Monday, November 7, 2011

Last post for 2011

Ground frost has greeted us every morning this past week.  For the moment we're enjoying our Fall beets, swiss chard, mixed greens, and carrots.  But the first hard freeze will blacken all but the most hardy greens.  Amazingly, brussels sprouts are ahead of schedule - there are several that we could pick even now.  Cabbage heads are the size of many grocery-store grown varieties.  It's time to take a break now that garlic is planted; the garden will remain essentially untouched until next February when we prepare the Spring garden for spinach. We've come full circle, and thank you so much for sharing this garden year with us!

February 21
May 9

June 13

July 11

August 8

September 12
October 3
November 7

Monday, October 31, 2011

Brussels sprouts forming in each stem node
The mornings are getting frosty now; at our location, first frost came on October 21 – in some places we saw freezing fog hovering over low areas.  But the 30th was our first official freeze at 30 degrees F, signaling the end of the growing season for any tender vegetation.  What a difference seven days has made for the annual foliage show!  We are near peak with good autumn weather in the forecast, so those red, orange, and golden streamers should hold on for a while yet even as the most stubborn green oaks turn and join the show.

Our cold-weather crops seem to be unaffected and are increasing in size; cabbage will tolerate a normal frost but will not last when temperatures dip into the 20’s F.  Brussels sprouts are on schedule for a Christmas first harvest.  We have a good stand of red clover which we are using as a cover crop for next year’s corn.

A good stand of red clover will make a great green manure
crop for corn next growing season.
This is last chance to plant garlic in the South, and we confess this turn of the year has kept us so busy with autumn activities that we’ve put it off a little longer than usual.  We will be making that a priority this week.  We saved several of the largest garlic heads from last year and will split them into individual cloves to plant as seed.  Garlic purchased from the store works just as well as seed garlic – in fact that was one of our garden experiments that has turned into a staple for us; we’re now growing the 5th generation of garlic from that original grocery store variety.  Garlic likes rich, loose soil, so we will haul out the tiller and incorporate a lot of milled sphagnum peat moss and some organic fertilizer in the row before we plant. We keep this loosely mulched with fall leaves after it sprouts.

Our Fall/Winter garden; the open space is saved for spinach and peas next Spring.
Our compost bin is more stuffed than a Thanksgiving turkey, and aside from those winter “regulars” we can dust off our hands from another gardening season.  It’s time to tuck next year’s garden in for the winter, and we’re already covering it with a layer of cardboard and fallen leaves through which we will plant next year.  It looks like we will have one more update in November to finish for the year 2011.

Monday, October 17, 2011

October 17, 2011

Mixed greens and beets thrive in these autumn days.
Fair weather made for a beautiful weekend at the Pumpkin Festival on October 8.  Cloudy skies moved in for much of the past week, however, dropping a slow, soaking rain that was just perfect for sprouting the red clover seed scattered the week before.  While we want that section to turn green, we do not want all the weed seedlings coming up with our fall/winter/spring garden; a quick run-over with the tiller set at shallow depth on a sunny day did most of them in.  Among our lettuce, beets, and other cool weather crops some selective hand weeding cleared the area.

'Northern Lights' swiss chard
It looks like we will be enjoying a nice crop of ‘Northern Lights’ swiss chard by first frost.  Chard is a variety of beet that does not grow an edible root but that makes an exceptionally large top:  leaves are often cooked like spinach, and stalks steamed like asparagus.  Chard is grown where conditions do not favor spinach.  We have enough spinach from last April in the freezer to last until March, so we’re just trying something different.

Cabbage plants have grown large and are making heads; brussels sprouts are adding height—sprouts are now the size of small peas in the nook of each leaf stem.

