Wild Gardens for Busy Parents: End of Growing

My raised bed in October

We experimented this year. Every year, Nature Mom and I discuss how to encourage you, bynature.ca customers and other readers, to plant a garden. Every year she and I have big plans for our own gardens, and every year we get so busy that we neglect our gardens.

This year, we decided the wild, neglected reality of gardening for busy parents would be our whole theme. My intentions were to give more care than I did. Even knowing you were watching, I still didn’t find the time to tend the garden. I let the snails eat their fill of tomatoes. I didn’t trim the fennel in a way that would keep it from going to seed so early. I let the mint spread into the flowers. The pumpkin has covered the sidewalk and creeps into my neighbor’s driveway every day. Grapevines have crossed the canyon beyond the house to claim the garage. Tomatoes tell the UPS man “No Passage Here.” It’s garden chaos. It’s beautiful chaos. It’s the last push of green before it all dies back.

And this is the lesson. Even through my neglect, the garden gives us bounty. You don’t need to put much into your garden to have it feed your family a meal here and there throughout the summer. If you decide you want to get more serious, it doesn’t take much attention to harvest that bounty and preserve it for the winter. I know you are busy parents, but you can plant a garden.

October Harvest

Yesterday it snowed. There is no nighttime frost yet, so some of my green tomatoes are still on the vine, but we only have a week or so before everything will be finished growing.

The end of my harvest will include:

  • 4-5 dozen monstrous green tomatoes
  • grape leaves, to be frozen and stuffed through the year as dolmathes
  • one giant pumpkin, painted (not carved) then eaten
  • several varieties of slightly bitter mint

 Total Cost So Far

Total for October – $0
Total for September – $3.00 (stakes)
Total for August – $0 (nada!)
Total for July – $3.00 (supports)
Total for June – $16.50 (plants)
Total for May – $34.00 (manure, top soil, peat moss)
Total for April – $18.00 (hops)
Total cost for the year – $74.50

Total Time So Far

Most of my time in the past month was spent moving vines that were trying to take over. That might have taken 10 minutes all month.

Taming – 10 minutes
Previous time spent  – 11 hours 20 minutes
Total time so far = 11 hours 30 minutes

Our goal has been to spend less than 30 minutes in the garden most months. Unless you want to start the garden cleanup early, there isn’t much need for 30 minutes this month. Most of your garden time is actually kitchen time. Slice green tomatoes for salsa, relish, pickle, or other side dishes.

Your 30 minutes for September:
Taming – 5 minutes
Harvest – 10 minutes
Cooking – 15 minutes

Growing & Gathering Hops

This past month, my husband gathered the cones from his hops. You can use fresh hops to brew beer, but you have to do it right away, so he chose to dry the hops. He harvested .3 ounces when dried from one plant, the Nugget. The other plant didn’t produce this year. That isn’t a lot, but he was pleased to have harvested anything at all.

Dried and frozen hops cones

His homegrown hops inspired him to look for feral hops. In old cities, hops often grow long after the families who planted them are gone. My husband found three big groups of feral hops in the city. One of the plants he has been watching for a couple of years was in a 19th-century neighborhood that is now hip businesses in the shadow of downtown. That plant is called Cluster, which is more of a heritage breed. This plant is probably more than 100 years old. The other large producer lines a parking lot near a cultivated public garden. This breed is probably Cascade, a varietal that is about 30 years old. The bitter smell of Cascade currently dominates my house as he took it out of the dehydrator this morning.

My husband has dried and frozen several pounds of hops, but he says it would be best to express the harvest in the number of batches of beer he can make with the them. He harvested six batches of homebrewed beer from secret locations throughout our city. For now, they occupy a deep basket in our chest freezer.

Not bad for neglectful gardening and gathering.

Our Wall of Green

Progress of my garden to October

Progress in the Cultivated Raised Bed

Progress of my wild garden until October


6 Green Tomato Recipes You’ll Love

Green tomato

I’m overwhelmed with tomatoes. I have so many of them that I have even stopped telling the snails to leave them alone. The only problem: they are all still unripe. I have masses of green tomatoes that will not have time to ripen before the frost. My wild garden was a bit late going in—that’s how things sometimes go with a wild garden—so here I am with a bountiful harvest of green.

To take full advantage of these beautiful green tomatoes, I have lined up six new recipes to try.

