We grow a lot of things in our garden beds. Flowers, to be sure. Shrubs. Lilies, hostas, irises, and all sorts of pretty things just for looking at and smelling and touching. Food for the senses and the soul.
But we also grow things that feed the body. Lots and lots of things that feed the body. In a very small space, at that. We garden quite intensively (and sometimes that doesn’t entirely work out) and grow a wide variety of yummy things. Many of the yummy things we grow are filled with beauty, too, like this Thai basil with its lovely spears of smoky purple flowers.
Or the apple tree covered in sweet smelling blossoms that slowly turn into fruit tinged with the slightest blush of red.
To me, the garden is connected to the kitchen — and the kitchen to the garden — and that relationship, that interconnectedness of labour and luck and the mystery of life, in turn connects us so much more solidly to this little planet we call home.
The kids love eating out of the garden. Salads, stir fry, green beans and carrots picked ten minutes ago then tossed in olive oil and salt and pepper with a sprig of rosemary, also out of the garden, sizzling away beside a piece of BBQ chicken on the grill… it has become normal to them, this idea of nurturing a plant and then eating it. So normal that some things never make it into the kitchen at all — B loves to snack on snow peas fresh off the vine. I’ve managed to get a few for dinner this year, but that’s probably got more to do with the fact that I planted some in a hanging basket just out of her reach than any restraint on her part.
We truly don’t have a large space for gardening. The bulk of the food garden lies in a small, 3 foot by 12 foot bed by the house and a second two foot by eight foot bed along the fence, plus a little patch three by three that holds potatoes. Not a lot of space, but we take advantage of every bit we can and plant things probably far too closely together and nurture them carefully. And we do, indeed, grow a lot of things.
Every so often shake our heads in wonder, such as when the winter squash that was savaged by the rabbit in May and looked sadly pathetic for all of June and the first week of July suddenly regrouped and in the span of a single week went from a handful of mineature leaves to a robust vine over 5 feet long.
Or when the corn, which is now taller than I am, stayed proudly upright through tornado-strength winds earlier this week only to succumb to the force of a sprinkler turned on low for the kids to play in during this week’s crazy heat. We now have droopy corn, half fallen over and being propped up by a metal trellis and two tomato cages hastily repurposed into corn cages in hopes that the plants will survive just another week or two. We can already see little ears of corn with their happy sprays of corn silk. They just need to get a wee bit older before we can enjoy them and move the spent stalks to the compost pile.
But my favourite, my absolute favourite thing from the garden, is lunching on a big all-you-can-eat salad with greens still warm from the sun, crisp cucumbers just plucked from the vine, a snow pea or two, some baby spinach leaves, a sweet young carrot just barely rinsed, and a spicy green pepper to add some bite.
Nothing beats the taste of a salad still pulsing with life and rich with flavour.
Recipe for a Kitchen Garden Salad
- Pick a double handful of young leaves of buttercrunch lettuce, red curly lettuce, green curly lettuce, baby spinach, and romaine kissed by bees and still warm from the sun.
- Root around in the dirt to find a suitable carrot. It should be brightly orange with tall, straight leafy bits and not too thick.
- Pull a cucumber off the vine and knock off all the spines with your thumbnail.
- Pick three or four snow peas or tender young green beans with their slightly fuzzy bodies, whatever you can find hiding in the shadow of the beanstalk.
- Twist a tiny green pepper off the bush. The small ones may have thin skin compared to what you find in the grocery store, but the flavour is five times stronger, so you don’t need much to add a lovely bite.
- Wander the garden and pick a few leaves of basil if you like, and some flat parsley for a bit of herby flavour. Or snip a bit of green onion, chives, or garlic scapes if they’re up. Let your sense of whimsy be your guide.
- Give it all a quick rinse, tear it into bite sized pieces, chop what needs chopping to whatever size seems right, top with a bit of last night’s leftover barbequed meat or poultry, a sprinkle of grated cheese, and a handful of sunflower seeds and raisins.
- Throw in a few chocolate chips (it’s how we got the kids to eat salad at first, and the habit has stuck) and drizzle with your favourite dressing.