Variety is the spice of life

Variety is the spice of life

After my first book was published, I was being interviewed on a radio talk show, and the host asked me if we ever get bored with our food. You know, since we grow almost all of our own, we must get bored eating the same thing all the time, right? Uh, no. Not even close!

The simple fact is that we have far more variety in our diet than most people, and we are able to eat lots of foods that are too expensive or are simply not available to buy, such as purple jalapeños and red okra.

 Homemade salsa with several types of tomatoes and peppers


Amana orange tomatoes

In addition to our own beef, pork, lamb, chicken, turkey, and the occasional goose, we also grow dozens of different vegetables that most Americans have never seen.

While many people don’t even know that there are any tomatoes out there beyond the supermarket red tomato and grape or cherry tomatoes, which are both red, we usually grow six or seven different types of tomatoes — Amana orange, yellow brandywine, green zebra, and cherokee purple, just to name a few. The red tomato is actually my least favorite, although some varieties are more tasty than others.

We make yellow, orange, white, green, and brownish-purple tomato soup. We use striped Roman tomatoes to make all of our own pizza sauce, which is more tomatoey than anything I’ve tasted anywhere. Green zebra tomatoes make a delicious quiche and a tomato-mozzarella-basil sandwich that is out of this world. And there are hundreds more varieties of tomatoes from which to choose!

Lettuces from the low tunnel in December

We grow a dozen different types of lettuce and salad greens that all have their own unique flavor and appearance, such as lolla rossa, oak leaf, florellenschluss, deer tongue, red iceberg, and more.

Salad greens beyond the lettuce family include arugula and mache. And then there are red mustard greens, collards, Swiss chard, and spinach for cooking.

By using low tunnels to grow through the winter, we are able to produce all of our own greens from September through June.

Sauteed summer squash medley with garlic and basil chiffonade

While most people are only familiar with zucchini and yellow crookneck squash, we also have lemon squash, golden zucchini, and patty pan, which is my favorite summer squash.

In the winter squash family, we have acorns, butternut, blue hubbard, sweet potato squash, and my favorite, spaghetti squash.

Convinced yet? I could go on. We plant more than 100 different varieties of vegetables, and our garden is only one-seventh of an acre, which is half the size of most suburban lots.

In addition to the vegetables, we have fruit trees and bramble fruits. In their first year of production each pear tree averaged more than 25 pounds of fruit — that was only three years after we planted them.

In addition to eating pears fresh, we put them on salads and in desserts, and we canned them. We had plain canned pears and spiced pear butter, which is really tasty in oatmeal. With our apples, we canned plain apples, as well as caramel apple butter, applesauce, and apple preserves.

And then there is the maple syrup. Most people can only afford to use it on pancakes, waffles, and French toast, but we use it as the sweetener in a number of recipes, such as ginger cookies, granola, and pork roast.

We just finished maple sugaring for this spring, and we have four and a half gallons. Sounds like a lot, but we’ll use most of that before next spring arrives. We were able to make five gallons last year, and we’ve almost finished it.

With the addition of bee hives on the farm, we are looking at almost completely eliminating the purchase of commercial sugar, which is often made from genetically-modified sugar beets.

Berries also tend to be too expensive for most people to use in abundance. Through the summer we eat a lot of berry crisps and cobblers, and we drink a lot of smoothies. I make a raspberry crisp that uses six cups of raspberries, which would cost about $20 from the grocery store — and my berries are organic. We also freeze berries for using through the winter.

Speaking of smoothies, we make our own yogurt, as well as buttermilk and a multitude of cheeses from the common to the obscure. In addition to cheddar and mozzarella and the cheeses that everyone has heard of, we also make some that were totally new to use before we started making cheese, such as gjetost, an incredibly rich Scandinavian brown cheese made from whey.

As I said in Homegrown & Handmade, variety is one reason we grow our own food. So, if you’ve been thinking that you don’t want to give up something that you’re currently buying, think about it a little more. Maybe you don’t really have to give it up. If it’s one of those processed foods that isn’t good for you, odds are good that you can replace it with something homegrown and handmade that tastes even better, costs less, and is good for you!

For more information

Can you tell the difference between edible and poisonous berries?

Celebrating summertime with the best varieties of tomatoes

Planning the Sustainable Garden: What Will You Grow?


Variety is the spice of life

9 thoughts on “Variety is the spice of life”

  1. I am just salivating reading about everything you grow and its abundance! I only live on .4 of an acre, but I am striving to grow as much as I can on it.

  2. My hubby won't eat any lettuce but iceberg, sadly. The few leaf lettuces I have tried seemed… tart? bitter? bitey? but maybe that's because I don't grow my own.

    I love your yellow tomatoes. They remind me of baby pumpkins.
    Do you have recipes in your book, or is it mostly a handbook on how to do things in a more healthy way?
    I've not seen a copy yet, but I am thinking I will order it. Probably from Amazon.

    Good post. I enjoyed it.

  3. Old lettuce or overly mature lettuce is bitter. Lettuce fresh from the garden is heavenly. I tolerate salad in restaurants, but it doesn't come close to the delicious, mild flavor of most lettuce fresh from the garden. There are hundreds of varieties of lettuce, and I have had a couple that I will never grow again, but the vast majority of lettuce is not bitter when freshly harvested.

    There are quite a few recipes in H&H. If you look at the top of the web page, there is a link for "About the book," and there is a complete table of contents on there, so you can see what's included.

    There are 250,000 books published every year by traditional publishers (and another million are self-published), so smaller bookstores can't even come close to carrying all of them. If it is not on the shelf at your local bookstore, they can order it for you. You can also get it through Amazon,, or the "Buy" link at the top of this page, if you'd like an autographed copy from me.

  4. Linda, Buttercrisp lettuce is a great starter lettuce!! I personally have found it to be the go to lettuce for no bitterness at pretty much any stage.

  5. Thanks for all the information, Deborah.

    And thank you, too, Rachel!

    I think maybe when we start homesteading, I might try lettuce as a winter crop. (Louisiana)

  6. Now you've done it. Raised the bar again. I have so many more varieties to choose for this years garden. Thanks. I think

  7. Thanks for a well timed post, for me! Each day we get closer to moving to our new house and each day I get more excited about our homesteading dreams. I cannot wait to start our gardens! Curious – what gardening "techniques" do you use? I am planning to construct a few boxes to use the square foot gardening technique for this year – mainly because I don't have a lot of time to prepare garden beds with the stress and bustle of finishing the house and moving. I've also read about lasagna gardening – I might make some beds using that technique this fall. Thanks for any insight 🙂

  8. My gardening methods are fully explained in my book, Homegrown & Handmade. In a nutshell, it's super simple. I kill grass by depriving it of light, water, and air, and I plant stuff. I don't use any "techniques." My philosophy is to keep it as simple as possible and keep costs down to practically nothing. Over the years, I have added a few raised beds and added some stuff for plants to climb on, but that's as complicated as I get.


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