Getting Organized

It is safe to say I will never win any contests for neatness. When I was working for a living, my messy desk was almost legendary, and I once had the fire inspector shaking his head at all the computer paper in my office. But despite the mess, I always knew where to find everything important. Which goes to show that being messy is not the same as being disorganized. And conversely, being neat isn’t the same as being organized, either.

According to the Merriam Webster online dictionary, to organize means “to arrange or order things so that they can be found or used easily and quickly.” One of my goals this year was to organize our garden tools in a better way. We have a garden shed, but it is sitting far away from the house, which makes it rather inconvenient to go there for gardening tools. Happy Acres also came with an outbuilding closer to the house that previous owners built to store their boat. We now use that as a storage area for the lawn mower, tiller, and shop equipment. That’s where we decided to put our most-used garden tools.

garden tools on shop wall

garden tools on shop wall

With help from our friend and neighbor Ken (who is both organized and neat), I found some hooks in various shapes and sizes that I could mount in the drywall or studs in the shop. This lets us store things like our favorite shovels, digging fork, garden rake, pruning shears and assorted hoes in an easy to access location just inside the shop door. I was also able to mount the battery powered weed-eater and blower, plus the battery charger for them. This will be so convenient, and already I am loving the new arrangement.

storage for winter squash

storage for winter squash

While organizing in the shop, we freed up a shelf unit. After cleaning it up, we brought it inside and down to the basement. The shelves will do a good job of holding the winter squashes. It looks like we will be well-supplied with squash for the coming months!

new potting bench in greenhouse

new potting bench in greenhouse

This summer I also did some organizing in the greenhouse. Summer is a good time to get in there since the greenhouse has less going on then. I replaced both the table and potting bench with new ones. The old ones were brought over from my old place, and were close to 20 years old and in not in very good shape. The new ones are made of Western Red Cedar, and came from Charley’s Greenhouse & Garden. They are well made, and will likely outlast the greenhouse itself.

shallow Tubtrug holds small hand tools

shallow Tubtrug holds small hand tools

While I was replacing the bench and table, I took the opportunity to do some organizing too. I spend a good amount of time out there, so it really pays to have things organized. I used a Tubtrug to hold my small hand tools like scissors and shears. Another Tubtrug holds soil amendments and other often used things like Sluggo and deer repellent.

Microtub holds smaller items in greenhouse

Microtub holds smaller items in greenhouse

I love the Tubtrugs for lots of different gardening chores. They are great for carrying compost to the garden, and harvests back to the house. I even found some tiny ones (Microtubs) just big enough to hold my widger, marking pen and plant labels.

I hope you have enjoyed this update. The weather here is slowly returning to more normal temperatures, and the snow is melting away. I will be playing catchup with gardening chores in the next few days.

 

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Novembrrr Snow Daze

A local meteorologist has a contest every year to guess the date of the first one inch (or greater snowfall. I wonder if anyone chose November 17th this year? We not only got that inch, but several more to go with it. After measuring in several spots, I called it 5.1 inches for my CoCoRaHS entry. It’s not the earliest we have ever had snow in my area, but it’s the earliest we’ve had it in a long time. I used my antique Red Spot Paint & Varnish yardstick to make the measurement.

measuring the snow

measuring the snow

With the snow comes more Arctic air. The temperatures last night got down to 14°F here at our place. Hopefully the snow will protect what’s left in the garden, which is actually quite a bit. We still have kale, spinach, arugula, lettuce, carrots and turnips growing outside. Some are protected by a cold frame, but the rest are now covered in a blanket of snow. And I’ve got several flats of spinach seedlings in the greenhouse, waiting to go in one of the cold frame beds once it thaws out. The gardening season isn’t over here by a long shot, despite the weather.

November snowfall

November snowfall

It was a wet snow to begin with, and clung to the trees. It is pretty to look at, but so cold outside. Today’s high is forecast to only get up to 25°F. Which is why I calling this month Novembrrr!

