Senior Gardening

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The Old Guy's Garden Record

Our senior garden - 10/31/2011

Kale Soup Recipe/ArticleSaturday, October 1, 2011 -Portuguese Kale Soup

Portuguese Kale SoupOne of our annual summer treats from the garden is Portuguese Kale Soup. We often make our first batch of the hearty, nutritious soup in July, about the earliest our kale is ready for a good picking. With home repairs and the drought this summer (with a good measure of procrastination thrown in), I'm just getting around to making kale soup for the first time this season.

I also had been waiting for our local grocery to put chicken breasts (with skins still on) on sale to boil and bone to get our chicken stock for the soup started. The grocery didn't cooperate, so I bought a whole chicken last week, boiled it in a large can (49 oz.) of Swanson's Chicken Broth and water, boned it, and refrigerated the broth and chicken pieces separately. Note that some of the chicken will end up as chicken salad, as a batch of Portuguese kale soup doesn't require a whole chicken.

Green BeansBy waiting until the end of summer, most of the ingredients in this batch of soup are from our garden. When I went out to pick the kale this morning, I noticed that one of our two rows of late green beans was ready for picking. So instead of using some of the green beans we canned in July, I was able to snap fresh green beans into the soup. The tomatoes, carrots, onion, and garlic all came from this summer's garden.

Kale SoupKidney beans are simply easier to buy from the grocery, and our potato crop this year was a bust, so they were store bought as well. My wife, Annie, was sweet enough to peel and cut the potatoes for the soup, as I was just about tuckered out from a morning of picking and cooking. She also gave me a taste from a bowl of the soup she was sampling before adding the potatoes.


Our recipe for Portuguese kale soup isn't much different from the original recipe I found for it in Crockett's Victory Garden (1977, pg. 191):

Kale is an all but unknown vegetable these days, so let me do my part to publicize its cause by passing along the bare outlines of a delicious recipe for Portuguese kale soup. There are dozens of variations of this recipe, but my favorite includes kale (or collards), garlic-seasoned smoked pork sausage, chopped onions and garlic, potatoes, tomatoes, and freshly cooked kidney beans in a chicken stock. Short of making the soup for you myself, I can do no more.

From the looks of our kale patch after I picked this morning and the Weather Channel's Gardener's Local Forecast, I may be able to make another batch of kale soup this fall, along with picking and canning those rows of green beans. While our overnight low dipped below 40o F last night, it appears we have at least a week or more of frost free weather ahead of us.

Kale patch Weather Channel Gardener's Local Forecast

Small broccoli headNew attic windowWe're still picking a few melons from our East Garden and are waiting somewhat impatiently as our fall broccoli begins to put on heads. With the cool weather, the heads shouldn't go to seed very quickly and could grow to good size. The head shown at left is just a bit smaller than a tennis ball.

We're now having to pitch about an equal number of cull melons as those we pick as useable. That's really not too bad for this time of year.

And along with all the garden chores to be done, we have a large, beautiful, if a bit expensive, window sitting in our dining room waiting to be installed in our attic this afternoon. Both of our large attic windows blew out last winter!

Melons picked Melon patch on Oct. 1, 2011 Cull melons

So we're off to a great start in gardening this month. And by the end of the month, our fall lettuce may be the only crop we'll still be tending.

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Sunday, October 2, 2011 - Thinning Spinach

Spinach before thinningSpinach thinnedI seeded a row of spinach into our main raised bed garden plot in mid-August. With the dry conditions, only a few seeds germinated, and the plants withered and died in a week or so. Several weeks later, I reopened the furrow and had two of our grandchildren spread seed in the row. While they were doing so, I noticed a good bit of the green, treated seed I'd originally sowed still present.

When the drought finally broke, we had lots of spinach germinate. Leaving the row as it was would produce stunted plants, competing with each other for light, nutrition, and moisture. So one of my jobs today was to thin out the spinach plants to a one to two inch spacing in the row. It was pretty easy work, as the plants were still small and the soil around them was fairly loose.

Well after the second seeding of spinach, I transplanted lettuce into the remainder of the garden section. The lettuce transplants received daily watering until the drought broke. It appears that we may get some nice lettuce and spinach yet this fall.

Lettuce and spinach

About That Kale Soup

The nearly twelve quarts of Portuguese Kale Soup we made yesterday only produced nine pints canned! There wasn't any magic to the soup disappearing, just our family seriously chowing down on a traditional favorite yesterday and today. I put up nine pints today, as that's how many pint jars our pressure canner will hold in a batch. We also have a small margarine tub of soup in the fridge that should satisfy Annie and my soup urges for several days.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011 - Green Beans

Late green bean rowsBush Blue Lake green beansI took a break from my painting chores today to pick green beans and let the paint on the back porch cure for a day. You could also read that as after all the scraping, puttying, fiberglassing, sanding, caulking, washing, and priming (2 coats of quality primer), my back was so sore this morning that there was no way I wanted to get back up on a ladder any time soon!

