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Monday, December 21, 2015

Christmas Carrots

After clearing the snow off this garden bed cover, I realized that it was frozen shut. Fortunately there was a bit of a gap and I was able to pry it open with a pitchfork. I'll need to work on wintertime accessibility of all my garden frames. I'm thinking about a .5x3" gap where the lid meets the frame, for sticking a bar in to pry things loose. It could be covered with a flap of plastic to help keep the cold out.

Once opened, I was happy to push aside some leaf mulch and dig up some crispy, bright orange carrots. Seeing the soil under the leaves was a bonus; it's a sight I miss during these cold, short, frozen days.


My Dad has been keeping winter carrots in the ground for years in British Columbia in a similar climate, but I always thought I had too many interested animals to get away with it. However I finally learned to mound my carrots to keep the slugs off them -- a few handfuls of sand or soil at a strategic point when the carrot tubers start to show -- and this year, that prevented most of the damage we would normally see. In addition, there have been no gophers since installing large wood beneath the ground... something tells me that they don't enjoying burrowing through wood! Just another fringe benefit of hugelkultur.


For those who have been following this blog, these carrots are growing in "Bill's bed," featured in Frames for Food and Summertime Bounty, earlier this year. This bed has come a long way since last April, and produced tomatoes, sweet peppers, paprika peppers, Swiss chard, celery, radishes, chives, and kohlrabi this year. (And catnip. Way, way, way more catnip than I could ever use.) The Swiss chard, above left, was hard hit by cold temps, but will be ready to grow with the first signs of spring. As the days start getting longer again, I can feel myself leaning toward spring when this bed will flourish again. 

Happy Solstice!

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Tipi Greenhouse - Part 1

I've often wondered why it took me so long to start using tipis in the garden. 
They triple-function as trellises, greenhouses, and animal exclusion!

This tipi is covered with plastic on the east, south, and west sides.

This is the south side.

This is the north side, which is covered by an old blanket, a comforter that I bought at a thrift store for $2. It was labeled, "dog blanket," because it had a small rip in it and was not in great shape. It actually had never been used by a dog and was perfect for my tipi!

Here you can see that it's about 14 degrees F or -10 C outdoors...

While inside the tipi greenhouse it is about 46 degrees F or +8 C. Nice!

A tangent: Meanwhile, outdoors I have to admire the marjoram that is still growing in the snow...

...and one asparagus plant that just doesn't want to go dormant this winter! All the other asparagus plants have long since turned golden and shed their needley leaves. This one just keeps going. Interesting that it is growing in the aspen hotbed...


A few days later it is 10 degrees F, or about -12 C, outdoors.

Inside the tipi greenhouse it is just staying above freezing, at 33 F, or less than one degree on the + side in Celsius.

The Swiss chard doesn't seem to mind the colder temps.


It's not growing very much but it's staying alive, and that is my goal! I can't wait to see the plants really come to life in early spring inside the tipi, when it is still too cold outside for seeds to germinate.


Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Best Surprises

Every year, there is at least one complete surprise at harvest time. One year it was a fragrant patch of holy basil growing underneath pumpkin vines, from seed I thought had never germinated. This year, as I was moving some pumpkin plants, I discovered a little watermelon! Pure joy! (I had planted watermelon seeds too late in the season and had thought they didn't produce.)


You might think that as time goes by, you get accustomed to seeing all that can grow from a set of seed packets. I find that with each season, it amazes me more and more to consider all that can come from a single seed. This flower is blooming in mid-November at 3,000' near the US/Canada border, from a perennial flower mix planted a few years ago. This single plant puts out dozens of flowers each year.


Raspberries in November? It's been -4.5 Celsius or 24 Farenheit a number of times already, and yet every time I visit the garden, there are a few more ripe raspberries. 


Another great surprise was the high germination rate where onions had bolted and dropped their beautiful black seeds. I covered two patches of onion sprouts with leaves to see if they will overwinter. There were also some I'd collected for sprouting in my kitchen, and then forgotten in the garden in a sandwich bag. The entire lot had sprouted in the bag, so I planted them in my tipi greenhouse to eat as green onions later on. One of the benefits to growing heirloom varieties is that when they bolt and produce seed, the offspring will more reliably have characteristics you enjoy. However, with onions, the greens always taste good, no matter what the variety.


Meanwhile, inside the tipi greenhouse (which used to be the cucumber tipi), life continues to grow. When the sun shines, it feels like summer in there, even if it is just above freezing outside. Underground are aspen logs and generous amounts of alpaca manure. Around the tipi is plastic on the east, south, and west sides, with an old, thick, blanket over the north side, including the door.


These purple radishes in the tipi greenhouse are like little bits of hope coming out of the ground.


Sunday, October 18, 2015

Unusual Eats

One advantage about growing your own food is that you get to eat things that you would rarely or never find in a grocery store.

