Monday, October 6, 2008

Still Harvesting, Processing Food, and Gleaning

Well, it's been a long weekend. But we got one of those beautiful Indian summer days we'd been longing for yesterday. And Saturday was cool enough to do some heavy digging and outdoor work without breaking much of a sweat. It's a good feeling to be somewhat caught up on the garden and yardwork chores, but I know there's more, much more to come soon.

I spent an inordinate amount of time baking two pear upside down cakes on Friday. I used about four pounds of the gleaned Bartlett pears from down the road (have I mentioned those?) and a few of our earliest apples. One to eat, one to freeze. The recipe also fortuitously called for almond flour, so naturally I substituted the hazelnut flour that turned up during our recent freezer inventory. It turned out delicious. The one we didn't freeze (smaller than this one) is nearly gone. These gleaned fruits are weighing heavily on my conscience. I don't know that they'll last long enough to be added to our apple cider. And there's this imperative that I have to figure out what to do with them.

The potatoes are all out of the ground. Finally. I was afraid the rain we got compliments of hurricane Kyle might have rotted them. Most of them were sound, but a few of them, the Kennebecs and the All Blues in particular, were eaten away by something. I don't know what was eating them. They looked gnawed, but I don't think it was any toothed animal. We couldn't find any holes in the ground, so I can't figure it out. Sometimes they were lightly "gnawed"; and sometimes there was almost nothing left of the potato. Usually the eaten away area formed a relatively flattened area. Any ideas as to what's going on here? Most of the damaged ones were in a particular area of the garden straddling the rows of the two different varieties of potato. Most annoying. But we got a nice haul of four different varieties of potato, including just enough of the Sangres to serve as seed stock for next year.

Could one of my knowledgeable readers kindly advise me how to store my seed potatoes over the winter? I read so many conflicting things on the web. I've even read that these days only potatoes produced from tissue cultures should be used for seed stock. This seems far fetched to me, but what do I know?

Having gotten the potatoes in on Saturday, we turned our attention to preparing a new bed for the garlic, which needs to be in the ground soon. I've had the girls in the garden as it gets cleared out, so they've been processing compost for me, and laying down some manure. I worked over a 5'x18' bed where some of my squash plants had been and applied the lasagna method of mulching. And I took pictures to illustrate the process.

First I staked out the bed and used survey tape to mark it out. I work best in the garden when I have a clear indication of where the bed is. Then I tore out the weeds and loosened the top few inches of soil with a cultivator. The weeds can be left lying on top of the soil, so long as their roots are out.

While stocking up on free vitamin D for the coming winter months (so frugal!), I used the broad fork to loosen the soil at a deeper level without tilling.

Next, I laid a few comfrey leaves over the bed at regular intervals. Comfrey is a deep mining plant that pulls up minerals and nutrients from 12 inches or more underground. The leaves can be used as green manure, and it grows incredibly vigorously. With the comfry leaves spread out, I began papering over the bed with newspaper.

Once the bed was completely covered in a few layers of newsprint, I hosed down the paper to thoroughly drench it and began covering it with some of that free mulch I get from our township.

When I plant the garlic I'll need to punch through the newspaper to get the bulbs in the ground. The paper will be an impenetrable barrier to other plants, which is good, because I don't like to weed, and garlic doesn't compete very well with neighbors. In the meantime, the worms will happily do their thing in that enriched and loosened soil. A year from now, both the paper and the mulch will have at least partly broken down and will also be enriching the soil. It's especially satisfying to me that my only materials cost (other than the tools) for this project was for the survey tape, which is very reasonably priced. A friend saves the newspaper for me, and I can help myself to as much mulch as I want at the yard waste facility. The wooden stakes were made with a hand ax and a short piece of scrap 2x4.

I found time yesterday to dig some daffodil bulbs up for transplant, and cut out about a third of one variety of comfrey for transplant under the apple tree. I'm told fruit trees enjoy the companionship of comfrey and that comfrey tolerates dividing very well. We shall see.

