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October 20, 2014

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.


Saturday, October 18, 2014 - More Parsley

I got out fairly early this morning and cut back all five of our parsley plants. With a slight chance of an overnight frost tonight, I wanted to get one more batch of parsley cut, washed, and dried.

Parsley and carrot rows

Parsley plants cut backBell peppersI almost filled a four gallon bucket with cut parsley. When I was done cutting, there wasn't much left of the once lush parsley plants.

I ended up filling our dehydrator to nearly overflowing. The excess parsley that wouldn't fit in the dehydrator once again got dried on a cookie sheet in the oven.

Later in the day, a granddaughter who was intrigued by the drying process enjoyed putting the freshly dried parsley along with some basil and oregano in spaghetti sauce for dinner. I wish I'd held out a few fresh leaves for the sauce, though.

While out picking, I noticed that we still have lots of green bell peppers on our plants.

Kale Chips

Kale chipsWith the oven fired up, I picked a bit of kale and tried my hand for the first time at making kale chips. I got a little too much olive oil and salt on them, but everyone seemed to like them. What kale wouldn't fit on the cookie sheets for drying got boiled with a bit of bacon, onion, and garlic to go along with our dinner. I really thought the boiled kale was a whole lot better than the chips, but that's just me.

Carrots

The grandkids and I did another test dig of carrots today. Had they all been ready, we would have dug all of the carrots. But only the Boleros were really ready. That's a bit strange, as the winter storage carrot has the longest days-to-maturity of the five varieties of carrots I planted!

The grandkids had a great time washing off the carrots and walking around eating a carrot or two with the tops still on. I had a great time, too, as I love letting them see where their food comes from.

 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Senior Garden - October 16, 2014The Weather Channel Ten-Day ForecastWhile it's still cloudy and cool outside as I write this posting, our ten-day garden forecast from The Weather Channel looks pretty good. It appears that the extended rainy period we've had has moved out with little chance of rain for the next ten days. The storms we've experienced over the last week or so brought our monthly precipitation total to 5.78" and our year-to-date total to a whopping 46 inches. Even with a couple of cool nights in the forecast, we may not see our first frost until late this month.

Area farmers may begin smiling again with the clearer weather, as they've been forced out of the field for over a week, many with their harvest only about half completed. One area farmer was quoted as saying:

A lot of guys like to shoot for the end of October to be done, certainly by Thanksgiving...Thanksgiving's not that far away and at least for us, we’d have to push really hard and get out in the field tomorrow to be done by Thanksgiving. So, maybe Christmas.

When I was balancing teaching with the weather and farming, I ended up picking soybeans one year in December. It wasn't much fun.

With our large East Garden already put to bed for the winter, most of our gardening now centers on our main garden beds in the back yard. Viewed from either end, one can see that we have a good many crops still trying to produce at the very end of the season.

Main garden viewed from south to north Main garden viewed north to south

Cauliflower plant and muddy groundLettuce and spinachOur parsley (nearest in above left photo) that was transplanted late and has been picked this fall is coming back strong enough to support another picking and drying. Our row of fall carrots is ready to come out, and we still have a few heads of cauliflower to cut.

I was going to check one cauliflower plant today, but decided not to when I saw that all of our mulch in that area of the raised bed had decomposed. I was being a bit prissy, but I didn't want to get my shoes muddy! The area had been mulched with a couple of inches of grass clippings three times over the gardening season. All of that mulch has decomposed, enriching the soil a bit. On the downside, raked or swept grass clippings always contain some grass and weed seed which doesn't all decompose. As long as we continue to heavily mulch each year, we won't have a weed problem.

Even though we got off to a poor start with some of our fall lettuce bolting in warm weather and the dogs smashing some when it was under a floating row cover, we still have some nice lettuce to pick in the next few weeks.

