One of the Joys of Maturity
One of the joys of getting a bit older is having the time to putter around in the garden. Below is my garden blog. This site also contains sections of recipes and features about specific, and often obscure, gardening lore.
I'm celebrating National Kale Day today by making Portuguese Kale Soup. When we make the soup is actually determined by when our kale is ready for a heavy picking. In years when we grow spring seeded kale, that means soup making in July or August. But for the last few years, we've grown our kale in the fall, which allows us to use lots more fresh ingredients from the garden in the soup.
Our recipe for the delicious soup came from a single paragraph in Crockett's Victory Garden (1977):
We've personalized the recipe just a bit, but not much. Our version of the soup includes lots of bits of chicken, as we freeze chicken and broth each time we buy skin on, bone in chicken breasts, filleting and freezing the breast meat and boiling and boning the rest. We also add more vegetables than Crockett suggests, depending on what we have available at the time. Carrots, peas, and green beans are often included.
Today's batch of kale started with three containers of frozen chicken broth, one of which had lots of bits of chicken breast in it. Eight seemed to be my magic number today, as I added about eight each of tomatoes from the garden, onions, and garlic cloves. Two of the garlics were elephant garlic.
Our fourteen foot row of kale yielded two, five-gallon buckets of fresh kale for the soup. While most of the kale was the Vates (also called Dwarf Blue Curled or Dwarf Blue Scotch) variety, we also grew a little each of Tuscan Baby Leaf, Lacinato, and Red Ursa. The last three had lots of large leaves, while the longer season Vates produced lots of smaller leaves. Left unpicked, the Vates can produce huge leaves, but the smaller ones are more tender for cooking.
The picking only took about fifteen minutes, but after soaking the kale for a half hour (to prevent grittiness), stemming it took a couple of hours. I alternated between stemming and adding kale to the pot with adding the smoked sausage and other vegetables needed. Since our kale is growing next to our row of Sugar Snap peas, a few of them went into the pot. After thoroughly rinsing the last of our canned kidney beans from last year, they too went into the pot.
After adding fresh carrots and green beans, some store bought potatoes completed the soup. The potatoes always go in last, as they tend to get mushy if added too soon. As usual, the finished batch of soup filled our twelve quart kettle.
At this writing (at about suppertime), I'm almost through canning a load of seven quarts of the soup. Canning anything with meat pushes canning times to 75 minutes for pints and 90 minutes for quarts! I'll can some pints next which my wife likes to take to work with her. Any left over at that point gets eaten fresh and/or frozen.
I canned green beans yesterday. Rather than bending over or picking while on my knees I just pulled clumps of green bean plants and then picked the mature beans off the plants while sitting on the edge of our raised bed. I took out our first row of beans only, as our second row is still maturing lots of beans and still has many blooms on the plants. For our first row of green beans planted in thirds to the Contender, Provider, and Stringless Green Pod varieties, this was its third picking.
I ended up with about four gallons of picked beans yesterday. With three gallons I'd picked and saved previous days, I knew I would have at least one full canner load. I decided to can the beans in pint jars rather than quarts, as with just Annie and I home most of the time, a pint is about all we need for a meal. I ended up running two full loads of regular pint jars of green beans, yielding eighteen pints. Of course, one jar didn't seal, but that gave me a vegetable for tonight.
We pressure can our green beans for the near universally recommended 20 minutes for pints and 25 minutes for quarts at 10 PSI (for our altitude). We season the beans with a bit of onion and a bit of canning salt. I'd love to can them with bacon or ham, but adding meat to them would increase canning times incredibly, as mentioned above. As it is, that twenty minutes for pints is actually ten minutes venting live steam from the canner, plus the five minutes or so it takes for the canner to reach pressure once the pressure cap is on, the recommended twenty minutes at 10 PSI, and then about another twenty minutes for the canner to cool and depressurize. So one canner load of green beans actually takes almost an hour total to do.
I spent a good bit of today being upset with myself for not getting much of anything done. There was grass to mow and green beans to be picked. I finally realized when I carried a heavy basket of laundry upstairs that my apparent laziness was due to a very sore back...probably from two sessions of picking green beans yesterday. I'm definitely struggling to get the beans picked, but may try again this evening around sundown.
The nice bunch of Earliest Red Sweet peppers we picked on September 29 produced a quart of pepper strips for our freezer. Possibly even better, the seed I saved from the three best peppers tested at 100% germination. I only tested ten seeds, but the sample tells me we should be above 90% germination with any of the seed we use or share from the batch.
