Archive for July 4th, 2010

Season Extension and Fall Gardening Class

Sharon July 4th, 2010

Just to let you know, I’m going to be starting another class this coming week, beginning on Tuesday -  this one helping people get started with fall gardening and season extension.  If you are like most folks, you probably start out enthusiastic about your garden, but around the middle of the summer, you get focused on harvesting, or overwhelmed and let the cool season garden peter out.  And that’s a mistake, because with very simple and cheap methods of season extension and a little attention right about now (for those as northerly as me, a bit later for folks south of me in this hemisphere), you can be eating fresh produced well into winter.

Moreover, cool season gardening is satisfying and a lot of fun - fewer bugs, cooler weather, usually more rainfall - the conditions are optimal, the air is crisp and cool and there’s just no reason to watch things peter out when you could be enjoying your garden until snowfly - or longer in many places.

But getting the timing right of fall crops can be complicated and takes practice, and learning what techniques work and don’t to extend your season, or how to deal with hot weather at planting time can be challenging, and this class is for people from beginners to advanced gardeners who still haven’t figured all this out.

Like all my classes, this one is online and asynchronous. It lasts four weeks, from July 7 to July 27.  You participate when you have time, and while I put up most of the week’s material on Tuesdays, I’m available regularly through the week.  The class includes weekly readings, lots of discussion and planning help and guidance, and one 15 minute phone conversation to talk about any questions or problems you are having, or strategize on designing how to get the most out of your garden.

Cost of the class is $100, and I have four spots still available for low income scholarship students. I ask that if you are applying for scholarship you give me a brief explanation of why you would qualify.    Anyone who would like to donate a part or whole of an additional scholarship spot can get in touch with me about that and 100% of the cost of your donation will go to making the class free for another low income participant.

To join the class or get more information, please email me at [email protected].  Here’s the syllabus:

Week I, July 6 - Introduction to the basics of cool season gardening and fall planting, garden planning, choosing varieties, estimating planting dates, finding space in your garden, designing for a three (or four) season garden.

Week II, July 13 - Introduction to Season Extension, strategies for extending your season, dealing with heat and cold, water and irrigation, cheap and dirty season extension techniques, timing for preservation.

Week III, July 20 - Cover cropping, using containers to extend the season, seed saving, Greenhouses, hoophouses and more advanced season extension, winter harvesting, recipes from a cool season garden, troubleshooting the fall garden.

Week IV, July 27 - Mulching, making the best use of small space, using vertical space in the winter, tropicals and pushing your zone hardiness limits,  Choosing perennials to extend the season,  Menus from the snow.



Independence Days Update: The First Tomato

Sharon July 4th, 2010

I ate the first ripe tomato today on the fourth of July.  I just feel that statement should be preserved in amber, because it is the dream I always begin with in February.  When the first tomato seeds go into the ground in winter, the fourth of July is the dream date.  Most years, we don’t make it - too cold, too wet, too something.  But in winter, when summer seems infinitely far away, I dream of a hot day Independence Day in summer, popping a sweet cherry tomato into my mouth.

And today I got to do it - it was from a variety I’ve never grown before “Venus” designed for container culture.  These are the smallest tomatoes I’ve ever grown - true dwarfs.  But they have a surprisingly heavy yield for their size and the two that I ate today were sweet - not as good as sungold, but better than my usual first tomato, Glacier. 

I’m in between trips right now - I was in New York City for a few days earlier this week with the boys and Eric and my mother in law, back for a bit, and then headed to Boston to celebrate my great-aunt’s 90th birthday.  After that we dive into the meat of July - Eli attends summer school and the other boys are attending a wonderful skills-oriented camp program for three weeks.  Meanwhile, Eric and I plan to use most of the time with no obligations and several uninterrupted hours every morning (this is very unusual for us) to build buck pens, put up fencing and continue expanding the garden beds. 

That last couple of days have been more about getting what we already have in order - weeding, sorting, planting a few things still lingering.  I started the fall broccoli and cabbage crop, got two of the production herb beds planted, finished up the peas and planted late cucumbers and have been generally trying to get ready to go away again.  Phil the awesome housemate did a terrific job on his first soloing with the creatures, but this time he may have to do some garden work as well, so I’m in the process of figuring out how to get him up to speed - and also minimize his time spent on this, since his orals are rapidly approaching.

We’re t-three weeks from first goat babies, and that’ll be the other priority - getting a second kidding pen built, getting my supplies in order and preparing for the babies.  We did the first round of vaccinations for the girls due early, and will do the second one on Tuesday.  I’m not sure if Tekky’s pregnant or not - she’s a *lot* thinner than the other girls, and I can’t tell by palpating.  It is possible that she didn’t settle on the first go round and is due a month after the other girls.

