Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Straw Mulched Garden

I realized the other week that the garden was looking rather untidy (to put it mildly) even for this time of year. We had a lot of rain during the past couple of months, which left the garden paths awfully muddy. The beds were covered in brown pine needles from our neighbor's trees and the weeds were a bit out of control as well.

This past weekend, I finally got my butt off the couch and did something it. Boy, what a difference a little straw makes to the overall look of a garden. A stirrup hoe (fast becoming one of my favorite gardening tools) also made weeding the entire garden a breeze, especially now that there aren't many veggie plants to maneuver around.

This is also the first time I laid down some straw in the back garden. All in all, I think it looks good.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

End of November Harvest

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving! In many ways, I consider it be as close as you can to a farmer's holiday, which is probably why it's my favorite.

I've been amazed by how mild the weather has been lately. And according to the forecast, it should stay this way for at least the next 10 days. Things tend to deteriorate fast when nighttime lows reach down into the mid-20's. Thankfully, we haven't experienced that yet. Today I harvested more Tatsoi from the garden. Tatsoi is an extremely hardy Asian green, which is why it's usually one of the last things to be harvested from the garden this time of year. I had these growing under fabric row cover and was glad to see that they had formed into beautiful rosettes. My spring sown Tatsoi tends to bolt before they get this big but there's no risk of that this time of year.

I also picked some kale to go into the annual turkey noodle soup, made of course from the carcass of this year's bird. That might sound rather unappetizing to my vegetarian friends out there but I look forward to it every year. If anything, it's a great lesson on frugality.

This year's soup turned out REALLY good. I used carrots, celery, leeks, kale, poblano peppers and herbs from the garden. It's a bit late but for anyone interested, you can read more about how I prepare mine here. The veggies always change but the rest remains the same.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Apples Anyone?

I'd love to plant my very own apple orchard one of these days. I've read about Michael Phillips' work before but this article is particularly interesting.

Totally Green Apples - New York Times, November 16, 2011

Monday, November 21, 2011

A November Harvest

It got up to 70 degrees F yesterday. I was expecting it to be in the 50's. The weather this fall has been so strange. I can't really complain though. It gave me chance to do some additional fall cleanup.

Despite the funky weather, our broccoli plants are still thriving and producing lots of side-shoots. The shoots are slower to bolt this time of year so you can leave them longer on the plant until you have a good amount to harvest.

My last cauliflower plant finally decided to head up. I'm learning that growing cauliflower in the fall in our climate is a lot easier than growing it in the spring. I'm assuming it's because cauliflower is much more prone to bolting prematurely when the weather warms up than say broccoli. I was 7 for 8 this fall. (A critter got to one of the plants.)

Finally, I meant to harvest some more Asian greens this weekend but it totally slipped my mind. Hopefully I won't uncover my beds later on this week to find that they've gone to seed.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Late Fall Greens

In mid-October, I transplanted some tatsoi and Shanghai bok choy into the garden. When the snow storm hit a week later, I covered the bed with some plastic and forgot about it.

A few days ago, I uncovered the bed and noticed that the plants had actually grown a decent amount. Most Asian greens are pretty hardy so I think these will fair well into December. Hopefully, they will continue to grow despite the fact that our highs are only in the 40's and 50's for the next few days.

I love this variety of bok choy and so do the slugs.

Tatsoi is also one of our favorite Asian greens. The leaves are rather fragile and its water content is pretty high so I try not to overcook it.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

For Frack Sake

I came across this interesting article in the New York Times today. It seems the issue of horizontal hydraulic fracturing is pinning many farmers and neighbors against one another in the Northeast. After having watched a rather frightening documentary on this very issue not too long ago, I must admit that I would be a little more than uncomfortable if a neighbor was leasing his or land for drilling nearby.

What do you think? Should we all be concerned?

Drilling Debate in Cooperstown, N.Y., Is Personal - New York Times, October 29, 2011

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Fall Citrus

Right about this time every year, the fruit on my potted citrus trees begin to ripen. As you can see, the Meyer lemons are slowly beginning to shed their green exterior. Unfortunately, I will only have 5 to harvest this time around, unlike the 20 that I picked last year. This is just enough for one batch of marmalade. We still have several jars left over from last year so I'm not too disappointed about it.

Sadly, my Kaffir lime tree did not set any fruit this year and my Seville orange tree has yet to produce its first crop.

