Sunday, October 30, 2011

Winter Has Come Early

It took me all day but I was able to get done the bulk of my fall garden cleanup today. I harvested as much as I could and covered most of my remaining tender greens with row cover. Our fridge is packed with veggies right now, which is a good thing since it'll be slim pickings from the garden for at least the next five months.

I was surprised by how cold it felt outside today. By 3 PM it began to drizzle and my hands were numb. Gardening under these conditions is neither fun nor easy.

The rain slowly turned to snow and and by 5 PM, it began to accumulate.

I took this picture earlier tonight. Right now, we have about 6 inches of snow on the ground. Interestingly the worst of the storm hasn't even reached us yet. When it's over, we're expected to get between 10 inches to a foot.

I don't think we've ever had anywhere close to this amount of snow in October before. It's hard to imagine the local kids having to trick or treat in their snow boots. If winter is arriving early this year, does this mean that spring will as well? For all of our sake, let's hope so.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Winter Storm October???

Strange things happen when you're away. Last night I returned home after spending the past couple of days in San Francisco for work. It was the first time in 11 years since I'd been there and from what I could tell, the city hasn't changed much. It's still one of my favorite cities in the United States and the weather was perfect.

Interestingly, I just found out that we're expected to get between 6 - 10 inches of snow within the next 36 hours starting sometime later today. A snow storm in October??? I can't remember the last time this happened. So much for Indian Summer. Admittedly, I find myself in somewhat of a bind right now. I've yet to do the bulk of my fall garden clean up and I'm not sure if I'll be able to cover all of my growing beds in time. Needless to say, today will be a busy day.

I hope the rest of my fellow New England gardeners are better prepared than I am.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Late October Harvest

It's strange how suddenly the weather can change around here. Last week was really the first week where our nighttime lows reached down into the 40's. This week, we're expected to get at least a couple of nights in the mid to high 30's. I have a feeling that our first fall frost is just around the corner. Thankfully, all of our fall veggies can tolerate a bit of frost. Last night, I placed some fabric row cover over our citrus trees and will bring them inside for the winter in the next week or two depending on the weather forecast.

Even though we're trying to clear out what's left in the fridge, I did harvest a few things this week. We still have plenty of leeks in the garden. I'll cover them with some fabric in November and then plastic in December. As long as the soil isn't frozen solid during the day, we should be able to get to them.

Our broccoli is producing lots of side shoots, which will slow down as fall progresses. And this may very well be the last of our fall cauliflower. My remaining two plants don't seem to be heading up.

Finally, we just finished off the frozen spinach from last spring so I decided to start picking some of our fall Red Russian kale. We'll use some of it fresh and the rest we'll freeze. Admittedly, we're not huge fans of kale, especially when it's cooked by itself. But we do enjoy it in a vegetable soup or cooked with other veggies. At the beginning of this year, I debated whether or not to grow kale or Swiss chard (both low of our list of favorite veggies). However, they are such good producers that I ended up talking myself into at least a couple of plants. Next year, chard will definitely get the axe.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Apple Picking

Now is a great time to be in New England. There's tons of natural beauty to take in, which is one of the reasons why fall is my favorite season for being outdoors. This past weekend, we visited Cider Hill Farm in Amesbury, Massachusetts. With sunny skies, temperatures in the uppers 60's and a slight breeze, it was perfect weather for going apple picking.

A gentle slop of apple trees, you can see why the farm is called 'Cider Hill'.

I loved their display of pumpkins, which came in all shapes, colors and textures.

The little man looked mighty cool in his tinted glasses, track suit and garden boots.

As you can see, the fall foliage still has a ways to go before reaching its peak.

As the wind swept through the corn fields, the dried leaves made a gentle rattling noise.

We picked a good amount of Mutsu apples, which are similar to Granny Smith. They are destined for pie.

I would love to grow an orchard of my own one of these days. As I picked, I thought about the relationship between the farmer with his apple trees. Simply put - he cares for them, and if all goes well, they supply him with an abundance in return. I'm sure there's a parable in here somewhere.

A bin of fallen apples - soon they'll be carted off to the cider press.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Random Happenings...and Non-Happenings

Looks awful doesn't it? For some reason, I can't seem to find the motivation to start the fall cleanup. And it's not helping that the garden is covered in mud right now. It's always hard getting started but ultimately, I do enjoy tidying things up and putting the garden to rest for the winter.