Something Really Nice
While trying all day to avoid any real work, I did have to drive into town to mail a few bills I didn't get in our rural route box before the mailman came and went. While in town, I stopped by our local Walmart to pick up a few things. The store is being remodeled, and things are a mess. Fortunately, Walmart brought in lots of extra people to move stuff around, help customers find things, and get checked out promptly.
When I checked out, I went through a line where a tall, ruggedly built young man was working. He looked a little familiar to me, and when I looked at his nametag, I realized that he had been one of my favorite students years ago when teaching special education. Kudos to Walmart for hiring folks with mild disabilities!
A Quick Reminder
Burpee's Fall in Love with Gardening Sweepstakes runs through October 26, 2015. Since Burpee is one of our affiliate advertisers, I'm not eligible to enter the contest. But they have some really cool prizes for the winners, including one grand prize of a Garden Tower 2. Other prizes include five Leaf Eater Mulcher/Shredders and ten $50 Burpee Gift Cards.
Well before The Garden Tower Project became a Senior Gardening Affiliated Advertiser, I dropped several heavy hints on the boys from Bloomington (Indiana) that I'd love to test and review a freebie Garden Tower. While Colin, Tom, and Joel all seem to be pretty sharp cookies, they never picked up on my hints. That may have been a good thing for Senior Gardening. With my hip replacement in May, the only Senior Garden that might have existed here this year might have been a garden tower!
If I had any false illusions about a late fall this year, our weather today has put them out of my mind. It's cloudy, relatively cold (50° F), and wet, the very definition of blustery. It's the kind of weather that makes a warm weather gardener's heart sink. With a chest cold coming on, I've determined to stay healthy and inside today. I've got a good book set aside to read and a full pot of coffee.
When out in our garden yesterday, I did a quick double take when I looked at our Sugar Snap pea vines. In the center and at the very top of the tallest vines were three red blossoms. Sugar Snaps have white blossoms...normally.
The simplest explanation for the out-of-place blooms is that a stray seed from another pea variety made its way into our packet of pea seed. But it also could be from the Sugar Snap's open pollinated heritage, a throwback to one of its ancestors. Or, the red bloom could be a rare sport, a true mutation of the variety, although one usually associates the term, "sport," with apple mutations.
Sweet peas for flowers often have lovely, colored blooms, but the table pea varieties we grow all bloom white. From Karen's Garden Delights, I was able to identify that the blooms may be related to Sugar Snaps, as she has a lovely photo of some red Dwarf Gray Sugar pea blossoms, a snow pea variety. Since these blooms were five feet up on the vines, they're definitely not dwarfs.
I tagged the vines with the red blooms so that I can identify them later if they put on pea pods. I also added a cropped version of the shot above to our Cutting Room Floor page. It's where photos bumped from our main Desktop Photos page go and where images like this one wait until I have time to edit the main page. I liked the shot enough to add it to our Best Garden Photos of 2015 page, which is still under development and my own rotation of desktop photos on my main computer. The optimized images shown here don't do the full resolution image justice.
I've had the last three Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers from our vines sitting on the back porch for a couple of weeks. They've been curing, as I've read that letting them sit a bit after picing increases germination rates for saved seed. But with two of the three showing signs of rot on the ends, it was time today to harvest seed.
I may have gotten viable seed from all three of the cucumbers, although some of it was rather small. One of the cucumbers was sorta special, as I'd hand pollinated its bloom to ensure it had genes from a couple of strains of the JLP variety that we're currently growing.
A Personal and Very Political Statement
I found it difficult today to sit down at a keyboard and write about gardening. The senseless slaughter of people at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, on Thursday still weighs heavily on me. I'm still praying for the survivors and families of the victims.
While I rarely cross post between my web sites, I'm going to share the final posting that appears on my now defunct Educators' News site. I made the posting about four months after the horrific shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, saying, "We seem to be engulfed in repeated acts of senseless violence in our country."
Since that time, we've seen repeated mass shootings and acts of violence against innocents in our nation. While blame can be laid many places, when I wrote the EdNews posting, forty-six United States senators had just voted down a simple measure that might improve the situation without really infringing on gun owners' rights. The majority party now in Congress opposes universal background checks on gun buyers, not to mention the ban of the sale of assault rifles and weapons with huge ammunition magazines not needed for hunting.
Universal background checks and limits on over-the-top weaponry probably aren't the only or total answers to our nation's problem with gun violence. But right now, our leaders aren't even seriously considering addressing the issue.
I really don't think everyone walking around with a gun on their hip or in their purse is the answer, and I write that as a gun owner. But I don't think an answer to this problem will emerge or improvement begin until our leaders begin to consider the issue.
Hopefully, I'm done venting here. I'm certainly not done asking the Lord for answers.
