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.

5 thoughts on “Harvest Season

  1. Carol Havens

    Hi Peter. Love your good fermenting recipes. My new greens are doing very well. My only pest is the green caterpillar stage of the white cabbage butterflies. I pick the worms off, but enjoy the pretty butterflies. I planted a very small area in radishes and mitzuna. I’m not spending ANY time in the garden right now. Looking forward to clean air.
    Carol Havens

    1. Pat Jackson

      Hi Peter! I am eager to get some garlic in the ground but am overwhelmed with the variety of options. Have you found one variety does better here than others?

      1. Peter Heffelfinger

        Hi Pat,
        I grow several varieties of hard-neck garlics, because they store well, have a strong taste, and are easy to peel. I find the traditional braiding types tend to have moldy stems in our region, unless you have a garden that dries out early in the spring. The two main hard-neck varieties I rely are Music and Deja Vue. I also like Russian Red, since it has a hard husk that keeps all winter in storage, and Korean Red, which is very strong tasting.
        If you get garlic starts from a local farmers market vendor, they usually stock an Italian Purple type with a braidable stem, which they are able grow successfully locally. The local growers will also usually be your cheapest option.
        Do not try to use commercial store-bought garlic, it is a braiding type, not suited to our climate and often comes from China or California.
        The Skagit Valley Food Co-op will have locally appropriate garlic seed varieties available, or you can order online from vendors located in the a Northwest for the best types that will do well here. Territorial Seed Company is also a good place to start. It is not cheap, but you can build up your supply each year by saving the best cloves for replanting.
        I would try several different types the first year to see what tastes best to you and grows well at your site.
        Prepare your garden bed with composted manure dug in, and make sure it is a raised bed for good drainage. You can plant garlic through the month of October.
        Our wet Pacific Northwest winters are not ideal for garlic, which can suffer rot, as happened to almost one third of my crop last winter. But I always put in a lot of garlic since I use it daily in cooking.
        Peter H.

        1. Pat Jackson

          Thank you so very much, Peter, for all of this advise. You have given me many options and as I am a garlic novice, I will begin experimenting to find my favorite garlics.

    2. Peter Heffelfinger

      Hi Carol,
      Glad the air is finally clear and that you got some fall greens in beforehand. The mizuna is very hardy and will readily go to seed next spring. I neglected to cover my fall brassicas with row cover, so I had lots of white butterflies too. More insect food for the birds, hopefully.
      Peter H.

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