Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Miracles Every Day

Snow on the dogs:



Snow on the boy:



Snow on the blueberry bushes:



Snow everywhere:



In my own mind, miracles are the unexpected things that go my way. These are not to be confused with what a Cajun would call "lagniappe," the unexpected little something extra that comes along with the usual expected events/items, or a bonus. These events stand on their own.

Just lately, I've experienced the Atlanta area's first white Christmas since 1882, the last ping-pong table tomato's not being eaten until TONIGHT (almost the end of December!), and finding a live bat in my kitchen (also tonight!). The mail lately has been stacked high with seed and garden-related catalogues, and everyone at my house is well during the holiday season (usually, someone has a cold). Right now, I am feeling really blessed in this season of miracles (yes, weirdly enough, even with the bat).

If you count as miracles the flashes of insight that sometimes strike people, I've had a couple of those, too. They are both related to a book Joe gave me for Christmas, "The Resilient Gardener," by Carol Deppe, who also wrote "Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties." I am using that second book as a guide in dehybridizing my favorite canary melon.

In "The Resilient Gardener," Deppe points out that she has a large garden only because she and a friend lease a two-acre property on which to grow it. Her own house's yard is too small to grow many veggies. If she can lease garden space, it is likely that I can, too, if I really want more garden space. That is definitely something to think about.

The other insight was something I've suspected but haven't wanted to totally face: if I want to find a really good list of veggies that do well here in metro-Atlanta, I can't wait for a seed company to pull that together for me. I have to make that list myself. It's going to take some work, researching seeds and sources, and it could take years of experimentation. I've been growing veggies here for a long time, but it seems I have a long way to go . . .

Deppe recommends that gardeners begin with seeds from a local, or at least regional, seed company. There isn't one for the Southeast, not really. Park Seed in South Carolina is the closest, but it sells plenty of varieties that are more trendy than region-appropriate.

The next closest seed source that might count as regional is Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, and it is in Virginia.

Locally, my best source so far in a lot of ways is Ladd's Farm Supply up in Euharlee. It offers some seeds, to measure out from bins, that local farmers have been growing for years. It's a good starting point, but its offerings also have a lot to do with what is commercially available. For example, the owner would like to offer some other varieties in particular that customers have asked for, but hasn't found a good source for those.

I have a lot of work ahead of me! That, too, is a miracle. How wonderful it is to have goals and plans.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Food Traditions

I am pretty sure that gardeners think about food more often and in different ways than a lot of non-gardeners. Since I am the only vegetable gardener where I work, and I get to choose most of the news “briefs” that go into the little newspaper for which I work, it wouldn’t be a surprise to any of my gardening friends that the paper contains a fair amount of food related news.

However, a week or so back, a non-gardener asked why we’ve included so much news about kosher foods (it’s a Jewish publication), threats to kosher food rules around the world, new certifications, and sources of information about keeping kosher. My thinking is that food plays a very important role in tying people to their cultures and to their families. The laws of kashrut (kosher lifestyle) are an important part of Judaism, even though not all Jews follow the rules in their daily lives.

Many less observant Jews, though, do follow the kosher laws to the best of their ability during the High Holidays, the holiest days for the community. My belief is that food traditions are a strong connection to community and to the past, that following the food traditions of Judaism during these times provides a great connection to the Jewish community, and can even light a way back to the community for people who have not been actively Jewish in the rest of their lives.

Since I think that community is important for the happiness and well-being of people in general, I keep including information about kosher foods and laws.

I am not Jewish, but my family has some food traditions, too. One that is important to me is making egg-noodles for holiday meals. The dough has to be rolled out, dried for an hour or so, cut into noodles, and then dried some more, so making these noodles doesn’t exactly provide instant gratification, but taking the time to make them connects me to a kitchen-full of older female relatives --an assortment of aunts, great aunts, and grandmothers, now all dead-- who put together huge holiday meals in Claremore, Oklahoma. The noodles, cooked in broth made from chicken “parts,” also connect me to the frugal frontier cookery of my family’s past.

Of course, we have some other food traditions that are less frugal. One is Aunt Mickey’s fruit salad, which includes Jello, whipped cream, and a whole lot of fruits that are not all in season at the same time. I don’t make this one any more, but my Mom does, and so do some nieces (who learned how from Mom/Grammy) and probably a sister or two. We also eat a lot of pie during most holidays, and some of us have convinced ourselves that pumpkin pie, in particular, is a healthful breakfast food.

As a gardener in the Southern US, the foods I grow in the yard help connect me to the South. Sweet potatoes, especially, play a larger role in my winter diet than ever before, because they grow so well in my yard. I’ve been eating more greens, all kinds, and in summer I’ve had tomato sandwiches after my neighbor-across-the-street, a Southern girl, told me how much she likes them. If I had a bigger yard, we would have more corn and more crowder peas.

I would say that these are also foods that mostly grow well in Oklahoma, but when I was a kid we ate a lot of magazine-inspired meals that involved cans of cream of mushroom soup. Holiday foods were an exception (except, obviously, for Aunt Mickey's fruit salad).

As I begin to put together my garden plan for next year, one of the things on my mind is making sure that the varieties are totally appropriate for the place where I live, the Southern US. I’ve made a lot of progress in this direction over the past almost-twenty years, but I sometimes get pulled off-track by the amazing descriptions in seed catalogues. If I choose carefully, though, the foods I grow will be great ingredients for traditional Southern meals.