Beef stew simmering on stoveGrandma's Yeast RollsI took a quick break from writing a few minutes ago to core, peel, and cut a tomato into some beef stew that is simmering on the stove. We had pot roast last night for supper with Grandma's Yeast Rolls. The roast today gets reincarnated as beef stew with some green beans, peas, and summer squash added to the potatoes and carrots from our garden that were part of the roast meal.

I goofed a bit when making the first pan of rolls, getting them a bit big. It turned out okay, though, as the rolls still cooked through and can also function as buns, due to their size. The second pan of rolls were of a more normal size.

In the next few days when standing water recedes and the ground doesn't squish everywhere one steps, I hope to get back to doing some fall gardening.

Charity: Water

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Cauliflower row

Cauliflower head
Today's harvest

We caught a bit of the major storm last night that is currently sweeping across the eastern half of the country. We received 1.75" of rain, and it's been both cloudy and rainy and occasionally bright today. When I drove into town, the trees along the way were displaying lots of bright fall colors.

During a very brief, nice period this afternoon, I checked our garden plots and harvested what I could. Our row of cauliflower plants has the largest leaves I've seen on such plants. I cut one nice head, although I dropped it in the mud and had to work to clean it up. A few broccoli sideshoots, some bell peppers, and a very few tomatoes rounded out today's harvest.

When I went out to pick, I was mainly interested in checking the cauliflower and picking some bell peppers. We're going to have smothered chicken tonight, something a local restaurant does a pretty good job with. It is made with baked chicken breasts covered with sauteed onions, peppers, and mushrooms topped with melted cheese. Baked potatoes (from our garden, of course) and steamed broccoli and cauliflower will round out the meal.

The cauliflower leaves went onto our compost pile. When I was clearing our East Garden of melon vines and corn stalks, the pile was five feet high and about fifteen feet in diameter. I've forked the edges of the pile in a bit, but the pile is now only 12-18" high, as stuff has already compressed and decomposed a bit.

The main stem of the cauliflower went into a small wash I'm filling with slow to decompose plant parts, used cat litter, and whatever else I can find to fill it. I've been working on the wash for two years now and almost have it all filled in.

OmahaSteaks.com, Inc.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

We've pretty much put gardening on a back burner for the weekend, as we're getting a needed project started. A son-in-law is replacing our dining room ceiling which had some pretty serious water damage. The repairs had to wait until we replaced the roof last summer, so we've lived with plastic nailed to the ceiling of the dining room for some time.

Old ceiling coming down Old ceiling out Adding insulation

Cluttered living roomFresh carrots with topsAs with most renovation projects on old houses, there are some surprises. With the old ceiling out, a section just below the porch roof had no insulation. So...insulation was added to the job.

Of course, what do you do with all the furniture out of the room being renovated? Annie and I are now working around chairs, a piano, stacks of books and records in the living room while the job is completed.

We haven't completely abandoned gardening this weekend. Yesterday, Annie and I picked a bucket of spinach leaves for spinach salad. This was our third picking of the spinach. While the salad was good, we had to stem a lot more leaves than we did a few weeks ago when dealing with baby spinach leaves.

I dug a few carrots for the grandkids to munch on. Leaving the tops on the carrots seems to be a big attraction for them. I think it's sort of a Bugs Bunny thing.

Thursday, October 9, 2014 - Harvesting Butternut Squash

The Senior Garden - October 9, 2014Gourmet Garden Homepage BannerWe had another cool, rainy day today. Not wanting to waste any of our rapidly waning gardening season, I got out this morning and brought in a bunch of butternut squash. I used lopping shears to cut eighteen or nineteen ripe butternuts. Butternut stems will snap off the butternut, but they store better with a little of the stem left on. However, it takes a heavy duty cutter to snip the tough stems.

I was a bit surprised that there weren't more butternuts ready to cut. Then I remembered that I direct seeded our Waltham Butternut Squash on April 27 this year, as I'd forgotten to start transplants for them. That set them back a bit from when squash from transplants would mature.

