I realized that I haven't written about our garden in many months. Once planting season begins it seems that summer rushes by, noted only by how many days has it been since it last rained, and what is ready to pick, always hot and sunny but urgent in the need for constant weeding and tending.
Interestingly, our garden(s) took on a whole new level this summer. I don't usually like to tell people of any of our charitable projects. Doing nice things or donating to help someone get on their feet or working and volunteering to help people is something we should all do without any expectation of attention or praise. Because it is the right thing to do. But when my children are involved on this level, I like to recognize them for their kindness, generosity, and loving hearts. They are amazing humans.
Back in March while we were starting seedlings, my boys had the idea to grow flowers for the food pantry. Our community garden keeps a bin up front for the local food pantry so that any extras in the garden can go right to them. The local food pantry also has an extra large plot there managed by volunteers to grow as much fresh produce as they can as well, so they pick up the extras in the bin when they are there. We have always put our extras in the bin, but growing flowers and making bouquets so that families could have something fresh and colorful on their tables in addition to the food sounded like a fantastic idea. I wrote a letter to our local Badger Prairie Needs Network and asked if they would take flowers if we grew/bunched/delivered them. They said yes! The boys wanted to call it the Happy Flower Project (#happyflowerproject).
After getting the YES from the food pantry, we went into overdrive choosing flower seeds and starting a few hundred extra seedlings. I quickly realized that our very small community garden plot wouldn't hold that much and that our home garden wasn't developed enough yet for that many more plantings. But we really wanted to make our flower project for the food pantry work! Gulp. I kept growing those seedlings, thinking we would find a way. In May, just as I was hardening off hundreds of flowers, a local unschooler mom wrote to ask if I knew Janelle, who had garden space to spare and was looking for some people to fill it. I wrote to her and we went out to see her lovely valley where she organically raises goats and has a large organic garden plot. We were SO LUCKY to get space there, and we planted so.many.flowers. in late May and early June. My husband, as always, jumped into our family project and helped with everything. In addition to all of the flowers, we planted many medicinal herbs and two vines of cucumbers and heirloom pumpkins in that patch. This space is twice the size of the other community garden plot, and the soil is wonderful (and the goats eat our weeds by the bucketful).
We chose to plant only family food like tomatoes, peppers, peas, watermelon, and some herbs at the community garden plot as it has picky soil and isn't very big. We did plant zinnias around the perimeter for extra cutting flowers if we needed them. At home, we expanded our fruit plantings and I added additional many perennial plants in a few new small beds around the house. As we rotated weeding/harvesting/caretaking from garden to garden each week, the goat farm was quickly the favorite place for the boys as there are goats (baby goats!), chickens, and a large trampoline there. Woot! Even with how hot our summer has been, things were growing well. Of course that led to the inevitable garden crash - a few weeks ago we had a few days of torrential rain and our community garden plot was completely submerged. We ended up losing almost 100% of the plants in the community garden plot from the floodwaters and then not long after, to rot. Can you imagine how relieved I am that we had the other plot out at the goat farm? And that most of our flowers and medicinal herbs are there? We are again SO lucky.
Every Friday we go out to the farm garden to pick flowers for a few hours and transport them in buckets of water back to our house (the garden is about 15-20 minutes from home). From there we divide them by type and then create mixed bouquets. We rubberband the ends and put the bunches into fresh buckets of water. After that all that is left is that we load up our car and deliver all of the flowers to the Badger Prairie Needs Network so that they have fresh flowers for busy Saturdays! We have been filling a dozen mason jar vases each week so that the community meal tables have fresh flowers (as well as the registration desk and waiting areas). The garden has been producing more and more each week and we have been able to make dozens of bouquets - filling several buckets - for visitors to choose from each week. We are hoping to increase our bouquet count each week for a few more weeks before they start to slow down for the season.
My kids know all the hard work required in doing these bouquets, but also get to carry buckets of those flowers and a crate of filled vases into the food pantry every Friday, knowing that people have been so happy to see fresh flowers that they can take home for their table. It has been eye-opening for them to see how our local community of individuals, businesses, restaurants and chefs work together to help over 300 families in our school district alone. How chefs donate their time, how local businesses and restaurants donate all of their extra produce and meals, how local stores donate their dents and bakery items. How gardeners bring in giant bags of produce. How many volunteers donate their time to clean, prep, cook, stock, make, and feed so many people in our community. They see how even in our small town we are all a part of something together, and that it is important.
The #happyflowerproject has been a nice experience for all of us this summer, and I am so glad we jumped in head first and that so many things came together for us to make this happen. I hope the weather allows us to keep this going for as long as possible! So I am tooting a horn for my amazing kids with their kind hearts and commitment to our community. And their recognition that flowers can make people smile.
