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.
We're almost done gardening for this season. I picked tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, and spinach on Wednesday in anticipation of a hard frost that is predicted for tonight. The tomatoes were pretty nasty with lots of cracks, bug damage, and bacterial speck disease. I did a lot of trimming before slipping their skins and freezing most of them for one more batch of Portuguese Kale Soup.
If you've never skinned tomatoes for cooking, canning, or freezing, it's an easy process as long as the tomatoes are fully ripe. You first core the tomatoes and remove the blossom end, also trimming out any bad spots. Then, just pop a few tomatoes into boiling water and wait until you see the skins on them begin to peel off a bit. Remove a tomato from the pot with a slotted spoon and drop it into a pan or sink of cold water. The skin should easily slip off the tomato. And then you continue to repeat the process, adding tomatoes to the boiling water as you go.
The Paprika Supreme peppers I picked were lovely, other than a few of them being a tad overripe. I'd held off on picking them as long as possible as I wanted to use them for seed. I was somewhat wasteful in pitching the pepper flesh into our compost bucket, as our ground paprika jar is almost full, and I didn't want to mess with dehydrating another batch of peppers. I may hate myself for such waste if we run out of paprika this winter.
The lettuce picking included a very heavy head of Crispino lettuce and a couple of Skyphos butterhead lettuce. Part of them starred in our dinner last night.
I only picked enough spinach for a batch of shrimp portofino for our Wednesday supper. I used a couple of online copycat recipes (1, 2) of the original dish served by Romano's Macaroni Grill before they caved into criticism about unhealthy meals and trashed their menu. Note that the first recipe linked omits the delicious (and expensive) pine nuts, while the second is good for ingredients, but not so good for its method. I used portobello mushrooms instead of white ones, as shrimp portofino is supposed to be a rich dish. I also added chopped carrots and onions and chicken broth to the dish.
I split the recipe halfway through the preparation, as my wife, Annie, doesn't eat shrimp. I substituted small scallops for the shrimp in her half. The shrimp portofino was delicious, although I'll use a lot more spinach the next time I make it. Annie liked her scallops portifino, too, although I found it disappointing in comparison to the shrimp version.
There should be plenty of spinach left for at least one more good picking.
I've always wanted to get our garlic started in October. Conventional gardening wisdom says garlic should be planted in October after the first frost. The rationale for such a timing of the planting is much like fall planting trees. You want the garlic to actively begin growing roots before the ground freezes, but you don't want it putting on any visible topgrowth.
Over the last six years, I've not gotten our garlic in any earlier than November 9. The latest we planted it during that period was November 30, although I seem to remember planting it in early December one year (before I began keeping computerized records of our garden).
My tardiness in planting garlic in the past has come from a combination of factors. We often have a late maturing crop or crops where the garlic will be planted. I've also tried out waiting wet weather in hope of a dry spell that would allow tilling the garlic bed before planting. (That one has almost never worked!) And some years, our first frost hasn't come until late October with a really killing freeze (32° F or below) not occurring until mid-November.
Having resolved unsuccessfully for several years to get our garlic started earlier, I really pushed this year to make my arbitrary October 31 deadline. A favorable weather forecast that suggested that our main raised bed would dry out enough to permit tilling made me resolute. Even though our first light frost didn't occur until October 23 and our first freeze isn't expected until the overnight of October 31/November 1, getting our garlic planted "on time" seemed possible for once.
I'd started clearing the bed where the garlic was to be planted a week ago, removing tomato plants that were still producing good grape tomatoes. Next went our bell pepper plants and a row of fall broccoli that yielded some delicious sideshoots as I pulled the plants. The broccoli might have continued producing well into November if I hadn't cut its season short. Then our rows of fall carrots came out, once again yielding a bumper crop of very sweet carrots that were just a bit smaller than our spring carrots (which we began giving away like mad to make room for the fall crop in the fridge).
Yesterday, I took out a couple of cauliflower plants, five parsley plants, and all the remaining flowers that had so beautifully edged our main raised garden bed. Knowing we had rain predicted for today, I renovated the entire bed yesterday by tilling in peat moss, lime, fertilizer, and Milky Spore. I even raked the bed smooth and staked the area where the garlic was to go.
