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When I got home yesterday I proceeded immediately to the garden to pull five leeks before it was completely dark. They came out easily; I guess the ground warmed up a little since Sunday. I peeled the outer layers and cut off the roots and green leaves and chopped them into white and pale-green crescents. I don’t know why people say leeks are dirty. Is it because I’m supposed to be piling dirt on them to blanch them and I’m not?
I sauteed the leeks and a clove of garlic in a little butter and added a pound of All-Blue potatoes, using this recipe except that I used vegetable broth instead of chicken broth and added in some leftover cream and parmesan cheese because we’re leaving for Washington tomorrow and I wanted to clean out the fridge. I loved the look of the creamy soup with green leeks and purple potatoes floating in it. I loved the taste, too. I don’t know what to use leeks for other than this soup (though I bet caramelized leeks would be great on pizza), but this might be enough to get me growing them every year. That is, if I can handle hearing Eric say “You have leeks in the garden? Won’t all the rainwater drain away?” every time I mention them.
Tomorrow, as I said, we’re heading to Washington for an extended-family Thanksgiving. We’ll be making potato-cheese casserole and pumpkin bread shaped like a turkey for our contribution. Nothing from the garden, but maybe next year. And I’m totally going to save the rest of my All-Blues so we can have lavender mashed potatoes at Christmas.
I left cleaning up the garden to Sunday this weekend because it was the warmer of the two days. Unfortunately I completely forgot about a historical sewing seminar I was scheduled to attend from noon to 5 (ask me about sleeve evolution) until late last night, so as soon as I got up this morning, I went into the yard.
I wasted part of my precious hour and a half putting away pots and righting the greenhouse, though I fully expect it to be blown over again. (What? I sleep late.) Also beating my nice leather gloves that had been coated in mud when I planted the garlic and left to dry, so that they were caked in cracked dust. Then I came to my senses and actually went to a garden.
I pulled out the remaining brassicas except for the two Dwarf Curled Vates plants that were still upright and cheerful. Everything else was limp. I wanted to leave the Red Russian kale for seed next year, but they’re all slumped over in the path and it drove me crazy enough this year, so I yanked them. I also pulled the lone Romanesco broccoli plant that survived. It grew enormously, but when I looked into its heart leaves broke off left and right and only a tiny pale spear rose up from the base, maybe half an inch across. I piled vegetable corpses atop the space where the borage failed to thrive with the plan of moving them once the compost box is reinstalled. I ate a frozen raspberry. I really hoped the weeds would all die over the winter.
I had noticed in digging out the brassicas that the ground was frozen, so I proceeded, cautiously, to the carrots. First the newest ones, planted in the summer. They were small, snack-size, and they were mercilessly frozen. I managed to heave some chunks of icy earth with carrots embedded in them. I left them for the Big Top carrots. These I’ve really loved; they taste good and they look like carrots should, long and angular rather than big and fat like the ones in the raised bed in the vegetable garden. I don’t know whether it’s the variety or the situation; next year I’m going to grow these in the raised bed and find out.
The Big Top carrots came out more easily, but not easily. I heaved them out and chipped at the mud and ice around them. I sliced into several of them, bisected a few. I felt like a really, really bad archaeologist. But I got some great, beefy, sweet carrots. (I’ve notice that a dirty carrot only tastes good outdoors. Indoors, it just tastes dirty.) I went back to the little carrots and excavated them, too, and noticed that the ground was less frozen near the fence. I don’t know why.
Then I moved to the vegetable garden, where the dirt in the raised bed wasn’t even slightly pliable for inches and inches down. So I dug up more chunks of dirt and carrot. I had originally thought I’d leave some carrots in the ground longer, but the frozenness of the ground changed my mind. When people talk about digging carrots out from under the snow, I don’t think this is what they’re talking about.
I ended up with a grocery bag full of carrots, plus a couple of parsley roots, a full head of parsley, a parsnip (I would have gotten the others minus one or two, but I ran out of time), and a last broccoli floret that had either grown quickly or been missed by me when I went out to cut them. I don’t know if this many carrots will be enough; I suspect not, since my definition of enough is “enough to last until we harvest the first carrots next year” and we have a long winter of soups and stews ahead of us. But that’s all right; I’m still learning as I go. Lesson learned: bring in the carrots sooner. I was never meant to be an archaeologist.