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Monday Recap: The Deep Freeze

This year winter has arrived here early for sure. We are having January weather in November, which has me wondering what January weather will be like! Last week I made a sweep of the garden to bring in a few more things that I didn’t want to freeze. I cut what will likely be the last of the broccoli side shoots, and pulled the last few kohlrabi. It’s been a good year for both of them, and I have enjoyed them thoroughly.

broccoli and kohlrabi

broccoli and kohlrabi

Even though lettuce can survive quite cold temperatures, that doesn’t mean it improves it any, like it does kale for instance. I had quite a bit of Simpson Elite lettuce sizing up nicely in one of the cold frame beds. I decided to bring it in so we could enjoy it while still in prime condition, even if it was not quite full sized. There was almost a pound of it, and we enjoyed it all in several wilted lettuce salads.

harvest of Simpson Elite lettuce

harvest of Simpson Elite lettuce

The Spotted Trout lettuce wasn’t nearly full sized either but it came in too. I still have Red Sails lettuce in the cold frame, and we will see how it looks after the current Deep Freeze is over. I pulled the last of the Kolibri kohlrabi from the cold frame bed while I was at it. At least we have a nice supply of lettuce for a bit.

Spotted Trout lettuce and Kolibri kohlrabi

Spotted Trout lettuce and Kolibri kohlrabi

I pulled enough carrots to last us for a couple of weeks before the ground froze. I left the rest of them, gambling that the ground will not stay frozen here for long. Normally, the ground doesn’t freeze here until December or even later, but then the weather here has been unusual lately to say the least. That’s the orange Nelson and Purple Haze in the below photo.

carrots Nelson and Purple Haze

carrots Nelson and Purple Haze

I went through the radishes to find anything edible to bring inside before the freeze. I planted Round Black Spanish for the first time this year, and they did not do very well. I sowed the seed in August, and several of them bolted instead of making radishes. I’m not sure what is up with that. I did manage to get one though, which you can see in the below photo. I also cut the last cuke that was braving the cold out in the greenhouse. When I brought it in, my wife said “it looked a lot bigger in the photo last week.” Which is true, but it is still a cucumber in November and around here that is a rarity. The cuke and the radish each weighed exactly 3.2 ounces. Maybe they can join one of the carrots and star in a crudite platter!

greenhouse cuke with Round Black Spanish radish

greenhouse cuke with Round Black Spanish radish

I also pulled another big daikon radish. I’m still unsure of the variety, though it could be the Soil Buster Daikon I planted last year as a cover crop. Whatever the variety, they have made some lovely, large and tasty radishes. The one in the below photo weighed exactly two pounds after trimming off the top. I think it would be a good candidate for lacto-fermentation, perhaps with a few cloves of garlic added to the brine.

daikon radish

daikon radish

I finished shelling all the dried pole beans last week. And I was right about them not doing as well this year. The three varieties (Trail of Tears, Good Mother Stallard and Rattlesnake) weighed a total of 31 ounces, which is less than the 44 ounces the same ones made last year. They had about the same amount of growing space both years too. The Trail of Tears was least productive, making only 7.5 ounces of dried beans. I think I am going to try a different black bean next year, and there are a couple of bush varieties I am considering. I’ve grown Black Turtle in the past, and it did reasonably well, but I am also considering Black Coco and Black Valentine. If anyone has any experience with any of these three I’d appreciate hearing about it.

dried beans from 2014

dried beans from 2014

I cooked up some of the dried Hutterite Soup Beans on Saturday and made a batch of bean soup. That’s me holding them in the below photo, before soaking. These beans were great for soup, with a mild flavor, thin skins and a creamy texture. They also held their shape quite well, after a slow cooking. I’d like to grow these again, if I can work them in the garden plan.

Hutterite Soup Bean

Hutterite Soup Bean

For me, a bowl of bean soup is just begging for cornbread to go along with it. I like to bake it in a square cast iron skillet so it gets nice and crusty on the bottom. I used a recipe from King Arthur’s Whole Grain Baking cookbook. I made it with fresh ground corn meal (from yellow popcorn), and a mix of whole wheat and unbleached flours. I also used non-fat kefir instead of buttermilk. I guess I have changed the recipe enough I ought to be able to share it here sometime, since I can’t find the recipe on the KA recipe page.

