My Parents Garden
A quote from the Old Farmers Almanac reads…“It’s better to be proud of a small garden than to be frustrated by a big one!” It’s true! Starting off small is important to build confidence and success. I’ve witnessed it first hand!
Hello, this is Kathy Geislinger – I’m the Program Specialist with BLEND. I’m very passionate about healthy eating and believe it started with my parents’ obsession with gardening. I hope you enjoy their story!
My Parents Garden
My parents started off with a modest garden years ago as a means to feed their growing family. Both inherited garden skills from their parents and both viewed the garden as a way to save money during penny-pinching times. They quickly realized the enjoyment of gardening and had tremendous success with production year after year. Today, their small garden has turned into enormous gardens. Yep – “gardens”! They have two gardens massive enough to accommodate a field tractor to plow through them (a front tine tiller takes hours/days to work up the soil). They’ve adopted the spaces to accommodates the more than 65 tomato plants, 75 pepper plants, 280 potato plants, 300 onions sets, rows and rows of beans, and more,
The photo above shows the garden furthest from the house and intended for low maintenance, vining, and late harvest produce (potatoes, corn, peppers, squash, etc). The photo below is the garden closest to the house perfect for produce that needs attention and frequent harvesting (beans, peas, raspberries, strawberries, etc.).
Gardening has become a way of life for my parents…certainly a passion (maybe an obsession). Starting in February my mother begins sowing tomato, pepper, cabbage, and cucumber seeds in her makeshift greenhouse. My father then figures out where to place the above-mentioned plants…he’s a crop farmer so crop rotation is a priority of his. They both plant and maintain the garden, though, my father has a bit more time. He’s a retired carpenter and spends much of his time outside putzing around looking for things to construct, deconstruct and reconstruct on the farm and in the garden.
Like other gardeners, my parents’ gardens are a work in progress – if something works they’ll leave it alone and if it doesn’t they’ll try something new. They may research online or in a magazine, they might ask a fellow gardener for advice, but above all they try to be creative. Although, it appears gardening has initiated some friendly competition among their friends and some don’t like to share all their secrets to garden success. The competition is trivial to most but to gardeners (at least my parents) it’s how they measure their ability to garden (who yielded the most beans or strawberries, who planted the most potatoes, or who canned the most jars of tomato juice). From April through October my father ponders about his gardens and looks for ways to be the first to harvest a radish or tomato, pick the most beans, or grow the biggest strawberries.
Several years ago my parents added raised beds to their garden repertoire so that pests (rabbits and dogs) couldn’t get to their herbs and lettuces. These had worked perfectly and served their purpose, but my father was looking to make some “improvements”. This year, his pondering got the best of him and he came up with a couple of innovative ideas that he says would maximize productivity, continue to provide ease - and, of course add another secret to his success portfolio. He built a temporary greenhouse over one of his raised beds and planted potatoes in it. My mother said growing potatoes in that was “absurd…the heat would be too intense and kill the plants.” The photos above show the greenhouse and the potatoes picked on 6/28/2012.
The photo below is another example of my fathers quest for improving productivity. He devised a sprinkling systems to evenly water his green beans. He says “all I need to do is drop in the water hose, turn on the water and walk away for a bit.” I think it’s pretty genius!
So, you might be thinking “what do they do with all the produce?” You’re right, with this much garden comes a lot of produce to harvest starting in June and going through October. My parents have come up with a lot of creative ways to prepare and preserve their produce. They have five freezers to store strawberries, raspberries, beans, cabbage, corn and other “freezer-friendly” foods. They also maintain a cool, damp cellar in the basement with hundreds of jars either filled (or waiting to be filled) with jellies, tomato sauces, picante sauce, relishes, and anything pickled. It’s a lot of work but my parents are proud and enjoy “their” food all year long. Of course they brag a bit…and, save a lot of money. No kidding, it’s been years since they bought green beans, potatoes, tomato products or strawberries from a supermarket.
The rewards are enough for my parents to continue to plant their gardens again and again. It’s a way of life for them – it’s a sustainable practice, it’s a conversation at a coffee shop, it’s thought-provoking, it’s physical activity, it’s practical, and above all it’s healthful.
Over the years, healthy eating has become a passion for my parents, too. This time of year is exciting for them - the gardens are producing and it’s only natural for them to go out to the gardens and determine a meal or snack based on what it provides. Often times it’s as simple as cucumbers in vinegar milk or carrot salad over tomato wedges. My parent’s have become somewhat adventurous with their garden goodies and will explore new recipes and methods, but always fall back to their favorites. I’ve listed a couple below. Unfortunately, these aren’t the exact recipes as they aren’t written on paper (they’re preserved in their memory), but they are very close.
- Rosemary Roasted Potatoes
- Roasted Butternut Squash with Sage
- Fresh Green Beans with Tarragon
- Bruschetta with Tomato and Basil
- And, the family favorite…Garden Variety Pasta. Gather ripe vegetables from the garden - whatever is in season (beans, peppers, Swiss chard, spinach, zucchini, tomatoes, and onions) and saute in olive oil and garlic…add cooked whole grain pasta…top with fresh herbs (basil, Italian parsley, etc.) and Parmesan cheese. It’s simply perfection!
I’m happy to say gardening is a way of life for me. My garden isn’t as big as my parents - it’s only 700 square feet but I love every inch of it. Particularly the three raised beds my father built for me. I am grateful my parents passed on a valuable and lifelong skill to me. It’s not easy…it’s work from planting to harvesting, but I look at it as positive and productive, and as a healthy activity with healthy eating benefits. Having a garden has given me another great way to connect with my parents - we plan and plant together, problem solve, share thoughts, and best of all enjoy the fruits (and vegetables) of our labor at family meals, holidays and at the cabin!
As a member of BLEND staff, I am a strong advocate for healthy eating and healthy lifestyles. As part of the BLEND mission, we strive to increase fruit and vegetable consumption, help make the healthy choice the easy choice (NuVal), and promote healthy eating early in life. To encourage young children to eat healthier foods, BLEND developed the BLEND Beginnings Nutrition and Physical Activity Program for Child Care in which a unit specific to agriculture education was included to help educators teach young children about farms and gardens. The unit is called “My Food Grows Where?”.
Gardening with children can have many benefits, both now and in the future. There is evidence that recognizes a distinct connection between healthy food choices and knowing where food comes from, how it grows, and who grows it. Children are more likely to eat healthy foods and “new” foods if they help plant it and grow it. Like I said above “I’ve witnessed it!” When I was a child I ate directly from the garden. I continue to eat an abundance of garden produce and I’m happy to say my children do too!
Tell me about your garden, your garden experiences or your families garden story! Share a picture of your garden! Do you have a favorite garden dish or recipe you’d like to share with our readers?Healthy regards, Kathy Geislinger BLEND Program Specialist