Vegetable Gardening Done Right: Plant It, Pick It, Eat It

Local gardening expert Barb Ferrari is married to the idea of consuming fresh fruits and vegetables grown in her back yard. Her husband, David, had a hand in converting her from her old ways.

Barb Ferrari grew up in home on a postage-stamp size lot in Chicago. Her grandfather planted a few vegetables in what was referred to then as a pea-patch, a tiny sun-soaked garden along the south side of his property.

She refused to eat anything he picked and put on her plate.

“As a kid, I was the fussiest eater,” Ferrari said. “I probably didn’t eat a salad until I was 25.”

To suggest she’s changed is no more radical an idea than noting the obvious differences between Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone and today’s hand-held devices.

Ferrari, a 54-year-old nurse who works as the heart heath coordinator at Ingalls Wellness Center in Homewood, calls herself a produce “snob.” She and her husband, David, 61, a work-at-home options trader, grow much of what they eat in their back yard. They have a second garden on 1.3-acre parcel in Flossmoor and share a third plot with gardening friends.

The Ferraris have learned many of the tricks of the gardening trade, including how to compost, how to collect water in rain barrels and even how to raise earthworms. Their vegetable gardens are growing this summer in the extreme heat—even flourishing—and David has a crop of garlic drying in the basement to offer as proof.

He said drought-like conditions have been challenging. The Ferraris have watered more often than normal, emptied their rain barrels on more than one occasion and used mulch to collect moisture and protect their fruit and vegetable plants. They already are beginning to harvest several varieties of tomatoes.

Barb has reached a point in her life where she happily would consider sharing some of the family secrets in a public forum.

“I have many ideas on paying this forward, like hosting classes,” she said. “Especially with my role in wellness, I deal so often with people who don’t get it. Every meal is eating out. They don’t have a clue what a real vegetable or real piece of fruit tastes like. I really wish I could share the passion, not only for how food tastes but to actually want to learn how to grow it and prepare it.”

Imagine Ferrari is speaking and the familiar chorus from Ricky Nelson’s ballad is playing softly in the background:

But it’s all right now
I learned my lesson well
You see you can’t please ev’ryone so
You got to please yourself

What's it All About?

David Ferrari said there is a certain type of therapeutic pleasure, a sense of self-satisfaction that comes from growing fruits and vegetables, one that outweighs the investment of time and energy that goes into the three P’s of gardening: planning, preparing the soil and planting seeds or seedlings.

“Besides that, I wanted to know what went into it,” he said. “I wanted to know that it was organically grown—didn’t have any pesticides. I planted it. I picked it.”

He and his wife grow tomatoes, green beans, lettuce and broccoli in Homewood. They also have a strawberry patch, raspberry bushes, blackberries growing on an arched trestle and two small fruit trees—cherry and plum—in their back yard. They care for all of the plants like they care for their own loved ones.

But they don’t always eat everything they grow or see eye-to-eye with those special someones. Take the example of David’s first tomato crop. Add family to the list of critter culprits that occasionally make their way into the Ferrari’s yard and pilfer goodies.

“There was one time my brother came to stay with us, and he didn’t quite understand that I hadn’t had any of my tomatoes coming in from the garden yet,” David Ferrari said. “There were some that had just come in, and they were sitting in a bowl.

“I went to work, and I came home and they were gone. He ate them. I said, ‘What did you do, John?’ He had eaten my first tomatoes. I watched those babies grow.”

As quickly as more tomatoes ripened on the vine, David reconciled his differences with his brother. He and his wife have come to an agreement, too.

“When I was single, I only had potted plants on the patio as far as vegetables,” Barb Ferrari said. “I was more the gardener/landscaper when it came to flowers—annuals, perennials. I started putting in flowering shrubs. I wanted to attract butterflies and hummingbirds.

“After Dave and I got together—he was of the opinion that anything you plant needs to be edible. We’ve come to a mutual understanding. I do the pots with flowers and the landscaping. And I also help now on the food.

“We grow fresh herbs. We add them all the time in our cooking. It’s wonderful when the lettuce is in season—it’s too hot now. But you pick your lunch and dinner.”

