Patricia Nell Warren

Midsummer "Victory Garden" Report

Filed By Patricia Nell Warren | July 18, 2009 10:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Living
Tags: organic gardening, victory garden

As times get tougher, and food gets more expensive, I've been predicting that more and more Americans will plant what used to be called a "victory garden" -- even in small city yards. On my Los Angeles corner lot, I don't have an unused area of dirt to plant anything in, so my "victory garden" grows in a motley collection of large pots and containers, that crams an otherwise unusable sunny brick patio right outside the kitchen. It gets hand-watered with a hose. With the balmy California climate, it feeds us 12 months a year, and we seldom have to buy vegetables.

So here's a midsummer update for Bilerico's growing group of readers and writers who are doing their own victory gardens, or getting interested in same.

The daylight hours are already getting shorter, but those summer veggies don't seem to know it -- they're so exploding with energy and bounty that I can hardly see the containers any more. Walking into the garden area is like wading into a green swimming pool -- some of the plants are head-high. You should see my tree chili. The Indian ancestors who named it weren't kidding.

Last week, I harvested 18 fat ears off my 12 container-grown corn plants. We had a home-cooked burger fest with fresh-picked organic corn on the side -- one of the great taste treats in the universe.

Meanwhile, the Kentucky pole beans are going wild, using the old corn-stalks to climb on, since I inter-planted them with the corn. Elsewhere, the cherry tomato plants are trying to smother a couple of my tubbed citrus trees, while lemon cucumbers, patty-pan squashes and miniature pumpkins cascade out of their containers to touch the bricks and ramble across the patio.

With so much abundance, I look around for recipes that can utilize what I harvest -- Google can be dredged for recipe help. Or I go hog-wild and create a recipe of my own. The other day, pondering what was ready in the garden and aching to do something "different" with hamburger, I invented a dish that I'll call:

MIDSUMMER MEATBALL STEW

For the meatballs:

3 pounds ground beef
3 cups dry bread crumbs or finely rolled saltine cracker crumbs
4 whole eggs
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
1/2 large white onion, finely chopped
your favorite seasoned salt
1 tsp. black pepper
2 tsp. paprika
2 tsp. Italian seasoning

In a bowl, combine the ingredients and work them together well with your hands. Shape into large meatballs, 2 inches in diamater. The mixture should be firm, otherwise the meatballs won't hold their shape. It makes around two dozen meatballs. In a large skillet, heat a few tbsp. of your favorite vegetable oil or olive oil. Slowly brown the meatballs, turning them gently with a spatula so they keep their shape and get browned on all sides.

Meanwhile, clean and coarsely dice the following vegetables:

the other half of the white onion
4 medium-size carrots
3 stalks of celery, with leaves
1 Japanese eggplant
1 small pattypan squash
2 bell peppers
2 cloves garlic

When meatballs are browned, arrange them on the bottom of your soup kettle. Add the diced vegetables to the skillet, and sautee gently in the oil and pan drippings for a few minutes. Then remove them to the kettle, placing them on top of the meatballs. Meanwhile, in a blender, puree the following together:

3 cups water
3-4 cups cherry tomatoes or regular tomatoes cut in small pieces
1/4 cup flour

Add this pureed mixture into the skillet to boil up all the delicious drippings. Then pour skillet contents into the soup kettle. Add more water till kettle contents are barely covered. Bring to a simmer, and simmer for half an hour. Don't stir.

Lastly, prepare the final vegetables:

4 large potatoes, coarsely diced (I keep the skins on)
3 cups Kentucky pole beans, cut in pieces (or regular snap or fava beans, if that's what you have)
2 tbsp. each fresh chopped oregano and flat-leaf parsley
salt and black pepper to taste

Place them in the soup kettle as the top layer. The meatballs are now on the bottom. Don't stir, to make sure the meatballs keep their shape. If needed, add a little more water to barely cover. Continue to simmer maybe 15-20 minutes, till the potatoes and beans are just tender.

The result is actually on the cusp between stew and soup. So serve it in soup bowls, with French or Italian bread on the side, and eat with a spoon instead of a fork. A little grated parmesan cheese is a good garnish, or a dollop of sour cream and chopped chives. It feeds around 10 people very inexpensively.

The potatoes and carrots were boughten, but everything else came from my garden. You can't imagine how different home-grown celery tastes from the store variety! If I'd had some garden peas, they would have worked well too. So could fresh corn, sliced off the cob with a sharp knife. Zucchini or crookneck could substitute for the pattypan squash.

For those who prefer poultry to beef, ground turkey could probably be substituted in the meatballs -- though I haven't tried this myself. The point is, be adventurous with what you have a lot of, and what you like.

What is the "victory," today? It's more than just saving money. Growing all that stuff yourself...knowing what's in it, so you know it's healthy and non-chemical. Personally, I think one of the big problems with America's health is all the agribusiness food we eat, which is loaded with chemicals and who knows what else. I patronize the U.S. organic food market and local farmers as much as I can, including organic meat, wherever possible. I grew up eating grass-fed organic naturally-ranged beef, and can actually buy it today from websites like that of Alderspring Ranch.

