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


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.


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!
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