Grow Your Own Specialty Produce
I’ve always been a little strange and my gardening preferences mirror that. I seem to find myself interested in the old timey or new fangled varieties; anything out of the ordinary. I want to grow thing that you can’t buy in stores. Unfortunately there aren’t a whole lot of resources for people like me. Don’t get me wrong, there are some amazing resources out there, in books and on the internet, but I’ve never been able to find the in-depth information I’m looking for.
That is why I started the ‘Grow Gourmet’ segment on this blog. It’s a never-ending snapshot of the unconventional edibles I’ve tried (and sometimes failed) to grow.If I see ‘X’ in a catalog I want to know how it grows, when I can expect a harvest, how resilient it is to chickens, how likely it is to grow back after the deep munch it back to the ground. I want real like answers based on real people and real growing conditions. Anything will do well in ideal conditions but my garden is a far cry from ideal. I want a garden reality TV show (without bump-its and spray tans).
On top of my love for the strange garden dwellers, I love good food, I love to cook it and I really love to eat it. Unfortunately good ingredients can be really expensive and eating the best of the best can be a real budget breaker. To me, gourmet gardening is about growing ingredients to make amazing foods; the best recipes can be made even better by using exceptional ingredients. Here are my reason for deciding to grow my own gourmet foods:
Fruit and Veggie Taste Better:
Can you think of anything better than biting into a juicy sun-ripened brandy-wine tomato? Maybe munching on a peppery watermelon radish or a freshly pulled atomic red carrot? As strange as it sounds the flavors you associate with grocery store produce are wrong. A garden carrot tastes 100x carrot-ier than baby carrot from the happy green dude.
There is variation in flavors that you have never imagined. As someone who internally giggles at people who describe wine as ‘floral and oaky with a hint of juniper berries’ I know how crazy I sound, but do your own tests and you’ll come around (probably still won’t taste juniper berries though).
More Plant Variety:
I’m not sure how many varieties of tomatoes there are, but I can bet the number is higher than I could count before I fell asleep or got distracted (most likely by my dog chewing on my fig tree). With seeds alone your options are almost infinite. You can find strains of watermelon from eastern Europe or a type of bean bred and perfected in a small town in Tennessee. Between generations of farmers and hard-working scientists you can find a seed type for just about any occasion. I live and garden in Zone 5 (right on the border of zone 4) but I’ve been able to grow watermelon and cantaloupe in my back yard without starting them inside or using hoops and row cover. The in available colors, flavors, shapes and hardiness are mind boggling.
I have my favorites that I grow every year, varieties that perform well here and that taste great, but I like to mix it up every year and try something new. Take garlic for example. Last year I planted 1 kind of garlic to see how it went. Despite really dry conditions and several escaped alpacas we managed a pretty decent harvest with over 100 (I think it was like 150 but I stopped counting) heads from a 4*10 area.
This year I planted 7 types of garlic filling a 4*16 bed (we really like garlic and it’s expensive for the good stuff). I went to a garlic festival and would you believe they all taste different? Some are better raw, some taste better roasted and others are perfection sauteed with quality olive oil. After harvest I’ll narrow that down to my favorites based on flavor, yield and ease of growing and those will be the ones I grow every year. Next year the majority of what I grow will be based on this years results but I’ll still sneak in a new variety or two. And that’s the fun of growing your own. You get to choose is you want the super hot raw garlic or the giant cloves of mild-when-roasted garlic.
The beauty of gourmet vegetables is that most are only one season annuals. If you don’t like them you know in a relatively short time and you never have to plant them again. I always try to grow a few types of everything, one year all my zucchini got wiped out by mold but my patty pan squash took it like a champ and kept cranking out the squash so we didn’t miss out on anything. Worst case scenario you end up with too much and you freeze or donate it.
Some things are a little more of a commitment, fruit trees for example take more space and might need years to reach harvest age. I still experiment with them, we have 5 acres to plant so I’m not worried too much about room. One day my dream is to have an heirloom orchard but that’s a long way off. So for now I put a little money each year toward a few new trees or bushes. Last year I planted kiwis, currants, gooseberries, apples and pears. This year I’d like to add some of my own blueberries and golden raspberries. Start small and you’ll be ok.
Reduced Cost for Healthy Eating:
Lets face it, fresh veggies can be expensive and top of the line premium organic specialty produce could drive you to bankruptcy. Fortunately growing your own doesn’t have to be. The cheapest way to start out is with seeds. But for a little more you can begin with ‘starts’ or seeds that someone has already planted and nurtured past babyhood. If you’re new to gardening test your patience and commitment with a few herbs or a potted tree.
There is no need to throw money down the drain if in 2 weeks you decide you hate dirt, shovels and gardens in general. It’s easy to dive in over your head but in order to get the greatest cost benefit from growing your own you need to start small and add on as time goes by. Last year we started our garden with two 4 ft*16 ft beds, this year we added 4 more and some fruit trees. Don’t think of it as all or nothing.
Good Healthy Family Fun:
Call me crazy but I love to feel the dirt on my hands. If I come in from the garden covered in mud after planting potatoes or digging a new bed I feel like I’ve accomplished something. It’s fun for the whole family, kids and dogs included. When she was 3 my niece loved to ‘help’ me plant potatoes; I would make the trench and she would follow along dropping potato chunks. Her other favorite activity was picking rocks out of the rows. She would find one golf ball sized rock and carry it 20 yards away to the edge of the field, drop it and come back from another rock. Let me tell you, that is a good way to get a 3-year-old to take a nap!
Gourmet gardening can provide fun where regular gardening might be boring. Help your kids grow an unconventional rainbow by choosing red chard, orange squash, yellow cucumbers, green tomatoes, blue potatoes and purple carrots. It’s not hard, I promise, and it’s so worth it in the end; for your wallet, your health and your family.
So those are some of my reason for growing my own specialty foods. Do you grow your own? What are your reasons? If not, what’s stopping you? Share it all in the comments!
Grow Gourmet In the Past: