So, more days than not Old MacDonald (sometimes accompanied by me, but I have late hours at the job) has been going out to water the Back 40 garden, and it has absolutely paid off:
I can’t get over how good it looks. He did admit that there have been two applications of fertilizer, which combined with the watering seems to more than be working. Our experiment with grass clippings is also a success; we’ve been out to weed only twice so far this season and both times took about an hour and a half to do the whole garden.
The secret to our success is a 50-gallon cistern we keep in the back, and refill by running hoses linked together from the house whenever it gets down in volume.
And making her first appearance on the blog, Old MacDonald’s mother and a farmer’s daughter (her father was a farmer in Denmark; apparently farming is genetic but skips generations):
Our experiment out back is a success – this was the second picking of beans, just two days after our first round:
I can’t believe how long it’s been since we had any substantial rain. Thank goodness we have the drip irrigation in the main garden and the raised beds:
For the first time in ages, the cucumbers are actually doing something, and will bear fruit:
Powder mold, squash beetles and other environmental factors have contributed to the lackluster performance over the last few years. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to make homemade pickles. That might be changing this year.
Of course, we’re still being supervised:
The nicest thing about this cat is that he wants 5-10 very intense minutes of your attention, and then he moves off to stalk birds or mice or just snooze a bit. We were commenting the other day about our luck in getting neighborhood cats that actually give us the time of day. Even better when they keep away the destructive pests.
The growing season is now underway, with the plants doing remarkably well:
I love that picture because it’s a beautiful shot of an Adirondack chair I never get to sit in.
There’s also a critter in the garden:
This is our neighbor Luke, who arrived with the new neighbors when they moved in across the street last spring. Can’t have an updated garden blog without photos of a neighbor’s cat. He’s reasonably helpful:
He’s actually a better birder but we’ve seen him snag a chipmunk or two. Good kitty!
He’s not much help with the rabbits, though:
Fortunately this year we have not had a moment where I’ve spotted them in the garden because they can squeeze through the fence. It seems like our bobcat from years past may not be around, because there are a lot of them. It was a mild winter, however.
Even the Back 40 is coming along nicely:
As part of our new crusade to pay more attention to this garden, we’ve been watering. It’s pretty dry here – there was very little snow this year, and it hasn’t rained much at all. It’s a pain to walk out there to water, but we figure it will give the seedlings their best chance.
I can stop complaining about the lack of vegetables now:
This was a lot of stuff to come in all at once. It looks very impressive, posted on Facebook. I had several offers to, “….take some of that off your hands.” So kind of those folks! Where were they when I was on my hands & knees for four hours, weeding?
In the end, we put up 5 jars of pepperoncini peppers:
I found a great recipe for pickling them on Food.com. Our first batch tasted a little mushy, probably from the length of time they sat in the canner until I was able to finish stuffing all the jars and bring it to a boil. This time we stuffed the jars, filled the brine, removed the air and then put them all into the canner at once. We’re hoping this makes them crisper. The ones available commercially taste too bitter to me, so if they are just a little crunchier, they will be perfect.
We’ve got some beans coming, too:
We grilled these with a little bit of olive oil, lemon juice and dill and they were fantastic. We’re enjoying the beans more than normal, given that just three weeks ago we thought they were a total loss. Something was getting over our fence and eating the bushes. We suspect a woodchuck, and so we set up the electric fence around the wire one. Problem solved.
After picking all those tomatoes, we parboiled, peeled, seeded and diced them into 2-cup quantities and froze them. We ended up with 2 bags of Krim, 3 bags of Kellogg, and a bag each of Brandywine and Roma. But we didn’t freeze all of them:
That is a Tomato Stack Salad with Corn & Avocado. It is delicious. We used Krim, Kellogg and Brandywine, plus corn, fresh chive and basil from the garden in the dressing. We have been waiting all season to make that stack of deliciousness. It was worth the wait.
In a fit of optimism, I planted 191 Knight peas in the back 40 yesterday. Average time to harvest? 56 days. That puts us somewhere around October 12, give or take depending on how warm fall is. I may have wasted $1.50 in seeds if we have an early frost. This is my idea of living dangerously.
