Bringing in the Last

Yesterday afternoon, I dumped all the potted annual herbs into the wheelbarrow and brought in all the tender houseplants from the back deck.

Thunder was grumbling, and days of rain and potentially even a little snow are in the forecast. I didn’t want to haul in frigid, heavy, sopping wet pots at the last moment. So, amid rumbling and flashing and the first spatter of drops, the season of patio plants ended abruptly.

A little later, a bolt of lightning splintered a tree by the kitchen, nearly causing me to spill boiling tea-water on my foot. Then wind forced open the mudroom door, hail flew in with a clatter, and THEN the weather radio sounded a warning.

There is no “fall garden” this year other than what’s out in the older beds already, mature, planted in spring. Some of the newly-built raised beds are filled with a combination of “black dirt” (which is farm field soil, stripped off so that excavators can get to the gravel underneath) and barn cleanings–a mix of straw bedding and goat manure. I combine the two because black dirt from an industrially-farmed field, while gorgeous-looking to those who garden in less-than-ideal soil, is nevertheless a dead medium. There aren’t any worms, no organic matter. When it’s dry, it blows like the Dirty Thirties; when it’s wet, it pools and runs to gullies.

DSC05815I see whole big fields of it in places–fall cultivated bare to allow for earlier spring planting, and I wonder how much soil that farmer will lose before they wise up to what their grandparents learned the hard way.

A couple of the newly-filled raised beds are serving as winter nurseries to perennials I dug from the yard in Clinton–I don’t want to lose what I worked on if the house should sell after the ground freezes, and I don’t want to ask for stipulations about digging plants in the spring. A couple beds have asparagus crowns dug last weekend from a plot now outside the new garden boundaries. Some of the new beds still stand empty, and I guess they might stay that way till spring.

I had the idea I’d get all the beds filled and the newly-defined garden fenced this fall, but the list of what can be accomplished before freeze up is shortening along with the days. I also remember thinking I’d get a plot tilled and the small high tunnel erected down on the south lawn. The frame and plastic for that is still in the shop in town.

DSC06017Yesterday evening, casting around for dinner ideas, I decided to make lasagna–not because I was particularly in the mood for it (it was excellent!), but because I could combine the making of it with processing the rest of the ripe tomatoes in the house. I also had some soft goat cheese in the fridge from a local farm tour last week, and that’s not something you let go to waste.

Now, with the weather tending toward chill and damp, and the fact that some animal (probably a squirrel) is competing with me for the last of my lovely heirloom tomatoes, I am planning to cut them down and bring a wheelbarrow-full to the chickens. If critters are going to eat the last few, I ought to get something in return (theoretically speaking, since my hens have not yet begun to lay eggs).

DSC05983I don’t think I’ve ever pulled healthy tomato plants before a frost, but their production is waning, and I’d like to bare those beds and get compost worked in sooner rather than later. Another first: two days ago I pulled all the sweet pepper plants but two–again, waning production and a desire to beef up the soil organic matter before winter closes in.

Yes, and to make room for the garlic that still needs planting, though I have it on good authority that with a power drill and ice auger, it’s possible to plant it in December, even.

It’s a bit of a relief to be bringing in the last–to know that the constant inflow of baskets and boxes and buckets of produce is coming to an end, and what we’ve got is it until the first greens of spring. Sure, there’ll be a few more trips to the farmers market for winter squash and onions, to the orchard for apples. We’ve got currants and elderberries in the freezer that are destined for jam, jelly, and syrup, the canning of which will warm the house in the chilly damp weeks ahead.

But it seems clear from the forecast, and from the geese gathering by hundreds in the sloughs, that the Time of Too Much Eggplant is coming to a close, and the stored-up Feast of Fall is about to begin.


Harvest Day

In between poking around for properties and places to live (did I mention I had a closer look at the “dream farm” yesterday–yeah, more like “nightmare”), I did a little harvesting today.

Mostly I had planned to get my carrots out of the raised bed at the smokehouse, but I couldn’t resist grabbing a couple ripe Minnesota Midget melons and Tromboncino squashes from the Borrowed Farm garden.

This Tromboncino was from much earlier in the season--tiny, but pretty!


This is only the second year I’ve grown Tromboncinos, and this season they are prolific as all-get-out. I’ve had some real lunkers that I harvested and left lie as compost, as well as quite a few younger and more tender versions.

I’ve stopped harvesting cukes altogether–the Summer Dance slicers got waaaay ahead of me, and I reaped enough picklers for a gallon of half-sour garlicky dills. That’s plenty for me.

After harvesting the carrots, I was trimming back the lone Coyote (cherry tomato, that is) that had broken loose from its bamboo tipi mooring and was taking over the entire 4×8′ bed, and thankfully lifted the parasol of dense foliage to see that my shallots were ready to come out.

While they’re not as all-purpose as garlic, shallots have the distinct advantage of forming clumps and maturing in one season from a bulb stuck in the ground in Spring.  I got a couple pounds’ harvest out of just a few nice bulbs I had left over from last fall and pressed in along the edges of the raised bed sometime in late April or early May.

