Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Still Gardening

I just read The Moneyless Man. It's about a young guy in the UK who decides to go an entire year without using money. I'm not into New Year's resolutions because I can't understand why you can't start something on any other given day of the year, but that has me back to that question of whether I can garden every single day of the year. Don't worry. I'm not going to do it. I can't commit, but I can't see a reason that I couldn't do it either.
Evidence: I planted lettuce seed a few weeks ago and it came up without any protection- IN THE END OF DECEMBER!!! Amazing or scary? Here's proof:
I think this includes Matina and Winter Density

This got me thinking about planting other seeds so I dug a couple of buckets of soil from the chicken coop, spread them in a small area of the garden and planted 3 kinds of carrots- Amarillo (yellow), Cosmic Purple and Nantes. I'll let you know when they germinate.

The kiddo and I discussed what she wants to grow in her garden this year and she said- Fushia Zinnias, Cucumbers and Green Onions. She eats onions straight out of the garden year-round. She decided she wants her own now. So, we went to her garden from this past summer and collected the seed heads from the Zinnias since she wants them to be EXACTLY like last year. We'll see if they come true. 

I had purchased a bag of mixed tulips with the intention of planting them at my moms and never got around to it so I tossed them into a pot on the back porch today. I don't have great expectations, but I did dump a shovel of chicken coop soil in with them so maybe they will surprise me. I've had some success planting bulbs in December before, but these were starting to dry and sprout. 

I love this little vignette of a cool heuchera and mixed lettuces I planted in fall. The colors are cool together. I need to get my hands on more of these heuchera. 

I finally decided I needed to bring the Black Mission Fig inside, since it is really not hardy in this zone and I've exposed it to plenty already. It looks as though the buds are still alive. For now it is just sitting in the corner.

A random mix of "wildflower" seed that I received as a gift has me pondering this healthy looking plant. I'm not sure what it is. I'm assuming it will bloom next year. Anyone? Maybe it's a coreopsis?

And lastly, when we think there certainly can't be anything in bloom in December we saw a forsythia starting to flower on a walk yesterday and I noticed the catkins on the Hazelnut are growing. The world is not dead.

You CAN garden in December. The world is not dead. 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Gardening in December

Last night was our coldest night yet with temps somewhere around 17. I covered the rosemary- determined to keep in going. It made it. Otherwise, everything else is now on its own from here on out. So I say. I got very depressed when I decided to go out and dig some leeks for soup for lunch and guess what- the ground was frozen. Man, what am I going to do all winter if this shit keeps up? I looked at garden blogs, flipped through a seed catalog, took some pics. It got me thinking. What does it really mean to garden in winter and what would that look like? Could I "garden" everyday of the year? Sounds like an interesting challenge. 

Challenge: Can I keep green herbs outside all winter?
I don't know how well you can tell in this picture, but the herbs here- marjoram, mint, parsley and also green onions and violas- leaves have curled overnight and the mint is shiny. Here is a close-up:
Can they recover? 

YES! They can. This photo taken at 31 degrees F. 
What am I doing? Essentially, I potted them up, put them on a shelf against my house (the portion that has white siding) and on a south facing wall. I'm hoping being up against the house, sheltered from winds and against this highly reflective south wall will extend their life and even allow for all-winter-long herbs. I also have some oregano, lettuce and spinach in pots along this wall. 

Challenge: Can I grow veggies in pots over winter?
Here is my attempt at Potato Onions and Leafing Cabbage. So far so good, albeit slow.

Challenge: What other things count as winter gardening? 
Does- I haven't gotten around to digging up all the cannas yet count? Sure! And the roots still look good. I'm guessing the ground would not only have to freeze solid, but stay so for a given amount of time for them to die. The ones I could dig were either in pots or in a heavily leaf-mulched bed, hence not having to deal with frozen earth. 
Tossed into grocery bag for the winter.

Still alive!

I think eating what you grew in summer should also count to some degree as winter gardening, but that's just my opinion. Plan B- when ground is too frozen to dig leeks, eat eggplant from the freezer.

Challenge: What can I grow and eat indoors in the winter?
Answer: Leafing Celery.

I'm still waiting for my parsley, cilantro and nasturtiums to germinate in my window food farm tower. Impatiently, I might add. And lastly, having a living and plant-able Winter Solstice Tree counts as gardening in my book. Last year I picked out a lime green arborvitae (which has a lot of dead foliage now). I decided to get something a little more tough this year- a Wichita Blue Juniper. I like it. I wouldn't normally buck up $50 for a plant, but seeing what I would pay for a chopped-down one that would just be tossed away after the holidays and whereas this one not only gets planted, hopefully lasts for years, adds beauty to my landscaping and shelter for wildlife it seems a cheap alternative. Besides, having to keep it outside means I don't have to deal with boxes of ornaments, the dogs eating it and the cats trying to climb it. The string of lights is a compromise. 

