The Tenant Gardener - @brittato
From community gardening to rented backyards, September’s Gardener of the Month @brittato loves to stretch the boundaries of gardening in non-owned spaces. She’s an experienced gardener who has found a way to garden wherever she is, which makes her a great resource for new gardeners that don’t own large lots of land. A unique combination of passion and organization, @brittato has many great tips and tricks to share. Get ready for some serious knowledge and inspiration in this month’s interview!
What inspired you to start gardening?
I’ve been gardening for as long as I can remember. Growing up on a quarter-acre suburban lot, my dad would plant tomatoes, peppers, corn, zucchini, squash, and peas every summer, and my mom would preserve our harvests for my family to enjoy throughout the year.
When I moved into my first apartment in Minneapolis, it felt like summer was incomplete without a garden, so I rented a plot in my local community garden, eventually joining the steering committee of my neighborhood collective. This was an incredible learning experience, and I gained a wealth of knowledge on organic practices and tips and tricks for cultivating interesting plants in our cooler climate. As I came to understand more about the beneficial impact gardening offers to the environment and the reduction in my carbon footprint by becoming more self-sufficient, it was easy to develop a passion to continue growing my own food.
Describe your garden.
I am lucky to steward a duplex rental in south Minneapolis that provides me with ample gardening space and a number of perennials to enjoy—lovingly referred to as the Sasquatch Squash Patch.
Although the city lot is somewhat small--about 0.1 acre--the majority of the backyard is divided up into gardening space featuring two rectangular plots. The north-side plot butts up against red raspberry canes, blackcaps, and a sour cherry tree. In this plot, I’ve planted pole beans, snap peas, tomatillos, habaneros, sweet onion, popcorn and sweet corn, vining squash, cucumber, zucchini, and annual and perennial herbs.
The south-side plot features a border of asparagus, and since it gets a bit more sun, this is my tomato and pepper garden. Some of my mainstay plants are beefsteak, cherry, and paste tomatoes, jalapenos, Hungarian wax peppers, kale, ground cherries, zinnias, chamomile, and garlic. In the spring, a patch of tulips appears in the corner to welcome the coming season.
I also nurture a row of rhubarb along a fence line, butterfly gardens, grapes tethered to the back porch, a rotating parade of containers and pots, and occasionally a straw bale or two.
Each year, I modify the location and spacing of my plants based on lessons learned from prior season, and this allows me to plant more varieties and increase my yield. On any given year, I cultivate between 40-50 varieties of vegetables, herbs, fruits, and flowers. To accommodate a relatively short growing season, I start seeds indoors in early March.
Do you cook? What’s your favorite dish to make with your harvest?
I adore cooking with my fresh harvests, but my true passion lies in canning and preserving.
My favorite recipe is the Roasted Salsa Verde from Ball’s Fresh Preserving website. I make three to four batches a year, or about 15 pints, and it’s so delicious that I have no trouble devouring it all or gifting it throughout the winter. It’s a true taste of summer.
Baked zucchini fries are also something I look forward to, and the following recipe works just fine with mega-sized zucchini—just remove the seedy parts first:
Slice fresh zucchini or summer squash into ½ inch thick fries, removing spongy and seedy sections.
Then toss with beaten egg and coat the fries with a mix of breadcrumbs and grated parmesan cheese.
Spread the fries onto a greased rimmed baking sheet and bake at 425 for 20-25 minutes, flipping halfway through.
Delicious with ranch dipping sauce.
What’s one piece of advice you would give a beginner gardener?
Embrace your zone. There’s so much success to be had wherever you are, but it can get discouraging if you don’t work with the timing of your hardiness zone. It also helps to follow gardening bloggers and social media accounts that live in a similar climate.
Do you have any other hobbies?
Absolutely! Along with canning and preserving, I enjoy fermenting and dehydrating my harvests. A dish of homemade sauerkraut or pickles always hits the spot.
I also love to knit and spin yarn, fish, camp, hike, and spend time with my family and two wonderful nephews.
Butternut squash! In my limited space, it’s an invigorating challenge to figure out where to train the vines, but the payoff is so worth it. Butternut squash are delicious and store for months into the winter. They also make a fabulous substitute for pumpkin in a pie.
Tell us something that most people don’t know about you.
I keep track of my garden in spreadsheets! I have one accounting for how much I harvest and when, another for starting seeds, another tracking information on my seed packets, another following my canning projects, and more. Google Sheets has been a lifesaver! I started doing this a couple years ago when I realized that I was relying on my Instagram archive to remind me when to do particular tasks, like planting and harvesting garlic or which recipe I followed for a certain preserve.
Anything else you’d like to share?
You can follow my gardening, canning, and knitting adventures through my Instagram accounts: @brittato and @sasquatchsquashpatch
Thanks to Burpee for the opportunity to share a snippet of my story!
As we approach the end of the summer season, many gardeners are thinking about how to save their harvests. We’ll be sharing ideas on Instagram here! Also, check out our blog for more recipes like these Dill Pickle Spears.