My first seed catalog is here! It’s Pinetree. Scuse me!
I did indeed get cold and muddy Saturday, planting Georgian Crystal and Lorz Italian and Huge Unnamed Bulb Bought at the Farmstand Near the Old Mill garlic and bringing in broccoli and beets and turnips. Actually, mostly just turnip greens. I planted Shogain turnips, a free packet in a trade from last year, which were supposed to yield both roots and greens, but it’s apparently one of those too-good-to-be-true concepts. I got two roots you could call roots and a bunch of shriveled taproots, but plenty of nice greens. Luckily it’s soup season, and I’ve discovered that I really like tossing a handful of chopped greens into soup. Mmm, vitamins.
I think I’ll plant some more turnips next year, for trying mashed, since I never got a chance to this year. If I don’t love them that way, though, they probably won’t have a big place in my garden hereafter. We liked the beets better than the turnip roots, and I like chard and kale better than the turnip greens. (Eric doesn’t eat cooking greens unless they’re in soup or stirfry where he can’t taste them, and if he can’t taste them it doesn’t matter what kind they are.)
Today it’s cold and muddy again. I went to a dance class yesterday (the instructor demanded as we entered the room, “Are you ready to rhumba!?”) and when I came out, my car was covered in mushy snow. Out came the brush/scraper combo my mother-in-law gave me a couple of years ago; out came the grumbles. The snow was still there this morning, and I saw my chard plants were drooping. On the radio I heard someone comment on the unseasonal coldness, which made me feel slightly better about my still not-completely-cleaned-up garden, but not a lot. I’m no longer waiting for warmth now to complete the chore, just dry.
So I had planned to plant garlic and harvest broccoli, kale, turnips, and beets (and the hyssop, which I have forgotten to cut) this weekend. But it’s snowing. And the snow is sticking. The forecast says snow today, snow tomorrow, snow Monday, dry Tuesday. It also says lows in the 30s until Monday night, when it gets down to about 25 and stays there until next weekend. I am so late with the garlic planting. The question is, should I go out and muck up my garden shoes to do it now or will another few days not matter? And will the broccoli, kale, turnips, and beets be okay until Tuesday? I don’t know. Since I don’t know, I think I’m going to go get muddy and cold.
“I wonder how much knowledge would be lost if there were an apocalypse,” Eric said drowsily as we settled into bed the other day, continuing a discussion on whether he’d be a librarian/teacher after the apocalypse (we figure they’d be the same position). “Just think how much is on the Internet that we wouldn’t have access to.”
“Most of it came from other places, though,” I said, “or is stored elsewhere.”
“I want to start collecting more books.”
“Our own library of Alexandria?” I said, but he was already asleep and a moment later so was I.
The next morning, I thought about the books we already have that could be considered Library-of-Alexandria-worthy (including textbooks, I estimate about a third of our collection) and what sorts we would want to buy first. I don’t believe in imminent apocalypse but I will adopt any reason for buying more books. And I mused on the other thing to collect In Case of Apocalypse: seeds. Knowledge doesn’t get you far if you starve to death.
This is my second year of seed saving and seed trading. I’m still learning about the seed saving, of course; I haven’t yet tried hand-pollination, or saving seed from eggplants or zucchini, or grown kale or carrots into their second year (though I may have to try it with parsnips–thanks, Rebecca!). But I’m loving it. It’s so efficient and reasonable and yet miraculous. All day long I am eating Von Neumann machines. And the seeds I don’t take get eaten by birds (except safflower) or scattered on the ground for next year and survive the cold and maybe some fleshy rot or some animal’s gullet and know when to come up and become huge plants by eating the sun and–how can anyone not be dazzled by this?
Yes, this happens even when you buy the seed, but you don’t really see where the plant comes from, what it does to produce those seeds, how those seeds are supposed to survive in the wild…for the real history of a plant you need to see how it’s born and how it dies and how it ensures its own immortality. And you’ve probably heard about how old breeds of plants have been lost, and are still being lost, because people don’t grow and save the seeds, and so a lot of plant breeding is probably going to have to be redone–and we’ll want it to be redone, because with as amazing as the variety of the food-plant world is now, imagine what it was like back then.
