have been growing the best. Many folks recommend that you actually plan for a fall crop of cool season varieties of vegetables, and perhaps some day when I am a much more seasoned (and much more organized) gardener, I will actually strive for that. However, for now, I am just happy to still have something that I can harvest this late in the season. Eventually, I hope to explore season extension much more, but until then, I will still enjoy the bounty that remains in my garden at the end of the season.
Kale, one of the cool season crops that I grow in my garden, is admittedly one of my favorite vegetables. Its organic, dark green leafiness just says to me, “Hey, I am super-awesome and nutritious!” My favorite way to consume it is to add it freshly harvested from my garden to my fruit and veggie smoothies. I also enjoy sautéing it in organic or grass-fed butter with some chopped garlic in a pot, add a little sea salt and pepper, and right before serving, squeeze some fresh lemon juice over it. Delicious! I have also made homemade kale chips before, which are also pretty tasty.
The truth be known, I did not discover the wonders of kale and pretty much every other leafy green vegetable outside of lettuce until a few years ago when I started getting interested in healthy eating as an adult. Such unidentified green leafy vegetables were just not a part of what my family ate when I was growing up. You can be sure that they will be a part of my own family’s diet in our kitchen, however. It’s too late to turn back now!
I think that leaning how to cook and prepare vegetables in tasty ways is key to enjoying them, as well as perhaps getting children to eat them. Having garden fresh produce is extremely helpful as well. The excellent flavor and nutrition of such produce is just not easily found in a grocery store. Perhaps such treasures can also be found at farmers markets, since foods being sold there are most often harvested fresh that very day.
Another reason why I like to grow kale is that nutritious organic greens like kale and rainbow chard are so expensive at the grocery store. You can have much cheaper (and tastier and more nutritious greens) if you just grow them yourself.
A good tip for parents for getting your children to eat more veggies is to put them into a smoothie and then just add enough fruit (berries are a good choice due to their lower sugar content compared to many other fruits) so that they can’t tell that they are actually consuming something green. Eventually your children may even get used to consuming a higher percentage of leafy greens within the smoothies, and perhaps they will eventually be willing to even eat them (gasp) by themselves. Be sneaky if you must, parents! :)
My Green Eggs and Ham Story
This experience with tasteless store bought produce was the case for me when I was growing up. The majority of experiences that I had with eating tomatoes were the tasteless tomatoes from the grocery store, and I really did not like them. My mother grew a few tomato plants every year when I was growing up, but since most of my experiences with tomatoes were with store bought tomatoes, I decided that I wanted to have nothing to do with them. A regrettable tragedy...
Most of my adult life, I largely avoided eating tomatoes, except for when I ate a token tomato here or there, thinking, “Even though I don’t really like tomatoes, I know that these are supposed to be healthy for me, so I’ll just eat one anyway,” while not really enjoying them. This actually continued until I decided to start growing a garden last year. I observed how many people went gaga over planting tomatoes, and I thought, “I don’t understand why everyone is so obsessed with growing tomatoes, but maybe there is something to this homegrown tomato thing after all. Maybe I can make some good sauce from them or something…”
So, I bought a flat of heirloom tomato plants last spring, planted them, and waited for them to grow. Wow, did the tomato clouds part for me! It was one of those Green Eggs and Ham moments (a Dr. Seuss reference for anyone not familiar with the children’s story), and after tasting one of my first homegrown heirloom tomatoes that I grew myself, I said, “I do like tomatoes, Sam I Am!” Turns out, I was just accustomed to eating bad tomatoes, and never truly had a really good one until I grew one myself...
So now, I have become a tomato snob, and I will only buy store bought tomatoes if I am desperate to add them to some homemade guacamole when tomatoes are not in season. I can only count a couple of times that I have eaten tomatoes when not from my garden since I have started to grow them. When you have had the best, nothing else makes the grade. Am I right, homegrown tomato people?
For those of you who have never eaten a homegrown tomato before, just know that most of those grocery store tomatoes were picked unripe far too early, and then they do not ripen well post-harvest. This results in a much poorer flavor profile than those tomatoes that you can get from your garden or directly from a farmer. Not only that, just like almost all of the produce that you buy at the grocery store, the varieties that you are likely to find there are selected for their characteristics of traveling and storing well, and sometimes their physical uniformity and appearance, but flavor and nutrition tend to get ignored (which are pretty much the most important things that we’re supposed to obtain from produce in the first place, are they not?). Most grocery store produce is mediocre tasting at best. This really becomes apparent once you start growing your own produce in your own garden, especially if you grow organically.