Until next time and more winter garden challenges!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

November Harvest & Projects

Some random garden activities of the month include stratifying seeds. My coworker gave me some Hawthorn fruit (look like tiny crabapples) she collected while hunting in a southern county. She said this tree was particularly attractive and very thorny and asked if I would start some seedlings for her. So, I whittled away the fruit and found 2 seeds within each. I dropped them in some water and they all sunk- good sign!  Next, I planted them in a used salad bar container (clear plastic with holes) and put it outside to overwinter. It is important that they are exposed to both cold and moisture in order to germinate. Here is what the soaking seed looked like:

Some recent harvests include: gnarly white carrots, kale and perpetual spinach (which is a variety of chard). I plan on eating Kale throughout the winter. Here are some pics:

I used kale in almost everything I made for Thanksgiving: 2 kinds of veggie meatballs and a Curried Jamaican dumpling. Other things harvestable now include: rosemary, spearmint, marjoram, chives, parsley, green onions, leeks, corn salad.  Things to come next include: spinach, lettuce, miner's lettuce, leafing cabbage.

What to do with that pumpkin on the porch? Slice it, remove the seeds (and roast w/ olive oil and salt), roast the slices and enjoy. I just made some pureed pumpkin soup and added a couple of potatoes to make it creamy, roasted onion and some leftover blue cheese. Roasting the veggies first adds some yummy smokiness to the soup. 
Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

I was lucky enough to be a judge for the second year at the 2nd Annual Homemade Wine Tasting contest sponsored by the Millstadt Historical Society.  Lots of good entries, including: Blackberry, Black and Blueberry, White Grape, Peach, Elderberry got me interested in making my own so I decided to start some batches. 
Some of the homemade wines to be sampled.

Two small batches and a Chuy cat.

I read that Wild Plum Wine can take 3 years to reach its potential so I decided to start small in the event it totally stinks. I collected, pitted and froze wild plums late summer as they fell. On the left are the plums with sugar and water and no added yeast. On the right in the wine bottle I decided to juice some fruits around the kitchen- pomegranate, oranges and apples, add a little sugar and some baking yeast- why not? Because my house is so cold after a few days of little obvious activity I decided to put them on a heating pad to warm up the little buggers. Not surprisingly Chuy found the pad a suitable tush-warmer. 

Another winter project begun again is the experimental window garden in a tower of juice bottles. This was my take on the hydroponic window farm design, except with soil (which could mean huge mess). In the bottom bottle I have 3 spinach plants I had started from seed outside this fall. The middle bottle has parsley seeds and the top one I put nasturtiums. Maybe the nasturtiums will bloom and add some much needed winter color, but if not, the leaves are still edible.
Please don't fall. Please don't fall. 

And a close up of the spinach in the bottom tier:

And lastly, I finally ate a Bhut Jolokia. I can say I did it and I will never eat it again (whole anyway). I ended up with a nice crop. Pulease! Anything more than 3 is more than you would need anyway, right? I took them along with me to Thanksgiving dinner because I knew I could get my brother to eat one first and he did. He seemed so calm about it I ate one too (albeit a small one). The surprising thing about these peppers (at least eaten whole) is that they don't fry your mouth, but they are like a flesh-eating tumor in your throat and ulcerate your gut. I woke at 11pm that night racing for the bathroom. Notice the time on the clock gave them 2 hrs to kick through my insides. They also don't burn coming out- another pleasant surprise! Later in the week my bro ate more and was doubled over in pain. He says if you cook with them whole and remove them whole they add flavor and heat without the pain. I'm thinking of brewing some Chili Vodka for the Holidays....
Bro and Bhut

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Killer Frost November 12

The Summer garden is officially over- almost an entire month after the expected due date. It is kind of a relief. Like when you scuff your new shoes or get your first ding in your new car. Whew. I've been waiting for that to happen for a long time. Now, it is officially the Fall garden season or at least for another month or so.
My Bhut Jolokia never got to ripen, but I got a nice harvest of fruits nonetheless. As if I needed a bowl full of the hottest chilies in the world. Really. The final 3 Black Mission figs and a small collection of random potatoes I discovered while turning the soil with the help of the chickens were harvested today.