Even with Shep, my usual garden companion, gone, I had lots of canine supervision as I selected butternuts to bring in. Since butternuts are heavy, I put our pickup truck in four-wheel drive to haul the squash and other items I picked in a light rain this morning. As it turned out, I didn't hit any soft ground that required four-wheel drive.

Daisy, butternuts, and Jackson

Immature butternutWhile the image above shows Daisy and Jackson, our other two dogs, Mac and Petra, were just out of the image. Only Jackson wandered into the butternut patch with me, hoping to be petted. When I scolded him, he quickly got out. I still wonder at why someone would abandon such a smart, loving dog. My only complaint with him is that he can knock things over, often my glass of iced tea, with his constantly wagging tail.

A lot of the squash left in the patch are very close to being mature. While one can pick butternuts that still have a bit of green striping on them, I'd rather leave them in the field to ripen a week or so more to avoid having to cut out the green when using them. While many garden sites suggest getting your butternuts harvested before a frost to prevent damage to them, we've not experienced any problems with rot from a light frost.

Butternuts on truckLast year, our second picking of butternuts came in so heavy that we simply loaded them all into the truck and took them to the mission.

We store our butternut squash in the same large burlap bags we use for potatoes and sweet potatoes, although one could easily store them on a shelf in a cool, dry area.

Butternuts are great when split and baked with butter and brown sugar, but also make an incredible mock sweet potato dish for our Thanksgiving table. We skin the butternuts, remove the seeds, and cut the flesh into large chunks. We bake them with butter, brown sugar, marshmallows, and a bit of nutmeg.

Produce picked October 9, 2014Since I was already wet from rain and sweat, I went ahead and drove around to all of our garden plots. I found a several ripe Moira tomatoes and Paprika Supreme peppers in one isolation plot and our first two, good Quinte tomatoes from a very late planting in the plot by the barn. The isolation plot at the back of our yard produced a half dozen ripe Mountain Fresh and Mountain Merit tomatoes along with a couple of nice Kevin's Early Orange bell peppers and a single red Hungarian paprika pepper.

While not a lot of produce, I was pleased with what I got, considering that we're now well into October.

Spinach and lettuceKaleWhen I got to our raised beds in the back yard, I only found a single red and a couple of yellow bell peppers to pick, along with a large handful of nice broccoli sideshoots. Noticing that the floating row cover I'd left over our lettuce and spinach was ripped, I pulled the row cover to find that some of our romaine lettuce had gone to seed before forming any head. A lot of the lettuce looked as if something or someone had laid on it, pointing a possible accusatory finger at the dogs! But our spinach is rebounding nicely after having been picked back twice.

Our row of kale that was heavily picked in September has responded nicely to some fertilizer, compost, and nearly ideal weather. In a little less than a month, it has doubled the volume it had before its first picking. I'm not sure whether I better like looking at the deep green kale accented by a few flowers around it or eating it.

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Wednesday, October 8, 2014 - Lower Heating Bills this Winter?

The Senior Garden - October 8, 2014 Support Doctors Without BordersEven though my LP gas budget payment is locked in for the next ten months, I was pleased (almost thrilled) to read Wendy Koch's article on USA Today, Expect lower home heating bills this winter. Based on the Short-Term Energy and Winter Fuels Outlook released yesterday by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), prices for propane and oil are expected to fall, although natural gas and electricity prices "will likely rise." But words from EIA Administrator Adam Sieminski may give comfort to all folks paying winter heating bills, "U.S. households in all regions of the country can expect to pay lower heating bills this winter, because temperatures are forecast to be warmer than last winter and that means less demand for heat."

I hope the woolly worms and persimmon seeds agree with that winter weather prediction.

Weather

While the splash photo that topped this page on Monday showed some pretty, but threatening clouds, we really had a pretty nice fall day...until the rain rolled in. Tuesday was wet and cool outside, with hail, thunder, lightning, and several brief power outages in the morning, before clearing and warming up in the afternoon. Today, it's just been gorgeous outside all day.

