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I pulled all the rest of my carrots today, three and a half pounds. That includes a bit of mud that didn’t wash off but doesn’t include the several ones that split in the ground and I tossed onto the compost pile. (Area, anyway. There was so much left over after cleanup that it’s just kind of sitting around. I should do something about it, but it’s so cold out there.) I ate a few of the small ones, chopped up one many-bifurcated one for soup, and stowed the rest in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.

I don’t remember what carrots I originally bought this spring, only that they didn’t come up. Then I bought Scarlet Nantes and tried again. This time they germinated, though erratically. I left them alone, except for pulling them when I wanted them and sprinkling the last of the seeds into a bare patch in midsummer, and had enough for all the salads and soups I wanted. I really like Scarlet Nantes. Some of the carrots were bifurcated, but that’s my fault, not theirs; and the taste and looks are great. Even the woody ones–and there weren’t many, even with my neglect–had vibrant taste. I plan to try Dragon and Red-Cored Chantenay next year, but I’d gladly come back to Scarlet Nantes, too.

I realized as I was washing these last carrots that I’m now spoiled. I ate garden carrots every summer as a child and enjoyed them, but I didn’t pay all that much attention–plus “baby” carrots weren’t as prevalent then–and didn’t really notice a difference from store-bought, except that pulling carrots small meant they were more tender. Now, though, I notice. We put out some store-bought baby carrots at Thanksgiving (we had most of a bag someone gave us) and they tasted sweet…and not much else. I munched on a couple of the smallest carrots this evening, and they taste like carrot. Eric commented sometime in the summer, when I sliced a fairly core-heavy carrot into a salad, “Woody or not, it’s got a lot more flavor.”

Happily, carrots are a crop I don’t have to go without for very long. My three and a half pounds won’t last until next summer, but I bet a bigger crop could, especially if I kept it in the ground. My one midsummer planting was plenty for fall and winter carrots. I plan to do approximately the same thing next year with my two varieties, to pull them when they’re mature to avoid the splitting if I can, to have more at the end of the season and maybe consider overwintering them outside; and to enjoy them as much as I’ve enjoyed this year’s.

Happy Thanksgiving! I ended up serving nothing from the garden except one of the butternut squashes, but I did bake my own bread and prepare a good fraction of the dishes, and it was a very nice affair all around.

Three packets of seeds came in the mail today: my order with Seed Savers, feverfew from a trade, and the Winter Sown tomato offer. (She sent more than my six picks. I’m so pleased. And so worried about where I’m going to plant all of these.) The Seed Savers order almost completed our Christmas shopping for the year; one and a half more gifts and we’re done.  I still have seeds to look for in the mail, but they’re all for me. My Thanksgiving cactus is blooming. Welcome, holiday season; I’m ready for you.

I went to my friend Carol’s house last night while our respective husbands went to their weekly D&D night. We watched a movie, ate brownies, knitted, talked about houses and careers…and shared seeds. I got some blanket flower from her, which I’ve never heard of but looks quite pretty (where did all these flower seeds in my stash suddenly come from? Oh right, ambition and greed) and was inspired to buy some bread seed poppy, and took some Beaver Dam peppers, turnips, cucumbers, and herbs. She got excited about my luffa seeds (who wouldn’t? I’m excited too) and tomatoes. (What she doesn’t know is that I sent away to Trudi’s tomato sixpack offer for her, because I was certain that she wouldn’t have time to do it. I was right; she mentioned that she hadn’t.) When our husbands came home they found us sitting at the kitchen table, seed packets spread around. Eric came over to see how we were and I said, “Don’t mind us, we’re trading baseball cards.”

It’s official: it’s now late enough in the year that I can’t get home early enough to do yardwork during the week. Which is okay, since I love the holidays (who doesn’t?) and after that comes, well, seed buying.

More seed-buying, anyway. I’m buying a gift certificate to Seed Savers for my cousin/best friend and her husband this year, and wanted to make sure I got it in plenty of time, so I ordered it last night. And since I wanted to get lettuce seeds for my brother-in-law for his present, I ordered those at the same time. And when I realized shipping was more than the cost of the packet of seeds, I figured I might as well order the seeds I want from them, since there are only a few. So Hidatsa Shield Figure beans, Dragon carrots, Buran peppers, and Potimarron squash will be coming my way soon. I sincerely hope they don’t come out with anything new that I’ll want this year.

