I admit I have found it a bit of a challenge to sit down and write this week--it’s May 15th! Here in Colorado, this mystical date is what we call “last average frost”. In our house, this means turn over the soil in the garden, plant the squash and corn seed, transplant all the tomato, cucumber, eggplant, fennel and jalapeno sprouts we started back in March out to the garden, and put flowers in all the pots out front. To us, this is the real beginning of summer.
This year is particularly exciting because we are starting to see some of the fruits of previous years’ labors arrive. Fruit trees we planted 4 years ago are starting to put on their first apples, plums and pears. Strawberries, raspberries, grapes, rhubarb and asparagus are returning in quantities ample for harvest this year. And the drip system we laid last year is watering away without much hassle. It’s still a fair bit of work and time, but we are starting to get into a rhythm.
Gardening has been wonderful for the health of my family. There are the obvious reasons: the produce is fresh and seasonal. We know exactly what went into growing these plants, including the compost from our backyard tumbler. There are no yucky chemicals to worry about washing off the food. Also, the kids are so much more enthusiastic to eat something they planted themselves; tonight my kids wolfed down a bowlful of radishes they picked, which is not your usual 2 and 3-year old fare!
There are more subtle reasons the garden is good for our family health as well. It is an ongoing project we all get to do together. We all have our own gardening bag with gloves and tools, so going out there is shared quality time. We all get to learn together about how our backyard ecosystem works: butterflies and bees are pollinators, spiders and ladybugs eat aphids, and worms aerate and feed our soil. It gives us a better understanding of where our food comes from and what is available in each season of the year.
I have been dreaming of vegetables lately. I am a great proponent of eating seasonally, but what does that mean here in Colorado where we just don't have much growing at this time of year? February is a challenging time to find fresh, healthy foods; this shoulder season is somewhere between using our storage produce such as winter squash and root vegetables and starting to savor the first asparagus and artichokes of spring. So what do we do to get the freshest, most nutrient-packed foods at this time of year? Here are a few suggestions:
Look for what's local. Even if vegetables have been in storage, local means that they haven't had to go far to get here. Colorado-grown produce (which is usually marked clearly at the grocery store) will have had less damage during shipping and fewer chemicals applied to it to preserve it during shipping. Also, less fossil fuels will have been used to get it here.
Flash-frozen produce. Although fresh is definitely the ideal, at this time of year some produce will be superior for taste and quality. For instance, domestically grown, organic, flash frozen berries would probably be a better choice than conventionally grown berries from Chile.
Cold-weather crops. Even though we're not growing much in Colorado at this time of year, some of our neighbors on the West Coast are in climates that can support growing some crops right now. Some of what you may find right now would be the cool-weather crops such as leafy greens, cauliflower, broccoli, and possibly some of the root vegetables such as beets, radishes and early turnips.
Make friends with your local produce people! Those guys and gals quietly stacking onions are generally very friendly and chock full of knowledge about where things come from, when they were picked, how they were grown, and what's most delicious right now--remember this great resource!