Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Fall/Winter Vegetable Garden

For a successful second harvest, I try to plant vegetables late in the summer so they will have sufficient time to root well. By doing this, we will have fresh vegetables to pick through the mild winters we have in Tidewater, Virginia. We are fortunate to be included in the northernmost part of Hardiness Zone 8a. In addition, the exact geographic location is directly in line with the warm winds from the Chesapeake Bay to raise our temperature between 2 to 4 degrees higher than the "official" temperature, which is recorded at the Norfolk Airport. That makes a tremendous difference when planning ahead for anticipated frosts and cold weather.

I thought I would share a look around my garden to let others see what I have planted to get us through to springtime. It's not fancy, but functional. My garden harvests will provide vegetables for many meals during this time of year. The canned produce will provide meals later on in the year. I hope you enjoy browsing through the pictures.

The leeks to the far right are growing, but they are growing slowly. You can't tell, but this end of the row has plants that I grew from seeds. The other end were transplants. Currently, those from seeds are smaller than a pen refill's diameter. The seeds were planted in a flat on September 14th. According to the charts, they are supposed to be ready for harvest on the 13th of December, six weeks away. I don't see that happening. In the center of the picture is a row of Rainbow Swiss Chard. They were on sale, so I bought a whole flat of them. They were large and had broken leaves and stems, but I thought I'd take a chance on them. If you get multiple harvests from them anyway, why not cut the leaves back to stems that are about one inch long and plant the large root deep enough so that it will have plenty of surface area under the soil to root itself better. That's what I did and it looks like it is paying off. The stubs of these plants were planted in my garden on October 10th. They look very healthy, don't you agree?

To the right, I have a row of broccoli planted at the same time as the Swiss chard. It is looking pretty good. To the left and far left are two rows of Brussels sprouts. I may have some ready before the end of December, but I really anticipate a harvest after the first of the year.

My second crop of Fortex snap beans (or green beans) is doing very well so far. Since October 7th, I have picked 27.5 pounds of them. I canned some in my pressure canner. I cooked some to go with our meals and I gave some to an elderly friend. They are really delicious! They are heavy bearers and the individual beans are as much as eleven inches in length, and are absolutely stringless. I get my Fortex green bean seeds from the Johnny's Selected Seeds catalog in Maine. I've been doing that for three years.

These two pictures are of the sugar pumpkin vines. They're supposed to be great for baking and soups. They should weigh in at around five pounds apiece. Unfortunately, I already had one 2 inch pumpkin turn yellow and come off the vine due to the soil being too wet after all the recent rain.

To the right in the picture and at this end of the row, I have butter crunch lettuce, a first time grower this year. The remainder of that row is filled with more rainbow Swiss chard. Towards the center and also to the left in the picture, I have two rows of Vates collards. They are always a hardy plant for winter growing in this area.

The slicing cucumbers don't know what to do. Between some chilly nights and all the rain, they look like they want to give up and die. I still hope to get a handful of cucumbers off these vines, even though over half of the plants are already destined for the compost pile because they are already dead.

These two rows are broccoli planted on September 10th. They are coming along satisfactorily.

This is another row of Brussels sprouts. The cabbage moths have given me a lot of trouble this year. After verification of organic origin, I applied some Bt to impact their assault on my crops. At least the damage is slowing down.

These are giant marconi green peppers. They are a little longer and narrower than the standard green bell pepper. I have always had great difficulty in growing green peppers. I don't know what was different this time, maybe it was the type of pepper plant or the weather. I don't know, but I have already harvested 112 green peppers weighing 15.95 pounds since June 14th. As you can see in the pictures, they are ready to pick again.

It won't be too many more weeks before the horseradish is ready to harvest. I have one large two year old plant and about 11 one year old plants that my Mom sent to me earlier this year. I cut off the root and left the crown (top) about an inch long with an angled cut, indicating that was the bottom of the root. I didn't want to get them mixed up and plant them upside down. It really makes some great horseradish!

This is my chayote plant, or vegetable pear. Any harvest from this will be a gamble this year. The summer heat almost killed it, but then it came back. It's continuing to grow more and more vines with tiny fruits on them. You can see some of them in the pics. Whether or not they will grow to harvest size remains to be seen. I'm hoping so.

These are my Ruby Queen beets planted in a barrel. My last potato plant was eaten by a caterpillar, so I decided to try beets in a barrel. Although they're a cool weather crop they are growing slowly. According to the charts, the scheduled maturity date is November 17th. I realize that this time of year, nothing is guaranteed, but it's worth trying.

The Heritage Red raspberries are producing their second crop this year. Since they were planted so late in the year, I really didn't think there would be a second crop. The plants are small and we're talking about 131 red raspberries so far. At least they'll have a head start for next year. I planted them in the space between my driveway and the house foundation. It tapers out from 8 inches to 14 inches wide, but I figured I would rather give this a try as opposed to just cutting the grass there. I think it will work. After all, I have 131 more red raspberries than I did before.