In this way, gardening and then eating what grows in the yard serves as a reminder of my connection to the geographical and historical place where I live and have raised my family, and to the community that is here.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

A Mexican Food Miracle

The unprotected cilantro survived the hard freeze! We had a low of 14 degrees F in our yard last week, and the cilantro is still there. I had fully expected it to keel over in the cold.

I can't take a picture because Joe has the camera in Austin where he is visiting his mother, but the plant is definitely looking perky and green. In other winters, the cilantro has not made it through such low temperatures.

In other news, my friend Eddie, of the persimmons, sent a correction to the previous post:
The persimmons I gave you were not American but Asian. The tree you got from me might be an American type that has seedless fruit.

He also added that the weeping persimmon's name should be Diospyrus kahki 'pendula.' (Thanks for the update, Eddie!)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Persimmons and a Friend

A friend sent an email note that he had persimmons and did I want any. Of course, the answer was "Yes!" Joe and I went over to to his house, and we saw that our friend's little weeping persimmon tree was loaded with fruit. He stayed with us out in the Very Cold weather, picking persimmons. This is what we brought home:



I have some work to do! These will all need to be washed and then pushed through the ricer to separate the pulp from the skins and large seeds. The work will be worthwhile, though. The flavor of the pulp is exceptional.

My friend Eddie Rhoades grafts fruit trees, and he has grafted a piece of his weeping persimmon onto a sturdy rootstock, so he will have another one of these little trees producing fruit in a few years.

There is a persimmon in my backyard that he grafted. It should produce fruits that have few or no seeds at all. If I am lucky, it will start bearing in another year or two. It has already been out there for two full years, and the scion was from a fairly mature tree.

We have a young Ichi-Ki-Kei-Jiro (Asian persimmon) in the front yard that set three fruits this year, but they disappeared about midsummer. I am hoping for more next summer, and for them to stay on the tree until ripe. This particular persimmon is supposed to be non-astringent even when hard; American persimmons, like those that my friend Eddie gave us, are powerfully astringent until they become fully ripe.

Eddie is also the source of my shiitake mushroom log. His haven't produced mushrooms yet, either, but I am thinking that this spring we will both get plenty.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Seed Catalogues!

The seed catalogues are arriving! Actually, I think most people around here call them catalogs, but either spelling is going to get the idea across.

The first few came last week, but the ones that arrived earliest aren't my favorites. However, yesterday the Fedco catalogue arrived, and today I got one from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. These are two of my three favorites, so I am a very happy woman.

Actually, it is hard to know whether the early arrival is a good thing. On the one hand, the results of the 2010 gardening season are still pretty fresh in my mind, which should make seed selection easier. I won't have forgotten which varieties did really well and which were a total bust. In addition, this makes my husband's seasonal shopping a lot easier. I can just circle what I want, and he can buy it for the next gift-giving occasion. It's hard to think of a better present than the promise of spring.

On the other hand, I haven't had the down-time from gardening that makes a new catalogue in January seem like such a ray of light in the cold and early-dark of winter.

Luckily for me, I can have the best of both worlds. The catalogue for Sand Hill Preservation Center, the other of my "top three" favorites, always arrives in January.

Monday, December 6, 2010

A Hard Freeze on its Way

Over the weekend I saw a weather forecast for my area that included temperatures as low as 19 degrees F. That cold weather should begin tonight, with a predicted low around 23 degrees and colder nights to follow, so I spent some time on Sunday getting the garden ready.

You would think that by now there wouldn't be anything left to do, but there was plenty. The bok choy and broccoli are likely to get "freezer burn" in the low twenties (let alone the high teens), so I harvested all of the best parts of all of those plants. That means I brought in the last two bok choy and the last four heads of broccoli.

When I cut the broccoli, I noticed new ragged edges on the leaves; they were the ragged edges caused by caterpillars, and I was a little surprised to see an actual green and growing cabbage worm on a broccoli leaf. I had thought that the weather had been cold enough to stop those little guys, but I was mistaken.

I also harvested the rest of the winter radishes, the last turnip, and a big bunch of cilantro. These were all out in an unprotected bed, and I didn't want to leave them out to turn mushy. The turnip would have been fine in the cold, but it would have been out there all alone if I left it, and leaving it just seemed wrong somehow.

Also, I brought in a lot of lettuce. This would probably be fine under the plastic tent where it had been growing, but I won't want to pull the plastic back for harvesting while the weather is so cold, and I will want salad before it gets warm. I picked plenty, so we can have lettuce every night for a week or more.

In fact, the lettuce-eating started tonight, with tacos. The beans were prepared using peppers from the garden (chopped and frozen) and a tomato from the ping pong table; lettuce and cilantro from the garden were piled on top.

Also on Sunday I added another sheet of plastic over the top of the little tent that houses the lettuces and some vegetable babies. I thought about doing something with the carrots but decided to just wait to see how they fare.

Here is a picture of winter radishes, Moksha, and me:

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Southern Seed Legacy

The Fall 2010 issue of Seedlink, the newsletter of the Southern Seed Legacy project, contains some news that made me a little sad. SSL, which has been housed in the Anthropology department at UGA, is moving to the University of North Texas (in Denton). This really great project saves heirloom Southern seeds and their histories.