cornbread

cornbread

I also took the opportunity last week to dry some apples. We’ve been enjoying the apples we got from a local orchard. The Fuji, Mutsu and Granny Smith have been especially flavorful this year. The Fuji was sweet to start with, and after drying it got even sweeter. After drying I sealed them up using the FoodSaver. The dried apples are nice to add to hot and cold cereals, or to just snack on.

dried Granny Smith apples

dried Granny Smith apples

And speaking of drying, here’s a look at some of the hot peppers I smoked and dried a while back. In the below photo, clockwise from the left we have green Anaheim, ripe Aji Angelo and ripe jalapeno. I’ll do a separate post on them later, including the sweet ones.

smoked hot peppers (Anaheim, Aji Angelo and jalapeno)

smoked hot peppers (Anaheim, Aji Angelo and jalapeno)

One outside chore I managed to do yesterday was to mulch the garlic bed with straw. I’m not worried about the garlic surviving the cold weather, since it’s quite hardy, but I am concerned about the freezing and thawing of the soil heaving the bulbs up before they have a chance to get established. I just planted the garlic about two weeks ago, and I doubt it is very well rooted yet. Of course the straw will also keep the weeds down. I only spread it about 2-3 inches deep, and I can add more next spring if it needs it. Last night the snow started falling, and with a forecast of three to five inches total, I think I got it mulched just in time!

garlic mulched with straw

garlic mulched with straw

That’s a look at what’s going on here. To see what others are harvesting and cooking from the garden, visit Daphne’s Dandelions where Daphne hosts Harvest Mondays.

 

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Nesting and Shelling

The dreaded Polar Vortex has arrived here in our part of the world, bringing frigid temperatures usually not seen until the depths of winter. I know we don’t have it as bad here as do folks to our north, but still it is way colder than normal for early November. Today’s high is forecast for 33°F, with lows tonight dipping down around 20°F. The wind is also blowing at a nice clip, making the windchill even colder. My response to that is to stay indoors!

shelling Rattlesnake pole beans

shelling Rattlesnake pole beans

I am hoping to finish shelling the dried pole beans today. I grew three varieties this year, Trail of Tears, Good Mother Stallard and Rattlesnake. All three produce beans throughout the growing season, which means the harvests and shelling go on for a while too. Most of the beans I am shelling today came from cleaning the last pods from the vines before we had our first killing frost.

Good Mother Stallard beans

Good Mother Stallard beans

These pole beans seem to not have done quite as well as they did last year, but they still made a lot of beans for us to eat. I’ll weigh them up when I am through shelling. Last year I got 44 ounces of dried pole beans from the same three varieties. Of course that isn’t necessarily the most productive use of garden space, but the beans are nice to have and I know I will enjoy eating them. If you do have plenty of garden space though, the legumes are a great source for homegrown vegetable protein.

This weekend is the time for our annual pilgrimage to the Ferdinand, Indiana Cristkindlmarkt where, among other things, they sell Springerle cookies. I am thinking we will be bundled up more so than usual this year! So how about you all, is the Polar Vortex changing your plans?

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Monday Recap: A Seasonal Shift

Our recent hard freeze has certainly changed the harvests coming in from the garden. The summer veggies are all gone, and replacing them are things that can take a bit of cold. Like daikon radishes, for instance. I brought a few in last week for salads and perhaps a stir fry. They also keep well in the refrigerator crisper drawer. I’ve really come to appreciate these giants of the radish family.

daikon radishes

daikon radishes

Carrots also came in from the cold last week. The variety in the below photo is Cordoba, which gets about 6-7″ long and does well in heavier soils. The tops of these were dinner for the local deer one night. At least they left the bottoms for us! Some went into a side dish along with potatoes and cabbage, and the rest went into soup.

Cordoba carrots

Cordoba carrots

My wife and I have been fighting a cold bug for a few days now. With that in mind, and with the colder weather, soup has been on the menu several times lately. Last week I made two soups, one a mushroom soup and the other vegetable soup. The mushroom and barley soup used mostly store-bought things like fresh and dried mushrooms, but did use some fresh chives and sage I got from the herb garden plus a little sliced garlic. The recipe called for sour cream but I thought the soup had plenty of flavor without it so I left it out.