I can't say that I follow any one gardening dogma, but I like many of the concepts of permaculture. That is, permanent agriculture. It utilizes ecological principles in designing your garden and that I like. I tore out a fading-to-aster-monoculture flower bed recently and decided to put in a permanent raised bed using some leftover mulberry logs from a downed tree (using recycled materials is also a concept of permaculture). I dumped a load of maple leaves in it. I should have the bed enclosed shortly as the other half of the tree fell in a crazy wind we had recently. I'm thinking of filling this bed with a permanent small fruit- maybe dwarf blueberries or maybe currents. Not sure yet. Here's what it looks like so far:

My carrots (from saved seed) are doing well, even after an accidental invasion by the chickens.

The ladies are generally helpful, but you have to keep them out of fragile areas- newly sown beds, young beds, veg gardens, flower beds. They don't care that you like zinnias. If there is a bug or seed to be had zinnias are not their concern.
Scarlet. Generally helpful.

Newest Squatter- Smokie. Generally not helpful.
While I am not in favor of outdoor cats we do not live right next to the street, there is no vacancy in the cat Inn (which is to say, my house) and Smokie has deformed hind legs which means he can't catch or kill anything that isn't already maimed as well. He's also intimidated and chased by the chickens. So, he stays.  

Another scary site- it is presently 74 degrees and the bees are active, although there isn't much yet blooming. Perhaps a few stray goldenrod and asters. 

Well, it was a gorgeous extended weekend. Lots of sun, winds and 60-70's temps. I got to do some of my favorite things- hike at Fults Hill Prairie, honeysuckle clean-up at Stemler Woods, plant 900 allium bulbs along the main drag in town and work outside in my yard. It doesn't get much better than this.

I'll leave you with one of my thoughts and lessons for today:

hmmm. I'm not sure I'm suppose to eat this.
(moral: probably best to spit it out)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Patchy Frost

After accepting that last night would be the night all is lost we only had patchy frost. Seeing that we are a week into November and we should expect frost by mid-October we've been lucky.

The low parts of the yard and random spots in the garden were touched. 
frost on flowering tobacco

mache and garden mushrooms

I highly recommend growing Mache, also called Corn Salad. It reseeds itself every year so you never have to replant it. It's available for eating in the fall, winter and spring. Just let enough go to seed to assure it's continuance.  

Fall tip: some shops have "decorative pumpkins" or squash available for Halloween. Many of these are great eating winter squash. You won't find most of these at your general grocery store so buy one for show and then roast it and enjoy. Here is one I like:
It has gorgeous orange flesh inside. Those ribs are perfect for cutting slices to be oiled, salted and roasted.

My so-called kumquat tree has 2 fruits. Once they are ready I will know for sure what they are, but they are definitely not looking like kumquats. Maybe a mini-tangerine?

Lastly, if you haven't already saved tomato seeds pick your favorite now. I have 2 cherry tomatoes I can't live without. Both will come back on their own, but I can't tell what they are by the plant alone so instead I am saving their seeds. One is White Currant. It tastes like no tomato you've ever had. It is creamy white and a small cherry type. The other I'm not entirely sure what it is, but it could be a returning Gajo de melon. It is marbled and sweet. Squeeze the seeds out of the tomato. Put them in a jar of water until mold forms on the surface. Scrape this off. Strain them and rub away any extra pulp and then lay on a sheet of newspaper to dry. Store in a cool, dry place. Here is a good indicator that they seed is viable- it sinks. 

Enjoy your fall squirreling projects!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Chilies Out the Wazoo

I'm starting to feel like all I grow are chilies. I find myself searching the net for more chili recipes. I found this Pumpkin Ancho Mole sauce recipe on The Splendid Table here. They also have a very tempting Peanut Butter Stuffed Pickled Chili Pepper recipe I'm seriously considering for a T-givs appetizer. Here are preserved chilies 4 ways:
They are from L to R: dried Pasilla bajio, a salty spicy garlicy chili spread, Pickled Habaneros & Fermented Chili paste.

I'm really liking these Fish Peppers dried and crushed. Even the 7yr old puts them on her food. They have a great flavor and are a mix of cool colors.
Before drying. 

And after drying. Chili flakes are always on our table.

Ready for processing: habaneros, corno di toro and serranos

I'm ALMOST done harvesting all of the chilies for the season. I still have my Bhut Jolokia in the garden hoping they will turn before the frost, which is delayed so far. Here's today's catch:
A mix of late-harvested chilies.

Also dug today were my Georgia Jet Sweet Potatoes. I only had 3 plants, but got a nice crop out of them. I think I will grow this variety again next year. This is a 5gal. pot for reference. 

The fall garden is growing well. Here are some various crops- rutabaga, cabbage, turnips, brussel sprouts and other stuff I can't remember right now. 

