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 picked quite a few peppers over the last few days, both paprika and bell types. Since the only frozen peppers we have left in the freezer is the bag I used as an ice pack last month, it was time today to put up some frozen peppers for winter use. The paprika peppers got washed, dried, and bagged before going into the refrigerator.
Freezing sweet bell peppers is really one of the easier food preservations we do. The peppers need to be thoroughly washed, as spiders hide in their crevices and lay their eggs there and by the stem. Surrounded by large pans and our compost bucket, I cored, halved, and seeded the peppers this afternoon while watching football on TV.
Once seeded, the peppers get washed again and set out to dry in a warm (and today, sunny) location. When dry, the peppers are cut into strips, placed on cookie sheets, and frozen. It takes about six hours in our freezer for the peppers to become firm enough to go into zip lock bags for long term storage in our big freezer.
The two gallons of frozen pepper strips put up today are about twice what we'll use over the winter. One of our daughters loves to cook with peppers, though, so we'll send some home with her the next time she visits. I may even put up some more peppers, as who knows when I'll need to ice another joint after a cortisone shot!
We received 1.25 inches of rain last night, bringing our monthly total so far to 6.40 inches. A bit more interesting than the rain is the extended forecast for our area which calls for high temperatures in the low 70s with almost no chance of rain for the next week to ten days! If that proves accurate, we should be able to fall till our East Garden early next week.
Our fall lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, and kale should love the coming weather, although we're definitely into decreasing day length, which slows the ripening of crops. Our warm weather crops such as tomatoes and peppers simply won't ripen as quickly as they would during hot weather.
The paprika pepper slices I put in our food dehydrator on Monday were finally dry enough today to grind. I wait until the strips snap like a thin pretzel before grinding.
We have accumulated several coffee grinders over the years. One is used only for grinding coffee beans. The one shown above is used for grinding dried paprika, sage, garlic, and similar stuff. The third, over thirty years old, now stays in the basement and is only used for grinding peat moss into milled sphagnum moss (usually for seed starting).
I snap the dried paprika into the grinder, thoroughly grind it (takes about 60 seconds), and use a canning funnel to help dump it into an old Parmesan cheese container. I ground four or five loads of paprika this morning, making a little less than a cup of ground paprika. Cleaning the grinder before and after grinding, and cleaning the dehydrator shelves took far more time than grinding the dried paprika peppers.
If our paprika peppers continue to ripen without mold or rot, we should be able to at least half fill our paprika container.
Making our own ground paprika is one of those garden things we do for the joy of doing it and using the product. A quick price check for a large container of Spanish Paprika at Sam's Club reveals that it would be a lot cheaper to just buy our paprika. The price today was $5.98 in Terre Haute for a eighteen ounce container (but $4.22 in Indy??). But there's also a lot to be said for opening ones spice cabinet for homegrown basil, parsley, oregano, sage, and garlic powder (when we can stand the smell of drying garlic for three days). Our paprika actually goes into the refrigerator for storage. We wouldn't have run out this year, except that our paprika got wet when I was defrosting our refrigerator and freezer this spring.
I'd picked our Mohon's pole beans yesterday. Today, I took out our Earliest Red Sweet pepper plants and our Earlirouge caged tomatoes. Both were suffering from age, bug damage, and a bit of disease. With the beans off the trellis and the tomato cages that were anchored to the T-posts at either end of the trellis removed, I could pull the trellis wires, netting, and T-posts. Other than some flowers here and there and a row of sweet potatoes that just aren't going to make a crop, the East Garden is ready for fall tilling if/when the soil dries a bit.
With rain almost certainly on the way, I grabbed my stash of expensive alfalfa seed and overseeded some bare patches in the section of the East Garden that is currently rotated out of production. Overseeding alfalfa usually isn't terribly successful, but we have a good enough stand in the area that tilling it up and starting over really wasn't necessary. Most of the weeds in that area are annual grass, so the alfalfa I started in April plus any that germinates from today's seeding should have a head start on the weeds next spring.
Just outside our East Garden, our separate patches of pumpkins and butternut squash are doing well. The pumpkins survived assaults from cucumber beetles, squash bugs, and vine borers. They've overgrown last year's compost pile and have put on three nice sized pumpkins.