Shep

Shep (RIP)After fading all summer, Shep, the sheepdog that adopted us seven or eight years ago, quietly passed away last night. He was arthritic and had trouble climbing our porch steps, but until a few days ago, was always close by as I worked in the garden. He appeared to have had a serious stoke a few days ago that partially paralyzed his hind quarters. We're guessing that he was 13-14 years old, so he had a good long lifespan for a dog. Even though we still have four other dogs, he'll be missed.

Gloxinias

Tiny Double Brocade gloxiniasAfter burying Shep this morning, my bad hip and leg indicated that any other serious gardening was out for today. So I turned to a job I thought needed doing, transplanting our September 7 seeding of Double Brocade gloxinias from the pan in which I started them into fourpacks.

I tried something new with this seeding, planting the gloxinias in sterile soil in a used cinnamon roll tin, using its plastic cover to hold in moisture. It worked pretty well. With the area I had to use, I seeded a packet of 15 Double Brocade seeds from Seeds4Change and another packet of 25+ seeds from Pase Seeds. The Seeds4Change seed only germinated five seedlings, while I got 25+ baby plants from the Pase Seeds packet!

When I got into the transplanting, I realized that I was a little early for the job. The baby gloxinias really hadn't begun to put on corms, the point at which I transplant small gloxinias. But since I had a flat of fourpacks filled with sterile soil, I went ahead and transplanted 32 Double Brocade gloxinias. They'll not all make it, but we'll definitely get some plants with lovely, ruffled, double blooms.

Transplanting baby gloxinias

Burpee Gardening

Monday, October 6, 2014 - Drying Parsley

The Senior Garden - October 6, 2014
Crushing dried parsley

Parsley on dehydrator trayWe didn't get a frost Saturday night, but it was certainly chilly outside Sunday morning. When things had warmed up just a bit, I cut parsley from two of our parsley plants. Having dried parsley before, I knew to only cut a couple of gallons of fresh leaves, as that's about what our dehydrator will hold at one time. The leaves had been rained on overnight, but I went ahead and rinsed them off when I brought them inside. Trimming out as much stem as I could, I laid the leaves out on our dehydrator trays.

A number of web sites have instructions for drying parsley with a dehydrator, in the oven or microwave, and even air drying. Since we have a nice dehydrator, that's been the way I've done it in the past. While we've had parsley dry down in the dehydrator in just 8-10 hours in the past, the leaves I started on Sunday took the full 24 hours recommended by our dehydrator manual to get the leaves crispy so they'd easily crunch and shatter before going into our parsley jar.

I picked a second batch of parsley leaves today, but ended up picking too many. I dried the extra on a cookie sheet in the oven at 175° F for a couple of hours. I'd dried other herbs this way in the past, but never parsley. It worked out pretty well.

As I'm writing this posting, the load of parsley in the dehydrator is almost dry after just 8 hours of drying! I'm really not sure what makes the difference in some loads drying significantly faster than others.

One can make the job of drying parsley a bit easier on warm, sunny days by simply getting out early and hosing off parsley plants in the garden and letting them dry in the morning sun before picking/cutting. That can eliminate rinsing the leaves after picking. I've also read that parsley (and other herbs such as basil) should be picked in the morning before the sun gets really hot. It has something to do with essential oils in the leaves being most potent and flavorful then.

Parsley Varieties

Moss Curled Parsley

Dark Green Italian parsley
Giant of Italy parsley

When I first grew parsley in the garden, I grew the frilly Moss Curled variety, as that was what I then knew to be parsley. While pretty as a garnish or as a potted plant in a sunny window, Moss Curled doesn't produce enough leaf area to make drying it worthwhile (in my opinion). I still grow a pot or two of the variety each year just for the fun of it. But our parsley for drying and saving are the larger, plain leaved varieties, Dark Green Italian and Giant of Italy.