Cabbage heads are starting to form.
October is time to plant spring bulbs; last year we added hyacinth, muscari, crocus, and more than 200 daffodils to naturalize around the property.  This year we bought 100 Darwin hybrid tulips for the bed around our mailbox.  A past home owner installed weed barrier and filled the area with decorative stone.  All of that had to come out, and we excavated an 8-inch pit, which was no easy task:  if we ever do this again we will invest in a pick-axe!  Good soil mixed with milled sphagnum peat moss and bone meal was returned, and the bulbs topped with loose topsoil and pine bark mulch.  Tulips need several weeks of freezing temperatures to bloom, but our location at 934 ft. elevation is always cooler than town; we’ve already seen rooftop frost.

Our world is taking on a golden hue as deciduous trees move from early to mid-season color.  Pretty soon we’ll be getting out the leaf rake!

Monday, October 3, 2011

October 3, 2011

The first of October brought gorgeous autumn temperatures, cooler than any we've seen since April. We made a garden bonfire and reduced to ashes all our corn stalks and dried woody plants, then tilled it under— Bryan tilled 1,125 sq. ft. all together. This wiped the garden clean like an etch-a-sketch. Two pounds of red clover seed was scattered over one 500 sq. ft. section and raked in, to germinate after the next rain.

Most of the garden has been tilled clean.

We've amassed quite a lot of cardboard to lay over the other part, all except for one row where garlic will grow through the winter. We noticed some of our garlic developed rot in this heavy soil, but it may also have been introduced by using some moldy manure last fall. So to be extra careful this year we will be adding a fair amount of milled sphagnum peat moss which both lightens soil and resists rot. We saved "seed garlic," three or so of the largest heads we harvested last May, to plant this month.  

Brussels sprouts spread their leaves.
The fall garden is really showing up as beets, greens, and carrots fill in empty dirt spaces; brussels sprouts and cabbage are spreading, too. After a good soaking rain last week a bunch of weed seedlings sprouted that will need to be pulled before they crowd out over good plants. By the looks of that lettuce, we could have homegrown salads by next week.

mixed greens in the early morning sun

Monday, September 26, 2011

September 26, 2011

I've seen so many "Welcome Autumn" signs one would think people are eager to say good riddance to a summer of the kinds of records no one wants to break.  Sometimes it's outright disasterous that norms are averages of the extremes.  We're slightly behind on rain for our area, but there is still the chance for tropical storm precipitation through November; this was a good rain week with over 3 inches.  Overall we experienced a first-rate gardening year, the one difficulty being an isolated mini-drought in August.

Pumpkin growers across the nation are saying the crop will be small this year.  From floods in some parts to extreme drought in others, farmers endured a problematical growing season, so it wasn't just us.  Still, we enjoyed making this seasonal display under our front yard maple tree; by the time these pumpkins become pies, hay bales underneath will be moved to serve a more practical purpose as garden mulch.  To rid wheat straw of seeds, we let bales sit out in the rain over winter which either sprouts or smothers them before they are spread around plants.

We have a decent supply of pumpkin butter to sell at the "can't miss" annual Pumpkin Festival in Pumpkintown, SC this year on October 8, one week from this coming Saturday.  Hope you will come out and say 'howdy.'  There is a delightful little article on the event featured here that even mentions us!  No, we do not home-grow all the pumpkin required to make our pumpkin butter, but we will sell extra produce, so it's nice in some way to see a little return on our work.
Sweet bell peppers will be
chopped and frozen

Carrots, last harvest of the season

Our fall garden has really zoomed into growth, smiling at the rain and mild temperatures we saw last week.  Next year's future summer vegetable patch has been burned clear of brush and is ready for tilling before we lay down cardboard and fallen leaves.  We gathered the last of any fresh tomatoes and bell peppers - extra peppers were chopped and frozen to add to meatloaf, chili, and breakfast eggs later.  Carrots were dug, too, the final harvest of our summer garden.  Now as soon as the ground dries some, we will till and plant a cover crop of red clover.