The move is probably good for agrobiodiversity, because it is likely that more seeds and their stories will be able to be gathered as a result of the move, but it seems like a real loss to this state.

One way that Southern seeds have been gathered is by having students hunt them out (visiting old farmers and gardeners to see what they are growing) and then record histories of how the seeds came to the family. A lot of the seeds saved through the project have been beans and southern peas (crowder peas, cowpeas, black-eye peas, etc.), probably because these are easy to save.

To keep the seeds alive, rather than having them all warehoused in a freezer somewhere (although I am sure that some are kept exactly like that), members of the project can request some seed to grow for themselves. This would make the project kind of like a "Johnny Bean Seed," except that one third of the resulting seed is supposed to be shared back with SSL and another third with another gardener. This practice keeps these heirloom Southern seeds alive and in use.

I have not actually requested and grown out any of their seed, but I have taken the idea to heart. I have shared my own favorite crowder peas, "Pigott Family Heirloom," with a few people already, and at least one couple has liked them well enough to save some for subsequent years. This has made me very happy.

My Pigott Family Heirloom peas were purchased through Sand Hill Preservation (one of my top three favorite seed sources), and their catalog, which is pretty much the last one to arrive in the mail each year, says that the variety came from Louisiana.

These are some of the Pigott Family Heirloom peas:



They don't look like much, but they are delicious! Also, they are not available in many places. That is the point of SSL, to find those seeds that are not generally commercially available, seeds that have been grown for generations by a family here in the Southern U.S. so that the seeds are adapted to this region.

I have been supporting SSL for a few years, and I have enjoyed the Seedlink newsletter. I am including an excerpt from the most recent issue here:

Fred Lunsford, an Eastern Cherokee elder and Baptist preacher, told me a story about leather britches that he and his wife preserved and prepared from a Yellow Hull Cornfield bean that he had originally acquired from his grandfather in Clay County, N.C. In 1995, Fred had a heart attack and was asked by the dietitian at the hospital to record the foods he was eating at home. Day after day, leather britches was prominently on the list. The dietitian from the North couldn't figure out why in the world Fred would be eating his leather britches. Well, she tried to investigate by asking the nurses, but Fred was onto her confusion and told them not to tell her what leather britches were. Finally, the dietitian asked the cook if she knew and she replied, "Boy, I reckon I do. I'd like to have me some right now." - Jim Veteto, Director, SSL


I am sure that not everyone in the north is clueless about leather britches, but the story is a reminder that some really good foods that grow well in the Southern U.S. could be lost without efforts like those at SSL.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Wild Food for Supper

We still have plenty of leftover Thanksgiving food, so we didn't actually need for anyone in the family to go out foraging, but Joe was feeling the need to be outside today. This morning, he loaded the canoe onto the jeep, grabbed a lunch (turkey sandwich included) and a fishing pole, and headed out.

He brought back one ten-and-a-half-inch yellow perch and a big bunch of oyster mushrooms.



I took a break from work (my schedule is weird, I know) to clean and cook the mushrooms while Joe took care of the fish. We had little fried fish fillets and fried mushrooms along with our (leftover, still) mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, and cranberry sauce. It was all good.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Good Food

Although Thanksgiving does necessitate some housecleaning, the food and the company make it worthwhile. Some friends came to spend a good part of the day, and we had a great time talking and eating and talking and eating and talking and eating.

As usual, I ate A Lot, but there is also enough left-over really good food in the fridge that getting meals together for the next few days won't involve much work.

The big meal did incorporate some herbs and veggies from the yard: chard, spinach, chicory, parsley, garlic chives, thyme, marjoram, sage, and beer radishes all came fresh from the yard; smoked peppers came from a jar in the cupboard; sweet potatoes came from a basket on the kitchen floor; garlic came from a basket in the garage. It was great to have some food from the yard for such a special occasion.

When I feel the urge (probably tomorrow evening) to add some variety to a meal of leftovers, I will steam some of this:





The weather is supposed to turn cold over the next day or two; a freeze (to about 29 degrees F) is predicted for tonight, but the broccoli will be fine if that's as cold as it gets. I will need to watch the forecasts, though, for any temps much lower. I may need to cover the broccoli patch.

Monday, November 22, 2010

A 'Focused Experience'

A few weeks ago on the New York Times website, I saw the headline In These Lean Days, Even Stores Shrink. The first line of the story read, “Some retailers are cutting the size of stores and inventory to limit costs and provide a focused shopping experience.” What a blessing this will be!

The grocery store nearest my house is big enough that it is hard to complete the shopping in less than an hour, even when I don’t need all that much in terms of regular groceries. When we first moved here, there was a smaller grocery store nearby that I liked much better. It offered fewer brands, which were arrayed on fewer aisles, so I could get through the shopping in less than thirty minutes.

The headline also reminded me of how gardening provides a nicely focused shopping experience. When I am out in the yard “shopping” for supper, I can choose only what is ready to harvest. Currently, I can choose from the bok choy, parsley, cilantro, lettuces, chicory, beer radishes and turnips that are ready for eating now.



Soon, the bok choy will be gone, but broccoli, carrots and chard will be ready. The good news is that the veggies in my yard look – and taste - a lot better than the ones in the grocery store, so the difference in kinds of produce available isn’t as large as it first seems.