We also harvested what will probably be the last of the tomatoes. As many cherry tomatoes went to the chickens as came into the kitchen. Many of them were badly split. A few beefsteaks may ripen on a sunny windowsill inside, but I can hardly be bothered. It's October, and no tomato on the vine right now is going to live up to the glory of its name. The tomato plants are due to be ripped out this week. Using a trick I tested last year, we'll uproot them and hang them upside down to allow the green fruits to ripen. This works in a limited way. The "ripe" fruits will be plenty good enough for the chickens. We may use a few as cooking ingredients, but we probably won't eat them fresh. What will probably be the last batch of peppers went into my homemade smoker, and then into the dehydrator. They'll be delicious accents in many dishes over the winter.

We're looking at the apple harvest very soon. Our tree is bearing fairly well, and the apples are turning red, at least on the sides that face the sun. I picked a few on Friday, but I'm going to give them at least another week before picking in earnest. I don't know what type of apple we have, but it's definitely a late variety. We also went back to the neighbors of my relatives to gather more of their apples. We need to go yet again with a really big ladder. Most of their apples are very high up on the tree. We pressed last year in early November. I'll post more on the whole apple cider pressing thing when it happens.

On top of all that, we cleaned up and cleared out one bay of the garage. We were pooped last night! Leftovers for dinner and into bed by 8pm for a little reading before sleep.

I'm still trying to find the enthusiasm to keep harvesting, washing, blanching, and freezing our Tuscan kale. It loves cool weather, so the autumnal temperatures we've been having don't dampen its spirits at all. I went shopping for one of my upcoming cooking classes on Thursday last week, and got a chuckle from seeing local organic Tuscan kale priced at $4.99/lb. at Whole Foods. It looked no more or less nibbled by insects than mine does.

Speaking of fall weather, Brrrr! I love the cooler temperatures for sleeping, but I've had to layer up before going out to feed the hens in the morning lately. Winter is just around the corner, it seems.


Anonymous said...

Wow: a broadfork! (I covet, but really with my raised beds I don't need one. Still.)

Your potatoes look to me like they've been eaten by meadow voles. These things are a scourge if you ask me. They reproduce crazily, something like 5 litters a year. Usually they will get the potatoes nearest to the surface; they won't dig down if they have to. And, well, tightwad that *I* am, I still use them.

Re: seed potatoes. I store these the same way I store other potatoes. In point of fact, those potatoes that make it to spring (usually sprouty) make it into the ground too: I figure if they last that long, I should take advantage of it. I store them in open plastic tubs in my seat-of-the-pants rootcellar (the back steps). The plastic? Only because the rootcellar gets swamped with water in heavy rain.

hope that helps...that, and my lacinato kale lasts pretty long into fall so I don't bother blanching it. It gives me a reason to go into the garden in December!

Anonymous said...

Oooh, that looks so, so tasty!

Kate said...

El, it's certainly possible that it was a rodent. But on one or two potatoes I found a small slug. I don't know if they coincidentally showed up there, or if they're the culprit. The damaged spuds were about 3"-5" down. I salvaged the ones that could be salvaged. Some of them were beyond saving.

Thanks for the tip on seed potatoes. I'll try keeping them in our basement, which is far from ideal for root cellaring. Too warm down there with our furnace. But we'll see what can be done. And thanks also for encouraging me to just let go with the lacinato kale. You make an excellent point.

As for the broadfork, yeah. We've got weak spots for tools. It was an early birthday present this year. We used it for harvesting the spuds too, even though ours is not the type designed for that task. At least that way we use it more than a couple times per year.

Kristen, thanks!

Paige said...

Upside down pear cake... can you give up your recipe... it looks fabulous and we have been gleaning some great big pears from next door neighbor's tree. I also have to identify with needing to go to the neighbors with a ladder! We have some neighbors a few streets over with two very top heavy with fruit apple trees. I love Gleaning fruit!

Kate said...

Hi Chris and Paige,

I posted the recipe I used for the pear upside down cake yesterday. It took me a while due to a week's hiatus of staycation. I don't know if you still have gleaned pears to use up or not, but that recipe and one other can be found here:

I'd love to hear what you're doing with gleaned pears too.