Why have a garden? Especially If you live in Santa Barbara, with its great soil, weather, and diverse growing options, the real question is, what are you waiting for? There are a multitude of benefits to growing your own fruits and vegetables: fresh, organic produce, no pre-handling or washing, the therapeutic aspects of gardening, exposure for your children to veggies in a pressure free environment, and the way a garden keeps your body and mind in tune with the seasons and rhythms of nature.
I love to fill my garden with things I like to eat and cook with on a regular basis. Seasonality is the center of my meal planning for both entertaining and simple family dinners. Seasonal food simply tastes better and pushes you to try and enjoy new things. Not only is the flavor better because it is so fresh, but from my experience, the colors of the vegetables and fruit hold up better through the cooking process. I noticed this recently when we cooked up some leeks- the green was so bright, it was actually surprising. There is an immense satisfaction in growing produce that you care for and harvest yourself. I believe the anticipation of the produce enhances the flavor. I wait all winter and spring to enjoy tomatoes, and when they arrive I devour them with relish. Cooking from your garden does involve getting creative in the kitchen. Some produce is more versatile than others, and I am always discovering new ways to use “all that zucchini,” or practicing canning a large harvest of lemon cucumbers or tomatoes. I will turn typically savory items such as chard and squash, into breakfast breads for the kids. A great thing about a garden’s excess is that it encourages a healthy diet of veggies, when the bounty is ripe and delicious every one enjoys just eating them raw (check out my recipe section for some great dips for raw vegetables).
We use food from our garden for at least two meals a day, often I send my girls out to “harvest” what we need. They love pulling and eating carrots right from the soil (this is particularly fun because one never really knows how big or what shape the carrot will be upon pulling) or the treasure hunt of digging for potatoes. The funny thing about kids and gardens is they are more likely to try new things that they have seen planted, nurtured and grow. If you put salad on their plates for dinner they won’t eat it, but they will nosh on greens, carrots and herbs all day outside.
I am very picky about what we plant. It wasn’t always this way. When we first started our garden I was kind of schizophrenic. We planted a bunch of things I didn’t really didn’t need or want fifty pounds of…one year I planted a whole row of six yellow squash plants that were so prolific I still am turned off by the sight of them. It took some work, experience and planning on my part to map out in advance what we wanted to eat and then figuring out the best way to plant it.
As my adventure and skill level in the kitchen has expanded (with the help of a wonderful Santa Barbara based teacher, Kim Schiffer of Fresh Foods! ) so too has my garden. We are fortunate to have amazing farmers markets all over the city, but there are some special items that are still hard to locate and totally worth growing yourself.