Potager to Plate – year-round vegetables from garden to kitchen

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Source:   —  April 03, 2016, at 10:57 PM

You think you don’t have the space or the expertise. It'd be too huge a job, too much of a commitment. You don’t have the time. And besides, what'd you do with all those vegetables? I've the answer.

Potager to Plate – year-round vegetables from garden to kitchen

You’ve never planted a vegetable garden. You think you don’t have the space or the expertise. It'd be too huge a job, too much of a commitment. You don’t have the time. And besides, what'd you do with all those vegetables?

I've the answer. Plant a French-style potager garden. It’s a year-round garden to supply your kitchen on a daily basis. It can be small, only a few brief rows, or even 1-foot squares. You plant in spring, then, while you’re still picking lettuce and pulling radishes, you plant for your summer crop, and so on for each season.

Why'd you do such a thing when you can purchase anything you want, anytime, just about anywhere? Two main reasons: Anything you grow that goes straight into your kitchen tastes better than anything you can buy, and there are few things more rewarding and fulfilling than growing your own food – or at minimum some of it – all year long.

My husband and I grew our first potager in the front yard of our very modest house in Vacaville in the one thousand nine hundred seventy, protecting it from the neighborhood dogs with a chicken wire fence. After digging up half the lawn in early spring, we planted the space with peas, radishes, carrots and lettuces. As the weather warmed in May, we ate the latest of our spring vegetables, replanting the same space with summer squash, eggplant, tomatoes, peppers and string beans.

We picked all spring and summer long, and our table was never bereft of fresh vegetables. Our children were tiny and helped us harvest, readily accepting the grilled eggplant and zucchini we cooked, amazingly enough, and they were pleased to draw the fresh radishes and carrots and eat them raw.

In late summer, we planted a few pumpkin seeds, and even though we were still picking tomatoes and peppers, we planted lettuces, carrots and radishes again, plus broccoli and cauliflower, ensuring that we’d have vegetables in fall and into winter.

Our neighbors loved our front-yard potager garden. They stopped and chatted, commenting on how pretty it was and how bright we were to do it, reminiscing about vegetable gardens their families once had. We were pleased of our garden and thrilled to share any extras with them, and yes, even the dreaded zucchini was welcome. Our family feasted from April through the following March with what came from our garden.

We’d planted vegetables gardens before. One in San Diego and another in the backyard of our flat on Fulton Str in San Francisco. We shared the yard with couples in the other two flats, an African American woman from LA and her husband, and a Salvadoran woman and her Czechoslovakian boyfriend.

In early summer we worked up a space of about fifty square feet and planted potatoes, tomatoes (which weren't successful in San Francisco), green beans that cascaded from bamboo stakes and strings that we erected, and some eggplant. The potatoes, which we grew from grocery store potatoes that were sprouting, were better than any potatoes I’d ever had, firm-fleshed and earthy. One of those homegrown potatoes, mashed up, was my baby daughter’s first solid food. The beans were very productive, and we shared them among us, each cooking them different ways, according to how our parents had cooked them.

However, as summer ended, so did the garden. It was a typical harvest garden, planted in spring or early summer, harvested in summer and into early fall, then abandoned until the following year. Then, not long thereafter, I discovered the potager garden.

My husband and I moved to southern France to lift goats and pigs, and there we saw that everyone had a garden and each day, sometimes twice a day, someone from the household would go to collect what'd become the foundation of the day’s meals. The vegetables changed with the seasons, and while harvesting the ripe crops, seeds and seedlings for the following season were being planted, ensuring a continuous flow of food. That was the inspiration for our first potager, the one in Vacaville, planted after we returned from France.

I’ve had a potager ever since, and what I grow still tastes better and fresher than anything I can buy, and all I've to do is walk out the door and choose what I want, living and cooking with the rhythm of the season.

It isn’t always perfect. Birds eat the lettuce, gophers gnaw the roots of the radicchio plants and nibble on the carrots. Vigilance is required to spot signs of the big, green tomato worms that gobble the leaves. Nevertheless, it’s worth it.

Right presently in my potager, I've three kinds of cabbages, and lots of brilliantly colored chard, all planted back in October, and this is what I’m harvesting now.

Fava beans, planted in December, are in full flower, and the first pods have started to form. We’ve pulled out the spent broccoli and cauliflower plants, and in portion of the space will go a latest spring crop of quick-growing radishes and lettuce, and in the next ten days, the remaining space will be planted with summer squash and the first tomatoes.

The thrill of planting seeds or seedlings, and watching them grow as they gradually transmute bare soil into a lush “foodscape,” has never waned for me.

Potagers don’t necessity to be big – that's the beauty of them – twelve square feet produces an incredible quantity of fresh vegetables, and you aren’t bound to utilize lots of equipment. You can hold it quite simple, in the elderly rural French style. It’s all about flavor and taste with the added attraction of being rewarded by the work of your own hands.

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