by Peter Heffelfinger
posted August 10, 2020
Mid-August is the time to get long-standing hardy winter transplants into the ground. I have late cabbage and broccoli in, as well as collards, along with a last planting of leeks, plus a few clumps of green onions/scallions. The challenge has been keeping them all protected from the intense sun we’ve had the past few weeks. I cover the fragile starts with large black plastic pots for several days or more, and then gradually expose them to an hour or so of early morning sun each day. I also make sure to water them daily to help them maintain turgor, or internal water pressure, which keeps them upright. When they’re finally rooted a bit, I shield them with the pot placed on the southern side to provide shade, and give them a grid of sun and shade overhead using leftover plastic garden nursery trays that have perforated bottoms for drainage. If it gets really hot, I lay strips of cardboard on top of the trays, to provide complete shade, but with a little light still coming in from the sides to keep a minimum of photosynthesis going.
Sometimes it takes a week or more before the plants stop wilting on first exposure to the direct sun. These are cool weather transplants that are being stressed by having to establish root systems in hot weather; they need the sun protection. Once established, they’ll be fine, but regular watering will be needed until fall. With autumn rains coming later and later each year, make sure they don’t dry out. Drought conditions and warm spells in September may cause them to go to seed prematurely instead of waiting for next spring. You want them to be mature by the end of fall so they’ll hold on through the winter, growing slowly and supplying fresh green produce through the dark months.
Brine and Sauerkraut Time
Midsummer is also pickling season. I’ve been doing short-term salt brine cucumber pickles for several weeks, sometimes with fresh grape leaves laid on top, to keep all the spices from floating up to the surface. Recently I had to remove most of an Early Girl tomato plant that was showing signs of stem disease, so I had an unexpected box of green tomatoes to deal with before I’d even harvested a fully ripe tomato.
I used a standard N.Y. Deli dill pickle recipe for the halved tomatoes, along with garlic, spices, chili peppers, and for a new, extra kick, added horseradish leaves. After sitting in a cool corner next to the freezer for a few days, and once they taste pickled enough, the jar will go into the cold storage fridge. Surprisingly, I got most of the box of green tomatoes packed into a one gallon jar. It will bring back memories of the large jars of green tomatoes on display in the front windows of classic New York delicatessens.
With a crop of early green cabbage heading up, it’s also sauerkraut time. Not having made kraut in recent years, I started off with a plain version, just using sea salt, for the first gallon. The second gallon included the Middle Eastern herb sumac and a Jordanian green za’atar spice mix, for a Mediterranean take on kraut. With the third gallon, I’m trying Curtido, a South American salted cabbage recipe that includes sliced carrots, shredded garlic, chili peppers, and oregano. Lots of massaging of all that chopped cabbage to generate enough brine. Once the kraut is ready, it will join the pickles in the fridge set up for extended storage.
With all those cucumbers, tomatoes and cabbages bubbling away in their brine, the pantry feels like an indoor garden growing in the dark.