Driving around town we see obvious signs of the seasonal change in trees, especially dogwoods and red maples.  Some sugar maples, too, are starting to glow in their tops.  Since we enjoyed abundant sunshine this year we're hoping for a spectacular show across the fall foliage spectrum of reds, oranges, and yellows.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Recipe: Luxuriant Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bread

In honor of the first day of Autumn tomorrow, here's one of our favorite ways to use pumpkin.  Real pumpkin needs to be pureed and cooked down to remove excess water until it is slightly browned and very thick.  Real or canned pumpkin may be used in this recipe.  Many pumpkin breads end up slightly dry, but this recipe results in that rich, moist, decadent bread you've been looking for.  And since it makes three loaves, there's enough to share.

Recipe:  Luxuriant Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bread

1 can (15 oz) pumpkin puree
4 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup water
3 cups white sugar
3 and 1/2  cups all-
         purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 and 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1 cup semi-sweet
         chocolate chips (may substitute chopped nuts of choice for a heartier

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease and flour three 7-inch by 3-inch loaf pans.  In a large bowl mix together pumpkin, eggs, oil, water, and sugar until well blended.  In a medium bowl combine flour, soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger.  Stir the dry ingredients into pumpkin mixture just until blended.  Add chocolate chips.  Pour into prepared pans.

Bake for about 50 minutes in preheated oven.  Loaves are done when toothpick inserted into center comes out clean.  Serves 12 - 15.

Monday, September 19, 2011

September 19, 2011

This week is summer’s official end.  Forlorn, limp skeletons remain of the season’s bounty.  While an approaching front moving south out of Canada threatened to banish our hot-weather wardrobe into next year, we decided to don gloves in a whirl of activity.  It is time for the annual garden clean-up.  Tomato cage prongs come free of earth that held them fast.  A few vigorous shakes send crumbs of dirt and browned branches flying into someone else’s hair.  Bean pods dried and neglected now split open and hurl hardened seeds around, as what remains of the mother plant uproots with an earthy, velcro sound.
Old tomato vines overload this wheel barrow in
our annual garden clean-up

The earth, now uprooted, is crumbly and sweet.  Fragile brown leaves remain to grace the plot; a few crinkly and translucent skins remain also, dried over clumps of dirt, where in haste a wave of tomatoes was spilled last month.  We left alone two tomato bushes and a dozen pepper plants, but next month this section will be tilled under and planted with a cover crop of red clover.

Interestingly, as we were cleaning, we found several fat tomato worms with cocoons of parasitic wasps attached to them.  When larval wasps hatch, they feast on their wormy host (yuck!), once again triumphing natural pest control over pesticides.

We dug an armload of carrots, now six months old and not bitter.  Cabbage and brussels sprouts plants have adjusted fine in the last week after being transplanted to their permanent growing locations, and seeds of mixed greens, chard, and beets have sprouted with carrots just now coming up.  We’re already using some canned and frozen vegetables from the pantry to supplement limited fresh garden choices, while we wait for fall vegetables to mature.

Tomato worm with cocoons of a parasitic wasp -
natural pest control in action
We packaged seeds of 2 lettuces, green beans, carrots, and basil.  To save small seeds, break up the tops of branched seed heads (make sure they are completely dry first); rub them together between gloved hands to separate seed from chaff, and winnow using two sieves:  one to separate large debris, and fine to extract dust.  Seal in a letter envelope, label, and keep dry and cool.

Friday is the Autumnal Equinox, first calendar day of the season of Autumn: a time to enjoy the good of all our labors.

Monday, September 12, 2011

September 12, 2011

We wake one morning to a different color filtering through our window.  The room has a dusky, rosier hue, much different from the stark brightness of the sun already climbed high in the sky.  Away with the haze and heat of summer - the air quality is invigorating.  A light north wind, clear and brisk, has swept away the buzzing of cicadas.  Soft clouds strewn like patchwork canvas the horizon, while a deep, impenetrable blue of a marvelous September morning sky glows overhead.
100 sq. ft of fall vegetable plants and seed

The renewal of cool weather lures us back into the garden.  Fall planting is in full swing as we dig compost in each planting hole for brussels sprouts and cabbage.  Broccoli, too, could be given a shot.  Although we are not planting them, peas and spinach may make it before heavy frost brings growth to a stop.  Interestingly, the Farmer's Almanac is calling for the Southeast to have a "very mild, very wet" winter:  perhaps off-season gardening will do well this year.

