From Our Table to YOURS: Backyard Bounty with a Raised Garden

Aug 02, 2022 at 09:18 am by RMGadmin

Hey Baby, Let’s Plant a (Raised) Garden in the Backyard

with Shelly Robertson Birdsong (and input from Farmer Johnny Birdsong)

One of my fondest memories of childhood is playing in, and of course, eating the results from, my grandparent’s garden in east Tennessee. Actually, their lot and my great-grandmother’s met in the middle, so the combined garden could run the length of both their backyards. There was everything from potatoes, corn, (many hours spent playing hide and seek amongst the corn stalks!), green beans, squash, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers; You name it – they grew it. We even had apple trees we loved to climb, berry bushes and grape vines for a few seasons. 
There is nothing better than fresh vegetables, especially when homegrown. We also loved to watch canning happening with everything from stewing tomatoes to my grandmother’s homemade jam and Papa’s homemade pickles. I can literally still smell and taste these things when I think about those days spent in her kitchen. What a gift to grow up in that way. 
Johnny’s family are professional farmers in Kentucky, with working farms that continue to provide a bounty and a living for his relatives. Growing up with farming and gardening always around us as the norm, is probably why we are both inclined to want to have a garden, but living in downtown as we do, one might think this would be an impossibility. However, surprisingly, we were able to accomplish this year’s major project – a raised garden – with much success.
Thanks to Facebook Market, I was able to locate and purchase a customized raised bed, as I mentioned, made for me, so that carpentry task was avoided! Then as luck would have it, while I was still working to convince Mr. Birdsong that a garden was possible in such a contained space… we had the opportunity, as part of our Nashville’s Big Backyard feature, to visit The Farm & Fiddle co-op garden and farm in Sante Fe. The lady of the farm, Samantha Lamb, was able to tell us exactly what to do to set up the raised garden properly. 
To start, find the best spot for growing. It’s a much safer bet to go with a lot of sun than not enough. Once you pick the spot, say goodbye to the grass there and place the bed. Next, make sure you have plenty of cardboard boxes, sticks or wood to line the bottom and raise up for proper irrigation. This was reportedly extremely essential to success. I kid you not, again sidebar of serendipity here to this gardening thing – we own a magazine, as luck would have it, and so we have lots of empty cardboard boxes! AND the week we visited with Samantha and were pondering this project – a rather unexpected and scary storm brought the neighbor’s tree down onto our fence. So, voila – excess wood! 
We did purchase river rock to add to the drainage capacity and per Samantha’s very specific instructions for success. Once this was all laid inside the structure, then it was just bag upon bag of soil. Miracle Grow Raised Bed Garden Soil, to be exact. For this bed, it took twenty bags, but that depends on the size and depth of your bed. Once this was done, it was time to plant. Plant by Tax Day (April 15th) and pick by July 4th, according to my Kentucky boy when it comes to tomatoes. Well, thanks to our unusually cooler and very rainy spring, we were a few weeks past Tax Day, but set about planting what Samantha graciously sent us home with – her started plantings of squash, jalapenos, kale, two types of basil, parsley, and three varieties of tomatoes she swore would rock our world. Johnny added a fourth option he picked up at the local stand, so we planted, watered and waited. 
I will say, Johnny has done the hard work. He planted and has been watering morning and night religiously, even bribing with extra perks for house sitters over the summer to ensure our crop made it! But seriously, I had no expectation of our haul. Squash came fast and furious, followed quickly by peppers and kale. The herbs exploded, and an awesome basil odor filled the yard this spring. Soon enough the blossoms of our multiple kinds of tomatoes began to show. 
Now that the crop was in, my job began. You do have to start getting creative when it comes to recipes with the overflowing surplus of tomatoes and basil, especially… more and more every day. We have beefsteak tomatoes as big as Calhoun’s head, yellow tomatoes that are beyond delicious and these cherry tomatoes from Farm & Fiddle, she told us would be the bomb – are just that and exploding all over our garden by the hundreds. 
It was time to whip up some scrumptious dishes to savor all summer. So, here are a few of my tried-and-true favorites for summer eating – this year made even more wonderful because we grew the contents. It does make a difference. And it does make summer sweeter. 
Who knows, next year we might just add another bed or maybe two? Plant an apple tree and add a row of corn…. as we proved this year, it can be done in any backyard anywhere. And then, of course, you have to have a little of that special brew Johnny is making up in the backyard and feeding our crop twice a day. That secret I bet he never tells. 

