Thursday, June 19, 2008

And what are we going to do with it all?

It occurred to me yesterday that fresh veg doesn't "keep" all by itself - it's not like I'm growing potato chips or saltine crackers or cans of anything out in the garden.  Each item has a sort of window of usefulness, and if we don't do something (like consumption or storage) with it during that window, it will end up as compost (that is, assuming I resurrect the compost bin).  So I started doing a little planning.

All told, we have the following edible stuff growing around the yard somewhere:
  • Lettuce
  • Spinach
  • Carrots
  • Onions
  • Potatoes
  • Dried Beans
  • Garlic
  • Cucumbers
  • Cantaloupe
  • Pumpkins
  • Shallots
  • Snap Peas
  • Regular Peas
  • Green Beans (and purple green beans)
  • Corn
  • Tomatoes
  • Grapes
  • Rhubarb
  • Herbs
And in general, we've under-utilized our garden produce in years past.  For example, the rhubarb has been there for about 6 years now; it takes over an entire corner of our backyard garden, and we've never once eaten any of it.  Partly that has to do with the fact that it has never once turned red, so I assumed we were doing something wrong and it wasn't edible yet.  This morning, thanks to the wonders of the Internet, I found out that some rhubarb is just green and supposed to be that way, so I'm going to be brave and cook some.  If I never post here again, you'll know what happened.

Anyway, I'd like to avoid wasting much of what we're growing, if I can, so I'm looking into ways to preserve and store this stuff.  And finding out lots of useful information.  Like, I could have been freezing all the basil, mint, and tarragon that is taking over the back yard, instead of letting it die back every winter.  Or, I could invest about $70 in a food dehydrator and dry herbs as well as tomatoes.  But I probably won't.  I can count the number of times I've cooked with dried tomatoes on my thumbs; it will be much more useful if we peel-and-freeze them in various forms.

However, if the corn does actually produce more food than we can keep up with, I will probably buy one of those corn-cob razors that remove kernels easily - standing a cob on end and trying to slice them off with a knife just looks to me like a subtle but effective way to perform self-amputation.

The truly interesting storage challenges are the onions, garlic, shallots, and potatoes.  All of them need a cool, dry place to hang out over the winter - and the potatoes also need it to be dark.  I'd say that the back screen porch is a candidate for most of them - but we'll need some sort of light-blocking bin for the potatoes (if there are any).

Nearly everything else can be frozen, or simply cannot be stored.  I'm fairly certain that the lettuce is an "eat it or waste it" proposition, as are the cantaloupes.  And I can't quite see myself making pickles, so we will have to eat the cukes, too.  Julia Child's books include recipes for cooked cucumbers and cooked lettuce; I doubt they could be altered to accommodate frozen ones, always assuming that I could find anyone to eat either dish (my brother was once asked on a Biology test to define life, and responded, "Anything the French will eat", but cooked lettuce?  Cooked cucumbers?  Blecch!)

Anyway, harvest time, except for the lettuce and spinach, is a while out, so it's all just planning for now.  I guess by fall we'll all know a lot more about it.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Knee-high by the 4th... of June?

Hardware cloth keeps out pests.  The corn is thriving, and looks set to continue, as long as the clouds I can see from the office don't presage a hailstorm.  In fact, we'll have to remove the cover here soon, since it's getting close to that tall.  Let's hope that the original corn predators can't climb fences, since they've proven not to have opposable thumbs.

Everything looks to be doing really well.  We did our cruise - got back Sunday - and the sprinklers obviously kept working while we were gone.  The spinach and lettuce is harvestable, and we actually had some in a salad last night.  Tasted pretty darn good.  The peas and beans are blossoming and the potato plants are huge.  No guarantee that there will be potatoes as a result, since the original potatoes came from the grocery store, but I just keep telling myself that they're an experiment, so any result is good.

With the food prices likely to rise all summer and the recent tomato crisis, I'm very glad we did all the work needed to set up the garden.  In fact, I'm starting to wonder what else we could plant and eat, either as we harvest the lettuce or in the remaining empty square feet.  Maybe more green beans - I think they can still be planted this late.

I've already learned some things for next year, though.  We need to group plants by type - all the lettuce/spinach together, where I could put shade covers over it.  Tall stuff in the middle, including pea vines that need supports, so we won't find ourselves having to reach over it to get to some shorter plants.

And I think I'm going to start working on the composter again.  It exists, and there's some antique plant material in it, but I never did much with it, and at some point, it became a great place for wasps to build nests, so I started avoiding it.  But as we thin things, we should be composting the discarded stuff.  And our lawn guy is putting clippings in the trash each week, and I ought to be grabbing those too.  The square-foot rules include adding compost each time we harvest, and that will be my easiest source of it, if I just get it going again.

Winter storage is another thing to start figuring out.  The onions are doing beautifully, and I think I'll have something like 3 dozen of them, all told.  We won't be eating them all that fast, so they need a dry-and-cool spot to hang out in.  Carrots could be the same deal.  And if I don't find a place for them, it will guarantee a bumper potato crop.

I'm already thinking we should build another box for next summer.  This is just working altogether too well.  For a change!