The major problem we have with this often droughty turn of the year is giving our young plants enough water to thrive.  We don't think of it in the 50-degree dew-covered mornings, but tender plants wilt in 85-degree afternoons.  So once again we are snaking soaker hoses which conserve water and deliver to the root zone around these plants.

We sowed an assortment of fast-maturing seed:  mixed greens, Swiss chard, rainbow carrots, beets, radishes, and turnips in a bed 5ft x 20 ft.  Root crops survive the winter well with straw mulch if it turns cold.  There is only one crop we have yet to plant, and that is garlic, which goes in the ground by late October at the same time as a cover crop of red clover.  One of these weekends, if the weather cools significantly, we plan to head out to Whispering Pines Stables to collect more composted manure to spread over our future spinach bed. 

The garden in September

Tomato plants, even the determinate varieties, are setting new fruit following Tropical Depression Lee's 1.1 inch rain last week.  Parsley, too, has resurrected since going almost dormant in the heat of August.  We're still collecting cardboard, which will act as the sheet over which we add a blanket of leaves to tuck the future summer garden in for the winter.  Our future corn patch will be planted in red clover for the winter, and the additional plot is our fall/winter/spring vegetable garden in cultivation now.  These three garden plots are continually roatated each year to help break certain insect and disease cycles and to improve soil fertility.  Be sure to get out and see the full harvest moon tonight.
Harvest Moon

Monday, September 5, 2011

September 5, 2011

White potatoes dug with a pitch fork
Happy Labor Day!  Hoping many of you are off work to enjoy some gardening.  On this extra long weekend we took time to dig potatoes (one of our garden experiments) and are happy with the results.  Last Spring we saved a few old, shriveled potatoes that had already sprouted, cut them up, and planted them instead of throwing them in the compost pile.  We have a good number of baking potatoes and a bunch of small "new" sized potatoes that will grill well coated in olive oil, Kosher salt, and chopped rosemary.  Digging was hard work!  We used a pitchfork, and we inevitably speared a few potatoes through the middle until we got the hang of lifting them out.  Those injured potatoes will be the first to the dinner table.  We've heard that sweet potatoes grow well here in the South, so maybe we'll try them for next year's experiment.

It's already been a very hot start to September, and we measured little rain through the month of August, so the ground is parched.  Noticing trees around the area are showing a little bit of color, not from the season so much as from drought stress.  We are looking forward to tropical storm rains this month and the inevitable cooling temperatures that will make gardening more favorable.  Since it is so hot and dry, we held off transplanting our cole crops out into the garden for another week.

A beneficial lady bird beetle forages for aphids and
insect eggs on top of a carrot seed head.
It appears that gardening has stopped as we transition between summer and fall, but small things are happening.  Green beans that we left to ripen last month are heavy and swollen with seed, and some are already starting to dry.  Carrots that sent up white conical flower stalks have set seed.  Tomato seeds left to screen dry will be saved for next year, while many annual herb seeds are dry and ready to be stored.  We package seed in small mail envelopes with sealing flaps and label the variety and year on the front.  We were successful this year in attracting beneficial insects to the garden and did not see any significant crop damage.  A few of those beneficials are still lingering around, such as this lady bird beetle.

Since pumpkins are finished we pulled up our soaker hoses and mowed down the vines (more weeds than vines).  All summer long we've been collecting a heap of twigs, sticks, and tree trimmings that we will move to this section to burn.  Not only will that kill any newly fallen weed seeds, but wood ash contains valuable potash which will benefit next year's garden.