Jackie of Prairie Godmothers July 10, 2012 at 02:46 PM
Great story about earth-friendly Barb. How about sharing some of her favorite garden recipes with us? And maybe a tour and lesson from her garden would be in order!
babyboomer July 10, 2012 at 03:40 PM
Its nice to have rain barrels, however, you need RAIN before they will work. Haven't had much this year.
Ron Kremer (Editor) July 10, 2012 at 03:47 PM
Jackie: A couple of Barb's favorite summertime recipes will be featured in a Patch post on Saturday. So, be on the lookout for that. Thanks for the comments.
Ron Kremer (Editor) July 10, 2012 at 03:49 PM
BabyBoomer: No doubt it's been a challenge this year growing much of anything, let alone a vegetable garden. Barb's garden in Homewood gets some shade and is out of the direct sunlight for part of the day. Are you watering your garden more than usual?
Peggy July 10, 2012 at 03:58 PM
This is a lovely use of Patch. So interesting & nice to see Homewood residents highlighted in such a positive way.
Ron Kremer (Editor) July 10, 2012 at 04:17 PM
Peggy: Glad you enjoyed the article. I found David and Barb Ferrari to be friendly and welcoming when I visited their home to conduct interviews. They are inspiring people—just look at what they do in their gardens.
HFMom July 10, 2012 at 04:20 PM
Lovely article, would like to see more like this!
Ron Kremer (Editor) July 10, 2012 at 04:23 PM
HFMom: Please watch for second post Saturday featuring a couple of Barb's favorite summertime recipes. She uses ingredients fresh-picked from her gardens, of course.
Barb Ferrari July 10, 2012 at 06:01 PM
Ron, if its OK with you I will share more recipes as the summer veggies ripen and we all are looking for healthful ways to eat up the fresh harvest!
Barb Ferrari July 10, 2012 at 06:05 PM
Hi BB, We have tapped the rain barrels dry three times so far this season! We also use the dehumidifier's reservoir and our rinse water from hand washing dishes for watering the potted plants on our deck.
Ron Kremer (Editor) July 10, 2012 at 06:13 PM
Barb: Yes, that would be terrific!
babyboomer July 10, 2012 at 07:18 PM
Ron, yes I have been watering a lot more than usual. I own a 1/2 acre near the Irwin center, and have a huge garden. I have been mulching, and I plant my garden close together. It keeps the weeds down, and the soil moist. I have watered three times, and need to water again. I purchased 100 feet of that soaking hose, and that helps.this is a good article. My cukes seem to really like this weather!!
Ron Kremer (Editor) July 10, 2012 at 07:24 PM
BabyBoomer: You'll be slicing those cukes on salads before you know it. Have you ever tried making pickles?
Barb Ferrari July 10, 2012 at 09:13 PM
Tony, That would be half of a cracked terra cotta pot that now serves as a toad house! The pumpkins are planted at our Flossmoor garden and they are just vines with a few blossoms at this point in the season.
Linda T July 10, 2012 at 09:25 PM
Very nice, David and Barb! I'm jealous of all your sunny space!
MARK MC MAHON July 11, 2012 at 02:30 AM
Ron Kremer (Editor) July 11, 2012 at 02:43 AM
Mark: Glad you enjoyed it. David and Barb are the stars here.
Mary July 11, 2012 at 04:29 AM
I would come to your class, Barb! I'm always interested in gardening tips. My bush crop cukes are going crazy as are my jalapenos and wild raspberries. Blueberries and maters are ripening quite nicely! My garden is getting bigger every year!
PD July 11, 2012 at 11:48 AM
enjoyed this article!
SHUSSBAR July 11, 2012 at 05:49 PM
We had plenty of raspberry and a good amount of strawberries earlier in June. We just got our first new potatoes out of the garden this year. They tasted like butter yum! Rabbits did some damages to the green beans flowers >> few beans. Got some cucumbers already and zucchini too. Tomatoes are coming along well, carrots and leaks as well. We ll see soon. We have had romaine and arugula pretty much all year long thanks to the mild winter. What else are you guys growing? A tip : Hoe in the surface soil of your veggie patch, it s worth one or two watering. Happy gardening.
babyboomer July 14, 2012 at 11:24 AM
