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I’m always gardening – even when the snow flies.

Expensive Fresh Vegetables – Covering the High Tunnel

Expensive Fresh Vegetables – Covering the High Tunnel

Expensive Fresh Vegetables

Wow. It’s easy to lose track of the expense associated with buying fresh vegetables in the winter. We’ve had hoop houses and high tunnels for over a decade. This is our first winter in eight years without a tunnel. It’s uncovered to let the snow and rain wash the soil. Expensive fresh vegetables made up the majority of our monthly grocery shopping trip last weekend, and shoved me into accepting the cost of poly.
baby beet greens, expensive fresh vegetables
baby swiss chard, pot o gold, swiss chard, expensive fresh vegetablesI’ve been feeling bad about the cost of poly to re-cover the tunnel. It’s going to cost around $800. Buying vegetables made the $800 feel insignificant. The poly will last a minimum of four years but more likely eight, the same as the poly we removed last fall. At $100 a year, that’s a bargain. Here’s what we spent on vegetables.

Price x Cost
Zucchini  $1.99 x 1.23 lbs = $2.55
Scallions .99
Red onion 1.99 x .85 = 1.69
Asparagus 1.08 x 2.49 = 2.69
Celery 1.69
European cucumber 1.99
Kale 1.99
Tomatoes (Backyard Beauties, grown in Maine) 2.69 x 2.04 = 5.49
Jalapeno 2.69 x .15 = .40
Bell pepper (green) 1.99 x 1.29 = 2.57
Spaghetti squash 1.29 x 2.64 = 3.41
Sweet white onions (3#) 2.99
Portabella caps (2) 2.99
Spinach (4 oz) 2.99
Romaine hearts (3) 3.49
“Produce” (I don’t remember what this is) 3.99
TOTAL: $41.71

The vegetables will last us about a week. We’re eating broccoli, cauliflower and green beans from the freezer as well.

high tunnel, winter, winter growing, winter vegetables, expensive fresh vegetables

Eating Out of Season

There isn’t a lot on the list that we grow in the tunnel in winter. Being in the store with the vegetables in front of us when we’re starving for fresh veggies (as fresh as you can get in a grocery, especially out of season things) made it easy to splurge. It was too easy to eat out of season, something we generally don’t do. If the tunnel were covered we’d be eating carrots, radishes, turnip, spinach, beet greens, Swiss chard, arugula, tatsoi, boc choi (instead of celery), lettuce and leeks. They would be truly fresh, honestly organic, and in better condition.

We would be buying onions, scallions, mushrooms and an occasional tomato or pepper even if the tunnel were covered. We’re out of last year’s onions, and we like fresh mushrooms better than dehydrated in some dishes.

If we continued to spend $41 a week on expensive fresh vegetables for a winter we’d spend more than $600. It’s a lot less expensive to spend the money on the poly cover for the high tunnel. I’m placing that call now!

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Starting Pumpkins and Squash Early to Extend Their Growing Season

Starting Pumpkins and Squash Early to Extend Their Growing Season

Starting Pumpkins and Squash Early

I’m all about pumpkins—big, tiny, huge, warty, orange, white, or striped, if it’s a pumpkin I love it. Squash catch my eye with their lumps and bumps, smooth skin and deeply carved lobes. Both get bonus points for excellent flavor and long-term storage ability. Varieties the deer like are on my list. I bought pumpkins for the deer last fall and they’re still sitting in the food plot, nibbled on and passed up. If I grow a variety that’s new to us and we end up not liking the texture or flavor the poultry will probably devour it in the middle of winter. Being limited to one hundred dependable frost free days a year doesn’t allow for some of the pumpkin and squash varieties I love. It means starting pumpkins and squash early gives me the best chance of successfully growing some of my favorites.

