Thomas J. Story

When you grow your own food, you can try varieties that are hard to find in a grocery store or even a farmers’ market. Here's what we planted, and what we learned

Margo true and the Sunset staff,  – December 29, 2008

Great food starts with good soil. For vigorous, flavorful fruits and vegetables, plant nitrogen-fixing cover crops (clover, vetch) and till them into the soil in spring.

Mix in compost and fertilizer, and you’ll have loose, rich soil. All you need to do is plant, add drip irrigation, and let the garden rip. Our plot measured 550 square feet, but you can grow the crops wherever you have room.

When you grow your own food, you can plant varieties that are hard to find in a grocery store or even a farmers’ market. We put in peppermint, so aromatic that it makes store-bought spearmint taste like grass.

We grew ‘Trombetta di Albenga’ zucchini, which tends to curve like a trombone. And ‘Sharlyn’ melon, so creamy and tender it practically melts in your mouth.

Don’t expect everything to succeed. Squirrels ravaged our wheat and barley. The biggest disaster: our olives, which were horribly infested with fruit flies. We ended up picking olives at a Santa Cruz olive farm.

Chances are, though, that almost everything will be fine. To go into the garden after being away and see that your corn has shot up to 7 feet, or to find dozens of dewy new cucumbers, is a real thrill.

Next: what we planted 

Tasty, vigorous, productive fruits and vegetables

Barley (‘Lacey’) A malting type developed for brewing

Chiles Thick-fleshed, mild poblano; spicy serrano

Corn (‘Honey Select’) Great corn flavor; tender kernels

Cucumber (‘Diva’) Sweet, crunchy; very productive; disease-resistant

Edamame (‘Sayamusume’ soybeans) High yields and nutty flavor

Garlic (‘Spanish Roja’) Hardneck type, with large, easy-to-peel cloves; turns buttery soft when cooked

Herbs Clean-tasting ‘Genovese’ basil; pine-scented ‘Tuscan Blue’ rosemary; tiny-leaved common thyme; spicy chives; intensely aromatic peppermint; heady Italian oregano; and anisey, pungent sweet marjoram

Hops Citrusy, floral ‘Cascade’; nicely bitter ‘Centennial’; spicy, herbal ‘Nugget’

Lemon (‘Eureka’) Large, juicy; trees are easy to find Lemongrass Aromatic and citrusy; makes good herbal “tea”

Melons Luscious, creamy, fragrant ‘Sharlyn’, like a honeydew-cantaloupe cross; small, crisp, almost seedless ‘Sugar Baby’ watermelon; honeyed ‘Ambrosia’ cantaloupe

Onion White Spanish onions are large, spherical, and don’t turn sweet when cooked

Pattypan squash Disk-shaped, scalloped-edged ‘Benning’s Green Tint’ (lime green) and ‘Sunburst’ (brilliant yellow); tender skins and few seeds; small, pretty, and ideal for stuffing

Potato (‘Yukon Gold’) The best all-purpose potato, with buttery, sweet flesh

Tomatoes Prolific, super-sweet, deep yellow cherry tomato ‘Sun Gold’ and red cherry ‘Sweet 1000’; dependable, rich-tasting, red ‘Early Girl’; lemony, jade-striped ‘Green Zebra’; tender, yellow-and-red ‘Marvel Stripe’; thin-skinned, magenta-purple ‘Brandywine’

Wheat (Organic soft white) High in carbohydrates, which convert to sugars and then alcohol in beer

Zucchini (‘Trombetta di Albenga’) Climbing vine with big, fan-shaped leaves and pale green zucchini often curved like trombones; sweet, mild, and stays crunchy when cooked

Next: the imports 

We went outside our block for:

Malted grain extract (as backup for our beer crops)

Milk 11/2 gals. organic whole milk (made about 13/4 lbs. cheese) Olives 800 lbs. olives (made 20 gals. extra-virgin olive oil)

Sea water 3 qts. from the Pacific (made 1/2 cup sea salt)

Wine grapes 500 lbs. Syrah (made 180 750-ml. bottles, plus 15 l. vinegar);
20 gals. Chardonnay juice (made 100 750-ml. bottles

Keep Reading: