This post was most recently updated on May 17th, 2015
Over the past several years, my husband and I have made changes in our lifestyle designed to allow us more freedom – both financially and time-wise. We moved out of a town where the taxes and utility costs were sky high, into a much smaller house in the country where living expenses are lower. We paid off our cars and kept them, rather than trading them off for newer rides with high payments. I started clipping coupons and using them in conjunction with sale prices at the store to slash our grocery bill. We paid cash for a small, fuel-efficient car to use when taking kids back and forth to dance classes, sports practices and running errands in town and use our big SUV only for those times when the whole family has to travel together. We cook at home rather than eating out, except for the occasional treat and we cut our entertainment costs by subscribing to a low cost DVD rental service instead of taking our family of 6 to the incredibly costly movie theater. The exception, of course, is our summer-time tradition of going to our local drive-in movie theater – something that is more affordable than the regular theater and much more fun. In short, we scaled back on our spending and made choices based on where we wanted to be in the long term, rather than what we wanted right now. And while it isn’t always easy or pleasant, it’s paying off. Despite this terrible economy, we’re managing to keep our bills paid, feed, clothe, provide fun extra-curricular activities for our 4 kids, give them a superior education through home schooling and occasionally take some family trips.
One of the things we’ve always done – although it’s become more important to our more frugal lifestyle in recent years – is raise a garden. At our old house, in our old town, growing a garden was so easy and we always had an abundance of wonderful produce to eat fresh, preserve or share with family and friends. Then we moved to our current location and discovered that the soil here is not nearly as productive. Going on 5 years of severe drought conditions hasn’t helped, either. But each winter we plot and scheme: Raised beds, chicken manure, careful notes on production and yield, watering schedules, companion planting lists and detailed drawings of garden layout are only a few of the improvements we’ve made over the years. And every spring we optimistically work the beds and plant our little hearts out, hoping for bumper crops of our favorites like tomatoes, lettuce, cantaloupe, watermelon, peppers, cucumbers and green beans. As it turns out, however, the only thing that really seems to grow well around here is squash. Yellow squash, zucchini squash, spaghetti squash or acorn squash – it all produces in abundance no matter what the weather conditions. Each year our crisper drawers are flooded with summer squash and we vow to plant fewer plants the next year. But no matter how few plants we grow, the number of squashes outnumbers every other item in the garden.
Last summer, when I was in the middle of a complicated pregnancy with Number 4 and not allowed to do much of anything, we had squash running out our ears. My husband and oldest son went out and diligently picked the garden, brought in the bounty and helped me work it up for the freezer. I shredded it and used it for sauces and quick breads; cubed it up for soups and stews; sliced it up for frying or filling for veggie wraps. We made loaf after loaf of bread using both yellow squash and zucchini (there’s virtually no difference in the flavor of the bread, incidentally, when you use yellow squash instead – it’s mostly there for moisture anyway) and froze what we didn’t eat. We only had 3 yellow squash plants and 2 zucchini. Clearly that was too many. So this year we planted 2 yellow squash plants and 1 lonely zucchini plant. To date, we’ve produced enough summer squash and zucchini to feed a small country. My daughters, one afternoon, made SIX batches of quick bread for the freezer and didn’t even make a dent in the amount of squash in the refrigerator on the back porch. I’ve used it in every single dish I’ve cooked over the past 3 months – salads, veggie wraps, casseroles, skillet meals. I’ve given away as much as I can get anyone to take. I’ve roasted it, fried it, baked it – tried to hide it in just about everything – and my children have had enough. “Please,” they say, “we can’t eat another bite of squash.” And when I mentioned to my husband that we needed to do something about the bugs in the garden, my kids actually started cheering for the squash bugs! Needless to say, they are done with squash. Over it, completely, in fact. Even the idea of delicious quick bread for breakfast or snacks hasn’t brought them around. So I decided to put a stop to the squash production and move our focus to a fall garden. I told them we would pull up the remaining plants and work up the beds for pumpkins – something they are excited about because Halloween is rapidly approaching and jack-‘o-lanterns are much more appealing, apparently. They cheered and expressed their gratitude and spent an inordinate amount of time saying good riddance to squash. It was very cute. I wonder what they’ll say when I tell them how well our acorn squash plants are doing?