Saturday, September 26, 2009

Blue with Indigo

Japanese Indigo in bloom

My gardening season is winding down. I have to be honest and say that when I pulled all 23 of my tomato plants (actually Kyle, my son did this awful task) my desire for my garden died with those plants. That bloody Irish Famine Late Blight that took all my tomatoes was just too much to bear. No Bruchetta; ouch! How awful is that? I finally got up the nerve and went out last weekend and began cleaning the garden beds up by pulling up fungal infested squashes, beat beans, weeds, weeds, and more weeds.

Yesterday I harvested quite a few carrots and they were delicious. I read that harvesting carrots after a frost, meaning cooler soil temps, makes sweeter carrots. I have found this to be true. I don't know if it makes a difference but whenever I have a choice to buy carrots from New England vs. a southern area I always choose the cooler climate.

This is the first year in many years that I am not going to Common Ground Fair :( I love to go on Fridays but couldn't go this year. What amazing weather for the fair! Oh well; maybe next year.

So instead of spending a glorious day at the fair I will be spending the day harvesting all my Japanese Indigo to dye alpaca yarn that I've been spinning all summer. So while this posting isn't food related I'm sharing because I do plant indigo in the garden. And the indigo this year is spectacular! Each of the 9 plants looks like a small bush and is in full flower. I covered them last night with sheets to protect them from the predicted frost and it's a good thing I did. The middle plant of the row didn't get covered and its leaves are black as are all the pie pumpkin plant leaves.

Off to gather indigo and begin the long but fun process of extracting the color from the plant.

Enjoy the beautiful autumn weather.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

September - The Wild Garden

Harvested onions drying on a screen for storage

Several weeks have gone by since I've posted. Reason? Got a job; a great new job teaching fourth graders. This is a huge switch for me since I use to teach middle schoolers science and I absolutely loved that. To say this is an adjustment is an understatement. We've been in school for two weeks and I'm slowly getting use to the youngness of these wonderful children. I say wonderful and I mean it. They are so open and honest. You don't get that in middle school and I forgot how wonderfully refreshing this can feel. But it's also been wicked hard. Their behavior is raw and they are... young. Getting the room ready took weeks. So much thanks to Ger and Kyle for building a reading loft, helping put up blinds and curtains, and so much more. Then school began and becoming familiar and comfortable with the kids and the curriculum and how to deliver it was and continues to be overwhelming. How do young teachers out of college handle all of this?! Well as the saying goes, "A splendid time is guaranteed for all."

Back to the garden. Well to be blunt, it's gone to hell. I wrote weeks ago about the importance of weeding and maintenance and I didn't follow my own advice. Between the new job and the intense August heat and humidity it just got by me. The weeds have taken over and the Late Blight has wiped out all 26 of my tomato plants! Just awful. I was so looking forward to fresh Bruchetta and canning lots of salsa and tomato sauce as well as dehydrating the cherry tomatoes. Not going to happen. If you have Late Blight (Links over on the right which show the browning of leaves, splotches on tomatoes, and/or inconspicuous brown lesions on the stems) bag up your plants and discard in the garbage. Do not put on your compost pile. Late Blight, the same fungal disease that caused the great Irish Famine, is a disease in which the fungal spores travel by air and they travel fast and far. I've read that they can travel 40 miles! No wonder tomatoes from NY to Maine have been affected by this gosh awful disease. It's wiping out tomato crops and I can only assume the cost of local tomatoes will be high. If you've been spared consider yourself extremely lucky.

On a positive note the onions, garlic, leeks, chard, beans, beets, lettuce are doing very well. I'll have tons of pumpkins too. Other squashes haven't done so well though. Weird. Got some cukes but not enough to do anything with except eat raw. We love garden cukes with dill vinegar. So that's what we've been eating. We've been enjoying lots of iced tea made with spearmint and lemon balm.

The picture above shows onions drying on a screen in the sun. Once the tops of the onions fall down I harvest them. Then I place them on a homemade screen that I've put over a wheelbarrow. This allows air to circulate under them and it allows me to move them easily. Drying onions like this is done to prepare onions to store indoors for winter use. If you don't dry them and remove the water they will rot. I usually dry them for quite a few days in the sun. I do it until I'm sick of doing it. Usually a good week or more. When I dry garlic I dry it in the shade. Potatoes you don't dry; you just store in cool, dry, dark place.

Today my son harvested the rest of my potatoes since I threw my back out this morning! OMG! I've never done this before and let me tell you it hurts like heck. Since every time I move spasms shoot across my back I'm not moving much. So Kyle is doing the garden chores such as harvesting potatoes and digging up, bagging, and throwing out all my tomato plants since they have Late Blight :(

Something else happened that I should share. I've made herbal oils for years and never had a problem but this year I did. I was making tarragon olive oil for Erin and it kept spoiling. I'd open the jar to strain and there would be mold (whitish fuzz) on the top. Tiny patches of it and not obvious at first glance but there it was. It all had to be thrown away in the garbage. Bummer. Maybe with all the moisture of the summer the plants had lots of moisture in them? I don't know. But I thought I was going to give up making herbal oils for the season. Well, now that it's been dry for a solid week maybe I'll try again using a lot less herbs and checking daily. Maybe I'll be able to get a batch. A note of caution about making herbal oils. Oil and herbs are high/alkaline pH. They are the opposite of acidic. Remember that pH scale you used in high school chemistry? Lemon juice is very low pH (acidic and so cans safely) whereas herbs and oil are high pH (alkaline and are trickier to can). Here's a pH scale from wikipidea...Herbs just don't take great to preserving well. Let me rephrase that. Most of them dry wonderfully or freeze well but saving in oil, that's trickier. Lots of caution needs to be used here. But it's possible. Just take it slow and be very observant. A few dry sprigs in a meticulously clean jar of good grade virgin olive oil. Be sure no plant material is above the oil. Let sit a day or two out of sun, strain, and do again with a sprig or 2 of new dry plant material. I've read that garlic is the usual culprit of botulism so don't use garlic unless you are braver than me. I won't use garlic and I'm pretty adventurous.

Tomorrow is a garden work day so I can give a better update then. Some photos will come tomorrow as well. Enjoy the waning days of summer and the new crispness in the air. I love autumn in Maine!