I’m enjoying the fact that chores take so little time without milking, but I admit, I’m also looking forward to milking again - and I hate buying milk.  Although my kids think it is a huge treat - everyone was so excited to have cow’s milk again - Asher said “Mommy, I love cow’s milk!”  He likes the goat stuff fine too, so presumably that will also have the pleasure of novelty when it comes back into our lives.

We are done with the cherries, but it was quite an orgy while it lasted.  I have a few cherry trees, just coming into production, but our local pick-your-own has them, and we picked a lot - I think picking cherries is my favorite kind of fruit harvesting.  You are reaching up rather than bending down, you get to be in the shade, and well, then there’s all these cherries.  We ate them and ate them, dried them and jammed them (although it didn’t set up very well), and I had the last few this morning.  I fantasize that there will be a few left on the trees next week, but I know that the season is short and its time is past - soon it will be blueberries.  But I have trouble letting go of cherries for some reason. 

I’ve been harvesting and drying herbs quite steadily, and I’m starting to figure out what it will take in terms of existing plants to grow a given weight of dried herbs. I spent part of yesterday experimenting with tea blends - my favorite is a headache blend that combines Betony, Skullcap, Lemon Verbena and Lemon Balm - it tastes almost exactly like a black tea with lemon.  Betony is a superb black tea substitute, as well as being a lovely medicinal.

Another success was the greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts combo I pulled together for respiratory conditions - Elecampane, Yarrow, Anise Hyssop and Peppermint.  Neither elecampane root nor yarrow is a particularly yummy tasting herb - both are strong, and elecampane has an odd spiciness, not unpleasant, but a little strange, while yarrow is fairly bitter.  Oddly, the four together create a really surprisingly pleasant synthesis - I might add some cinnamon as well, but I liked it more than I expected. 

We have set up our mudroom as an herb drying room, but it remains to be seen whether this will be wholly successful or not - I really don’t yet have an optimal way of drying herbs quickly and effectively.  The problem is that my solar dryer on a sunny day gets far too hot to effectively preserve herbs, while on an overcast day often doesn’t dry them fast enough.  Since it is important to dry herbs very quickly but at low temperatures and out of direct sunlight to best preserve their medicinal qualities, I’ve been trying to figure out something that works as well as my electric dehydrator, which is extremely effective, but which obviously uses electricity.  My solar dryer is great for fruit and vegetables, but not ideal for herbs.  Hanging in my house usually takes too long - the herbs lose color and fragrance.  I’ve tried the attic, and that’s ok - but cleaning out the attic to be able to really use it will be something of a production, and not something I want to do in July, when it is 100 degrees in there.  Thus, the mudroom, which heats up well.

What I’ve found is that it doesn’t hold heat well over night, though, and in the cool stretch we had last week, the herbs took too long to dry and weren’t of the quality I want.  I may have to break down and do what other growers I know have - reserve space in a hoophouse to get appropriate temps, but I don’t have one yet, so that won’t be this year.  I’m watching to see how we do in this hot, dry stretch.

The sour cherries are just about ready to be picked, and the peaches and plums are coloring up.  The wild raspberries are producing, and the blueberries will be along next week.  My black currants would be ready, but the goats got at them - I won’t have many black currants this year.  I’m going to move the bushes in behind the fence - I was lazy, because the goats had ignored them.

Otherwise, not too much going on here - quiet and peaceful and hot.  With all the young plants going in, I’m having to water more than I like, but our well is good and the year hasn’t been so terribly dry.  It would have been smarter to put everything in earlier, but then we’d have had to have the beds built.  As always, reality and the ideal come banging firmly against one another. 

Plant something: Cucumbers, bush beans, broccoli, cabbage, kale, mesclun, chard, echinacea (3 varieties), skullcap, yarrow, horehound, vervain, blue vervain, marshmallow, valerian, feverfew, blue cohosh, spilanthes, dill, sage, pennyroyal, betony, elecampane, angelica

Harvest something: Tomatoes, zucchini, snap peas, shelling peas, strawberries, raspberries, cherries, eggs,  motherwort, yarrow, meadowsweet, yellow bedstraw, chamomile, calendula, basil, rosemary, thyme, oregano, kale, mesclun, lettuce

Preserve something: Made cherry jam, dried cherries, canned rhubarb sauce, dried herbs, froze snap peas

Waste Not: Because we’ve been travelling, we’re trying not to build up food that won’t get eaten, so mostly just trying to cook in correct quantities.  Otherwise, the usual composting, not throwing stuff out, etc..

Want Not: Picked up the pasta I ordered way back when.

Eat the food:  Cherries, cherries and more cherries.  And snap peas.  This time of year, I find it hard to do creative cooking - everything tastes so delicious just as it is!

Build community food systems: Nothing new.

How about you?