As I observe more and more of the subtle hints of seasonal change, I’m starting to find dates on the calendar where changes become permanent transition points. Halloween has become my new marker on the calendar for the absolute end to warm season crops, and the transition point to the cool season.
I’ve made a conscious effort to extend my growing season by incorporating new plants which can tolerate cool and downright cold weather. The most cold hardy plant I’ve got in my arsenal thus far is Swiss Chard. These colorful leaves are willing to grow straight through our harsh winter months if given a simple plastic cover to keep the snow from burying the leaves.
I was surprised to see some lettuce also growing through the snow. The lettuce above is from my sister’s garden, as my lettuce is not very photogenic due to a recent pass through the garden with the finish mower. Even thought the tops of the plants were chopped off, the base began to grow new leaves pretty quickly.
I wasn’t sure how long this collection of greens would last, so I decided to pick a good deal of the lettuce, chard and endive and enjoy a cool season salad before these greens turn to brown.
While I was looking around, I noticed that one of the cauliflower plants had grown a very large white head, so I made an attempt to pick it. I tried using scissors without much luck, then I moved onto some hand pruning sheers, also without luck. I finally decided to pull the whole plant out of the ground, and found that a hammer was needed to break the stalk. I then cut off all of the leaves, and brought it indoors.
Cauliflower has never been my favorite vegetable, but I decided that since I grew it, I might as well give it a try. The process of cooking it was very easy. Start by cutting the large head into many smaller pieces, then place them into a microwave safe bowl, with water nearly covering them. The total cooking time is around 15 minutes, but they will need to be stirred every few minutes in order to cook evenly. When they were done, this single plant provided a cheese covered snack for about 10 people. I actually liked it !
Later that same day the kids decided it was time to carve their pumpkins. I should note these were not grown in my garden, as I decided not to plant them this year.
Maybe next year I’ll plant a few pumpkins from the seeds I gathered while carving. Either way, I know I will see a few, as the pumpkin guts harvested while cutting found their way to the compost pile.
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The warm season is almost over, and I decided to mow down all of the nearly lifeless plants that remained. I used the 8N tractor and the finish mower to chop up all of the remaining plants so that they will begin rotting back into soil sooner. If I hadn’t chopped up the stalks, they would not begin rotting until the plant matter met up with the soil in the spring, so I’m really giving the worms, and everything else that feeds on this matter a jump start on the spring. If the garden was flat I would have it rototilled in the fall, but the slope is steep enough that I worry the soil will wash away.
When I was finished, I found it hard to believe that dozens of pounds of tomatoes, potatoes, and arm fulls of celery had grown in this space. If not for the black weed blocker that remains spread out along the ground, it would be easy to believe this was simply the back yard that I was mowing. I’m now left with a more traditionally sized garden which contains the winter crops I’ve begun to experiment with. I have an approximately 20 by 20 foot space very close to my house where Chard, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts and Garlic are growing.
I decided not to mow over the pepper plants because they still looked very healthy, and continued to grow new peppers. It takes these plants a long time to get started producing peppers, but once they grow to full size, the plants sets peppers fairly quickly. I figured that if we didn’t get a frost for a few more weeks, I could potentially get several extra shopping bags full of peppers in that short amount of time.
The weatherman called for frost and I wanted to learn all I could while I had the opportunity. I’ve rarely tried to extend the growing season in the fall, so I thought I would find out just how effective covering plants to protect them from frost would be. We already have plenty of frozen peppers to last many months, so I’m doing this more for the sake of knowing if it will work, rather then trying to grow extra peppers. I only covered one section of plants, and I left the others as they were.
I found out the next morning that a simple sheet will protect the plants. You can see just how bad the unprotected plants were harmed by the frost. The protected plants have upright leaves, whereas the unprotected plants look terrible with dropping leaves.
Now, I’ll keep an eye on the protected pepper production, and see if it’s worth the effort in the future.
I set out to plant five different types of beans in the garden this year, after having a successfull year with Ying Yang beans in 2010. I’ve also been trying to mix up what crops are planted in which portion of the garden, so I wound up with two patches of beans. In hind sight this two patch system might be one of my best ideas, since one patch of beans have been chewed up by deer, and since then overgrown with weeds. The other patch seemed to be overlooked by the grazing deer, and grew quite well. Since the plants were growing well, I weeded them and watched them grow.