And so we come to seed collecting. It’s a lot like collecting baseball cards–or, as all the girls did when I was in sixth grade, stickers. They have certain attributes, and some are more desirable than others, and they’re eminently tradeable. But the point of a big collection of seeds is not just to have a big collection of seeds–or maybe it is to some people who only grow the plants to maintain their collections, the way Dawkins suggests that an animal is a gene’s way of making more genes. The seeds themselves are only good (unless you are an exception as above) for what they can produce, and they can’t be hoarded forever; they must be used up by producing food or flowers and generated anew, so that the collection is not a static grouping of dead objects but an ever-changing repository of colors and tastes and smells, genetics made flesh. (At least squash-flesh or tomato-flesh.)
In short: seed collecting rocks. But where do you get the seeds? Chances are you’ll have to buy some to start with. After that, you can trade. Trade some of your leftover bachelor’s buttons and Black Beauty eggplants for somebody else’s lime coneflowers and Thai basil, and for the cost of postage and an envelope (less if you do it in person), you’ve doubled your seed collection. Grow your four varieties and save seeds from them, and next year trade somebody else. You’ll want to buy some seeds that other people aren’t trading, of course (or you will if you’re me), but trading offers big benefits that you can’t get from the seed catalogs, however alluring.
There’s the cheapness, of course. There’s the ridiculously wide selection, and the consequent broadening of experience. I traded for seeds last year that I didn’t especially want or wouldn’t have bought, because the other person offered and I figured what the heck, they’re free; and now I have new flowers and herbs that I love. I’ve already traded for a bunch of tomatoes this year, most of which I’d never heard of and/or wouldn’t have picked them out of a catalog; but I’m looking forward to trying them now, because selecting my own experiences makes my world self-limiting, and I don’t want that.
There’s also the community aspect. I’m now trading with a few people for the second year, and I feel a connection with these people. Every friendly “Happy gardening!” note I get with trades in the mail makes me happy. I see the plants I traded in other people’s gardens and feel pleased (and relieved that they actually grew), and I look at the plants that people traded to me and feel grateful.
(This is probably partly due to my greed for different plants–I wouldn’t be able to expand my garden, or try out all the varieties I want to try, nearly as quickly without trading. I just don’t have that kind of money.)
In conclusion: if you garden at all, start saving and trading seeds! Wintersown has a page with instructions and links to other instructions on saving. They’re also a good place to start with for getting seeds. You can buy named vegetable varieties at the farmer’s market and save the seeds before you eat them. (You can save unknown-name seeds too, of course, but they probably won’t be as appealing for trade. The whole point of trading is variety.) You can get free seeds from Dagoba Chocolate if you send them a picture of yourself eating some of their chocolate (such a trying requirement) by the end of the year.
I discovered yesterday that Bifurcated Carrots has started a Blogger Seed Network (“blogger” part optional) for anyone who wants to trade, or even for people who don’t have anything to trade yet. Colleen of In the Garden Online hosts a Gardenbloggers Seed Exchange. GardenWeb has a Seed Exchange forum. I’ve used these last two and been pleased–more with the Gardenbloggers forum than the GardenWeb one, because I’ve encountered a couple of welchers in the latter, but both are good. (The GardenWeb site also has frequent seeds-for-SASE offers.)
And I have a good amount of assorted seeds to spare. If you want some starter seeds and don’t have any to trade, leave a comment, and I’ll send some to you. If you have seeds, come check out one or all of the places above and get started trading. This is all entirely selfish on my part; the more growers and savers and traders there are, the more seeds I get. But I don’t see why that would be a hindrance. Saving seeds isn’t hard, and trading seeds is lots of fun, and you’ll end up with a garden riotous with diversity, more money to buy a new pair of garden gloves, and something to occupy you in the non-gardening months. Whyever wouldn’t you want that?