After carrot and shallot harvest in the raised bed left on vacation in early August. There are a few heirloom tomatoes still producing spottily, plus summer squash (Magda cousa and Papaya Pear) that are on their last legs.  A couple of days ago, I started pulling sad little half-eaten ears from my Mandan Bride corn patch (such as it was after all the rabbit depredations).

Sad, but pretty all the same...

I made the mistake of leaving the pulled ears lying on a bed of bamboo poles (pulled after the rabbits completely wiped out my bean crop), and today it looked like the squirrels had a heyday with that.  It’s OK–there were a lot more sad little ears to pull, and this batch I brought back with me to dry down and maybe save a little seed from for the next attempt.  No Mandan Bride cornbread for me this season, but there’s always next year.

Back in Twin Brooks, I started washing and chopping the lunker carrots for dehydrating. I’ve never dried carrots before, but I read that the bigger carrots are the best bet for drying because they’re a) drier to begin with, and b) less likely to be tough after rehydration.

I had both Bolero and Purple Haze varieties–they did quite well for being in the ground so long and not really ever being watered. M said he’d like the purple carrots (OK, he said he thought he might eat them), which was enough excuse for me to try growing them again.

Purple Haze all in my eyes...

I’ve gotta say–I had fatter, bigger, longer carrots this year than I ever had in the Vermillion gardens–the result, I’m sure, of growing them in raised beds and leaving them in the ground forever.  The nice thing about carrots is, if you don’t have a place to put them or time to deal with them, they store pretty darn well right in the ground.  Altogether, I harvested (total guesstimate) about ten to twelve pounds of carrots from a 3 x 4′ area.

Once the carrots were in the dehydrator, I turned to the business of feeding us–I’m not sure H subscribes to the whole, “why would I need to eat when I’m processing this much food?” philosophy, and I probably shouldn’t follow that idea too closely, either.

Luckily, before we left this morning, the farm mistress had welcomed us to eat some of their dinner leftovers for supper–and having witnessed the creation of that delicious dish of local chicken, squash, peppers, tomatoes, noodles, and sour cream, we were only too happy to oblige.  With food this good, it’s hard to want to find my own place!

With supper ended, the sun going down, and H and I leisurely strolling the internets, Vega let me know it was time for her regular outing. We spotted the farm rooster in his tree, already settling in for the night.

So that’s why he gets up so early!

Hail Mary Delivery

That’s what it felt like, at least, heading back to Vermillion this weekend to check on the gardens and do a CSA delivery.  Especially after, having just sent an e-mail to my members to let them know I was coming, I started seeing baseball-sized hail images from homeowners right across the valley.

So, I headed back not knowing what I was walking into–but hoping that there’d be at least something to salvage.

It's called, "a cryin' shame."

The peppers took a hellacious loss.  The Napoleon Sweets (shown above) took the hardest hit because they were the biggest fruits.  The slimmer sweet peppers like the Jimmy Nardellos fared better, but they didn’t escape entirely.

Sorry, Jimmy

The summer squash was a complete loss.  Especially since, not having been picked for a couple of weeks, all the fruits were quite large and made better targets.  This Papaya Pear took a single direct hit in the midriff:


And then this poor Tromboncino, which was much slimmer, must’ve been in just the right place to really get ripped up:


Over in the winter squash patch, things looked a little better.  A lot of those fruits had cured in the field, and their shells were good and hard.  There were still quite a few flying squash, and since most of them landed along the lower fence, I told H to expect a nice productive hedge there next year.

Dented and dinged

I went ahead and harvested pretty much all the rest of the winter squash, as I don’t expect to make it back before a frost (and speaking of–it hasn’t frosted down there yet.  It hasn’t up here yet!?!?).

Final squash harvest--spaghetti and Delicata

This was all Saturday afternoon.  I waited until Sunday morning to do the rest of the harvest, hoping I’d be able to get in and dig the last row of Purple Peruvian fingerling potatoes.  But there was still standing water in that area of the garden from Saturday morning’s drenching (and a little more pea-sized hail, for good measure).

Sunday dawned chilly, misty, and dewy–a lovely morning for harvesting in some respects (chiefly that it was too cold for the mosquitoes to be out).

Webbed gate

The task of the morning, since the potatoes were out of the question, was to dig the last row of Blue Solaise leeks.  I’d forgotten my digging fork in Minnesota, so I used the broadfork, which turned out to be an even better tool for the job–I just set it along the edge of the row and lifted 3-4 leeks at a time.

Digging leeks

Washing and trimming muddy leeks isn’t the neatest job, but I managed (uncharacteristically) to avoid getting myself totally soaked and mud-spattered.

I kept thinking, as I was working, how I’d better find myself a farm in Minnesota soon, or else I won’t be able to start this, my favorite crop, and transplant it out in early spring.

Washing the leeks

A good leek root system reminds me of white embroidery floss–they’re so strong and thick and glossy.

There were some really good-sized ones in this last of the three rows I started from saved seed–seed saved from plants started from seed themselves a couple of years earlier, since leeks are biennials–setting on gorgeous big blossoms on 3-4-foot high stalks in their second year of life.