I can also shop from the baskets of sweet potatoes, the basket of garlic, the ping pong table that is still loaded with tomatoes, and the jars on shelves and freezer-containers of produce put away for the winter. This kind of focused shopping really limits costs!

When I finally clicked on the link to the rest of the article, it turned out that the story was about clothing and department stores, but I can still dream that someone will apply the concept to grocery stores.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Trying Turnips

I'm not sure whether I actually like turnips, so when I decided to plant them, I put only a few seeds in the ground. In my childhood, Mom would occasionally sneak some turnip bits, chopped to the identical size of the potato bits, into a soup or stew. I always figured it out Right Away, and after supper, at the bottom of my bowl, there would be a little pile of turnip cubes.

This memory is why I planted only a few seeds. It would be more reasonable, I know, to just by-pass the whole turnip-growing adventure with a background like this, but I didn't used to like beets either, and now I do. Taste buds change. It was possible that I might like turnips now. Luckily, Joe likes turnip greens, so even if the turnips turned out to be awful, the crop wouldn't be a total loss.

The good news is that turnips seem to grow pretty well in this yard. I pulled one of my (three total) turnips last night to use in supper:



The root part went into the oven with some sweet potatoes, coated with olive oil, to roast. The greens got sauteed in olive oil with onion and garlic. There were a lot of greens. From just the one turnip came a heaping three cups of cooked greens. One third of the greens went into the ricotta cheese mixture for "stuffed shells" (pasta); the rest went into two pint-size freezer bags and into the freezer.

The turnip greens turned out to have a pretty strong "bite" (I don't know how else to describe it), so the ricotta cheese mixture also included some of the much milder Malabar spinach that we had prepared and frozen over the last few weeks.

The verdict? The greens-&-cheese stuffed shells were fine, even though I noticed the "bite" under all that tomato sauce and Italian seasoning, and the turnip root wasn't awful like I remembered turnip roots to be. Turnips aren't going to replace sweet potatoes in my affections anytime soon, but I will not have any trouble eating the remaining two turnips. Next year, I might plant five.

Monday, November 15, 2010

A Good Winter Crop

A lot of gardens and gardeners are winding down for the winter. In my yard, the asparagus bed is dormant and, even though I have a few patches of cool weather crops coming along, there are lots of spaces that I have covered with mulch for the winter.

One really important crop for this season, though, is one I won't be eating directly. It is the compost that I will be "feeding" the soil with in the spring. In heavy clay soils like those here in north Georgia, gardens need a pretty steady diet of organic matter to produce good crops of vegetables. If I had to buy all the organic matter I use, I would be broke in a hurry, so I scrounge as much organic matter as I can when it is available - hence, the compost.

This is a great season for making compost, for me anyway, because this is the time of year when my neighbors bag the fallen leaves in their yards and set the bags out for the trash haulers. It isn't hard to walk up the street and bring back a bag or two when I see them. My neighbor across the street saves me some work by having her boys bring her yard's leaves over for me. She can skip the bags that way.

Leaves in a big pile on their own will take longer than one winter to break down into crumbly compost. That is partly due to the lower temperatures in winter that slow decomposition, but it is largely due to the low nitrogen content of fallen leaves. Speeding up the compost-making requires layering in some nitrogen, and that can take the form of coffee grounds (from regular stops at a Starbucks), kitchen scraps, or whatever other source is handy.

University of Georgia's "Ag Publications Search" provides a link to a publication on Composting and Mulching (you'll need to choose whether to see the html or the pdf version) that explains what to do for people who've not made their own compost before, but the important thing is to start, and now is a good time.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Progress

This afternoon the asparagus bed got fertilized (manure, compost) and mulched (crumbled leaves), so that part of the garden is done for the year. I also spread mulch among the garlic bulbs that have sent up green shoots. The soil they are planted in needs to be kept as loose as possible for the bulbs to achieve their best growth. Considering the tight clay structure of the original garden soil, the mulch, even though I had already added a lot of organic matter to that bed, is pretty much non-optional.

We've been eating the bok choy, and there are still three big heads of it out in the garden to enjoy in future meals. It is great to have some greens to cook this early in the fall!

By the time the bok choy is gone, we should be pretty close to having broccoli from the garden. The little heads are slowly getting larger.



We can add lettuce to our meals, too. These leaf lettuces are plenty big to donate leaves to a salad:



A lot of the tomatoes that have ripened so far out on the ping pong table in the garage have been made into salsa, using cilantro and peppers from the garden. The cilantro has been growing well enough in this cool weather that it is hard to tell that we've used as much of it as we have. We REALLY like cilantro . . .



Another herb "in season" right now is the saffron. The individual flowers are short-lived, so even though there are a lot of them in the yard, I have to pick the red stigmas when I see them, because they won't be there tomorrow!



The carrots are still small; they are mostly about an inch across the top, which seems adequate, but they are also only about an inch and a half long. Barring catastrophe, though, we will have home-grown carrots on the table in a few more weeks.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Plant Everywhere

A person must plant everywhere and then concentrate on what grows. --Rav Yosef Yoizel Horowitz, The Alter of Novardok Zt'l


This is the "quote of the day" that came to my email a few days ago. I am pretty sure that it is not meant to be taken literally, but that is exactly where my brain went. It seems like pretty good advice.