Last night I pulled a magnificent parsnip out of my cold, clammy vegetable garden–triumphantly, because I have never grown parsnips before and I love them and I’d heard they were hard to grow. And indeed, not many of mine germinated, but there are enough to call it a crop, albeit a small one.
The parsnip went into a bean-and-vegetable soup with Hidatsa Shield Figure beans (very plump and meaty) and cabbage and roasted butternut squash and some of the slowly-ripening tomatoes from the cardboard box in the pantry. I took a picture of the parsnip. I still haven’t yet wrestled my computer into submission yet (it’s a brand-new hard drive and the software and plug worked just fine on the old one, and the plug works on Eric’s, so what’s the problem?), so I can’t show you; but trust me, it was magnificent in the way that only a first homegrown vegetable, gleaming white against a striped bamboo cutting board, can be. I am now officially in the second half of the vegetable storage cycle–consuming, rather than putting by. Consumption is delicious.
In the meantime, I’m already buying seeds for next year. Specifically, I’m working on Christmas shopping. Dad suggested that Mom could use garden-type stuff, and after visiting in the summer and seeing Mom dump all her kitchen scraps into an old margarine container and take it out to the garden after every meal, I decided a pretty indoor compost pail would be just the thing.
I’m getting this one, thanks to Genie’s kind pointer, since I remembered reading that she’d gotten a nice one but couldn’t remember when or where. And it occurred to me that there would be a lot of space inside the thing, and why not fill it up with some seeds to make it friendlier? I traded some seeds with Mom last year–scallions for basil and cilantro–so I know she’s willing to garden with seeds, and I know the kinds of things she likes to grow. I also know that she likes Asian vegetables, and it’s not easy for her to get them for the garden.
So I went to Evergreen Seeds and ordered pak choy, Korean shiso/perilla, Asian cucumber, and kimchi peppers. I had to throw in a couple of things for me–komatsuna, a spinach variant, and choy sum, a pak choy variant. I really did have to–they require a $10 minimum order–but I would have anyway. I’m completely ignoring my hope of moving next summer when it comes to seed-gathering this winter. I’m not noticing a lessening of the desire to acquire more stuff, either, the way I do with other hobbies. Seeds are still riches.
I’m still working on the seed-trading, too, and starting to consider that almost a sub-hobby in its own right. I have more to say on the subjects of seed-trading and seed-saving, to be posted sometime in the next couple of days, as I work through the leftovers of that soup.
Today was blowsy and chilly, and I pulled out my newly-made Calorimetry (knit by me in my own handspun, thank you very much) and some gloves as I went out to test out the cold, as I told Eric, by cutting the shiso seeds. The shiso seeds have made it, though the leaves haven’t. My Big Blue Bowl of Harvesting is now full of shiso stalks, despite the wind that kicked up in the first few minutes of cutting and scattered the seeds I’d had up until then across the lawn.
Once the seeds were safely inside and the shiso and basil stalks pulled up, Eric and I went to fetch bricks from the mothers’ house. They redid their driveway last year, and they’ve had these old bricks hanging around ever since. They built a patio with the nicest ones, but there are still lots left, and I was told I was very welcome to take any or all of them. So Eric and I stacked around a hundred and twenty into the mothers’ van and drove it around the corner and unstacked the bricks. Actually, we put them in a pile in the lawn because Eric wanted to get to work (“wanted” only because the sooner he went, the sooner he could come home again) and didn’t want to take the time to help me move them to the other side of the house where the herb garden is.
When he was gone, I decided I was bored with bricks and I’d do garden cleanup instead. The vegetable garden is now bare of plants except for living things: leeks, parsnips, carrots, and strawberries. The strawberry bed has been weeded for parsley and the baby plants on the runners pressed into appropriate spots in the soil. (“Next year you have to produce berries, not babies,” I told the plants sternly.) The compost box has been uprooted and moved because that was easier, and compost spread on most of the herb garden beds. The annual herbs and dead beans and peas have been uprooted, the bean trellises put away, the cutting celery trimmed to the ground and saved for stew tomorrow. Marigold heads have been harvested for seed, scarlet flax pulled up, the auxiliary compost pile greatly enlarged.