In perspective: lady bird bettle on a carrot seed head

Monday, August 29, 2011

August 29, 2011

Howden Field and New England Pie pumpkins

Pumpkins are here!  If you're thinking, "It's just a bit early, isn't it?", Thursday September 1st is the first day of meteorological autumn when we traditionally begin to harvest our fall crop of gourds.  ("Meteorological 
autumn," the months of September, October, and November in the Northern Hemisphere, is when we traditionally recognize the fall season, although Friday September 23rd is the first official day of "astronomical autumn" measured by earth's relation to the sun when day and night are equal 12 hours - the autumnal equinox). 

Jack-be-Little pumpkins
It has been a hard year for pumpkins in our garden.  From Indiana to Texas to South Carolina, gardeners are upset with damage done by the vine borer, a wasp look-a-like moth that lays little brown-red eggs at the base of plants in the Cucurbita genus, including zucchini, melons, cucumbers, and pumpkins.  These eggs hatch little worms that bore into the vine and eat the insides, causing sudden plant wilt and collapse.  In most years they attack one out of a few plants, but this year they seemed relentless.  Zucchini growers all over lost their plants to these pesky borers.  In addition to zucchini, we lost our two Prizewinner pumpkin vines; we replanted, but not in enough time.

It was not a complete loss, however, since we still have 'Howden Field', 'New England Pie', and 'Jack-be-Little' pumpkins.  Those that are ripe were cut from the vine using a sharp pair of pruning shears and set in the sun to cure.  (Curing removes excess water and hardens the shell for long keeping.)  By September 23 (autumnal equinox) we will feel more in the fall spirit and will be ready to dress up the yard with hay bales and corn shocks while posing pumpkins at their feet.  Of course, extra mini pumpkins that we cannot use will go up for sale at the annual Pumpkin Festival second Saturday of October.

We made an early trip to Sky Top orchard for Honeycrisp, Jonathan, and McIntosh apples and plan to make several trips more this Fall, perhaps next year also until our apple trees begin producing in earnest.  Even though days are still quite warm, mornings are cool, and grass in the footpaths between trees was drenched with dew.  There truly is a bumper crop of apples this year as their website advertizes.  While we were there, we also gathered some delicious Concord grapes.  We're still debating whether to enjoy them just as juice, or to make them into jelly.

We will be be marking our rows and transplanting brussels sprouts and cabbage this week.  Those milk jug covers saved from Spring will come in handy now, not as greenhouses, but as protection from voracious insects looking for a tender treat.  This week would also be a great time to sow seeds of lettuce and carrots.  In these hot days of late August, sometimes it helps to lay a 2x4 board over small seed to keep it cool and damp enough to germinate.  Check under the board daily, and remove when little green sprouts appear.

Monday, August 22, 2011

August 22, 2011

'Aunt Molly's' ground cherries ready for a pie.
Have you noticed the mornings getting darker and sunset coming sooner?  According to the Almanac we are losing about a quarter hour of light per week now on a bee line to the autumnal equinox, after which we will plunge into the darkness of winter.  Late-season fruits are rolling in as we harvest apples, squash, ground cherries, and red raspberries.  Ground cherries are easy for children to gather since they fall from the bush in a brown paper wrapper when ripe.  When peeled, they reveal a bright yellow-orange fruit inside, related to the tomato, but with pineappley-fruity flavor.  They are good to eat fresh or in pies and preserves.

'Heritage' everbearing red raspberry
'Heritage,' an everbearing red raspberry is loaded with fruit.  This is a first-year cane planted in March; it put out a modest crop in June, but nesting birds claimed a lot of it to feed their young.  Now that nesting season is over, we plan to enjoy this harvest all to ourselves.  Each year this raspberry will multiply and should reach 100 canes in its 3rd year if it receives adequate water.

