Saturday, September 28, 2013

A Smattering of Color and Food

As the outdoor season winds down I am grateful to have the opportunity to garden in several greenhouses. It is always a rush for me to see the seeds germinating and food being created. The Farmers Markets are stuffed with produce and the colors and forms of
the veggies are always a fascination for me.
This  display of cauliflower was astonishing...bright purple, cheddar orange, typical white and an architectural romanesco.

The salad the purple cauliflower was in looked like a fiesta and the kitty is always around when it is salad time, poaching tomatoes. Can you believe it? A cat who likes to eat tomatoes...

The red peppers will be my next purchase for roasted red pepper jam and I may pickle a few. This week was spent processing tomatoes for the winter. Am trying not to waste produce and only buy so much at a time.

Spots in the garden continue to enchant. This beautyberry is in an out of the way spot, but is so spectacular for its bright purple berries in rows along the branches.

Aster 'Alma Potschke' - an incredibly neon pink bloom, very late in the garden on 4-5 foot plants. Have to try pinching this one to keep it a bit less leggy next year.

An astounding apple harvest this year compared to last year's bust. This is 'Wolf River' and the first year I'll get to try it. Going to pick tomorrow and make some applesauce.

A surprise Amaryllis that just popped out of the pot. Wasn't even watering it and it was tipped on its side. Was supposed to be resting up for holiday bloom!

I should have put a pencil or something so you can get the scale of these foxglove leaves in the nursery. The plants from last year are just immense. Have been trying to sell them but so few customers want something just "green".

The bed at the Oakland County Greenhouse, just planted. Put in the glass totem and some teepees for beans. The teepees are far too little for the six foot pole beans.

The beans are popping up fast. Have already thinned a few.

Was a little more light handed on sowing this season. Got so much flack from the greenhouse manager that I needed to thin my plants last year, that her message was drilled home. Arugula to the left, one of my favorite salad and sandwich greens.

New crop for me - Broccoli Raab - seems to be trendy right now, so I thought I'd jump on the bandwagon and give it a go.

The greenhouse display bed full of succulents and sweet potato vines. It was full of stuff that could handle to 120-130F heat in the summer months when the greenhouse is closed up.

Some people got a jumpstart on their beds and sowed heavily. This gal was already taking out a lot of thinnings. I told her to save them and add them to salad.

Other people are sort of OCD or fiendishly tidy with their square foot gardens. I must admit, however, that they usually do well. It is just a bit too fussy for my taste...

I keep going to market in Walled Lake and Armada and will through the third week of October, weather permitting. The asters look great this year, am glad I grew them for late season color. Most of the hardy mums have been a bust - pots too small for the crop and too shaded in Vicki's greenhouse. Wondering if I should grow mums at all next year...

The patio bed continues to mature and change with the seasons. Full of delphiniums, phlox and coreopsis earlier - it is now dominated by the nicotiana and the belgium mums. The belgiums are really well behaved and made this shape with no pinching - I may grow some of them next year...

That's the roundup for the last week of September. Can it really be October already?! The summer has flown by and it seems that the flowers are so ephemeral. Maybe that is why I love them so, because their colors, fragrance and form are just fleeting memories, moments of the season.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Indoor Community Garden Begins Again

So, I decided to do it again. Rented a bed at the Oakland County Greenhouse Complex in order to grow food - greens, root crops and herbs - for this winter. Got raves about the salad greens Vicki and I grew last winter and it was so great having the fresh food all season. It wasn't cheap in the short run - $150 for the 6x10 bed, but that covers 7 months, September through mid-April. So you figure it is only about $21.00 a month for the use of the bed.

Bed 35 is my home for the winter. Right in the middle of the greenhouse, it should stay a bit warmer than the beds I had last year. I added some amendments to the peat mix that is in the bed - humus and topsoil, plus some "Terra-sorb" moisture granules that may help keep the bed a bit wetter. Have a real problem getting the peat mix wet in the beginning as the greenhouse was dry all summer. Once peat dries down it becomes hydrophilic or wants to resist getting wet again. So this week I've watered and watered agin, preparing the bed to get some seeds.

Transplants are frowned upon and have to be kept in quarantine before being planted so, even though I have some transplants, I decided to sow the bed all from seed. The timing is great, though, as this week is the full moon and seeds come up readily at the full moon.
One of the nicest things about the greenhouse is the mix of people who do garden there. To the left is a picture of Nicole, one of my neighbors. Got to know Nicole last year as she tried to grow peppers and tomatoes. The greenhouse is kept at some pretty cool temperatures so the warm season crops are virtually impossible to get to bear fruit. Cool season crops like salad greens, root crops, all the brassica family and some herbs are the best choices. Been sharing with all the other gardeners I've met and have asked them about what crops they are planting. Since this is only the third year of the program, many people say they are learning from what they did last year.

