Archive for November 2011

september: fade to brown

November 27, 2011

(Just came across this unposted draft, which I completely forgot about; must have been too busy with the harvest!)

Hard to say when “harvesting” nudged “nurturing” out of the top spot for garden activities. One day I went out with my weeding fork and came in with a handful of tomatoes — next thing I knew I was too busy bringing in the fruits of my labors to even pay attention to weeds, save the ones coming into season and threatening to spray their seed all over the soil.

The shift from summer to fall is more subtle. One by one the plants slow down as they reach the end of their annual cycle. There’s usually one last, meager harvest before I wrestle them out of the ground and into the waste heap at the back of the property. Then I do what I can to leave the the site just a little bit cleaner than it was at the start — dig out the few dandelions that eluded me during the frenzy of harvest, pick out a few more rocks, rake the soil smooth.

I spent most of Sunday digging up potatoes. This year’s crop was not too plentiful, but the individual tubers were unusually large. I wounded a few with my clumsy shovel — these went into a bucket in the kitchen for immediate use. The same day I dug the potatoes, I divided a clump of chives and marched the smaller bunches across the back of the garden, in hopes that they’ll discourage some four-footed pests. Before digging up the slender aliums, I lopped off their tops, as recommended by some web site or other. Rather than dump them on the compost heap, I improvised something pesto-like, using funky-sweet ground cherries to cut the sharpness, some almonds to smooth it out, and a shot of sriracha just because.

The result was interesting, but not delicious enough to repeat.

Other harvest-remnant recipes:

last-cuke lovage cup

squashed lemonsquash fritter

potato pancake with sriracha swirl

final-tomato focaccia

Some garden plants go gracefully, but not tomatoes. Their cracking stems lean away from their supports as their leaves blacken and leaves collapse. At their feet is a rotting pile of cracked and oozy fruit. It looks terrible and smells worse. Yesterday I began the ordeal of cleaning up their sickroom, pulling up the plants and scooping the slimy remains from the ground. Despite their squalid state, the cherries are still producing a few clean, ripe fruits each day, so against my better judgement, I left a couple. They’ll peter out soon enough but for now they can stay. It’s the hospice section of the garden.

Cukes and summer squash were not quite done, but the winter squash is hungry for space and light, so I pulled their brethren to let them have the run of the cucurbit section. Besides, I’ve had more than enough squash and cukes this summer.

Snap beans outlived their useful life long ago — they were first plants I pulled. Now the shell beans are beginning to dry on the vine — no small feat in this wet weather. Not sure what will be ready for harvest first, the beans or the winter squash. I do know what will be last—the row of parsnips in front and the patch of kale in back. Both plants enjoy the frost, or should I say we humans enjoy what frost does to the taste.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. For now it is the slow work of clearing out, watching the small section of empty brown soil slowly overtake the areas that were so recently lush green.

the kale stands alone

November 27, 2011

After a meal of many hands and many calories, I was looking forward to a weekend alone in my country kitchen. Festive meals are fantastic, but there is also something to be said for simpler, quieter repasts.

Looking at the garden — now mostly bare but for a clump of kale — one would think of this as the lean season. But instead I find myself overwhelmed with choices in a way that I never do in the summer. Then, the answer to “What’s for dinner” is inevitable as the tides. The wave of summer squash crests just as the tomatoes begin to roll in. It is a matter of keeping your head above water as one crop, then another, spills over the countertops.

The late crops, the storage crops, are much less insistent. The buckets of potatoes and shelves of winter squash aren’t going anywhere. Ditto the dried beans. The shredded beets (aka “ruby kraut”) will continue to ferment, their acidity rising as the months pass. I have more than enough garlic to get me through, plus a few giant leeks contributed by a friend. There are also dried apples and tomatoes; flat frozen slabs of pesto; and more multicolored jars of pickles and preserves than I care to think about.

Then there’s the kale, bushy and green despite having endured a few snowfalls and more frequent frosts. It’s not really alone in the garden, of course — up front there are still a few parsnips to pull, and along the back are a few rows of garlic thumbed in last month. And every time we have a run of warm days, leaves of self-seeded lettuce will emerge; some even live to survive a few mild frosts.

I do miss the tomatoes, I confess, but I wouldn’t trade this season of quiet, not-so-needy abundance.