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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.”

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 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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