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A Year in Our Garden - 2013 - Page 3
December 30, 2013


September

Weedy sweet corn patchBy September, our sweet corn patch had become a weedy embarrassment. Wet weather combined with gardener laziness had allowed a healthy growth of grass to surround, but fortunately not choke out, our seven, thirty foot rows of sweet corn. Had we not had germination problems, we might have been totally overwhelmed with sweet corn.

As it turned out, all of the re-seeding I had to do in June with several different varieties of sweet corn seed we had in frozen storage to get even a so-so stand of sweet corn produced an amazing harvest. We picked short season yellow corn, short and full season bicolor corn, yellow Mr. Mirai Mini ears, and lots of hefty full season corn.

We froze so much sweet corn that finding space in our freezer became a bit of a problem. Sometimes, I guess you just get lucky.

Cart of sweet corn Processing sweet corn Cutting corn

Direct Seeding Spinach on September 1I did our last direct seeding of the year on September 1. I seeded a row of mixed spinach varieties after transplanting fall lettuce into our main raised garden bed. The row of spinach ended up providing a couple of nice spinach salads and some boiled spinach. That's not a lot, but then, how much time does it really take to hoe and seed a ten foot row?

Fall brassicasOur direct seeded rows of broccoli and cauliflower looked great at this point. Of course, we were quickly running out of growing season. The numbers of planting date and first frost were against us, but since I had nothing else to grow in the area, I kept up with cultivating, spraying with BT, and mulching the brassicas.

Our fall carrots and kale (far left and right in the photo at right) were doing just great. And of course, our mix of vincas, geraniums, and petunias at the edges of the raised bed made me smile every time I looked at the bed.

Squeezo StrainerOn September 4, I picked a little over ten pounds of Earlirouge tomatoes from one plant! In my excitement over the production, I forgot to get a photo of just the Earlirouge harvest. I went on to pick another ten to twenty pounds of Moira and Bella Rosa tomatoes and made a large batch of tomato purée with them. The whole process yielded twelve pints of homemade tomato purée.

Let me add a few words here about a tool for processing tomatoes. When my first wife and I were farming in the 1980s, we bought a brand new Squeezo Strainer to process tomatoes and make applesauce. The strainer went in our farm auction when we lost the farm. Years later, Annie and I bought a used Squeezo Strainer that admittedly leaks a good bit at the crank hole. But even worn, used, and leaking a bit, I've found no better tool for making quick work of straining tomatoes and making applesauce. There are lots of far cheaper knockoffs on the market today. But if I were in the market for a strainer to last for years, I'd save my pennies and buy a brand new Squeezo!

How's that for embedded advertising and an enthusiastic endorsement of a product!

Pea seed dryingWe continued picking dried Eclipse peas for seed in September. Our final seed count was a bit over 2300 seeds! The seed will be used for another seed crop in 2014, as Eclipse peas are an endangered variety. We may also sample a few of the peas fresh next year. And I'm offering limited quantities to other Seed Savers Exchange listed members in the 2014 Seed Savers Exchange Annual Yearbook in hopes that other experienced seed savers will pick up helping preserve the excellent supersweet pea variety.

Update: When I listed our SSE varieties this year, I got a rude awakening. Eclipse is a patented variety owned by Seminis/Monsanto. So saving and selling seed is a definite no-no. Guess I'll make some peas soup with the seed we produced.

BuckwheatOur August 21 seeding of buckwheat to replace our failed alfalfa cover crop really took hold in September. Of course, buckwheat is an excellent cover and smother crop. In a well prepared seedbed, it will outgrow and smother most weeds that germinate in the seedbed. Ours certainly did.

Yellow Squash Plant
New yellow squash transplant

Even with a gorgeous, producing yellow squash plant in our East Garden, I transplanted one last Slick Pik yellow squash plant on September 7. One of my goals for this gardening season was to have an uninterrupted supply of yellow squash. Since the plants produce heavily and then die, and are subject to powdery mildew and attacks by squash bugs, frequent succession plantings are necessary to ensure a constant supply of the delicious squash.

I always begin each gardening season with several private, but important goals I wish to accomplish for the gardening season. A steady supply of yellow squash was one of those goals this year. Besides our usual tried and true yellow squash variety, I tried one new-to-us, highly rated, open pollinated yellow squash variety. The open pollinated squash was a total disappointment, but we did have fresh squash for our table and to give away all summer. I think I planted six hills of yellow squash over the summer.

Roofing, Windows, and Guttering

Stripping old roofA roofing crew, sometimes cleverly disguised as chimney sweeps from Mary Poppinsicon, arrived on September 10 and generally interrupted our gardening activities. The weather was incredibly hot at the time with daily high temperatures approaching and exceeding 100o F. The guys had to take frequent breaks and appreciated me turning them loose on our melon patch, which by this time was suffering terribly from our August and September mini-drought.

