Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Growing edibles has saved us 15% on our food budget

I've been sharing our harvests here on the blog and on
Facebook to show people what they could be harvesting, too.
This is a tabbouleh harvest includes lots of curly parsley.
We started growing food successfully a few years after we moved to North Florida in 2004. So we have a good record of our food costs both before and after growing crops. Our annual food budget is at least 15% less than it was before.

Actually, two things changed:
1) Obviously, we save money when we don't have to purchase as much food.
2) More importantly, cooking to our harvests has changed the way we eat. Our whole diet has become more plant based and we also purchase much less pre-prepared food. Why would we purchase salad dressing full of preservatives and other stuff when I have frozen containers of yummy, home-made pesto that we can use as a base for salad dressings? Also, we've found or invented some interesting recipes to consume an abundant harvest and not get tired of it. See below for a new recipe adapted from one I'd found on Facebook.

A recent harvest. The 3 little cucumbers were the end of the season runts, the rest of the generous crop was quite satisfactory.
Female squash flowers seen at a farmers market.
These were so fresh that bees working the flowers.
To grow larger on the vine squash crops need

The versatile squash family 

The wide ranging squash family, Cucurbitaceae, includes summer squashes with soft edible skins like zucchini, winter squashes with hard rinds like Spaghetti or butternut squashes, melons, cucumbers, and gourds. All members of this family have separate male and female flowers, which must be pollinated in order to develop fruit. It may take 7 to 10 visits by pollinators.

My friend Claudia, who grows her vegetables in a screened-in enclosure has to hand-pollinate her squash crops. On the other hand, she doesn't have to deal with flying pests like squash bugs or stem borers. She wrote a guest blog a few year back, "Zero to sixty in three years."

This year we have an interesting mix of squash crops—some intended, others not so much. I knew we were going to be out of town for several weeks beginning the 2nd week in March. So before we left, I planted cucumbers and I prepared a squash mound and planted 4 types of squash including the green tiger zucchini, as discussed in the previous post, which did the best, but is now beginning to peter out with the heat. 

Spaghetti squash scraped from the skins.

The two surprise squash vines were the butternut and the spaghetti that sprouted from my trench composting where I bury kitchen scraps into the garden. The photo above is the last harvest of the cucumbers, spaghetti & butternut vines. Fortunately, the winter squash keep well in our pantry, but we have been enjoying it for the last couple of weeks. I used to serve spaghetti squash in the skins with a marinara sauce topped with Parmesan cheese. Now I dig it out of the skins and serve it up like pasta spaghetti. This one squash served as a pasta substitute for 2 separate dinners—one with marinara sauce with veggie burger "meat"balls and the other with an Alfredo sauce and shrimp.

Pesto Time

Sweet basil waiting to become pesto... Meadow garlic bulbs are big this time of year.
I harvested my basil several days before I got around to making it into pesto and kept it fresh in a vase. When I make it this time of year, I use the native meadow garlic bulbs as part of the mixture, because they are dying back for the summer, the bulbs are larger than normal. See this post for more details on my pesto and this one for details on meadow garlic.

One of this year's cabbages.

An abundance of cabbage

This winter was a good year for cabbage in my garden. We shared some with neighbors, but we still have a few heads sitting in the refrigerator. We've used it for cole slaw, Chinese cabbage salad, soups, and more. We've used smaller amounts in tossed salads, pasta salads, and anywhere else that seemed appropriate. When I saw a recipe on Facebook that used a head of cabbage in a whole new way, I took notice and altered the recipe in ways that made sense to me. So here's my version, but the next time the ingredients will probably be somewhat different depending upon what's in the harvest. And I may even add a crust next time.

Crustless quiche with cabbage, onion, zucchini
- 2/3 of a head of cabbage finely sliced and then chopped
- 2 sweet onion chopped
- 2 tbsp chopped garlic
- 1 cup chopped zucchini
- 1/4 cup chopped garlic chives
- 1/2 cup fresh parsley de-stemmed and chopped
- 4 large eggs
- 1/3 cup plain non-fat yogurt
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 3/4 cup flour
- 1 & 1/2 cups of grated cheddar cheese
- Coat a 9x12' pan with olive oil
- Slowly saute first 3 ingredients in olive oil until onions are translucent.
- Stir in the next 3 ingredients and continue the slow saute until the zucchini starts to soften
- Stir the eggs, yogurt, & oil until blended and then slowly stir in the flour until smooth
- Lay the sauted mixture into the pan and distribute so that it's level
- Pour the egg & flour mixture evenly over the mixture.
- Sprinkle the cheese on top
- Microwave for 10 minutes or until the mixture is set.

This dish was amazingly tasty.
While the mixture smelled cabbagey during the saute process, this dish was not overwhelmed by the cabbage at all. Quite tasty! It was enough for 3 dinners for the 2 of us. I served it with carrot sticks.

More zucchinis on the way.

The keys to saving money by growing edibles

- Start small and don't expect miracles the first couple of seasons.

- Not everything will work every time, so don't be discouraged when something fails.

- Educate yourself so that you make fewer mistakes. For Florida, timing is tricky and most gardening advice doesn't work here.

Our "Organic Methods for Vegetable Gardening in Florida" covers the whole state with 3 monthly calendars. We also arranged the crops by plant family in the book, so your crop rotation will be easier. (This link has been updated to the 2nd edition, which was released in Jan. 2023.)

- Fall is a great time to plant a wide range vegetables in Florida, but it's not too early to start work on preparing your growing beds. Remember you want to be able to reach the whole bed without stepping on the prepared soil.

Good luck!!

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt

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