Time to hoard

My to do list for the day before the first snow of the year:

todo

I didn’t get to do any chalk art on the sidewalk but the kids did. I love sidewalk chalk art and cave paintings, because I’m primitive.

This time of year, my in-laws in Iowa are harvesting corn with giant, sophisticated combines (or whatever they are). The grain goes into silos several stories tall (I think) or maybe it’s made into fuel or corn syrup. The big green tractors are amazing. They are all green because these are John Deere people.

At my house it’s not exactly like that.  My garden is slightly smaller than a combine. I gathered five kids, who are also sophisticated, but kind of small. Then I gave them boxes, locked them in the garden and told them not to come out until all the tomatoes and beans were picked. I ended up staying in there with them to make sure it got done. Actually I picked the ones they missed. They found this fun, like an Easter egg hunt. They whined a little (“Mom? Can we have root beer?” “Auntie, I think we’re dehydrated” – not actual quotes) but we came out with 70+ pounds of usable produce. Then I gave them lunch, cake and root beer, so don’t alert CPS.

green_tomatoes

It was 77 degrees and sunny, but snow was coming in that night, so everything had to be brought inside. The weather pattern here is like this: it’s warm and sunny, then breezes bring in an agricultural smell associated with the cow towns to our north, then it snows. And that’s what happened Sunday. Now it’s warm again and the cycle may not repeat for another week. Fall in Colorado is less dramatic than spring.

That’s it for the season, except for greens which grow almost all year long. The mustard and cilantro has re-seeded itself and sprouted. Most tomatoes are green and will ripen indoors. The experience of eating them raw isn’t the same as it was in August or September but it’s still good. I cook and can a lot of them as they ripen. I blended a mix of all the varieties and cooked them down to about 2/3 their original volume and added only salt before canning. Some I canned whole to see what they’d be like, but I think cooking and reducing them is a more efficient use of space. Some are just sliced and frozen. The total weight of tomatoes harvested for the season is 179 pounds.

cans

The beans pictured were blanched and pickled. So now what do I do? Wash, dry and save seeds to plant in a few months. I actually do other things too. In fact, the other things are the vast majority of the things I do, they just aren’t nearly as exciting as vegetables, or if they are as exciting I’m not publishing anything about them.

Golden load*

Technically, it’s still summer for a few more days. I hate letting it go and try to hoard the sunlight as the days get shorter. I stopped wearing my Tilley hat and let my normally dark hair get as sun-bleached as possible, hoping for a surfer look. My birthday is in the fall, which makes it even harder because I’m reminded of getting older, a fact I deny all summer long. But once I let it go and talk myself into looking forward to more harvests I appreciate fall. It’s like summer, with shorter days and fruit instead of flowers. Like summer got older and wiser, but stayed somewhat pretty and fertile.

Dried beans start piling up. I like the way they feel; it’s some kind of tactile stimulation.

20170916_143713.jpg

They don’t require any prep or refrigeration, just stay in jars until whenever we want to cook them.

I cooked down and canned tomatoes in a pressure canner, separated by color. Some are orange and yellow, which get a little darker when cooked, and some are red and purple, which just turn into a basic red sauce. In the past I’ve just frozen them all but I think I like canning them now. I also canned some raw and they look so watery after processing I’m not sure I did it right. There’s a food blogger I’m a fan of who would probably never make the amateur error of allowing her reflection on the shiny jars (her site is Cooking without limits). But maybe I could insert Easter eggs that way, like by having someone take pics in the nude.

20170916_103424

IMG_2101 (1)

20170916_150234

 

Zucchini cake is popular right now. I made one with yellow squash that was bright yellow and moist, a huge hit with my friends who came over on Labor Day. On EG’s birthday last October I made zucchini and chocolate cakes, and the kids chose zucchini over chocolate, which surprised me. I don’t eat chocolate because it triggers migraines so I usually make some non-chocolate option I can enjoy for dessert. That probably explains my muffin top, which I will not be posting a picture of.

Here’s Pixie licking every last crumb off the picnic table:

IMG_2113

It’s a terrible pic but it reveals her true self so well. I accept her for who she is.

*The phrase “Golden load” is from this poem by William Blake, “To Autumn”

O Autumn, laden with fruit, and stained
With the blood of the grape, pass not, but sit
Beneath my shady roof; there thou mayst rest,
And tune thy jolly voice to my fresh pipe,
And all the daughters of the year shall dance!
Sing now the lusty song of fruits and flowers.

“The narrow bud opens her beauties to
The sun, and love runs in her thrilling veins;
Blossoms hang round the brows of Morning, and
Flourish down the bright cheek of modest Eve,
Till clust’ring Summer breaks forth into singing,
And feather’d clouds strew flowers round her head.

“The spirits of the air live on the smells
Of fruit; and Joy, with pinions light, roves round
The gardens, or sits singing in the trees.”
Thus sang the jolly Autumn as he sat;
Then rose, girded himself, and o’er the bleak
Hills fled from our sight; but left his golden load.

I’m in the hypothetical black!

I was wondering when the hypothetical return on my gardening investment would start to show. As of today it’s $11.00 ish. How do you like me now, Richard Branson?

