The Season for Garden Planning: Making a Case for Starting from Seed

Gardening, Learn More, Tenille Enger

It’s hard to believe as we wake up to frost-gilded mornings and experience the darkest days of the year that there’s any logic in thinking about the garden. Most enthusiasts, however, will tell you this is an ideal time to dream.

Seed catalogs for the 2016 growing season are printed and finding their way into mailboxes all across the country. They’re like a passport to choice, offering a mind-boggling array of herbs and vegetables in every shape, size and color. They present you with access to thousands of plants you won’t find at the farmer’s market or garden center or big box store. Sure, transplants are convenient, but why limit yourself to the handful of selections someone else has deemed marketable? Why not search out varieties to suit your tastes and specific growing conditions?

catalogs copy.jpgNever try growing your own? Consider this: not only is it easier than you’ve probably imagined but your dollar goes farther when you grow from seed, and it opens up a world of options you never realized you had. Freedom of choice aside, tap root vegetables (radishes, beets, carrots, parsnips, rutabagas) aren’t available as transplants at all. And if you’ve never experienced the taste of a carrot just plucked from the soil, you’re missing out on one of the great joys of gardening life.

Overwhelmed by the choices? Take a look at your grocery list. What vegetables and herbs do you most often purchase? Use this as a starting point. Consider your space and growing conditions when looking for a particular variety. Don’t assume limited space means you can’t grow your own. Look for compact varieties or those that are well-suited for containers. Also consider your intended use (fresh eating, canning or preserving, juicing, etc.). Not all vegetables are created equal and you may find you need to include multiple varieties of one vegetable. The qualities that make a tomato great for canning aren’t necessarily the ones you’re looking for when you want a juicy tomato slice on your BLT.

glass gem corn copyAlready have some favorites? Consider trialing a new-to-you variety next to your good ol’ standby. You may have a new favorite waiting to be discovered! Or try something new you’ve always been curious about. Carrots in every shade of the rainbow; corn that looks like stained glass; zucchinis shaped like spaceships… don’t be afraid to experiment and have fun! You’ll be surprised how much you learn in the process.

I’ve used a lot of words advocating for herbs and vegetables, but don’t forget the flowers! Some are edible, like calendula, bachelor’s buttons, nasturtiums, pansies. Many are beneficial companion plants, too, attracting pollinators or acting as insect traps or deterrents for pests. And let’s face it – they’re just beautiful to look at. And when you include beauty in your landscape, you’re far more likely to want to spend time there, benefiting you and the garden. Bonus: most are exceedingly easy to start from seed and the variety of colors and forms you’ll find in seed catalogs won’t leave you feeling disappointed.

This is the perfect time of year to sit back and think about the possibilities and research varieties. William Blake once wrote “In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy”. So snuggle in with a seed catalog and some cocoa and give yourself permission to dream about green things. Here are some links to seed providers with a diverse offering of flowers, herbs and vegetables to get you started:

 

 

Happy planning!

Tenille Enger is an amateur cook and gardener with a passion for moments when the two intersect. She is an active contributor to Taste the Local Difference® in both digital works and in print. You can contact her at tenilleee@yahoo.com

Simple Vegetable Soup

Recipes, Tenille Enger

I first encountered this soup in Ireland, where the recipe varies from home to home based upon their likes and what they may have on hand.  

Though wonderful as written, don’t be afraid to substitute or add.  Roasted root vegetables, squash, sweet potatoes, broccoli, even leftover green bean casserole.  I wouldn’t hesitate to include any of them because once pureed, this is one of those dishes where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Plum Galette

Recipes, Tenille Enger

As the holidays approach, here is an ace for your sleeve: a wonderfully unfussy and extremely versatile tart that comes together quickly, thanks to the help of the food processor. Blitz up a batch or two of the crust dough and stash them in the freezer to pull out for effortless entertaining, or if, like me, this is your idea of  a perfectly appropriate weekend breakfast to bolster you before the holiday onslaught.

Apple Cider Jus

Recipes, Tenille Enger

This sauce is fall in liquid form. A brilliant balance of sweet, tart and savory comfort, worthy of diverting cider from your cup.  Use the best quality apple cider you can find and your efforts will be rewarded with a lick-your-plate clean experience.  It shines when served with a grilled pork tenderloin (though it would be equally at home on the same plate with with a turkey or chicken breast) and an earthy root vegetable mash of potatoes, parsnips and rutabagas.  A good local hard cider wouldn’t go amiss with this meal either.  

Heirloom Tomato Paella

Recipes, Tenille Enger

Step away from the pumpkin spice latte!   Yes, our days are getting noticeably shorter and Labor Day is but a memory, but this is when it gets GOOD in Michigan. No other time of the year will gift us with this much fresh local produce. Stores and Farmer’s markets are overflowing with the best of summer – sweet corn, blackberries, green beans, real vine ripened tomatoes… this is what we dream about in the dregs of February! Let’s make the most of it! Let’s start with this…..

Brown Butter Zucchini Cornbread

Recipes, Tenille Enger

A recipe really is only as good as its ingredients and the care you put into it. Take this version of cornbread for example.  Source the best ingredients, local when possible, like eggs from Morganic Farm or buttermilk from Shetler Family Dairy.

Grandpa’s Easy Fridge Pickles

Recipes, Tenille Enger

The only exact things about this recipe are the measurements for the brine.  Everything else is up for grabs – the amount of garlic or dill, the amount of heat you want, the vegetable or vegetables you use in your pickle, and even the amount of pickle you want to make. Unused brine can be poured into a glass container and refrigerated for future use*.  Simply bring back to the boil before using for your next batch.