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Rainbow Garden

By Iris Clark Newman

Fri, Sep 7th, 2012
Posted in All Columnists

I walked into my backyard and picked a rainbow of cherry tomatoes tonight. Small yellow, orange, red and purplish tiny tomatoes filled my container.

The taste of these sweet orbs has no comparison to any purchased commercially. Tomorrow my lunch at work will have a bag of those tomatoes and a sliced cucumber, also from my backyard.

Gardening was a pursuit missing from my life for a couple of decades while I was busy raising four children as a single mom and commuting to work five days a week. Once we lived on a farm where I gardened, then canned or froze tomatoes, green beans and pickles for the whole year.

When we moved into town, gardening was left behind. Gradually, however I started gardening in pots on my deck…a cherry tomato, a pepper plant and lots of herbs. We created tiny gardens edged with patio blacks in the backyard where I could have short rows of beans or staked tomatoes.

Enter my son who took over gardening at his grandparents’ farm a decade ago—as Logan has expanded his gardening, my cooking has changed. He tried growing turnips, kohlrabi, wax beans, roma tomatoes, red chard, leeks, purple onions, garlic, cabbage, purple potatoes, dark green broccoli, orange beets and yellow crook-necked squash.

I’d never eaten kohlrabi, turnips or rutabagas before, but I learned to eat them cooked in soups and vegetable stir-fries. Cooking became an adventure each evening as I tried preparing concoctions with whatever Logan was growing.

My standard was a stir-fry creation I’d included in a booklet written for a class on herb gardening I had taught years ago. Dark green zucchini slices were combined with yellow squash, onion, and shreds of cabbage cooked in olive oil and seasoned with fresh chopped basil, sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

Then I discovered chard. The stems could be sliced up like celery and added early in the stir-fry process. The final step was chopping the dark green chard leaves and adding it to the cooking mixture.

A sprinkle of feta cheese or shredded Parmesan were great finishing touches, even a scattering of pine nuts over the top, plus a tiny bit of hot pepper flakes.

Three years ago the City of Eyota received a grant from the Olmsted County SHIP program (Statewide Health Improvement Program) to start a community garden in town. Initially 12 plots were created the first year, with it expanding into 24 plots the second year. Logan was one of the first to take one of those plots.

The initial year the efforts of 12 citizens were heroic and some were reasonably successful. However, the second year when a couple of truckloads of compost from the Olmsted County recycling site were added along with topsoil, the quantity of vegetables raised increased exponentially.

It’s not so easy to learn how to garden, especially if you grew up not knowing what a weed looks like. Sometimes I would walk by and notice a fabulous button weed or ragweed growing as if it belonged in the community garden.

Even after planting a garden with seeds and starter plants is successful, the needs for watering and weeding into the times when the heat becomes uncomfortable can make the new gardener waver. Oddly, sometimes after mastering planting and caring for their plants, new gardeners neglect to pick their crops when they are ready.

No, gardening is not easy, but once it’s mastered, the wonder of growing your own watermelon or cantaloupe and picking your own cucumbers instead of buying them at a store becomes a motivating force.

Not only is gardening good for adults, it a great way to teach children and expose them to new foods that are downright good for them.

What, a purple pepper, they might wonder? Yes, and it can be eaten fresh with ranch or dill dip or chopped up as a pizza topping.

The most wonderful pizzas can be created with garden produce. My favorite is using a prepared crust—either dough in a bag or a precooked crust, then adding my own home-canned tomato sauce or using a homemade pesto paste as the base.

Next, pile on the chopped vegetables starting with chopped spinach, chard or other cooking greens. Then add thinly sliced tomatoes, summer squash, and peppers. Sliced portabella or white mushrooms and perhaps some meat or shrimp, plus fresh oregano leaves stripped off the stem can round out the pizza. Ah yes, for the adults adding a bit of hot pepper flakes give it a bit of zing, sprinkle on some olive oil and shake a bit of sea salt over it.

Of course, top it all with a good pile of mozzarella cheese or a combo of cheeses.

If growing your own garden doesn’t work in your life, perhaps visiting a local farmers market will. Let others do all the work of planting, weeding, watering and picking—you just have to stop by with your wallet. Pick out wonderful, unique, fresh vegetables, the likes of which you will be hard pressed to find sold in a store.

It almost goes without saying, but eating lots of vegetables is good for you too! However, it is so enjoyable eating them, don’t even think of that.

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