It isn’t safe to plant our pumpkins and squash seedlings outdoors until the soil warms and the danger of frost passes in early June. Trays of six packs sit in the bay window to warm in the sun, on a shelf above my desk, and under grow lights where the soil stays a little warmer. On warm, still or barely breezy days I move the seedlings outside so they don’t stretch to reach light. Make sure the grow light is no more than two inches from the top of the seedling and adjust as the plants grow. If they’re getting tall and weak the light is too far away. A fan gently blowing around the seedlings will help strengthen the stems.

How to Transplant Vine Crops

Most of us have probably heard “you can’t transplant vine plants.” You can as long as you follow a few simple guidelines.

  • First, don’t start the seeds too early. I plant mine in six packs and individual pots three to four weeks prior to when I expect to transplant them into the garden. Seedlings that have no more than two sets of true leaves transplant easier than older plants that are susceptible to transplant shock.
  • Second, choose containers that are large enough to support root growth without the plants becoming root bound. I try to avoid moving the seedlings into larger pots before transplanting to the garden but it’s sometimes unavoidable. Use a container larger in width and depth than you expect to need.
  • Third, keep the seedlings under grow lights and outdoors as much as possible. If they have inadequate lighting they’ll stretch toward the nearest light source, as plants do, and become leggy. Vine crops have very wet, somewhat fragile stems. Leggy stems are weaker than short, dense stems.

Prepare the Soil

Prepare the soil before transplanting day. You’ll need rich soil to support the plants through maturity and might want to side dress later in the season.

Mounds warm up faster than flat soil. IRT (infrared transmissible) mulch will warm the soil and has the added benefit of blocking weeds. Low tunnels will help you get an early start with vine crops. A low tunnel with IRT provides two to three weeks of extra time by setting them up early to warm the soil. Short growing seasons don’t have to strictly limit us to varieties that mature in under 100 days. Starting pumpkins and squash early add varieties to what you can grow in your short-season garden.

Raised Beds in the High Tunnel

Raised Beds in the High Tunnel

Raised Beds

I’ve missed fresh greens from the  high tunnel a lot this winter. Watching the melting snow this week, I realized we’ll probably get to re-cover the tunnel earlier than expected. All we need (ha ha…we need everything) is the poly and to make a few repairs, and for the snow to melt around the frame and more to not fall, and the wind to not blow while we get a tremendous potential kite on the frame and secured. Then we’ll have to build raised beds. That’s all…

In the meantime, I’m planning the growing seasons in the tunnel. If we get the tunnel covered by the end of March, highly unlikely, I won’t be too far behind in planting the tomatoes. The soil will need to drain and be amended, the raised beds built and filled, and the seedlings in the ground by the third week in April to be on schedule. Dream big, I’m told often these days. I’m hoping.

Raised Beds in the High Tunnel

I have the raised beds figured out. I want the tunnel to be productive and attractive. I’ll be growing some plants, roses I’m trying to root if all goes well, for their beauty. I want the Silkies to spend the winter in there so they’ll have a small portable house to spend the night in. I want a place to sit and work on a sunny winter day when it’s warm and bright inside. So many plans. If I get a tenth of it done this year I’ll be happy.

The top of the drawing is the south side. The sun rises on the left / east, right behind the tunnel, in June. The beds are 4′ x 8′ x 10″ and 4′ x 16′ x 10″.  There’s a little work space between the six on the south side. The space between end walls and the beds is 6′. I’ll have a compost bin on the northeast corner. The door is on the right / west end. raised beds, high tunnel

The Short and Tall of It

The sun shines on a corner of the north wall for a couple of weeks a year. Shadows aren’t cast from that side so it’s the best place to grow the tall plants. I have the tomatoes and cucumbers growing up twine on that side most of the time. The shadows they cast don’t hit other plants. The short plants are on the south side so they get full sun all day.

There will be some crop rotation as the plan comes together. A full bed of carrots, another of with rows of beets, turnip, rutabaga, parsnips, probably a potato or two. Everything I’m going to grow but pumpkins and maybe a few winter squash will be grown in the raised beds in the high tunnel. I still plan to buy a lot from a local grower. <insert feelings of withdrawals here>

I’ll keep notes here as we build the beds, get them filled and the soil amended, plant, weed, harvest, and replant this year. Let’s hope for getting on schedule by re-covering so we get back to growing great food in raised beds in the high tunnel.