I planted our late green beans on July 22 and August 1. The first planting didn't germinate all that well in the dry weather, and I filled in the bare spots in the row when I planted the second row. Of the three varieties planted, Bush Blue Lake (55 days to maturity), Strike (54 days), and Jade (60 days), the Jade variety has produced the earliest beans and made up the bulk of today's picking. (The photo at right is of a Bush Blue Lake plant.)

Green beansCanned green beansI picked about ten quarts of green beans. After washing, snapping, and discarding some beans that appeared to have rust (a fungus disease of green beans) on them, I ended up with four quarts of canned green beans. The Jade variety appears to be more prone to rust than the Bush Blue Lake and Strike varieties.

Four quarts of canned green beans isn't a lot for the hours it took to pick, snap, and can them, but they'll be a treat this winter.

As a bonus, I snapped the beans on the back porch and was surprised to see one hummingbird still coming to our feeder. I almost didn't refill the feeder yesterday, thinking that all of the hummingbirds had left for the winter, but left it for the odd transient that might need a "fill up" on its way south.

Lone hummingbird at feeder"Our" hummingbirds seem to have stayed around later than they have in past years. We had a sharp decrease in activity at our feeders about two weeks ago. After that, it appeared that five or six hummingbirds were still visiting our feeders. It's a wonder they stayed as long as they did, as I have been moving the feeders around as I scraped, washed, and painted parts of the back porch.

Almost Done

Back porch repairedOur back porch repair project is almost done. We had endured a number of leaks where the porch joins the house that damaged both our dining room and kitchen ceilings. A couple of contractors had taken a crack at fixing the leaks, only to have the leaks return after just a few months. Some shoddy installation practices by Dish added even more leaks in the roof. (We now have just one satellite dish on the roof...and not from Dish.)

One of my sons-in-law took on the repair job, which I made even bigger by adding some window repair, a whole new porch roof, and siding where possible. His part of the job is done now, and I just have to put on a last coat of paint to the unsided surfaces.

And that expensive attic window I wrote about earlier this month is now in place. Some trim work still needs to be done around it, but we finally have some nagging home repairs out of the way. With a hundred year old house, there's still more to do, but hopefully, we won't be putting out pots, pans, and trash cans in the dining room and kitchen anymore when it rains!

New attic window

And the view out the attic window is gorgeous.

SSE 2011 Yearbook coverThursday, October 6, 2011 - Seed Savers Exchange

A rather fat envelope from the Seed Savers Exchange (SSE) arrived in the mail last week. Knowing what was in it, I just set it aside unopened until this morning when I had time to deal with it.

The envelope contained the form necessary for listing seed and plant material in the Seed Savers Exchange Yearbook (2011 yearbook shown at right). If you're unfamiliar with the SSE, it is "a non-profit organization dedicated to saving and sharing heirloom seeds." I've been a member, off and on, since the mid-70s.

While the forms are certainly easy enough to complete as they come with ones previous listings already entered, I went online to re-list the three vegetable varieties we currently preserve and share. It was a quick and easy process. We'll be offering Moira tomato, Earliest Red Sweet pepper, and Japanese Long Pickling cucumber seed via the SSE 2012 Yearbook.

Moira tomatoes Earliest Red Sweet peppers Japanese Long Pickling cucumber
Moira Earliest Red Sweet Japanese Long Pickling

Filling out the online form reminded me that I still had ripe and overripe peppers and cucumbers to bring in and harvest seed from. Saving seed from the peppers in just a matter of cutting open the peppers, scraping out the seed, and setting it aside to dry a bit. The cucumber seed takes a bit more doing.

Saving cucumber seedI let our cucumbers for seed get a good bit overripe before harvesting them. Some had already turned yellow, while a few others were still a bit green, but their size and rather shabby looking condition showed that they were ready. I slice the cucumbers into six to eight inch lengths before slicing them again lengthwise to reveal the seed cavity. And yes, I do cut and ruin some seed with the cuts.

Then it's just a matter of scraping out the seed and pulp around it into a container. Note that I use a plastic container that won't react with the acid from the cuke pulp and also one with a tightly fitting lid. Before sealing the container, I use a spoon to smash the pulp as much as I can. I'll let the cuke soup sit and ferment, stirring it daily, for three to five days before rinsing off the goo and pulp and drying the seed for storage.

Saturday, October 8, 2011 - More Soup

Having made a nice batch of Portuguese Kale Soup just a week ago, I really hadn't planned on doing another this weekend. But I ran into a sale on chicken breasts at Kroger on Friday, so after filleting and freezing the breast meat and boiling and boning the rest, I had a lot of great chicken and broth on hand.

I did experiment a bit with this batch, using two pounds of Cavanaugh Smoked Sausage along with a pound of our usual Eckrich Smoked Sausage. The Cavanaugh sausage seems somewhat less spicy and a good deal less salty than the Eckrich.

I also dug the last of the potatoes from our garden for this batch of soup. Cutting into freshly dug potatoes is always a pleasant surprise, as they are quite crisp.

