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

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 (