My plan this whole year was one of expansion, a year when I’m basically growing seeds for future gardens. You see, a pack of 20 seeds can run up and over $3, and tends to leave me with about a cup of usable beans. That’s a great return, but not nearly enough for a guy whole eats chilli at least once a week. In order to grow the quantities that I’m hopping to graze upon in future winters I will need lots of seeds, and the only way to do that cheaply is to grow my own supply.
I picked the beans shown while the rain gently fell, and once I had several small bags full of water soaked bean pods, I had to dry them out. (Wet, even moist beans will grow mold). I took a gamble on drying the beans in the greenhouse since it’s generally dry and warm this time of year.
I’m quite happy with the harvest, even though I’ve only grown three varieties rather then five. I took a picture of the beans next to their pods so that you could see when the pods are “ripe” to have the beans removed. I’ve found it’s easiest to shell them when the pod turns a dark brownish black. The green pod shown to the right still needs some time to dry.
Once out of the pods, I store the beans in open topped cups for a few weeks stirring them around daily. This helps them air out and loose excess moisture. After a few weeks i’ll move the beans from the open top container to a glass canning jar for winter storage. In the spring, those seeds will be ready to plant after the last frost (about June 1st in NW PA).
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It’s been a great year for apples in Northwest Pennsylvania. Above is a selection of apples from a co-workers orchard. He’s got a real apple problem on his hands at the moment, with the potential to fill many, many 50 pound bags full. Chad brought in a selection of the apples he has growing, and I thought I’d take a picture, and share it on my blog. You can read more about his apple problem here: Ella and Family Stuff
Back on the farm we have quite a few apple trees of our own filled with very well grown apples. Davie and Rob took some time out of their weekend to pick apples using the John Deere, in place of a ladder. The trees shown are in the area that I’ve been cleaning up near my Herb Garden. I had pruned the tree in the spring not realizing that it was an edible apple tree. I was hoping to grow crab apples which could have been used as treats for my sisters horses.
A single pickings harvest is shown in the cart, but many more have already been processed into apple-sauce.
It’s also the best time of the year to plant trees, and after I found a few on sale for $25 each, I loaded up my little car, and brought three to my mother’s house where we planted them in her front yard.
I couldn’t help to purchase a Nectarine tree as well, and I planted it near the area I’ve been cleaning up with the Back-blade on the tractor. I’m hoping to plant many more cherries, berries and trees in the area, and while I had rob and the John Deere digging holes, we also moved a Service Berry plant. I’m beginning to think I should put together and post a map of the farm with each plant and it’s variety marked.
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After a long summer of hot days, the clouds spread out their reach and allowed the cold air to descend. The weather man predicted frost, which is a last call of sorts for any gardener. The name of the game this time of year is pick it or forget about it.
Picking peppers and celery isn’t that hard, unless the temperature is barely above freezing like it was when we began our harvest. We filled our bags till the weather chased us indoors, which is were the real work began.
After cleaning each of the stalks of celery and removing the leaves, we used a food processor to chop the stalks into small pieces. These will be useful in soups or as an additive to tuna fish.
After plowing through the celery, we moved onto the peppers which require a bit more attention.
First the tops are removed, then the pepper is sliced down the center vertically. Next all of the seeds are removed. At this point, the pepper halves are feed into the food processor which spits out evenly chopped slices. Slicing these peppers by hand would have taken far too much time, but with the chopper things moved along pretty quickly.
The food processor has a good assortment of blades, but one in particular worked very well on the peppers, leaving the perfect size chunks for soups, salads, or fried peppers.
When we all got sick of processing veggies we cleaned up our mess, and packed the celery and peppers in boxes. These will help greatly to organize a freezer that is about full 0f veggies from the garden.
We finished up Saturday, and before calling it a day, we weighted the processed peppers and celery. I was pretty surprised to find we had 34 pounds of veggies ! The next day we finished off the remaining peppers filling an additional box.
This bounty was provided with 36 celery plants and about 100 pepper plants. Next years garden will probably contain fewer celery plants, but about the same number of peppers, perhaps a few more.
Now we just need to survive picking and processing apples and it will be time for some cool weather veggies.
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