There are people who do exactly that, sow food plants everywhere and tend what grows; the practice is generally referred to as guerilla gardening. I haven't taken to planting food in disused public spaces (yet), but here in my own yard, sometimes it seems as if I have planted everywhere. Then Joe points out that he still has little patches of lawn to mow, so I know I haven't quite done it.

The "concentrate on what grows" part is especially useful. So often, I try certain varieties over and over again because someone (usually in another part of the country) has raved about it, and the plants fail again and again. And usually, there are perfectly wonderful varieties that DO grow here just fine, but not always. Some whole categories of plants are never going to do well in the hot, humid Southeastern US (currants). Some will only do well with excessive pampering (celery).

There is a yearning, probably basic to the human psyche, for more/bigger/better or just plain different. Gardeners are not immune, and the people who write plant descriptions for seed catalogs know it. They know we will try almost anything, even though a lot of what we have is really great. The good news is that we can learn from what happens. This relates to the use of the word "concentrate" rather than a word like "tend." It implies thinking. After planting all kinds of plants all over the yard, we can come closer to choosing the best plants for our own yards the next year.

So, here at the close of the summer growing season, I am busy concentrating on what grew.

Friday, November 5, 2010

First Freeze Tonight!

At least, that's what the current forecast is calling for. The weather sites have been waffling all week on the potential for a freeze this weekend.

The good news is that my garden is sort of ready for it. Joe harvested more Malabar spinach yesterday, and it has been cooked, bagged, and frozen. Today, when I was working in the yard, I brought in a few more things:



Joe saw the eggplant when he got home from work and said, "Looks like we're having eggplant parmesan tonight." Hah! The eggplant did get a little bigger over the last week, but it isn't big enough for a three-person meal.

The tomatoes are the very last ones from the yard (the plant is in an odd place, and I kept forgetting about it). They are from the Amish tomato plant that was grown by the Tomato Man in Kennesaw. Only one tomato from that plant has matured, and I did save seeds from it - that was one of my goals for the summer - but I had hoped that one of these would ripen outside, too. I don't know whether seeds saved from tomatoes that ripen indoors will be hardy enough to produce good plants next spring, but I will find out!

The radish is from a winter radish mix. These all have long maturation times (60-75 days) and are supposed to be grown in the fall. I don't know which variety this is, but I expect it will be good sliced thin and salted. The ones I grew last year were. They are supposed to be eaten that way as a snack, with beer.

I covered the part of the garden that has lettuce, not because the lettuce is especially tender (it isn't) but because there are some babies in that same space. I had replanted more lettuce seeds, since so many didn't make it to maturity the first time. There are also some little cilantro, regular radish, and beet babies in that space. Very young plants are less cold-hardy than more mature plants, and I'm not taking the chance of losing these.

Monday, November 1, 2010

One (Almost) Tidied Garden Bed

I have been working a little at a time on getting the garden tidied up for winter, but I am about to run out of time. Our first freeze will be here in a week or two. Anything the least bit "tender" that's left in the garden when that happens is going to turn to mush. (Yesterday, that first freeze looked like it would arrive this weekend, but the forecast has changed since then.)

I worked on this bed over the weekend:



In the foreground is a patch of chard; to the right are potted herbs; to the left are some red-veined sorrel that are probably too small to see (a gift from Cheryl - thanks!); across the "near-back" are a couple of different varieties of chicories; and behind those are nasturiums (left) and thyme.

Everything except the nasturtiums - they will turn to mush - should do just fine all winter long, especially since the herbs are portable.

It may seem a bit odd that I've planted the pots of herbs (rosemary and bay), but there is a reason for this. Last year, we had an unusually long stretch of very cold weather, and some of our potted herbs didn't survive. They always had made it through the winter before, so I hadn't done anything to protect them. This summer, I had to replace the bay and the rosemary.

I could actually plant the herbs, but we like to have the bay on the back deck in summer, and planted rosemary can get very large here. The pot helps keep it in bounds. My thinking is that, this year, if a freakishly long freeze sets in, I can pop those pots out of the ground and put them in the garage for the duration. When the freeze ends, they can go back into their holes.

I know that a lot of people have good luck bringing their herbs into the house for the winter, but I am not one of those people. Indoor herbs die in this house.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Fall Garden Clean-up

I finally finished clearing away the old asparagus stalks. I also worked today on clearing other parts of the garden. There were still some pepper plants in the side-yard beds, and I picked the last of the peppers before pulling up those plants.

Here they are, the last of the summer peppers:



That last Casper White eggplant is also in the box. The peppers were mostly fairly large; the Spanish Spice peppers were all seven to eight inches long. I had been hoping they would turn red, but that didn't happen. The weather has turned seasonably cool, so it was definitely time to bring those in, but I will have to chop them up to freeze as green peppers.

There were still some okra plants, some stumps of corn stalks, aging marigolds, and other flowers that were going to look very bad very soon. I filled the wheelbarrow with stuff, chopped up, for the compost pile.



One wheelbarrow load isn't going to be enough, though, for me to able to say those two beds are clear and ready for winter. There are still some flowers, the last of the basil, and all that Malabar spinach, in addition to a few cool-weather plants (winter radishes, cilantro, and a couple of turnips).



Really, clearing the garden in fall is almost as big a job as getting it all planted in spring.