Then it was just a choice of whether I wanted the bed to get rained on or not before I planted the garlic. Since garlic goes in the ground several inches deep, there wasn't any danger of it washing away like carrot seed can do in a gulleywasher. And since the rain came overnight and the weather cleared this afternoon, our garlic went in this afternoon.
I used to plant our garlic by digging a hole for each garlic clove with a garden trowel. I often ended up with some nasty blisters on the palm of my hand from pushing the trowel into the often too firm soil. But a couple of years ago I saw a video on the Burpee Gardening site on How to Plant Garlic that employed a garlic dibble. I bought one, and after a few repairs and improvements, found it to be a good tool for planting our standard garlic. While I start holes for our elephant garlic with the dibble, I still use a trowel to widen and deepen the holes to accommodate the huge cloves of elephant garlic.
To accommodate crop rotations, the space for our garlic ended up towards the middle of our main raised bed. Especially after tilling and an overnight rain, that meant I had to work from walking boards to prevent soil compaction (and also to avoid becoming a giant mudball).
I had reserved a 36" wide section in the bed for the garlic. When I checked our purchased and saved garlic, I found that I would need to plant six rows of garlic, making the rows just 7" apart. That's about as close as one wants to get garlic plants, especially since I spaced the garlic seven to eight inches apart in the rows.
I started planting from the center rows out so that I wouldn't be compacting already planted rows with my knees while I planted. Each garlic clove went into a hole that was 5-9" deep, depending on the size of the clove. I try to keep my garlic covered with at least two if not three or four inches of soil to prevent freeze damage.
I worked a little bone meal into the bottom of each hole with the trowel or my fingers before pushing a garlic clove into it. It's important to get the root side down and the pointy side up of the garlic clove.
Then I just pulled dirt into the hole and firmed it a bit.
I should point out that I was planting into some nearly ideal soil today. Planting into clay soil can be quite difficult. The soil in our main raised bed has been babied for years, making it the best garden soil we have to work with.
I ended up planting two rows of elephant garlic. One row was newly purchased garlic from Territorial Seed and Sow True Seed. The cloves were huge. The other row of elephant garlic got our saved garlic cloves which were considerably smaller than the purchased stuff. Our four rows of standard garlic included Inchelium Red, German Red, German White, Softneck Silver White, Purple Glazer, and Chesnock Red. I didn't use any of our saved standard garlic cloves, as they've seemed to lose vigor over the last few years. Note that every variety we ordered and planted this year is now sold out for 2014, with several of the varieties not even showing now on the vendor's web site.
After planting, I covered the garlic patch with several inches of mixed grass clipping and leaf mulch. While the mulch needs to be pulled back in early spring, it helps the garlic withstand cold winters. I forgot to pull back the mulch one year and greatly reduced our harvest because of weak plants whose leaves couldn't penetrate the matted mulch.
On the other hand, garlic may emerge during January or February in a mild winter. During the winter of 2011-2012, the first of our garlic began poking through the mulch in December. Of course, that was the warm winter that preceded the drought of 2012.
I won't know until next summer whether the one to five week head start I gave our garlic really made a difference. And of course, winter weather, growing conditions next summer, and even the digging habits of our dogs could influence the success of this garlic crop.
Getting our garlic planted, our first planting for our 2015 garden, raises my spirits while I'm still working to close out all of our various garden plots for this year. I'm actually a little worn out with gardening right now, so it's a good thing the season is almost over.
One last summer like day allowed me to get our main raised garden bed renovated today for next spring. We have to add material to the bed each year to keep its soil level up. Considering the bounty of produce we harvest and the quantity of green material moved from the bed to the compost pile, it's not surprising that the soil level of the bed drops a bit each season.
I really prefer to till in any major soil amendments in the fall, giving them all winter to settle and also do their work. I didn't get that job done last fall and ended up trucking in compost to raise the bed's soil level a bit this spring.
After harvesting two tennis ball sized heads of cauliflower this morning, I hardened my heart and pulled all the flowers that remained around the border of the bed. It seems a shame to pull flowers that are still in bloom, but we have a hard freeze predicted for the weekend which would have taken them anyway.
