Being born and raised in Deerfield, MA, a prominent farm town in Western Massachusetts, there was never a day where I wouldn’t see a green John Deere tractor driving past my house on Main Street or anywhere in the surrounding towns. However, even though I was surrounded by agriculture, farmers, livestock, and everything else, I never got involved in that lifestyle. This past summer, my Mother and I drove past one of the sunflower fields on our way to a creamery to get ice cream one night. We stopped because the sunset looked perfect sitting on top of the sunflowers. One of the beautiful things about Western Mass, sunsets over farm fields.
Another place with beautiful flowers are in my Mother’s small garden that sits next to the front stairs that leads up into our sunroom/mudroom. I’m not entirely sure what kinds of flowers she plants, because they are never consistent each year. She tries to switch them up, except for her roses. She often takes pictures of her flowers, and posts them to Facebook when they are fully bloomed (and sometimes includes one of her fingers over her iPhone camera lens). Even though it’s clearly not a rose, her caption on Facebook said that it smelled like grapes.
In the summer she likes to decorate our small gazebo with other flowers as well, in pots all over our patio, and hanging up on hooks that myself, my Dad and my Mother tend to all the time. We water them very frequently, especially when there are dry spells throughout the middle of the summer. Here’s a picture from a few summers ago that my Mother took while reading a book, as she usually does most summer nights.
A few years back, my auntie Tara and uncle Mark decided to start their own garden, lined with wire fence to keep the animals away from the vegetables and fruits they planned to grow. It’s been awhile now and their garden has been successful year after year, producing watermelon, cucumbers, green beans, peppers, tomatoes, strawberries, and much more. They have four kids, Cooper, Quinn, Cade, and Kellan, who all love to help with the garden, especially Cade who now has her own garden, but this particular garden is filled with fairies and flowers. She picked out and planted all of the flowers herself and decorated in between with fairies, little houses, and whatever else she felt fit for her garden.
When it comes time to start planting, my uncle Mark and cousins plan out where everything needs to go and start digging, the whole process taking them a few hours at least. Their garden is pretty big and well kept after and as you can see from the picture, its location is close to the woods so there’s always the occasional deer and rabbit spotting. They don’t have many issues with animals eating their fruits and vegetables though; the biggest issue is the bugs eating whatever they want.
As for now and the coming years, Cade’s fairy garden will continue to thrive, each year with different flowers and decorations. The main garden will also live on for many more years, producing some of the best fruits and vegetables I’ve had. Although my family may not have a garden of our own, we can always rely on my aunt and uncle to provide us with whatever we want from their surplus of produce they grow.
Going to Hawaii was one of those once in a lifetime experiences because of it’s great distance from the mainland. It’s colorful and deeply bio-diverse landscape passed by our every moment on our 10-day journey. It is also a place of contradictions, there are gated communities vs. where the locals live. There are certain places like Honolulu where every square foot is developed and there are places off the big island where nothing is going on for miles.
In terms of food that I ate I can recall a
variety of experiences. Because at certain portions in our trip my family was
staying at Airbnb, we primarily went grocery shopping for our breakfasts. Unfortunately,
we weren’t always able to invest in the local economy and my family just
settled for whole foods. Which imports a variety of foods that we are
accustomed to. This was our experiences at airport hotels and other similar
establishments. One unique thing about Hawaii is it’s long-distance from the
mainland. There are certain consequences because of this food have to be
imported from far off places. People pay higher prices for food and it’s a
higher cost of living if the essentials aren’t as cheap.
In contrast with our whole foods experience we
did eat from a variety of local restaurants. Unlike here where you might find a
Burger King, McDonalds or Wendy’s off the side of main street. There are a
variety of successful local restaurants that can be found off of the highways.
One of the surprising finds was a rather small looking restaurant which served
primarily comfort food with a local charm. What made the experience very
special was owners took their time and talked with us. Even pointing out
certain tourist attractions that we might have wanted to visit in particularly
a beach with green sand. When transitioning from one hotel to the next my
family didn’t prep ahead of time. So, we were hoping to depend on restaurants
but there were none open because it was Christmas. We ended up eating some Spanish
bread and vegetables from a local market. We were hungry by the end of the day
but it was more important that we contributed to the local economy. This
situation felt fairly equivalent to a story my parents tell each thanksgiving.
That in 1998 when me and my family first moved here from Belgium, we didn’t
necessarily understand thanksgiving. They thought that all the shops would be
open and they could eat something for dinner.
Surprisingly this wasn’t the case and my parents ended up buying food
from a gas station. In that way my trip to Hawaii let me accept different
cultural experiences that I hope to share with others.
