This past year I bought my first home and it came with a fenced-in garden and some raised garden beds. I was ambitious to plant a garden this year, although gardening is new territory for me. I have to admit I did not put the time and effort required into my garden. After the initial excitement of preparing the beds (at what was probably minimal standards of preparation), I planted the seeds and carried on with busy summer plans and activities. Next thing I knew June was over. Then July. Then August came to a close. I might have weeded my garden boxes twice during those months, if that. There is only one time I actually recall sitting down and putting effort into pulling out…well, weeds as far as I could tell. I had planted turnips, radishes, carrots, kale, Swiss chard, spinach, peas, and maybe a few other things that experienced some turbulence during the planting stage (and never produced any evidence of existence).
One fine Sunday morning in August, I was listening to a radio show called Splendid Table, a weekly public radio show that celebrates the culture of food. This particular show highlighted garden greens as Chef Jenn Louis, author of The Book of Greens, discussed various greens and possible uses. I am a novice at gardening, but definitely not to cooking. I was thrilled when I was listening to this show and there was discussion on various vegetable greens that get bypassed as part of the garden bounty to be consumed. There was discussion of turnip greens and my eyes lit up. I planted turnips! Not only did I plant turnips, but my completely neglected garden actually blessed me with actual turnips! The idea that I could not only eat the turnips themselves, but I could also use the tops of the turnips (the turnip greens) in my own culinary adventures, was exciting! Because this concept of using the greens from the veggies was new to me, some of you might think I just fell from the turnip truck! (Pun completely intentional).
Turnips or Turnip Greens? Or Both?
With my newly found confidence I strutted out to my garden and pulled up my turnips, some carrots, and a few radishes. I also stopped to pick some raspberries along the way. These were not planted by yours truly, so I am just benefiting from the labor of others before me on this one! The idea that I could approach gardening with a holistic concept appealed to me. You see, with limited gardening space, this is a fabulous approach to planning a garden. If you only have so much space to use, how wonderful is it that you can plant items allowing you to not only consume the actual vegetable, but to use ALL components of the vegetable plant. This is where that little bit of planting can go a long way when you have planted one item but now you have two! Turnips and turnip greens, radishes and radish greens, carrots and carrot greens…oh my goodness even the leaves from tomatoes and squash plants???!!!
After toting my veggies to the house, I cleaned those veggies and began trimming off the greens. All of the green leafy tops had a new beauty to them. For a moment I felt more successful in my first gardening adventure because of extra edibles that were previously unknown to me. Of course I still did not know what I was supposed to do with them, but knew I was excited for the possibilities. Let me remind you that given my neglect of this garden, it is truly amazing that I produced any vegetables at all. I did not want to waste the little amount I did produce, so I decided I was going to go ahead and make a fabulous dish that I could enjoy immediately. I prepared a vegetable beef stew where I could use my carrots and turnips and of course, my turnip greens! The stew was fabulous.
But you know what else happened after I relished in my culinary achievement? That stew stirred up joy and pride inside me that I produced these wonderful little veggies and then made a hearty meal with that produce. I realize this gardening thing is something I am going to look forward to year after year. I am hoping to read up more this winter about ways I can get the most out of my gardening area. There is so much information on how to increase your yield whether it is square foot gardening, container gardening, companion planting, succession planting, vertical gardening, and so on. Of course I am also going to put thought into the types of greens I might be interested in producing indirectly through the seeds I plant. I am starting with reviewing the recommendations from the UAF Cooperative Extension Publication, Recommended Variety List for Interior Alaska. This publication is a great resource for understanding the vegetables, as well as greens, that grow well in Interior Alaska. Another helpful publication for determining what to plant when planning on using the greens from vegetables is Growing Great Brassicas in Alaska. Of course, I am also looking forward to more stews next fall as well as incorporating my greens into other recipes.
The greatest fine art of the future will be the making of a comfortable living from a small piece of land. ~Abraham Lincoln