Apple, peach, and cherry trees have all branched nicely this year; we practiced summer pruning to direct new growth in the direction of our design.  This practice either removes or trains water sprouts to make a strong and fruitful tree.  Hoping for good results next year!

Garden locust
Garden clean-up began in earnest.  Broccoli, cucumber, and melon vines were removed, soaker hoses pulled up, and a large section of the garden mowed down with the lawnmower to remove weeds.  This will eventually be tilled under and planted over with red clover.  Green beans, carrots, basil, tomatoes, zucchini, and bell peppers were left to keep producing.  A big garden is fattening up some big insects!  Pumpkins are ripe and curing in the sun for harvest by September.

Monday, August 15, 2011

August 15, 2011

A corn shock stands guard over late-season tomatoes.
August's full moon (Saturday the 13th) is sometimes referred to as the full "corn moon" because it coincides with corn harvest in the Northern Hemisphere.  Our sweet corn is long gone - in fact we pulled some out of the freezer recently to try what we froze on the cob.  It looked like garden fresh, and though it was soft, it still had that homegrown flavor.  Hard to believe the next full moon will be the "harvest moon" on September 12.  If the moon has any influence on seed sprouting, our future cabbage crop will attest, because the seed packet said germination takes 12 - 14 days, but it was up in 2!

By now we're trying to invent new and interesting uses for vegetables that are growing a little old from overuse to the palette.  Many garden vegetables have come to a stop, however, and we can begin some clean-up.  The summer season has ended for lettuce, onions, garlic, broccoli, melons, cucumbers, corn, beans, sunflowers, and some of the annual herbs.  Tomatoes are no longer coming in large quantities, but sweet and hot peppers are rejuvenating after the hottest part of summer and will bear again in September.  Zucchini is becoming a steady producer while we wait, and in the meantime a carrot crop sits underground if we want a change of pace.  The majority of our summer harvest is gathered and preserved, so as we take a little break for the present we can look forward to next month's pumpkins and winter squash, apples, grapes, late season raspberries, root crops, and sweet potatoes.

Close-up of Roma paste tomatoes ripening on the bush.
While we're thinking of garden clean-up, it is time to begin securing cardboard boxes to use as mulch.  The weed problem this year turned rather severe in our first-year garden, so all efforts will be directed at smothering it as soon as our old plants are out of the way.  Lawn clippings and fallen leaves can be piled on top of cardboard to make a fairly impenetrable weed mulch through which we can plant next Spring.  Does your community lawn and garden store carry cover crop seed such as red clover and winter rye?  Depending on where you live, September or October is time to plant.  Now is a good time to call and order if necessary.  Garlic for fall planting can be purchased from mail order catalogs, or, wait and buy common white garlic from any grocery store; if left in a warm room it may begin to sprout, and individual cloves can be planted out in October.

Our goal this weekend was to till so we can begin preparing soil for fall planting.  Brussels sprouts plants are being conditioned to the outdoor climate starting in a shady spot.  It's time to check that compost pile and give it a turn after adding a summer's worth of imperfect vegetables, rinds, and cobs.  We will soon be filling it to the brim with discarded vegetable plants.  Have you ever stopped to notice how much activity there is in a garden this time of year?  While pausing to wipe our brows, we saw hundreds of dragonflies, large green-brown locust, chirping black crickets, and several varieties of bees and butterflies in constant hum over our plants.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Recipe: Garden Chunk Medium Salsa

Recipe:  Garden Chunk Medium Salsa

2 large green bell   peppers, seeds   removed and chopped
6 jalapeno peppers (or 2 for mild salsa), seeds removed and chopped
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
24 roma paste tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped (about 6 cups)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 six-ounce can tomato paste (use 2 cans if tomatoes are juicy)
1/3 cup white vinegar
1/3 cup fresh-squeezed lime juice
3 large cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. dried cilantro (or 2 Tblsp. fresh)

Prepare all vegetables first (chop peppers, onion, tomatoes).  Tomatoes can be easily skinned by dipping them in boiling water for 20 seconds, then immediately immersing in ice-cold water; the skins will slip from the fruit.  ***Use disposable latex or rubber gloves when handling jalapeno peppers and do not touch eyes.***

Salsa simmering in pan.
In a large sauce pan or stock pot, saute onion, bell pepper, and jalapeno pepper in olive oil 5 minutes until tender.  Stir in all remaining ingredients; bring to a boil.  Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Allow to cool, and store in refrigerator in sealed containers.  Makes about 6 cups.

