Okay. So we've pretty much got tomatoes covered (we'll talk about green tomatoes in the next post). So let's talk about gardens, and the putting-to-bed thereof.
Wait. First let's talk about the gardens themselves. A few years ago, while visiting Amy's fambly in Georgia, we stumbled upon an old copy of Mel Bartholomew's Square Foot Gardening that belonged to Amy's uncle. Amy got about 3/4 of the way through it before the weekend was up, so her uncle kindly donated the book to "the cause"--the cause being our gardens. We'd put together some ramshackle first-timer gardens the year before, with a moderate amount of success, so why not bite off way more than we could possibly chew and plant four (4) square foot gardens (Mel recommends one or two for first-timers--booo-ring!)? And, just to make sure that we didn't have any extra time to spare, why not build five (5) rain barrels?
Long story short, the weather wasn't great, Mel's soil recommendations weren't very good (we have great soil here--Mel recommends creating your own soil mix and totally disregarding what you've got...we respectfully disagree), and our gardens weren't that happy.
This year though, we were far more prepared. We made spreadsheets. Let me say it again for effect: SPREADSHEETS. We raised a few beds, busted out the rain barrels, and prepared to kick major garden ass. And over all, this year went really well. We got enough rain to almost entirely avoid municipal water and had good enough weather that most of our stuff thrived: lettuce, green beans (performed like true champeens), cucumbers, zucchini, kale, tomatoes, summer squash, bell peppers, hot peppers, celery, carrots, potatoes, and herbs. We had some failures too, of course: spinach never did a thing; the second crop of lettuce gave up without a fight; the butternut squash was strangled evil-twin-in-the-womb-style by the summer squash; and the bell peppers I just claimed as a success were actually pretty damn small.
We found ways to eat most of this stuff as it came in...though we struggled with a few things. I mean, zucchini got it's own tag. We still haven't used it all.
And here we are at the end of the season. So what to do with all the stuff that's still there?
Carrots: Dig 'em up, remove the greens, wash 'em, and refrigerate. Carrots will last quite a long time in the refrigerator. If you have a huge surplus of carrots, you can blanch and freeze them. In theory, you can also leave them until spring; they'll be larger and sweeter. We couldn't wait. (more info)
Potatoes: Dig 'em up, wash 'em, store 'em in an attractive bowl. You can also blanch these, if you have too many. Or make a bed out of mashed potatoes. Your call. We had a lot better luck with our red potatoes than brown, for what it's worth. They're smaller and seem to thrive better in smaller gardens. (more info)
Celery: Same as carrots. Seriously. Exactly the same. That being said, a lot of our celery was still looking a little small, so we covered them in 1' cubed garden boxes, in hopes that they'll keep trying. Don't they love us? (more info)
Green Beans: Almost the same as carrots. Green beans won't keep as long, and it's far more likely (if you're gardens are identical to ours) that you'll have more than you can use before they go bad. You'll very likely have to blanch these guys. We did. Just boil them for 3 minutes, then bathe in ice-cold water for another 6 minutes. Freeze. I hope I'm not ruining the suspense, but that's pretty much all blanching means for most produce (except tomatoes). (more info)
Peppers: There's no way you have enough peppers to be worried about this. If so, please send by carrier pigeon to: Ypsilanti, MI, USA. I'm sure either I or Jennifer from Scrumpdilly will get them. Otherwise, you can: (more info).
Kale: See Peppers. You're pretty much just stuck eating kale, which isn't a bad thing. In general, you can freeze greens, but you'd have to be working pretty hard to grow enough greens that you couldn't use them up before they went bad. But maybe you craftily picked up a ton from a local farmer? Well...you can freeze them. As usual, just blanch and freeze. Can you see the pattern here? (more info)
Cabbage: Okay. I'm actually serious this time. You can't possibly have enough cabbage to really be overthinking this. Of course, one head of cabbage lasts like a month...so, if you grew two, I guess that's a problem. You can blanch cabbage. But c'mon!
Tomatoes: We've already detailed our adventures in canning, so what more could there be? Well, not all of your tomatoes are going to be ripe. But you need to harvest the green ones before it gets nasty out, or they'll all just rot. So. Here's what you do: take the heartiest greens and wrap them in paper and put them in a box. Store the box in a cool place (in theory a basement or cellar--we have ours in our three-season room). They'll ripen. In the box. How awesome is nature? We did this two years ago and had fresh tomatoes into December. The not-so-hearty, will-be-rotting-soon, have-started-to-rot-but-are-still-salvageable tomatoes can be saved too. Cut off the bad parts, slice 'em up, and make Baked Green Tomatoes.
Before freezing most veggies, you'll want to blanch them. Though the time can vary a little depending on the veggie (pay close attention on potatoes [they're a starch]--you can wing it on most other stuff, if you're a wingin' it kinda person), the general rule of thumb is put in boiling water for 3 minutes, then put in ice cold water for 6. The less dense the veggie, the less time it needs. So green beans, for instance, only require about a minute in the boiling water. You can freeze veggies as soon as they're drained.
Herbs: This is a little more complicated, depending on which herbs are perennial and which aren't. So here ya go:
- rosemary (BUT--this can't deal with major cold; you have to transplant and bring it in.)
Any/all of these can be dried. Just hang them in a warm, dry place. The more you can separate them, the better they will dry. In terms of harvesting, you should grab all of the annuals and pull up the roots. The perennials, you can leave--except for the rosemary; it doesn't like temps under 30 degrees Fahrenheit. You need to dig it up, pot it, and bring it in. The rest of the perennials should be harvested almost fully; just leave enough for the plant to start strong next year.
Additionally, cilantro, parsley, and basil can all be made into pesto, put into ice-cube trays, and frozen.
This might seem like a lot of work, but it's all pretty easy and the payoff is well worth it--far easier than canning.
Now if we could just teach our cats to run an indoor hothouse for year-round lettuce.