Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Independence Days Challenge - Glass Half Full Edition

I'm well behind in many things this summer, so it's no big deal if I'm a few days late with the Independence Days report. It's not as though I've been particularly reliable about this weekly project anyway. Find out more about this Challenge that Sharon issued to all of us, and you can participate too!

It's been a hell of a year for gardening. The wet June we had gave us July as a reprieve, just enough to hope for a bountiful late summer and fall recovery. But it was the gift that kept on giving, and this month it brought us late blight - first on the potatoes, and then on the tomatoes. It's been a challenge to retain the optimism that is the birthright of every gardener. I don't know how or why we gardeners inherit this trait. I can assure you that in every other aspect of my life, I am intensely cynical and curmudgeonly. In my own garden I am eternally hopeful. Even though there will likely be no homegrown tomato sauce this year, I believe we have even odds on salvaging a potato crop, thanks to the advice of our local Agricultural Extension agent. And the brassica family may yet redeem the entire gardening year. I have hopes yet of my Tuscan kale, three varieties of cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and daikon radishes. And I have to admit that the popcorn, soup beans, parsnips, and especially our apple tree, all look like they are going to yield very well.

Giving me more reason to be optimistic is the fact that we built our first cold frame over the weekend. As with our rocket stove, we used primarily salvaged materials for the project, and I now have about 9.5 square feet of space in which to grow vegetables for the coldest months of the year. Not to mention it gives me the opportunity to try out some new vegetable varieties. Varieties that will grow in a compact form and tolerate very cold temperatures is what I'm looking for. I'm pretty excited about it, small though the space may be.

My Independence Days report covers what I've been up to since the beginning of the month, more or less.

Plant something: daikon radishes, lettuce, snow peas, and the last of the open-air beets and carrots, put in a few mini cabbage starts I picked up at a local Mennonite nursery.

Harvest something: Tomatoes, squash, eggplant, just barely edible lettuce, calendula, beets, a few snow peas, Swiss chard, spare cabbage leaves. One plant's worth of potatoes, just to see if the blight had hit the tubers. So far, it hasn't. Eggs from the girls as usual. I've also been lucky in the gleaning department this year when it comes to fruit.

Preserve something: I'm smoking as many paste and cherry tomatoes as I can get my hands on. Our tomato crop is coming in very sluggishly and I destroyed a few plants with late blight showing on them. I don't expect to get enough to make much sauce at all this year, so I'm putting up the small quantities I'm getting through smoking and then dehydrating. These little gems are fantastic in sauces and soups over the winter months, adding a smokiness that rivals any good quality bacon. We didn't have enough of them last year, and we sure won't have enough this year. But I'm doing what I can.

Also have some calendula petals steeping in olive oil in the hot sun, thanks to El's inspiration. I'll make up a batch or two of balm from them later this week.

Two depressingly small batches of kale, blanched, chopped, and frozen. Still hoping that my ship will come in with the fall kale.

I've got white peaches steeping in vinegar to make a batch of shrub, and I'm dehydrating some apples with a light dusting of cardamom sugar, a peculiar conceit of mine. I prefer cardamom to cinnamon in many sweet recipes, particularly where apples are concerned. I'm hoping these local and gleaned apples can substitute for at least some of the raisins and other dried fruits that I like in my winter oatmeal and baked goods, and which I routinely have bought in the past.

Canned ten half-pints of mixed berry jam. The wineberries were volunteers on our property, and the blackberries were gathered from a relative's patch (with permission, of course). My husband even made some peach freezer jam from the peaches we gathered at the same time. Too many of the peaches however succumbed to the brown rot before we could use them.

Made and froze a double batch of zucchini-lemon muffins with our abundant zucchini. I could have quadrupled the recipe a few times over and not used up all the zucchini we've got.

Hmmm...I guess I am putting some things up, though it has seemed that I'm twiddling my thumbs at peak storage season due to poor harvests this year.

Waste Not: We used a wooden packing crate for an industrial air conditioner (that was set out next door earlier this year with a FREE sign) to build a moderate sized cold frame. We even reused some of the nails we had to pull out of it. Other wood salvaged from dumpsters was used, along with a safety glass window from a salvaged storm door.

Preparation: Nothing new here, unless I can count the cold frame in two categories.

Built Community Food Systems: Does accepting surplus fruit from a small scale farmer I know count? It seems too that my raised asparagus beds have inspired a relative of mine to build some as well. Although I make no apparent headway when I try to persuade people verbally, I guess some people like what I'm doing enough to imitate me. If that's keeping up with the Jones (me, in this case), I won't condemn it.

Ate the food: mostly just fresh vegetables from the garden. I made peanut rice noodles with whatever happened to be on hand from the garden. It's a nice flexible dish that you can really load up with lots of veggies. Even the leftovers aren't too bad, if there are any.


Wendy said...

Mmm! Dried cardamom-sugar apples in oatmeal? That sounds yummy! What's your sugar to spice ratio?

Kate said...

Gosh, Wendy, I wish I could tell you. I just wing it with the measurements. Do people really measure the ingredients for cinnamon sugar? I suspect cardamom is a little more assertive than cinnamon and that less is needed. But I can say that the dried apples are, indeed, yummy. I'll be making up batches every day until the apples are all used up. The dehydrator can only hold so much at once...

Anonymous said...

"It's been a challenge to retain the optimism that is the birthright of every gardener. I don't know how why we gardeners inherit this trait. I can assure you that in every other aspect of my life, I am intensely cynical and curmudgeonly. In my own garden I am eternally hopeful."

That is sadly, the exact description of me, too. I just can't say I quit when it comes to gardening.

Kate said...

I know, Ali! (Not about you, I mean. Just gardeners in general.) It's sort of uncanny, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

BTW, I love cardamom with apples, too. Last year I made apple jam with cardamom and lemon, and it was amazing.

Kate said...

Ali, that sounds positively dangerous!