Yes, Ron, I just made a batch of Refridgerator pickles, and have more cukes than I can use, so I have been giving them to my neighbors.
Ron Kremer (Editor) July 14, 2012 at 03:39 PM
Babyboomer: I'm just picking a few cucumbers from my garden now. Most likely will slice them on a salad. Stay cool!
valarie huggins July 15, 2012 at 01:52 AM
Is too late to plant kale? I couldn't seem to find any this year for my garden so I I am actually still searching. Any tips on where to buy kale plants? Could seeds work/
Barb Ferrari July 15, 2012 at 02:08 AM
Hi Valarie, Our March planting of kale is already gone because of this intense heat. We will start seeds inside soon and transplant them outside as the days/nights get cooler. Here's a great primer on kale:) http://www.organicgardening.com/learn-and-grow/kale Grow & enjoy, Barb
Linda T July 15, 2012 at 02:09 AM
It's a great time to plant kale, Valarie! I haven't seen any kale plants in the nurseries recently, but it's easy to start the seeds. I'd suggest starting them inside either under a florescent light, or in a sunny window, as it can be challenging sprouting seeds outside in this heat. A couple of weeks after they've sprouted, move them outside to a sheltered spot that receives some morning sun. Make sure to keep them watered. You can either transplant them into a large pot, or transfer them to a sunny garden spot in the ground a week or so after that. Try to keep the soil moist while they're small. Kale is an excellent crop to start in mid-to-late summer. It will be ready to harvest starting around September. You can cut the outer leaves every week or so and leave the rest to keep growing. Kale gets sweeter and tastier as the weather gets cooler in late summer and fall, and even sweeter after frost. Some varieties will keep growing well into late fall or even early winter. Last year during the mild winter I had kale that grew all winter and kept going into the spring. I have dinosaur kale still growing that was planted last spring. I cut it back in March, and it resprouted and is still going strong! Asian red kale grew through winter, and I harvested the rest of it April to make room for spring vegetables. Kale planted in the ground will be more hardy and more likely to survive winter than if it's in pots.
Mary July 15, 2012 at 01:19 PM
I am rather unfamiliar with kale. Any suggestions for its use before I try growing it?
Barb Ferrari July 15, 2012 at 02:36 PM
Mary, The follow up article to this story includes a hearty kale & pasta recipe. When our kale harvests have been big, we have made baked kale chips, sauteed kale with garlic, lemon and pine nuts, and added julienned kale to soups and sauces. I'm sure there are other kale lovers out there who have great suggestions as well. Barb
Ron Kremer (Editor) July 15, 2012 at 02:38 PM
Mary: Kale is a dark, leafy lettuce-like veggie. It can be sort of "earthy" because of the texture and stems (like spinach). In this heat, you might want to start a few seeds indoors, let them grow and then transplant them outdoors when the temperatures begin to drop later this fall.
Linda T July 15, 2012 at 04:51 PM
I second Barb's suggestion about adding kale to soups and sauces. I freeze some kale for use over the winter for just that purpose. Kale is one of the most nutrient-dense veggies we can grow in our gardens. Our dog eats a (mostly raw) homemade diet made from locally-raised, pastured meats, a few supplements, and steamed veggies from our garden, especially kale because we grow a lot of it and it's so nutritious. Kale is great in homemade sauerkraut. The young, tender leaves are delicious in salads. This is my favorite kale salad: http://gardengirl-lintys.blogspot.com/2010/11/tuscan-kale-salad.html
Linda T July 15, 2012 at 05:03 PM
Steamed or sauteed kale is also really delicious in egg dishes. I like it in omelets and scrambled eggs. One of my favorite omelets includes sauteed kale, onions, and sweet peppers, local, pastured eggs, and feta or other goat cheese - yum! If you don't like goat cheeses, parmesan, asiago, or whatever is your favorite kind of cheese will be good in it too, or you can just skip the cheese if you don't like it.


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