Wild Gardens for Busy Parents: Winter Sleep

I trimmed back my wild garden

Think you don’t have time for a garden? You and other busy parents have time for a wild, unruly garden. See how my garden grew from March through December in the progress photos at the bottom of this post.

I am no gardener. If I can do it, you can, too.

December Harvest

Last week, we finally made our now-ripened green tomatoes into a lovely putanesca sauce. Out of frame, we also had a stray pumpkin grow where we carved the pumpkin last year, so we had pumpkin soup from our garden for U.S. Thanksgiving this week. My husband has also been drinking the beer he brewed from our own hops. This morning I chewed on mint and fennel that is still growing. We did have a December harvest.

As we trimmed back the vines, we found a lone hop cone that had escaped harvest. Remember the hops? My brilliant plan was to plant something my husband really cared about so that he would do the gardening. It worked! He definitely cared about the garden, and he certainly did most of the work.

Lone Hop Cone

Total Cost for the Year

Total for November – $0
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 for the Year

This month we did have to spend some time trimming the garden back. I put it off and put it off (in the spirit of wild gardening, of course). Finally, after two snows, I did it this morning because I knew I needed to photograph it.

The hops are cut back to the base; raspberries and blackberries cut back to the main stems; grapes were trimmed just a little, since next year’s crop will grow on this year’s vines; tomato monsters tamed (with a few stray tomatoes left in their place to see if they will grow next year); and the kale left where it was. It was green still, so I couldn’t bring myself to cut it down. We also have mint still growing as well as some confused fennel and flower bulbs peeking out to see if it’s spring.

Total for December – 30 minutes
Total for November – seconds
Total for October - 10 minutes
Total for September – 20 minutes
Total for August – 30 minutes
Total for July – 10 minutes
Total for June – 90 minutes
Total for May – 2 hours 20 minutes
Total for April – 6 hours 20 minutes
Total for March – 45 minutes
Total time for the year = 12.5 hours

We wanted to spend no more than 30 minutes per month on the garden. We had to put in a full Saturday up front to get rid of an old dying bush and build a raised bed, then we spent a morning shopping and planting. With that out of the way, we averaged less than 30 minutes per month, including harvest but not including gazing in awe.

You Can Garden!

I have learned a few lessons in this experiment.

Nurture at least a little. The line between wild gardening and failure due to neglect is thin. We played on that line, but our garden still grew beautifully.

Stay accountable. Feeling attached to the long-term growth of the hops was the motivating factor for us (along with me knowing I needed to photograph progress each month). If the garden itself isn’t enough, see if your children will keep you focused on the garden or commit to photograph and share it like I did.

Take baby steps. Most of the parents Nature Mom and I know aspire to grow food in their own gardens, but they believe they don’t have time. I just want you to know that you can grow a garden with very little time. Take baby steps toward that big, gorgeous garden. Plant one plant; add another plant the next year. Your garden will grow in time, and you really can create that big, beautiful garden you dream of. I started this way, and this year we had almost two dozen fruits, herbs, greens, squashes, and other plants we harvested from 3-foot deep beds lining our house and sidewalk. We have a very small yard, but it has been easier every year to make it bloom.

Good luck. Spend the next few months dreaming of the plants you will grow.

Our Wall of Green

My garden through the year

Progress in the Cultivated Raised Bed

Full year of our raised bed

Wild Gardens for Busy Parents: Turning Colors

Wild garden colour in November

We gave our garden just enough attention to keep it growing, and the garden gave to us abundantly throughout the season. Now, our garden is turning fall colors.

Despite our September and October snow, we haven’t had a hard frost yet, and we’re in the middle of one last 70-degree day, so we’ve left the remnants of our garden—mostly for the snails. I estimate we got 75% of the harvest, and the snails got the rest. I left the damaged tomatoes on the vine for them.

Next month will be my final garden post. By next month, I will have cut everything back before the snow stays on the ground. I love seeing the progress in the photos below. I feel so attached to my wild garden. I am so happy to see the purple, orange, and green leaf colors all pop against my grey house.

November Harvest

When we were afraid that we would have a hard frost a few weeks ago, we picked all of our green tomatoes. We made fried green tomatoes, green tomato salsa, green tomato pickle, and green tomato anything at all. (See our post on green tomatoes recipes.) Even after all of that cooking, we still had a lot of green tomatoes. Rather than freezing, we decided to let them ripen.

We lined boxes with newspaper then set out all of the green tomatoes so they had plenty of air circulation around them. It worked. Now, we shop for our post-season harvest in the basement.