I picked more paprika peppers on Sunday. On Monday, I harvested seed from the Paprika Supreme peppers that were grown in isolation before cutting them up and putting them into our food dehydrator. I also cut and began drying some Hungarian (long, deep red peppers), Alma (round, red peppers), and Feher Ozon (orangish peppers). Sadly, a good many of the Feher Ozon peppers had mold on the inside of them and had to be discarded. But I ended up filling three of the four trays in the dehydrator.
I'm still waiting on the peppers to fully dry. I may have cut the pepper strips a little wide, which slows down the process. I also set the dehydrator to its lowest setting, as I've toasted the edges of our paprika peppers a bit in the past with higher settings. So I'm willing to be patient before I pop the strips into a coffee grinder (reserved for just such purposes) and probably end up with a fourth to half cup of ground paprika. But we have lots more paprika peppers maturing on our plants.
I'm also just about overwhelmed with seed saving right now. We have saved, or are in the process of saving seed from tomatoes, peppers, yellow squash, cucumbers, muskmelon, watermelon, lettuce, peas, and pole beans. For some seed, it's just a matter of harvesting, cleaning, and drying the seed. Wet seeds (tomatoes, cucumbers, muskmelons, etc.) have to be fermented for 3-5 days to remove pulp and gel from the seed before drying them. Some of our seed has to be hot water treated to kill off any potential seed borne plant diseases (tomatoes, some peppers, and cucumbers). And all of the various seed varieties saved have to be germination tested before being packaged for storage in our manual defrost freezer.
I wrote a couple of times (1, 2) last month about the process of saving seed from open pollinated cucumbers. I also have a feature story about Saving Tomato Seed that gives the basics for saving wet seed and also hot water treatment, if necessary. There are links in each of the postings that point to good sites for information on saving seed.
With many pounds of potatoes stored in our basement, I tried my hand yesterday at making au gratin potatoes from scratch. I think they turned out just so-so, but Annie thought they were great. Tonight, I'm going to try making garlic mashed potatoes. We've had lots of great baked potatoes from our garden over the last few weeks, as well as boiled and buttered potatoes (sometimes mixed with peas or green beans from the garden) when the potatoes were new. At some point, we'll get absolutely sick of potatoes this way and that, but for now, we're not even close to getting there.
The house smells of garlic, but the garlic mashed potatoes turned out great. Annie went back for seconds. Even Shep, our sheepdog who is blind in one eye, ate the mashed potatoes (with his eye medicine mixed in).
While Shep wouldn't pose for a picture today, I finally got a good shot of Jackson, a lab/great dane cross who adopted us a little over a year ago. As I was walking back to the house from the East Garden this morning, Jackson for a moment didn't seem to mind having his picture taken. It probably didn't hurt that I had dog treats with me.
Sadly, Jackson usually shies away when you point a camera at him. I suspect he's had something far more threatening pointed at him somewhere in his past.
As I write, a thunderstorm is rumbling outside. While it sprinkled just a bit at times through the day today, it didn't really begin to rain until a few minutes ago. While I'm not running outside to check our rain gauge (which is mounted on a T-post...excellent grounding for a lightning strike), a nearby weather station is reporting an inch of rain in the last half hour!
A cold front moved through last night dropped another half inch of rain on us. While the rain is still quite welcome and needed, a twenty degree drop in temperatures was even more welcome. Things will warm up a bit next week, but nowhere near the daily 90+ degree highs and 100+ degree heat index readings we had over the last few weeks.
I didn't get a lot of gardening done this week due to the high temperatures and several doctor visits. I mowed our lawn on Thursday with every intention of raking (sweeping) grass clippings and remulching our main raised bed on Friday. But a trip to my skin cancer surgeon early Friday changed my plans, as he ended up removing six places, two of which I was fairly sure were cancers. Laser surgery to remove skin growths usually doesn't bother me, but yesterday, it knocked me on my butt.
Rather than go on about the dangers of sun exposure here, I'll just refer you to Your Annual Nag about UV Exposure that I posted in April.
