Monday, May 24, 2021

Harvest Monday: First Arugula

Last week we had two delicious harvests from the garden: asparagus and arugula. We also completed a lot of infrastructure work on the expanded garden.

After cutting a small handful of asparagus from the garden on Monday, I took a short walk to check on two stands of wild asparagus we'd observed in prior years and marked on our Google Maps. One had already started to fern out, but another provided 6 large stalks to round out our dinner. One of the benefits of country living - lots of farm field ditches to forage from.

single spear of asparagus amidst long grass with the caption "foraging success"

After a week of much-needed rain (right after we drug a sprinkler into the garden to water, of course), the greens in my patio garden are really starting to pop.

Bed planted within a paved patio with blooming chamomile, young herbs, looseleaf greens and small heads of lettuce

On Saturday I harvested arugula (clipping about every other plant for a row and a half to also serve as thinning out), which we mixed into a quinoa salad. My husband said, "Why don't people eat more arugula? This is delicious!" The arugula was direct seeded on April 10, so it was 42 days to the first harvest.

Bunch of arugula held in my hand

quinoa salad with arugula, feta, chickpeas, tomatoes

I have the rest of the month off of work to focus on garden prep (and other relaxing, less physical activities). On Thursday and Friday I finished moving a yard of wood chips from the back of my pickup truck to the garden paths, hilled some potatoes, did some weeding, and planted a few flowers and herbs.

Over the weekend my husband was available in the mornings to help, so we got much more done. We created 11 more 30" in-ground raised beds, bringing the total to 18 so far. We have two more left to do, probably Memorial Day weekend, but a portable greenhouse is currently in the way. Over the next week I'll be hauling more wood chips to mulch the paths, and getting these rows planted, trellis structures put up, etc. I'm hopeful this garden layout can serve us for many years, so spring prep will be a bit less intensive.

gorgeous rows of dirt

This post joins others celebrating Harvest Monday, hosted by Dave at Happy Acres.

Monday, May 3, 2021

Harvest Monday: First Asparagus

Our first outdoor harvest of the year was 8 spears of asparagus from my neglected asparagus bed.

8 spears of asparagus upright in a water glass, sitting on a kitchen counter

The bed was neglected because I didn't clear off the fronds from last year, it hasn't been weeded in at least 10 months, and its only water has been our occasional rain. Yet, it still produced. I'd love to expand the bed at some point once we finalize some more of the garden structures on the property; right now the area it could expand into is covered with garden supplies (and has some pretty intense weed pressure, so I'd love to solarize it).

The garden is on schedule, while Mother Nature is running a bit ahead. Our last frost is normally May 13, but I think it already occurred on April 24. I still won't be putting any tender plants out until May 15, although my peppers and tomatoes are already mostly hardened off and will be moved into a greenhouse as soon as I can get our tent put up.

Development of the great garden expansion of 2021 continues. We had an exciting addition last week: electricity and water run to the garden. This kicked off my serious research of a drip irrigation system. Parts were ordered on Saturday and should arrive this week so it can be installed well before Memorial Day.

cedar post with water faucet and electrical outlet

I've slowly been constructing beds in the garden. Upon further reflection I decided to completely change my garden plan to conform to standard rows. This will facilitate easier watering, path creation/mulching, and increase the production of the garden (an unintentional side effect). I haven't finished placing all the plants because of the unexpected new room available, but don't be surprised if I fill it with tomatoes.

row-based garden plan
(click for larger version)

I started creating beds and planting closest to the house (the south end of the garden) and I've planted all the way up to the potatoes. Now I have the entire month of May to finish the rest (and get the paths mulched). I have May 20 - 31 off from work, so that shouldn't be a problem and I can do it at a leisurely pace.

To see what other gardeners around the world are harvesting today, check out Harvest Monday hosted by Dave at Happy Acres.

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Spring Garden Planning: The Great Garden Expansion

It finally feels like Spring is around the corner in southern Wisconsin. Although there's still plenty of snow on the ground, green patches are emerging and our daily highs were in the 40s (Fahrenheit) much of the last week. Yesterday the high at our house was 55, and it's forecasted to hit 60 today before returning to the 40s.

This is the time of year I have to actively stop myself from starting my seeds too early. On February 15 I started my onions (Ailsa Craig, Yellow Sweet Spanish, Redwing, and Warrior), leeks, and rosemary. On Sunday I started my parsley after soaking the seeds for 24 hours. Nothing else should be started until March 15, lest I end up with larger seedlings than I have space to take care of.

Since I can't plant, it's a great time to share my plans for the 2021 garden. Since I will once again be working from home with limited work travel (quite possibly none at all), I'm taking the opportunity to expand our garden. The 2020 garden (and earlier years in this space) was approximately 20' x 25'. I could harvest a lot of vegetable from that space, but I had to be choosey about space-hogging row crops. It was adjacent to a terribly overgrown perennial garden created by the prior owner, and during the summer I took advantage of having a construction crew onsite and had them clear the entire space down to the dirt. Suddenly I had a space roughly 35' x 80'. I had them run a water and electric line to make things a little easier, covered the entire space with a cover crop for the fall, and got to planning.

Garden Plan

Here's what I'm hoping to grow in 2021. The full plan, including a plant list, is available here.

Full garden plan including rows of dozens of crops

I've always grown my in-ground garden in "zones," rather than strict rows, and I'll be trying that again this year. The light gray areas on the plan represent paths that I'll create with either mulch over cardboard or landscape fabric I have available. I've scheduled significant time off from work in May for garden prep, and hope it's enough time to accomplish this. If the layout proves onerous, I'll switch to a more traditional row layout next year.

The dark gray box is where I plant to test the location of a shaded rest spot. I'll probably just use a 10 x 10 pop-up tent this year, but if the layout works and doesn't shade the adjacent vegetables too much, we'll plan a structure there for next year. I want to be able to relax in my garden, in the shade. During the early spring I'll probably place my walk-in pop-up greenhouse there so I can get my plants out of the basement as soon as possible.

I fully expect that when all is said and done the garden won't look exactly like the plan, but that's part of the fun.

What I'm Growing

This includes a lot of old standards, increased production for storage and preservation, and just a few new crops.
  • Beans: In addition to pole beans (Kentucky Wonder and Purple Pole), which are standard at our house, I'm growing four 18' rows of dry beans (Black Turtle, Dragon Tongue, Jacob's Cattle, Great Northern). I accidentally grew some dry beans this year and we loved them.
  • Beets: A 10' row of spring beets will be Golden, another 10' row will join carrots after the garlic comes out (Chioggia), and a 14' row of Lutz Winter Keeper will get started in July for a late fall/early winter harvest.
  • Bok Choy: I'm not sure I've ever grown this, but I love it at the farmers market. I'm planning just a couple of plants in an early spring sowing.
  • Broccoli: I love broccoli, and am planning 10 plants of differing varieties, which should mature at slightly different times and provide some side shoots as well. I want broccoli in my freezer! Varieties: Arcadia, Calabrese, De Cicco, Green Magic
  • Brussels Sprouts: I'm planning five plants of Long Island Improved, which I will start from seed. I'm not sure I've ever successfully grown sprouts from seed before; the last time they were in my garden, I purchased starts from the local greenhouse. I've got brand new 2021 seed from Seed Savers Exchange this year, so I'm hopeful for good germination and results.
  • Cabbage: I've fallen in love with this vegetable. In addition to enjoying sauerkraut and kimchi, we love a crisp summer coleslaw, and I freeze dozens of stuffed cabbage rolls to eat all winter. There are plenty of ways to eat cabbage I haven't explored yet. In order to have plenty of slaw as well as winter cabbage, I'm planting two early varieties (Red Express and Optikd), along with Late Flat Dutch, which I've grown before and has a long heritage of growing in our area. In all I should be growing about 20 heads of cabbage, which would certainly set a record for cabbage consumed in a year for our household.
  • Carrots: I'm planning three rounds of sowings. The first will be in mid-April— a single 10' row each of Mokum and Rainbow. I made seed mats out of single ply toilet paper and flour paste for these to ensure proper spacing and minimize weeding. After the garlic harvest I'll plant three more 10' rows - two of Danvers Half Long and one of St. Valery. And in late July if I can keep up with the garden, I'll put in some fall carrots - two 14' rows of Ox Hearts and one 14' row of Karuda. That's a lot of carrots, but I plan to test a variety of storage methods, and if I still have far too many they can go to the local food bank.
  • Cauliflower: I had some old seed (Early Snowball) that passed a germination test, so I figured I'd give it a go.
  • Celery: In my opinion, no celery tastes as good as home grown celery. After testing germination for my existing seed packs, I've gone with Conquistador.
  • Corn: Since we have so much more room, I figured it's time to give corn a solid try. It's still a small patch (about 9' x 5'), and I'm trying to seed three varieties at varying times to mitigate cross pollination. There's a solid chance this crop will be enjoyed by deer or raccoons, but we'll see. Varieties: Incredible, Blue Jade, Bear Paw.
  • Cucumber: It's been years since I needed to replace our pickle stores, but we're finally there. I also want to try some different lacto fermentation pickles, and of course have some for fresh eating. Varieties: National Pickling and Swing.
  • Dill: Must have this to go with our pickles! I'm planting a 10 square foot patch simply because it's so beautiful to watch grow.
  • Eggplant:  Two plants each of Slim Jim and Black Beauty. Mostly just want to make ratatouille. 
  • Fennel: My favorite way to use fennel is in a carrot fennel soup that can be pressure canned. With all the carrots I'm growing, some are bound to be fresh when my 5 fennel plants are ready. Variety: Florence.
  • Garlic: This was planted in October 2020, purchased from a local garlic farm. Although I ordered some soft neck garlic, I ended up with all hard neck because my chosen soft neck variety didn't do well. I planted 52 cloves of Chesnok Red, 36 cloves of Romanian Red, and 82 cloves of German Extra Hardy. The snow has almost completely melted from the garlic patch.
  • Kale: I love kale, and fully recognize that 12 plants may be far too much for my two-person household, but I'm giving it a go anyway. In addition to eating fresh, storing well in the fridge, and lasting longer into the fall/winter than other vegetables, I love to blanch and freeze kale for later use in breakfast beaks and other dishes. Varieties: Curly Roja, Nero di Toscana, Red Russian.
  • Leek: I actually had trouble finding leek seeds from Pine Tree, my primary source, so I purchased a packet of the Tadorna variety from Johnny's when I ordered some other supplies. In addition to using fresh and making potato leek soup, I may experiment with dehydrating some.
  • Peas: My Cascadia and Knight seeds are nearly a decade old but have continued to germinate, so we'll give them one more shot this year. I'm starting them indoors and transplanting outside after just a couple of weeks to ensure germination.
  • Peppers: I'm planning a dozen sweet pepper plants, as well as a dozen hot pepper plants. I love peppers for salsa, freezing, and stuffing. I also plan to ferment some hot sauce. I have lots of pepper seeds left from prior years, so the varieties will be chosen on a whim when I sow them later this month.
  • Potatoes: I've only grown potatoes in the ground once, and that was in a raised bed at a prior house. It was a small plot and mildly successful. I'm going all in this year on 170 square foot potato patch, with six varieties purchased from Pine Tree Seeds. Varieties: Adirondack Blue, Eva, Katahdin, Red Pontiac, Superior Early, Yukon Gold.
  • Radishes: Most every time I plant carrots, I'll also plant some quick-growing radishes (Purple Plum, Easter Egg, Cherry Belle) and harvest them young as the carrots are just starting to come up. I'm also planting some dedicated rows of Black Spanish and Watermelon radishes for a fall harvest and winter storage.
  • Rhubarb: While I have no need to plant it, the Rhubarb will come up like clockwork.
  • Rutabaga: These are back after a successful 2020, although I've got new seed, and a new variety: Helenor. I couldn't get the Joan variety from my primary seed source.
  • Squash (Summer): I'm trying to pull back on summer squash and avoid being buried with them. I'm growing one hill each of three varieties: Black Beauty, Golden Zucchini, and Zephyr.
  • Squash (Winter): I should have plenty of room for winter squash to sprawl this year, and I may also add some vertical trellises (I had great luck with them in 2018). The plan right now is to grow Waltham Butternut, Marina di Chioggia, Pennsylvania Dutch Crookneck, Spaghetti, and Table Queen Acorn. I may end up switching these up at last minute; too many of my stored acorn squashes ended up in the compost.
  • Swiss Chard: I have multiple varieties of old seed, and I'll end up growing whatever germinates the best.
  • Tomatoes. I'll always grow tomatoes, and this year I'm growing almost exclusively varieties I've grown before. The only unknown is Juliet - I couldn't get seeds anywhere. I'll try to pick them up at our local greenhouse, where I got starts last year. I'm planning on 15 determinate or semi-determinate tomatoes, in a single long row. I've always grown them in at least double rows, but I got sick of having to dig through foliage to find the fruits. Hopefully this setup will be better. I tossed all my tomato cages last year because they were falling apart, so I'll need a new way to support them this year.  I'm also planning a dozen indeterminate tomatoes on the eastern edge of the garden. I've always grown them up tall lengths of rebar, but this year I may try the cattle panel method. These will be slicers and cherry tomatoes. Planned varieties: Black Vernissage, Blondkopfchen, Dr. Wyche's Yellow, German Pink,  Heinz Classic Processor, Martino's Roma, Moonglow, Oregon Spring, Riesentraube, Roma.
  • Tomatillo: I've had seeds for years and never planted them. I'm going to grow just one plant, with plenty of room, to see how it performs and hope to make a bit of salsa verde out of it.
  • Tomatoes. I'll always grow tomatoes, and this year I'm growing almost exclusively varieties I've grown before. The only unknown is Juliet - I couldn't get seeds anywhere. I'll try to pick them up at our local greenhouse, where I got starts last year. I'm planning on 15 determinate or semi-determinate tomatoes, in a single long row. I've always grown them in at least double rows, but I got sick of having to dig through foliage to find the fruits. Hopefully this setup will be better. I tossed all my tomato cages last year because they were falling apart, so I'll need a new way to support them this year.  I'm also planning a dozen indeterminate tomatoes on the eastern edge of the garden. I've always grown them up tall lengths of rebar, but this year I may try the cattle panel method. These will be slicers and cherry tomatoes. Planned varieties: Black Vernissage, Blondkopfchen, Dr. Wyche's Yellow, German Pink,  Heinz Classic Processor, Martino's Roma, Moonglow, Oregon Spring, Riesentraube, Roma.
In a new small bed near my kitchen I'm growing a variety of herbs, mustard greens, lettuce, arugula, and chamomile. Perhaps I'll detail that in a new post when I plant it. I'm also trying to include more flowers in the vegetable garden, including calendula, marigold, zinnia, nasturtium, paper daisies, and sunflowers. Must keep the pollinators happy!