My crops this year are as follows - 3 kinds of lettuces and a greens mix, broccoli raab, kale, onions, fingerling potatoes, beets, dill, nasturtiums, two kinds of spinach, both the new zealand variety and  an heirloom bloomsdale variety. Radishes, chard and a couple other crops round out the mix.
Gardeners have a wide variety of experience. Kelly, my neighbor seen above, is a newbie and has very little garden experience. She lives quite a ways away so I've offered to water her bed for her more frequently. Some of the gardeners are quite seasoned outdoor gardeners and have been growing vegetables for decades. I think one thing brings us all together - we all immensely enjoy having a warm, verdant spot to go to in the chilly months of January and February. On a snowy, sunny day when the outdoor temps are in the 20s, it is great to have a large greenhouse to go to and bask in the warm 80 degree sunshine.

Last night I finished planting the bed and gave it a little style. Used my purple glass totem for a decoration in the middle of the bed. The totem serves more that decoration, it provides an easy way for me to immediately spot my bed amongst 60 others. I also put up some bamboo pole teepees for the snap beans and as soon as I did, realized that they'll be too small. May just leave them or if I find a bit of cash - go out and buy a few taller poles. Gardeners do decorate their beds, one already has a gnome and a mushroom in hers and one gal has brought in a clock to help her keep better track of time while she's there.

All in all, it is a nice way to keep the garden addiction going throughout the winter. There are more beds available, contact the Oakland County Parks and Recreation offices and you can purchase a bed with a debit or credit card over the phone. The complex is at Scott Lake and Watkins Lake roads right next door to Waterford Oaks, the county park. Hours are Tues- Thurs 4-7pm and Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings until 1pm. The greenhouse is closed on Mondays.

Meanwhile work in the nursery and at the markets goes on. Yesterday, Pam and I cleared a bunch of brush from an area in Vicki's yard in order to establish a place for the smaller pots to overwinter. Going to try and overwinter the babies with some protection on the ground in this back corner. We still have a bit of brush to go and then level the soil and finally put down weed mat to prepare the area - but we made a huge dent in it yesterday.

Going to a new market this next week - the Walled Lake Farmers Market. Has a couple of great established vegetable vendors and a mix of crafts and food items. Nice little market, not far from home, and not too expensive to set up. We'll give it a try through October and see if we can develop a new market for next year. I'll be there Wednesdays from 7-1.

Hoping you are enjoying the autumnal equinox in your garden.

Linking to Tootsie Time - Fertilizer Friday for her roundup of gardeners around the world. Check it out!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

End of the season is drawing near

As the end of the season draws close - our first frost date runs around October15th - I find there is an urgency in the air to preserve all that summer flavor and freshness. I have been snapping up the stone fruits - peaches, plums and nectarines before their time of ripeness is over. Making and selling the homemade jams, each one being a new experiment it seems. Sometimes they are tough to get set, sometimes I use too much pectin and they set too stiff, but each one is a delicious moment of flavor captured in season. I confess I have been using other than Michigan strawberries to make that flavor jam but it is so popular I have sold out all the earlier batches.

Next comes the tomato canning fest. I need to put up 20 pints or more, judging by what I went through this last year. I like to have the home-canned tomatoes, preserving their in-season flavor, until tomato season comes around again. That way I figure I need jars of tomatoes to last from November until June - that's 7 months worth. In season, I use the fresh tomatoes in my cooking and have made the best crock-pot stew and a hamburger goulash lately that just fairly pop with flavor.

If you decide to go the home-canned route, I suggest, if you really plan to do some putting up, to invest in a few pieces of good equipment. One thing you've got to have for water-bath canning is a giant pot. You'll need a place to store this monster, but it needs to be deep enough to cover quart jars, if you use them, with an inch of water. I put mine in the off times on top of the fridge. This canning pot will come, usually with a rack to keep the jars from touching the bottom of the pot as the water boils.
My new green cast-iron pot
The other investment I just made is a seven-quart, enameled cast iron pot. Truly a heavy thing but worth the investment if you do a fair number of jams. The enamel makes it acid-safe and is a breeze to clean up. Much relief after scrubbing out scorched thinner pots for days! The heaviness and iron in the pot ensure even heating and the thickness prevents scorching. The enamel coating just cleans up with a dishrag and hot water and soap, the lining of the pot ensures that no iron or aluminum will leach into the product. I invested in my new green pot - I thought kind of expensive at $49.99 at Meijer's but after searching on-line for the same thing I found much pricier items.

You'll also need a "canning kit" - well worth the price. The best thing is the jar lifter - specifically designed to securely grab the tops of jars when they are in that searing hot water so you can transfer jars around safely. The other things that I find very useful are the funnel and the magnetic lid lifter, great for getting the lids out of their hot-water bath before putting them on the jars. I also use a plastic ladle for moving the hot slurry to the jars - don't use a metal one or you'll be running your burnt fingers under cold water in a hurry. I also took a tip from a cookbook and found all those wooden skewers I had collected, using the skewers to run around the jar to get rid of air bubbles. The wood won't scratch the jar or get hot.

