Monday, July 2, 2012

Great Plants for a Hit-and-Miss Gardener

We're changing up the schedule here at The Green Phone Booth, so you may see some growing pains while we all adjust to the new routine. Late with her post but undeterred, today the Climate Crusader kicks off gardening month.

Skeeter Farm
Skeeter Farm

A little more than a year and a half ago I found myself standing in a field, talking to a young farmer. Amy Seuss is one of the people behind Skeeter Farm, a small vegetable farm based in the Fraser Valley outside of Vancouver. As we talked about her experiences farming and my experiences gardening, the conversation turned to my mixed results when it comes to growing food. She told me that she believes some people just instinctively understand plants, and others ... don't. When I relayed this conversation to my mother-in-law, who is a gardening superstar, she agreed.

Sadly for me, unlike Amy and my mother-in-law, I am one of those people who wasn't born with an instinctive understanding of all things plant-related. I do try, though. I have a decent-sized vegetable garden in my back yard. I subscribe to seed catalogues and dutifully read all the information I can find about how to grow the seeds I buy. I try to do everything right. Sometimes, it all works out. Other times, in spite of my best efforts, my little seedlings all die. I may try to grow 12 or 14 different kinds of veggies each year, but I generally only harvest half that amount.

I persist in gardening in my spite of my hit-or-miss results for a few reasons:
  • I want my children to understand where food comes from, and there's no better way to do that than growing it ourselves.
  • In crunching the numbers, I'm convinced that it's still way cheaper to eat veggies from my garden than to buy them, even if I don't have 100% success.
  • I hope that, through my trial and error, I will eventually get better.
To expand on that last point, there are a few crops that I have had continued success with. If you, like me, are a  hit-and-miss sort of a gardener, let me suggest a few crops to start with.

Ripening raspberries
My raspberries

Great Plants for a Hit-and-Miss Gardener

  1. Garlic - My garlic produces for me every year, and it's really easy to grow. In the fall I pick up a few bulbs of organic garlic from my farmers' market. I break them into cloves and plant them. In the early summer I harvest the garlic scapes, and in the late summer I harvest the garlic, which I hang in a dry place and enjoy all year.
  2. Potatoes - Potatoes are another plant that is easy to grow and keeps well when harvested. I generally order seed potatoes and they arrive in early spring. Then starting in early summer I can harvest new potatoes, and in late summer and early autumn I harvest their bigger siblings.
  3. Herbs - Many herbs are perennial, meaning they'll come back year after year (or, at least they do here in the Pacific Northwest). My sage, mint, rosemary, thyme, oregano, chives and lavender have been great producers, with little or no effort on my part.
  4. Raspberries - Raspberries grow like weeds. I bought two plants over eight years ago, and they've spawned a whole raspberry patch. Mine are everbearing, so they produce two crops each year - one in early summer on the old growth, and one in autumn on the new growth. They're super-easy, and the kids love them.
  5. Peas - Peas are another favourite with my kids, and they always come through for me. I have a trellis for them to climb, and I plant them in a few batches to prolong the harvest. I don't think any peas have ever actually made it inside our house - they all get picked and eaten in the garden.
Are you a hit-and-miss gardener, or a gardening pro? What crops produce well for you, year in and year out?


Anonymous said...

Totally disagree that some people "just understand plants "- you may have more commitment TO learning but making it into something that involves no effort or learning is not fair. It's not black or white like that...

Amber Strocel said...

@ecogrrl - I don't think Amy was saying that it doesn't involve any learning. But in my own life I've found that I naturally pick up some things more quickly, almost by instinct, whereas I struggle with others. For instance, I have always excelled at math without putting in much effort, whereas my husband really struggled to pass. I think it's fair to say that some people find it easier to understand plants, too. I don't think acknowledging that is belittling anyone's effort - and I can certainly acknowledge that other people put in more effort than I do.

Betsy (Eco-Novice) said...

Love these ideas, Amber! I'd love to have raspberries in my backyard.

Farmer's Daughter said...

I totally agree about the crunching the numbers part- especially with crops like raspberries! They can be like $4 per HALF pint here (much cheaper in season, of course, but still expensive). I love being able to stuff them in my mouth or have my son squish a few without the big cost :)

Brenna Burke said...

I definitely agree about things like raspberries! We were lucky enough to get plants from a neighbor who was thinning hers and they are so hardy we don't have to do anything with them, but they give us (meaning the kids) endless backyard snacks. :)

Brenda Pike said...

In addition to herbs like basil and chives, cherry tomatoes are the easiest windowsill crop this lazy gardener has ever grown. And they make for such satisfying summer salads!

Debra said...

I would love to grow my own garlic. I use so much of it in the first place so it would make sense to grow it fresh! I didnt know that you just planted the cloves, thanks for the good tip!


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