Winter is Coming

Although I am much better, my kids are still fighting their colds. Last night I decided to go the more traditional route, dinner-wise, in an attempt to help them get well. I don’t know that it actually helped, but it didn’t hurt at any rate, and it was pretty tasty.

I made up a batch of chicken noodle soup based roughly on the recipe on page 125 of the Joy of Cooking (2006 edition, Rombauer & Becker). I added carrots and rosemary mostly because it’s what I happened to have around the house. I served the soup alongside fresh-baked Poppy Seed Loaf (page 138, Bread Machine: How to Prepare and Bake the Perfect Loaf (Jennie Shapter, 2002)) with avocado slices on top. Unlike me, the rest of the family ate their bread with butter and scooped the avocado out of the skins directly with a little bit of salad dressing on top.

Last night ended up involving a lot more food prep than just supper, though. The forecast called for the temperature to drop precipitously overnight to a low of -10°C (14°F) with a windchill of -20°C (-4°F). I had left a few frost-hardy plants in the garden after the main harvest, but I knew that cold this intense would kill them. So I had to bring in two good-sized bunches of celery, which I washed and trimmed the leaves off of, then put in a jug of water in the fridge for use over the next week or so.

I had a whole mess of Swiss chard to bring in — believe it or not, this was all from only two bunches!

I washed it all, then chopped the stems into bite-sized pieces, which I bagged to freeze in single-use packages over the winter in soups, stews, stir-fries and casseroles. The leaves don’t freeze nearly so well, so they’re still drying off in my sink while I figure out what to do with that much chard. A friend suggested a soup, but I don’t have a recipe yet.

My uncarved Halloween pumpkins had to come inside; freezing isn’t terribly hard on them as a general rule, especially if you’re just going to cook them, but a frozen-solid gourd is really difficult to prepare. Heck, it would take an axe or a sledgehammer just to get through it!

I also brought in the last of my summer herbs so they didn’t get frostbitten (along with half a case of Coke that I’d been cooling outdoors since the Halloween party; cool fall temperatures mean that the outdoors makes a great refrigerator for non-perishables). There are two pots of lavender, one of mint, one of rosemary, and one of parsley. Some of them I will eventually dry, others I will preserve (I have an interesting recipe for parsley jelly I want to try). They’d survive just fine in the house all winter, but the pots are quite large and take up my whole patio window. I think I will just plant new herbs in the spring and not deal with the hassle.

Jack-o’-Lantern Herb Pots

I grow most of my indoor plants (and some of my outdoor ones) in terracotta pots a) because I like the look of them, and b) because they’re inexpensive. I generally have a row of herbs growing in a window planter all year long. I was looking for a way to spruce them up for Halloween on the cheap.

I came up with this quick craft — and I do mean quick, as in it took me less than ten minutes to decorate five pots. There are all kinds of tutorials out there for how to paint or draw on terracotta pots to make them look like Jack-o’-lanterns, which is simplified by the pots already conveniently being orange. I wanted something a little less permanent, since I didn’t want to have to re-pot my herbs for every holiday.

I took a sheet of black construction paper and cut it out freehand into the appropriate shapes. If you’re not comfortable drawing or cutting freehand, you can always Google “Jack-o’-lantern face template” and either trace one of those designs or print it and cut it out. I then stuck the pieces onto the pot with tape. Any tape will work, but for something so temporary I prefer to use painter’s tape (any brand), which isn’t meant to stick forever and rarely leaves any sticky residue behind.

I really like how they all turned out! The plants in the pots make fun “hair” for the Jack-o’-lantern faces, which tickles my kids to no end. Those plants are, left to right: chives, oregano, baby pine tree (okay, technically not an herb; this craft will honestly work with any kind of plant, I just like how quickly and thickly herbs grow), thyme, and garlic chives.