The lemon grass, or schav, needs to be transplanted into the ground instead of being in a container. There, I think it will spread out nicely and I will get a better harvest. It's great for soups with its sour, lemony flavor.

I was sent a plant from my mom's garden in upstate New York. It had something else growing in the pot with it. The little leaves looked familiar, so I picked one. I rolled it between my fingers and smelled it. It was spearmint! I was delighted to have it. I carefully took it out of the pot and snipped the main root of the spearmint. Each leaf had a piece of the original root with it. I planted those cuttings in small individual containers so they could root well and grow into larger plants. You want to have mint in containers because it spreads by the roots. Some consider it to be invasive. If it is in the ground, it is said that it will take over everything around it.

This is what is left of my carrots after the caterpillars of the swallowtail butterfly visited for a few days. It was crowded in there when they were here. There were as many as 17 at a time on the carrot tops, chowing down. They were using it for food to grow on and that is fine with me. I like the carrots, but swallowtails are beautiful butterflies! I don't mind feeding them at all. The carrots will probably grow more top foliage anyway.

I planted chives in a container. The roots will develop and then I can plant it in a permanent location. As a perennial, I want it in the ground by springtime.

The grapes are finally slowing down in vine growth. I'm hoping that the root systems have developed as well as the vines did. The vines are three years old now, so next year I expect to begin harvesting a lot of grapes. When I bought my grape vines, it was a holiday deal: Red, White and Blue. The red grapes are "Reliance; the white ones are "Himrod"; and the blue ones are "Glenora". All of these are of the seedless variety. I had one cluster of Glenora grapes this past summer and they were delicious! My youngest grandaughter loved them. Can't wait for all of the vines to begin heavy production.

The scallions of the green onions will be ready for one more harvest before the cold weather really inhibits their growth. These are from the green onions I bought at the grocery store. I used the scallions from them and instead of throwing the leftover bulbs on the compost pile, I stuck them in a container. The next cutting of the scallions will be the third time I've cut them this year. It has been well worth the little time it took to pot them.

French Tarragon has grown well this year. It has already been clipped once but I will probably make one more cutting and use it to make a vinegar for salads.

Here are some containers with fennel growing in them. My goal is to make a planting of it in a corner of our yard and let it stay there year after year without harvesting. I saw the ones at Bluebird Gap Farm in Newport News. There were hundreds of butterfly caterpillars all over them. Allowed to grow year after year without harvesting, it gets quite large and tall. I was told it was about ten years old. The cluster appeared to be four feet wide and seven or eight feet tall. It was remarkable! The caterpillars were having a feast. To support butterfly population growth, that's what I'm going to do too.

These are the remainder of the leeks that grew from seed that I planted in a flat. I'm going to find a place to put them in the ground, hopefully they'll grow. They are NOT a fast grower by any stretch of the imagination.

To summarize it all, this is my entire plot behind my shop. Simply due to geographic location, I refer to it as the "West Field".

"And now, the rest of the story." This area is geographically positioned on the east side of our property, so I refer to it as the "East Field".

After all is said and done, the remaining plant material after the veggie harvest ends up here, the compost pile. I was able to find six big bags of grass clippings in the nearby neighborhoods yesterday. I'll be blending those in with my compost this afternoon to get it cooking. You can see the apple peelings that came from making dehydrated apples. Most of the brown pile you see is what's left of the tomato vines I mulched with the lawn mower a few weeks ago. You can hardly identify them now.

Once again we come to the close of a posting, and as always, I thank you for taking the time to visit. I hope you enjoyed it!

Have a great gardening day!

Veggie PAK

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Making Green Tomato Relish.

We have 32 pounds of mostly green tomatoes that were picked while pulling out the remaining tomato vines. We're going to use these to make another batch of Green Tomato Relish, using the same recipe as last year when it turned out so well.

Our food grinder has an interesting history. It was purchased as an antique in a rummage sale in Washington State by a friend who lived there. It came with only one cutter, so she decided to use it to make applesauce. She did that for 2 or 3 apple seasons. Then life found her moving to the east coast. The food grinder was shipped with everything else across the country to Virginia. The need for space came along so they donated some things to a church rummage sale, the food grinder was included. I saw it and immediately bought it for only one dollar. That's when we got its story. I used it to make my green tomato relish last year and it worked great!

Here are the ground up tomatoes in an 18 quart heavy gauge stainless steel stock pot. The tomatoes have a nice fresh green appearance.

Just finished grinding up the red and green peppers for the relish. It looks like a Christmas dish is being prepared.

The tomatoes and peppers are in the pot. I'm thankful to have such a great pot for cooking and canning. This is a lot of ingredients, and the onions haven't been added yet.

My wife and I shed some tears over this part of the process. Grinding up seven pounds of sweet onions!

After thoroughly mixing the ground tomatoes, peppers and onions, the mixture had to be drained in colanders for one hour to remove the excess water. You can hardly see them, but the colanders are sitting in bowls.