Since I added compost to the bed in the spring and the soil structure seemed a bit dense all this summer, I chose to add peat moss to the bed to raise the soil level and loosen the soil a bit. I had six 3.8 cubic foot bales of sphagnum peat moss available, although I planned on using only four of them in the main bed, with the other two reserved for our narrow raised beds. In the end, I ended up using all six bales, as it seemed the soil level had sunk a bit more than I thought over the summer.
I sprinkled lime over the bed to help neutralize the acid peat moss. Lime is best applied in the fall, giving it all winter to help raise the soil's pH. I also added a bit of 12-12-12 fertilizer, although the nitrogen in it will mostly leach out of the soil over the winter. In the area where I plan to plant garlic later this week, I added some 0-0-60 fertilizer (see caution). And the whole bed got a heavy dose of Milky Spore to help keep moles seeking cutworms out of the bed. We have two hound dogs that have a passion for digging up and killing moles anywhere they can find them, including in our garden plots!
With the added peat moss, rototilling the plot fluffed the improved soil so that its level is nearly up to the landscape timbers that enclose the bed. The soil will settle a bit in time, although we might experience a bit of runoff if we get a really heavy rain. I took the time to rake the bed smooth before quitting, as I simply like to have it that way.
Taking advantage of the ideal conditions, I dug the rest of our carrots this morning. We'd dug several forkfuls last weekend with the assistance of a couple of our grandkids. But today's dig was considerably more time consuming. Cleaning and processing the carrots for storage will take another day or two as well.
I really didn't dig our carrots. I drove a garden fork into the soil as deeply as possible just outside the carrot row and used it to lift and loosen the soil. The carrots then could be wiggled free from the soil without snapping off.
The carrots then got swished around in a bucket of cool water to remove some of the soil that stuck to them. I let them soak for a couple of minutes as I "dug" the next bunch of carrots. The bucket(s) of muddy water got emptied on our row of kale, putting the precious garden soil washed off the carrots back into another of our garden beds. At this point, I don't want to do anything to slow the drying of the soil in our main raised bed.
When the carrots came out of the rinse bucket, they went into our garden cart. When I was done and the cart was nearly full of mostly 5-8" carrots, I pushed it to the house and filled it with water for another soaking of the carrots. If I can get the carrots clean enough with a second soaking and a bit of brushing when I trim the tops and sort them for storage, they may not need peeling when used.
Let me ramble here a bit about our Ames Garden Cart. We bought it over twenty years ago to ice down beer and soft drinks at our wedding reception (here at the Senior Garden). Other than having to replace the wheel retainer clips with washers and cotter pins, the cart has held up well and is still water tight. We use it daily throughout the gardening season, hauling a little bit of everything in it from moving garden trash to the compost pile to bringing in big loads of melons (and sometimes carrots ).
Our garden cart is the four cubic foot model, although there's a three cubic foot model available that's a bit cheaper. Walmart has pretty good prices on them, although you might find a deal at the end of the season at a local hardware store. If they still make them as tough as ours was made, they're a real bargain.
Getting back to gardening, our carrots were the last critical crop still growing in our main raised bed. There are a couple of cauliflower plants still trying to put on heads, and our five parsley plants have put on a bunch more leaves since we last harvested them. But we're at a point where everything can come out of the bed for a quick fall renovation. I'm pushing a bit on getting it done, as we have rain forecast for Tuesday, and I want the plot tilled before it rains.
While I was cleaning up part of our main raised garden bed yesterday, Daisy, our red beagle cross, made sure no one ran off with our spinach. She looked so comfortable, I didn't even scold her for getting in one of the narrow raised beds.
While Daisy napped, I took out rows of peppers and broccoli. I only got a quart or so of broccoli sideshoots, but filled two buckets with green peppers. A little over half of our main raised bed has now been cleared. I still need to dig the rest of our carrots, a fairly big job. And the carrot rows run almost exactly where I plan to plant garlic when the bed has been cleared and tilled.
I also pulled our butternut squash and pumpkin vines yesterday. We have lots of green pumpkins with patches of orange on them. I left the pumpkins and butternuts in the field for now.
Today was mowing day, so no gardening got done. I did, however, rake grass clippings to use over our future planting of garlic.