While the rain will make raking a no-go until things dry and I mow again, I still need to get some mulch on our main raised bed. The heavy mulch I applied in April and refreshed in July has decayed, allowing weeds to begin poking through what remains of the mulch. I noticed that many of the weeds were purslane, a weed we've not seen in our raised beds until this year. I assume seed for it came in with some purchased compost.
Purslane is an edible weed, cultivated in some areas. It also is an aggressive weed that can go to seed in just a few weeks. The seed can survive in the soil for many years. The plant appears to be a able to re-grow from any part of it. So when weeding purslane, I'm careful to get the plant, roots, stems, leaves and all, out of the garden. I'm a bit emphatic about this, as I had real problems with purslane in other garden plots before coming to the Senior Garden.
My other doctor visits this week were to the orthopedic surgeon and my family doctor. The ortho doc said my shoulder is doing great. Sadly, when he examined the x-rays of my bum leg, he found little to no cartilage remains in my left hip. He calmly remarked, "When the pain gets too bad, we'll replace your hip." And he really didn't help the leg any with all the mobility tests he did on the leg.
Oh, my! I really thought my quest to become the bionic man would start with a new knee!
While limiting my outside work the last few days, I've gotten some indoor work done. Germination tests on our cucumber seed have been positive, running from 80-100% germination. I now have other germination tests running on saved tomato, pea, and muskmelon seed.
I've also been moving seedling gloxinias from fourpacks to four inch pots. As the plants begin to crowd each other in the fourpacks, I know it's time to uppot them to larger quarters.
And as if I needed any more gloxinias to care for, I ordered seed for Double Brocade gloxinias from several sources last week and will be getting it started once all the seed arrives. I've found the hybrid Double Brocades the most difficult gloxinias to get to germinate well. There aren't many vendors for the seed, and those that do carry it appear to often sell substandard seed. But having lost all of our Double Brocades last year to the INSV virus, we're starting over with them now, as they're too pretty to leave out of our collection.
Having mentioned purslane earlier in this posting, I grabbed my good camera between showers and ran outside to grab a shot of it. As luck would have it (or possibly some effective weeding), I couldn't find a single purslane plant in our main raised bed to photograph. Fortunately, there are lots of good shots of common purslane online, although I thought one from Michigan State was especially good for identifying the weed.
Of course, with a camera in hand out in the garden, I had to snap a few shots here and there. I blew a shot of an early head of broccoli (out of focus), but got a nice shot of our very healthy, fully mulched and weeded (purslane removed) double row of fall carrots. I haven't noticed any Los Vegas bookies giving odds on the August 1 planted crop beating our first frost, but I'm guessing our chances are pretty good.
While dumping some used cat litter in a wash at the side of the field east of our house, I also picked some Paprika Supreme peppers from one of the three plants in an isolation plot that survived my neglect and assaults from rabbits and/or deer. While chili pepper shaped, Paprika Supremes are a very mild pepper, sweet enough for use like a sweet bell pepper. We use them for dried and ground paprika, sometimes blending them with spicier paprika pepper varieties. I've been known to sneak a few red bell peppers into the blend to intensify its color. And going the other way, I added the Paprika Supreme pepper I cut for the photo to a pan of spaghetti sauce.
I went ahead and cut and harvested seed from one of the peppers. As you can see at right, the peppers are filled with hopefully viable seeds. One of the nice things with peppers is that you can use the flesh for eating or drying and still save the seed from the peppers for future crops.
These peppers came from a plant grown from the last of the pure, commercial Paprika Supreme seed we had on hand. Our other two Paprika Supreme plants (there were five before the rabbit/deer damage) are from saved seed that may have crossed with another variety. Since the peppers shown bloomed well ahead of the other plants which bore the worst of the critter damage, the seed they produced is probably a pure strain of Paprika Supreme. I noticed that the peppers on our plants from saved seed, while still green, were a bit huskier than the ones I picked today, but still looked like Paprika Supremes.
I took the time today in response to a Burpee mailing to submit a review of the Saffron yellow squash we tried this year (from their seed). Our hill of Saffrons outlasted two, succession planted hills of hybrid Slick Piks, producing good squash throughout the season. I've been looking for a good, open pollinated yellow squash, and I think I've found it in the Saffron variety.