 

Hybrid Seeds – A Few Things You Should Know

Hybrid Seeds – A Few Things You Should Know

Hybrid Seeds

I’m surprised by a few things when it comes to gardening. First, the lack of understanding in hybrid versus heirloom seeds. Hybrids are sometimes made out to be the villain of gardening. Second, the thought that USDA Hardiness Zones are “grow zones.” That one makes my eyes bug out. Rolling eyes are insulting and I’m probably guilty of doing it when I hear or read “grow zones.” Third, the unwillingness to start a garden before a specific date regardless of what the gardener is growing and the weather conditions. We’ll talk about that one later in the winter. Today we’re going to talk about hybrid seeds.

Can You Save Seeds From Hybrid Fruits and Vegetables?

You can save seeds from hybrids and the plants will most likely produce. You won’t get the same fruit or vegetable but you’ll get something. It might be delicious and it will at least be interesting to see the end result. The result will be a cross between the parents, and if the parents are hybrids their parents’ influence might show up in the end vegetable. You know those tomato volunteers that pop up in the spring? There you go.

hybrid seeds, cross pollination, heirloom seeds, open pollinated seeds
Hybrids are Tasteless, Right?

Do hybrid seeds grow tasteless food? Some certainly do, but so do some open pollinated and heirloom seeds. Open pollinated doesn’t mean heirloom and heirloom doesn’t mean open pollinated, by the way. Heirloom doesn’t have one specific definition. They’re varieties handed down through generations or age dependent. Some people consider a variety an heirloom once it’s been stable for 25 or 50 years. Open pollinated generally means the seeds will breed true – you’ll get the same fruit or vegetable every time.

Can you tell whether these seedlings are hybrid, open pollinated or heirloom? No, me either.

Hybrids are Not Genetically Engineered

Hybrids are the result of cross pollination.  Birds, bees, butterflies and other pollinators cross-pollinate blossoms. Pollen floats on the wind and causes cross pollination. I wish I knew what apples crossed to create the ornamental variety growing at the edge of the road. Had I know that’s what it is before the tree was too big to move I’d have put it in a better spot. The apples look like clusters of cherries.

hybrid seeds, bees pollinate plants, bees, cross pollinationYou can cross pollinate plants easily with a paint brush, your finger, or by pulling one flower off to brush its pollen onto another flower. It’s not the same as genetically engineering a daffodil gene into rice (to increase Vitamin A, this is impossible naturally), or a gene from a firefly into a fish (to glow in the dark, sold as pets) or a nut gene into another food (imagine what this could do to someone with a nut allergy).

Genetic engineering happens only in a laboratory. That’s a simple way to keep the difference between the two straight.

Cutting Back and Refocusing

Cutting Back and Refocusing

Cutting Back

November lull – I love it or dread it depending on the moment. There’s little going on now that hunting seasons are just about over. The chickens, a duck and the turkeys have been butchered and frozen. The garden is done and the pile of topsoil moved to the edge of the high tunnel. There’s some “oh-my-gawd it’s going to snow and I haven’t cleaned up the lawn” work to do. I want to top off the firewood in the wood shed, fill the wood rack in the house, and replenish the stacks on the back porch. There’s not a lot left to do after that other than move some more firewood for next winter into the high tunnel. Cutting back next year will be a good thing.

I’m eager to get back to baking bread, hanging clothes to dry on a rack by the fire rather than sucking up electricity with the dryer, and writing. Cutting back doesn’t mean spare time. Cutting back means a little more sanity when we get through this process.

