Fresh From the DIY Backyard Farm

Adventures in Slow Cooking

Greg CarboneSoup's on!
Soup's on ... or is it?

My family may live in the garden state, but there is not much edible gardening going on in January. Right now our edible gardens are bare except for a few lacinato kale plants that stand tall like guards over sacred grounds. With sunshine so minimal, there is little to draw us outside. Now we know why so many animals hibernate through winter!

Still, we press on by filling our evenings with activities by the fire and our weekends with as much outside time as possible. It is on those weekends that we value our slow cooker more than ever. Our shiny machine quietly goes about its day, turning various mixtures of great ingredients into aromatic pots of amazement. It is our silent sous chef!

Last weekend, we planned a full day outside in what the local weather person called “abundant sunshine.” We knew we needed to slow cook something amazing in order to enjoy our day and avoid coming home “hangry.” There is nothing worse than trying to make a meal when tired and hungry!

So in went some locally-made sausage that we browned in a pan and deglazed with red wine. Not too much meat, but enough to add flavor and satisfying goodness. Next we added 13 different types of beans — hey, 13 is a lucky number in many parts of the world. Then the broth, diced tomatoes, and a multitude of dried herbs from our gardens. The final ingredient would be the aforementioned, backyard-grown kale. We usually throw it in during the last hour of cooking.

What an amazing day of sun and fun! We got much needed fresh air and some natural vitamin D from our friend in the sky. All the while, each of us — youngest to oldest — thought of the aromas that would welcome us upon arrival home. There is nothing like the warm hug those slow-cooker smells give you after a day outside.

As we opened our mudroom door, we took in breaths so deep we thought we would collapse the very walls of our home. Our nostrils were ready to rejoice. One big breath, then another, and another. Wait, where is the aroma? Smaller, quick breaths followed. We all headed to the kitchen, expecting to see that our slow cooker was stolen by hungry thieves or a local bear that refused to hibernate.

Nope. We found it sitting on our kitchen counter looking much like we had left it. Once the initial shock wore off, we realized the slow cooker was cooked. At some point it simply stopped working, and our dinner was ruined. Our silent sous chef quit without giving notice! Thankfully, some scrambled eggs and whole grain toast saved the day and allowed us to enjoy a healthy satisfying "breakfast for dinner."

Has your slow cooker ever died without giving notice?

5 Foods You Can Grow to Save the Most Money

Greg CarboneFinancial experts say The Great Recession we experienced a few years back created a new generation of savers. Everywhere you look people are seeking ways to save money while improving their overall qualities of life.

Growing your own food can certainly save you money. Plus, it helps to create a much healthier lifestyle. After all, it is harder to eat unhealthy when you have a farmers market right in your backyard. The popularity of home grown vegetables, fruits and herbs combined with people's desires to live healthier have combined to form an encouraging trend. I created the DIY Backyard Farm to help enable more people to grow their own healthy delicious produce.

When it comes to saving money, not all edible plants are created equal. Here are my Top 5 favorite money saving (and tasty) edible plants to grow:

  • Beets – These amazing plants have a double impact on your “bottom line.” You can eat the beet greens (the leaves and stems) and you can also eat the root portion. Most people are familiar with just eating the root. I like to harvest the greens slowly throughout the season while allowing the beet root to grow. This can be accomplished by removing a few of the outer leaves. Do not pick the center leaves.


  • Kale – Kale has a really long growing season if you care for and harvest it right. We harvest pound after pound of it from May – January here on The DIY Backyard Farm. To ensure a long growing season just harvest the leaves that are away from the center and top of the plant. Usually these are the lower, more mature leaves of the kale plant.


  • Tomatoes – Have you looked at tomato prices lately? They are outrageous! Heirloom tomatoes in particular can set you back $7.99 a pound or more in fancy supermarkets. Not so on the DIY Backyard Farm. We grow hundreds of pounds of tomatoes each season. All our tomatoes are heirloom, non GMO and totally organic. I feel you can't put a price on such quality. However, at an average price of say $5 a pound, we are talking well over $1,000 of “return” on a really small investment.


  • Lettuce – $3.99 on sale for a plastic shell container of organic lettuce. That is a sale price? For us a sale price is nearly free and right in our own yard. We have rows of lettuce in our edible garden and even a few containers of it sitting close to the house for quick picking. Plus, lettuce can be started early and grown all season if done right. The most challenging part is growing it in hot summer weather. Look for varieties that are more heat tolerant and also companion plant lettuce in the shade produced by larger plants (like tomatoes).


  • Berries – last, but certainly not least. Choose any berry you like, they are all expensive at the market. Grow them at home and you are talking serious savings! Our most exotic berry is the golden raspberry. Sweet, delicate and beautiful equals expensive, unless you grow your own. I rarely even see golden raspberries in the store or at farmers markets. However, when I have they are usually $5 to $7 for a half pint! Imagine growing 15 to 20 pints of these berries from just two plants. Now that is some serious savings!

golden raspberries

Virtually any vegetable, fruit or herb grown at home will save you money and probably offer higher nutrients and taste than anything you can find in the store. What edible plants are you growing this season?