My big parsley jar still has a lot of open space in it. While it seems like a lot of work growing and drying parsley when a giant bottle of it costs less than four bucks at our local wholesale clubicon, I like growing parsley. And, I know exactly what has been sprayed, and in our case, not sprayed on the leaves before harvest.

Annie and I had spaghetti for supper tonight. The spaghetti sauce was made from scratch with, of course, some fresh parsley cut into it. I also used tomato purée canned last summer and some basil and oregano that I dried several years ago. While it's nice to use fresh spices, dried spices will keep for years. The sauce also contained a bit of bell pepper and carrot chunks from this year's garden.

Weather

The ten day weather forecast for our area calls for high temperatures ranging from 63-72 ° F, with overnight lows of 44-59°. We've had and will probably continue to have light showers over the period. I still get some windows open around the house on the warmer days, but we're also having to run the furnace a bit at night. We're really having some great fall gardening weather.

Sam’s Club

Saturday, October 4, 2014 - Possible Frost Tonight

The Senior Garden - October 4,2014

Sometimes a growing season gets cut short by an early, light frost, followed by good growing conditions for weeks afterward. Gardeners may be able to extend their growing season those few weeks by covering tender plants with a variety of materials during an early frost (and later frosts as well). Cold frames, floating row covers, inverted buckets, drop cloths, bed sheets, and old blankets all may effectively protect plants from a light frost.

When our forecast for tonight changed to include the possibility of a light frost, I planned to cover our lettuce with our new PVC cold frame that was built to fit in and cover half of a narrow raised bed. Unfortunately, the sun had made the clear plastic on the frame brittle, and windy weather last night and today pretty well did in the plastic.

Rather than try to cover the PVC frame with new clear plastic in 30 MPH winds, I dug out a piece of used floating row cover to protect both the lettuce and the spinach in the bed. I'd also planned to cover our carrots, which have just reached the baby carrot stage. But with the cold and wind, I decided to leave the supposedly hardy carrots uncovered.

The forecast calls for a possible overnight low of 35-36° F. With just a little regional variance or in low lying areas, we could catch a bit of frost. And of course, the forecast beyond tonight shows at least another week of good fall growing weather.

Ashley & Vogelzang Heaters Now Available At Tractor Supply

Thursday, October 2, 2014 - Picking a Site for a Vegetable Garden

A Shaded Senior Garden - October 2, 2014Alibris: Books, Music, & MoviesOne of our daughters is looking for a new home and asked me some questions a week ago about where to site a garden. That got me working again on an unfinished feature story about starting one's first garden and where to put it. It also made me look at our daily splash photos (photo that appears at the top of the page and here, at left). While our main raised garden bed is situated in a sunny location much of the gardening season, it is shaded almost until noon in the fall as the sun drops in the sky.

So even with our less than perfect site selection for garden plots, I went ahead and published Some Thoughts on Where to Put a Vegetable Garden. It's part of a new How-To series of articles.

Hummingbirds

Most of the hummingbirds that had frequented the feeders on our back porch this summer left in August. We had a much smaller group of transients arrive and stay a couple of weeks last month. When they left, I thought that would probably be the last hummingbird we'd see until next year. But yesterday, I saw one very shy hummingbird visiting the hanging basket flowers on our back porch and investigating our feeders. If the hummingbird hangs around much longer, it will need a jacket and ear muffs, as our weather is supposed to really change by tomorrow.

Weather

The Weather Channel Garden ForecastWe're enjoying one last day of summer weather today before temperatures drop drastically. According to The Weather Channel's Garden Forecast, we'll have rain overnight, followed by about a twenty degree drop in temperatures for the next seven to ten days!

Interesting Garden Cheat Sheet

Last week, fellow senior gardener, Don Smith, sent me the URL for an interesting vegetable garden chart. I hadn't had time to share it here until today. The URL Don sent was to Good to be Home: A Vegetable Growing Cheat Sheet [infographic], although the original source for the diagram is at Good to be Home, complete with download links for sharing and a huge printable version. The thing is so long in full size that I haven't a clue as to how to post an image of it here. But it's colorful and might be one more helpful aid in gardening. If nothing else, it would make a terrific wall hanging.

