Learning to Overcome Novice Gardener Mistakes in the Kitchen

Reader Contribution by Lenora Thompson
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Photo by billslife2012

What a lovely yard,” we thought. “We can put in a garden!” And so we did.

We moved Up North from the Twin Cities in May of 2013. I was a pure City Slicker, through and through. But I was keen, willing, enthusiastic — and utterly clueless. The April rains had come and gone. Spring had sprung and there was no time to lose. We hurried to the Big Town and invested in a tiller, a cultivator and plenty of seeds. My country boy husband happily tilled up the whole front yard and marked off rows.

Newbie Gardener Mistakes

That’s when we made our first mistake. The rows were too danged close together. Too close to run the cultivator. Too close for me to stand comfortably between two rows without losing my ever tenuous balance. And certainly too close to sit and scoot between. So, after a few half-hearted attempts at weeding, we gave it up.

Then we made our second mistake. We were too soft-hearted. Thin our seedlings? Never! If it had the heart to sprout, we didn’t have the heart to pull it. So our carrots choked each other to death. The radishes were deformed past recognition and the corn was nothing to write home about.

But we still had a fairly good crop of cucumbers, potatoes and tomatoes. That’s when we made our final, devastating mistake. We actually believed the canning and storage instructions online and followed them implicitly. As Julie Roberts said in Pretty Woman, “Big mistake. Huge.” What can I say about storing the potatoes? A cool, dry place the Internet said. So we put them in a cool, dry place. Ah, but apparently the website forgot to add a footnote, “Preferably with no field mice.”What the mice didn’t eat from the outside was eaten by potato bugs from the inside. Our huge crop of life-sustaining spuds was completely kaput.

The pickles fared slightly better. I mean, at least they were edible, sort of. Taking to heart the Internet’s dire warnings about botulism, we followed the canning instructions to the proverbial “T.” We added citric acid. We boiled the jars for the full length of time recommended in the canner, if not longer. The taste was delicious, but alas, the texture can only be described with one word: mush. Green, dilled mush.

Canning and Applesauce-Making Mistakes

But what became of the tomatoes? They suffered a similar fate — after nearly driving me mad. The Internet was very clear: tomatoes must be pealed prior to canning or the peelings will become tough in the jar. So I called upon every ounce of patience I possessed as I blanched and peeled quart after quart of tomatoes, even the tiny cherry tomatoes. Insane, I know. But I was determined to conquer this canning thing if it was the last thing this City Slicker ever did! Critic acid was carefully measured and added to each jar ad those were the most sour canned tomatoes you ever ate!!

Despairing over the canned vegetables, I turned my attention to the bumper crop of crabapples drooping from our ancient tree. Surely, a little crabapple sauce would go nicely with everything from pork to pancakes. Blanch, peel and core the Internet said. Naively trusting (yet again!) in the World Wide Web’s omniscience, I blithely settled down to blanch, peel and core. And core and core and core. Soon, I’d had enough!

So I took a break and turned my attention to the antique food mill procured at an auction. You know the type. Your grandma probably had one. It looks like the Tin Man’s hat, but with holes. It comes complete with a three-legged stand and a dowel-type masher to run round and round the sieve. How difficult could this be?

Two hours and several mashed fingers later, I yelled, “Fine!! If you want applesauce, mash it yourself!” and stormed out of the kitchen in tears of frustration. My husband sighed indulgently and observed to our two almost-poodles, “Well, girls, Momma’s fixin’ to lose her mind again!” as he patiently finished the mashing. Why does he always make it look so easy? It was good applesauce. Finally, we had a canned food item that was actually enjoyable.

The Spring of 2014 found me pumped and rarin’ to garden again! I was determined to do everything right this time. This was going to be the perfect garden. I discovered and invented a whole new set of ways to garden badly. Stay tuned.

Lenora Thompsonis a syndicated freelance writer from Northern Minnesota who left a successful career in IT, married her husband, and moved from the Twin Cities to a small rural town where she reinvented herself as a freelance psychology writer focused on helping those affected by narcissistic and cult abuse. Connect with Lenora onher website, FacebookandInstagram. Read all of Lenora’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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