The Milkweed Diaries

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Year in the Garden: 2008

2008 was a bountiful year in our garden.  But not without its challenges: in the second year of a severe drought and with our house still under construction, the garden needed lots more time and attention than we could give it.  I dream of the day when we're no longer hustling to get an indoor shower built before cold weather, for instance, at the height of the fall harvest.  Despite these stumbling blocks, the rich riverbottom soil and warm mountain valley sunshine and a little well water helped the garden thrive.  The earth is so generous and bountiful, even in times of drought and distraction!

Here's what we grew this year....

Basil: We grew Genovese (some of which I am hugging in the photo below). We made lots of pesto.

Beans: We only grew one variety this year, to make seed saving easier on ourselves. I've grown this heirloom for 4 or 5 years now, and I highly recommend it: Cherokee Trail of Tears Black Beans (pictured above, shelled and drying). Besides the beautiful history of this ancient variety of dry bean, it tastes wonderful and grows very well in this region (from whence it came). We planted a pound of seeds from Seed Savers Exchange.  We harvested about 25 pounds of shelled beans.

Beets: Bull's Blood planted in the spring; Chioggia and Detroit Dark Red in the fall. We ate the greens, we ate the roots, we ate the thinnings, we ate shredded beets, sliced beets, pickled beets, juiced beets, cooked beets, beet green pesto, we ate lots of beets.

Bok Choy: We planted China Choy in the fall.  It was one of the heartiest greens in the cold winter months, grown under floating row cover once frosty weather set in.

Our spring broccoli crop produced through July or so, and we planted Waltham broccoli in our fall garden.  

Brussels Sprouts:
Rubine (a red Brussels Sprout!) and Catskill varieties planted in the fall garden.

We grew a few heads from our spring planting and were much more ambitious in the fall -- we planted more than 70 cabbage plants. The varieties we planted in the fall were: Early Jersey Wakefield, Filderkraut, January King, and a Chinese Cabbage called Wong Bok. I made lots of sauerkraut.

Carrots: Meridas planted in the spring; Scarlet Nantes in the Fall, both interplanted with radishes.  

Above: Merida carrots and Bull's Blood beets.

Spurred by the success of our few spring cauliflower plants, we grew Cassius and Early Snowball in our fall garden.

This is the first year I've ever grown Celery -- our spring plantings did great, producing celery that was a whole different animal from the pale storebought kind. The celery kept well in the garden -- with heavy mulching we were able to harvest fresh celery at Thanksgiving (after single digit nights).  We'll plant celery again next spring.

We grew the fabulous "5 Color Silverbeet" in the spring followed by Rhubarb, Orange Fantasia, and Golden in the fall.  We found chard to be incredibly cold hardy, particularly with a little season-extending help from floating row cover. 

Our spring-planted collards are still producing in December...we're going to see if they will overwinter as collards have in past gardens of mine.

Corn: Bud planted an heirloom variety that was almost entirely choked out and taken down by the pole beans that were growing with it. Still, it was beautiful and somewhat productive.

We planted Japanese Long and Chinese Yellow in the spring...the Chinese Yellow plants had a burst of productivity and then died from unknown causes. The Japanese Longs were extremely productive and bore cukes well into September -- many of these became brined and refrigerator-pickled cucumbers.

We grew Turkish Orange eggplant with very unimpressive results. The flea beetles were on the scene early on, and the plants never really thrived. We did harvest a few eggplant, but all in all I would say it wasn't worth the garden space.

Garlic: In July we harvested 7 varieties--a total of about 33 pounds of garlic (some of which is pictured at left)

Our best producer by a long shot for the second year running, was the gorgeous Killarney Red, weighing in at 17.25 pounds after drying. We also grew Inchileum Red, Marbled Purple Stripe, Transylvanian Artichoke, German Brown, Silverwhite Silverskin, and Polish Hardneck.

All of these originally came from Filaree Farm, though some are second generation (saved from our crop last year). I really like the flavor of German Brown. Thanks to MF for teaching us about tying up garlic, and to the folks at Filaree Farm for their extraordinary expertise in all things garlic-related.

In October we planted the garlic for next summer's harvest: Nootka Rose Silverskin, Chesnok Red Purple Stripe, Burgundy Creole, Idaho Silver, Pescadero Red Creole, Georgian Crystal Porcelain, Native Creole, Spanish Roja, Siberian Marbled Purple Stripe, Polish Hardneck, Inchelium Red, Killarney Red, and Silverwhite Silverskin.

All together in the Fall of 2008, we planted about 1500 garlic cloves for 2009 harvest.

Gourds: We grew Cucuzzi Italian Edible, which was worth growing just for the visual effect in the garden. The beautiful plants with their velvety soft leaves grew up and out, covering our 8-foot high trellises and reaching up to the sky. The flower is a delicate white bloom, and the plants flowered well into October. The fruit is a crazy, huge, long green thing which never failed to elicit startled comments from garden visitors (including my sister Mary, pictured at left). The foliage, flower, and fruit made Cucuzzi a great garden ornamental, and the young gourds were tasty eaten like summer squash.

Herbs and Flowers: We grew Amaranth (Love Lies Bleeding), anise, anise hyssop, bachelors buttons, bee balm ("Jacob Cline" and "Aquarius"), bellflower, borage, calendula, catnip, chives, day lilies, dill (Bouquet), echinacea of various sorts, evening primrose, hibiscus (hearty native-pictured above, red leaf, and red zinger), love-in-a-mist (nigella), majoram, marigolds (Durango, Mr. Magestic, Butter and Eggs, to name a few), marshmallow, climbing nasturtiums, oregano (Italian and Greek), Italian flat leaf parsley, Thai silk poppies, common sage, strawflowers, Winter Elegance sweet peas, autumn joy sedum, native sunflowers, English thyme, and zinnias.

