The Value of Gardening
There is, I believe, great value in gardening. I am healthier for the exercise I get gardening and for the food from it. I believe that there is a spiritual component too. I can feel at one with the world when I garden, and a connection to the generations before and after me. I can feel my grandfather (some of whose tools I still use) with me in the garden at times. And in this day and age, it makes financial sense to have a garden.
I recently chatted with Alice Elliott of Richmond, Maine. Alice is by nature a record keeper, and for the past two years she has counted, weighed and measured the produce from her garden. Her garden is not large – just a space about 20 feet by 25 feet – but in 2010 she harvested 642 pounds of veggies, with a value of $2,102.48. Each week she gets the average market price for organic vegetables from MOFGA (the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association) and, using the state average price, figures out how much her garden has earned for her.
Alice also keeps track of her expenses – seeds, potting soil, row covers, fertilizer and mulch. She has, by her own admission, “A seed habit. I can’t pass by a pretty seed packet,” she told me. She likes to try new kinds of tomatoes every year – and grows a dozen different varieties. Last year she spent $317 dollars – including an amazing $176 in seeds. One could have a much bigger garden and spend just a fraction of her seeds costs – especially if you save seeds from open pollinated plants like tomatoes and beans.
So what does Alice do with all the veggies she grows? She and her husband eat from the garden every day of the year – which means that she preserves, stores or freezes vegetables now for use when the garden no longer is producing. She has a blog that shares her garden successes (and failures) and has recipes, photos of the garden, cost/benefit analysis of the garden and more. Go to www.henbogle.com to see her garden.
Here is an interesting recipe from Alice’s blog (see her “Yankee Pantry” dropdown for others), a good one for this time of year when our gardens are winding down for the summer, but sage and other herbs are still plentiful:
Over medium low heat, melt butter then add sage leaves and cook until edges curl and butter is dark amber (5-6 minutes). Drain crisped sage on paper towels. Add stock and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in parmesan. Serve over pasta, fresh sautéed vegetables, or roasted butternut squash; garnish with crumbled sage leaves.
One of the most important steps you can take when preparing food for winter use is to develop systems that will save you time. Alice and I agreed that doing large batches of food at once is a time saver. Buy a big blanching pot instead of a small one if you want to freeze large quantities of kale, for example. (Kale and many other veggies need to be blanched by immersing briefly in boiling water before freezing).
Alice makes lots of tomato sauce, and starts by roasting the tomatoes in a 400 degree oven for 30-50 minutes. That reduces the quantity of liquid and imparts a nice flavor, she said. She just cuts tomatoes into 2-4 chunks, and cooks them in Pyrex pans (oiled to keep the tomatoes from getting glued to the pans) until the skins turn dark and much of the moisture is gone. She then runs them through a tomato press to get rid of the seeds and skins. I found the one she uses at Gardeners Supply for about $70. I have an ancient Foley Food Mill, which does the same thing. Finally she freezes or cans the sauce – she uses a pressure cooker for canning to save time and reduce the chance of botulism. She suggests reading about botulism – a horrible illness that can be fatal – at the Web site for the National Center for Home Food Preservation at http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/how/can_home.html.
A tip I shared with Alice is that I use my grandmother’s wooden chopping board when cutting up tomatoes. It is long enough to span one of the two basins of my sink, allowing me to chop without making a mess. With a flick of the wrist I can push juice, seeds or waste into the basin of the sink, reducing mess. When making sauce, I core the tomatoes and squeeze out most of the seeds and juice before tossing them in the Cuisinart for pureeing. And I do that all right at the sink.
I’ll never be as organized as Alice. I will never count, weigh and calculate the value of the food I get from my garden, this I know. But there is great satisfaction in preparing dinner –as I did last night – using all my own ingredients. Now if I could just grow my own salt and pepper!
Henry’s new book is Organic Gardening (not just) in the Northeast: A Hands-On, Month-by-Month Guide. His Web site is www.Gardening-guy.com.