Hunting Seasons

Most of my time this month spent hunting. I put in more hours for deer than I did in September when I harvested my black bear. I saw a buck under one of our apple trees on the next to last day of rifle season. A good look at his antlers (four points) and a better look at his rump as he walked away from me and into the woods without there being an ethical shot was all I got. He was on the game camera early in the morning of the last day but didn’t show up during legal hunting time. Steve saw a buck he couldn’t get a shot at, a few does, and had a great encounter with a young doe on the last day.

Black powder? Apparently so as Steve bought me a muzzle loader.

cutting back, young buck, homesteading, hunting

Sitting still day after day for weeks gives a girl a lot of time to think. I think it’s time to cut down on what I do here on the homestead, and I’m starting with food, a part of homesteading I’m most passionate about. Most of our vegetables can be grown in the high tunnel. There are a few things, like bush beans, that need to be grown outside for the sake of space. The weed problem must be conquered. I spent more time picking weeds than beans this year. Next year I’ll stick to the high tunnel and leave the rest to Shannah at Mustard Seed Farm. I have a mental list of veggies to buy from her and I’m sure there are some she’ll grow we don’t yet know we need.

Poultry

We raised seven turkeys this year. One wasn’t picked up so I roasted it for Thanksgiving. That leaves an extra 31 pound turkey in the freezer. We have two 31 pounders and another somewhere around 15 pounds. We don’t have extra chickens so I started looking around for someone to raise our meat chickens. I’ll be buying pastured chickens from my sister Melissa’s friend. We’ll also buy beef from her starting the first chance I have to pick it up. Our side of pork went to the butcher on November 25 and will be back in packages in two to three weeks. Wayne and Joe and Phoenix Rising Farm raised great pigs. I’ll cure the bacon and season the sausage for a pig and a half.

We’re keeping nine chickens and eight ducks for a total of 12 or 13 egg layers. We’ve been chicken-free for only six months of the last 18 years so it’s unlikely we’ll go without chickens or ducks. I’ll be looking for someone to tend to the birds when we want to be away overnight.

Break Out the Bon Bons!

So what happens with all this free time? Bon bons, coffee and soap operas, folks. That’s my future. hahaha I can’t even. Can’t even write that with a straight face. There are other things we’ll hire out, and I’ll talk about them next year as the times come. I’ll spend the time working full time so I can finish writing a book or two. I’m cutting back on a lot of things to make time to write something more than freelance articles and this blog. I have two half-written books to finish. They might never be read by anyone but me but the writing will be finished. House renovations are underway and I’m planning on some redecorating.

Life has been crazy. I spent too many hours hunting. Next year we’ll change up what we do to try something new. Being responsible for 100% of the housework and 95% of the cooking on top of working a full time job, and on top of homesteading work for food and heat nuts. Steve’s working full time plus and tackling some big renovation projects as well as the new food plot. There’s more but you get the idea.

“I can kill myself trying to do it all and make myself miserable with half-assed work and failure, or I can hire people to do things for me.” Robin Follette, 2016. Change is good even though decisions about cutting back are hard. If everything stayed the same life would be awfully boring.

I’ll be here more often, and with more than recipes.  There’s plenty to write about when you live a life in the wild and thanks to cutting back, I have time.

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Growing Corn in a High Tunnel

Growing Corn in a High Tunnel

Growing Corn in a High Tunnel

Downsizing the garden has given me some wiggle room for experimenting. When you grow and do the same things year after year gardening gets monotonous. Without the need for thousands of plants and lots of variety now that I’m not market gardening I find new ways to get creative. Growing corn in a high tunnel was one of this year’s experiments.

The experiment was a success so we’ll be growing corn in a high tunnel next year. There aren’t many differences in methods between the tunnel and outdoors.

How to Grow Corn in a High Tunnel

Amend the soil as needed. If you haven’t done a soil test in a while now’s a good time. We add lime in the fall because it takes time to work. Corn is a heavy feeder so add plenty of nitrogen but not so much it burns the roots. I dug holes 12″ to 18″ deep and filled them with water twice to soak the soil. High tunnels aren’t open to rain.