It didn't quite get down to 32° F this morning, but temperatures dropped enough that we had a bit of patchy light frost this morning. Most of the crops we still hope to harvest are somewhat frost hardy, so I didn't have anything covered overnight. I did, however, make the rounds of our tomato plantings last evening in a mostly fruitless search for a ripe tomato or two.
As often happens after a first frost, our current 10-day garden weather forecast from The Weather Channel shows little chance for another frost through the end of the month. It remains to be seen when a really heavy, killing frost will come.
Cleaning Main Raised Bed
We have a lovely day today for working outside. I'm inside on a break from cleaning the grape tomato mess I created when I pulled the grape tomato plants from our main raised garden bed. The hundreds of grape tomatoes that fell off the vines could make volunteer tomatoes our main weed problem in the bed for years to come if not cleaned up. Of course, I'm sure to have missed some of fruit that got embedded in the soil, so we'll still have some volunteer grape tomato plants popping up yet this fall and next spring.
My game plan for the day had been to work a bit in the morning cleaning up the main raised bed and then mow the lawn in the afternoon. I spent several hours yesterday dropping the tiller attachment out from our lawn tractor and servicing and reinstalling the mower deck.
It appears now, around 1 P.M., that the rather tall grass may not dry out enough to mow until late this afternoon. But if and when it dries out enough, I'll be ready with a mower with a clean deck with freshly sharpened blades.
I've really been a bit slow in cleaning out the main raised bed, trying to decide whether or not to pull the flowers in and around the edge of the bed. The light frost this morning emphasized that our growing season is almost gone, so I went ahead and began pulling the flowers as I cleaned the bed. Left in the ground, some of the flowers would continue to bloom into November, but I really need to get this bed tilled in what appears to be an extended dry period over the next week or so. And we still have flowers in bloom in our two narrow raised beds.
With grandkids here over the weekend and a second round of dining room ceiling remodeling Sunday, I haven't gotten a lot of gardening done lately. I did process all the carrots the grandkids and I dug on Saturday, having to send home a big bag of spring carrots with our daughter to make room for the freshly dug carrots. I also sent all the baby carrots home with the grandkids, as they're quite happy to have carrots for a snack.
I got out early this morning and started clearing our main raised garden bed. I've been trying to nurse every bit of production out of our remaining plantings since we haven't had our first frost yet. But if I don't start clearing things out now, I'll not get the bed cleared and tilled in time to get our garlic planted in October (a goal I somehow always miss).
I didn't get beyond pulling and composting our two grape tomato plants this morning. Having started around eight, my hands and feet were cold and wet from the almost frosty, morning dew after an hour's work. I still have a nasty mess of groundfall grape tomatoes to clean up. I'll get around to that after I pull the double trellis that ran between the tomato cages. The trellis string is wet and needs to dry in the sun a bit before coming down.
Even more than the weekend visitors and remodeling, Apple's free, new OS X Yosemite operating system upgrade has occupied a lot of my time lately. Like a lot of other Apple Macintosh users, I started the upgrade process shortly after it was released on Thursday. Unlike a lot of early adopters, I decided to be a bit cautious in my upgrade strategy. Rather than upgrade my MacBook Pro which was running under Mavericks and gets a lot of daily use, I chose to first upgrade the Mavericks partition of my Mac Mini.
I still haven't gotten all the bugs of the install worked out yet, but managed to get something usable very early this morning. I ended up trashing the old Mavericks partition of the Mini, eventually deleting it in disgust and doing the install on an open partition of an external Firewire drive. I had to boot Yosemite into safe mode to get its mail application to upgrade without crashing. And I still have a problem switching from the Snow Leopard partition to the Yosemite partition.
To sort of prove to myself that the upgrade now works, I finished and uploaded this posting from the new Yosemite partition. But while some folks are raving about the Yosemite upgrade, I'll be waiting for an update or two before risking my MacBook Pro to what appears to be one of Apple's less refined upgrades!
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.
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.
With 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.
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.
While 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:
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.
Our 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.
I 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.
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.
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.
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.
We 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.
While 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.
Last 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.
Since 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.
When 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.
Even 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."
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.
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.
After 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.
We 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.
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 club, 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.
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.
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.
One 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.
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.
We'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.
Where 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.
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
Depending 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.
The 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.
Our 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.
(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.
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.
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!
at Senior Gardening