Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Southern Vegetables

There's a reason Bob Wills' song "That's What I Like About the South" includes turnip greens, black eyed peas, candied yams, buttered beans, and corn bread. The basis for each of those foods grows reliably and well here. The cool-weather vegetable in that list, turnip greens, is almost a fool-proof crop. However, there are plenty of crops that are less reliable producers in Southern gardens.

In years like this one, when my broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbages all are slow to head up, I remind myself that such Northern vegetables can't be expected to do consistently well in the South. Some years the garden produces big, full heads of all of those by Thanksgiving. This year, the heads on most of those plants aren't even close to what I consider a good size. If we get a hard freeze any time soon, I probably will be bringing in a lot of ridiculously small vegetables.

Many of the carrots aren't full sized yet, either, but those will continue to grow slowly underground through all kinds of weather.  It may be March before I pull the last one, but eventually those all will be brought into the kitchen.

Luckily, this year I planted plenty of kale and collard greens and a few bok choy. Greens don't seem to be delayed the way the heading vegetables are by an early hard freeze that's followed by weeks of warmer weather.

Even better, we haven't had a hard enough freeze to turn the winter radishes to mush yet, either, so we still are enjoying those, thinly sliced then salted.

To celebrate the South and its vegetables here on the last day of the year:

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

Really, this ought to be a thoughtful, beautifully written note to the world; it's the winter solstice, which means we have increasing light ahead, and this is (according to blogspot) my 500th post. You'd think I'd have planned better and be ready with something glorious.

Instead, I can only say that I still really love to work in my garden, to harvest what it offers, to learn from it, and to share what I've learned. I've lived here now for almost 25 years, and I started planting almost right away. There were some pretty huge errors that I probably should be embarrassed about, but at the time(s) I didn't know any better.

I wish I could say that each year my garden gets better and more productive, but it still has ups and downs. Every year, though, it engages me just as much.

In these days of least light, my plans for the new year are a bit murky. Seed catalogs are piling up by my chair, but I haven't had a chance to spend much time with them. To be honest, new varieties don't call to me the way they used to. I have developed a list of favorite varieties that I look forward to each year. I will probably add a couple of new things again, but I don't change the garden up as much as in the early days of my gardening here.  It could be that my age is showing, but if finding joy in favorite vegetables is a sign of old age, well, count me in!

One definite plan for this coming year is to release one bed back to the lawn. As it is now, getting around to all the beds in the evenings after work can be a challenge. I'll still have seven veggie beds to tend, plus berries, herbs, and flowers, so I certainly won't be bored and twiddling my thumbs in an endless expanse of free time. I am hoping, though, that cutting back by one bed will allow me to enjoy the others even more. Of course, I might just get annoyed that I don't have space for everything I want to grow.

I hope that the increasing light in the days to come brings abundance, peace, and joy to all my gardening friends!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Last Summer's Hard Work Pays Off

This weekend, in all the holiday hoopla of gift-shopping (as little as we could get away with), visiting with friends (made yesterday great!), and cookie-making (all of this afternoon), we didn't manage the weekly run to the grocery store. When I was poking through the cupboards thinking about supper, I almost gathered up my jacket and wallet to make that run.

We are out of fresh fruit, and the drawers in the fridge contain only carrots. The rest of the fridge is pretty empty, too.

However, we have many jars of dehydrated garden-peppers and tomatoes, a big basket heaped with butternut squash, another big basket heaped with sweet potatoes, a smaller basket still half-filled with shallots, and a small freezer filled with tomatoes, berries, sweet corn, okra, zucchini, and more.

Since the cupboards pretty much always contain at least a few kinds of dried beans (some from the store, some from the little farm at which we volunteer) and popcorn from our yard, and the garden contains several kinds of greens and winter radishes (plus parsley, plus cilantro) ready to harvest, and there is homemade applesauce alongside the green salsa in jars in the garage, there is no need to make a panicked run to the store just because we are missing some of our commonly available foods (like eggs and fresh fruit).

In other words, this is a good time to relax and enjoy the results of last summer's hard work. For tonight, we made black bean soup that included some of last summer's garden produce, plus rice and sauteed butternut squash. I know that not everyone is happy with such a vegetarian meal, but it worked for us.

On Wednesday, Joe will have time to shop for additional groceries. Until then, we will use a little kitchen creativity to enjoy the fruits of our labors. I hope that all the other gardeners out there are enjoying the season!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Who Loves Tools?

Bill next to tools with which to pound.
My Mom and Stepdad (Grammy and Grandpa Bill) made it safely to Georgia for Thanksgiving, and one day while they were here, because Bill Loves Tools, we visited a nearby museum that has a great tool room.

The collection is short on gardening tools, but there is plenty of everything else, and it's all artfully enough arranged that even non-tool-lovers can appreciate the displays.

I have some favorite, hard-working garden tools at home, but even if I were no longer using them, there aren't enough to make even one of these display boards!
Mom by the keys, because she is a Kappa Kappa Gamma.

Mom and Bill and tools.
In the last year or so, Bill has had to slow down some in his use of tools, but he did seem to enjoy the tool room at the museum.

He had been in radio communications on an aircraft carrier in WWII, and some of the artifacts in the tool room prompted him to share some episodes from his wartime experience. That was the first I'd heard from him about that part of his life. It made the museum-visit all the more worthwhile.

The two made it safely home after the holiday, and  - while the garden is in a bit of a "waiting" mode right now - the seed catalogs for next year have begun to arrive. Four already are stacked by my chair in the living room.

I would say that it is too early, like Christmas decorations showing up in stores before Halloween, but thinking about the garden is such a good thing that it's hard to complain.

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