Dino and Green planted in the spring; Dino and Red Russian planted in the fall.  All were hearty and prolific as kale usually is.

Lambsquarters: Cultivar Magenta Spreen (above) and lots and lots of wild volunteers.

We planted Giant Musselburgh and Varna in the fall garden.

Spring plantings produced through July or so; fall starts of Winter Density, Winterwunder, Italienscher Looseleaf, and Territorial's Wild Garden Mix produced great salads from September through December.  Winter Density was the most cold-hearty, thriving under row cover.

Tigger produced a paltry and not very flavorful crop.  We will take the advice of old-time farmers around here and not waste too much time on melons in the future.

Fife Creek produced the most beautiful and tender okra; we grew several other varieties as well.  All were prolific and great for pickling and frying.

Over the summer, we did a trial of storage onion sets that I bought from Patryk Battle at the FBFC Farmers Market, and were so impressed with how they did that we planted Walla Walla, Long Red Florence, and Hi-Ball in the fall garden from seed that we started in cell packs, and also bought transplants from -- Red Torpedo, Red Crimson, Stockton Yellow, Solano White, and more Walla Walla. Of these 5 varieties, we planted a total of 250 sets in October. Our fall plantings also included French Red Shallots and White Multiplier Onions (perennial onions) from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.

We grew lots of Italian Flat Leaf.

Peppers: Mixed results. We planted Corno di Toro, Black Hungarian, Pasilla Bajio, Golden Treasure, Long Purple Cayenne, Red Cheese Pimento, Hungarian Hot Wax, Jimmy Nardello, Romanian Hot, and Orchid Pepper, all from Baker Creek. My favorites were Romanian, Jimmy Nardello, Red Cheese, and Hotwax. Orchid and Long Purple Cayenne were worth growing for purely ornamental value, and produced abundantly too.

Radishes: We grew Easter Egg (at left) in the spring and French Breakfast, Black Spanish Round, and an heirloom Daikon in the fall.

Sorrel: I bought one plant from Barry and the FBFC farmer's market produced plenty for cooking and pestos this summer, and has grown to enormous proportions. It is a perennial, so let's hope that next year it expands its reach even more and we'll have sorrel to share.

Summer Squash: We grew Zephyr (pictured in at left) from Baker Creek, Crookneck from the seed swap at the Organic Growers School. Both were quite productive, though the Zephyr had an edge since we planted it much earlier (from starts set out in early June) and kept it under floating row cover as long as we could to keep off pests. The crookneck was from seeds direct sown in July in a bed vacated by the garlic harvest.

Sunflowers: We grew all sorts, from crossed seeds saved from last year and from Seed Savers Exchange. We interplanted sunflowers with almost everything. Besides being beautiful, they attract birds and bees. Even after goldfinches and other birds chowed down on the seeds all summer, there were still plenty left for us to eat and save for planting next

Tomatoes: we ended up with 40 plants, 15 heirloom varieties, and a huge harvest. My favorites were:
  • Cream Sausage-a very pale yellow roma-shaped funny looking, great tasting tomato
  • Orange Banana - a pretty orange roma-shaped tomato with amazing flavor. This was by far the heaviest producer of the tomatoes we planted, and seemed to producing longer despite blight.
  • Golden Sunray - a very yummy yellow slicer
  • Emerald Evergreen-looks like high art when sliced, and so sweet! I love this tomato. It kept producing into October and was probably the most beautiful tomato we grew for serving sliced.
  • Persimmon-a perfect delicate, small orange tomato--really looks like a persimmon
  • Belize Pink Heart-it's so pretty that I can't leave it out. An excellent gift tomato, and a very good slicer.
  • Pruden's Purple - the biggest, most buxom, bodacious, voluptuous sandwich tomato we grew
  • And of course the all-time favorite: "Goldies" - those amazing dark orange cherry tomatoes known in the seed catalog world as Sungold Cherry. KT describes the Goldies as "a dessert tomato" and that's how sweet they are. They are my mom's favorite thing about our garden, and I would grow them just for her if for no other reason
Since we had way more tomatoes than we could handle, of course we gave a bunch away, froze some, and dried a whole bunch in a borrowed electric dehydrator. All but the Goldies came from Baker Creek via our greenhouse class with Joey Allawos, the Goldies are from Patryk Battle at the FBFC farmers market.

Including the tomatoes we picked green at the end of the season to ripen on our windowsill throughout the month of October, we were eating fresh tomatoes through November 1.

Winter Squash:
We grew Waltham Butternut and a surprise pumpkin.

Also, we ate lots of wild things that grew all by themselves on our land, including:

Nettles, puffball mushrooms, meadow mushrooms (pictured above), wild lambsquarters, dandelions, black walnuts, sumac, blackberries, autumn olives, and crabapples.

So here's to an abundant year on our 5 acres of river valley land, in gratitude for the bounty of the earth and the community of friends and family that gardened with us, pulled weeds, planted seeds, wielded shovels and hoes, picked blackberries, told stories, shared wild and gleaned foods, and sat down to meals together.  May all be fed so well!

1 comment:

Dana said...

Beautiful documentary. I didn't realize y'all grew so many different things. What lovely abundance and I dig how much fun you have with it. I am particularly captivated by the garlic picture and the meadow mushroons. I love that garlic arrangement. Are you having a seed swap soon? I didn't save as many seeds as usual last season, but I do have a few winners to share.