Mushroom Barley Soup

Mushroom Barley Soup

The vegetable soup had lots of goodies from our garden though, including some of my frozen soup mix (containing cabbage, zucchini and green beans) plus frozen tomatoes and potatoes from storage. I also used a couple of the Cordoba carrots, plus some Jacob’s Cattle beans I had cooked up from last year’s harvest. I can see more soup in my future this week as the Polar Vortex comes to visit us.

vegetable soup with Jacob's Cattle beans

vegetable soup with Jacob’s Cattle beans

And for me, vegetable soup calls for some good crusty homemade bread. I wasn’t too sick to whip up a batch of my 1-2-3 Sourdough Bread. I’m still getting the hang of this recipe though. Last time I baked a loaf I had a minor blowout because I didn’t slash the dough deeply enough before baking. So, this time I thought I had done a better job, but the bread still had a major blowout in the middle! I need to remind myself, once again, this bread gets a tremendous oven spring, and needs to be deeply scored before baking. It was totally edible however, and made a great accompaniment to the vegetable soup.

1-2-3 Sourdough Bread

1-2-3 Sourdough Bread

Before my head stopped up, and while I still had my full sense of taste and smell, I baked up one of the Thai Rai Kaw Tok winter squash. I cut some of it into wedges, then tossed it with a little olive oil and salt and roasted until tender. The rest I left in bigger chunks and baked without seasoning. This squash had a rich, full, and somewhat spicy flavor, with a nicely dense flesh. It cooked up to a deep orange color too. The skin was also tender enough to eat, much like a Delicata skin. This one is definitely a keeper.

cooked slices of Rai Kaw Tok squash

cooked slices of Rai Kaw Tok squash

I pureed the bigger pieces, and used some of the puree to whip up a batch of Maple Pumpkin Custard. The rich flavor and orange color really came through in the custard. I can see some of this winding up in a pumpkin pie before long. A curried squash soup also sounds good to me.

Maple Pumpkin Custard made with Thai squash

Maple Pumpkin Custard made with Thai squash

About three weeks ago I started some seeds for spinach, lettuce and an Asian green called mizspoona. I got them transplanted last week, and I’ll let them grow a bit before setting out. Some of them are destined for a cold frame bed, and the rest will go in the greenhouse beds. You can already see some red in the leaves of the Red Sails lettuce in the below photo.

Red Sails lettuce seedling

Red Sails lettuce seedling

I also need to sow a little bit of arugula, mizuna and komatsuna for late winter/early spring greens. They won’t do much growing in the cold winter greenhouse or cold frame now, but they will take off in February when the days start getting longer again and give us some early greens while we wait for spring to officially arrive. And speaking of the greenhouse, I still have one cucumber hanging on. I didn’t have much hopes of it making an edible cuke, but it is surprising me. I know I could eat one more homegrown cucumber regardless of the size, so I will let it go a bit longer. I don’t need the space yet anyway, at least not until the winter seedlings are a bit bigger.

young Tasty Jade cucumber in greenhouse

young Tasty Jade cucumber in greenhouse

That’s a look at what’s going on around here in early November. To see what others are harvesting and cooking from the garden, visit Daphne’s Dandelions where Daphne hosts Harvest Mondays. And as always, thanks to Daphne for hosting this event every Monday!

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2014 Garlic Planting

Monday was a warm and sunny day here, and I took advantage of the great weather to get the 2014 garlic planted. The forecast was calling for rain Tuesday, so it was a good time to get it in the ground while I could work the soil. Last year I got it planted on 10/29, so I am not running that far behind this year. And according to a recent article in our local newspaper, garlic grower Wendy Wilson in Mt Vernon, IN says they plant their crop from the third week in October through the second week in November. That means local folks still have time to get theirs planted, though the rain yesterday will complicate that for sure.

planting bed for garlic

planting bed for garlic

This year I’m growing garlic in the bed where sweet potatoes grew earlier, a rotation I used last year which seemed to work out fine.  It’s right next to where the tomatoes grew, and they still need to be cleaned up. Getting the garlic planted was definitely a higher priority for me right now though. I prepped the bed by spreading a good amount of compost first, then adding organic fertilizer (a mix of Espoma Garden-Tone and Tomato-Tone) at a rate of 3 lbs/50 square feet. I will add additional fertilizer to the bed early next spring. I mixed the fertilizer and compost into the soil using my Mantis tiller, then raked it out smooth. I ran a length of twine down the bed to help me keep the bed running straight.