All in all, I think I'm growing about 110 varieties of vegetables, herbs, and flowers this year. Whenever I tell people I'm a vegetable gardener, they ask, "What do you grow?" How do you think I should answer them?

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Winter Meals from the Garden: Steak and Rutabaga Pasty

Since the 2020 garden was a big of a last-minute endeavor once I realized I would be home for the season, it was planted with whatever seeds I had on hand plus some transplants from a local greenhouse. Some of the oldest seed I planted was rutabaga. Specifically, the Joan variety. I seeded it heavily, expecting sparse germination, but I shouldn't have worried. After finally showing the overcrowded plants some mercy in mid-summer and thinning them to allow for more space to grow, they produced abundantly.

rutabaga growing in the ground

I left them in the ground until Halloween, ensuring they were touched by a few frosts. I harvested a variety of sizes, from a few fingers wide to larger than a softball. This was the largest.

Holding a rutabaga the size of my face in front of my head

After trimming and weighing them all, I had just over 20 pounds of rutabagas. They've been keeping wonderfully in an auxiliary fridge; I still probably have about half of them left and should pick up the pace. We've had plenty of mashed rutabaga with roasted meet, a bit of fermented rutabaga kraut, and a new favorite, steak and rutabaga pasty.

I'd never made pasties before 2020, but they're a delicious meal that can be made completely out of ingredients in our freezer and pantry. We've enjoyed them about once a month since November and I think they're permanently in our winter meal plan rotation at this point.

The recipe is out of a well-worn cookbook I've had for over a decade, From Asparagus to Zucchini. It's my go-to reference when I'm trying to determine how to prepare or store a specific vegetable. It contains a full three pages of rutabaga recipes (reflecting its Wisconsin roots), but I'll admit I stopped trying recipes once I stumbled upon this one. The recipe make six full-size pasties and there are just two of us, but we find that the leftover disappear rather quickly for subsequent lunches or dinners. We simply place the baked, refrigerated pasties on some parchment and heat them at 350 degrees until they're warm, about 15-20 minutes.

baked pasty on a plate

Steak and Rutabaga Pasties

Source: From Asparagus to Zucchini
Makes 6 large pasties

Crust Ingredients
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup chilled shortening or lard, cut into pieces (I use the lard rendered from our whole hog)
  • 1 egg
  • Ice water
Whisk flour and salt in a large bowl. Cut in shortening or lard with pastry cutter or two knives until the pieces are no larger than peas (honestly, I just use my hands to work the fat into the flour). Break the egg into a liquid measuring cup and add enough ice water to make 1 cup. Mix egg and water, then add to flour. Toss lightly with a fork (or your hands) until dough forms. Cover and chill the dough at least 1 hour.