Of my two Mandarinquat trees, one has a handful of fruit. They are also beginning to change color. I'm really excited to try these for the first time. When it comes to growing potted citrus trees, patience is definitely a virtue. It will be several more years before they are mature enough to produce a good amount of fruit. Once they do, it will be fun to think of ways to cook and preserve them. I love candied citrus so candied mandarinquats will most likely be at the top of the list.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Cold Season Carrots

This is just another post I've been meaning to write - The other week, I pulled the remainder of this year's carrots, mainly because the field mice were beginning to feast on them. Growing my carrots in taller raised beds seems to deter them a bit but not completely. Last year, I lost all of my fall and winter carrots to them, which is a shame since the year before, I was still pulling extra-sweet carrots from the garden well into January. With a bit of protection in the form of floating fabric and plastic row covering, they store very well in the garden in our Zone 6 winters. The soil tends to freeze solid at night but the added heat provided by the protective covering during the day defrosts it just enough so that you can still access them, even when the outdoor temperature never goes above 32 degrees F. Generally, they'll keep well until about early February, at which point our mid-winter thaws will encourage the plant to send out new lateral white roots.

The most annoying thing about field mice is the fact that they tend to nibble at the tops and then work their way down. Usually, you'll end up with a large percentage of carrots that look like this. Commercial farmers must go crazy when they see this. Sometimes, I'll just cut off the tops and save the rest of root if the damage isn't too bad. I doubt most farmers market customers would go for that.

My winter carrots could have used a few more weeks to size up fully. Oh well. These baby carrots are wonderful roasted whole.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Season For Kale

Ok, I officially take back what I said about kale. While it's definitely not one of my favorite vegetables, I can honestly say that I'm starting to develop a taste for it, especially since we've had several hard frosts now and the fall veggies are fading fast. Our kale will probably be the last thing to bite the dust this winter.

Above is a Portuguese kale, the seeds of which were kindly given to me by Michelle. (Thanks again, Michelle!) I wonder if it will taste much like Red Russian.

My spring sown Tuscan kale last year grew like gangbusters and was virtually ignored all summer long, which is why I decided to grow it as a fall crop this year. Well things didn't really pan out all too well. Out of the four varieties I plants, this one did the least well. Tuscan kale is not as winter hardy as other varieties so I doubt that we'll get much of a harvest.

This more traditional-looking variety is 'Vates'. (Thanks again Dan for the seeds!) I have a feeling that it will fair the best this winter. The love the crinkly leaves on this variety.

Finally, the mice seem to be ignoring my Red Russian kale so far this year. That will probably change as the seasons progress. I've grown Red Russian for the past two winters as it has proven to be extremely resilient if given some protection in the form of plastic or fabric row cover. I may not cover it at all this year just to see how much it can take. The most recent batch I harvested was really good in an Italian Wedding soup that I made last week. I can see how this variety is a favorite of many gardeners.

Will you be harvesting kale this winter?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Last Big Harvest of the Year

I meant to write this post earlier in the week. Unfortunately, I'm still recuperating from some surgery I had performed on Monday and haven't had the will or strength to do so. Before the snow storm hit, I spent a day cleaning up the garden and harvesting a ton of veggies. These will keep well in the fridge as the garden becomes a less hospitable place to store food.

I would consider this to be the last great harvest of the year. I still have some odd and ends left out there but for the most part, this accounts for the bulk of this year's fall garden. When it comes to growing fall beets, I still have a lot to learn. They took much longer to grow then my spring-sown beets and produced only small roots that were a bit gnarled. Still, they'll be good peeled and steamed.

The mice were beginning to show interest in the carrot bed so I went ahead and pulled every single last one. Last fall, I lost my entire fall crop to them. This time around, I was feeling less than charitable so up they all went. Most of them could have spent more time in the garden but young carrots are better than no carrots.

I also picked enough celery to last us all winter. These were HUGE. We don't eat celery raw so what won't be cooked within the next couple of weeks will be chopped and frozen for later use.

A bowl of Chinese broccoli, wild arugula and Winter Density lettuce. Out of all of the lettuces I planted this fall, Winter Density is the only variety that hasn't turned bitter from the cold.

More leeks - the bulk of these will be chopped and frozen as well.

Tatsoi, broccoli shoots and Yukon Gold potatoes. The potatoes were from my two buckets. Unfortunately, they were riddled with holes and had to be tossed.

Finally, I waited as long as I could to harvest my lemon grass. I grew these from five cuttings I'd purchased and rooted from the Asian market last spring. These turned out much better than I had anticipated and will store will in the freezer. I use lemongrass to flavor grilled meats, soups and curries.