This, though, is part of what motivates me:



This is the garlic that I planted just last weekend. It is already coming up! It looks like the "one big clove" that I thought I had planted here was actually one big clove with a little hitch-hiker. Two are coming up! However, even when what happens in the garden isn't quite what I had planned, seeing the food plants emerge and grow reminds me that the work is worthwhile.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Garden Distractions

Today I fully intended to finish removing the old asparagus stalks from the garden for the winter. They need to be removed for two reasons: the first is that the old stalks can harbor insects and diseases, the second is that they look terrible.

When I was about halfway through, though, I called my Mom to tell her what I was doing, because she has asparagus, too. That's when I looked up and saw the Casper White eggplant.



I thought we had eaten the last eggplant for the season last week, but it seems I was mistaken! There will be little bit more. When I glanced over at the Ukraine Beauty right next to it, I saw one more tiny eggplant there, too.



I can't imaging that this will have a chance to get much larger before cold weather kills the plant, but I hadn't expected to see this little fruit at all.

Since the broccoli is in the garden bed just across from the eggplants, I turned around to check on them, too. A lot of years I have less that wonderful luck with the broccoli, but I got another surprise.



Every plant has the beginnings of a head of broccoli nestled down in the leaves! I know very well the pitfalls of "counting chickens before they hatch," especially when it comes to gardening, but this looks very promising.

After all these great discoveries, I had to make a quick tour of the garden. This is a tough time of year for gardens. In spite of the patches of green from the cool weather crops, there are lots of bare spaces and brown (or browning) leaves dripping off of scraggly old stems, so that the visual rewards aren't all immediate.

The little tour showed, though, that insects are still finding sources of nectar in the flowers that remain. This bachelor's buttons plant had a couple of visitors, in spite of the cool, damp weather.



And the nasturtiums really just hit their peak a couple of weeks ago. We've had some rain in the last couple of days (1.3 inches!), so older flowers are a bit battered, but the more newly opened blossoms look great!



When I got this far, though, a wave of much darker clouds moved in; it had been drizzling for a while, but that didn't bother me. I'm not related to the Wicked Witch of the West, so I work outside even when it is wet - I'm not going to melt - but the thunder started and that was the end of being outside.

My next chance to work on the asparagus bed, if it doesn't come later today, will be Friday. Maybe I will finish then . . .

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Horehound Surprise

One of the herbs in my garden is horehound. This is not a delicious culinary herb; it is a bitter, medicinal herb traditionally used as a treatment for coughs and sore throats.

When I was growing up, this is one of the bad-tasting medicines that my father brought out when I complained about a sore throat. If I had an unhappy tummy, he mixed a teaspoon of baking soda in a glass of water and told me to drink it. This tasted worse than horehound, which at least was in candy form, so there was the consolation of a little sugar. Needless to say, there were very few minor health complaints at our house. None of us wanted to risk the bad-tasting home remedies!

Weirdly enough, I have grown to like horehound (but not the baking-soda and water).



One year, I made horehound candy with my own horehound, but I didn't know that the pieces absolutely had to be individually wrapped. I've made other hard candies before (cinnamon and anise flavors) and they kept just fine in a jar. When I put my horehound candy in a jar, though, it merged into one solid mass in the jar in just a couple of weeks.

This year, I'm going to pass on the candy-making, and just use the leaves for tea. There is a lot of horehound, so I've put some leaves in the freezer, and some are set out to dry.

The job turned out to be a bigger adventure that I expected; when I was out in the garden snipping leaves off the horehound, I found carrots!



The horehound grew really well this year, flopping over the space where last spring's carrots came out. I had harvested all the carrots that I could see months ago, but the horehound seems to have sheltered some seeds that hadn't germinated with the rest of the crop. If I had been a better weeder, these probably wouldn't have made it to maturity!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Fall Veggies on the Way

The summer garden is almost all done. There are still some tomatoes hanging on, but the plants look like heck. Have you ever seen so many brown, dead leaves? I've left the plants this long so that the remaining tomatoes could get a little more mature. Lots of those tomatoes will ripen just fine in the house, but some need a little more sunshine and feeding from the plant for that to happen.



The cooler weather crops are making good progress. We've eaten one head of the bok choy, and the rest (there were only seven) look good, too. This makes two years in a row that the bok choy has done well. I am not sure whether it is the result of something I've done (planting them early enough in August?) or just a fluke, but I am happy about the success, however it has been achieved.



It looks as though I might actually get carrots for Thanksgiving this year, too. This hardly ever happens. Usually, the carrots aren't big enough to eat until closer to January. One of the neighborhood rascals made the sign for the carrots (they are a vegetable he might actually eat). He wanted to write the label with a Sharpie, but I have heard from his mother that her children are not reliable with permanent markers, so I brought out crayons, which seem to have worked. His handwriting is excellent!



The lettuces are doing moderately well. I don't know whether the germination rate was very low, or the "infant mortality" rate very high, but something happened that resulted in a lot fewer lettuces in the garden than expected. August was exceptionally hot, which might have interfered with germination of the lettuce seeds, and we have hardly had rain (surprise!) for weeks and weeks, which could have resulted in a too-dry situation for baby lettuces to survive. And, it could just be that I messed something up. Hard to know.

The good news is that the lettuces that have survived thus far look great!