We ended up getting a new main roof, replacing our east attic windows (which had blown out in a bad storm a year ago), and adding guttering to complete a guttering job begun on parts of the house years ago.

We used Angie's List to help select the contractor for the various jobs. It turned out to be cheaper and easier to let Paitson & Son Home Improvement out of Brazil, Indiana, to do the work and subcontract the guttering to Corky's Seamless Guttering Systems.

U.S. Drought Monitor - Indiana

Drought Information

U.S. Drought Monitor
U.S Drought Monitor

U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook
United States Seasonal Drought Outlook

By mid-month, the U.S. Drought Monitor report had classified our west, central Indiana area as "abnormally dry," one classification above a full drought. While most of our crops seemed to do well throughout the dry spell, our melon patch pretty much succumbed to the dry weather. Deluxe planting holes and lots of grass clipping mulch proved no match for no rain through most of August and September.

While we still got a few good cantaloupes and watermelon, the patch was essentially done for 2013! That proved to be a major disappointment of our gardening season, as we often have good melons throughout the month of September and even into October.

Crockett's Victory GardenCart of butternutsBut September, like August, continued to be a "cornucopia month of the year," as the late Jim Crockett so ably described August in his excellent gardening guide, Crockett's Victory Garden. Our segregated planting of Waltham Butternut Squash produced two immense pickings this year. Actually, they weren't pickings, but cuttings, as the tough butternut stems required loping shears to cut.

As noted earlier, we have to segregate our hill of butternuts from our other vining crops, as the butternuts tend to overgrow and crowd out surrounding crops. We have also switched to using butternuts for our Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner yams. They are tastier and far easier to prepare than sweet potato brown sugared yams.

Quick Recipe for "Butternut Yams"

Put your butternuts in boiling water until the skins soften (about 10 minutes). Immerse in cold water and peel with a knife and/or potato peeler. Remove seeds from core and cut squash into chunks. Place in large, greased baking dish with lots of marshmallows and dark brown sugar, with a bit of nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Bake until soft.

I'm really not sure that's a healthy dish, but it is incredibly delicious.

Portuguese Kale Soup

I made our first batch of Portuguese Kale Soup of the year while the carpenters were finishing up our new windows and some siding repair. We make the delicious soup from a recipe start that first appeared in Crockett's Victory Garden (1977):

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.

The timing of our soup making days is driven by when we have enough of the ingredients ready or already canned or frozen from our garden. This year we had fresh tomatoes, garlic, onion, leek, carrots, green beans, peas, potatoes, and of course, kale from our garden to use in the soup. The chicken stock we use is what we've saved from times when we buy bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts, filet and freeze the breast meat, and cook down and bone the rest. Obviously not from our garden is the smoked sausage. And we also used canned kidney beans, as the Senior Gardener is absolutely lousy at growing them! (I plan to try growing kidney beans again in 2014, Lord willing.)

Washing and stemming kale Adding kale to pot Almost done Finished product
Washing and Stemming Kale Boiling It Down Almost Done! Portuguese Kale Soup

Eat More KaleOur kale soup this year differed from previous years in that it had three types of kale included: Lacinatoicon; Red Ursaicon; and our old standard, Vates (also called Dwarf Blue Curled or Dwarf Blue Scotch, just to confuse things a bit.). I'm not really sure I found any difference in taste, but stripping the stems from the leaves was a bit different for each type of kale.

We ended up with seven quarts and eight pints canned from this batch, with a later (November) batch producing another twelve quarts. I traded a couple of quarts of our kale soup in 2012 with Bo Muller-Moore for one of his cool, Eat More Kale T-shirts. Bo is fighting an uphill battle with the greedy homophobes of Chick-fil-A over his supposed trademark infringement of their "Eat mor chikin" slogan. Obviously, I don't and won't patronize Chick-fil-A.

Buckwheat

Our incredibly gorgeous, 40' x 80' planting of buckwheat was ready to be turned under as green manure on September 24. I had mowed the buckwheat a day or so before, a nasty job possibly better done with a weedeater than a riding mower. Last year, I let our small buckwheat planting on our failed sweet corn patch get a bit too mature, simply because the blooming buckwheat was so pretty, and I enjoyed all the bees visiting it. But this year, I caught the buckwheat at just the right stage to produce maximum turn-down value.

Zinnias and buckwheat Bee and buckwheat East Garden tilled

I found growing a buckwheat cover/smother crop so enjoyable that I did a feature story about it.