The only things blooming in our garden right now are the Asian greens that have bolted prematurely. In this case, it's the Napa cabbages. The honey bees seem to appreciate them so I think I'll wait to pull them.

The wild arugula seeds that I sowed last fall never took so I'm happy to see that it did this time around. The leaves are very pungent so a little bit goes a long way in a salad or sandwich.

Broccoli side shoots - one of my favorite things in the fall garden. I love a veggie plant that keeps on giving.

My two Brussels Sprout plants - I'd cut off the tops but I'm wondering now whether I should remove more of the leaves to coax the plant into putting more of its energy into maturing the sprouts.

The four chrysanthemum tea plants that I transplanted into the garden in 2010 have since taken over their bed.

It won't be long now before they begin to bloom. And if we can avoid a hard frost anytime soon, we might just get a decent crop of flowers this year.

Question of the Day - Paw Paws

Have you ever tasted a paw paw? What are they like, and more importantly, do you like them? I've been curious about this fruit for a number of years now but have never been able to actually taste one. They are not grown commercially so you'd have to forage for one or be lucky enough to find a local farmer who grows them. From what I've read, they are tropical fruit in the custard apple family and can be found growing wild in most areas of the United States. Depending on the variety, paw paws can be hardy all the way down to zone 4. To think - a tropical fruit tree we can actually grow outdoors here in New England!

Anyway, I need to find a way to get my hands on one, though I have a feeling that their short season may be over by now.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

A Mid-October Harvest

Is it really mid-October already? In a lot of ways, it feels more like Spring as we've had so much precipitation lately that the garden is now covered with mud and standing water. This generally only happens in early March when the ground is still frozen and the water has nowhere to go. The soil in my growing beds resembles a saturated sponge. Hopefully, our veggies won't rot from the excess moisture.

Another great week for harvesting carrots and turnips - these have been very tasty roasted.

I harvested half of my cauliflower crop this week - 4 heads. They're not huge but are still the best I've grown so far.

I love cauliflower simply steamed and finished with a bit of butter. When you have veggies this fresh, it doesn't really make sense to add too much seasoning.

The broccoli is starting to produce a generous amount of side shoots. I like to harvest the young leaves as well as they are very tender.

Salad greens - I didn't grow a mix this fall like I did in past years. This time around, I just walked around the garden and just sniped what looked good - several varieties of lettuce, beet greens, baby spinach, basil, parsley and some Red Russian kale.

Yesterday, I found this little guy tucked away in the melon patch. I didn't have much hope that it would be any good but I picked it anyway.

To my surprise, it was ripe when I cut into it. Aside from having somewhat of a hollow heart, it was actually quite good. In fact, I dare to say that it was one of the sweetest and crunchiest melons I picked all year long. It was indeed an unexpected delight.

I also picked too lovely heads of tatsoi. The slugs have had a field day with my Asian greens this fall but these two have made it through relatively unscathed.

Finally, these Poblanos are undoubtedly the last peppers of the year. They're too small to roast and peel but will be tasting sliced and cooked in a stir-fry.

The fall growing season is just flying by. I can't wait to see what you all are harvesting this week!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Decapitating the Brussels Sprout Plants

This is my first year growing Brussels sprouts and I have to admit, I'm a bit perplexed. My two plants (the only two that recovered from the groundhog assaults) are about 3 feet tall right now but the sprouts are still rather tiny. I thought I read somewhere that you can cut off the tops of the plants to encourage the sprouts to grow faster. It was worth a shot. Does anyone know if this actually works?

Generally, you can harvest Brussels sprouts well into December in our zone 6 climate. Hopefully there's still enough warmth left in the fall growing season to provide us with a harvest.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Fall Cauliflower

I would definitely consider cauliflower to be one of the more challenging veggies to grow in the home garden. Admittedly, I've yet to master it to the point where I can get consistent results. During my first year, I grew several heirloom varieties, none of which produced useful heads. This year, I switched to a hybrid called 'Snow Crown' and the results have been more promising.

In my experience, cauliflower plants are more prone to sudden death and less consistent in their growth habit than broccoli. Out of the six I planted last Spring, only three went on to produce heads. My fall crop is doing somewhat better. Of the eight I transplanted back in August, two are softball-sized at the moment, three are golf ball-sized and the remaining two are showing no signs of heading up at all. Not bad I guess.

Hopefully the good weather won't leave us too soon. If it holds up, we'll be eating fall cauliflower in the coming weeks.