Sterilizing the jars is very important for the food safety aspect of this work. You don't want to risk getting a case of botulism. You don't want to waste your efforts and ingredients either. I boil my jars for ten minutes and then turn off the heat. I let them sit there until ready for use. Since the mixture has to be brought to a boil and then simmered for 5 minutes, hot ingredients into hot jars is my preferred way to go.

There is another benefit from using a heavy old Navy ship's stock pot that weighs several pounds by itself. Look on the interior walls of the pot, you can see the numbers of how many quarts of materials you have in it. This amount of mixture is a generous "10" quarts without the vinegar added. You can see the number 10 halfway covered up by the relish mixture. When working with varying amounts of product for canning, the quantity being identified on the wall of the pot is a tremendous help in balancing the recipe. The stainless steel stock pot was given to me. I bought a lid from a restaurant supplier. The stainless steel lid alone was $24, but it was SO worth it in the long run. I have been using this pot for several years now and am very thankful to have it.

This is the end result of all the work on the relish project. Twenty three pints of wonderful green tomato relish!

This is the storage shelf with 159 jars of canned organic vegetables from the garden. Two jars are filled with home made beef jerky. The rest are pasta sauce, pizza sauce, salsa, tomato sauce, home made tomato soup, tomatoes, banana pepper mustard, green beans and of course, green tomato relish! More beef jerky and dried fruits will be added to this storage area. I will have to build another shelf to hold the additional jars.

For anyone interested in making this relish, here is the recipe. I found it online and have been using it for two years. As with all recipes, you can adjust the ingredient quantities to suit your tastes as you see fit.

Green Tomato Relish
Original Recipe Yield 12 pints
• 24 large green tomatoes
• 3 red bell peppers, halved and seeded
• 3 green bell peppers, halved and seeded
• 12 large onions
• 3 tablespoons celery seed
• 3 tablespoons mustard seed
• 1 tablespoon salt
• 5 cups white sugar
• 2 cups cider vinegar
1. In a grinder or food processor, coarsely grind tomatoes, red bell peppers, green bell peppers, and onions. (You may need to do this in batches.) Line a large colander with cheesecloth, place in sink or in a large bowl, and pour in tomato mixture to drain for 1 hour.
2. In a large, non-aluminum stockpot, combine tomato mixture, celery seed, mustard seed, salt, sugar, and vinegar. Bring to a boil and simmer over low heat 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
3. Sterilize enough jars and lids to hold relish (12 one-pint jars, or 6 one-quart jars). Pack relish into sterilized jars, making sure there are no spaces or air pockets. Fill jars all the way to top. Screw on lids.
4. Place a rack in the bottom of a large stockpot and fill halfway with boiling water. Carefully lower jars into pot using a holder. Leave a 2 inch space between jars. Pour in more boiling water if necessary, until tops of jars are covered by 2 inches of water. Bring water to a full boil, then cover and process for 30 minutes.
5. Remove jars from pot and place on cloth-covered or wood surface, several inches apart, until cool. Once cool, press top of each lid with finger, ensuring that seal is tight (lid does not move up or down at all). Relish can be stored for up to a year.

As always, thanks for visiting my blog. Remember, if you have questions or comments, feel free to send them to my email address: veggiegardenblogger@gmail.com

Have a great gardening day!


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Canning the "Snaps".

Now it's canning time.

This is an 18 quart galley pot that I use for canning. I'm ready to begin processing the snap beans, or "snaps" as some folks like to call them.

These are the beans that couldn't fit into the 18 quart pot. I don't like cooking in an over-filled pot that sloshes over the sides when you are stirring the contents. I moved more of the beans into the second pot, since there were too many to process in one pot.

After processing three pressure canner loads of snap beans at 7 quarts each, I was ready to call it a day. The canning is completed and the jars have cooled overnight. This is what the preserved portion of my bean harvest looks like up to this point in time. Twenty-one quarts of delicious snap beans!

I'm thankful that I planned ahead for the second crop of warm weather vegetables for my garden. I know we'll enjoy these beans in the coming months.

Thanks for visiting!

Veggie PAK

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Sunday, October 10, 2010

One of the Reasons I Grow Organic Vegetables...

is for protecting the pollinators. Without them, we wouldn't have vegetables to eat. I planted two pots of fennel in order to provide food for the Monarch butterfly to prosper. Currently, the fennel plants are only two to three inches high. I figured I'd be able to provide food for the Monarchs by next year. Well, did I get a surprise yesterday! The fennel is untouched, but the dill I had planted in two pots that had grown to be about four or five inches high, is GONE! The Monarch caterpillars are here already, and boy are they hungry! They have eaten my dill, which I happily surrender to them for their food. They are heavily into the green foliage of my carrots that I grew in a container. All of a sudden, one day they're here. I am really happy about that! The following pictures show some of the Monarch caterpillars with their beautiful colors. Enjoy!

I hope you enjoyed seeing these as much as I did.

Have a wonderful day!

Veggie PAK