Corn germinates best in soil 60° or warmer. If you want to add additional warmth and control weeds you can lay out IRT and cut holes. I didn’t because there isn’t a week problem on that side of the tunnel.

After the water drained I added fish guts to the bottom, and mixed compost into the soil, and then filled in the holes.

I used circles because I wasn’t planting a lot of corn. If you plant rows they should be at least four feet long and there should be a minimum of four rows for good pollination. Planting in small circles helped pollination. In a 12″ to 15″ circle I planted seven or eight seeds.

The soil stays warmer at night in the tunnel than it does outside so germination was fast, four or five days. Keep the soil moist by watering heavily once or twice a week. The number of times you’ll need to water depends on how much organic matter is in the soil to hold water, the temperature, size of plants and wind. Roots will grow deep to get to the rotted fish and you’ll notice a growth spurt.

growing corn in a high tunnel, early growth, high tunnel
corn, high tunnel, busy kitchen
growing corn in the high tunnel, corn, ear of cornI missed this ear so it was drying out before I picked it.

Fertilization

Continue to give the plants nitrogen through the growing season. When we kept fish we caught I dug a hole beside the roots, dumped the guts in, watered well and refilled the hole. There was never a fish smell to attract raccoons and skunks. Use whatever you normally use for a nitrogen fertilizer.

Pollination

Every silk on an ear of corn is attached to a potential kernel. The silk must be pollinated for the kernel to grow. The plants closest to the door were pollinated best because the wind blew the plants more than those in the back. The sides were rolled up all summer but that doesn’t provide enough air flow high to move the plants for successful pollination. There were a few ears that weren’t edible and a few that should have been better pollinated. Next year I’ll plant the corn in the front half of the tunnel and give the end plants a better shake to improve pollination.

The variety I chose averages six feet tall. Growing corn in a high tunnel gives extra warmth and allows for the easy addition of nitrogen. This corn averaged seven feet and topped out just over ten feet. The stalks are thick and heavy and supported the extra height well.

Corn Pests

There were no pests! It’s nice to peel back the shucks and not find corn earworms.

Clean Up

Clean up was easy. I used long-handled pruning shears to cut the stalks at ground level. Leaving them higher than ground level is potential to trip over the stubs. The roots will start to break down and feed the soil so continue to water if you’re not going to plant something in that spot for winter crops. Growing corn in a high tunnel was a great experiment that results in delicious sweet corn.

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October Garden List

October Garden List

October Garden List

Are you ready to wrap up the garden? I want the work to be finished but I want someone else to do it. That isn’t going to happen so I’m getting myself organized with a list and planning an extra pot or two of coffee. If you feel the sudden urge to bring me a latte while I’m raking – don’t resist! 😉 The October garden is still a bit of work but who doesn’t love to be outdoors on these gorgeous days!

Get the straw you’ll need to mulch carrots you plan to leave in the ground over the winter and the garlic you need to cover. You want it on hand when you’re ready.

october garden, terra cotta pots, clay pots, how to clean up the gardenRake rake rake. Don’t let the wind blow those valuable leaves away. Leaves are much needed browns in the compost pile as you pull out the last of the cold weather plants later this morning. Or, mulch. Or, mow mow mow. Mow the lawn to chop up the leaves and mix them with grass. Pile this up and let it compost.

Leaf Mold

Another option for fall leaves is to run them over with the lawn mower, and then stuff them into a 30 gallon trash bag while they’re still damp. Add a quarter cup of blood meal or other high-nitrogen amendment, and let the leaves break down into leaf mold. Leaf mold is a nice soil amendment.

Garden Shed

Clean out the garden shed. If something is broken and can’t be re-purposed, throw it out now. It won’t heal itself over the winter. Really, it won’t. No matter how much I want it to…

Clean and store the pots and tools you’ve emptied in the past month. If you’ve pulled diseased plants from the pots be sure to clean them well or replace them.