The kale is of harvestable size now.

Fall Projects: I built this Passive Solar Heat Collector and hooked it up to my bathroom window. The day I built it was in the low-mid 80's and before I even hooked it up it was passing 110 degree heat out of it. It seems like I get around a 30 degree heat difference between the air T going in and what is coming out. Of course, it only really works on sunny days, but it is really neat to have FREE heat and the 7yr old already knows about cool air sinking and warm air rising, so it was a good science lesson too. The only bad thing to come of it is my infected finger (from a drilling incident). 

The Maple leaves turned and started falling very abruptly this week
Happy Autumn. Happy Halloween.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Overwintering Chilies and Free Food

It is so hard to pull a gorgeous, fruit-laden chili pepper plant from the ground. I kept telling myself and conveying to the poor peppers that it was for the best. Had to be done. The celestial clock is ticking and soon there will be no more impending frost. There will be frost. And death. Pull out a fat stack of plastic pots, a trowel and begin digging. I'm starting to think it may be best just to keep them pot-bound year-round. It is less work and they are still productive.
Mustard Habanero

Why overwinter chilies? 1. Starting chili pepper seeds in my cellar of a basement is difficult without bottom heat added and slow at best. 2. If I start several peppers each year I can chose 1 plant to keep of the bunch and have a small collection of various plants so I don't have to buy 20-30 seeds and start that many of each variety every year.  3. It is super easy. 4. I have the space and a dirty cellar basement to make a gardening mess in and 5. Overwintered plants will produce earlier than new starts and 6. Having life, aside from cave crickets and the pet toad, in the basement is oh so nice in the middle of winter. 

How do I overwinter chilies? Before the fall frost, which is due for us around the 2nd week in October chose which plants to overwinter. With a trowel make a cut into the ground in a circle around the chosen plant. Have a pot ready. Nicely yank the plant out of the ground and put it in the pot. Add some garden soil or potting soil to replace what just fell off. Water the heck out of them since you just tore off a lot of roots. Harvest all the chilies off of them if you haven't already done so and put a marker in the pot if you want to know what you have. After a couple of days adjusting to the pot trim the plant WAY back until it looks like some dead sticks. If you have room and don't mind cleaning up dead fallen leaves you can skip the trim. Put in the basement under a shoplight set to a timer.  Just water when the soil is dry. They won't need as much water as they will not have leaves to lose water from. If you do not trim them back and do not harvest the chilies you will have to water it more, but you will have peppers around the holidays. This is up to you. 
In the spring, bring the chilies outside slowly once the threat of frost is gone and allow them 1 hr of direct sunlight per day until fully acclimated. Now they can be planted back into the garden.

Chilies freshly dug from the Garden (and a bougainvillea) 

Other things going on today- I planted some more seeds. The chickens got through a hole in one of the hoop houses so I had to resew with lettuces, old spinach seeds and corn salad.

A few things I have started from seed in pots for the fall garden- cabbage, kale, green onions, spinach and johnny jump ups (for the heck of it).

What is the best kind of food? FREE FOOD!!! It is important to remember to mention to a fellow gardeners/foragers what vegetables/fruits/fungi you LOVE and do not grow well/find. For me, it is eggplant. I cannot grow it well without pesticides (although floating row cover may work, it just didn't last year due to the stray cat wanting to sleep on it) and I refuse to use them, but I still LOVE EGGPLANT. I came home yesterday to a huge bag full of eggplant at the back porch. Hell yes!  Thank you Jodee. While I've never had enough eggplant to try this I did today. Here's how I prepped eggplant for freezing. I plan on using it later for eggplant parmesan. 

1. Slice your eggplant while heating a large pot of water on the stove to boil. Directions said to add lemon juice to the water. My guess is that this is to preserve color, but who cares! It will be covered in tomato and cheese delight later. I did dump a few splashes of white wine vinegar and salt in the water for whatever reason. It seemed like a good idea. Blanch for 4-5 minutes. This breaks down the enzymes that would otherwise cause aging in the fruit.

2. Strain in a colander and set the hot eggplant in a bowl of ice-cold water to stop the cooking process. Strain again.
3. Lay them out on a cookie sheet and put in the freezer. Once frozen put in a labeled freezer bag. I read that they keep 8-10months. 

A fellow coworker is a hunter. While hunting she also forages for wild plant/fungal foods. She came across a huge chestnut tree. She gave me a bag of chestnuts. I gave her a bag of Slippery Jack bolete mushrooms. It was a free food trade. How awesome. I've never made my own chestnuts and she can't find Slippery Jacks. Whallah! 

Eating organic gourmet food, for next to nothing. Life is good.