Is it annoying when there are pages and pages of essays about this one time this blogger had this one thing and it reminded her of this one time when something was fun and then there are ten captioned photos of food before you get to the recipe/photo/instructable you googled? I think so, but still do it.

 

 

Here’s a pretty salad my friends and I enjoyed last weekend. Paul Robeson, Pantano Romanesco, Pink Brandywine, something yellow and Kellogg’s Breakfast. The recipe is that you pick some tomatoes, slice them and I might have sprinkled salt on them:

IMG_2111

I really need to invest in a better iPhone or an actual camera. Maybe some photography classes.

Some of those are from seeds I saved from plants grown from seeds I saved the previous year. That’s why they’re called heirlooms. I’ve talked to people who save seeds by letting whole fruits get moldy and disgusting, but I’m not sure why. I don’t mean I’m not sure why I talked to them, I mean I’m not sure why people waste an entire tomato to save its seeds. I slice the best examples of the variety and there are seeds on the cutting board. I make sure the cutting board is clean and free of salt or other seeds so I don’t get the varieties mixed up. Then I put the seeds in a jar of water (my water is filtered but that probably doesn’t matter), label the jar and forget about them for a few days. Later I wash and drain the seeds, then let them dry on a paper towel. When they’re dry I seal them in envelopes and plant them again when it’s seed starting time. I have had them stay viable for two, maybe three years. Look at this Kellogg’s Breakfast; not many seeds but enough to grow a lot more plants:

IMG_2115

You could read this before you save seeds. I just did, after doing it like I described above for over five years. There’s a risk of the plants developing late blight or something. If I’m honest, my plants don’t look perfect this time of year, but they are still producing leaves and healthy fruit. I have the same experience whether I order or save the seeds, with the exception that the saved seeds tend to have a higher germination rate. That slice of tomato has like $2.50 worth of seeds in it.

Well done, Brad Gates

This is a Lucid Gem tomato, an heirloom variety developed by Brad Gates of Wild Boar Farms. I had never grown these before this year and never eaten one until today. I gave it a five star review at Baker Creek’s site for flavor, looks and productivity. I also noted it resisted what looked like a blight creeping up on its neighbor (referenced in post Oh we got trouble from last month).

Here’s a Solar Flare, also new to me, very tasty, and impressive to PTA ladies who come to my parties 😉

solarflare

And a Paul Robeson that happens to be shaped like a tuchus:

butt
You’re welcome.

And just because the internet loves cats, here are some adorable barn kittens my niece is holding (sorry for the picture quality):

kittens

I love cats. We had a cat named JB for years and lost her to kidney disease about 5 years ago. We still talk about her. But if I ever get another cat (which will never happen according Metal Pig, who is allergic), s/he’s gonna stay indoors. I was wondering what had happened to the Bird Show, which is what I call it when a variety of birds congregate around my garden at dusk. There are noticeably fewer. Then I think I figured it out. My neighbor got a new cat this year, and I saw him drag the body of a young rabbit into his yard. I was traumatized and called him a bad kitty, like that helps. He just looked at me, back at the rabbit, and then at me again, like, “What?” I can’t blame him. Doesn’t matter that he’s well-fed, he’s just hard wired to hunt. And, like his predecessor Oscar, he’s probably an adorable bird-killer. I’ve seen Oscar take down a sparrow in mid-air. If you wonder what those mysterious pets and feral cats do all day, it probably involves sleeping and killing. That’s why people like them in their barns, but they don’t just chase mice. My friends with outdoor cats are wonderful, caring people, maybe they just don’t know how much impact the kitties have on our wildlife. I didn’t until I looked it up. JB’s favorite place to be was in the garden with me; I guess she just didn’t hunt when I was looking. Or maybe not all cats are so motivated, I don’t know.

It can’t rain all the time

…but three days in a row is a lot. I’ve been sulking in my room for days in my plaid flannel jammies, listening to Alice in Chains. Just kidding, the only way I’d stay holed up inside for a weekend is if EG had a sleepover at a friend’s and Metal Pig and I could stay in our room and pretend we were still in our twenties. Sorry if that was TMI.

The sun is out for now though. It was actually kind of pleasant to be out in the garden in soft rain, not driving rain, and playing tag with EG. He likes the rain. Tag is a great workout too. I worry about blights and stuff when it rains this much. I recently cut out all the suspicious parts of the two plants I saw it on and wasn’t optimistic, but the remaining growth looks good:

IMG_1896

This creature is waiting for a tomato to get ripe, but he’ll have to wait quite a while.

hopper

Grasshoppers don’t seem interested in tomatoes before they’re ripe. I manage my relationship with them by picking tomatoes when they’re like 85% ripe and let them finish ripening in a paper bag. He missed this one, though, picked ripe today. It’s a Great White, which is really lemon yellow:

IMG_1901

You can see the cracking from too much water. And speaking of yellow, I think there was a mixup in one of the seed packets I ordered. It was supposed to be a Solar Flare but looks like another Brad Gates variety with the disturbing name Pork Chop :

IMG_1764

But whatever, it tasted good and it’s pretty. The only issue is I’ll have to label the seeds when I save them as a “mystery yellow tomato.” I have gotten a few ripe ones here and there but most of them are still getting bigger before getting riper. It’s usually September, even October when I get the most ripe tomatoes. I don’t know why. I start early.