I have been spending my spare time weeding, rather than posting on this blog, for which I apologize. I find this the longest time of the year, when everything is growing merrily (especially the weeds) but there is nothing to pick and enjoy. But that is starting to change. First up:
This year we are growing the same lettuce mix we purchased from Pinetree last year, and it is doing equally well. We have a new type of turnip, an Asian-style that you pick while they are still fairly small. I have been trying to correct my less-than-stellar thinning efforts from earlier in the season by picking ones that are too close to other ones. We only have a small row of them – about five feet across – so I am picking them for meals as we need them.
Yesterday was very exciting, because this is what was harvested:
Oh yes, your eyes do not deceive you – that is the first sungold tomato of the season. J picked it and brought it in for me to enjoy – what a generous guy. I think I surprised him when I cut it in half to share. That’s very unlike me, where sungolds are concerned.
Meanwhile, our search for a substitute pet continues:
I really couldn’t tell if the toad was closing his eyes because he was relaxed, or he expected imminent death and didn’t want to see it coming.
Today I ate the last dozen or so Sungold tomatoes. I would like to note that it is November, and this is amazing. I would have documented the occasion, but I was at work and forgot my camera. The garden kept going all the way through the second-to-last week of October, finally succumbing to a hard frost somewhere over the nights of October 23rd and 24th. It was a fantastic run. I can only tally what we canned or froze, but here’s where we stand in our first large-scale effort to preserve our harvest for later use:
22 jars dill pickles
5 jars bread and butter pickles
12 jars sweet banana peppers
4 jars green tomato chutney (hurrah! A use for unripe green tomatoes at the end of the season!)
56 cups of diced tomatoes
8 bags of beans
1 bag of peas
3 bags of corn
3 bags of peppers (jalapeno & Fooled You)
It was not a stellar year for either the peas or the corn – although we did eat some fresh – but it was an amazing year for tomatoes. We boiled, peeled, seeded & diced those suckers in 2-cup increments and froze them for use in cooking. We’ve already used about 9 bags so far, and the taste is so much better than even the canned organic tomatoes I normally buy. However, all these frozen vegetables take up a bit of room, as you can see:
There’s no way to really calculate what we harvested and ate fresh – over the long weekend of Columbus Day, J harvested about 15 of our Bride eggplants, fire roasted them, and turned them into eggplant dip. We ate one container, and froze the other two for future consumption as the recipe calls exclusively for Asian eggplants and we can’t get them around here unless we grow them. So we’ll defrost that container, maybe for New Year’s, and think longingly of fresh summer vegetables. It’s just about enough time to have forgotten how hot and backbreaking it is to weed in the middle of summer.
The tomatoes keep coming – every week we are filling a large bowl full of Roma, Mortgage Lifter, Brandywine & Kellogg tomatoes:
This particular bowl full is just Roma, Brandywine & Mortgage Lifter. I have done some extensive reading on the internet about canning tomatoes, but I have a high degree of fear about botulism (who wouldn’t?) for anything that does not involve vinegar, so I have been opting to freeze the tomatoes. But first I have to prepare them. Step one, plunge into boiling water for about a minute to loosen the skins:
Step two, drop into ice water:
Step three, drain and place into a separate bowl:
Steps four, five & six – peel, seed and dice the tomatoes. (Infinitely too messy to do and use my camera, so no photos.)
Step seven – measure out into two cup increments, put in Ziplock bags, and prepare for freezer:
Step eight – repeat weekly, sometimes twice in a single week.
I know this winter when I am pulling them out for soups or chili or some other recipe that calls for diced tomatoes I am going to be so happy I put all this effort in, week after week, preparing and freezing these tomatoes. But right now I’m on step nine – pray for an early killing frost.
This is on top of an additional 25 Roma tomatoes, 2 Kellogg, 2 Brandywine & half pint of Sungolds that are up on the counter. And I’m not seeing Stella Caroline this week. I wonder how much it would cost me to FedEx….?