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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Senior Garden - October 1, 2014Tractor Supply CompanyWhere has our summer gone? It's October already and time to prepare for winter. The main part of our large East Garden has already been tilled for fall, but we still have lots of crops growing in various other plots that should continue yielding good produce right up to (and possibly beyond) our first frost.

The sun being gradually lower in the sky each day is a reminder of the waning season. Our main raised garden bed now remains shaded until almost noon each day before the sun rises above the trees.

Over the last six years, the occurrence of our first frost has varied from October 5 (2010) to October 30 (2008). The Senior Garden is located pretty close to a dividing line on climate charts for the first 32° F frost, but generally, we expect our first frost to arrive in the second half of October.

U.S. First Frost Map Midwest Frost/Freeze Map

The Weather Service has regionalized their online weather maps, making it easier for folks to find their frost data, but a bit difficult for me to offer readers a single link of where to start. Googling "Frost/Freeze" with your state name should get you to the proper information.

Still Growing and Producing

Pumpkin blossomKale rowDepending on when the frost comes, we may still have a lot of gardening ahead of us this month. Outside our East Garden, patches of butternut squash and pumpkins continue to grow. We already have a lot of mature butternuts and have picked three pumpkins. There are a few small pumpkins left on the vines that might just mature this month. And the pumpkin vines are filled with beautiful blooms.

In one of our narrow, raised garden beds, our row of kale has bounced back nicely from a heavy picking on September 16. Kale really isn't damaged by light frosts. A bit of frost is said to improve its flavor, something I've not really noticed that in my experience. I'm counting on making one more big batch of Portuguese Kale Soup late this month.

Next to the kale bed is another narrow raised bed planted to lettuce and spinach. I plan to cover that bed with our cold frames to extend our growing season there. Annie and I had baby spinach leaves from the bed with our supper last night.

Fall lettuceThe warm weather we had towards the end of September made a couple of the lettuce plants bolt! But the rest of our lettuce looks pretty good, and I still have a couple of small lettuce transplants on the porch to replace the plants that went to seed.

Today's broccoli harvestOur main raised garden bed still has grape tomatoes producing heavily, bell peppers trying to go from green to red or yellow, cauliflower trying to mature, carrots almost ready to dig, and some parsley I need to cut and dry. I picked the last of the main broccoli heads today, but we'll have some nice sideshoots for a while. The broccoli will have to come out of the ground a bit early this year, as it sits where we'll be planting garlic later this month.

We have isolation plots around the property also still producing. One has Moira tomatoes and Paprika Supreme peppers. Another has Mountain Fresh and Mountain Merit tomatoes with a variety of pepper plants. A late planted isolation plot by the barn has a couple of Quinte tomato plants just beginning to ripen tomatoes.

Moira & Paprika Supreme Peppers and Mountain Fresh and Mountain Merit Isolated Quintes with East Garden in background

(Hover mouse over images to reveal labeling)

Our two asparagus patches have been showing some golden color for several weeks. I'll let the frost do its work on them before cutting and disposing of the canes. Both patches will also need a good layer of compost.

Carrot row Asparagus patches showing gold Parsley

The carrot and parsley row images are included here because I couldn't find a good spot elsewhere to include them.

We obviously plan to continue harvesting right up to that first frost, and in a few cases, beyond.

Weather Change

Although a good bit of September was abnormally cool, we had a week or so of 80+ degree weather towards the end of the month. Things turned colder yesterday, with a real cold front predicted to move through our area at the end of this week, reducing daily high temperatures to around 70 with lows in the 40s.

Almost Missed It

Annie just mentioned that today is National Kale Day! Who knew? Certainly not me!

National Kale Day site

Previously on Senior Gardening

 
 

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