Interviews with Neighbors: What Gardening Means to the Beavens
INTRODUCTION, by George Kasten: We are very lucky to live in Bradford Woods for many reasons. Having high quality farm markets within two miles is a significant factor for many residents. Modern supermarkets offer much convenience, but all chefs know that there is no substitute for the freshest produce. Local produce can be grown for its flavor and nutritional value, its transportability, color appeal, or shelf life. We’d like to introduce you to the family of Dan and Tanya Beaven. They have taken the notion of fresh healthy produce to a very high level, while instilling values of teamwork and self-sufficiency in their children. We asked them to tell us about their garden and that discussion follows below.
Can you tell us a little about yourselves and about your gardening experiences? Like, for instance, Tanya: I know you’ve been around gardens and vegetables since you were a little girl growing up in Russia, right? What was that like?
T: Yes, like most Russians our family has a ‘dacha’, which is a country house, a cottage really, where we spend a lot of time in the summer and grow all kinds of vegetables, fruits and berries. We would eat from it all summer into fall, and can and pickle enough to have food from it all year. Not that we could live off only that, but it was enough to enjoy throughout the year.
What about you Dan, did you grow up in Pa and did your family grow a garden?
D: I spent my childhood in the suburbs of Boston and New York about equally split between both places. I moved to Pgh in 2001 for graduate school after Tanya and I were married. Growing up, we always had a small garden in the places we had enough land for it, and I have a lot of fond memories of working it with my parents. It pales in comparison to what my wife’s family does though. However, we grew up eating clean, whole food and understanding that anything processed or packaged always came with some compromise.
Dan, can you talk about what it took to start your garden? I mean, did you look out your back window one day and see a vision or something like that and take it from there? How was it dealing with the soil, all the clay and rocks and such?
D: Sure! Yes, it was kind of like that. We wanted a garden, but also a large area for the kids to play. So, we chose this section on the edge of the yard that gets at least enough sun to work as a garden. There are more ideal places in the yard, but aesthetic and play-space were factors. We surrounded it with a traditional locust post and hemlock rail horse-fence, which I got from a place in Beaver – much longer lasting and attractive the pressure treated from Lowes, and about the same cost. I used a posthole digger to set the posts, which I recommend as the clay and shale is rough to dig by hand. We used rabbit fence to line the inside of it, which you can hardly see from a distance. So it looks much nicer than a 7ft black plastic net like I have seen. We’re lucky that the deer don’t seem to want to jump it even though it’s only about 5ft. I think they have enough to eat in Bradfordwoods to work that hard 😉
What all do you grow, do you rotate crops? What’s the first thing to pop up in the spring and what is the last before winter comes upon us?
T: We grow tomatoes, cucumbers, different peppers, peas, green beans, lettuce, spinach, zucchini, pumpkins, watermelon, kale, beets, radishes, black radishes, carrots, scallions, black, white and red currants, yellow and red raspberries, gooseberries, wild strawberries, garlic, Swiss chard, horseradish, sorrel, eggplants and probably some other things I can’t remember. You don’t want to grow too much of one thing, but instead have a lot of variety and rotate timing so you get things all summer and into late fall.
Did you ever try to grow something you’ve never tried before or try a different technique to improve yield and if so how did that all work out for you?
T: We’ve tried a lot of things, some have worked and others not. We haven’t had a lot of luck with melons, as I don’t think we get enough direct sun for them to grow big enough and be sweet. The berries have better and worse years depending on the weather, which is true for everything I guess. We have tried using natural pesticides and I think we see some success with that. To increase yield and support the soil, we use compost, peat moss and horse manure, which we get from a horse farm in Sewickley. We just did that once actually, but got a couple tons or more at one time. You don’t have to go crazy with it. It helps to rotate, which we do, and plant cover crops in the fall but we’ve been too lazy to that.
How much time do you devote to tending your garden say on a weekly basis?
T: We do a big push on a couple of weekends in the spring. It depends on how ambitious we are that year, but it’s not that much work once you have been doing it. You have to weed and tend to it during the season, but it’s relaxing after work. If you spend 3-4 hours a week on a small garden, you can manage just fine, which is not that much when you think of going out a few evenings and maybe spending a few hours over the weekend. Actually, there are time when it is less and others when it’s more.
D: I help with the big push to turn soil and get ready for the season, and do some throughout the season, but Tanya is more regular than I am.
Do your kids work in the garden with you and if so how did you get them to help? What sort of responsibilities do they have?
D: That’s the great thing about having them get older and able to do stuff. They can all help now. The one year they did the first roadside stand at the end of the driveway, it was magical. They couldn’t believe they could make $62 selling stuff they grew for ‘free’ in the backyard. We had them keep ½ and split the rest between the church and firehall. The BWFD actually came by in a fire truck to say thank you. It’s just one more reason we love living here! We joked that they were sharecroppers after that.
From the kid’s perspective, Zander, Sophia and Eva. Can you tell us what your favorite things to eat from the garden are?
Zander: Raspberries and Peas
Sophia: Raspberries, Peas and Wild Strawberries
Eva: Raspberries, Carrots and Wild Strawberries
How about your least favorite? Do you have to eat all your veggies before you can have a sweet? That’s how it was in my house growing up!