With the power off, I decided to drive our surplus potatoes and onions to the mission this morning. I had them all ready to go, as I finished bagging the last of the potatoes yesterday and also re-sorted the onions, bagging some for us and some for the mission.
When sorting and bagging the onions that had been hanging in mesh bags in the garage, I culled out a full five gallon bucket of bad onions. I'm not sure the extended curing, hanging from the garage rafters, may have been such a good idea. The heat in the garage, despite running a fan 24/7, may have accelerated the spoilage.
But we have around fifty pounds of potatoes and twenty pounds of onions, with a little garlic, stored in the basement. Any sweet potatoes we may get (doesn't look good at this point) and butternut squash (looks like another bountiful harvest) will also be stored in the basement. The mission's food bank ended up getting about double what we stored. (It's been a very good year for potatoes and onions.)
Since we keep our potatoes in the same room as our lighted plant rack, we store them in burlap bags. While the garlic and onions stored in the room don't seem to green up from the small amount of light that escapes from under the plant rack, we've had potatoes green up in the past when stored in mesh bags. The burlap seems to filter out enough light that we don't have greening problems with our stored potatoes while still allowing some air movement around the potatoes.
I finished cleaning up the last of the melons in our East Garden yesterday. I sorted out five ripe to overripe Moon & Stars watermelons and harvested seed from them. I also had set aside one melon that appeared to be perfectly ripe.
The melon turned out to be from one of our (almost) seedless plants and was indeed perfectly ripe. It turned out to be the best tasting melon we cut from our garden this summer. Watermelons we'd previously cut had ripened before it got really hot and lacked that good watermelon flavor we so like. Apparently this melon had caught just enough hot days to be delicious.
While down in the basement photographing our stored garlic, onions, and potatoes, I had to grab a shot of our gloxinias. After losing almost all of our mature plants a year ago, we're starting over from seed. Almost all of the plants shown above are from saved seed. Our Empress from commercial seed and Cranberry Tigers from seed given to me are just coming into bloom.
The change from August 31 to September 1 is just one day and a page rolled over on the calendar. While we've already begun to wind down some areas of our garden, the arrival of September alerts us to the need to begin getting areas of our garden ready for winter and the next gardening season. At this point, there's no real hurry, as we have at least a month before the first expected frost of fall. But it's time to get started.
As areas of our garden plots go fallow after crops are harvested, plant remains and most organic surface trash are hauled to the compost pile to deny bugs and plant diseases easy spots to overwinter. Hauling off surface trash and harvesting crops tends to lower the soil level in our raised beds, so it's important for us to add material to the beds. Incorporating peat moss and/or compost usually bring soil levels back up to where we want them (about an inch or so lower than the timbers that surround our raised beds).
Our East Garden often gets a turndown crop of buckwheat incorporated into the soil. And while we remove mulch from our raised beds, we turn such stuff under in the East Garden, as its clay soil needs all the organic matter it can get. A drawback to turning under grass clipping mulch is that grass seed in the mulch gets turned into ones soil as well!
September 1 also lets us know that we should have at least a month more to enjoy the fruits of our gardening efforts. Tomatoes continue to produce throughout the month and our bell peppers usually come into their own at the beginning of the month. Neither our fall carrots nor our fall broccoli and cauliflower will mature this month. We'll be pushing into October near our first frost date for them.
And since I didn't get one of our narrow raised beds cleared of garlic and celery until yesterday, we'll be counting on cold frames and/or floating row covers to extend the season so we can harvest the lettuce and spinach I put in today. (Oh, my!)
And while the change from August 31 to September 1 is just one day, a day in the garden can make a big difference. I really didn't like the ugly, dead cucumber vines or the plywood helping hill our celery in a shot I used yesterday. After cleaning vines yesterday and renovating and planting one of our narrow raised beds this morning, the view (below right) appeals to my eye a bit more.
And of course, one of the nicest things about the latter parts of the growing season is that all of the flowers we use as row markers and borders in our raised beds just go nuts blooming.
at Senior Gardening