Never Yell “Eat Your Veggies!” again

In a world filled with processed foods and a constant barrage of fast food commercials…small groups of parents are fighting back in the war to get kids to “eat their veggies (fruits too)”. The current “crop” of children has largely lost touch with where their foods come from. Even “fresh” fruits often come encased in cellophane!

My take on this situation is that most of the last one or two generations of parents stopped growing their own produce. Food science captured the minds of the many more than Mother Nature. So sad, but don’t let it bum you out. Times are surely changing! There is a whole new interest in the origins of our foods. Better yet, that interest spans many generations.

cucumber, kids

Special Delivery

Just head to your local farmer’s market to see the “blooming” interest in quality, local foods. People, young and old are asking farmers the difference between Tuscan Kale & Curly Kale. Bakers are introducing consumers to breads made with ancient grains and baked in stone ovens. Meat and seafood purveyors are educating hungry families on the benefits of grass-fed meats or sustainable fish.

Even pizza has been swept up into the farm to table movement!

pizza, vegetables, garden

garden fresh pizza

Some families are taking things a bit further, yet staying closer to home at the same time. That’s right, backyard edible gardening has returned! Growing your own is even trendy and fashionable in some parts of the country.

Here on the DIY Backyard Farm we believe in making edible gardening a family affair. Our 6 & 8 year-old backyard farmers have their own little 4’ x 2’ raised garden beds to care for. Each child is responsible for selecting and taking care of the plants they wish to grow. Our son loves salad and grows lettuces and tomatoes exclusively. Our daughter calls beets “The Candy of the Garden”. She grew four different varieties of them this year. Both kids know where their foods come from and they sure do eat their fruits, veggies and fresh herbs.

raspberries

part of the daily golden raspberry harvest

We are suburban parents with kids who are subject to the same advertising and peer pressure as the majority of our population experiences. However, our kids have a love and respect for their food that is far beyond their years. In fact, they often outwit many adults when discussing different types of edible plants. For example, my kids recently told one of my adult friends all about Cacuzza. This is a really interesting Italian squash that our Nonna prepares into a fabulous sauce.

We did not hypnotize our kids or force them to help us in our edible gardens. Their own curiosity drove them in just the way mine did 37 years ago. All we did was encourage them to explore(safely). Of course, they have to be old enough to grasp some basics and garden safely. Ours began exploring the gardens as early as age 4. Here is how we engaged our kids with edible gardening:

1) Explained the growing process: planting the seeds, watering, tending to young plants and harvesting
2) Allowed them to have their own edible gardens. They select the plants they want to grow (with some guidance to ensure success). This part includes allowing them to design their own garden plans (see below).

garden plan,kid

Our 6 year-old’s 2014 edible garden planning worksheet

3) Help them understand the basics of garden care
4) Get creative with cool plant identifiers, building trellises, etc
5) Let them select veggies, fruits and/or herbs for a meal
6) Select age appropriate books on fruits, vegetables and herbs

Of course we always make sure to Have Fun and watch them to ensure they are safe

It is hard to quantify the health benefits my kids are getting from their organic, produce heavy diets. However, it is generally well accepted that diets with sufficient amounts of fruits and vegetables are healthier than diets filled with processed foods. Just not having to fight with them at meal time is benefit enough!

If you want to start your own backyard edible garden and do not know where to start then I recommend my easy to follow DIY Backyard Farm Edible Garden Planning Guide. It even includes garden planning worksheets and sections to take down notes.

First Steps to Better Asparagus Next Season

asparagus

An image of spring glory to motivate you to do some spring asparagus cleaning

How was your asparagus this spring? Were your spears succulent, juicy and plentiful? Congratulations if you said yes to all three. If not, fear not because help is here.

Growing asparagus is a rewarding, delicious and exciting endeavor. There is nothing like seeing the spears break through the ground after a long winter. A good asparagus patch will deliver new spears almost daily. Some days you might eat them all and other days you might decide to save them for a recipe that requires larger quantities.

Asparagus season is over here in the USA. Sure you may see a few spears pushing up here and there, but not in the numbers you see in spring.

Here are some tips to consider:

  • Asparagus are lone soldiers. They do not like competition from other edible plants or even the smallest weeds. Your beds must be kept clear of weeds and other plants at all times. Our asparagus beds often get invaded by purslane. We love purslane, but it cannot be allowed to grow in the asparagus beds. Be sure to weed the beds often.
  • Let some spears grow. I know it is tough, but the underground roots (crowns) of the asparagus need to be nourished. As you recall from high school biology, plants get much of their energy from the sun. The spears you do not harvest are like solar panels that collect energy and send it down into the rot system of the crowns. If you picked every spear you would likely not see much production in future years.
  • Apply compost to give nutrients to the “crowns”. Crowns are the root systems powering the production of those wonderful and tasty spears.