Seed Saving

Store the seeds you saved in clean dry, containers, and keep them in a cool, dark spot. Be sure to label them properly because if you’re like me, no, you won’t remember what each packet contains in the spring.

Dig Dig Dig

Dig the trenches or holes now for asparagus and other perennials you’ll plant in the spring.

Did you get your garlic planted?

Weeds

I include weeds in every month the ground isn’t frozen. If you’ve let weeds go to seed (guilty, I neglected a small garden) you can flame the soil’s surface and kill a lot of them. Make sure you clean up dry plant material so you don’t start a fire.

If you rototill, turn over the top two inches of soil to bring weed seeds to the top. A few warm sunny days will encourage germination, and then a good hard frost will kill the seedlings.

Blog Hops

maple-hill-hop-buttonI’m happy to be slowing down enough to participate in blog hops again. I’ve missed keeping up with everyone over the summer. Check out today’s hop at Maple Hill 101. If you blog you may share anything outdoors related in the hop. I’m sharing my October garden chore list.

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Homesteading Today – September 29, 2016

Homesteading Today – September 29, 2016

Homesteading Today – September 29

There are a million things to do in this house – scrub the toilet, lug ripped out wallboard from the bedroom to trash bins outside, vacuum and wash floors, back screws out of 2 x 4’s – and little of it will get done. I’ll deal with the screws and wallboard, the rest will wait. It’s too nice outside to be indoors. I thought I’d bring you with me through homesteading today.

The Poultry Shuffle

The perfect music for The Poultry Shuffle was already playing when I went out this morning. A young white throated sparrow that hasn’t migrated yet tested his not-quite-perfect ability to sing. They’re one of the first birds that make my head snap in their direction in the spring and it’s nice to hear them before they leave in the fall.

The meat birds, 25 Cornish Rock Cross, need more room than their 4′ x 8′ tractor allows them. I took the smaller mesh electro-fence from the turkeys, ducks and Silkie chickens and shuffled it over to the meat birds’ area. I won’t have to move them once or twice a day now. The 160 foot long roll of fencing gives them plenty of room to eat grass, weed seeds and insects for a few days. They haven’t yet discovered the freshly tilled soil in the garden but when they do the soil will fly as they learn how easy it is to dust bathe there rather than on grass.

Silkies and Runner ducks slip through the large mess of the second fence so I have to keep an eye on them. Ava and Zoey spend most of the day outside to help deter predators. There are three raccoons hanging around but not until it starts to get dark.

(Update since I started writing: A Cooper’s hawk killed one of the meat birds while Ava was herding a wayward duck back to the pen. Bastard.)
Cornish cross, meat chicken, hawk attack

Autumn Decorating

Not one bit of autumn decorating has been done this fall. I cut the cornstalks, bundled them, and tied them to posts on the porch. Frost is weeks late this year, we haven’t had one yet. The hydrangea are a gorgeous mauve. I hope it doesn’t fade as they dry. Homesteading today is a mix of death and beauty, typical for this lifestyle.

hydrangea, homesteading today

warty gourds, homesteading today

I cut the Warty gourds, Wee Be Little pumpkins and Butternut winter squash, and cleaned up the vines. The last of the tomatoes minus a Juliet plant that’s still doing well added up to a half bushel, and those vines were cleaned up. They’re dying on the garden, waiting to be rototilled into the soil. The bushel of gourds were grown in a 30″ circle in the high tunnel. Easy peasy and worth doing again next year. The winter squash didn’t fare as well but I’ll give it another try in a tunnel next year with a few changes.

The still unidentified hot peppers and Bell peppers haven’t been pulled yet. Maybe Friday, or maybe I’ll put a low tunnel over them for a while. I want more peppers but I’m over gardening for the year. I’m ready to settle in to write, missing writing terribly, and want to be done with just about everything.

Where the Wild Things Are

The beavers are still around out back. The water is low but they’re checking the muddy dam and patting it down on a regular basis. I’m learning to love the land we own. It’s a long process that I’ll talk about later.
beaver lodge, homesteading today
beaver tracks, homesteading todayDon’t forget the young bull moose that’s pics I shared yesterday.

