Category Archives: harvesting

The End of Summer

by Peter Heffelfinger

posted September 21, 2020

The End of Summer

After the many days of forest fire smoke, with a lack of wind due to the inversion effect of the heavy haze, it was a relief this past weekend to finally see the sun and feel a small breeze. The extreme fire danger is still present, so one hopes we can get through the fall without any local blazes.

While the weather was on hold, the garden duties kept perking along. The last of the tomatoes needed to be processed or given away, the final cucumbers had to be pickled or made into appetizers, and the cabbage heads, both green and red, made their way into the sauerkraut jars. In June a third of my seed potatoes failed to sprout due to the wet weather, but, to my great relief, the rest of the seed ultimately produced a healthy harvest of Yukon Golds, La Soda Reds, and California Whites. To quickly cover the failed potato ground I planted a few hills of winter squash and pumpkins. By September that bare corner of the garden was filled with the bright oranges of Cinderella’s Coach squash and Sugar Pie pumpkins.

At the other end of the garden, a planting of standard pumpkins is offering similar pre-Halloween bounty, along with a great number of Vegetable Spaghetti squash. As the vines die back, all the members of the extended gourd family need to be moved to a dry, airy space to properly cure prior to storage indoors. It’s going to be a cucurbit winter.

Fall Greens

The early September plantings of Oriental greens, Miner’s lettuce, mustards, turnips and kohlrabi all came through the smoky stasis. As often happens, I seeded the bed a bit too thickly, so the first duty was to carefully thin the seedlings to give them proper spacing. For fall and winter vegetables it is important to leave extra room between the plants; they need to spread out a bit wider to gather the decreased light from the low-angled winter sun. At 45 degrees latitude north, our corner of the Pacific Northwest is halfway to the North Pole, and in winter is far removed from the more sunny south.

I also made a second planting of fall greens two weeks later, just in case there was any problem due to the continually grey days. If we get an extended stretch of warm autumn weather, both patches should do well. If cold weather threatens later on, I can set up small hoop houses of floating row cover to keep off the frost. I prefer row cover to plastic for winter protection, since it provides just enough added heat to protect hardy greens, allows the rain to water the beds, and also softens the harsh winds. Given our recent trend toward warmer but wetter winters, I’m betting that we won’t see any really hard freezes. But just in case, it pays to keep a supply of Agribon or Reemay row cover handy.

Fall Cover Crop

The fall equinox is also a good time to plant a fall cover crop. I prefer annual rye since it’s simple to plant. I find that most cover crop mixes include seeds of widely varying size, from large Alaskan peas to tiny crimson clover, with annual rye in the middle. It’s difficult to plant each seed at its proper depth, often resulting in spotty germination. I cover freshly seeded rye, lightly raked in, with floating row cover for a few weeks, as protection against hungry birds. If you wait to plant rye later in the fall, when the soil is much cooler, the row cover also provides just enough warmth to sprout the seed.

Row cover material is actually plain white interfacing, commonly used in lining down jackets and other clothes. Who knew it could also be used to protect gardens against the cold? A tool of the garment industry has crossed over into horticulture.

Harvest Season

by Peter Heffelfinger

posted September 14, 2020

 

Harvest Season

During the high levels of smoke locally from all the forest fires on both sides of the state, I’ve been spending my extended time indoors processing the garden harvest.

To date I’ve made three kinds of sauerkraut: first, a plain or ‘Naked Kraut,’ as the fermenting book labels it, just green cabbage and sea salt; second, a Middle Eastern style kraut made with Za’atar, an spice blend that includes sumac, a tart lemon-flavored herb; and third, Curtido, a Latin American style kraut with carrots, onions, garlic, oregano, cumin, and dried chiles. So far, while fermenting in the cool pantry, the krauts have withstood the recent high temperatures that might spoil them. The key is to check the large gallon jars everyday, tamping down the cabbage back into the brine, to vent all the bubbling.

And of course tasting a bit each time to see how close it is to being done.

Next up to try will be a German Blaukraut made with red cabbage, tart apples and caraway seeds. After each kraut is sufficiently fermented, between 7 to 14 days, it is ladled into quart jars, topped with fresh grape leaves, the lid is tightened, and the jar can be stored in a fridge for up to a year. When the garden gives you lots of cabbage, make sauerkraut.

The last of the pickling and Persian cucumbers have been put in salt brine to ferment for 12 days, along with garlic cloves, dried cayenne chilies, bay leaves, and both mustard and dill seeds. A grape leaf goes on top to keep the cukes submerged in the brine. Hopefully a New York style deli sour pickle will develop. Again, daily monitoring is needed to clean off any scum on top and to add fresh brine as needed. After fermenting is done, the pickles can be stored in the fridge for a year, all the while maintaining their probiotic levels since they were not heat processed. Old style fermentation is now back in style as the latest in diet health.