After Annie, a couple of grandkids, and I had chowed down on kale soup, I canned seven quarts and still had another quart or so to go in the fridge.

Monday, October 10, 2011 - Cleaning Up the Melon Patch

I just brought in our last four melons of the season, two cantaloupes and two watermelons. That was the last step in this morning's cleanup of our melon patch.

Melon patch in East Garden

Melon patch in mid-SeptemberCleaning up the melon patch is always a little sad, as it marks the end of the growing season. Just a month ago, we were hauling out lots of gorgeous melons each week. (See photo at left of the patch in September.) We still have sweet potatoes, yellow squash, and broccoli in the East Garden along with some rapidly fading tomato and pepper plants. But when we pull the melon vines, it's a sure sign winter is near.

New compost pileThere are always lots of cull melons to be disposed of whose vine had died or that just didn't ripen in time. I cut the melons before putting them on the compost pile to speed up their decay. Once the melons are out of the way, I pull each hill of vines at their base and drag them to the compost pile. By the time I was done today, our new compost pile stood five feet high. And while you can't tell it from the picture at right, I limed the cut melons pretty heavily before the vines went on. I'll go back later this week and add either solid fertilizer or some liquid compost starter to make sure the pile at least gets started "cooking" before winter sets in.

Our grass clipping mulch that held in moisture and held down weeds under the vines just stays in place for now. It will rot over the winter, although it will also add some grass and weed seed to the area. I did walk the patch before I quit gardening for the day, pulling weeds that had pushed through the mulch. I especially looked for thistle which came in with grass clippings raked from the field around our East Garden. It can become a real problem if let go to seed.

Broccoli headLettuce and spinachWhile our melons are done for the year, I noticed that we have a head of broccoli ready to be cut today or tomorrow. There are six or seven more heads close behind with a couple of cauliflower plants just now starting to head. I love getting both a spring and fall crop of broccoli!

Our lettuce in our main garden is looking good, too. The warm days and cool nights are just about ideal for it. While the lettuce would benefit from a good rain, the spinach in the same bed desperately needs some more moisture.

We may yet get another picking from our two rows of fall green beans. The plants have had lots of blooms on them, but not a lot of beans have set. When I planted the beans, I was hoping for at least one good picking, which we got. Anything more from here on in is a bonus.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011 - Fall Broccoli

Fresh cut broccoliI cut five medium sized heads of broccoli today. Each head was still firm at the center, but beginning to get a bit loose at the edges. I suppose I could have let them go a day or two more for some more size, but I was more concerned with getting high quality broccoli out of this picking.

Broccoli ready for freezingThis is the first time we've grown broccoli in our East Garden. I'd actually planned on growing most of our fall brassicas in our main raised bed, but the plants there got wiped out by drought and critters (rabbits, I think). So I'm really glad I transplanted another row of brassicas in mid-August in the East Garden.

Despite the heavy clay soil, both our Premium Crop and Goliath plants produced heads 8-9" across their longest dimension. The Premium Crop plants are already beginning to put on sideshoots. If the weather continues to hold, we may be cutting broccoli right up until November!

While cutting up the broccoli before blanching and freezing most of it, I popped a bud into my mouth. After having cut broccoli well into July this year that was less than ideal, the incredible flavor of great broccoli was a pleasant surprise.

Yellow Squash

Our yellow squash in the East Garden are still blooming and setting small fruit. While the squash are a good bit smaller than those we picked in early summer, the quality of them is still excellent. Our early squash really got hammered by the drought and by squash bugs. So far, I've been able to keep the squash bugs off these plants with regular sprayings of pesticide.

Yellow squash plant in fall

BTW: Both our row of fall brassicas and our current yellow squash plants are growing on ground we used for sweet corn earlier this season. We're often able to double crop areas, increasing our output without having to increase the amount of land we have under cultivation. I think both the broccoli and squash have benefited from excess fertilizer applied to the sweet corn.

Hot Water Treatment for Seed

An email from a reader this week about Moira tomatoes jogged my memory that I still had tomato, pepper, and cucumber seed to treat and dry. I began hot water treating our tomato and pepper seed last year as a precaution against passing along disease problems we've had with some of our other tomato and pepper varieties.

Fermenting cucumber seed I'd hoped to treat the tomato, pepper, and cucumber seed yesterday, but the cucumber "soup" really hadn't fermented enough for the pulp to separate from the seed. Generally, household temperatures through the summer are enough to produce good fermentation in just a few days to separate seed and pulp and also knock down some bacteria. Since our kitchen has been a bit cooler than in summer, it's taking a bit longer than usual. That's not a problem as long as the seed doesn't begin to germinate in the fermenting mess. By today, I had good fermentation, but the cucumber pulp hadn't degraded enough to easily separate from the seed.

Hot water treating tomato seedWhile most online sources recommend bagging ones seed when hot water treating it, I just put my seed into a pyrex measuring cup with warm water. The reason for the bagging is to keep the seed together and away from the sides and bottom of the container in which you're treating the seed to avoid temperature fluctuation. I get around that by putting my pyrex measuring cup in a hot water bath in the kitchen sink. The sink water bath's temperature isn't exactly the temperature required, but it's warm enough to insure that there aren't hot or cold spots in the pyrex cup.