Filling Ingredients
  • 1 1/2 pounds cubed sirloin (I don't measure this exactly; I just use a sirloin steak from our beef in the freezer)
  • 4 cups diced rutabaga
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 3 tablespoons heavy cream (if I didn't have cream I'd probably consider substituting sour cream)
  • 4-6 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (I use 2 tablespoons dried)
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 3 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces
To make filling, combine all the ingredients except the butter.

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. 

Lightly flour a large work surface (you need plenty of room). Divide the dough into six equal portions (they'll weigh about 135 grams). Shape each portion in a ball, then roll it out with a floured rolling pin to an 8-inch round (I no longer measure this; they need to be fairly large, but not too thin. Make sure you can pick up the round and move it). Divide the filling equally among the rounds, placing filling on half of each round. Scatter the butter pieces over the filling. Fold dough over the filling, using extra flour on your fingers to prevent sticking. Press to seal the edges, then fold small sections of the dough to make a rope-like edge (You may think there's too much dough here, but there isn't. Just keep going and try to make the edge even.) Place pasties on pans (I suggest using a dough scraper or large spatula to move them). Cut a small slit into the top of each.

Bake 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 375 degrees and continue to bake until golden brown and fully cooked, 35-40 minutes. Serve pasties with salsa, catsup, or beef gravy. (I think they're also delicious on their own.)

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Buying A Quarter Steer (Beef)

For just the second time in a decade, we've purchased bulk beef from a local farm. I'll be honest, with the ongoing pandemic I'm glad we have freezers full of meat (and garden-preserved veggies) to help us avoid trips to the grocery store while we continue to spend most of our time at home over the winter.

This post is to help demystify the bulk meat purchasing process (see also my post about buying a whole hog).

We purchased our beef from the same farm that raised our pork and chickens. I contacted them in May and placed a deposit on a quarter of one of their Black Angus steers. They told me the next beef would be available in October. This farm offers mixed quarters, rather than designated front and rear quarters. This means that we're basically sharing half of the steer with someone else, allowing each of us to have some of the cuts from both the front and rear quarter (so we can get both brisket and sirloin). 

On September 19 the farm called with news the steer would be butchered on September 24, and I provided my cutting instructions over the phone (approximate size of the roasts, thickness of steaks, number of steaks per package, size of ground beef packages, what goes into ground and stew meat, if we want any non-grocery cuts, etc.).  Beef is best if it hangs (ages in a cooler) before being cut into smaller pieces, so we didn't receive our cuts until October 10.

And yesterday, we received 3 large cardboard boxes full of packaged meat, delivered right to our door (I love that about this farm). Buying meat this way makes me feel good about supporting our local economy. The steer grazed and lived a life on pasture 20 minutes from our house, and it was slaughtered and butchered by a full-service butcher 15 minutes from our house.

What We Got From Our Quarter Beef

The farmer delivered the boxes right into our garage, where we had a folding table, scale, Sharpie, and inventory sheet set up in front of our auxiliary freezer (a 3/4 size upright freezer). I like to weigh and inventory each cut of meat for record keeping. Not only does it allow me to write posts like this, but I can also keep track of what's in our freezer without digging around in it constantly. 

The first box I opened was all ground beef. That's a lot of taco nights.

44 tubes of ground beef in a box

Here's the full inventory.

Trim Cuts

  • 44 pounds of ground beef
  • 7 packages of stew meat, 9 pounds total
  • 1 package spare ribs, 1.5 pounds


  • 7 rib-eye steaks, 10.5-14.5 ounces each
  • 7 t-bone steaks, 18-25 ounces each
  • 4 bone-in sirloin steaks, 24-38 ounces each (!)
  • 3 top round steaks, 19-27 ounces each
  • 1, 1-pound flank steak


  • 2 arm roasts, 3-3.5 pounds each
  • 2 briskets, 2.5 pounds each
  • 6 chuck roasts, 2.5-4 pounds each
  • 1, 3-pound rump roast
  • 1, 4-pound sirloin tip roast
In total, that's 118.5 pounds of beef. You could easily alter the composition of this order by having the steaks cut thinner (we cut ours thick), or putting more of the roast meat into either the ground beef or the stew meat.