Close-up of peppers coming through
the salsa screen.

We use this Back-To-Basics food strainer/sauce maker with
salsa screen to easily chop
 our peppers, onions, and tomatoes;
 it makes preparing all these
vegetables a snap.

Monday, August 8, 2011

August 8, 2011

Drying corn stalks bundled into shocks
make way for Fall vegetables
 A total of 34 melons have ripened since mid-July, some were better than others depending on where they were attached on the vine; a few more will ripen one at a time through this month, and new fruits are setting that will last into October - one of the nice aspects of gardening with a long growing season.  Garden activity has slowed to a trickle - literally - because late summer heat quickly absorbs moisture out of the ground, and soaker hoses have been a necessity.  By the time we head outdoors to pick vegetables, a bold orange sun has slid behind distant trees, and evening air is permeated with that heavy August scent of musky grass mow, drying corn, and ripe vegetables. 

We are four weeks out from planting Fall crops, and our Fall/Spring vegetable patch will be located where sweet corn was this summer.  To create open space, we pulled up half the corn stalks and bundled them together.  White potatoes are still sprawling on the outside edge of the corn patch, some with vines up to four feet in length.  We were careful to leave them alone, although we have dug some new potatoes already.  Brussels sprouts seedlings were transplanted into individual pots, and will be slowly adjusted to outdoor conditions after they strengthen.  Cabbage seed was sown indoors.  We will soon till and prepare soil for carrots, lettuce, and other cool weather crops which will be direct-sown into the garden come the first of September.
The vegetable garden in August

Tomatoes are still coming a plenty, though not in the volume we saw in July.  Anything we harvest this month is considered bonus.  August is a good month for seed-saving:  old lettuce plants with branched and feathery seed heads, heirloom tomatoes, even carrots that sent up stalks with flowers.  To keep birds from eating sunflower seeds, we use the old nylon hose method, stretching fabric across the heads we want to save.  We make sure to leave lots of sunflowers for our feathery friends, who love to perch on top of a drying flower to peck out a nutty meal.

Jack-Be-Little pumpkins on the pea fence

Pumpkins are ripening but will be left on the vine until their stems turn dry and brown.  Each orange gourd cures in the sun, toughening its outer skin, to help it last through the Autumn season.  The gourds we do not sell or eat often keep for 8 months until next Spring.  These mini pumpkins sell for $1 each at the annual Pumpkin Festival in Pumpkintown, SC, second Saturday of October.

Monday, August 1, 2011

August 1, 2011

Just like the crescendoed climax of a great symphony, we have come through peak garden harvest and are enjoying the little surprises and turns of the year as the season winds down. August for us is traditionally a month to take a break from the dizzying pace of July gardening; it is too hot, buggy, and muggy to work outdoors.  But even if the weather is uncomfortable we wouldn't want to miss out on some late summer treats.

Two halves of a sweet-as-sugar honeydew,
and Roma tomatoes on one of a dozen bushes
Our jungle of plants is starting to look dull and worn out.  Sweet corn is finished; whatever we didn't harvest is bloated and already past prime - the stalks will make nice autumn decorations dried and bundled into shocks.  Green bush beans have slowed production, although we had enough to once again pressure can last week.  We decided that will be the last time, and although we will try to keep picking beans to encourage more, we need only enough to eat fresh through August.  By September we will let our plants set pods that ripen seed to plant next year; we've been planting the same Blue Lake snap bush beans from saved seed now for five years.