garlic cloves ready for planting

garlic cloves ready for planting

The next chore was to get the planting stock ready. To keep them from drying out, I never ‘crack’ the heads open until right before planting. Since I plant quite a few different varieties, I put the cloves in a bowl with a plastic marker so I can keep them all straight. And I have a map in computer form (a simple Word document) with the planting order listed, since the labels have a tendency to heave up out of the ground over the winter. Let me just say that Dave always tries to have a backup plan! I also like to document what I plant each year for later reference.

garlic planting jig

garlic planting jig

After a few years of experimenting, and after reading The Complete Book of Garlic by Ted Jordan Meredith, I have settled on planting my garlic in a six inch by eight inch grid pattern. This gives each plant 48 square inches of growing space. In researching the book, the author interviewed quite a few garlic farmers to get their ideas on planting density. He found there is no norm at all, and wound up planting his own garlic in a wide row bed that gives them 60 square inches/plant. It is safe to say that he found that closer planting may result in greater overall yields, but at the expense of the size of the individual bulbs. So every gardener has to do their own testing to see what works best for their needs.

soil marked with holes for planting garlic

soil marked with holes for planting garlic

Last year I made a garlic planting jig to speed up the planting process. It has dowels glued into a piece of plywood in the six inch by eight inch pattern. I press it down into the soft soil, and use the holes it leaves behind as a guide to planting the garlic.

trowel for planting garlic

trowel for planting garlic

I plant the individual cloves pointed side up about two to three inches deep. That is deep enough for our typical winters, but those in colder climates may need to plant theirs a little deeper. I use a narrow bladed trowel (one of my trusty Wilcox collection) to dig the planting hole, then I push in the garlic cloves and cover with soil. The process goes pretty quickly using the jig as a planting aid, much quicker than when I had to mark out the spacing by hand. I planted 204 cloves of garlic in a little over an hour. I’ll come back in a month or so and mulch the bed with some straw.

For more information on growing garlic, check out these related posts:

  1. Growing Green Garlic
  2. How To Have Fresh Garlic All Year Long
  3. 2013 Garlic Planting
  4. Homemade Garlic Planting Jig
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Monday Recap: Frozen and Smoked

Last week brought our first real frost of the fall season, and also a hard freeze. With temperatures expected to fall to near 25°F Sunday morning, that meant it was time for a sweep of the garden to harvest anything that couldn’t handle those temps.

KY Cross cabbage

KY Cross cabbage

I had several heads of cabbage that were pretty much ready to harvest. Cabbage can take some frost, but I didn’t want to lose the heads to a deep freeze so I cut them all on Friday. I wound up with about eight pounds of it all told. That was perfect for making more sauerkraut, plus having a bit for other things too. I love the flathead KY Cross for flavor, and I also had a few small heads of Parel and Farao.

Kossak kohlrabi

Kossak kohlrabi

Right next to the cabbages I had some Kossak kohlrabi that was also ready to harvest. I think kohlrabi does better here in spring, but I still grow it in fall anyway. The Kossak produced six pounds from as many plants, which is certainly enough to make growing it worthwhile in fall. I had plans to make kraut with some of it too. There was a lot of slug damage to the skin, but since I always cut the peel off it really doesn’t hurt anything.

Imperial broccoli

Imperial broccoli

While I was in the Brassica bed I cut several of the last main heads of broccoli. When I started plants for fall I cleaned out some old seed so I could trial several varieties. I wound up with a nice succession of harvests, and I also found out how they all perform in fall. That’s Imperial in the above photo. The largest of the heads weighed right at one pound.