Like most kids, my two little sisters weren’t the biggest fans of fruits and vegetables. For young children like my sisters, Lexi and Molly , there are lots of different types of food they would rather eat then fruits and vegetables. I always remember sitting around my big rectangular kitchen table that overlooked our living room, and my mom would always have the constant struggle of having my sisters eat there fruits and veggies. She would have to threaten to take away there desserts or maybe even reward them with desserts in order for them to eat there veggies at dinner. This struggle would go on almost every night, however one day my mom found a solution.
My mom thought the idea of growing veggies on our own, in our house would help my sisters eat more vegetables. It’s the relationship factor. When someone grows something there-self, they are rewarded with there own food and will be happy to eat it, especially kids. That is exactly what happened. My mom got my sisters to grow their own veggies like cucumbers and tomatoes right above our kitchen sink that overlooked our big backyard. This was a changing point in our dinner conversation moving forward! The talk around the table shifted from arguing about eating vegetables to bonding about our days and telling funny stories. Growing veggies helped my family become closer!
To this day my sister Lexi could eat cucumbers all day long. It gets to the point were we need to tell her to stop and eat something else! Every dinner I would look to the right of me and there they would always be! Her plate would be half full of cucumbers with her pile of ranch dressing next to them to dip into. The idea that my mom had of growing our own veggies helped my sister love cucumbers and eat more veggies! The relationship my sister made from growing her own food, made eating vegetables fun and a project! My family learned that growing our own vegetables and eating them made it more enjoyable and made ourselves proud in the results that came with it.
About 10 years ago I was living in Missouri with my wife and our rather vocal Black Lab, Buddy. If it could be properly barked at, Buddy had it covered and believe me, out in rural Missouri, there are a lot of things for a young pup to bark at. The barking could be incessant at times. We will revisit this feature a little later.
We were renting a house out in the country on about four acres, surrounded by trees, fields, cows, and not much else. Life was pretty good. Our first spring there we decided to attempt a small vegetable garden in the Missouri soil, which in actuality is more of a sticky, red clay and requires a slight departure from traditional garden bed prepping. I tilled down as deep as I could, and brought in some topsoil and compost to help bulk things up. After this, I mounded everything into neat little rows, and started planting. We planted various types of tomatoes, squash, peppers, lettuce, sunflowers, onions, and carrots. Just like anywhere else, some vegetables grew well, others, not so much. Tomatoes, which love hot and sunny weather, thrived and I soon found myself having to get creative in order to support plants that were exceeding five or six feet tall. Sunflowers also fared well, growing to seven or eight feet. Carrots, we discovered, when planted in clay soil have a tendency to grow about two inches long, and about four inches wide. If anyone has a desire to grow carrot pancakes, dense clay soil is key. All in all, we were looking at reaping a pretty good harvest.
Now, as I mentioned earlier, Buddy was a bit of a barking enthusiast. Early one morning I was jolted out of a deep sleep by the deafening sound of….silence. I sat up and looked around the room, no Buddy. I got out of bed and stepped out into the living room, still no Buddy. I turned the corner and there he was, sitting by the sliding door in the dining room, attentively surveying his domain. I followed his gaze, and then I saw them. My dog, who will bark at a buzzard flying half a mile away, had not let out a peep about the dozen or so cows now tromping through our garden.
The damage was extensive- pepper and tomato plants uprooted, my neat little rows flattened, and cow crap everywhere, but we learned some valuable lessons that morning. We learned that cows enjoy a nice country garden just like anyone else, and we also learned that a fence will protect that garden much better than a cow-shy Black Lab.
It’s the beginning of April and my mom is doing her yearly trip to the local Home Depot. She gets into her Rav4 and heads down the street. On her mind is just one thing, how to make her garden the best it has ever been? She drives the 10 minutes it takes and heads on in, eyes pointing at the gardening center.
She arrived and immediately went to work. She picked out vegetables and flowers of all kind. Her favorite was her little cherry tomatoes. She would buy six or seven of those a year and wait until they were ready to be put into her salads. When she arrived back home, got all of her gardening tools out and did her thing. She had two different gardens on each side of the yard. One was about the side of the fence and the other of the side of the house. It took her a record 2 hours to do what she was waiting for all year. I knew with that excitement it was going to be a good year.
After my mom cleaned up her mess of dirt and little shovels. This whole time watching her clean up I was wondering in my head where my dog was. I then forgot that my dad took him to get groomed at the pet store. He gets grooming about once every two months. My dad spoils the crap out of that dog. He is a lemon beagle named Baxter and is probably the laziest thing ever. He sleeps from 9 am too at 5 pm. I once saw my dad give him 2 slices of pizza.
