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

About Me

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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 (