If you are not growing asparagus then now is a great time to start planning for next year! Are you sold yet? If so, check out this video to see what it takes to get started.

 

 

A Six Year Old’s Question on Edible Gardening

I am so happy to have captured this cute little gardener’s perspective on edible gardening. She asks a really interesting question at the end. Do you think she is on to something here?

My hope is this will inspire others to start an edible garden or at least take their kids to a farm to see where and how things grow. My book can help get you started in backyard edible gardening. It is designed to give the reader enough information without overwhelming them. Plus, the garden design worksheets in the back allow one to sketch out the garden of their dreams! You can buy the book here.

Our New Book Is Available!

If you or someone you know is looking for tips and tools to start or improve their edible garden then check out our new book. It is a simple, easy and fast read with just enough information to get you started on the path to edible gardening success. Use our “8 Simple Tips” and edible garden planning worksheets to help you grow your best produce ever!

The book is available on Amazon.com and also in our E-Store. A more complete description can be found there as well.

Let us know what you think!

book cover

Book Front Cover

Invite a New Plant to the Edible Garden Party!

tomatillo,plant

Tomatillo Plant

In our new book, The DIY Backyard Farm Edible Garden Planning Guide, we encourage readers to limit the plant varieties and total plants they put in their edible gardens. This piece of advice stems from a common mistake we often observe. People plant too many types and numbers of edible plants!

If you follow that rule you will thank us later. Plus, you will have more time to devote to learning how to properly grow nd care for each particular plant variety. Take notes throughout the season too. What plants did well? What plants did you like? Which plants could you do without?

Perhaps you grew zucchini and noticed not a soul in the family wanted to eat it. Maybe your children were asking for crunchy cucumbers instead? Let your notes be a guide to planning future gardens. This gets us to the heart of this post.

Each season brings the opportunity to invite a new edible plant into your garden. For example, last season we grew far too many tomatoes. We got carried away by all the heirloom varieties and could not decide which ones to grow. We basically grew them all!

This season we cut back on the tomatoes and found an opening for a new cast member in our edible garden show. Since we love salsa and love tomatillos the decision was a no-brainer. Why not grow tomatillos? Tomatillos it is! We found the lovely plant above and plan to plant it, learn about it* (see the comment below), and hopefully enjoy its delicious fruits in many recipes later on this season.

What new edible plant are you inviting into your garden this season?

*In learning about our new tomatillo plant we learned it is not self-pollinating like a tomato plant! That means you need to plant more than one plant to actually have tomatillo fruits to eat. So, off we went to get another before our local garden center sold out. We also learned tomatillos like to be planted deep just like their friends the tomato plants. 

#28 of 30 Tips For a Better Edible Garden in the New Year

We are only fans of using technology in the backyard garden when it can provide one or more of the following:

Simplified gardening activities – we are all for enjoying the garden as much as possible and minimizing unpleasant work or any type of, dare we say…stress. A sun calculating device like the Luster Leaf 1875 Rapitest SUNCALC Sunlight Calculator is an example of how technology can simply gardening.

A sun calculating device can greatly improve the accuracy of your sunlight measurements while saving you from the laborious task of tracking the sun manually. Please do not read this as us saying, “never track the sun again”. We want you to try tracking the sun manually at least once. It is a great exercise and can be really educational if you have children or grandchildren. Kids can learn more about that wonderful ball of fire in the sky!

Better Results – we are all for following gardening traditions and time-tested techniques. However, one cannot turn a blind eye on new opportunities to improve edible gardening results. For example, there are a number of garden planning apps for smartphones, tablets, and even desktop/laptops that can help gardeners quickly and easily determine things like: best times to plant, when to start seeds, and more. Just do not let these types of technologies ruin your experiences with nature. Keep them out of the garden and bring along your trusty garden planning workbook or garden journal instead.

Conservation We often write about how backyard edible gardening can be a pathway to a more sustainable household and life. However, there are times when edible gardening can be wasteful too. Watering is one example of a potentially wasteful activity. Sure, plants need water to survive, just ask our friends in California. How we water is really in question here.

Watering can be very tricky because different plants require different amounts of water. Plus, most backyard edible gardeners have day jobs! In our home the task of watering is handled by the entire family. We water in a variety of methods, but all of them have left something to be desired.

Our kids water by taking small cups or buckets full of water from a centrally located 6-gallon pail of clean water. This is fun for them and keeps them busy, but not always practical. Plus, they tire easily and do not always finish!