Once in a while, I harvest a head of garlic that turns out to be all one clove. I love these! I wish I could grow them on purpose, but I celebrate each one that happens to show up in my garden soil.

Did you know that garlic roots are just as delicious as the cloves, only more tender?

And of course there are garlic scapes... this photo was taken earlier in the summer when the scapes were going crazy. I love the tangled spirals they create in my kitchen. I fermented them this year and that was essentially a food of the gods...

Armenian cucumber from the cucumber tipi

Nosy tomato

Gargantuan kohlrabi, so good in soups

  
And speaking of soups... the carrots that were planted in cold frames in the first week of March got rather large! (yes, that is my hand, not my child's)

And kind of crazy!

So I am cooking the monster carrots up, putting them through the food processor, and freezing them in bags, since they do not appear to have storage potential. This way they are ready for soup anytime. Three carrots made almost a gallon of puree. (Shown here are 1/2 gallon jars used for chilling the carrot and kale puree before bagging for the freezer.)

Yum!

I also dehydrated a lot of kale for mixing in with mashed potatoes this winter: a traditional side dish from the Netherlands --Boerenkool -- or as we would say when we were growing up, "Green potatoes! Yay!"



Sunday, October 4, 2015

Autumn Rainbow


We often think of rainbows in spring, but the fall garden has its own rainbows too! I thought it might be nice to just offer a color splash without a lot of words... 


Red

Swiss Chard

Blueberry leaves

 
Black Cohosh leaves


Orange

Fawn is at the age where pumpkin carving is still a thrill, but she is old enough to do it completely by herself. With volunteer pumpkins all over the garden, this should be a decorative autumn! She might even carve up the Atlantic Giant...


Yellow

Maximilian Sunflower (perennial)

Honeyboat squash, ready to dig in


Green

"Dwarf" curly leaf kale

And still some new Armenian cucumbers forming in the tipi, in October!


Blue

Incredible skies over the Wood for Food garden


Purple

Potatoes -- like an Easter egg hunt


  
Russian Kale and Johnny Jump-ups (I'm not the only one enjoying these petals)



Enjoy this amazing time of year!





Sunday, September 20, 2015

Summertime Bounty


Summer's bounty ~ is there anything better?


Earlier this summer, Fawn took this photo of me holding a cylindra beet. This was my first time growing this variety, and they are remarkably delicious! The only thing I would do differently next time is grow more of them. By now they are massive, but just as delectable.


This year, the garden became a jungle again. Last year the pumpkins took over, obscuring the paths completely, so I said, "That's it -- this year I am NOT growing pumpkins!" However, they volunteered near places where I had planted other, more manageable squash varieties, so I didn't realize what they were until it was too late. In the end, I still wound up with pumpkins everywhere! I guess I was just meant to have a jungle.


Fawn and her doll Sheila, playing with the bean trellis

I planted this curly leaf "dwarf" kale early in the spring. I mistakenly thought it might fit within my growing boxes, but of course I needed to remove the hardware cloth lids as these beautiful monsters pushed upward. "Dwarf" must be a relative term. Or maybe things just get big when their roots are digging into underground hugelkultur...


...like this daikon radish, which is too heavy to hold with one hand. I had to use a folding saw to remove the greens from the top.

...or like the massive chard leaves that compete with the rhubarb for size.

When I see veggies served up from the garden to the table, it feels like a miracle. 


And when I see rainbow Swiss chard bringing color to a brown world, I realize that there are many reasons to grow a garden.

This is Red Globe onion, my first year successfully growing onions from seed. These beauties taste as good as they look. The trick was planting the seeds directly into early March's soil, which I had pre-thawed with black plastic, in wooden frames with plastic on the lids. It worked like a charm, skipping both my labor as well as the plant's shock, which both go along with transplanting. They were grown among carrots, as companions. I just realized that you can see the sky and a tree reflected in this onion!

This is "Bill's bed," pictured in the Frames for Food post. It seems like just last week that Bill was helping me try to remove a piece of rebar from the soil here, and working with me to amend the soil with aged manure. But now this bed is filled with the bounty of the growing season that has burst forth in the months since Bill's passing. He helped me with this bed just hours before he unexpectedly died. I know he would appreciate how prolific it is now.

This is a close-up from "Bill's bed." I put a hinge on the angled lid, and then propped it open as the tomatoes grew taller. The lid is made with hardware cloth, with garden fabric stapled overtop. These are Moskovich tomatoes grown from seed saved by my neighbor. I really like how they grew within this space, as the tomatoes ended up hanging down just beneath the lid. I will definitely plant tomatoes this way again in the future. They were direct-seed planted in the ground, earlier than would normally be possible because of the cold frame.

The Wood for Food garden feels like an oasis in the midst of an ashy, smoky summer, with plenty of brown grass and black ash in our neighborhood landscape. We have been able to grow a lot of green using a minimal amount of water, as the hugelkultur kicks in underground. I am so grateful that the garden didn't burn in this summer's firestorms.