Saturday, October 29, 2011

Definitely the End of Summer

For the next several days, the weather forecast is for lows in the 30s. Any warm-season crops left in the garden are going to be looking pretty miserable by the end of the week, unless they've been protected. In my garden, there are a few more tomato plants and peppers still in place, but those will be heading toward the compost heap sometime tomorrow.

I hope, especially, that everyone's sweet potatoes are inside. This year, I was lucky enough to be able to harvest sweet potatoes in three different gardens: my own, the Plant-a-row-for-the-hungry garden, and at Mr. Kastner's garden. Out at Mr. Kastner's place, there was a lot of help, which was a good thing because he had a whole lot of potatoes to dig up. The big harvest day was a couple of weeks ago, so these pictures are a little late going up. In this first picture, Mr. Kastner is the guy in the pink shirt, and his partner-in-gardening, Mr. Hankerson, is on the right in blue:

The potatoes were not all that easy to get out of the ground, and there was some discussion about the best way to pry them out without damaging them. The good news is that these were all grown on long, wide hills, so the digging wasn't so much "down" as it was "from the side."

These big clusters of sweets were pretty typical of what came out of the ground at each place where a slip had been planted back in early summer:

In all, there were three double-wide rows, each about 150 feet feet long, that had been planted. In each row, the slips had been planted about 9 or 10 inches apart. Mr. Kastner figured that he had planted close to 900 slips. Removing the vines and then digging up the sweet potatoes from that many plants was a big job!

Mr. Hankerson and Mr. Kastner had built some storage bins out of old wood pallets for storing the sweet potatoes while they cured in a metal "shed" (it looks like an old version of what 18-wheelers pull around out on the highways). When the bins were all placed inside the shed, a little heater and a fan went in there, too, along with a temperature & humidity gauge to help make sure the sweet potatoes stayed appropriately warm and the air moist.

They are going to be able to feed a lot of people with this many sweet potatoes.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

A Lot Like Fall

We've had low temperatures in the upper 30s, and days in which the highs are in the 60s. Indoors, we've had a fire in the woodstove a couple of nights. It is definitely feeling a lot like fall.

Outside, even though the remaining summer crops are looking pretty ragged, the cool-weather crops are starting to shine. The broccoli is beginning to head up:

This bed of greens (and weeds) has already given us a couple of salads, some greens for cooking, and radishes. When the rest of the radishes come out, it will be easier to see the greens - the little bulbs are planted between the rows of greens, and their leaves are sticking up all over.

Right near where I stood to take that picture is a little patch of cilantro that didn't make it into the field-of-view. At the far end of the bed is a short row of bok choy. This does really well for us every year:

Isn't that beautiful? I think a stir-fry-supper is in my near-future.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Wrong season, but a cool trick

My Louisiana sister sent another useful video. This is at least as cool as peeling a whole head of garlic in less than ten seconds (in a previous post), and it doesn't require matching large bowls.

Let's hope I remember this when the fresh corn comes back around in June!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Field Trip to Farmer D Organics!

Even though I live within an hour of Farmer D Organics, I had never been there until this week. I had an extra-long day at work on Monday (15 hours!), so on Tuesday I left work early. I was a little cranky from sleep-deprivation, but I figured that the thing that would improve my mood the most was a garden-oriented field-trip. Of course, a nap would probably have been a more logical choice.

My excuse for the field-trip was that I wanted to check out the garlic, since it is just about time to put that in the ground. It didn't hurt that the Farmer D store is only about 20-25 minutes from the office.

The good news is that there was plenty of garlic to choose from, and the cloves were HUGE. I bought two heads of California Early softneck and three cloves (loose) of Elephant garlic to try.

I have bought different varieties of garlic through the mail before, and they've done well, but the heads were not even close to the size of the garlic at Farmer D's, and this is one of those situations in which size matters. Big cloves usually end up making big heads of garlic in the garden.

The garlic that I've had the best luck with so far, in terms of consistently producing big heads of garlic in the garden, is the Rabun County garlic that my friend Cheryl brought back from one of her visits there a few years ago. We are still working on growing out enough of it to be able to actually eat very much of it, but it does make nice, big heads of garlic, and it has good flavor, too.

Photo below is of the two California early heads (left), the three cloves of Elephant garlic (center), and one of my Rabun County. Notice how the Rabun County is dwarfed by the garlic from Farmer D's:

I usually grow some grocery-store garlic along with the specialty garlics, but unless I see some heads with whopper-sized cloves, I'm going to stick with what I have now - the new garlic from Farmer D and the Rabun County that I've saved to replant. If all goes well, I'll have the garlic planted by Halloween.

Farmer D Organics had fruit trees and bushes for fall planting, and the strawberry plants are in. Onion sets will be in stock closer to Thanksgiving. The store seems to specialize in the small-scale food-growing that works so well in urban areas, and the people there were friendly. By the time I left, I was definitely in a good mood. It was a great field trip.

My Louisiana sister and I have been talking some about our fall gardens and planting the garlic and onions. Her planting date is later than mine, since she is more zone 9/10 than 7/8, but planning ahead is almost always good. To go with the garlic theme of our last couple of conversations, she sent a link to the amazing video below about using garlic in the kitchen.