Finally, the tomatoes all got very ripe due to the hot winds that initially brought in the forest fire smoke. To deal with the full flats of tomatoes, I used a high speed food processor to pulp the cored tomatoes and I froze the pulp in quart containers. I combined all the tomato types into one all-purpose puréed sauce: the Early Girls and the Big Beefs, the Romas and San Marzanos, and the soft heirlooms such as Mortgage Lifter and Old German Mennonite. The regular table tomatoes supply lots of juice, the Italian varieties add thick flesh, and the heirlooms provide sweetener and flavor. Very similar to mixing varieties of apples to make a good, balanced fresh cider.

 

Return of the Aphids

After the rainfall in late August the aphids returned to their favorite site, the brassicas. White, translucent aphids reappeared hidden inside the top buds of the Brussels Sprouts, so this time I broke off the bud tip and doused the area with a mild detergent soap spray. I also removed some bottom sprouts lower down that had turned black or were beginning to open up into small off-shoots, and gave the entire lower stem area a squirt of soap to deter any other aphid colonies. In contrast, black aphids appeared on the fall cabbages, collards and broccoli starts that were just taking off. Again, a dose of soap spray will hopefully keep these aphids in check. There’s always an insect waiting to dine on the garden before you get to eat.

 

Smoke in the Air

I was interested in the effect of the extended days of smoky air on the garden plants. The newly sprouted fall greens, turnips, and miner’s lettuce seemed unaffected but still needed their daily watering to keep from drying out. In the hoop house, with an outside temperature staying around 60F degrees most of the day, the ambient solar radiation still managed to raise the interior temperature to 79F degrees with the sides closed. The heat will help ripen the last of the peppers: the Italian Red Roasters, the Early Jalapeños, the Padrones and Anchos, as well as the small but potent Cherry Bombs. Not to forget the North Stars, the regular green peppers that if given the chance will eventually turn red on the stem.

The Summer Pivot

By Peter Heffelfinger

Posted August 3, 2020

The end of July is the mid-point in the growing season: most of the early spring crops such as peas and lettuce are succumbing to the heat; the broccoli and cauliflower are just about done for now, along with the artichokes. The main summer produce, such as beans, cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes are about to come into full production. All the gardening energy that previously went into raising and cultivating plants switches at this point to immediate plans for harvesting, consuming and preserving.

In August, when I’m working in the garden, the first thought each day is which vegetables need to be picked right now. Then, how am I going to prepare them once they’re in the kitchen, and finally how can I put up the inevitable surplus into storage jars or freezer packets. My first step is always dealing with the most fragile thing I just picked, usually the constantly flowering tips of the basil plants. Since the delicate leaves turn black very quickly, they go right into the blender along with garlic, olive oil and a little lemon juice, to make a base for either pesto (with Parmesan) or a pistou (without Parmesan) sauce. Both versions can be easily frozen in pint jars for a year-round supply of fresh basil. At this time of the year I keep a fresh jar in the fridge, mostly of a quick pistou, and put it on everything from toast to roasted eggplant.

My standard way of preparing crunchy vegetables such as snap peas, broccoli, cauliflower or green beans is to blanch and then immediately chill them in very cold water. They’re ready to serve cold along with a preferred dip, or just plain, since they have that touch of sweetness that comes with fresh picked produce. I think of them as vegetable antipasti, to be accompanied by a few olives and some cheese.

The snap peas are blanched for only a minute or two, the broccoli flowerets and green beans a bit longer. Wait for the green vegetables to turn a brighter, slightly iridescent green and then quickly remove to the cold water bath to stop the cooking process. A few ice cubes always helps, especially for the snap peas. Cauliflower needs to blanch a bit longer, to when it just starts to get soft, before transferring it to the cold bath.

The benefit of the blanch and chill process is that the vegetables are also now ready for freezing. Except for the snap peas, which are too delicate, any surplus can go straight into a freezer bag. To prevent ice build up make sure to dry the chilled produce off first and then squeeze out as much air from the filled bag. In the deep of winter the green or white bits of summer are welcome additions to soups or stews.

The flow of peppers has begun as well, led off by the sweet yellow Gypsy variety. Besides having them fresh, I also roast them for a Provençal style appetizer. Cut them in half, remove the seeds and stem, brush the skins with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt, and place skin side up on parchment paper in a roasting pan. I let them brown or char slightly under the broiler for a smokey flavor. I freeze the extras, stacked flat in quart bags for later use.

Currently in the garden, the Blue Lake pole beans have reached the top of the three parallel 8-foot high x 8-foot long trellises and are trying to go higher still. To keep the beans within reach, I am training the ever upward spiraling stems to go horizontally onto connecting rafter poles laid between the tops of the trellises. It is a daily task since the leaders, following the call of heliotrophism, constantly keep growing towards the sun. The aim is to have a leafy arbor between the trellises, with the later ripening beans from the upper parts of the plants hanging straight down overhead, making for easy picking, though it will take a step ladder to reach them. But the initial rush of beans will start lower down on the side walls of the trellises. An Arch of Beans.