Gardening for flavor in Texas

I don't like vegetables. Wait, not a good way to start a gardening post. Let me rephrase that. I don't like industrial, grocery-produce or canned vegetables.

I grew up around gardeners as far back as I can remember. We didn't buy any produce in the grocery store, save the occasional citrus or celery. All vegetables and fruit we ate either came from our family garden or from those of my grandparents. I didn't eat vegetables in the cafeteria at school or in restaurants - especially not peas or spinach. Green beans were somewhat passable, especially when cooked with bacon. Applesauce, never.

When my husband met me, he couldn't believe the lack of veggies in my life. I told him I loved peas, lima beans, green beans, asparagus, spinach, yet I never bought those in the store. After one trip to Virginia to visit my family, he understood why.

My own garden started with herbs - basil, oregano, mint, rosemary, and thyme. Living in Central Texas means that with the exception of basil and cilantro, I don't need to replant my herbs every year. Since I started, I also have a huge cilantro plant, two parsley plants that I will never be able to use up, lemongrass, and four varieties of mint (we were in search of the perfect cold mint garden tea). I know little about flowers and bushes and ornamental plants. So in the beds around the front of my house are my herbs. When making a pasta sauce, I walk out my front door and chop some fresh basil. While making salsa, I go clip some cilantro. It works out nicely and my food tastes much better.

After we moved into our house "in the country" (fifteen minutes from downtown Austin), I started a garden and tried the veggies my parents grew in Virginia. I failed. (More on that another time). I now have a 12x12' foot garden surrounded by chicken wire to keep the armadillos and rabbits out. That's right, armadillos!

That was then, this is now. We are finishing up with our winter garden - beautiful spinach left from the bok choy, broccoli, and spinach we tried this year. I have six tomato plants in of four different heirloom varieties, and one poblano pepper plant (enough to keep my freezer stocked for a year). I hope to get in a couple of butternut squash plants if I can only find the seeds my mom sent me from one of her squash.

Around the garden I have planted some flowers and a dill to hopefully draw those helpful bugs to keep those not so great pests away this year. That's an experiment - we'll see how that goes. In my herb gardens I also have a grape tomato and cherry tomato plant. I planted those for my almost three-year-old daughter. She picks all the cherry tomatoes out of salads. My husband and I never get any. Hopefully these two tomato plants will help solve that problem.

There are some fairly philosophical reasons why I garden - wanting to eat locally (you don't get any more local than your own backyard); wanting my two children, ages three and thirteen months, to love vegetables and know how they grow; the connection to the land and weather gardening brings; being able to see immediate results from my work. But really, I garden because I love to eat. I believe if it's worth eating, it's gotta taste really good. There is nothing better than a fresh-picked tomato sprinkled with fresh-cut basil with a little olive oil drizzled over top. That's why I bother with the weeds, fire ants, and armadillos.