Monday, October 10, 2011

An Indian Summer Harvest

I hope my fellow gardeners here in New England are enjoying the warm weather as much as I am. It's not often we experience temperatures in the 80's this time of year. After a long stretch of cold and rain, I'm sure our fall veggies appreciated it as well.

This past week, I picked the first of our fall turnips. This Asian variety called 'Tokyo Market' is milder, sweeter and not as tough as your average supermarket turnip. (Thanks again for the seeds, Mac!)

This batch was the best I've grown so far. My prior attempts at growing Asian turnips produced golf-ball sized roots. This year, I upped the spacing between each plant to 4 inches and got much better results.

Spinach is a great cut-and-come-again veggie in our garden. I snip leaves every few days to use in soups and pasta dishes. The cooler than normal August we experienced this year probably had a lot to do with why our spinach is thriving now.

Another carrot harvest - still no signs of rodent damage. Hopefully, the mice will stay away this winter.

I've yet to master growing fall beets. These are on the smaller side. I just don't think there is enough light in our garden is time of year to encourage the roots to fatten up.

Our leeks this fall are much better than the previous. We have good-sized white stalks that are at least a foot long. Since I've yet to grow a decent crop of onions, leeks are a great alternative this time of year.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Potted Citrus Plants

It's that time of year again. Now that temperatures are reaching down into the low 40's F, we'll start the daily shuffle of bringing our potted citrus plants inside at night and back out again in the morning. Then sometime in late October or early November, they'll be moved indoors permanently - or more accurately until early May.

I haven't decided where to keep my plants indoors this winter. My concern is that they won't get enough natural light, which might partially explain my difficulties last year. I might come up with artificial set up in our basement to house them using the regular halogen lamps I use to start my transplants in the Spring. The last thing I want to do is up our electricity bill but it's an option we'll have to consider.

One think I've done differently this year is to prune my citrus plants heavily to ensure a bushier growth. It definitely makes housing them indoors more convenient.

I think I may have neglected to mention that I'd purchased a second Meyer lemon tree last spring. At the time, I wasn't sure whether my other tree was going to survive since by April, it had lost its leaves completely. This one is definitely more tree-like than my other one.

And this is what my other Meyer lemon tree looks like now. As you can see, it's nowhere as big or glorious as it was before. After it lost all of its leaves, I pruned the naked branches severely to encourage new growth. A few of the pruned branches died back even further but eventually, new leaves and branches did form. Despite our difficulties, this may have been a blessing in disguise as now the plant is growing into a bushier specimen.

When I repotted it last spring, I noticed that the roots looked rather unhealthy. Hopefully I can adjust the watering, lighting and heat indoors to encourage better root health this winter.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Early Fall Harvest

We had an amazing harvest this past week. Our fall garden is at its peak right now and there is so much to choose from. We'll see how long this will last as our first light frost should arrive soon.

All of our broccoli plants matured this past week. We picked 15 good-sized heads and have been eating broccoli almost everyday. As you can see, a couple of the heads were beginning to flower.

Next year, I'm planning on growing even more broccoli. It's one brassica that produces reliably in our garden and is fairly easy to grow. I like to allow the individual buds to get fairly large (unlike supermarket broccoli) until they are on the verge of flowering. Personally, I think the texture and taste is better at this stage.

In addition to the broccoli, we also harvested some carrots and Chinese broccoli (gai lan).

I'm really happy with my 'Napoli' carrots this fall. Last year, the field mice did away with our entire crop. Growing them in taller raised beds seems to deter them.

I really like Chinese broccoli, which is grown primarily for its tender stalk. Ours are as thick as silver dollars this year. (Thanks again for the seeds Mac!) I stir-fry them peeled and sliced on a bias. Also, they stay crispy when cooked.

I also picked most of our remaining peppers and chilies and was amazed by how healthy the plants still look.

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I'm planning on fresh pickling the pepperoncini (right) and most of the Hungarian Wax peppers.

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I'd like to make hot sauce from the jalapenos (if someone has a recipe, please pass along!) and chili paste from the Thai chilies.

The poblanos will be roasted, peeled and frozen for winter use.

The last 'Sunshine' watermelon of the year weighed in at 10 pounds, which is average for this particular variety.

I waited until the tendril closest to the melon had died back, which seemed to work this time. The flesh was perfectly yellow and very sweet.

I tried to salvage as many green tomatoes as I could from the now dead vines. Hopefully they'll still ripen indoors.

Finally, I pruned back my Kaffir lime tree this past weekend. The leaves are now frozen and will be used to flavor curries and soups.