Stawberry and Vanilla- Pear Jams
Of course you'll need jars and their two-piece lids and a few bowls, large and small, for holding hot lids and various ice baths or lemon-water solutions. It sounds like a lots of stuff, trouble and work - but let me tell you home-canned food has it all over the grocery store thing. The products make great gifts and if you are industrious it can be a sideline of things for you to sell. Am also doing extracts of the various herbs and spices I have grown and bought - Vanilla, Mint, am going to try lemon verbena and citronella as well. Can't sell the extracts unless I get licensed by the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms- good grief! - but I can give them away as gifts and use them at home. I go through lots of vanilla in my baking and cooking and will use the citronella to spray on the horse to keep flies at bay.

So that's the canning thing. I also am still working in the nursery, seeding a few later fall crops, but the marketing has fallen off drastically. Not selling much, even though prices are discounted and I am in a quandary as to how I can overwinter all these small pots. Don't think I am going to do the one-gallon potting blitz that I did last year, so I've got to figure out where to put all the stuff that is on benches. The smaller pots will overwinter if sitting on the ground, but they'll fry if I leave them on the benches. So am looking for more real estate somewhere close by!

Am going to try one more new market - Wednesdays from 7-1 at the Walled Lake Farmers Market - it's only about 10 miles away and I am told it is a nice market. So this next week I'll check it out and I hope to be setting up through October. Armada, on Sundays, continues through October as well. May try the Royal Oak Market again. Went there to check out the Friday business yesterday and the vendors tell me Friday is slow. So we'll decide this next week if I'll try it.

Fenton is all done with and it went out with a whimper. Drove the 35 miles to the market, set-up and the skies darkened and it let loose with a  driving rainstorm.
Double rainbow driving home from Fenton
Sold a couple things before the heavens dumped upon us so it covered my gas - but what a disappointment. Did get some nice tomatoes and some lovely fingerling potatoes, though - so there's always a bright side.

On the winter front - I was able to get a bed at the community garden greenhouses! I think there are quite a few beds available for anyone who wants to get one - contact the Oakland County Parks and Recreation Department for more info. The first day is today and so I'll get some soil and start amending the bed. It will be fun to see if any of the folks from last year return. Have already ordered seeds and will share some of those with Paul and his produce for his fall gardens.

That's the roundup for this week. Again, will join Tootsie Time for the fertilizer Friday party she holds - so check out her blog for updates from around the world. May you be enjoying this transitions of the seasons and I hope you are saving some of the flavor and fragrance that this time of year can offer.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Fall is arriving

September appears on the calendar and it seems like fall makes an appearance as well. Even though we still have a few weeks before the autumnal equinox, the weather has turned cool and crisp in the mornings and the humidity seems to have gone as well. Fall is probably my favorite time of year - not just because of those oh-so-cozy plaid shirts, pumpkins and apples you see in all the ads, and it is not only a perfect time to ride the horse - no heat, no bugs - but it is the perfect time to work in the garden. Plants take to transplanting much better in the fall than spring in my opinion, the air is cool but the soil is still warm and there is plenty of time for good root growth to make healthy plants next year.

I think the last of the season flowers are some of my favorites. This is Hosta 'Royal Standard', a plain, kelly green variety but with oh-so-fragrant flowers that make great cuts.

Plumbago is a real performer as well with its lovely cobalt-blue flowers and the foliage turns a glorious red-maroon in the later fall.

I've come late to discovering the Japanese Anemones, but I love them. This is a variety I grew in the nursery last year - its name escapes me now.

Japanese Anemone 'Honorine Joubert' is a stately 3' tall with clear white blooms that seem to go until frost.

Anemone 'Robustissima' is smaller but as aggressive if not more so as a spreader. I suggest you give the Anemones plenty of room or do as I do - grow them lean and kind of dry.

An aster in the nursery billed as Blue Star I believe. The asters are great for their cool color spectrum this time of year - a nice relief to all the bronze and gold of the mums.

First year growing this one - Helenium 'Red Jewel' - someone asked for it last year and, naturally, hasn't returned, but it is a nice plant for a prairie effect or for the back of the border for late summer color.

The tomatoes soldier on, but this one, Paisano, supposed to be an heirloom, has succumbed to wilt I believe. Not so keen on it - lots of flesh but very dry. Was going to can a bunch of romas, but this one makes me rethink that strategy.

Cherry tomato sungold seems to have the wilt too. I don't think I missed too many waterings... This plant sure is prolific - I can't keep up with it.

I think this broccoli is DeCicco, small heads but some off shoots. Broccoli takes up so much space in my little garden, I think I'll buy it at the market.

And, finally, the nicotiana 'Fragrant Delight' just gets bigger and better. 3' stalks with heavenly-smelling pure white flowers. Really lovely at sunset.

That's the early September garden tour this week. In the meantime, while I am contemplating changes to the fall garden, I keep on canning and putting food up. Going to eat well this winter!

Joining Tootsie Time for her Fertilizer Friday roundup of gardens around the world. Check her blog out, it's always lots of fun.