Clean, trimmed, and ready for deliveries

Saving seed from this heirloom variety isn’t terribly difficult because they’re an overwintering type.  The only issue I’ve found in getting them through the winter is that they get so sweet after a hard freeze that you have to protect them from the deer.

And, of course, to get the best seed you have to leave some of your biggest and best leeks in the field to face those depredations and hardships.  You can’t even eat them in the spring, when you really want something fresh from the garden.

That’s what parsnips are for–and that is the one crop I can still guarantee delivery of to my members–unless (crossing fingers) something really, really bad happens.  Something worse than baseball-sized hail.

But the parsnips will have to wait at least until a hard freeze, when I’ll dig some for them and some for me.  With the way the weather has been acting, they could end up being a Christmas present.

I don’t know about you, but I’d take a sweet home-grown parsnip in my stocking over a peppermint stick any old day.

Southern Bounty

Though I’ve moved away, my gardens are still producing–and producing well!

I came back to Vermillion for the weekend to get my house cleaned up to sell and to harvest and do another CSA delivery for my members, who have been incredibly understanding and supportive about my new job and move.

The pictured harvest was done in about three hours this afternoon after having spent the morning doing house work and meeting with the realtor.

H and I also managed to make it down to Ribs, Rods, and Rock n’ Roll twice–once last night for dinner, and again this afternoon for lunch.

Not sure if I’ve had my entire fill of pulled pork sandwiches, coleslaw, and beans yet, but I don’t know if I’ll manage to get back down there before the festivities conclude.

It is always interesting to experience the barbeque-and-car culture–though my favorite at the show and shine is always the old trucks–give me that 1974 IH pickup over one of those hot rods any day!

The older trucks always look so much more functional than any of the new “super-duty” ones they put out now–I wonder how you can even get anything in those high beds–and most I’ve seen don’t look like they’ve ever had anything in them anyway–not a scratch on ’em.

Anyhow, I headed out to the farm at about 3:30 and still managed to dig out one of the two remaining rows of Blue Solaise leeks (grown from seed I saved!) and one of the two rows of Purple Peruvian fingerling potatoes.

Purple Peruvians are a very long season potato, and they are one of the oldest varieties known.  People living in the Andes (whence potatoes come) tromp them on tarps and let them freeze dry overnight in their arid and chilly mountain climate.

They’re also somewhat difficult to harvest because when they’re dirty they look all the world like an elongated hunk of clay–or really more like a dog turd.  I know that’s not an appealing image, but there you have it.

Once they’re washed off, their lovely purple-through-and-through color is a little more obvious.  I have to wonder if the soils in the Andes are lighter colored than our clay loam–which would make them a lot easier to spot without clawing through every clod.

I also harvested spaghetti squash, and I pulled the first several Delicata squash, which I’ve never grown before.  They’re a little longer season than spaghettis, but they’re sure yielding well.  I pulled three for each member and about five to bring back to Minnesota.

The peppers are doing really well–those Jimmy Nardellos are pumping out the sweet red peppers, and the Italian Sweets are also ripening up.

There weren’t many Napoleon Sweets out there, but I’m guessing that’s due to my telling a couple of people in H’s family they could pick a few–they seem to have concentrated on that variety, which is fine with me, because I like the others better!

The summer squash is overwhelming, but I expected that.  I’ll probably toss a few of the real monsters over the fence–wishing I had chickens right about now for those and the oversized cukes and crazy-long Cowhorn okra pods.

I haven’t even touched the tomatoes yet, but it looks like some of them are still eking out an existence out there–and maybe even making a bit of a comeback.  I thought for sure they’d all be flat dead when I got back, but they aren’t all.

So, tomorrow morning I’ll be boxing or bagging up the bulk of this bounty and doing deliveries before a few more small clean-up projects at the house, then loading the remaining big cooler with my produce share, and making my way back to the northland.

Wonder if there’s been a frost up there yet!

Later 'Mater

Last Tomatoes 2009Clearing out the last of the tomatoes, so I can move the wire rack I’m holding the excess produce on back into the sunny bedroom window for the houseplants (which is its main function).

I had three pint boxes of ripened red pear tomatoes, plus a couple peach lugs about half full each of red and ripening fruits.  Those all got cleared out, and now I have a tiny wire basket with maybe four or five not-yet-ripened tomatoes left.

That’s it for the fresh tomato season.  It’s over.

All those red ripe tomatoes went into the smaller stockpot with ingredients for a small batch of soup.  I won’t be canning this batch (the fact that most of the ‘maters have been separated from their vines for weeks makes me leery)–we’ll just eat some fresh and maybe freeze leftovers if there’s enough.

It’s bittersweet.  I hate to let go and accept the fact that winter is coming, but it’ll be good to get my living room back.  I’ve still got bags of onions, several winter squashes, and baskets of peppers to use up or move downstairs, but those things will keep relatively well in their raw form.

Next canning project is either applesauce (though my friend had a great idea to make and freeze apple turnovers a la our spanikopita adventure) or pickles.  The crock-fermented pickles in the basement are pretty much ready to go.

And judging from last year, I should be starting to get next year’s seed catalogs soon!