Arcadia broccoli plus some side shoots

Arcadia broccoli plus some side shoots

And I finally cut one head from the two Arcadia plants, which weighed right at eight ounces. The other plant is just now thinking about starting a head. That’s the Arcadia in the above photo, plus some side shoots I cut from other plants. Needless to say, broccoli will be on the menu a lot for a few days, since we have plenty frozen already from the spring planting. Fortunately my wife and I both love it, and for the most part I never get tired of eating it. Of all the varieties I grew this fall, Packman was the first to produce, followed by Diplomat and Green Magic, then Imperial and Arcadia.

Tsugaru Scarlet turnips

Tsugaru Scarlet turnips

Since I was planning to make sauerkraut, I decided to pull a few of the biggest Tsugaru Scarlet turnips. These have a red skin and sweet white flesh. They will make a pretty turnip kraut, and I may make pickle some as well.

grating kohlrabi for kraut

grating kohlrabi for kraut

With all that produce coming in on the same day, the refrigerator was going to be stuffed, so I went ahead and made sauerkraut. I cut the cabbage into fine shreds with a knife, and used a medium grater for the kohlrabi and turnips. You can read about how I make this in-the-jar sauerkraut with: Homemade Sauerkraut. It should be ready to eat in about a week, though we still have a bit left from what I made back in July.

harvest of Thai Rai Kaw Tok squash

harvest of Thai Rai Kaw Tok squash

I also decided to bring in all of the winter squash left on the vines. The Thai squash Rai Kaw Tok had set quite a few fruit late in the season. I brought in five of them that seemed mature, with a hard rind. The five in the above photo weighed a total of 49 pounds.

a big Thai Rai Kaw Tok squash

a big Thai Rai Kaw Tok squash

The largest one maxed out our digital scale, so I had to use the old fashioned one instead. I called it 13 lbs, 11 oz, which makes it the largest squash I harvested in 2014. I had to pry this one out of the fencing where it had decided to grow.

Pennsylvania Dutch Crookneck Squash

Pennsylvania Dutch Crookneck Squash

Not to be outdone, the Pennsylvania Dutch Crookneck Squash put on three late fruits itself. Two of them have turned tan, and I am sure they will be usable. The other one has a hard but still somewhat greenish rind. I am not sure if it will be edible or not, but I think we will have plenty of winter squash to eat regardless. The three squash weighed right at 12 pounds, making it a total of 61 pounds of winter squash for the day.

late harvest bell peppers

late harvest bell peppers

A day earlier I cleaned the pepper plants of all of the sweet peppers and all of the hot peppers I wanted to use. The two cayenne plants are so prolific I can’t use them all. Next year I need to plant just one cayenne. I won’t bore you with photos of all the peppers, but the above shot shows some of the bell peppers. I chopped and froze most of the green ones for later use.

Sweet Happy Yummy and Dulce Rojo peppers

Sweet Happy Yummy and Dulce Rojo peppers

I harvested quite a few peppers that I wanted to smoke. In the above photo is the orange Sweet Happy Yummy and the red Dulce Rojo. I know both of these dry well, so I thought I would try smoking them first. I also targeted some of the jalapenos and other hot peppers for smoking. I decided to try smoking the peppers a couple of different ways.

smoking peppers on the grill

smoking peppers on the grill

I used my gas grill for one batch and my Weber charcoal grill for the other. I used dry apple wood chips wrapped in heavy duty foil as a source for the smoke. Using the gas grill proved to be difficult, as it was hard to keep the chips smoking without overheating the grill. The charcoal grill was much easier, and once the chips were smoking I damped down the fire and let it slowly smoke for about two hours. Michelle (From Seed To Table) did such a great job describing the process with her post on Smoking Peppers that I won’t go into any more detail here. Now the peppers are in the dehydrator, where they will stay until they are thoroughly dried. I will be sure and share the results once they are done.

jars of cabbage, kohlrabi and turnip kraut

jars of cabbage, kohlrabi and turnip kraut

Today I hope to get the garlic crop planted, but first I have to finish prepping the bed by adding compost and a few other amendments. Later this week I am hoping my wife and I can have a soap-making session. I am anxious to try a new neem oil soap recipe I’ve come up with, plus a soap using calendula infused oils. I hope you have enjoyed this look at what’s going on here in a frosty November. To see what others are harvesting and cooking from the garden, visit Daphne’s Dandelions where Daphne hosts Harvest Mondays.

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