It is the time of year we hit the fresh snap bean jackpot. Here are examples of a Chinese long bean, Purple Podded Pole, Cherokee Trail of Tears (shiny black bean when mature and dried) and McCaslin 42 (shiny white when mature and dried, yang to balance the black bean’s yin). They’re all brilliant but I especially rave about the purple ones. This is the third generation I’ve grown them – bought the seeds three years ago and have saved them from the mature pods since then. They’re beautiful, plentiful and delicious fresh or dried. Very cheap nutrition too, with vines that climb as high as you let them.

 

If EG and his buddy Mad Max (not his real name) get our lemonade and produce stand out while it’s still summer, the purple and yellow produce might attract attention. Not as much as the homemade toffee the boys down the street made, but I can’t compete with that. And this is a blog about gardens and money. Mostly. What would be fun is if we accept cryptocurrency at our stand, which is possible (we invested in litecoin) and would make a less boring blog post.

Oh we got trouble.

It is uncharacteristically cool and cloudy today. Summer in Colorado is dry and about 30 degrees F hotter, usually. The weather makes me gloomy (I am too old to be emo). I almost said I was depressed, but checked myself. I rethink using that word now since depression is a topic little EG has had questions about lately.

He was really affected by the deaths of singers Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington. We’ve been fans of Cornell for years and EG liked Linkin Park. He was sad the day he heard on the radio of Bennington’s suicide and wanted to talk about it. I wish I could have protected him from that news. He couldn’t wrap his brain around someone feeling that way and I can’t either, because it’s not the state of my head. I wanted him to understand depression is an illness, not a contagious one, and if you see someone with signs of it to help them…it ended up being a good talk and he was usual cheerful self again. He processed it over a few days and discussions. But as a parent I don’t know if I did a great job addressing it. Such a heavy subject for a little kid.

That didn’t have anything to do with my garden. Let me tell you about the trouble, which is relatively minor and possibly managed.

  1. Squash bugs. Saw these little guys in June when the squash were wee little planties. I thought they were screwed (the plants, that is). I sprayed them every day with soapy water for about a week and they powered through it. IMG_1343IMG_0435

2.  Is this some kind of blight? Most plants look healthy but this concerns me. I see some spotting on the Solar Flair with the weird heart-shaped tomato and a little on its neighbor, the Brandywine. My Brandywines have always gotten some kind of issue toward the end of the season, but are usually so big by then it doesn’t seem to spread far. But it gives me a creepy feeling. Still, I can’t seem to cull a plant unless it’s a case of sacrificing the needs of the few for the needs of the many. I don’t even kill ants.

IMG_1814

On a happier note, the shotis puri Metal Pig made last night is good. It looks like the real deal to me, but it doesn’t remind him of the breads he ate in Georgia. He needs to lower his standards. Traditionally, as he described to us, it’s made in a kiln-like oven called a tone, which we will not be building or buying. The dough is slapped to the sides of the oven and scraped off when ready. This was made on a pizza stone in a typical residential range.

IMG_1813

Cage engineering

My plants live in beds I put together with discarded, untreated wood from my barn owner friends. They got the wood from an area company that produces wind energy and transports the fan blades by setting them in giant wooden cradle-like things on flatbeds. My friend got the cradles for free, and has about an acre of them. He has used some of the wood to build shelters for turned-out horses and said I was welcome to any of it.

So I’ve screwed together boards to create 4×4 and 4×3 boxes. They look like planting beds, but they mostly just define the space plants live in. Unlike a raised bed with weed barrier, these beds combine 6-8″ of native dirt below the surface with vermiculate, compost and other amendments.

For supporting plants with heavy fruit and giving beans something to climb, I bought cattle panels from the local ranch store. They are heavy-gauge wire panels that are 16’x4′. At the store they cut them into 8’x4′ for me. Then, using leverage and all my bodyweight, I bend them into arches. Originally I forced them into the 4×4 boxes, where they’re held firm by the wood; this requires not skimping on screws. This works, though they are more or less permanent structures.

I didn’t build the cages for all the boxes last year, so I continued the project this summer. The cost was about $60 for 5 panels (they gave me one free because it was slightly bent). This time, I decided to make them more easily moved from one place to another, because I rotate crops. Again using leverage and bodyweight, which was at least 5# heavier than before since my recent vacation, I bent the panels and temporarily secured them by tying the ends together with baling twine. Then I asked Metal Pig to buy something more substantial since he was going to the hardware store and he came back with lightweight chains. They’re perfect. I cut them to desired lengths and cut only half the links on the ends to make them hooks. Then I simply hooked them to the ends of the panels on each side and cut the twine. Again they are held together by tension, but I can pick them up and move them without releasing it. This example is an 8′ panel held together with a 3′ chain on each end:

These plants have grown up through the openings in the panel and are comfortably supported.