1 4-ounce jar Pimiento
3 oz cream cheese
1/2 tsp. hot sauce
1/3-1/2 cup mayonnaise – depending on desired creaminess
1 tsp. mustard
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/4 tsp. black pepper, freshly ground
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. sugar
1 1/2 cups Cheddar cheese, sharp
1 1/2 cups Colby cheese
Soften the cream cheese. Add together mayo, all sauces and condiments along with spices. Blend together by hand. In a food processor grate a block each of white sharp cheddar and orange sharp cheddar. Add grated cheese into mixture – blend together adding more mayonnaise for desired consistency. Cut fresh jalapenos in small pieces and mix in.

2 cups fresh basil leaves, tightly packed
3/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup pine nuts , or walnuts
2 garlic cloves, (large)
1/4 cup lemon juice, (juice of 2 small lemons)
1/2 tsp. salt, or to taste
1/4 tsp. black pepper
Chop your basil in the food processor briefly then add all additional ingredients. Blend until creamy. Serve over angel hair pasta and grilled chicken topped with blistered cherry tomatoes and fresh buffalo mozzarella for an absolutely incredible summer dish – that’s right – straight from YOUR garden!

I have borrowed from several different recipes to create my own but with these basic elements:
1 frozen deep dish pie shell
4 full-size tomatoes or equivalent
Fresh basil leaves and Italian seasoning mix
1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup shredded mozzarella
1 cup shredded Parmesan
Half sweet yellow onion
Preheat oven to 425°F. Slice your tomatoes, place on paper towels and sprinkle with salt. This is EXTREMELY important as it pulls the excess water out of the tomatoes. As we have grown four kinds of tomatoes this year, I used one yellow, one beefsteak, one heirloom for inside the pie, and then halved cherry tomatoes to garnish the top of the pie.
Cook pie shell for approx. 10-15 mins so the bottom inside is mostly done prior to filling. 
Cook half a sliced sweet onion in olive oil and Italian seasoning until clear. Fill bottom of pie shell with onion. 
Once tomatoes are drained – begin filling pie shell atop onion layering with different types of tomatoes. Between layers sprinkle more Italian seasoning. 
Mix mayonnaise and cheeses together, with additional Italian seasoning, garlic, salt and pepper to taste. 
Spread mixture over the top layer of pie. 
Garnish with fresh basil and halved cherry tomatoes.
Bake at 425 for forty-five minutes.

6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, divided
3 lbs. yellow squash, sliced ¼-inch thick (from 5 medium squash)
1 medium-size yellow onion, chopped (about 1 ½ cups)
2 tsp. kosher salt, divided
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 (8-oz) container sour cream
4 oz sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded (about 1 cup)
2 oz Swiss cheese, shredded (about ½ cup)
½ cup mayonnaise
2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
½ tsp. black pepper
2 sleeves round buttery crackers (such as Ritz), coarsely crushed
1 oz Parmesan cheese, shredded (about ¼ cup)
Preheat oven to 350°F. Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium-high. Add squash, onion and 1 teaspoon of the salt; cook, stirring often, until center of squash is just tender, and liquid has evaporated – about 10 minutes. Transfer mixture to a colander set over a bowl. Drain for five minutes; discard any liquid. Stir together eggs, sour cream, Cheddar and Swiss cheeses, mayonnaise, thyme, pepper and the remaining 1 teaspoon salt in a large bowl. Gently fold in squash mixture. Spoon into a lightly greased 11 x 7-inch (2-quart) baking dish. Microwave the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter in a medium-size microwavable bowl on HIGH until melted, about twenty-five seconds. Toss together crackers, Parmesan cheese and melted butter until combined, sprinkle over casserole. Bake in preheated oven until golden brown, about twenty minutes.