There's still lots going on in our Senior Garden during the month of October. We look forward to picking lots of kale for Portuguese Kale Soup and getting our garlic planted for next season well before the end of the month. I planted our garlic last year on October 28, and we had the best crop of garlic we've ever grown. Of course, we were using almost all newly purchased garlic sets that seemed to have a lot more plant vigor than our previously saved garlic. Weather conditions also could have had a lot to do with the excellent crop. At any rate, I'll still try to get our garlic planted around mid-month, if possible.
While many home gardens are done for the year by October, we may be harvesting a few tomatoes and bell peppers right up to the first frost. We're hoping for good second and third pickings of green beans yet, but will gladly settle for just one more good picking. Our fall carrots still remain a question mark at this point. With a recent rain, we might get baby carrots or even a normal harvest from them. But we could also get zip!
Spinach and fall lettuce may run past some mild frosts with frost protection (probably floating row covers). We should also get at least some Sugar Snap peas and possibly a couple of heads of cauliflower. Our frost hardy kale and broccoli could continue producing, within reason, as long as we're willing to leave them in the ground.
And that brings us to one of the tough choices with fall gardens. How long do you let hardy crops go, balanced against the need to prepare ones soil for the following gardening season? Once we get a good batch of kale soup canned, I'll probably take out our fall brassicas so that I can till our main raised bed. We already have lots of broccoli in the freezer, although fresh fall broccoli and cauliflower are certainly a treat. We had fresh broccoli with cheese sauce with our supper yesterday.
Once the crops are cleared from our main raised garden bed, other than the fall lettuce, I'll do pH soil testing, lime where necessary, and rototill the bed. If there are low spots in the bed and my budget allows, I'll add peat moss to raise the soil level a bit and improve the soil structure. (Note that our source of bulk compost went out of business this year. Good compost would normally be my first choice as a soil amendment.)
Since I've seen a few Japanese Beetle larva lately in the soil, we'll sprinkle Milky Spore over the garden bed once it's tilled to discourage the pests and the moles that go after them. And depending on the volume of grass clippings we're able to rake (sweep), I hope to mulch the main raised bed with grass clippings. The clippings break down a little to enhance the soil, but mostly help prevent wind erosion of the soil over the winter.
It's very rare to have an October without frost. First frosts are usually mild events that many plants can survive. But we could also see a killing frost that pretty well takes everything. In most years, I fight to garden as long as possible into the fall. This year, I'm a bit worn out with the combined efforts of recovering from hip replacement surgery and gardening. Don't be surprised if I pull everything a bit early, till and mulch our garden beds, and call it a season.
Temperatures didn't exactly plummet overnight, they just haven't increased much this morning. Apparently, things won't warm up much for several more days. Our predicted high for today is just 70° F. Fortunately, overnight lows are staying in the upper 40s and low 50s, well above the first frost range.
I stayed up late last night writing the first part of this posting while watching a glacially slow progress bar that showed my download of Apple's free, new operating system upgrade. I gave up well after midnight, knowing the El Capitan (Mac OS X 10.11) upgrade should be ready to install by morning.
I was awakened very early this morning either by my wife bustling around, or possibly by the cheap bottom shelf scotch I'd foolishly substituted for a prescription painkiller last night. Either way, after a shot of Alka-Seltzer, installation of the upgrade on my "new" Macbook Pro went well. Aftercare so far has only required free updates of Java and Carbon Copy Cloner.
The upgrade went onto the Macbook Pro, as it is still my secondary computer, even though it's my newest. I do most of my writing on a highly upgraded, 2010 Mac Mini in my office that still runs the Snow Leopard (Mac OS X 10.6.8) operating system. After several less than wonderful tries at getting a good install of Apple's last upgrade, Yosemite, on the Mini's external drive, I've become less trusting of their upgrades once again.
The MacBook Pro does get a lot more use than its predecessor that died unceremoniously last May in an iced tea bath. In setting up the newer laptop, I popped for what to me is a huge, 2TB laptop hard drive. The larger drive allows me to do a lot more with the computer, including downloading images from my cameras before I upload them on our home network to another, to me, massive 4TB external hard drive attached to the Mac Mini. While I occasionally write entire postings on the laptop, it more often is used for editing and correcting mistakes I find, usually well after I've uploaded the update to this site.
Writing about gardening and computer upgrades sorta pales in the light of a senseless shooting incident on one coast with the opposite coast preparing for almost certain flooding and a possible hurricane. Here nearer the center of the nation, one can only pray for comfort for victims and families in Oregon and for those threatened along the east coast.
Web buddy Don Smith sent me a link for an excellent weather blog, Hal's Hurricane Storm Surge Blog, that has very readable information about upcoming storms. Don lives in the possible path of Hurricane Joaquin.
at Senior Gardening