I'll share more about what we ended up growing in our 3 gardens and what we plan to pot to overwinter and which varieties we are growing again next year - but for now, just my boys. <3
Edited to add: I have had several people write to ask how we "do it all" with mast cell disease, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and asthma (etc.) on our plate. And the key is, we pick our own projects, we create our own parameters and expectations, and we deliver based on our own timeline. We accommodate ourselves. We create our own opportunities together as a family, and we do what works for us! (And, my kids are amazing.) ❤️
Once the gardens start producing, it can be a challenge to keep up. My dehydrator is going pretty much full-time, drying herbs, flowers, and veggies for use all winter long. Some herbs, such as basil, don't dry very well, so I make plenty of pesto to freeze. While I love pesto, I don't want my basil options to be so fixed all winter, so freezing more simple combinations means that I not only have plenty of pesto, but also have plenty of options for soup, stew, stir fry, rice and more, all fall/winter/spring. Freezing basil to preserve for winter is easy. I like to make herb pastes, which keep their fresh vibrant flavors and aromas and are super quick and easy to prepare. My husband thinks I missed an opportunity to name this recipe "Frozen Basil Bunnies" - but it isn't just basil that this works for, it is great for any fresh herbs. Although I agree that Fresh Herb Paste isn't *quite* as memorable as Frozen Basil Bunnies. Say that fast 10 times.
Basil is my first frozen paste because it is the herb that needs freezing the most, and I grow a LOT of it. It is so simple. Take 4 cups of freshly picked, packed basil leaves. Put them in the food processor with about 1/4 - 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil and about 1/2 tsp of fresh sea salt. I don't want to add too much salt so I have room for seasoning in recipes, but a little helps keep the vivid color and flavor. Whiz the basil/olive oil/salt in the food processor until fully blended. You may need to scrape the bowl down with a spatula in the middle of it to get all of the leaves. Depending on your type of basil and how packed it is when measuring, it will need as little as 1/4 cup of olive oil. The measurement is flexible just like the recipe. Add just enough oil to get it to fully whiz in the food processor! If you want fresh paste, voila, you are done. Put it into a canning jar in your fridge and use over the next week or so. You can also freeze it for longer storage. The recipe is per 4 cups of herbs because that fits into a food processor, but it whizzes down into a smaller amount, so you can keep going in batches to make as much as you like. I did 5 batches of basil paste and still have more left. Lots. O. Basil.
To freeze, take your paste and spoon it into ice cube trays or silicon molds and put into the freezer until frozen solid, and then pop the cubes into a freezer baggie until you need them. I like freezing in about 1/4 cup quantities as that makes it easier to only defrost what you need, rather than thawing out an entire jar. I like silicon molds because I can do bigger than an ice cube amounts. Mine are all in bunny shapes because while I have personally selected all of my herbs-only molds for my lotion bars and body bars, all of our food use silicon molds have been selected by my 11 year old, who only buys cute animal shapes. ;) So we have a whole bunch of basil bunnies in the freezer.
Fresh Herb Paste
Freezing is a quick and easy way to preserve herbs for winter!
Measure 4 cups of packed fresh herbs (remove stems).
You can do this with mixed herbs as well, of course. I made several batches that included parsley, sage, basil, rosemary, thyme, and cilantro. It is the same recipe, just vary your herbs based on your supply! Try different combos - just be sure to label!
I love growing a lot of herbs, and I love preserving them too. Since our growing season in Wisconsin is fairly short, finding many different ways to preserve things so we feel like we have a wonderful variety the rest of the year is key.
Looking for other ways to preserve your herbs? Try my veggie bouillon recipe - I love making a lot of this in the summer to use all winter long. SUCH an amazing flavor!
Pea season has arrived! I love the fresh green flavor of peas and pea shoots. I love to eat snap peas raw, pickled, sautéed, and steamed. I love to eat pea shoots in salads, wraps, stir fry, and tacos. We get peas and pea shoots from our CSA, but this is one of the things I also grow because...well...we just can't get enough. Pea season is short and sweet, and I like to make the most of it.
This year I am growing a new (to me) variety of pea called Magnolia Blossom Tendril Pea. It makes a lot of tendrils and fewer leaves, allowing more air flow in the peas. The flowers are so beautiful, and the plants are huge producers! My husband has been traveling for business most of the past few weeks, so he is missing out on the peastravaganza. This recipe is quick and easy and super delicious. It takes advantage of those freshly picked peas that are so tender they don't need to be boiled or overcooked at all, and are crispy and perfect with a few minutes in the skillet.
I am also growing Blue Spice Basil this summer and it has quickly become a favorite. It has a rich, exotic, spicy sweet fragrance that is AMAZing (and the bugs don't touch it). It worked so well with the toasted sesame oil and ginger that I am dehydrating a batch to see how it holds up when dried. Most basil doesn't dry well and so we freeze it or make pesto to preserve it. This basil has such a different thick hairy leaf and sublime fragrance that I am curious - I would love to have a lot dried to use all winter. We shall see!
snap pea + pea shoot stir fry
This recipe is perfect for pea season - it combines fresh snap peas and pea shoots with ginger, garlic, soy, and sesame oil to make a quick and easy (and delicious) dish. Serve as a side dish, or over rice for a main vegetarian course.
I am sure I am going to be sharing more pea recipes before our short season is over (peas make the best quick pickles!). Having pea season peak just as all of the herbs are cranking means that there are so many opportunities for different flavors and combinations. Fresh herbs and peas really do go well together as they all have that fresh green garden flavor that can't be beat.
My husband will be gone for a few more days so the pea stir fry today was all mine. He had better hurry though, it has been hot and peas won't last forever!
about the ingredients:
Blue Spice Basil
Magnolia Blossom Tendril Pea
Brown Sesame Seeds
I am a certified aromatherapist, herbalist, organic gardener, photographer, writer, designer, artist, nature lover, whole foods maker, and mother of two unschooled boys in south central Wisconsin.