Last week we spent a wonderful evening with a group of good friends, catching up over a bite to eat and a drink or two. At the end of the night, the college buddies were grinning ear to ear, the kids were worn out, and us girls were pretty relaxed. It's something that we just don't make the time to do often enough these days, so it really makes me appreciate it even more when we do have the opportunity to take a night off from everything else and just simply visit with friends.
During the course of a few of the conversations I had that night, I was asked about my garden plans for the year. As I was sharing my plans, answering a few questions about what I do with the veggies after they're grown, and offering up some advice a friend who wants to start her own garden this year, this post for Grow It Forward Friday started brewing in my mind. Turns out, I have talked to a lot of people lately who are interested in gardening and heirlooms, but in the end it always seems to come down to not knowing exactly where to start.
I've mentioned before that I've learned much of what I know about gardening from hands on experience in the family garden on the farm, but I've also discovered a lot of great resources that have been incredibly helpful as I refresh those old memories and continue to learn new things, especially as my interest in heirloom varieties has grown . So I decided to pull together a list of some of the resources that have been helpful for me. It's by no means a comprehensive list, but it is a good place to start for those who want to take the leap. And here in Minnesota, there is definitely still time to plan and plant a garden!
If you feel like a complete garden newbie, try starting with a good general information gardening book. A couple of years ago I received Grow Vegetables as a Christmas gift. It is a good example of what to look for in a general information book (and there are a lot of these to choose from). When selecting a book, think in terms of Gardening 101: you want the basics on planning, preparing, planting, growing, maintaining, and harvesting your garden. I especially like the really basic (i.e. easy to follow) tips on crop rotation and the "Vegetable Doctor" section in this book. This particular book doesn't address heirloom varieties, but the basic information will give you a good base of knowledge that applies to both old and new varieties.
If you're looking for more specific gardening information, you'll have plenty to chose from as well. These are just a few of my favorite sources that have addressed some of my more specific garden needs:
- General information is great, but sometimes you still need to fill in the blanks about how a certain vegetable will do where you live. The University of Minnesota Extension Service Garden Information website is my go-to place for information on everything related to gardening in Minnesota. Again, there is not much heirloom-specific information, but knowing how to garden for your location is going to make your garden more successful no matter what you plant.
- Heirlooms can seem a little intimidating at first glance, so if you're looking for guide to help you navigate through all the colorful options and the lay of the heirloom land, check out The Heirloom Life Gardener. One of my favorite things about this book is that it gives you tips on how to save the seeds of various vegetables from year to year.
- Like a lot of you, limited space is my greatest challenge every year. There are tons of books on small space gardening, like Sugar Snaps and Strawberries, that are full of ideas on how to create successful gardens in small spaces, patios, balconies, and even in the spare patches of dirt that might be in your back alley. This book will give you some great suggestions on which varieties (including heirlooms) are your best choices for these small-scale gardens.
- Want to know more about the specific varieties you're considering? Visit the seed company's website. Check out Seed Savers Exchange,
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, and Territorial Seed Company, for a good selection of heirloom seeds. Most seed packets can only contain so much information, but the website will have additional information and reviews that can be helpful not only in the planning stages of your garden, but as a helpful source to refresh your memory during the growing and harvesting seasons as well.
- Visit an online forum like Your Garden Show, where you can benefit from the experience of other gardeners. You can search and find gardeners based on location, plant hardiness zone, and even by specific plant varieties. And with the Grow It Forward Heirloom Seed Contest, there is a lot of great information to glean on growing heirlooms.
If you find yourself stumped with what to do with your garden harvest now that you have it, or are looking for a little inspiration as to what to plant in your garden, there are tons of garden cooking and preserving resources to guide you. Again, here is just a sampling of some of my favorites:
- Get the most bang for your buck by looking for a gardening book that also includes recipes and tips on how to prepare your harvest, like The Edible Herb Garden, or a cookbook that also includes tips on when to harvest for optimal flavor, like Garden Fresh Meals. Seeing the information side by side can be very helpful in thinking through your garden plans for the year, and both of these books include information and recipes that call for heirloom varieties (and for the recipes that aren't specifically heirloom, just substitute them if that's what you're growing).
- In true heirloom form, take some inspiration from The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Cookbook and dig up some old family recipes to prepare with your garden harvest.
- You don't have to search very far online to find garden cooking inspiration. One of my favorite blogs I discovered this year is Minnesota Locavore, featuring some amazing recipes to use for your garden harvests. You''ll also find information on where to find all kinds of Minnesota-made staples for your pantry, occasional garden posts, and some great reflections on the triumphs and challenges of knowing where your food comes from.
- In keeping with the local theme, check out The St. Paul Farmers Market Produce Cookbook and the Minnesota Homegrown Cookbook, featuring some great seasonal recipes that center around homegrown produce. I've been working my way through recipes in both of these cookbooks and haven't been disappointed yet.
- Plan ahead for the winter months and check out the classic Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving, or you're feeling more adventurous, take a peek at some of the more unique ideas for jams, pickles and more in Put 'Em Up! and Canning for a New Generation. You can be sure that you'll be seeing a few posts inspired by these recipes on the blog this summer!
- A great online source for preservation (and gardening, too!) is Punk Domestics, a collection of blog posts featuring recipes, tools, and techniques for just about everything homemade (one of my posts is currently headlining the rhubarb collection).
So check these resources out this weekend and then start sketching out some garden plans! And as I mentioned before, this is by no means a comprehensive list, so I've missed one of your favorite online or print garden resources, please share it in the comments!
Labels: Grow It Forward, resources