I monitor water temperature with my old darkroom thermometer, adding hot water from a teapot on the stove when the temperature begins to drop a bit. I also add hot water to the water bath in the sink throughout the process.

Recommended water temperatures range from 122-125o F with processing times from 20-30 minutes. For tomato seed, 122o F for 25 minutes is recommended. If you get much over 125, you'll cook and kill your seed. If you go below the recommended temperature, you're just wasting your time, as it takes sustained heat over a period of time to penetrate the seed and kill harmful organisms.

When the time is up, I pour the seed and water through a strainer and then spray the seed with increasingly cooler water to cool it. I initially dry the seed on paper towels, although I sometimes will later put the seed in a jar with a bag of powdered, dry milk to suck off a bit of moisture before freezing the seed in aluminum foil packets for long term storage.

I won't try to reproduce the time and temperature charts from the various agriculture extension pages here, but will supply links to some good ones that should have the information you may need for hot water treating other vegetable seed.

I also ran across an interesting page today of Organic Seed Treatments, including of course, hot water treatment.

Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN)

I mentioned that I got back to treating seed as a result of a reader's email. The reader was interested in the Moira tomato variety, as heat and drought by mid-season was damaging his tomato crops. Moiras, an early tomato at 66 days to maturity from transplant, may help him out a bit. Unlike a lot of early tomatoes, Moiras have excellent flavor.

In an exchange of emails with the reader, I mentioned that I'd lost my start of Quinte tomatoes, a variety related to Moiras and developed at the same agricultural research station in Canada. The reader put me onto the Germplasm Resources Information Network of the USDA which has Quinte seed available for research purposes. I'm not sure if my request will be approved, but it's good to know the seed is being preserved somewhere.

Odds 'n' Ends

11 1/2I started a new column series several weeks ago, Odds 'n' Ends. It takes its name from a section I run at the end of my Educators' News postings. I often lump lots of links and off-topic stuff into the section. The first few months of our Senior Gardening blog is actually taken from Odds 'n' Ends postings.

Today's column, Amusing Myself, is a silly one about my misreading a grocery store sign and wondering what an 11 1/2 inch pork chop might look like. I make lots of reading errors like that and never, ever dial a phone number without my finger under the numbers from the phone book I'm reading. I told my wife, Annie, that mistakes like the 11 1/2 inch pork chop are the lighter side of having a reading disability.

I had a lot of fun finding royalty free images which I could use to create the image at right of an 11 1/2 inch pork chop dinner in Photoshop. (Thanks to Kimberly Vardeman for use of her Pepper Pot Pork Chops photo.)

I also share how disabilities can sometimes lead to big things, such as a proofreading system I learned and later taught that led to a rather big grant for our school.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Why do we can so much, Mommy?I ran into the image at right on Facebook and traced it back as far as Kitchen Gardeners International. It's all over the blogosphere, but I'm really not sure if someone owns a copyright on it. So, I'm breaking a rule for my web sites by using it, but it is really funny.

Frozen broccoliThe five heads of broccoli I cut yesterday ended up producing just under three pounds of frozen broccoli, plus a delicious veggie for our dinner table last night. Since we rarely get enough broccoli frozen from our spring crop, the fall crop is a blessing, as it allows us to put up enough to last over the winter.

We cut our broccoli and steam blanch it before spreading it out on a greased cookie sheet to freeze. We then store it in gallon freezer bags. We get a little freezer burn with this method, but like freezing broccoli stalks instead of chopped broccoli.

While poking around some garden web sites this morning, I came across a great resource list of seed providers on the Seeds of Diversity site. It includes sources in Canada (Seeds of Diversity is a Canadian outfit.), the United States, the United Kingdom, and France.

From their About page:

Seeds of Diversity is a Canadian charitable organization dedicated to the conservation, documentation and use of public-domain, non-hybrid plants of Canadian significance. Our 1400 members from coast to coast are gardeners, farmers, teachers, scientists, agricultural historians, researchers and seed vendors. Together we grow, propagate and distribute over 2900 varieties of vegetables, fruit, grains, flowers and herbs. We are a living gene bank.

For gardeners in the United States, some parallels to Seeds of Diversity would include the Seed Savers Exchange, Native Seeds/SEARCH, the Southern Seed Legacy Project, and the South Carolina Crop Improvement Association Foundation Seed Program.

We're getting some welcome rain here, both last night and again today. I picked green beans in between showers, something I normally wouldn't do. Picking beans when the plants are wet can spread plant disease, but at this late date, I'm not worried about that. I filled a twelve quart pot with picked beans. Looking at a frost free weather forecast for the next ten days, we may yet get one more good picking from our fall beans.