It feels like we’ll have frost overnight so I cut the lemon balm, sage, two varieties of basil, and oregano, and put them in the dehydrator. There’s mint still to cut but it’s frost hardy, fortunate since the dehydrator is full. Sage, thyme, basil and oregano are still growing in the high tunnel, at least until we take the poly off and cold gets to them.

To Do Lists

My list for the day was unrealistically long even if I hadn’t been dealing with the hawk. I’ll work on it again tomorrow. Such is the life. Homesteading today carries into tomorrow, into the next day, and continues on because the to list changes but never ends. I wouldn’t trade it for the lifestyle we left behind in 1989.

September Gardening Tips & To Do’s

September Gardening Tips & To Do’s

September Gardening Tips & To Do’s

September gardening lists are long. There’s as much to do now as there was in at the height of spring planting and summer harvesting. The work you do in the garden this month helps insure a productive garden next year. While the list is long the temperature and humidity here have dropped making gardening a pleasure again rather than a chore. Catch up on everything you didn’t get done in the heat and enjoy getting ready for autumn.

I’ll start watching the weather forecast for frost warnings now but hope it’s late this year. I have pumpkins no where near being close to ripe.

September gardening

September Gardening List

  • No fertilizing until spring.
  • Clean up under fruit trees to prevent scab disease. I let my chickens go under the trees to eat the apples and scratch up the soil, and then rake up and dispose of what’s left.
  • Cut perennial herbs back one more time. They have time to regrow and perhaps flower again before they become dormant.
  • Lop off the top of the Brussels sprouts. This forces energy into the sprouts so that they mature before it’s too cold to grow. They’ll hold once the weather turns cold so leave them in the ground.
  • Give cabbage that are large but still growing a tug up and a quarter-turn. Clockwise or counter clockwise doesn’t matter unless you’re superstitious. This will stop the plant from growing but leave enough roots in good contact to keep the cabbage from starting to spoil. Later in the month, pull the entire plant and hang it upside down in a cool, low humidity space. I hang mine in the basement.
  • Keep up with weeds.
  • Soil test. Yes! Now. You’ll likely get your soil test results back quickly because most gardeners wait until spring to send their soil sample. By doing it now you’ll get a head start on amending the soil for next year’s garden.
  • Plant garlic and spring flowering bulbs like daffodil and crocus.
  • Transplant peonies and similar spring flowering plants.
  • Build compost piles with spent plants and the leaves that start to fall later this month. Our first leaves down will be from ash trees. They’re already yellowing. Piles can add up quickly this time of year. When they shrink down so much they don’t hold heat to continue composting you should combine the smaller piles into one.
  • Clean and put away tools you won’t use again until spring.
  • Seed and transplant those last crops you can’t bare to go without. Do it now before the days are too short to promote good growth and roots to hold them over the winter. Have you thought about low tunnels? Give it a try!
  • Check the frames of your raised beds. Are they sturdy enough to stand up to freezing and thawing? Make necessary repairs.
  • Plant your trees so they have time to establish roots. Water them well and continue to water weekly if it doesn’t rain, until the ground freezes.
  • Apply mouse tape to the trunks of young trees and woody perennials.
  • Plant a cover crop in space you’re no longer using. It will improve the soil and help prevent erosion. Clover and vetch, winter wheat, barley and rye are used.
  • Have your frost protection ready. Sheets, tarps and floating row covers. After a frost you’ll leave the cover on until the frost melts.
  • Seed your autumn perennial seeds. If the flowers are going to seed now, it’s time to plant your seeds for those plants. Look at neighbors’ gardens or call the cooperative extension to talk to a Master Gardener if you’re not sure what you can seed this month.
  • Dig up perennial herbs to bring indoors for the winter. Be sure to leave enough in the garden for spring.
  • Last but best of all, enjoy a cup of hot coffee, tea or chocolate as you stroll through the garden, orchard or around the yard on a crisp, sunny morning. Enjoy!