I think that this craft cost me maybe a quarter? Of course, I already had the potted plants. If you don’t have that, the pots generally run only a few dollars for the smaller sizes (they’re generally available at dollar stores and at WalMart all year round), and you can pick up a small pot of herbs for only a few dollars more at your local grocery store or garden center. As a bonus, after Halloween you can use the herbs in your cooking.

Harvest

Even though the days have been lovely, it is now the beginning of October, so the nights are getting colder and there is often the threat of frost. This means it’s time to bring in the harvest. I dug up about half of my garden last week, and it wasn’t all mutant carrots!

Please excuse the long grass. My plants were hanging over the sides of the wooden garden border, so I figured I should pull them all up before mowing.

I picked the last of the hot peppers and dug up the few shallots that survived the season. For some reason, most of my shallots didn’t sprout this year. I will freeze the hot peppers with the intention of making hot sauce at a later date.

I tried growing lemongrass this year, which was very pretty but didn’t yield a huge amount of edible parts. It’s supposedly a perennial, but the root ball may not survive the harsh Canadian winter. We shall see if it sprouts in the spring.

I’m still harvesting ripe cherry tomatoes, much to my surprise. Last week’s heat wave meant that the plants haven’t started to die down as much as usual by this time of year.

I had a total yield of about 30lbs of Prince of Orange potatoes. These potatoes are apparently a pretty new breed. They have reddish skins and a dark yellow interior (actually pretty close to my Creampak carrots when cooked). They also have a stronger flavour than traditional white-fleshed potatoes, which I really like. I may plant these again next year, or may be I’ll alternate with Violet Queens, which have purple skins and flesh. I figure hey, if I’m going to grow it myself, why be satisfied with the few varieties that are available at the average grocery store?

Carrots

I love both cooking with and eating carrots, so I’ve been planting them in my garden for a couple of years. I haven’t had great success, though. Last year, one of my carrots looked like this:

(That’s a dime for size reference.)

So when I planted my carrots this year, I didn’t have any great expectations. Instead of growing them from seeds like I’d tried in previous years, I bought pre-started seedlings from Laporte Gardens. I hoped I’d get a few decent-sized carrots and probably some finger-sized ones as well. Little did I know that I was growing MONSTERS.


Thing 1 helping me harvest the carrots.

I left lots of space between each planted seedling (so I never had to thin them), made sure they got lots of water (not a problem this year) and that they weren’t being eaten alive by pests or crowded out by weeds. I also fertilized the entire garden with sheep manure compost early in the spring. And that was all I did. I’d learned the hard way that you really just have to leave root vegetables alone for as long as possible so that they develop fully. Um… Mission accomplished, I guess?

(Yes, I know now that I probably should have re-buried the carrots as they began to poke out of the ground so they didn’t discolor, but I didn’t know that back when it mattered. My carrots have never before grown so large.)

So yeah, that’s Thing 1 holding up one of the carrots/carrot clusters that she pulled up for me. It’s almost as big as her head.

Instead of the roots growing long and straight, they looped back upon themselves multiple times, creating gnarled, mutant bunches. Even in the spots where there was only one top, the roots looked like this.

These are creampak carrots, by the way. They’re supposed to be yellow instead of the more common orange.

All in all, my small planting of carrots yielded a root harvest that overfills a 11″ x 15″ x 7¾” IKEA GLES box.

Washed and untangled, the carrots looked more like the vegetables I’m used to. The photo above is of only one of the root balls. I kept giggling as I washed and separated, since it all seemed so absurd to me. This is honestly the funniest plant I have ever grown… And I have grown some weird-looking plants.

Thing 1 washed and cut up some of the smaller bits, then harvested a few cherry tomatoes from the garden to make her own carrot and tomato salad. I was very proud of her for taking the initiative to make a dish out of the food she’d helped harvest. She insisted that I photograph her creation and put it on “the blog”.

I included part of the harvest in yesterday’s dinner, which was steamed carrots, whipped potatoes (which are Prince of Orange potatoes and almost the same colour as the Creampak carrots when cooked), and maple & cinnamon sausages. After spending the afternoon in the garden, the whole family cleaned their plates.