The green beans in the photo are Kentucky Wonder pole beans. I have been calling them Kentucky runner beans, which is only half true (they are running away from us, so that part is true.) Kentucky Wonder is a very old heirloom that has been known by many other names over the years, including American Sickle Pole, Eastern Wonder, Egg Harbor, Georgia Monstrous Pole, Improved Southern Prolific, Missouri Prolific, Old Homestead Pole and Texas Pole. An online catalog describes them as, “…..very reliable, early maturing, and productive.” They should really use the word “prolific” in the bean name, because that might give me pause when calculating how many to plant. I would also rewrite the description to say, “Very reliable, early maturing, and will bury you and everyone you know in beans.” But this is mostly my fault – I put in 6 hills of the beans, with 8 bean plants per hill. And I’m pretty sure every one of those suckers came up. So, 48 plants. Next year, for the love of Pete, someone please remind me that this is too many when I’m all excited in the middle of May to plant the beans. I need someone to come stand in the field and shout at me when I start trying to rationalize and say things like, “But they might not all come up!” or “What if some of the plants don’t produce?” They will all produce, apparently.
Underneath our Kentucky beans are our usual purple bush beans, and to the right are Roma tomatoes (totally out of control this year, the plants are tipping over from the weight of the tomatoes) and the left is a bowl of Sungolds with a Brandywine for a little change of color. There are too many Sungolds to fit in the ceramic pint container I usually keep them in.
So this batch of beans will be the first batch that I freeze. The best way to preserve beans through freezing is to blanch them first, to kill off any bacteria or enzymes that might cause them to become discolored during the freezing process. I usually submerge them for 3 – 4 minutes, then plunge them into ice water and dump them into a strainer before laying them out on towels to fully dry before freezing them in freezer bags. My online research tells me that they are best used within a 10-month period, but I have found that they are fine up to and past a year later. Why yes, we do have beans frozen from last year in our freezer, however did you guess?
So while we’ve had a few problems this year (see also: rabbit in fenced garden, bugs) it’s turning out to be an amazing year:
We’ve lost a couple of squash plants – due to powdery mold, bugs or both, it’s not clear, but we’ve successfully harvested zucchini pretty consistently since the middle of July. Of our 6 plants, 3 are producing – all zucchini – and we’re keeping up with consuming what we’re picking. We’ll stick with the 6 plant plan for next year, because if everything does well we’ll have to give stuff away even at that low number. We’ve come quite a way from the days of 6 of both types of plants. Those were some dark times – for us, and the neighbors.
The tomatoes this year are amazing. Our sungold plants are over 6 feet tall, and so heavy we’ve taken to leaning the cages against the fence and lashing them in place:
Our peas this year have been somewhat anemic – Mr. Big Pea produced enough peas for a sandwich bag, and the sugar snap lagged further behind that. Which is interesting, given that we rotated them to a different part of the garden and we used a soil inoculant to help the plants live longer. Currently they start to die off just as the pods begin to form, so instead of being indeterminant, we get one harvest. J yanked out all the Mr. Big Pea plants earlier this week and planted a second crop, something we’ve never done before. We estimate about 7 to 8 weeks before we’re at a huge risk for frost, although the last 2 years we’ve had snow near Halloween, which is about twelve weeks away. We had the seeds for planting, so we figured we’d give it a shot. Also planted this weekend – the third crop of lettuce, and more parsley, cilantro and basil. I’ve picked pretty much what we have, so if I want stuff for the fall, I had to replant. I’m also hoping for enough basil to do a little pesto this year, and freeze it.
We’ve had a lot of rain this summer, punctuated but spells of hot, sunny weather, which has been enormously helpful to the garden, and to our non-farmed yard. It has never looked this nice this late in the summer since we moved in. And as I write this, it’s raining again, after a week of sunny 80-something days:
I’m sure in years to come we will look back on this season fondly. Except for the peas. And that rabbit.
I am pleased to report we might actually be winning the war with bugs and weeds. I know this was a pressing concern for all of you.
This past weekend I harvested an entire mixing bowl of banana peppers and cucumbers. And promptly canned all of it, with the help of Old McDonald. We have three jars of sweet banana peppers and three jars of bread & butter pickles. There will be plenty more coming, as we are about to be buried in tomatoes. Our Roma plants are producing like nothing I’ve ever seen. I see a lot of sauce in our future. And everyone else’s.