Fried Green Tomatoes

A southern classic. I have never tried it, but I have some flavorful, roasted corn meal that is calling out for a special recipe. Southern Living magazine links to this classic fried green tomato recipe at MyRecipes.com, so this is going to be the lunch side for my kids tomorrow. I see a bottle of Crystal cayenne sauce in the photo, and that’s how I’m going to serve this. Warning: this takes a lot of oil. This is a one-time deal for us.

Green Tomato Salsa Verde

Rather than blending a traditional tomatillo-based green salsa, this recipe goes all-out green tomato. I need to use all of the tomatoes I have, and we eat a lot of salsa, so this salsa recipe from the New York Times is the winner. Very simple salsa recipe using charred tomatoes as the base.

Green Tomato Relish

I don’t love sweet sauces, so I’m intrigued that Farmgirl Susan’s No-sugar Green Tomato Relish uses tart cooking apples for all of the needed sweetness. That’s my kind of sweetness (without the sweet peppers). Boil, thicken, and buzz in the KitchenAid.

Green Tomato Pickle

We love Indian food, and all kinds of pickle are staples of the current British diet, so this I Indian-flavour pickle recipe from NPR ought to fit right in with my family. It lasts several weeks, but we will likely freeze this so we can continue to have it through the winter.

Italian Farmhouse Green Tomato Pickle

I love the Splendid Table, so I was glad to see that they had a suggestion for me of a long-lasting, vinegary pickle. These last up to six months in the refrigerator if they are completely covered with vinegar (white wine vinegar) each time you take a few tablespoons to add to saute or to spread on a sandwich.

Grilled Green Tomatoes with Creamy Basil Sauce

I do love sauce, salsa, relish, and pickle, but I wanted to find more recipes that leave the tomatoes closer to whole. Martha Stewart came through with grilled tomatoes. They have a simple garlic, lemon, mayo sauce. This sounds like a perfect first dish to let my family know that this is green tomato season.

Healthy School Lunch Ideas

Packing lunch for your young children is easy when you have some good, healthy ideas to start. We’ve gathered our favorite school lunch articles for you.

Back-to-school: What’s for Lunch?

At school, your children are going to be making a lot of their own decisions about nutrition. How do you give kids the tools they need to make their own good choices?


Healthy Lunchbox Idea: Pasta Salad
Pasta Salad

Tips for keeping enough supplies on hand that you can improvise a great pasta salad for lunch without any risk of boredom. First rule in my house: make it infrequently so it’s a pleasant surprise when we have pasta salad.


Allergy-free School Lunch Strategies

At home, it is easier to keep your allergic child safe. Once you switch to school lunch or packed lunch, you need to have allies who will help keep your child eating allergy-free foods.


Fun School Lunch Surprises
Two kids looking inside a lunch bag

Keep your child’s lunch bag interesting with little surprises. We gathered a lot of fun ideas to give your child a mid-day boost. Play with the familiar or surprise with a new shape or color.


5-minute Lunch Box

Uh-oh. Forgot to make a lunch? You probably have more options than you realize. We created lists of lunch ideas that are easy to chop, stir, and shake so you can have a healthy lunch ready in 5 minutes or less.


Pinning Your Way to More Creative Food
Rainbow fruit skewers

If you still need ideas, check out Pinterest. Look for school lunch boards, and you will join a world of creative parents sharing their ideas for more appealing lunches for children.



Wild Gardens for Busy Parents: Harvest

Small garden in September

My garden is neglected. What else would you expect from a wild garden tended by two busy parents. We don’t really tend it. We ignore it. This is fine, though.

This is payoff time.

We were very excited about the garden early in the year, and that’s when the garden needed a little time, money, and attention. Now, we go to the garden when it’s time to eat. That’s perfect!

September Garden Harvest

We know you are busy. If you are like Nature Mom and like me, you feel too busy to garden. We wanted to prove (mostly to ourselves) that it doesn’t take a lot of time to garden. Here is your proof that careful, daily tending is not necessary for an abundant harvest.

If my family and I were more conscious gardeners with more time, we would have cultivated the plants to control growth and promote fruit. We didn’t, and the garden is fine anyway. Maybe the ease of gardening will embolden us to be more ambitious about caring for the garden year after year. This year, the garden is wild.

Total Cost So Far

Total for September – $3.00 (stakes)
Total for August – $0 (nada!)
Total for July – $3.00 (supports)
Total for June – $16.50 (plants)
Total for May – $34.00 (manure, top soil, peat moss)
Total for April – $18.00 (hops)
Total for the year – $74.50

Total Time So Far

This past month, we’ve spent little time with the garden other than harvesting. We’re over the gazing, though it is fun to see how green has taken over our house. We did stake the tomatoes to prevent them from creeping across the lawn and to prevent the snails from finding them easily.