Potatoes

Sangre potatoes
Kennebecs - brown and green

Cart of potatoesOur experiment with mulching, rather than hilling potatoes turned out to be a bust. Of course, our potatoes went into the ground really late, and we had some horribly dry weather late in the season. But we ended up with an awful lot of green potatoes where light had peeked through our heavy layer of mulch, ruining a lot of good spuds.

The dry weather, or possibly a touch of late blight, didn't help our potato crop any. But on the whole, we got some nice Yukon Gold potatoes, and a good number of Sangre. Our Kennebecs, which dried out early in September, didn't produce much. Our Rio Grandes were just so-so.

Please don't take any variety recommendations from my statements above, as this was a lousy potato season from start to finish. I got the potato cuttings in too late, mulched instead of hilling, and got hit with a mini-drought just as the potatoes were beginning to fill out their tubers.

Our Nancy Hall sweet potatoes were just as disappointing. The ground around them had dried to cement hardness when I started to dig them. But late planting simply isn't a good thing for potatoes or sweet potatoes.

Surprisingly, we probably brought in enough spuds to last Annie and I all winter! But that's certainly not a statement of good gardening, just dumb luck.

Zinnias

ZinniasMy mother used to love growing zinnias, and I inherited that love from her. Each year, I try to plant a long row of zinnias somewhere around our East Garden. It has lots of space for such plantings, and since I save seed each year from the gorgeous flowers, seed expense isn't an issue, although I try to add one or two new varieties each year. Our planting this year was forty feet long along the east edge of our melon patch. It went in very late (June 21), but still produced an abundance of beautiful blooms by August that lasted until our first frost. If I'm able to keep gardening into my 80s, I'll probably still be planting a row of some kind of zinnias...and somewhat tearily remembering my mother.

While lots of gardens are pretty well done in September, ours obviously kept me busy picking, freezing, and canning throughout the month. I did do some garden prep for next year, most notably in our large, East Garden, but for us, September was still a full gardening month.

October

Fall crops take a week or two more to mature than spring planted crops due to lessening hours of daylight in the fall. So I was fairly pleased to be able to dig our fall carrots on October 2, just 73 days after they were seeded.

Our first fall carrot crop became necessary due to puppies digging up half of our spring carrots and later, standing water that caused much of the remaining crop to rot in the ground. I can only say at this point that there's nothing like beginners luck! We put a little over twelve pounds of good carrots in our refrigerator in Debbie Meyer Green Bags and peeled, cut, blanched, and froze another five pounds of culls that had bad spots on them.

Carrot rowsLifting soilActually, digging isn't the right word for the way these carrots came out of the ground. The carrots were planted in soil that had been deeply turned before planting with a lot of peat moss turned in. I only had to loosen the soil beside our double carrot rows with a garden fork to be able to lift the mature carrots out of the ground by their tops.

Digging, sorting, and washing the carrots took one whole day, as we store our good carrots unpeeled. Somewhat frustratingly to me, peeling, cutting, blanching and freezing the cull carrots took almost another whole day! But it's really nice when cooking to be able to grab a handful of frozen carrots out of the freezer when you're in a hurry and don't want to mess with whole carrots (that may need to be peeled).

Carrots in cart

Butternuts on truckIn our area, October almost always brings our first frost. While many gardens are done for the year at this time, we always find ourselves in a race against time to harvest and process or give away our remaining crops.

A final, heavy picking (cutting, actually, with loping shears again) of butternut squash went directly from the field to the mission, as we already had all the butternuts we could use stored for the winter.

Red Candy grape tomato plant
Red Candy grape tomatoes
Broccoli heads
Quinte tomatoes
Bell peppers
Frozen pepper strips in bag

Our one grape tomato plant that I'd heavily pruned in early August, began producing its delicious, small tomatoes again in quantity. We gave away the equivalent of a couple of gallons of grape tomatoes.

Seemingly trying not to be outdone, our Quinte tomato plants finally began producing lots of nice tomatoes in October. They'd had a rough start, going into some of the nastiest clay soil on our property.

While we'd already picked lots of bell peppers during the summer, the full variety of pepper colors came on strong this month. And since I'd neglected to freeze any peppers up to this time, I bagged a couple of quarts of cut pepper parts for winter use.

The last of our paprika peppers didn't quite ripen before our first frost, but they matured nicely in a tray on our dining room table before being washed, seeded and cored, cut, and dehydrated before a quick trip through a coffee grinder to provide us with ground paprika for the winter.

Our fall broccoli that had to be restarted from seed after rabbits ate our transplants began producing heads by mid-month. Sadly, our cauliflower never made it, getting caught by a hard freeze just a week or two before it matured. But getting anything from the planting was a big plus, and we cut a few main heads and broccoli sideshoots into early November.

We still had great flowers in our garden on October 19.

Main Garden, October 19, 2013

Our first frost arrived on the night of October 21-22, pretty well finishing the season for most of our bloomers.