As always, I also requested some of the "extras." The farmer was surprised that she received more requests for organ meat than normal, so I asked for some things that I wasn't able to get because we were sharing this steer.
  • Kidney (10 oz)
  • Liver (3.5 lbs)
  • Neck Bones (3 lbs)
  • Soup Bones (4.75 lbs)
  • Suet (5.5 lbs)
The liver is for the cats. The kidney may be too, unless I get adventurous. T bones are for stock, and I hope to use the suet either in a traditional British recipe when I'm feeling adventurous, or render it into tallow that I can use for frying.

Once unpacked, this fit easily in our auxiliary freezer. The bottom drawer is filled with ground beef, and most of the cuts are on the bottom shelf (there's a plastic container with more cuts on the shelf above it, but it will fit on the bottom shelf if I force it) as well as the lower two shelves in the door.

freezer filled with beef

Looking back on our first bulk beef order in 2012, I'm struck by the difference in breeds of steers. Back then, we shopped around for "the best value." That means what we ended up purchasing was a Jersey steer raised mostly on pasture. These aren't steers that are bred for meat; they're the male offspring of a dairy cow (which obviously can't be raised for milking). So not only was it cheaper, but it was smaller. Our half steer back then provided just under 150 lbs of meat, and the t-bone steaks were 1/3 to 1/4 the size of what we received this year. Our recent purchase was a Black Angus steer, which is bred for beef.

Quarter Beef Cost Comparison

Some people purchase beef and other meat in bulk to save money. Although there is some cost savings, that's not our main motivation. We want to support a local food system based on natural practices, and enjoy the security and convenience of a fully-stocked freezer. Yet, the cost comparison is helpful for folks trying to decide if they want to make their own purchase, so I'm including it.

What We Paid

Our quarter beef was priced at $4.60 per pound hanging weight, and our quarter hung at 213.75 pounds. We also paid $173.38 to the butcher in processing fees. So, our total cost for the quarter beef was $1,156.63. Divide that by the 118.5 pound of grocery store cuts, and we paid $9.76 per pound.

What It's Worth

The meat we purchase is raised on pasture, so the best comparison I can find is the USDA Monthly Grass Fed Beef Report. After consulting the September report, we barely came out ahead when comparing our grocery store cuts. We paid about $192 less than we would have for all the same cuts at retail, thanks in large part to the steaks we received. I should note, however, that the listed range for a quarter of grass fed beef is $5.75 - $11.75 per pound, so our farm is charging well below average. 

Why We'll Keep Purchasing Bulk

Interestingly, we would probably only buy steaks 2-3 times per year if we didn't buy beef in bulk, so we probably spend more money on meat when we purchase it this way than if we were to buy directly from the store. However, grass fed beef isn't always available in our local grocery store (especially cuts beyond ground beef) and it is often trucked in from around the country, processed at the same large meatpacking plants as conventional beef. I'm much happier buying my meat directly from a farmer, and it diversifies my eating habits in the process.

If you live in the Madison, WI area, check out Anisoptera Acres. They're an off-grid family farm that raises pork, beef, and chicken on pasture. In addition to bulk purchases like the ones we made, they also offer single cuts of meat and homemade honey with free home delivery on orders over $40.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

2020's First Frost

This was a week of last harvests in the garden.

On Tuesday I picked one more basket of ripe tomatoes.

basket of tomatoes

Most were roasted, blended, and then slow cooked into about 3 cups of tomato paste. The large yellow tomato in the upper left of the photo was saved for our last tomato sandwich of the year, which we eat today. It was a BAT - bacon, arugula, tomato.

Thursday (October 1) was a forced harvest, as we were expecting our first frost. I picked one more basket of tomatoes at varying stages of ripeness, including many green tomatoes. The biggest harvest was peppers; I had loads of sweet peppers on plants at a variety of stage of maturity, but most were still green. I also picked plenty of jalapenos, a few ripe Fatali and Scotch Bonnets, and plenty of immature hot peppers. The pepper harvest filled the bottom of a large plastic tote.

large container filled with mostly green peppers

There are about 3 gallon bags of whole peppers in the fridge, and the rest have been chopped and are freezing on trays. I expect there are at least 2 gallons of chopped frozen peppers. Chili base for the winter shouldn't be a problem. I need to figure out what I'm going to do with the hot peppers. I think I'll make one jar of candied jalapenos. We've never had them and I'm wondering if they'd be a good canning project next year. I'd also like to make another hot sauce, but may need to chop and freeze some for winter soups and stews.