Friday, October 14, 2011 - That Killing Frost Will Come

Weather Channel Gardener's ForecastGardeners often try to milk every growing day they can out of the gardening season. We start our onion plants inside in January. We push seed for spring peas into the nearly frozen ground in March, risking frostbite to our fingers, to have the sweetest early peas possible. We get other plants that can withstand light frosts out early, sometimes with frost protection ranging from hot caps to milk jugs with the bottom cut out.

In late summer and fall, we carefully count days until the expected first frost when planning and planting our fall crops. And when we get right up to that frost, we get out blankets, tarps, cold frames and such to extend our growing season just a few days or weeks more.

Frost-freeze predictedAnd despite all our efforts, that killing freeze will come and end another year of glorious gardening. But...

...I decided this morning when faced with the first prediction of a killing freeze to try something I'd not done before. In past years, I've employed our 24" x 6' cold frame to protect at least some of our fall lettuce. This year, I didn't plant our fall lettuce to fit within the small confines of our cold frame. I filled one 3 x15' bed with lettuce and spinach and have another narrow 15' row of lettuce in another area. So our clunky, heavy, six foot long cold frame obviously wasn't going to do the job this time around. And there still are those two rows of late green beans that hold the promise of just one more picking.

Having done some research earlier this month into floating row covers, I went back to several sites in earnest this morning to see if I could afford a roll of the frost protecting covers. I checked a couple of our affiliate advertiser sites, Gurney's and FarmTek (now expired), but found their floating row covers a bit too rich for my blood with shipping figured in. I then went to Harris Seeds, but their covers were a bit too narrow and expensive for my needs. I finally found what I wanted at Johnny's Selected Seeds, an 83" x 50' floating row cover that was on sale with very reasonable shipping rates. Of course, the inexpensive slow pony shipping I chose could bring my roll of row cover material to my door...the day after we have a killing frost!

I've covered getting frost dates here before, so I'll just let you surf over to that entry for the info. But your best bet on frost dates is to pick up the phone and call your county extension office. They'll know the dates for your area for sure.

Our frost date here, not unexpectedly, varies a bit. We had several light frosts around October 5-6 last year, with the big one not coming until nearly the end of October. We've already had one cold night this fall where the leaves on our rows of late green beans got nipped a bit, but it didn't kill them. Generally, we get a frost/freeze that zaps everything not covered, and some crops that are, around October 25-30.

I'm still hoping for the year when we can have fresh lettuce salad and fresh broccoli from the garden for our Thanksgiving Day feast. (Who has lettuce and broccoli on Thanksgiving, anyway?)

BTW: The floating row cover with shipping came to $21.95. If the row cover proves to be reuseable, I'll have made a good investment. If not, we'll be enjoying some very expensive lettuce.

Green Beans

Three plus poundsI wrote yesterday's posting in my upstairs office, totally enjoying the pleasant aroma of green beans with onions chopped in cooking downstairs. Unfortunately, I got involved in writing and ended up with a burnt pan to clean. I quickly snapped some more beans for our supper, chopping in another onion, and using up the last of the potatoes from our garden. But the second round of beans for supper had decreased the volume of beans in the pot of raw beans I'd picked earlier that there really weren't enough to justify the mess of getting canning jars and the pressure canner out.

Not having enough beans to can, I washed, cut, and froze the remaining beans on a cookie sheet. The recipe for one of our four daughters' favorite dish here calls for frozen green beans, so that in itself is always enough justification to freeze one bag of beans.

I bagged the beans late last night, but thought to take the postage scale downstairs this morning to see how much we'd gotten. As you can see at left, the gallon freezer bag weighed in at three pounds, ten ounces.

I really like having a bag of frozen green beans to throw into soups, stews, and the like while cooking. And I like even better having a bag of frozen green beans from our garden to throw into soups, stews, and the like.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011 - Rocky Mountain Edition

Family wedding in the RockiesMy wife, Annie, and I traveled to Estes Park, Colorado, over the weekend to attend a nephew's wedding. We didn't get back home until the wee hours of Tuesday morning. And by the time we got home, the wonderful weather we left here in west central Indiana on Saturday had been replaced by cold, rainy conditions not very conducive to outdoor gardening.

I struck up conversations with several locals while in Colorado and found that despite the altitude, they hadn't had a killing frost as yet. One friendly Colorado gardener commented that he was still picking great red tomatoes. Of course by now, the high Colorado gardeners (elevation 7200') may have a foot or two of snow!

Elk and cloudy mountainsWe'd reserved Monday morning for a sightseeing trip into the Rockies, but when we drove into Rocky Mountain National Park, heavy clouds had moved in with rain and snow, obscuring some of the spectacular views of the mountains we'd sampled while staying in Estes Park. I would have worked a little harder to get a good shot of the elk resting in the meadow shown at left, but as we packed up to leave early Monday morning, a herd of elk walked right through the "yard" of the house where we were staying! It's quite an experience staying in a place with a view of the mountains out the windows and elk strolling up to the front porch!