Late Summer Garden

Right now my garden is bursting at the seams — okay, well, all except the peas, which have died back somewhat. My potatoes are starting to pop out of the ground (they don’t grow down very well because of the hard clay under the garden), and I have to keep re-covering them with soil so they are not damaged by the sun. Before I planted the garden this year, I doubled the amount of soil, which seems to have delayed potatoes popping up, but didn’t keep it from happening.

Even tied back, my tomato plants have passed “threatening to take over” and are now simply the rulers of the garden. When I look out the window behind them, it’s like looking through a jungle to the back yard. If you can see me hiding back there, you’ll get an idea of how tall the plants have grown — and they’d be taller if I had taller stakes to support them, but their fruit is weighing them down.

Today’s harvest included a whole lot of cherry tomatoes, banana peppers, jalapeno peppers, and hot peppers — along with handfuls of herbs to use in cooking tonight.

Beginning to Harvest the Garden

I spent some time in the garden yesterday, weeding and harvesting a little bit, but mostly tying up my tomato plants, which have escaped the raised bed and are trying to take over the lawn. Mosquitoes love the shade under these plants, so every time I go out there, I end up with a new handful of bites at the very least. Even so, it was totally worth it because I was happy to discover lots of fruits and veggies that were either growing large and healthy, or that were already ripe and ready for harvesting.

The pears are doing well, although they’re still hard as rocks and not nearly ready to harvest. My research indicates that they should be ready to be picked from August to October in this climate — and mine seem likely to be ripe later in the season.

The tomatoes on the possibly-beefsteak tomato plant (the one that was supposed to be a cherry tomato plant) aren’t ripe yet, but the fruits have almost doubled in size. I have a feeling that spaghetti sauce may be in their future.

My sweet bell peppers are growing well and look like they’ll end up being pretty sizable. This variety is supposed to yield a black (really very dark purple) pepper, so these obviously aren’t ready yet. Well, that’s if they were labeled correctly; I don’t really trust the labels 100% any more.

My pea vines are still yielding nicely, although with being at the cottage off and on, I ended up letting a bunch of pods dry out on the vine. Oops. That’s good for seed saving, I guess, but not what I was trying to do.

Unlike their sweet cousins, my hot peppers are starting to ripen beautifully. The red banana peppers and the green jalapeno peppers are destined for hot sauce once I’ve picked them all, so I wash and freeze the early-ripening ones until I can use them. Freezing peppers makes them mushy upon thawing, but that’s not really an issue when they’re just going to be blended smooth in a sauce anyway.

Last but not least, my cherry tomato plants have started ripening! I believe that what’s coming up at the moment are Pink Ladies, Sweet Millions, and generic yellow cherry tomatoes. I have a personal fondness for the yellow ones, but the Pink Ladies have come up really sweet this year, and I just can’t stop snacking on them. My husband, too, is a huge fan of cherry tomatoes of all varieties, and will go through a large bowl of them when vegging in the evening after the kids have finally been put to bed.

Overgrown?

My garden isn’t just growing, it may be overgrowing. When I plant my garden in the spring, it always looks like I’m leaving too much space between the rows. Then I go out into the garden on days like today, and there’s very little room to walk. I have to gently push plants aside to get at the tomatoes and potatoes.


My garden, with me for scale

I have to be careful with the tomato plants nearest the wall of the house, as they can get caught in the track when I open and close the window to let in fresh air. On the other hand, the plants that are supposed to be there are actually crowding out potential weeds, for the most part. The only exceptions are near the celery and the onions, which I planted late and hence aren’t growing as fast.

And the tomatoes are growing quite large, considering they’re supposed to be cherry tomatoes! I wonder if some of them were cross-pollinated, or probably mis-labelled at the garden center. It has happened before. Or maybe it’s my awesome gardening skills producing abnormally healthy and large fruit? If only.