Harvest – 10 minutes
Staking – 10 minutes
Pest patrol – 20 minutes
Building supports – 10 minutes
Shopping – 1 hour
Digging & planting – 30 minutes
Previous time spent (research, prep, building raised bed, digging) – 9 hours
Total so far = 11 hours 20 minutes

You could certainly spend your allotted 30 minutes this month pruning, guiding, and generally keeping the garden to the designated spaces. Or, you could just skip it and spend more time over your homegrown meal.

Your 30 minutes for September:
Pest control – 10 minutes
Staking – 10 minutes
Harvest – 10 minutes

Hops Cones

Remember how this was meant to be a raised bed for three hops plants? They are in there if you look hard enough, but grapes, berries, and tomatoes have taken over. The hops are taking shelter under the grapes.

The hop plant grows cones, the hops. These are used to flavor beer—in this case, my husband’s homebrew beer. The cones grew this month, and they are close to harvest.

Cones of the Hop Plant

Wall of Green Garden

My usual progress image showing how the garden has changed month by month doesn’t show the full height and the full impact of the changes in the past couple of months, so I’m including two views this month.

Garden month by month

I planted my garden in a spot that had been, for about 30 years, an evergreen bush with large, flat leaves. My mother cultivated it; I was neglectful. I let it die. It became an eyesore, so we tore it out this past spring and replaced it with a raised bed that matches our house. I’ll miss the green through the winter, but I love what we’ve replaced it with. Over time, I want to replace more of the decorative trees and plants my mother planted with food.

I love the wild green wall that now lines my front walkway. Rather than 3 feet of tidy green, I have a 12-foot wall of green reaching out in every direction.

Garden from spring to fall

Snack-sized Reading to Improve Nutrition

Food Rules Illustrated Michael Pollan


You want to eat better and ensure that your children are healthy, but how do you figure out which information about food is reliable? One book summarizes all of the basic food rules you need to know.

Having children often brings on one of those shocking moments of realization that what you eat and what your children eat really matters. For a lot of us, babies are the trigger to clean up our eating habits. Unfortunately, this is also the time in your life when you have the least time to spend and when you are most tired. Fortunately, if you do manage to squeeze out some time to improve your family’s nutrition, you will improve how you feel overall.

Simple Rules for Eating

Start with simple rules and take simple steps.

“If it came from a plant, eat it. If it was made in a plant, don’t”
~Michael Pollan

Did you notice when we posted the quotation above on Facebook last month? This is rule #19 from his book, Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual (published 2010).

Michael Pollan is a science journalist who has written several books on food. You might have heard of The Omnivore’s Dilemma or In Defense of Food. His earlier books are more complex, and his more recent books are simpler. That makes sense to me. He isn’t engaging in an academic exercise. He genuinely wants to help people understand food and make better choices. People need the information delivered simply not because they can’t understand the complex but because, like most of us, they don’t have the time and energy to dive deeply into the subject.

Michael Pollan got the idea for food rules when a doctor told him, “What I would love is a pamphlet I could hand to my patients with some rules for eating wisely.” So, the next book summarized those rules in a way that anyone can understand

To gain some clarity about the general rules you should follow to improve your food choices, start with Michael Pollan’s Food Rules: Illustrated Edition. I suggest the illustrated edition because I assume you will want to share what you learn with your children, as I did. Also, this edition adds 19 more rules to the 64 in the original.

Find an indie bookstore selling Food Rules.

It will take you about a minute and a half to read each rule. You could read it in one sitting, but you might find it easier to integrate the lessons if you read one every morning and think about it as you go about your busy day. Give yourself permission to go slowly if you need to.

If you get into the illustrated edition and want to share more with your children, you will find Michael Pollan reading the rules and the artist talking about her illustrations on Michael Pollan’s website.

Over the years, I have written about my children, the food activists, and how we have integrated learning about food into our homeschool curriculum. We read together Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma: Young Readers Edition, and we watched quite a few food documentaries (which I list for you). With every step we take, we find more to learn. That’s OK! The journey isn’t about arriving but about improvising your beautiful life along the way.

Take your own eco baby steps. You don’t have to (and you CAN’T) do everything at once. Just start where you feel the strongest itch, and make your own changes.