Ripening tomatoes

Total Cost So Far

Total for November – $0
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

I spent no time on the garden this month other than to stand the pumpkin up from where it grew at the edge of our sidewalk so it was visible to neighbors. That’s my fall decorating done. It took all of two seconds.

Total time so far = 11 hours 30 minutes

Our goal has been to spend less than 30 minutes in the garden most months.Depending on your climate and your weather, you might want to spend your 30 minutes this month cutting back vines and sending all of that green into the compost so it can feed your garden next year. Since we are still having mild days, we will wait until later this month to cut back completely.

Our Wall of Green

Our blackberry leaves have turned purple and red. This is the only way to see the blackberries stand out against the raspberries and the grapes that have created our wall of green this season. Tomatoes are greying, though you can see the red of the tomatoes we left for the creatures. Only the kale still carries on growing green.

Our wild garden in November

Progress in the Cultivated Raised Bed

Progress of our raised bed in November

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

 

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

Garden Fresh Snacks for Children

Vegetable Kebabs

If you planted a garden with your child earlier this year, she’s probably been eager to sample the results. Now is the season for fresh garden snacks with children.

Eat Foods Fresh and Raw

Fresh fruits and vegetables straight from the garden can be such an intense taste experience that they become lifelong memories. I remember very well trailing after my mother through our garden, tasting as we went. In particular, I always remember biting into a tomato. I don’t like tomatoes, and that is the only time in my young life that I remember voluntarily eating one. I just remember how incredibly good it felt to bite through the sun-warmed flesh of the tomato before the taste exploded through me. This one little fresh fruit (or vegetable, depending where you want to come down on that issue) is the anchor for all of my other childhood garden memories.

Now, without giving it much thought, we’ve put our mostly likely garden snack foods next to our main doors near our house. Because our herbs are next to the door we use most frequently, my children often stop to eat mint or fennel on their way inside. We have planted grapes by our front door, but they are only two years old and aren’t fruiting yet. I like to picture guests snacking on our grapes as they wait for us to answer the door.

Walk through your garden with your child and see what there is to sample and taste as a snack.

Choose Dark Vegetables for Micronutrients

We know dark, raw vegetables provide phytonutrients that help our bodies repair damage on a cellular level. For our smoothie series a while ago, we focused on the 5-7 color categories that fruits and vegetables can be divided into, each category rich in a particular set of phytonutrients.

Dark blue and purple foods can contain anthocyanins, which contain antioxidants that help protect cells from damage. From Sour Purple Blast Smoothie.

Carrots in particular are an incredible source of Vitamin A—or, rather, provitamin A carotenoids that can form Vitamin A. Alpha carotene is a cancer fighter, and beta carotene promotes repair of damaged DNA. You probably know that beta carotene will help your eyesight, which is related to this repair function. From Earth Orange Smoothie.

Green plants have chlorophylls, which play an important role in photosynthesis—capturing energy from sunlight and converting it into chemical energy. The phytonutrients in our smoothie included the carotenoid lutein, which works with zeaxanthin (both from raw spinach) for eye health. From Easy Green Smoothie.

As you are planting your garden then later strolling through for a snack, keep in mind that a variety of colors means an abundance of vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients.

Quick Vegetable Kebab Snack

It’s cooling down. My children have been requesting hot snacks and lunches, so it is time to put together simple, warm foods. They do like raw vegetables, but one of the ways we create variety straight from our garden is with quick grilled vegetable kebabs. My children love crunchy grilled vegetables, and it’s a great alternative to fried foods.

  • Garden vegetables – Use whatever you have in your garden, like zucchini, tomato, onion, sweet pepper, and summer (yellow) squash.
  • Oil, vinegar, and spices for marinade
  • Skewers – We use metal skewers because they are easiest to reuse.

Rather than buying anything special for this snack, it’s an adventure for a young child to go out into the garden and eat what he finds. Collect vegetables early in the morning, then prepare a marinade using oil, vinegar, lemon juice, mustard, salt, pepper, and any herbs you collect. Cut up the vegetables into large, bite-sized pieces. Place the marinade and the vegetables in a container for 2-3 hours. Shake it around to be sure that the vegetables are coated.

When it is time for a late morning snack, help your child skewer just a few of each kind of vegetable. Vegetable kebabs are wonderful grilled, but we try to keep snacks simple since we’re only cooking a small amount of food. We broil until the zucchini starts to steam and brown because we like the texture of the crunchy crust outside and the hot, soft inside.

I love the idea of simple snacks from the garden because it makes such a profound connection for children. They help grow the food with their own hands. As they eat and enjoy the foods in simple ways—either raw or just cooked but still recognizable—they begin to realize how much power they have to care for their own bodies and their expanding world.

Image © Michael Zysman | Dreamstime.com