Our recent summer travels to California to visit family would be incomplete without acknowledging the fruitful art of backyard gardening! Not only did we enjoy our time outdoors, but also the incredibly fresh produce that we were served.
Gardening is one way to express our love and appreciation of nature. It satisfies our innate longing to cultivate. But going down the horticultural path requires skill. Although it can be a relaxing and restorative hobby, gardening tests your patience and begs for manual labor.
One might ask, “why choose this hobby?”
Let’s see what Michael Wilton, M. Ed., has to say about his special diversion and the inspiration behind his nursery projects.
“Gardening has always been a passion of my grandparents with whom I spent much of my childhood growing up. They had an extensive space that showcased their admiration for a variety of orchids.
“Picking cherry tomatoes, strawberries, and snap peas straight out of their garden and munching on them are treasured memories. Now I watch my boys doing the same from ours.
“My backyard is a place of tranquility, one that brings me joy. It is gratifying to reap fresh organic vegetables that we can enjoy as a family. At the same time, we experience new recipes depending on the produce harvested.
“My wife, Sheena, gifted me a custom built, raised garden bed for Fathers’ Day in 2020. She knew this was something I wanted to pursue. It was great starting experiment to begin with as I was able to monitor what was happening at my level. It’s still my favorite box.”
Tell us about your time in the yard and what you are cultivating now.
“I spend roughly around seven hours a week planting what we like to eat in raised beds, containers, as well as soil. I am working on cucumbers for pickling, tomatoes for everything, snap peas for snacking, figs for dessert, lemons, limes and strawberries for summer lemonades, potatoes for mash, mint and parsley for Sheena’s favorite salad, radishes for munching and pumpkins for Halloween.
“It is important to protect myself during my time in the vegetable plot. My go-to tools are basically a sun hat, hand towels, hose, and a shovel. I enjoy using raised beds, pots, containers as well as planting in soil as this creates a natural flow and is aesthetically pleasing.
“Our boys, Adley and Callan, are great helpers, especially when it comes to measuring and reporting growth. They love the laser eye owl that is supposed to keep other animals away.”
The strawberries are born green,
as the boys keep watch over the scene.
In the blink of an eye, they change to red,
now they are ripe.
The boys are ready to be fed.
Their lips and shirts show traces of crimson,
The smiles on their faces are winsome!
Michael’s Sustainable Approach
Michael, tell me about how you prepare the soil. Do you compost?
“My philosophy is relatively simple. I use all my kitchen waste, vegetable and fruit peels, coffee grind and especially eggshells for a healthy soil. The calcium in the shells generates root health. Deep Water, twice a week and then some, depending on the weather as needed. No fertilizer, just our own compost around the plant once it starts flowering.
“Compost creates dirt, mulch is put on top of soil/dirt to keep the soil moist. I use straw, it’s cheaper and breaks down easier.
“Dry Compost: made up of old plants, yard scraps and dirt. Hot Compost: a quick method of turning food scraps and an earth worm colony which creates nutrient rich compost. This is stored in a large tumbler that is latched shut and turned weekly.
Gardens are Perfect for Children
“Adley, loves to help because it makes soil and promotes produce growth. Callan enthusiastically observes worms in the soil!”
It is very commendable, in my opinion, that both Michael and Sheena, as parents and teachers, have taken the responsibility to practice living a greener lifestyle. Even more admirable, is their effort in partnering to teach their boys about sustainability from an early age.
Want to start planting seeds with your children? Have a look at this article to get started.
The time has come,
he gathers what he has sown,
proud of the abundance
of what has grown.
Wilton Salad’ Recipe
Ingredients: 4 firm tomatoes quartered, 1 diced English cucumber, 3 cups finely chopped parsley, 1 cup julienned mint, ½ cup finely sliced green onion, 1 can drained and rinsed garbanzo beans, juice of 1 large lemon, season to taste.
Method: combine all ingredients, serve chilled.
So, what is Michael’s next project?
“Making the grounds more accessible and enjoyable during all weather conditions. Hoping to pave the garden side of our yard in the next year.”
Having tasted the sweet, crunchy, buttery flavors of this yield from Michael’s patio the previous summer, I feel inclined to share my recipe for Corn Bisque below.
Generally classified as soup, the recipe can however, be adjusted to serve up as a chowder, bisque, vegan, vegetarian or pescatarian product, as you fancy. The adjustments are simple, and the flavor profile stands up to the name. (See below for ideas on how to modify to your preferences.)
Sweet Corn Bisque
Ingredients: 4 ears of corn, 1 cup finely chopped leeks, 1 medium finely chopped carrot, 1 medium peeled & diced yukon gold potato, 1 large clove finely chopped garlic, 3-4 sprigs of oregano stems removed, 2 tablespoons Butter, ½ cup heavy cream plus 1 tablespoon for garnish upon service, 3 cups water, 1 teaspoon of sea salt, 1 teaspoon smoked paprika.
Method: Remove husks and silk, shave off the kernels from the cobs, scrape off the milk from the cobs using the back of a knife. This enhances the full flavor of the sweet corn.
In a heavy pot start by melting the butter on a low flame, add leeks as the butter melts, sauté till soft, add corn kernels and milk, carrots, garlic, and oregano. Continue to stir, add salt and smoked paprika to season, and allow to simmer for 15 minutes.
Note: I do not use any stock here as I feel that the rich sweetness from the corn and other vegetables should not conflict with another flavored stock.
Use an immersion blender or food processor to blend till the soup is completely smooth. Return soup to the pot, add heavy cream, keep stirring over low heat until the cream is fully incorporated, about 1-2 minutes.
The end result should be a satin-silk product. The taste is slightly smoky, sweet oniony flavor from the leeks, mellow earthy flavor from the oregano, velvety texture resulting in a luscious creaminess on the palate.
Serve warm, room temperature or cold, drizzle some of the reserved cream on top, finish with a garnish of thinly sliced leeks or sprinkle a few oregano leaves.
Adjust to Your Preference
Vegan: substitute 1 tablespoon of olive oil for butter, 1 cup chopped raw cashews for the cream. I don’t soak my cashews for this recipe as the simmer time and heat is sufficient to break this down releasing its full potential. For a special finale, pass through a sieve, for extra silkiness!
Chowder: Blend half of the soup and leave the rest chunky for service, garnish with diced roasted red peppers for the authentic, smoky chowder flavor.
Pescatarian: substitute homemade stock made from lobster meat including carapace, tomatoes, fennel, bay leaf, & white wine. Or you can use clam juice from a bottle which adds a marine baseline and an inherent flavor-enhancing quality.
Thinking about starting a backyard activity? Whether it’s a growing herbs, planting flowers in the windowsill or growing vegetables, a fabulous and rewarding hobby awaits you!
Here are some resources that might help you on your gardening journey:
All About Gardening website