Big guy! Elk at porch Elk in yard

Rockies through the windshieldView from wedding siteIt turned out that our best views of the mountains came through the windshield on the ride to the wedding Sunday afternoon and at the wedding. While it was a little disappointing not to get into the mountains when the skies were clear, our main reason for the trip was to attend the wedding. And we had a great time visiting with family, both old and new, and meeting lots of the kids' friends as well. We'll just have to plan another trip to see the Rockies.


I got out in the rain enough yesterday to know I have green beans and broccoli to harvest, so I'll be getting back to gardening pretty soon.

Thursday, October 20, 2011 - Getting Ready for Frost

One of my grandsons, Caleb, helped me cover our lettuce and green beans with floating row covers late this afternoon. While I wish we had enough of the material to cover our herb bed, we're as ready as we're going to be for a possible light frost overnight and/or tomorrow night.

October 19, 2011 October 20, 2011
October 19, 2011 October 20, 2011

Floating row cover over lettuce and spinachThe row cover material from Johnny's Selected Seeds went on rather easily with two people to manage it, even with a good breeze blowing. The hardest part of the job was finding where I'd stored our landscape fabric pins which we used to anchor the material. Johnny's recommends using aluminum hoops to create a tunnel, but that pushes the cost of the frost protection beyond my current means. But for folks trying to overwinter or at least push crops well into the beginning of winter, the hoops and a heavier floating row cover might be just the thing.

Last of our peppersNote that the floating row cover material is supposed to be reusable. When I ordered it, I thought it might prove cost effective, but only if I could reuse the cover. As we covered the lettuce, spinach, and beans this afternoon, I realized that we had far more than the $21.95 (floating row cover plus shipping) I'd invested just in the value of the lettuce. So...I'm hoping the stuff works as advertised.

After covering our lettuce and spinach and our two rows of green beans, I did a job I'd been dreading. I harvested the last of our ripe, and in some cases, green, bell peppers. I put this task off as long as possible, trying to get as many red and gold peppers as possible. I did leave some smaller, green peppers on the plants on the chance that it won't frost. If we get lucky that way, the peppers may still mature.

I didn't give our broccoli and cauliflower growing in our East Garden any frost protection. They should be able to stand a light frost without any precautions.

And as for all the other stuff we still have growing in our gardens, well, the season has to come to an end at some point.

Burpee Seed Company

Sunday, October 23, 2011 - Light Frost

Torn row coverOur floating row covers seem to be doing the job so far. We had two nights of light frost with no damage to the plants under the row covers. One glitch in the system I should have foreseen is that one of our dogs, Shep, thinks any cloth on the ground is a bed for him. He ripped a hole in two of the row covers, but fortunately didn't totally destroy them (as he has done with other coverings in the past).

Frost damaged compact basilFrost damage to the crops we left uncovered was minimal. A compact basil plant had a covering of damaged leaves over a core of still live leaves. Our standard basil plants survived the frost, but show heavy leaf damage. But the rest of our herbs, parsley, oregano, and sage, are still doing quite well.

Our weather forecast doesn't indicate any frost danger until the end of the week. So our row covers may have done just what I wanted...get us past the first light frosts. I hope to pick spinach, lettuce, and green beans that are currently under row covers early this week.

Digging Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potato rowSweet potatoes in groundI started taking out our caged tomato plants in our main garden this morning. When I got to the compost pile with the first cartload of vines, immature and damaged tomatoes, I realized that I could also dig a few sweet potatoes for the trip back to the main garden with the cart.

We'd had some rain overnight, considerably softening the ground to be dug. I worked my way in from the edges of the row with a garden fork, but still managed to snap several tubers in half. I finally got to the base of the first "hill" of sweet potatoes and was rewarded with the sight of several large tubers.

I started digging at the end of the row and may have dug what is the best hill of sweet potatoes in the row. The ends get more light and moisture than the rest of the row, and moles have taken up residence in the middle of the row. But the "take" from digging just one hill of sweet potatoes is certainly promising.

Sweet potatoes

The downside of digging the sweet potatoes and cleaning up half of our main garden caged tomatoes is that I was stiff and sore all over by early afternoon!

Extra 15% off at Sierra Trading Post with code ALWAVES6. Valid through May 4, 2016.

Monday, October 24, 2011 - Drying Parsley

With a beautiful fall day at hand, I got out early and hosed down our parsley in preparation for cutting and drying it. We grew three varieties of parsley this year, Giant of Italy, Dark Green Italian, and Moss Green Curledicon.


After the plants had sun dried for several hours, I cut the parsley in the garden onto the four drying shelves of our dehydrator. While the directions for the dehydrating unit call for drying parsley 24 hours at around 90o F, ours was completely dry in eight hours.

More Green Beans

Green beans ready to pickBeans pickedWhile the parsley was drying off from its dousing with the hose, I uncovered our two rows of late green beans. They'd come through the two light frosts we'd had over the weekend without appreciable damage. I pulled the bean plants this time, picking the beans off the plants while standing, saving considerable wear and tear on my back.

While I picked a bit over twelve quarts of raw beans, many proved to be overripe, had bad spots, or had bean rust on them. I ended up freezing just three quarts of beans after we'd had some for supper. I sorta have a thing about not getting the pressure canner out for anything less than four quarts, even though I prefer canned green beans.

