Everyone can turn a deeper shade of green

This blog is dedicated to all those looking to deepen their green--whether you are making a commitment to a greener lifestyle and need help taking the first steps or whether you're already a practicing tree hugger who is looking for practical advice on what steps to take next. Over the years, I've heard all the good intentions and all the excuses. I've also seen my fellow environmentalists sabotage the good intentions of others. I am making a commitment to you, dear reader, wherever you fall on the spectrum, to help you take the next steps to fulfilling your commitment to the earth, to your health, and to your well-being. Stay tuned for articles and interviews.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

8 ways to make the most of garden failure.

So your garden is a total failure. Maybe you pruned the fruit instead of the suckers off your tomato plants (oops!). Maybe you live in the South and can’t bear to keep those veggies watered or you took a vacation and forgot to ask the dog sitter to water. 

Fear not! Even the most disappointing garden can bring you positive returns, even if it’s not what you were planning. My first few years in gardening, my goal was to not lose money. My first couple years were container gardens on balconies and porches. Imagine the cost of soil, containers, and tomato plants for a balcony garden—5 pounds was about break even. Over the past two years I’ve been integrating more perennials and edible landscaping that I hope will yield tasty rewards, even in years when I can’t tend to a traditional garden because of work or travel. In the many years in between, I’ve swapped seeds, plants, and produce and I’ve eaten tiny potatoes, sautéed bitter lettuce hoping to sizzle the bitter out of it, shredded zucchini larger than my arm for epic batches of zucchini bread, and eaten flowers and leaves from all kinds of plants, sometimes just to get my money’s worth out of that years investment.

Here’s a few ideas. Most I’ve tried, some are on my list to try. If you have other ideas, share them below. 

  • ONE. None of those squash blossoms turning into squash? Add the flowers to a salad or stuff them and bake them. We don’t always plant our veggies at the right time to hit the harvest jackpot, but in many cases, you can eat parts of the plant that were not the part you planted it for. 

Think outside the salad...roasted radishes with sauteed radish greens
  • If you’re in the South and planted peas with your tomatoes, you can eat the leaves and tendrils (raw or cooked). If your kale plants bolted, you can toss those flowers in your salad. Tomatoes taking forever to ripen? Try some great green tomato recipes (green tomato cake and green tomato ketchup are two faves that I discovered a few years ago. Note--this is not the ketchup recipe I used--mine was no pickling spices, and sugar instead of honey with the addition of bell and/or hot peppers. I actually combined two recipes and *gasp* lost my notes).
  • Note: The leaves of plants in the nightshade family (potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant) are considered toxic. Recently, I‘ve read that this is NOT as true as we thought. Here’s an article about it with some additional links. Read it and make an informed choice. If you want to find something else to do with those tomato leaves on those darn heirlooms that are taking months to ripen, keep reading
  • TWO. What if it’s just the opposite and squash is the only thing you can manage to grow? Whatever you have in abundance, you can bet that someone is missing in their own back yard. Reach out to friends, neighbors, and co-workers to swap produce. Or just give it away and see what comes back to you.
  • THREE. OR you can share with a local program that distributes produce to low income folks who need it. In Charlotte, you can donate through the Backyard Friendship Gardens program (disclaimer—that’s where I work!).
  • FOUR. Nothing is growing except your herbs? Dry some for later. You can even turn some into lovely gifts. Even if all you have is rosemary (which grows like a weed here in Charlotte), you can make a nice blend of rosemary, pepper, and lemon rind as a chicken seasoning (I’ve never actually used a recipe for this—blend the three ingredients to taste—my ratio is probably 1 : ¾ : 1).
  • FIVE. What if everything is looking all shriveled and past hope? Start a compost bin. Our community has lots of free workshops—check your solid waste management office, public library, master gardeners/master composters, local gardening clubs for free workshops in your area. Compost adds valuable nutrients and organic matter to your soil. It will save you money on fertilizer and soil amendments next year. And the best part is that even if you do it completely “wrong” you’ll still get compost…eventually. Everything rots!
Click on the photo from Hannah's blog to go to the recipe :)
  •  SEVEN. Okra.This southern staple is a category onto itself. Not everyone loves okra and some only hate it after trying to grow it.  It seemed like a good idea when you planted it, but who knew you’d never actually eat any of it because it grows freakishly fast. That cute little pod smaller than your thumb needed an extra day, but when you came back in the evening and it was the size of a baseball bat you started to wonder. If you know of a way to cook baseball bat sized okra so that it doesn’t have the texture of tree bark, please let me know. In the meantime, I teach at a lovely yoga studio named Okra, so I started getting crafty with okra a few years ago. A stem of dried okra pod in a wildflower arrangement is pretty awesome. A friend did pod people once, painting faces on okra pods with kids at a summer camp. Here are some other ideas from Okra:

sliced and dried, seed instead of sand in a candle holder, fresh or dried--just because.

  • EIGHT. Find out what else is edible in your yard—eat the weeds! Dandelions, violets, plantain, clover, lambsquarter, just to name a few. Google them. Sample them. Maybe you won’t even need to plant a garden next year.
Hopefully, you love the experience of gardening enough to keep at it and you will continue to find creative ways to make the most of the harvest! 

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