September gardening is a joy. It’s my favorite time of year. Sunflowers, corn stalks, hay bales, pumpkins turning orange…it doesn’t get much better.

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Busy Kitchen Times – Putting Food Up

Busy Kitchen Times – Putting Food Up

Busy Kitchen Times – Putting Food Up

This is the start of the busiest time of year on the homestead and the busy kitchen looks like someone had a food fight off and on throughout the day. The garden is in all its glory and producing more food than I can keep up with. Steve goes out the door in the morning with bags of cucumbers, zucchini and tomatoes to share. Friends go home with garlic, carrots and leeks. I’ve picked five gallons of blackberries so far this year, and bought seven quarts of blueberries at a roadside stand this week. All but a few blueberries are jammed, bourbon sauced or frozen. I’ll share a couple of fruit sauce recipes next weekend that are great with meat and even dessert.
busy kitchen, stewed tomatoesSome of the peppers to be used in Hot Pepper Jelly.

I stewed tomatoes and used onions, peppers, garlic and herbs grown here. Add a little lemon juice, celery and some sea salt, and there it is. I’ll do one more batch of these tomatoes before the season is over. This time I used Juliet, Pruden’s Purple, Opalka, Bobcat, Super Bush from Renee’s Garden, and two volunteer varieties. One volunteer is small and round, a little too juice for this purpose but what the heck. The second volunteer is a plum/paste tomato that always has green shoulders but tastes good. One of my favorite times in a busy kitchen is the few minutes between the first and last lids popping on cooling canning jars.

Drying Herbs

The dehydrators run nearly 24/7 this time of year. I’ve been keeping the trays filled with oregano, basil, sage, lavender and mint. There will be rosemary and catnip soon. I enjoy stripping the dried leaves from the stems, dropping them into Mason jars as I go, tamping them down to make room for more, and filling the kitchen with the aroma of herbs. I think this winter I’ll start making my own herb and spice blends.
dried herbs, busy kitchen
Tammy and I set out to pick blackberries on Thursday but got sidetracked. We picked a few mushrooms on the way to the blackberry patch, and then a few more, and then “I see one” turned into “…three…twelve…bring the bucket…”

We weren’t prepared for mushroom picking but we made the best of it and split two and a half bushels of wild Procini and other boletes, Chanterelles, Coral and Lobster mushrooms. I’ve been picking mushrooms all my life and never seen so many mushrooms in one small area.

Not a blackberry was picked. We’ll go back next week for blackberries with knives and baskets in the truck this time, just in case.
wild mushrooms, Porcini, bolete, coral mushroom, goatsbeard mushroom, busy kitchenThe dehydrators are full of mushrooms now, and more were sauteed and frozen. I’ll make Cream of Wild Mushroom Soup on the next rainy or chilly day, and maybe a loaf of sourdough bread.

Corn in the High Tunnel

I’m experimenting with corn in the high tunnel this year. So far so good. The tassels are more than ten feet high and the ears are filling out. I hand pollinated each ear but I’m not sure how well I did. Wind blows into the tunnel and I gave the stalks a shake each day to add to the pollination. The ears don’t look full. I hope it at least tastes good even if the ears aren’t full. The corn won’t spend much time in my busy kitchen. I’ll put a few inches of water in a kettle and set it on to boil before I go out to pick the corn. Once shucked, the corn will go into the boiling water, the heat turned off, and the timer set for three minutes. Soft warm butter, a little sea salt and it’s ready. I’ll grill some, too.
corn, high tunnel, busy kitchen

On the bear front, it’s been an up and down week. The big bear didn’t come one night but the other bait was busy with four bears one night. Last night only one bear went to 2 and the big bear to 1 but only for a few minutes. I’ve been encouraged and hopeful but I don’t get too excited and I never, ever assume this is going to be easy. I’ll be in the stand on Monday morning, ready for opening day.