The next wave of vegetable bounty looming here is peppers, both sweet and hot varieties. More about them in the next report.


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Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | July 18, 2009 5:49 PM

Good advice, now that Bill Clintons deregulation, Bushes' turning a blind eye to finalnical looting and Obama’s welfare for the rich (only) means that today’s actual date is July 18th, 1931.

I'm trying to grow some tomatoes, chilies, cilantro and garlic on my little balcony too. I’m getting tired of taking out a loan to buy veggies, especially tomatoes. I don’t know about LA but food prices in Vegas are jumping.

But I think I'm going to have to get bigger pots. The temps here in Vegas have been 110 plus for over a week and they'll stay hot to very hot until sometime in September or October. In small pots the roots bake until I water them then the poor little things boil.

L.A. food prices are outasight too. Even the farmer's market isn't so cheap any more.

Yes, temps have been high in L.A. too -- in the mid-90s. Bigger pots are a help. Also putting one pot inside a larger one, which creates an extra layer of coolness at the roots. Light-colored pots absorb less heat than dark-colored ones. Terracotta pots stay cooler than plastic pots.

Mulching your plants will also help. One good mulch is a layer of light-colored smooth river-rocks (not dark ones, which absorb heat). Group the pots together in a tight arrangement, if you can, so they can share a little sphere of released humidity.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | July 19, 2009 12:10 PM

Thanks for the advice. Even before things got bad I had a garden in LA but it was in-ground.

There are so many foreclosures and yard sales here in Vegas that I should be able to get plenty of cheap pots.

Water hasn't flowed around here for eons so no river rocks but I may be able to grab some in the California mountains.

No need to go to the mountains for river rocks (unless you want to!!). Most companies that sell landscaping materials like sand, gravel, flagstone, etc. have different grades of river rocks (which are smooth and rounded).

Perhaps we ought to bring back the depression era term for these, which I believe was "Hoover's Farms"

Obama's Stimulus Acres?"

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | July 19, 2009 12:11 PM

It fits right in with Obamavilles.

Actually, I think they were called Hoovervilles. These were shanty towns that sprang up, constructed by people who had been driven out of their homes or farms by bankruptcy and drought.

We're seeing the equivalent today -- the tent cities popping up in parks and on vacant properties in cities, inhabited by homeless families.

This is one more reason why community gardens are important in cities -- cheap clean food nutritious for poor families. I will never forgive the city of L.A. for allowing the destruction of the South Central community garden. Mayor Villaraigosa should have acted to protect it when it was legally threatened. Instead he showed himself to now be in the pocket of big monied development interests in L.A., and allowed it to be bulldozed.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | July 19, 2009 9:50 AM

Patricia,

We always kept a garden in summer for row lettuce, tomatoes, peas and often a row of Indiana sweet corn. We lived in a city and directly next to a railroad track. This, in addition to plenty of flowers, bushes and hedges, was one more way my parents and I worked together. It is invaluable and the source of sweet memories I thank you for giving me.

Fortunately we can get an immense variety of fresh locally grown veggies here. We have three harvests a year, which is a miracle, as in northern Vietnam they only have one harvest per year. Living in a condo building provides few opportunities, and many restrictions, about what I could grow, but you are giving me ideas. We are getting a larger condo next month and this would be just the thing to do with the extra balcony. Don't be surprised if I ask you to mail me some Mexican pepper seeds. I bet they would do great here for when I want to make Spanish rice. :)

You will be able to get a variety of chili pepper seeds right where you live! Southeast Asian cuisine adopted the chili pepper from native Americans, and they grow some of the hottest, best chilis in the world.

In fact, I can't think of another native food that has gone immigrant and populated the planet the way Indian peppers have -- from Hungary to Africa to India and China.

Ooh, yum. You shouldn't post things like this, it gives me wild ideas for things I want to grow, when I have the opposite of a green thumb and a tiny dorm room. Your garden sounds awesome, though!

Green thumbs are made, not born. I've been growing things all my life, but there are still some things that I am able to kill...like orchids.

So what you do is, you start with two or three small herb plants on your windowsill. And it's okay to make mistakes. We all do.

You can ponder what rugged edible plants to start with. Chives and parsley are always good. A lot of veggie plants would be too big for your space, unless you can find dwarf varieties of cherry tomatoes and chili peppers.

If you don't do microwave cooking in your room, you won't want anything that needs cooking. But maybe you'd like a sprig of mint in your iced tea. There are varieties of mint with different flavors, like chocolate mint, Egyptian, etc. Also plants that make good herb tea, if you're allowed to brew tea in your room -- like lemon verbena.

But there is tons of information all over the Web about how to grow the most basic things. You will do just fine, and when you graduate from the dorm roosm to a balcony, you will be ready for bigger and better things.

I thought about cherry tomatoes, but you have to hand-pollinate those when you grow them inside, which I don't think I quite want to attempt. I love the idea of growing something to make herb tea, though, tea is my favorite! I hadn't thought of that.

Thank you for the advice!