How to Peel a Head of Garlic in Less Than 10 Seconds from on Vimeo.

Are you as astonished as I was? My sister and I are now both hunting for pairs of same-sized, large metal bowls.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Tenacity of the Summer Garden

The tomatoes just won't quit:

I pulled out the last two of the April-planted tomatoes, though, because when the first frost comes, I want to be more ready than I am. That first frost could come pretty much anytime now, though I don't actually expect it until about Halloween.

I ended up with another big pile of green tomatoes. A lot of these are far enough along that they will ripen within the next week or two, but some are too immature to ripen well, and I plan to use them in a green tomato salsa recipe that I found online.

I've already made one batch of this, and there was enough to use on one supper's enchiladas and then to mostly fill an ice-cube tray. The frozen cubes may seem weird to some people, but we don't always need the same amount each time we want to use some "salsa verde." Having the salsa frozen in cubes - then stashed in a freezer bag - means I can pull out just the right amount for the purpose at hand.

Eggplants and peppers are still coming into the kitchen, too. Some years the garden does better than in other years, and it is usually a mystery to me what makes the yearly differences so large. Of course, sometimes a less-productive year is totally my fault - the result of not paying attention to water or soil/nutrient needs, for example. This year, the weather has been so weird that a low-harvest year would not have been a big surprise, but the garden has, instead, blown me away with its productivity.

A delivery-guy I was talking with last week suggested that the shade in my yard (that I usually complain about) might have saved my garden from roasting in this overly-hot summer. Maybe he's right.

Regardless of the reason, the sweet potatoes seem to have done pretty well. I ended up with about 35 pounds from the 3x5-foot space they were planted in.

I always manage to resist brushing off the dirt and giving the sweets a good scrub, since those activities can damage the thin skins and result in sweets that rot rather than stay good into the winter, but the box of sleek, brownish, tapered shapes with "tails" makes me think I'm looking into a box of dead rats. The good news is that, when I get these into a basket on the kitchen floor after they've had a chance to cure, some of that dirt will have fallen off on its own and the resemblance will be less striking (I hope).

Later this week, I will get some mulch onto the bed that I dug those sweets from, and onto some other spaces, too. One whole bed, the one the melons were in, has been planted with a cover crop, hairy vetch. I've planted vetch for the winter before, and it is a pain to dig it back into the soil in spring, but I still had some seeds that I didn't want to waste.

That melon bed had been created as a "lasagna" bed, with compost from my yard and manure and bedding from a stable. When I checked that part of the garden after pulling out the melons, the top few inches were great, but below that was still solid clay. I'm hoping the roots of the vetch will help make little tunnels into that lower clay, giving the earthworms a little help in mixing the layers.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Gardens are always ending - and always beginning

Last Wednesday, the Plant-a-Row-for-the-Hungry garden group met for the last time at the Smith Gilbert Garden in Kennesaw, where it's been for the past six years. We harvested the last of the summer crops that were still in place - peppers and sweet potatoes - and we hauled the debris to the compost heap.

The final total of donated veggies for our 2011 garden year was 2710 pounds. Some of us still have at home some of the Seminole pumpkin squash that were too green to give away when we pulled up those vines, but those will all have finished ripening soon, and they will go to the Center for Family Resources - the pantry where we take our harvest - in another week or so. (Their weight hasn't been added to our total, yet.)

We had a great turnout for our last day at Smith Gilbert! This particular group of gardeners is just wonderful to work with. I feel very fortunate to know such great people every time I'm with them.

I'm in the plaid shirt, in front. Notice how I'm so short that I don't have to crouch down for the people behind me to be seen.

Some members of the group (but mostly just Fred) who have had a little free time have been looking into places to move the garden to, and we will have a few spots from which to choose. I am very happy that the group is ready to begin again! We will be meeting in about a week and a half to make a final choice, and to celebrate what we've accomplished this year.

When we have made that decision, it will be time to start getting the soil ready for next year. The fun will start all over again!

At home, the summer garden is thinking about ending, especially since we are getting some nighttime lows in the 40s. In spite of the onset of actual fall weather, we still have plenty of tomatoes. This is why I make that second planting in late June.

My fall veggies are mostly planted, but it isn't too late for one last crop of one of the faster-maturing radishes, and in a couple of weeks it will be time to plant garlic and multiplier onions that will mature in June, as part of next summer's garden.

This overlap of beginning and ending is one of the best parts of gardening. There's always something to look forward to. Even though it will be a little sad to bring in the last of the tomatoes in a few weeks, it also will be great to harvest the first bok choy, lettuce, spinach, beets, and other fall veggies. Some of these cooler weather crops will start to come to the kitchen before those last tomatoes are brought in.

When one season is coming to a close, another is opening up. When the soil temperatures drop and plant-growth slows to the point that it seems there's no growth at all, there is less work to do in the yard and more time to plan next year's garden -- what to plant and where, and how to improve the soil. And some of that work on improving the soil can begin in the less-rushed season of planning.

It's also a time to think about how the work of "putting food by" has panned out in terms of meals. That's part of gardening, too. If my little family's plan of making most our pasta sauce (and other foods that usually include a can of diced tomatoes) from our dehydrated tomatoes is successful, we will be very pleased.
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