And the Asian pear tree has been denuded. When I walked into the vegetable garden I stopped a moment, surprised and admiring, because in the few days since I was back there last all of the tree’s leaves had fallen, leaving only dark branches and golden fruits, like a Charlie Brown Christmas tree with ball ornaments. “Might as well pick them all, since they won’t grow anymore,” Eric opined when I went in for a couple of bowls to do that very thing.
The Asian pear is in the northwest corner of the garden, right by where the rabbit warren was and is again–the large entrance is just beyond this year’s rabbit fence, but it doesn’t matter because the rabbits tunneled under it and came up in several places, mostly right near the Asian pear’s roots. So I got rid of the ant-eaten and/or rotten pears–there were several, sadly–by tossing them into the holes, ricocheting them off the fence into the entrance, and rolling them into nearby holes with my feet when I missed. I got pretty good at it by the time the tree was stripped bare, and I filled in one entrance completely.
I suppose the rabbits will just eat through them, but they would have done that anyway. I’ve got to fill in those tunnels and encourage them to go elsewhere, or I won’t be able to plant in the spring. But this afternoon I just amused myself by pretending to be in a live-action pinball machine. I eventually got the bricks where they were supposed to be, too. When I finished, I had a pear as a reward. It was chilled the perfect amount by the cold weather, richly sweet and superbly juicy. I fear I’m going to have to work hard to get those rabbits to move.
Woohoo for our new president-elect! Also, for the election being over. Mainly for the uncertainty being over, actually. I’m so excited to have a president I won’t be ashamed of.
Meanwhile, my life is unaffected except that we’re not talking to Eric’s mom for a couple of days because she’s devoutly anti-Obama and is nursing her disappointment loudly. While Eric was at her house finding this out, I decided that while I was getting some *cough* late seed trades out the door (sorry, Jason and Pam! The election ate my brain!) I ought to put away the last of the seeds, since they’d been swept aside for party preparations and were just cluttering up the pantry.
What’s left: lemon balm, hyssop, lemon basil, morning glories (mostly Grandpa Ott, I believe, courtesy of a trade with Colleen last year), scarlet flax, coriander, fernleaf dill, flat-leaf parsley, and potato. These were the fruits that didn’t seem as ripe when I first picked them, so I let them sit. Tonight they were pleasantly squishy and wrinkly, so I cut one open to start squeezing out the seeds.
A very familiar fragrance tickled my nose. Strawberry. These aged potato berries smelled exactly like ripe strawberries. Eric agreed when I wafted one under his nose. I even tasted one–just a touch of the tongue–and it tastes like a tart strawberry, the way unripe kiwi does. Strawberry! This botanical world, it just keeps on surprising me.
Yesterday I cut up homegrown carrots and broccoli for a snack tray for our Cheap Candy Day (aka Bring Your Own Excuse) party. Carol bit into a broccoli floret and said, “It tastes like Ohio!” then amended, “Maybe not Ohio. But definitely local.”
“I cut them off the stalks about twenty minutes ago,” I said, and smiled. I also made a tomato-pesto pie, which was tasty, and a big hit with the other vegetarian at the party. Unless someone else decided to try it (and there was a meat-filled lasagna available, so I doubt it), he had three pieces. He sent his girlfriend over to smell it, which seemed kind of mean to me since she can’t tolerate gluten or lactose so she couldn’t have any.
Today, I put away dried herbs. I’ve been cutting oregano and rosemary, and a little basil, and hanging it to dry in the foyer of our house all summer. I meant to put it away before the guests came, but I ran out of time. Today I took them down and got out my empty herb cans from Trader Joe’s, plus a jelly jar for the rosemary, and stood in the kitchen methodically stripping leaves. I keep the leaves as whole as I can, so that they’ll be more pungent when I crush them immediately before use. I have two cans full of oregano, which pleases me-we use it in pizza crust, so we go through it pretty quickly. I’ll have to start chopping up some parsley soon, too. And harvest the shiso seeds as soon as the lows drop into the 30s again, and bring in some hyssop and lemon balm for tea; and I think that will be that for the herb harvest, but decidedly not for its use. I’ll be tasting Ohio all winter.