This is a hope all the more fervent since I got my very first seed catalog last night, from Pinetree. I had planned to do all my purchasing online, but since I ordered from them last year I guess they sent me the catalog automatically. It is so very nice to curl up with a seed catalog when waiting for one’s husband to come home… but not good for the budget or the gardening space. A few things that weren’t previously on my list have now appeared on it. (I also found things that I was going to order from elsewhere, in this catalog for cheaper, so that helped a little.) Now I hope I’ll have enough space for everything I plan to get come spring…and money left over. This gardening thing, it is invasive.

I’d been very virtuous today, doing grocery shopping and laundry and dishes and baking, and it was beautiful out, so while there was some light left I went out to work on the garden. Specifically, on spreading the compost over the beds, which I did by shoveling compost into the saucer of one of the blueberry pots and dumping it, load by load, where I wanted it. My Christmas wish list has changed: a wheelbarrow now tops the list.

It turns out the old owners left exactly enough compost to cover the raised bed and one side bed. When the compost bin was nearly empty I lifted the thing–it’s four plastic sides fitted together–out entirely and dug the rest out that way (which was much easier), then replaced it atop some boards in the hopes that’ll help it keep its shape better than before. My next move was to place the new compost pile into the compost bin, thereby freeing up that space for planting in the spring, but Eric called me in because my apple bread was done. So that’s next, along with chopping up the nasturtiums and the Swiss chard (I pulled all but one plant today). A machete is right next to that wheelbarrow; I did a little with the edge of the shovel and I think as I’m equipped now, I’m going to be content with slower compost.

I went to the garden immediately after work last to bring in some parsley, as I’d heard we were getting into the twenties for a low and I don’t know to what temperature parsley is hardy. I picked a carrot (still good) and some rosemary and oregano as well, and thought about whether to pull out the parsley plants now and save myself the trouble later. I didn’t, as it was quickly growing dark and I was almost done cutting the parsley; but I pulled one up out of curiosity.

I expected it would have a taproot, since it’s related to the carrot, and it did–narrow and white and fleshy. I rubbed the dirt off and took a taste. It tasted just like a carrot. I guess I could have expected that, but in that case why bother growing a separate plant called parsley root instead of, say, white carrots? As it happens, I’ll find out next year. I’m also tempted to keep these roots I evidently have and see how they fare in, say, lentil soup.

Burt’s Bees is giving away free wildflower seeds to help combat Colony Collapse Disorder. I’m not sure how efficacious that is but I do have a patch in my yard that needs prettifying, and I’m very much in the seed-swapping mood. Aside from the Winter Sown offer, I’ve been haunting the GardenWeb Seed Exchange forum and the ITGO Seed Exchange and eagerly looking forward to Tuesday’s seed-swapping evening with a fellow gardening friend. I’ve gotten my list for next year down to about $50 (from some $80 to start with–ignoring the postage I’ve been spending, which admittedly detracts from the savings, but not a lot). This seed-swapping idea? It is a beautiful thing.

(My oregano cutting is growing tiny shoots at its base. That looks like a successful rooting to me.)

When we toured this house early last year, I noted the raised bed was mostly covered in landscaping cloth. One side was uncovered, and in it were growing strawberries, lots of weeds, and two tufts of lettuce. I pulled them up and was disappointed by how bitter they were; but I really liked the idea of growing my own salad. So after I had cleared out the weeds and the landscaping cloth and moved the strawberries (which subsequently died because I put them in a big pot that, unbeknownst to me, collected all the runoff from the gutter), I planted a half-row of a mesclun mix and a half-row of spinach. They came up quickly, even in the cold, and I was delighted. They didn’t die when it got colder and Eric forgot to water them while I was gone, and I was grateful.

The lettuce grew up into big, healthy plants that I harvested several times for dinner and felt guilty about not using more of. Notably, I infected my brother-in-law with the lettuce-growing bug. “You can grow your own salad?!” he exclaimed. “I’ve got to try this!” He’s getting lettuce seeds as part of his Christmas present this year.My one beef with the lettuce I grew was that it wasn’t good for eating with rice because it was too serrated. But that’s easily fixed, and in all other respects I was very happy with my lettuce-growing experience. I will be doing it again and again.

The spinach, unfortunately, didn’t fare nearly as well. It grew slowly, and by the time the leaves had grown big enough to enjoy, it bolted. I prefer spinach to lettuce, so I was terribly disappointed. I believe this was Giant Nobel, and I’d like to try a different variety next year. This might not be fair of me; but I’m hoping a different variety will actually allow me to eat some.