I thought I had four ripe banana melons to bring in, but three of them had suffered significant damage from insects or other critters. That left me with one—just the second banana melon I've gotten all year. This one was much more ripe and flavorful than the first; my husband and I ate the entire thing before dinner. I definitely want to grow melons again next year, but I'm not sure what variety.

I also brought a large bunch of celery in before the frost, just in case the other plants didn't make it, and I snipped the last stems of basil. A walk through the garden this morning confirmed that cold-hardy veggies like celery, Swiss chard, carrots, and rutabaga are looking great, while the frost claimed everything else. Sunday night is bringing another frost. In fact, as I write this it's already 31.5 degrees in the garden.

Dave at Happy Acres hosts Harvest Monday for gardeners around the world to share their bounty.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

September Notes

A post with no pictures. Imagine that.

September has been a heavy month in my mind. Wisconsin's COVID-19 cases keep rising (daily case are nearly 10x what they were when we had the stay at home order), the politics surrounding the presidential election are ugly, I see systemic racism around every corner, yet I still have a job to do, a household to contribute to, and a garden to care for. I haven't felt like taking the time to blog about harvests, though. Here's a summary of the month's happenings, for posterity.

As September nears its ends, my tomatoes are still producing (mostly Juliets, although there are a few straggler Celebrities), peppers are doing wonderful, and I finally got my first ripe banana melon. I'll consider growing the banana melon again; it's the perfect size to use a melon baller, making the serving easy. Mine tasted like a mild, floral cantaloupe. I suspect the flavor would be more concentrated if I watered it more regularly. I've harvested carrots and the first rutabaga for roasting—the carrots are gorgeous, and I'll wait for the first frost or two to kiss the rest of the rutabaga. Some celery was harvested for pork stock I made.

I roasted the first few red kuri squash, which have been curing for about a month. I didn't realize the skin of this winter squash would be both edible and delicious. It's a nice, easy roaster. Also harvested my one and only butternut squash, which has now been curing for a week. Usually I have them in abundance; either my seed was too old or the area I planted it in was too shady.

Cooking and preserving has been in high gear. I canned 7 quarts of beets from the garden, continued to make and freeze or eat tomato sauce (some of which joined some Swiss Chard in a delicious vegan lasagna I made for a dinner with friends), froze nearly a gallon bag of chopped sweet peppers, and cooked my dried beans for the first time in a soup along with Swiss Chard ribs, carrots, and blended roasted veg (red kuri, carrots, rutabaga).

Then came the apples. I get 5 pounds of apples per week in the fall in a CSA share from a local farm. I dehydrated a half gallon jar of apple slices, and then decided to go big and order some #2 apples - 100 pounds of them. Mom came for another visit and we canned 26 quarts of applesauce, 10-ish 4oz jars of apple syrup (failed jelly), and 8.5 pints of apple butter. Just today I made the last remaining apples into applesauce that I stored in the fridge; probably about another 3 quarts.

The cover crop I planted is looking fantastic. Since a frost still isn't in the 10-day forecast, I think we'll end up having to mow it at least once this fall. As it germinated, it was clear I seeded some areas better than others, so I ordered some more seed and resowed some areas of the new garden yesterday. By mid October I should have most of the existing garden cleaned up and planted with cover crop for fall as well.

My seed garlic arrived about two weeks ago. I ordered from The Garlic Underground, which is just 35 miles from my house. I'm hoping that means their garlic will be well-suited for my garden's micro-climate. Planting will commence a week or two after our first frost.

I've also done a bit of garden-related reading. I ordered a stack of 10 books during Chelsea Green Publishing's Labor Day sale, and so far I've made it through Growing Great Garlic and Going Over Home: A Search for Rural Justice in an Unsettled Land. While written nearly 30 years apart, both had good lessons for me.

Lastly, we purchased a weather station for the garden! I'm hoping it will better help me understand my microclimate, and will also provide some electronic record keeping of our temperature and rainfall. You can take a peek at my local weather conditions.

That's the highlights of the garden for the last three weeks.