Once the first frost hits, it's definitely time to shift from harvesting crops to getting our ground ready for the next season. Our large East Garden was tilled on October 28, leaving it as ready as possible for next spring.

East Garden Tilled for Winter (October 28, 2013)

 

November - December

Planting Garlic

Prepared raised bed

Holes dug
Elephant garlic clove in hole

Wet soil pushed our planting of garlic from a more ideal October date into November. One wants to give garlic as much time as possible to put out roots before the ground freezes for the winter. But once the soil dried out, I was able to work in a large bale of peat moss, some ground limestone, a bit of 5-24-24 fertilizer, and a heavy dose of Milky Spore into our narrow raised garden bed. The Milky Spore was added because when I worked the edges of the bed with a garden fork, I found some of the biggest, healthiest cutworms I've ever seen!

The interior dimensions (3' x 15') of our narrow raised garden bed allowed me to squeeze in five long rows of garlic with six inches between each row. I allowed about seven inches in the row between garlic cloves and offset the planting in the rows to allow a bit more space between plantings. This spacing is about as tight as I've ever used.

With nearly perfectly prepared soil, I was able to use a garlic dibbleicon to quickly make a holes the right depth for both our standard and elephant garlic. Our starts all came from our last crop. I put in two rows of elephant garlic and three rows of mixed German Extra Hardy, New York White, Late Italian, and Mother of Pearl.

If you've never grown garlic, let me recommend it as one of the easiest crops one can grow in ones garden. This posting is pretty much the short and sweet version of planting garlic. Maybe I'll do an in depth feature story on it someday. But for now, Burpee has an excellent, free, video tutorial available on how to plant garlic. And below are some excellent sources on growing, harvesting, and storing garlic.

Brady and KatherineI didn't get to till our main raised bed this fall, but almost all of it had been tilled at least once during the summer as we made succession plantings. Two of our grandkids had a great time helping haul asparagus stalks and brassica leaves to our compost pile. The brassica stalks went into a wash in an adjacent field we're slowly filling with slow to decompose stalks, used cat litter, and anything else we can find to stick into it.

Clearing the last of our brassicas after a killing frost took out the broccoli and cauliflower made it a good time to also take out the last of our frost hardy kale and make one last batch of Portuguese Kale Soup for the year.

Paperwork

Seed Inventory on Dining Room TableWith our garden plots pretty well cleared and prepared for the next season, our gardening work moved inside. All of our saved garden seed had to be inventoried, with some older, suspect seed germination tested before deciding whether to keep or pitch it. Then our garden planning for the next season had to be tentatively completed. There are always changes that occur in our plan over the winter, but plotting out where things go and when helps me not leave something out. Both the seed inventory and the garden mapping are important before beginning to order any new seed for the next season.

Both the seed inventory and our garden planning (and recording) are now computerized. Setting up a spreadsheet for a garden inventory is a relatively easy task and doesn't require any paid software if one employs a freeware spreadsheet tool such as the one included in the open source OpenOffice suite. (Full disclosure: I still use Microsoft Excel for Mac 2008 for my spreadsheets.)

As to garden mapping software, I don't have any good suggestions for folks looking to computerize this task. The commercial programs offered by many seed houses seem a bit heavy on cutesy vegetable images and a bit light on real record keeping. I still rely on AppleWorks 6 for my garden mapping, as it does what I want, is already paid for, and can be run on my various Macs and PCs with the assistance of a variety of emulators.

2013
Plot A - 2013 Plot B -2013 East Garden - 2013
2014
Plot A - 2014 Plot B - 2014 East Garden - 2014

Sow True SeedsR,H. ShumwayNew seed catalogs begin to roll in during November and December. As a child, I used to eagerly look forward to the arrival of mail order Christmas catalogs. As an adult, I find myself doing much the same thing I'd done with Christmas mail order catalogs as a child, spending hours looking at possible varieties to grow in our garden. Interesting varieties get circled in the catalogs and grandiose lists written (in my seed order spreadsheet), only later to be pared down to fit into a budget that demands a garden more than pay for itself.

I'm also a total sucker for an attractive seed catalog cover, often searching such catalogs for something to order when I don't really need anything more. My favorite catalog covers for the 2014 gardening season came from Sow True Seeds and R.H. Shumway, even though Johnny's Selected Seeds and Twilley Seeds got the bulk of our seed orders this year.

If you're looking for a reliable seed vendor, I do maintain a bit more objective page of Recommended Seed Suppliers based on our experiences and The Garden Watchdog ratings from Dave's Garden.

A reader recently wrote to thank me for making him feel like Spring was just around the corner. It is, but it's a long block before that corner. I hope this feature story has added a bit of spring to your step and day.

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From Steve, the at Senior Gardening


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