Zander: Black Currants and Radishes
Sophia: Black Currants and Radishes
Eva: Black Currants and Radishes
Where do you buy your seeds? Do you save seeds each year for the next and if so which ones are best to save and how do you store them?
T: I do collect seeds for dill, cilantro and other herbs. Oh, I forgot to mention all the herbs. We grow those and parsley. We buy organic seeds, which are not expensive and usually get them anywhere it’s convenient. You can keep a lot of seeds for more than one year if you keep them pretty dry and cool. The yield decreases some, but not much.
How much produce winds up being canned, preserved or frozen. Is there enough to get your family of five through a winter? When do you start putting up your leftover bounty?
T: We consume all the greens. About 80% of the tomatoes we can, and as many cucumbers as we get extra, which really depends. We freeze the black currants and make jam. All the other berries we eat as they come out as you can see by the kids answers 😉 The canning therefore starts right after the harvest time, which varies for each thing. Overall, we probably keep about 15-20% of what we grow to eat later. It’s probably enough to eat for a few weeks or maybe a month, but we don’t grow enough to sustain through the winter.
Are there things you grew in Russia, Tanya, that you don’t or can’t grow here?
T: My parents’ garden is amazing and they grow much more on the same size plot than we can. It almost seems impossible how much yield they get. They have pear and apple trees, and they grow some other berries we don’t have here, but I don’t know their English names.
Do people with big, wonderful gardens have more friends?
D: We really do enjoy having friends over to grill fresh vegetables in the summer, and just sit and relax in view of the garden. Our friends seem to enjoy it a lot, and perhaps there are more of them around in the summer 😉
Final question: If you had to put your best gardening advice into one sentence for us what would it be?
D: Start small and grow something easy you enjoy, like tomatoes and add a few things as you get into it; nothing motivates like success!
My beloved Russian mother made us borsch a lot in the winter time. Tanya, I’ve had yours and it is divine! Second final question: Would you consider sharing Borsch recipe?
Borscht is originally Ukrainian but it is made by most Slavic people and is a very common food in Russia. If you didn’t make it to the Olympics in Sochi this year, you’ll still get a taste of Russia when you try this borscht. It will also help you to loosen up those tense shoulders as you watch the Olympics (it makes me so anxious to watch! You?). By the way, Borscht, Borsch, Borshch… potatoes, patawtos).
Skill Level: Medium
Cost To Make: $9-$12
- 1 lb Beef: sirloin, stew meat, or whatever kind of beef you like, really (bone-in or boneless *see note)
- 14 cups cold water
- 1 Tbsp salt + more to taste
- 2 large or 3 medium beets, washed, peeled and grated
- 4 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 Tbsp vinegar
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- 2 Tbsp tomato sauce, or paste (or 3 Tbsp ketchup)
- 1 Tbsp butter
- 1 medium onion, finely diced
- 2 carrots, grated
- 2 large or 3 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced into bite-sized pieces
- ½ head of small cabbage, sliced
- 2 tomatoes, peeled and diced (**see note)
- 2 bay leaves
- ¼ tsp freshly ground pepper
- ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley + more for garnish
- 2 cloves garlic, pressed
- Garnish: Sour cream and fresh sprigs of parsley or dill.
- Wash meat in cold water, cut into 1″ pieces and and place in a large soup pot with 14 cups cold water and 1 Tbsp salt. Bring it to a boil and remove the foam crud as soon as it boils (if you wait, it will be hard to get rid of the crud as it integrates into the broth and you’d have to strain it later). Reduce heat, partially cover and simmer 45 minutes – 1 hr, periodically skimming off any crud that rises to the top.
- Grate beets on the large grater holes (a food processor works amazingly well). Place them in a large heavy-bottom skillet with 4 Tbsp olive oil and 1 Tbsp vinegar and saute for 5 minutes, then reduce heat to med/low and add 1 Tbsp sugar and 2 Tbsp tomato sauce Mix thoroughly and saute until starting to soften, stirring occasionally (about 10 min). Remove from pan and set aside.
- In the same skillet (no need to wash it), Saute onion in 1 Tbsp butter for 2 min. Add grated carrot and sautee another 5 min or until softened, adding more oil if it seems too dry.
- Once the meat has been cooking at least 45 min, place sliced potatoes into
- the soup pot and cook 10 min, then add cabbage, sauteed beets, onion & carrot, and chopped tomatoes. Cook another 10 minutes or until potatoes can be easily pierced with a fork.
- Add 2 bay leaves, ¼ tsp pepper, and more salt to taste (I added another ½ tsp salt).
- Chop parsley and pressed garlic then stir them into the soup pot, immediately cover and remove from heat. Let the pot rest covered for 20 minutes for the flavors to meld
*P.S. Pork can be used also. And if your meat has a bone in it, place it in the water whole. After it boils for 45 min to 1 hour, remove it from soup, cut away and discard the bone and cut meat into 1″ pieces).
**To peel whole tomatoes, blanch them in boiling hot water for 30-45 seconds, then transfer to cold water and the skin should peel right off.