Bushels of tomatoes ready to process
Melons and tomatoes are still the focus as we change to late summer.  The garden ripened four melons per day last week!  Despite canning tomatoes a week ago, there were twice as many this weekend.  We use a food strainer/sauce maker that screens out seeds, skins, and stems from raw tomatoes without having to cook, peel and core, which cuts canning time in half...well, almost, if you don't count the spurts and squirts and equipment that need to be cleaned up.  We end up with rich tomato sauce that gets cooked only in the canning.  The strainer comes with screens that also work on apples for sauce, pumpkins for puree, salsa, and berries.

Whole tomatoes, sauce, and juice
Bell and jalapeno peppers are still coming regularly (salsa!), and cucumber bushes are hanging out a third harvest on the cuke fence.  A second crop of zucchini planted from seed at the end of June are finally ready to start producing, and now that we've had a break from zucchini, we are ready to appreciate it again especially in spiced zucchini bread.  Speaking of spiced breads, there are a few New England Pie pumpkins already turning orange in our pumpkin patch.  When a pumpkin fruit sets, we keep it off the ground by placing a roofing shingle underneath - this protects the developing fruit from insects that like to bore holes and cause soft rot.  'Heritage' red raspberry produces two crops per year and is now in bloom for its fall crop; new canes are still growing up that will produce later in the season.  Indoors, brussels sprouts seedlings are ready to be transplanted into larger containers and moved outdoors.

New England Pie pumpkin resting on a roofing shingle

Monday, July 25, 2011

July 25, 2011

A cantaloupe melon sits in 100 ears of corn

The last half of July at our place is known for three things:  melons, sweet corn, and tomatoes.  We could add a heat wave or two in there just for fun, but when these come, they come relentlessly!  Finally, those first juicy, cool, flavor-bursting melons are rolling in.  Our first honeydew looked more like a small watermelon weighing in over 10 lbs; we picked eight melons during a four-day period.  One year we used a melon baller to fill quart freezer bags with melon balls, but we never could remember to take them out of the freezer in time to thaw for our fruit salads.  Eating frozen melon balls in winter is like having a hot roast dinner during a summer heat wave, so we prefer melons fresh and enjoy them when they come.  

Sweet corn 'Gotta Have It'
blanched and ready to freeze
 Although we made two plantings of sweet corn two weeks apart, they ripened one week apart due to the second half receiving more growing degree days.  What that meant for us was picking another 100 ears of sweet corn, blanching and freezing, and giving a lot away.  The variety we grew is called ‘Gotta Have It,’ which lives up to its name, especially for pesky corn ear worms; thankfully they bother only the tip which can be cut out.  Other than planting resistant varieties, the only methods of ear worm control are pesticides or oil, neither of which we want to use.  On this round we froze several dozen ears whole on the cob to save time.  We estimate we pulled 250 ears of corn out of a 20 ft. x 20 ft. space.  Any future dinner guests will be treated to…corn!

Somewhere this week we found time to pull onions and leave them to cure in a sunny dry corner of the garden.  Their space has been overrun by melon vines anyway.  In the Fall we always turn up a few onions that we overlooked.  Dill seed, dry and brown, was gathered and tucked away in an envelope labeled for next March’s planting.

We de-skinned and canned these plumb tomatoes for use in chili, spaghetti, goulash, cabbage rolls, and other tomato-based recipes; there is nothing like pulling a jar of July's sunshine summer best out of the pantry in the dead of winter.

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Dedicated to the responsible production and preservation of healthy home-grown food to the glory of God. Isaiah 55:10 The rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater. Organic, or not? We try to raise vegetables organically, using compost and manure. The addition of chickens to our hobby farm means plenty of organic nitrogen to compost! This site gives credible reference to planting information contained in the Farmer's Almanac (