This weekend, I will probably finish pulling the tomato and pepper plants from the garden and hunt under the house for the cold frame so I can put it over the lettuces. When I get it in place, I plan to plant more lettuces and spinach. They won't grow very quickly, but they will grow, giving us greens in the winter.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Trees

I'm in Oklahoma this week, visiting my Mom and Grandpa Bill (step-dad). One of the things on Mom's list of things for me to do (besides digging up the sweet potatoes!) is to help plant a tree.

Central Oklahoma had some amazing ice storms a few years back; those storms toppled a lot of trees and severely damaged the ones that were left standing. The old oaks in Mom's yard were no exception. She wants to plant a new little oak tree near some of the trees that lost limbs, near the house. The little tree would eventually replace one or more of the older, damaged trees.

Grandpa Bill is not so excited about planting a new tree, though. While Mom is thinking about the future shade the little tree will grow to provide, even though she might not live to sit under it, Bill is looking at it differently.

Gene Logsden wrote, in the most recent post to his webpage, a little column about trees that kind of reflects Grandpa Bill's point of view:


We built our house on the edge of a woodlot thirty some years ago. Now the trees have reached out and enveloped us. They shade us in summer, protect us from wind in winter, and try to kill us by falling in all seasons.


Grandpa Bill is the one who spent weeks and weeks cleaning up the fallen branches in the yard and helping cut up downed trees all over the neighborhood. He is very aware of the dangers of falling trees and tree-parts!

It took a couple of years to burn through all the resulting firewood, which in its own way is a good thing, but I'm not sure whether the tree planting will actually take place.

Shiitake

My shiitake-innoculated log is still just a log, even though it is almost two years old. However, the log of my friend Susan (whose log is from the source, on the same day) is making mushrooms!



She says the secret may be "benign neglect." We had been told to "plant" the logs; she planted hers in a container, then stuck it in the shade under a holly. She then pretty much forgot about it, until a couple of weeks ago, when she noticed that it looked different.

I am so happy to see those mushrooms. They give me hope that my log, too, will someday burst with fungal fruiting bodies.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sweet Potato Harvest

Next weekend I'm going to be out of town, so I harvested my sweet potatoes today. The vines have been wandering all over the place in a very untidy way, but I will miss their exuberance.



After trimming all the wayward vines back to the edges of the bed, the garden plot where the sweets were planted looks pretty small. One of the neighborhood rascals (the oldest rascal) was helping, and she took this picture that shows the actual size of the bed, with me half-upside-down for perspective.



I had planted two varieties of sweets, Beauregard and Puerto Rican. Beauregard was slightly more productive in terms of total weight (12 pounds) and made fewer, larger tubers than the Puerto Rican (10.75 pounds).

This is the smallest sweet potato harvest I have ever had, and I would be disappointed, except that this year a much higher percentage of the tubers are an easily usable size and shape. Some years the tubers are all extremes, with some ending up the size of small dogs and all the rest the (very small) size that I save for sprouting in spring.

In the picture below, the Beauregard sweets are on the left and the Puerto Ricans are on the right.



While the oldest rascal was helping me dig up the sweets (she did a great job!), one of her brothers took pictures of the rest of the garden. This one shows some happy marigolds in addition to a little more garden chaos that I need to tidy up.



The two rascals were both great helpers! I am lucky that they live in my neighborhood.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Preparing to Plant Garlic



I work for a weekly newspaper. On Tuesdays, we finish putting the paper together so it can go to the printer, then the post office, and then be in people's mailboxes on Friday. Yesterday, we had a hole on the food page, and poking through the press releases and emails from all our subscription services didn't turn up anything that seemed like a good fit for that page.

After a fairly long search for a food-related news item, I decided to just write something about food to go on the page, but I'm a better gardener than chef, so I wrote about growing garlic, which should be planted in October in North Georgia.

Then, at the last minute, an ad came in for that space, and my little piece didn't get used. Since I have it handy, I am putting it here:


Garlic in the garden

In the Bible (Numbers 11:5), the absence of garlic and other good foods that were easily had in Egypt is lamented: “We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost - also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic.”

Although free fish is still hard to come by, many vegetables can be grown at home for fairly low cost. The vegetables mentioned are mostly summer crops, but not garlic.

Garlic in the Atlanta area performs best when planted in mid- to late-October, so now is the time to plan for planting for next year's low-cost garlic.

Garlic prefers, like nearly every other garden plant, a soil that is well-drained, with plenty of organic matter worked into it. Organic matter includes materials such as compost, soil conditioners or well-rotted manures.

The soil pH should be between 6 and 7.

If a soil test is not done (through a local County Extension office, for example) to get specific fertilizer recommendations for the garden, apply a 10-10-10 fertilizer, using three pounds per 100 square feet of space. Proportionately, that works out to 0.75 pounds of fertilizer for 25 square feet, which is a more likely home-garden space allotment for garlic.

To start planting, the heads of garlic, which can be purchased at the grocery store, need to be pulled apart. The cloves are planted individually, still in their papery wrappers, three to four inches apart. They go in the ground pointy end up, the tip about one inch below the surface. The fat cloves from the outer layers usually result in the biggest bulbs.

After planting, the garlic needs an even amount of moisture.

Sometime in June, when the leaves begin to dry and fall over, no more watering is needed. The bulbs will be ready to harvest when most of the leaves are pretty far along in this process and the bulbs (dig down to find a few) contain nicely differentiated cloves.

The garlic should be mature and ready to dig up in late June or early July.


