Monday, August 1, 2011


When I started this blog, on the first day of Spring in Wisconsin - which is really just the middle of winter, it was my theory that, come summer, I would have something really interesting to say.  Come summer, there would be lots of food and lots of new recipes to try.  Come summer, I could really explore what it means to be a locavore.  Come summer, I would be done with my MBA and would have time to type up all the new discoveries I had made.

Here are three things I've learned since then: In summer, I already was a locavore; I don't want to cook fancy food in the summer (more on that later); and I REALLY don't want to sit at my computer and type during the summer.

I wasn't intentionally a locavore, and I wasn't a locavore any higher purpose - in fact, the reason that I was a locavore might surprise you: I'm kind of cheap.  Any time I tell someone that I'm a locavore, they first ask why.  I respond with whatever reason strikes my fancy that day: I like fresh food, I want to support local economies, it's good for the environment, I worry about what pesticides in my food are doing to me... and so on.  I try to pick one, because I don't want to sound preachy.  The next thing out of their mouth is always along one of two lines; either they can't cook, or they just don't have that much money to spend on food.

But it doesn't cost more.  In fact, my food budget has shrunk. The fact of the matter is, produce from the farmer's market costs less than produce from the grocery store.  And do you know what costs even less than that?  Produce from my back yard!

Having a garden is another thing that I don't understand people's complaints with.  The excuses are always - I don't have the room, it's too much work, and it costs too much money for too little return.  I seriously question the validity of any of these complaints.

Complaint #1: I don't have enough room.  Do you have a counter or table in front of a window?  Then you can grow herbs.  Herbs are crazy expensive at the grocery store, and you can generally buy plants at the farmer's market for a dollar or less each. Don't buy them at the hardware store - buy them at the farmer's market.  They'll be smaller, but they cost less and they GROW bigger.  That's their point.  Buy some cheap pots to put them in at rummage sales.  You can probably grow oregano (which is a weed), chives (which is a weed), lavender, rosemary, and sage - all year round - for a one time investment of $15.  One plastic package of oregano costs almost $5 at the grocery store.  A bottle of dried oregano costs more.  You can also grow basil on your counter, but most basil is an annual, meaning it will go to seed and then die.  You can, however, save the seeds and plant them - so still a one time investment but a little more work!

Do you have a small porch or patio?  Do some container gardening.  Get one of those upside down hanging tomato pots for less than $5 on Amazon.  Cucumbers, snow peas, spinach, lettuce (any leafy plant), eggplant, any viney squash that will climb - these can all be grown in containers.  And, while you can spend money on nice looking pots to reuse every year, you can also use 5 gallon buckets from the hardware store, or even pots made of peat moss that only last one year and cost about $1 each.

These are not exclusive lists of what can be grown in a container.  Really anything can, as long as your container is big enough.

Complaint #2:  It's too much work.  I suppose this could be true, depending on how you work it.  Yes, those people who have picture perfect gardens and get featured in the Home and Garden section of my news paper probably do spend too much work on the garden.  They also probably don't have real jobs.  The point is, it doesn't need to be that much work.  I probably put in two full days on my garden, around Memorial day: the first day is turning over the garden, adding compost and fertilizer and basically getting everything in shape.  The second day is going to the farmer's market, buying the plants, and actually putting them in the ground.  Both of these days are hard work.  But after that, I definitely take the lazy route.  Yes, weeding and watering are important.  And I do make things a little hard on myself when it comes to watering.  I like to use my rain barrels, so I have to actually water everything with a watering can.  But you can also strategically place a sprinkler that hits everything, turn it on, and walk away.  And as far as weeding goes, you have to weed.  But you don't have to keep the garden weed free.  Basically, you just have to make sure that the plants are taller than the weeds. Once the plants have really taken off, I hardly weed at all.  Weeding to me consists of pulling out a few handfuls here and there, wherever it looks the worst, while my dog is taking care of business in the yard or while my food is cooking on the grill.  Not back breaking hours of labor.

Complaint #3: It costs too much money for too little return.  What?  Seriously?  No, clearly you have never had a garden.  For plants, seeds, pots, fertilizer, and new tools (I was feeling frisky), I spent under $100 this year.  That is for - 7 tomato plants, 6 basil plants, 9 cucumber plants (buy and plant them in 3s), 3 kinds of hot peppers, 3 celery root plants (for fun), 3 bitter melon plants (which died), a zucchini plant, a yellow squash plant, tarragon, parsley, cilantro, and rosemary, and seeds for red and white onions, three kinds of squash, three kinds of radishes, spinach, kale, and four or five kinds of lettuce.  And ALL of this is planted in a garden that is a about a 10' by 12' by 15' triangle, that also includes my over productive rhubarb, chive, and sorrel plants.  (Except for the cucumbers, which are going up the side of a trellis that has climbing roses on the other side.  Note for next year, put the squash on the trellis.  They are out of control!

I have already gotten a ton of radishes and spinach, which have been preserved and stashed away.  I can't figure out a price on pickled radishes, but but a 10 oz package of frozen spinach costs about $2.50.  I would have needed two of those to make my pasta, so right there I've earned $5 of my $100 back.  I don't know how to calculate what I've saved in money on herbs, but I'm sure it's a lot.  Everything else is just starting to come.  I've gotten about a pint of cherry tomatoes ($2), two cucumbers ($1), 6 zucchini (@ $1 each = $6.00), three yellow squash ($3)... So, not including herbs, I've gotten $17 of my $100 back easily, and the produce season is just starting.  Again, with minimal work.

If you're lazy and don't feel like putting in the effort to figure it out, fine.  If you don't want to, fine.  But don't tell me you won't get your money back.

That's enough ranting for one day.  I don't even really have a recipe to go with this, so here are some pictures of the jungle that is my garden:

An average day's harvest (right now...):

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