The floating row cover quickly dried in the sun and wind, and I folded and stored it for use next spring or fall.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Cutting parsleyI cut and dried another batch of parsley today. I forgot to grab a shot of the cutting process yesterday, but remembered it today. What the photo can't show is how exciting it got trying to cut parsley leaves into the dehydrator trays with the wind gusting up to 30 MPH!

Spinach at Last

I pulled back the floating row cover from our lettuce and spinach area this morning so that I could cut some spinach. I first seeded the spinach in mid-August, only to have it not germinate for lack of soil moisture. Two of our grandchildren helped me reseed the row a few weeks later, but the seed just sat in the soil until we finally got some rain. But today, I was able to pick several quarts of baby spinach leaves.

Lettuce and spinach

Cut spinachLettuce and spinach rowsI had a small spinach salad with poppyseed dressing as part of my supper this evening. I also got into that first digging of sweet potatoes for a baked sweet potato with butter and brown sugar. While gardening can be hard work, it definitely has its advantages.

With the row cover pulled back, I transplanted a lettuce seedling to fill in a spot where I'd harvested a soft head of lettuce over the weekend. I also popped in another seedling in an empty spot I'd either missed when I put out the bed or where a plant had died.

As you can see in the images above and at right, the lettuce and spinach are thriving in the sunny, cool weather we've had of late. Even if I didn't like lettuce as much as I do, I'd be tempted to grow it just for the colorful showing it makes as it approaches maturity!

I left the row cover pulled back for tonight, as it's supposed to be relatively warm. I'll have to cover the area again soon, though, as we have a good chance of getting a frost towards the end of the week.

Garden Cleanup

One of the downsides of growing tomatoes is the necessary cleanup at the end of the season. I'd begun the task several days ago, but had to get back to it today to finish up.

Our tomato cages had blown over against a trellis in a wind storm a week or so ago. I'd not bothered to right them, as the tomatoes on the plants were in pretty sad shape from disease, cracking, and just plain end-of-the-season stuff. So there were lots of groundfalls to shovel up, along with cutting the vines and getting all the organic matter off the cages.

Sunday, 10/23/2011 Tuesday, 10/25/2011
Sunday, October 23, 2011 Tuesday, October 25, 2011

I hauled five heaping loads of vines, tomatoes, and grass clipping mulch to our compost pile in our four cubic foot garden cart.

The change in appearance of our main garden areas from just Sunday to today is a bit startling to me. We've taken out our rows of green beans, pulled back the cover from the lettuce/spinach area, and removed the tomato cages and trellis.

It's supposed to rain tomorrow, so our garden cleanup will have to go on hold for a day. I hope to be able to get out in between showers and cut some sage tomorrow. We have two gorgeous sage plants that should produce a good bit of rubbed and/or ground sage. Having priced sage at the grocery this afternoon, I think we may be sage rich!

Thursday, October 27, 2011 - Sage

Sage plantWe had biscuits and sausage gravy for supper tonight. The menu was strongly influenced by a chance to use some of our freshly dried and ground sage from the garden.

Ground sageThis is the first time we've had sage in our garden, and of course, the first time we've dried it. It took a little over 26 hours for four trays of sage leaves to become crisp and crunchy in our dehydrator. I first tried just crumbling the dried sage, but finally got out a coffee grinder we use exclusively for grinding things other than coffee and ground the sage.

Herb bedI got our two sage plants in rather late this year, planting them and some other herbs in the raised bed where our spring brassicas had grown. While the sage grew rather slowly, the plants really have filled out in the last month or so. (Note: The photo above is after I cut a good many stems from the plant!) Since sage is a perennial, I need to find a sunny, roomy location to move the plants to soon. The raised bed they're currently in will probably be planted to onions, carrots, and beets next spring.

I found a good page all about sage by Debs Cook on the Herb Society site. Our sage, identified as Common Sage (Salvia officinalis) on the seed packet, is apparently also known as "purple sage," according to Cook.

Our raised bed of herbs has been a pleasant surprise this year. We have parsley, sage, oregano, basil, and paprika peppers currently growing in it. Sadly, the paprikas are just ripening and will likely get caught in a frost over the next few days. But we have lots of ground paprika left from last year's garden. Note that I really like the blend of Paprika Supreme, Alma, and Feher Ozon paprika peppers we dried and ground last summer.

The oregano, pictured below between our sage plants that have almost overwhelmed the it, still needs to be cut and dried. I just haven't gotten to it as yet and am hoping the frost hold off for another day or so.

Oregano between sage plants

Getting Ready for Another Frost

With a good bit of rain and a 20o drop in temperature, I'm once again getting ready for frost. I re-covered our main bed of lettuce with the undamaged floating row cover that had previously protected our rows of late green beans. Grumbling just a bit at one of our dogs, Shep, who likes to dig on and through blankets, paper paint tarps, and expensive floating row covers, I patched together a row cover from the two Shep had damaged to cover our other area of lettuce. It had been just a single row of plants, but I transplanted six more plants this afternoon in the gaps between the existing plants, as the transplants might as well die in the ground as in the flat. And who knows, maybe it won't frost for another month!

