By Michelle Riggen-Ransom
I will concede, at last, that summer is over if for no other reason than the tomatoes are winding down. Late summer, as any gardener will tell you, means an overabundance of tomatoes; picked and eaten warm off the vine, given away to garden-less neighbors, made into sauce, sliced, canned, collected by the basketful until one can simply eat no more. The tomato is the golden retriever of garden vegetables: show it minor affection and care and it will reward you with unconditional abundance.
We also grew pole beans, which shot green clutching tendrils in all directions, choking out our snap peas and attempting to cling on to everything within its reach. We ran stakes about four feet long and a foot apart, but underestimated their mass and planted them a little too close to everything. They happily took over a large section of the garden, providing us with fat, six-inch beans and my son and his friends a hidden garden play spot.
The surprise success of our garden was two types of eggplants grown from starts that our neighbor gave us. One was a beautiful, purple-and-white variegated heirloom variety that grew the size of human heads. The others looked otherworldly — tiny white eggplants the exact size and shape of eggs. Whenever we presented these as gifts to our friends, they cradled them in their hands, delighted, and didn’t want to eat them.
We also grew a few good-sized zucchinis, many cucumbers, and two pumpkins that are still going strong. Our sweet corn surprised us by doing well in spite of a hailstorm, so next year we are planning on growing much more. A dozen or so peppers, both green and hot, survived a rather nasty Japanese beetle thrashing. The radishes never really made it, a result of overzealous early watering, and our carrots were numerous but small.
Last week, we were able to make a delicious meal consisting of everything we had grown (except the spices). I thought I’d share my recipe for “Super Easy Thai Veggies” in case your garden is similarly overflowing with bounty.
Super Easy Thai Veggies (serves 4-6)
1 pound mixed veggies (for us: green beans, eggplants, peas, and zucchini)
8 red chilies, seeded
2 stalks lemon grass, chopped
4 kaffir lime leaves (okay…we used lime juice. Hey, it’s still lime!)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup coconut milk
2 tablespoons fish sauce
fresh basil, sliced thin
1. Chop veggies.
2. Heat oil in wok or deep frying pan, add lime, chilies, and lemon grass. Cook 2-3 minutes.
3. Stir in coconut milk, bring to a boil. Add the veggies and cook until they are tender (5-10 minutes).
4. Season with fish sauce, salt, and basil. Serve over rice or noodles.
It was an amazing experience for our family to grow some of our own food. My five-year-old especially loved checking in a couple of times a day to see what was happening with the plants and the creatures. Our harvest may have been somewhat modest this year, but it did provide us with lots of family bonding, at least one really excellent dinner, and countless tomato salads.
Nature/Nurture, written by Michelle Riggen-Ransom, is an occasional column with ideas and information to help kids and their families engage with the natural world in fun, interesting ways. Share your thoughts and explorations by adding your comment below, or contact us with your story ideas.
Photo Credits: Michelle Riggen-Ransom