Once my dad brought my dog back from the groomer he lets him out into the backyard where the gardens are. I saw him wander around for a little bit until he laid on the ground. Once he sat there for a second, something must have popped into his head that he forgot. He had a bone sitting on the edge of the deck. I watch with my very eyes as he grabbed the bone and ran off next to the house. I thought nothing of it as he always takes his bones and hides them in a safe place. But little in my head did I remember that my mom just planted her new garden on that side of the house. I go inside and sit on the couch. A few minutes late my mom opens the door to let my dog in. She then screams ” Where the Hell where you”. I rushed up to think I was in trouble for some reason and I see on the floor dirt all over my dog. At that moment I had known what had happened. My mother raced outside to see both of her knew gardens were all torn apart. My dog must have not liked one and decided to do damage on the other. The look of shock and anger ran across her face. She knew that this was going to be a battle for years to come.
A few years back, our family garden turned into a competition, as most things in my family turn into one way or another. It was as warm April morning, and my family was on our way back from church when we passed by a farm supply store. We often got our gardening and yard care supplies from there, so we stopped into to see what was in stock. A half hour later, we all emerged with bags of seeds, bulbs in burlap sacks, and furrowed brows. Determined to beat the other in growing the best veggies.
My sisters took on garden box A (pictured below, left) growing summer squash, bell peppers, and lettuce. I see they were probably going for the quantity over quality route, since summer squash grows so large and rapidly that it rivals crabgrass as a backyard nuisance.
I decided to tackle something a little more exotic. I carried out seed packets of Anaheim peppers, Big Boy tomatoes, and purple cabbage. If I was to succeed in this challenge, I wanted the fruits of my labor to be rewarding and to carry a special meaning, as well as special taste.
While Mom and Dad pledged to be neutral, growing their potatoes and cucumbers in another plot, I knew they secretly were rooting for my sisters. My eldest sister subcontracted my father to water her plants every morning at 6 am, and mom would routinely help my littlest sister weed each day after work. I was left to tend to my plot by myself, although I enjoyed the independence and the challenge. September 1st arrived, and while they grew a greater quantity of crops, we all benefitted from a backyard labor day barbecue featuring the freshest fruits and veggies from our garden. I guess we all won that summer in a way, but if anyone from my family were to ask, I came away with the superior green thumb.
This inaugural Warrior Fresh post highlights three easy perennials that should be in more gardens. First time gardeners often plant annual vegetables. For the cost of a few vegetable six packs, you can put in pest-resistant plants that offer food for decades.
My family’s first foray into growing berries seemed off to an abysmal start. I received 12 black raspberries canes (Allens and Bristols) for my birthday in September of 2010. My husband and I hastily dug up some grass and planted them in “garden beds” that were about a foot wide and contained no added nutrients. Because of our shoddy work, only 3 plants survived that winter in western New York.
But this story has a happy ending: those 3 plants thrived, growing long canes that gracefully bowed over and took root to produce many offspring. I may have watered them twice in my life. I never pulled a weed and only cut back canes when they became too disorderly.
At peak harvest time, the berries would rain into our baskets. We gathered gallons: freezing some, baking a pie or two, but mostly eating them fresh. Any scrapes from wayward bramble thorns were well worth the sweet rich taste of berries that cannot be bought in a store .
“Half a pound from a crown.” It’s not the start of a British nursery rhyme; it’s the yield from an asparagus plant. After we moved to New Hampshire in 2016, I quickly readied a bed for these perennials. Ten Jersey Giant and ten Purple Passion asparagus crowns arrived in the spring and sent up their ferny fronds. The crowns cost roughly $30.
I’ve faithfully weeded, fertilized, and mulched while the asparagus plants built their strength for two summers. The harvestable part, the spears, emerge early in spring and can be cut before opening into ferns. 2019 is our year for fully mature plants and a big harvest–up to 10 pounds. That’s worth $30 in the grocery store (well, $29.90 if you’re really precise). Ten pounds is way more than my family can eat…so my friends are in luck come April. With proper care, these asparagus can produce for up to 20 years.
It’s not a perennial, but allow me this exception to the rule. Here’s how growing garlic works: you buy seed garlic in the fall, break a full head of garlic out into individual cloves (ideally, with paper wrappers still on), plant cloves about 2 inches deep (pointy side up), throw some mulch over top, watch sprouts emerge in spring, harvest in summer. To keep the cycle going, just select several of your biggest cloves to plant again in the fall.
Deer, squirrels, woodchucks, (and vampires) leave them alone, so no fencing is needed. And I’ve never had another pest, fungus, or blight bother my garlic plants. Plus, you can make a pesto from the curly garlic scapes that grow out of the plant early in the summer.
Biding its time underground through winter, spring, and summer, each little clove eventually matures into a full head of garlic. When several plant leaves have turned brown (usually mid-July in New Hampshire), gently dig up garlic and let it “cure” in a cool dry place for a few days before storing for months. We’re still eating this year’s harvest.