I’ve already bought some black-seeded Simpson lettuce seeds (and some compact romaine, left over from the salad bowl planting–did you notice I never followed up on that? Yeah, there’s a reason). I planted them, plus a few more spinach seeds, this summer, but nothing came up–or anyway nothing stayed up. I plan to buy spinach seeds this winter, and early spring will find me trying my luck at salad greens again.

I worked outside a little today, cleaning up the branches from the mosquito bush (I had piled them, meaning to bundle them and put them out for trash, and then Eric had mowed the lawn and so needed to move them, so they had ended up in a mess right where they started) and trimming the lilac tree and cleaning up the vegetable garden. This included taking down the sunflowers, and if their roots weren’t so shallow I would have had to chop them down like trees. They became another bundle for the trash collectors. The ground was littered with sunflower seed shells left by avid birds earlier this season. I’m glad sunflowers are annuals; if not, I’m pretty sure they would have taken over the world by now.

I found a lone jalapeño pepper on the sad denuded pepper plant. It (the pepper, not the plant) looked pretty wholesome in the middle of the mess of zucchini leaves. I found an onion. I also found several other onions, where I had planted the extra sets in the hopes they would deter insects, sprouting. I guess the lesson here is to lift onions earlier in the season if you’re not growing them for seed. (I left two. I’ve never seen onions flowering.)

I cleared out all the detritus, the dead bean vines and the living nasturtiums, leaving the herbs, the carrots, one lone broccoli plant, and the row of Swiss chard, which isn’t looking so well-groomed these days but is still going strong. I planned to spread compost over everything and then move the detritus to the compost bin (not that it would have all fit), but it got dark. As I worked I thought about my plans for next year, and how the spacing will work, and what I’ll have to do to the dirt in various places, things I had little to no idea about last year.

There’s almost nothing in the garden now, but it’s definitely a garden; this time last year it was mostly grass and a lot of weeds in the raised bed, and now it’s soft, newly-raked dirt, done with one good year and getting ready to rest before taking on another. I leaned on my rake at one point to look around at the bare dirt, and oddly, I don’t think I’ve been prouder to say “This is my garden” than right then.

The weather remains cold, and the cold I have remains, so I’m not doing anything outside right now. (Yardwork is on next week’s plan, though, when it’ll be a little warmer and I’ll be a little healthier.) So it seems like time to review what I planted this year. And why not start with the earliest crops? So let’s talk about peas.

I bought the packet I planted a few years ago, I know, though I don’t remember the variety. I can’t remember why I selected peas in particular as one of my three or four vegetables to plant, as they were never a favorite; I liked them fresh when Mom grew them, but not really in things. As I recall, last year I had Michelle plant some while I put a tomato and a pepper in the ground, and I never got anything from them–which makes sense, since we didn’t get the house until June, so it was entirely the wrong season.

This year I planted them good and early, and watched in near-amazement as they actually came up and–wonder of wonders!–did what they’re designed to do, and produced peas. These were bush peas, and after this year, along with my Hutterite beans experience, I’ve concluded I’m not a big fan of bush legumes. They’re okay, especially in a raised bed, but they seem to need a little support that it’s hard to give when they’re that short, and they’re not as productive as I would like. My peas became a tangled mass of pea plant, leaning on itself, doing okay but probably not thrilled.

I got a decent number of peas for the amount of attention I gave the plants. They weren’t the best shelling pea ever, but I don’t know the variety so that doesn’t help me much. At the end I let the rest of the pods dry and I now have a baggie of peas in my pantry, awaiting soup or rice. I don’t know how well they’ll do, but that’s part of the fun.

I’m not saving any to plant next year. But I do plan to plant peas; my pick at the moment is Golden Sweets, based on Daughter of the Soil’s review (I was convinced the moment she mentioned Mendel, to be honest). This means I’ll be eating them in stirfries or dried in soup, but that’s fine; I like peas those ways and the only way I liked them shelled this year was either fresh or in aloo mutter. I may end up picking up a shell (English?) variety anyway; it depends on how I feel, and how the new pea trellis I plan to make next spring goes.

Conclusions (have I mentioned our kitchen lab notebook, in which we record our recipe experiments–mostly with ice cream–and write down results and draw conclusions for future work? It’s the best lab notebook ever): I will continue to plant peas, but I’m going to try non-bush varieties and see if I can find a plant I like better.

Flowers and even fruit are only the beginning. In the seed lies the life and the future.

Marion Zimmer Bradley

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