In my own garden, the work of preparing the soil for my garlic and multiplying onions will begin this week. I've set aside my largest bulbs of garlic from this summer's harvest for planting.

The Rabun County garlic, for which I had only one clove to plant last year, made a nice fat bulb that I will split with my friend who gave me the original clove. Hers didn't do as well as mine, and we want to increase the chances that we don't lose the variety. If I remember correctly, it was given to her as one big bulb from a woman in Rabun County, Georgia, whose family had been growing this garlic for several decades.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Garden Happenings

We've had a breezy couple of days, and the tomato plants have been toppling over. I harvested the red tomatoes off one horizontal plant before trying to stand it back up, but the plant refused to stay upright, no matter what I did. In the end, I picked the green tomatoes off, too, and removed the plant from the garden.

The problem, of course, is that I have those idiotic tomato cages from the store, the ones that are narrower at the base than at the top. They work just fine until about early August, but then the plants keep growing right out the tops, then they get weighed down with fruit. Add in a good wind, and the weight drags them right over.

I would have made those big cylinders out of heavy wire fencing that Grandpa Bill and so many other sensible people use for tomato cages, but I have seen something I like better. At the Plant-a-Row-for-the-Hungry garden this year, we tried Texas Tomato Cages, and they worked very well. None of them toppled, they were easy to set up, and they store flat! They are a bit pricey, but I am going to start saving up. They seem worthwhile.

When I picked the green tomatoes, I saw a couple of small dill plants (thank goodness for volunteers!) and picked them, too. Joe has had a spectacular case of pickle-mania this summer, and it isn't over yet. Making green tomato pickles is on his list of "things to do" this evening.



While I was out working on tomato plants, one of the "little rascals" pointed to the corner of the garden and asked, "what's that?" I looked over and saw puffballs! Before I got back with the camera, she had poked the biggest one pretty hard, and the finger-pokes show up in the picture.



I sliced the big one in half, to make sure it was good inside. Puffballs are good to eat, but only if the insides are still white all the way through. Also, puffballs get maggot-y things inside, so checking for those is a good idea. This one looks good! We will be eating it tonight with supper. If everyone likes it well enough, we will harvest the others to eat, too.



The really great thing about having puffballs show up right in the garden, in the corner by the horehound where there have never been puffballs before, is that I kind of needed to see a fun fungus today. I missed the last couple of weekends of mushroom walks with the Mushroom Club of Georgia. Last weekend I didn't feel well and this weekend I had too much work, but the funny mushrooms showing up in my yard were a nice surprise!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sweet Potatoes at PAR

We cleared out the last of the crops from the Plant-a-Row-for-the-Hungry garden today. There were still winter squash and sweet potatoes. Pulling up the squash vines was a big job, but we found more than 40 pounds of good squash in the vines, and we have been getting 20 or so pounds of squash each week for a while now. That was a successful crop!

The big job of the day, though, was digging up the sweet potatoes. (Alert: lots of photos ahead.)

Even though we already had done a lot of work cleaning up the squash vines, we were pretty excited about the sweet potatoes. Here we are, just getting started:



How clean we all still were! We found potatoes of all shapes and sizes, and every single one was a joy to find.



There were quite a few "lunkers" under those vines.



And this plant came up like a string of sausages, which made us all chuckle.



Part of the fun is that digging sweet potatoes requires partners. The person digging benefits from having a "spotter" to help make sure that no sweet goes unharvested.



We did all slow down a bit, after a while. The digging was hard work! It was great that so many gardeners showed up to help.



After watching several of us make trips to the compost pile with armloads of vines, Gloria very wisely went to get a wheelbarrow from the shed. At first, moving the vines to the (Very Large) compost pile hadn't seemed like all that big of a job, but the vines were heavy. The wheelbarrow helped.



We completed the first pass through the area where the sweet potatoes had been planted, pulling vines and digging, and then we re-dug the entire bed to locate strays. We found some, but not too many. It was a good idea to have done the extra work though. Look how many sweets we found after we were finally done!:



After the digging, we sat down to sort. The good sweets were destined for the Center for Family Resources in Marietta, but we always have a pretty big pile of damaged sweets. The garden has a wireworm problem that we have been treating with beneficial (predatory!) nematodes for a couple of years now, and that has been making a difference. We saw the least wireworm damage this year of any year so far.

In addition to the wireworm damage, there are always some sweets that are accidentally skewered by spading forks, and there is always some damage from small mammals. In the end, though, we had more than 260 pounds of good sweets to take to Marietta. They filled the back of our fearless leader's car.



The squash had to go in the back seat, along with her garden tools. It is amazing that any gardener's car is ever clean, but this car was spotless before the spading forks went in.



Besides the squash and sweet potatoes, the garden still had flowers in it, and those had to be cleared out, too. Cathy took a minute to make bouquets from the zinnias and the sprays of purple seeds from the Jewels of Opar, so most of us had flowers to bring home.



The next-to-last job for the morning was to spread kelp meal and some more sulfur (the pH is still a little high...) over the entire garden. The very last job was to finish marking the sprinkler heads for the new irrigation system. A couple of gardeners had been busy locating those and driving stakes next to them so they would be easy to spot, but there there were a few left to mark.

Tomorrow, the garden will be tilled, and next week, we will broadcast seeds for our cover crop. Then, sometime in the next few weeks, we will celebrate!
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