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.
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