Main garden with row covers

Saturday, October 29, 2011 - Oregano

New thermometerKale boiling on stoveWe're enjoying another warm, sunny, fall day here today. It's gorgeous outside, and inside, the house is alive with the aroma of oregano in the dehydrator and kale, seasoned with bacon, garlic, and onion, boiling on the stove. (Note: I finally found an inexpensive outdoor thermometer that perfectly fits on the inside fascia of the back porch.)

I hadn't gotten around to picking any oregano to dry and store until today, although it did figure into a batch or two of spaghetti sauce over the summer. All of our herbs were planted a bit late, and the one oregano plant that survived its overlong stay in a fourpack in a tray took its time getting established. I didn't help it much, planting it between sage plants that almost crowded out the low growing oregano.

OreganoOregano in dehydratorOur oregano is a small leaved Greek type. The seed catalog description says it grows from 8-24 inches in height. Since this was the first year for the perennial, it didn't even approach the minimum figure, but spread where it could amongst the other plants in our herb bed.

I cut enough sprigs of oregano leaves this morning to fill just three of the four trays on our dehydrator. After washing the oregano and removing dead leaves and other debris, I left the leaves on the stem in the dehydrator, planning to strip them off when dry.

Fall Flowers

Even though we're well into fall, we still have a good many flowers in bloom around the house and in our gardens.

Edge of raised bed Dianthus Impatiens Marigold
Dianthus Impatiens Marigold
Dianthus and Petunia Geranium and Petunia Nasturtium
Edge of raised bed Dianthus and Petunia Geranium and Petunia Nasturtium

At this time of year when the brilliant colors of some of our garden vegetables are waning or gone, I'm always glad I planted flowers which continue the garden's colors right up to a killing frost.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Beautiful fall dayWe're winding up October with another beautiful fall day. Todd Jackson, who rents the farm ground adjacent to our property, is bringing in corn as I write this afternoon. In talking to Todd a couple of days ago, he related that their corn wasn't seriously affected by the drought this summer. He also related that after the field next to us, he only had "a couple hundred acres" of corn close to home to bring in before he was done for the season.

Sweet potato rowMy outdoor gardening exploits were pretty limited today for a couple of reasons. I dug some sweet potatoes this afternoon, something I do only in moderation. I'm also back on another round of generic Efudex skin cancer treatment, so I really have to watch my time in the sun, even when wearing protective clothing.

Sweet potatoesI've now dug about half of our 40' row of sweet potatoes in the East Garden. As I mentioned in an earlier posting about digging sweet potatoes, the production has dropped off a bit as I got into the row. I was still pleased with what we got today, but also somewhat disappointed at the number of cracked and split tubers.

Still being a rookie at growing sweet potatoes, I had to do an online search to read about why sweet potatoes crack. Fortunately, I didn't have to search very hard, as the first page I visited carried the reason, and a pretty accurate description of some of our recent weather.

Cracked and split sweet potatoesFrom the University of Illinois Extension Watch Your Garden Grow Sweet Potato page:

Q. What makes sweet potatoes crack and split?

A. Heavy rains or too much irrigation during the final 3 to 4 weeks before harvest may cause the roots to split, especially if conditions have been dry for a period before late water application begins.

The page also notes that digging sweet potatoes before the vines get nipped by a frost is preferable, as storage time and quality can be reduced by a frost. Since our vines have already been killed by the frost, I'll need to finish up digging tomorrow.

Gainesville Sun garden columnist Wendy Wilber echoes much of what the Illinois Extension page said about sweet potatoes cracking, but adds that "Even though they don't look beautiful they are still edible. Just pare out the injured part of the potato before cooking."

Eating from the Garden in Winter: Sweet Potatoes from Mary's Veggie Garden adds some good tips on curing sweet potatoes for storage.

I think all the tubers I've dug so far have been the Centennial variety. I should get into some Nancy Halls tomorrow, as I planted some of them at the far end of the row.

A Busy, Busy Month in the Senior Garden

I just read over the previous postings this month on Senior Gardening and was reminded at how much we bring in from our garden during October. That's one of the reasons I'm glad I'm now fully retired, other than publishing this and one other web site, as I have the time to devote to our fall garden.

We made and canned two batches of Portuguese Kale Soup this month. We also put up green beans twice and froze broccoli. We enjoyed fresh kale and yellow squash from the garden, along with a heavy final picking of bell peppers (which we shared with family). We also started picking and enjoying fall lettuce and spinach out of the garden.

We saved seed from Moira tomatoes, Earliest Red Sweet and Paprika Supreme peppers, Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers, and dianthus.

And we dried enough parsley, sage, and oregano to last us for a couple years!

Even with a drought much of the summer, we've been blessed to have so much goodness fresh from our gardens and stored for winter use as well.

September, 2011

From the at Senior Gardening