The adults either water with a hose, use a large watering can, or turn on our high-mounted sprinkler that hits the entire garden with about the same amounts of water. All three methods work, but again, each has its drawbacks.

This leads of to technology again. Not the whiz-bang type of technology in our smartphones and laptops, but technology none the less. We are talking about drip irrigation. Drip irrigation is a great example of a technological advance that can offer better edible gardening results and greatly reduce the amounts of water used too.

We do not advise starting off your edible gardening ventures by setting up drip irrigation systems. That would potentially be too much work up front and would likely dampen your love for edible gardening. Instead, keep drip irrigation as a potential technique to help improve your edible gardening results and take your backyard edible garden to the next level.

Even we have not used drip irrigation yet. We are getting very close though. Having the time to set up a test garden with it has been our only obstacle. Maybe this season will be our first. If so, we will surely share our experiences.

How have you used technology to get better edible gardening results?

#21 of 30 Tips For a Better Edible Garden in the New Year

garden,design,edible,vegetable,organic,kids

6 year-old’s 2014 edible garden design

As the old saying goes, “families that play together stay together”. In our experiences, edible gardening has been more play than work. You just have to be sure to relax, not expect too much, and keep gardening simple enough for the entire family to enjoy it. The edible garden can quickly become the other “heart” of the home, right after the kitchen. Actually, the two places compliment each other quite well!

Having a garden plan helps not only with plant selection, crop rotation, etc. It also helps gardeners to best understand the various responsibilities that will need to be covered throughout the gardening season. Everyone loves to pick and taste the bountiful harvest of the garden. However, some of the other “jobs” are not always greeted with such enthusiasm.

For example, weeding and watering can start to get old after a few weeks. Everyone in our family weeds and waters, but often our kids find themselves assigned to these tasks. Our young children do a great job weeding when some extra allowance, the chance to pick a garden fresh tomato/watermelon/strawberry or some other treat is offered as a reward. Plus, weeding is an easy enough job that does not require constant reminders or lessons. We just give the kids a small bucket each and challenge them to fill it up so they get their reward. 

The above may sound intuitive, but this next part came with experience. In fact, it took us a full growing season to figure out that everyone in the family needed to be part of the edible garden planning process. Why should one person have all the fun deciding what to grow and where to grow it? What if that person has different tastes from the rest of the family?

This was precisely the case with our edible garden. One person created the plan and then the rest were expected to embrace it and the produce that garden plan would provide. The result was sporadic engagement from the other family members. Some day the wife and kids would be in the garden harvesting, bug hunting, or watering. Other days they were nowhere to be seen. They did not feel like owners!

For growing season #2 we took a holistic approach. Everyone had a say and nothing was off-limits. If our son wanted to grow just tomatoes in his raised bed so be it. We just made sure we also detailed the garden jobs each person had to incorporate into their plan. No surprises and everyone felt like they helped create the plan. Planning even became fun as seen in the photo above. Plus, it gives folks something to do in the bleak Winter months!

Making your edible garden a family affair will not always result in a better harvest, but it will make for a better garden. Not all the gifts of the garden can be picked and eaten. Some of the gifts run much deeper than that.

#11 & #12 of 31 Ways to Eat Healthier in the New Year

#11 & #12 are about visualization and anticipation respectively.

These two tips are ways to be healthier now and eat healthier in the future. Don’t think we put too much hemp in our granola! Just allow yourself to escape the daily grind and bleak January weather for a few minutes. Take a moment today to dream of warmer days to come. They are just around the corner. Before long you’ll be planting peas, herbs, and greens.

Why think about it in January? This is the ideal time to invest in a little garden planning. A successful gardener has a plan and then executes it. You could say you “plan your garden and then garden your plan”.

Plus, January can be a real drag. The holidays are over and for many of us the weather is no fun. Looking through seed catalogs and sketching out garden plans is a sure way to fast forward to spring and banish the winter blues. How’s that for a healthy pursuit?

There are lots of online tools available to help you plan. However, we are fans of old-fashioned graph paper or notebooks. We take our garden plans right into the garden with us. There is really no better way to ensure you stick to the plan all season long and learn from your experiences too.

Finally, we challenge you to stretch your growing season as far as possible. You can do this through careful crop selection, spacing out seasonal plantings, building cold frames, etc. This way you can eat the healthiest, most local produce possible without breaking the bank at your local organic grocer or farmer’s market.

In the end you should have a well-balanced garden that will provide a diverse group of edible plants for you and your family to eat for most of the year. All that from a small investment of time for planning and anticipation.