My goal, for some far off point in my future life, is to be one of those super productive gardeners who has something going all year, and can trudge out through the snow to pick something fresh for dinner. Unfortunately, that’s not yet a reality. So a couple of weeks ago, with the start of my first term of grad school looming terrifyingly ahead, I realized it was time to assess just how pathetic my garden was this year, and to try to salvage and preserve the last dregs of produce out there.
Tomatoes: I have had the same tomato strategy for the last ten years or so, and it always works out very well throughout the season, but at the end of the year I always have tons of tomatoes left over that I never get around to using or putting up, and I was determined this year not to let that happen. I grow five plants: an early variety, a delicious heirloom I’ve never tried, a plum, a Green Zebra because I love it, and Sungold because it is amazing. This year I used most of my remaining Early Girls to make a tomato sauce that I froze. I grew something that was yellow and super sweet and tasty, I don’t remember what it was called, and those I blanched and skinned, then froze whole along with the Green Zebras. The Sungolds I am eating off the vine still. And then there are the plums.
I thought I would oven dry them. It’s becoming apparent to me that I need a dehydrator because all my dried stuff is just turning out super janky. I halved them, and put them in the oven for a few hours, then it was time for dinner so I had to take them out. I repeated that process, slooooooooowly drying them out over a period of maybe a week? Just leaving them in the oven and turning it on to dry them some more whenever I remembered to. Until yesterday, when I turned the oven to 350 to preheat for a carrot cake (from a box) and about fifteen minutes later my husband came in and said, “Why does it smell like burning tomatoes?”. Dammit. So, I’m not sure if they are usable or not. They are kind of black in some parts, but they seem dried out? Typical half-assedness.
Eggplants: Even more half-assedness! I grew two eggplants, one had a bunch of really pretty little streaky purple and white guys and the other grew one big regular dark purple eggplant. Yep. One eggplant. I decided I would do this thing where you preserve eggplant in olive oil with some of them and make baba ganoush to freeze with the rest. I didn’t have all the ingredients for the baba ganoush, so I put the ones for that on the counter with the plan of purchasing the ingredients the next day and making it then. The eggplants are still sitting on the counter. The ones I was going to preserve in oil were sliced and salted and sat in a colander over a bowl on the stove to drain their excess liquid. The next afternoon, I found that my awesome husband had, without asking, dumped them into the compost. So, basically my entire eggplant harvest was a bust.
Carrots: I know real gardeners grow some carrots and then harvest them and then grow some more all summer. I sowed two lines of carrots, ignored them all summer, and then dug them up the other day. But what a bunch of carrots! How can your heart not be warmed by these little straggly knobby guys who were out there fighting for their lives in my unamended, rocky soil? There were like, eight carrots, so I’m just eating them. Sadly, they’re not even all that sweet because they are ancient at this point, and also they are so knobbly that it is impossible to wash them really well so there is a definite grit factor, but I don’t care because I love them.
Peppers: I grew a red bell, a little hot thing, and anaheims. I have never had success with bells. I grow them every year, and every year they suck. This year was no exception. They grow all distorted, and different parts of the pepper ripen at different rates, and they are just generally pointless. Of course, the little super hot looking guys grew great, because I don’t even like them, I just grow them for my husband. Harvest day I decided I’d oven dry them, but I didn’t want to do it with my kid in the house because I was afraid they’d exude a toxic gas that would kill us all. I was going to buy gloves the next day too, because hot peppers make my hands hurt for days. I forgot to buy gloves, and all those lovely peppers are still sitting on the plant. The anaheims also grew way better than expected, but they never developed any heat at all. So we basically used them as green peppers throughout the season, and then I did a quick pickle with the end of season harvest.
Zucchini: Ugh. We know all about zucchini. Let’s not even talk about it anymore.
Acorn squash: My first time growing winter squash and it did really well! I am harvesting it for actual use right now and really happy about it.
Broccoli: Most people grow broccoli only in spring and fall, but I grow it straight through and just hack pieces off periodically when it looks like it’s about to bolt. It’s a really weird, nontraditional way of doing it, but it works for me. I did hack a bunch off that day and it’s sitting in the fridge right now waiting for my husband to make this awesome Nigel Slater (my boyfriend) lamb and broccoli stir-fry (scroll down). Suck it aphids, I had a productive broccoli season anyway.
Kale: Why in the hell do I even grow this stuff? And why does it mock me by growing better than anything else? It’s out there, right now, the stuff I planted in March. It’s full and lush and dark green, calling to me about how nutritious it is. And I just hate it. I tried this kale and ricotta salata salad recipe, thinking, If I just smother it in cheese I will like it. But I still didn’t. The stuff is nearly as tall as I am right now, never bolted, and looks like it will grow into a tree by the end of winter.
Cabbage: Wow. I really dropped the ball on this one. I had four beautiful cabbages out there and I just ignored them completely until they got all weird and cracked and eventually stuff started growing out of the middle of them? I don’t even know what that is? And I like cabbage, a lot. It makes me sad to think of all the okonomiyakis we could have made if I hadn’t flaked.
Radishes: Look at this thing! What the hell is this? I’ve never really grown radishes before, and I know they are quick and should be sown and harvested multiple times, but I thought I’d try my carrot strategy out on them. Yeah. It doesn’t work. I went out to harvest them and realized that the poor things had gotten so big that they’d heaved themselves out of the ground. I think they were trying to walk away. Inedible. Next year I’ll know.
Cucumbers: So, I planted these cucumber seeds and forgot about them and then one day I was like, Holy crap! Look, there’s cucumbers over there! We harvested a couple, but I could never really wrap my brain around the variety. The internet said they were supposed to get like 8″ long, but whenever they got more than 4″ or so they’d start cracking and turn yellow and get all weird. So we just kept harvesting these teeny ones, but eventually we sort of forgot they were back there. I was hoping there’d be at least a couple I could pickle on harvest day but there weren’t.
Raspberries: This is the saddest. I have an absolutely enormous patch of Autumn Gold raspberries, and they produce twice. We really made the most of our first raspberry time, my little lady would run out and pick them every day and come inside with raspberry smeared all over her face and I felt like a good mom. The second time, I knew they were coming on, but I kind of forgot about them and the other day I looked and they had all just shriveled into nothing and I felt like a total failure.
So, this is where I am. The garden is basically dead to me right now, until I get news that a frost is coming at which I point I will run out and salvage everything one last time. I found an amazing recipe for pasta with a green tomato sauce that I’ll make. I’d link to it but this is the one case in which the internet is failing me, but if you are interested let me know and I’ll put it up.
I’m somewhat satisfied with what I accomplished as the half-assed homesteader over the summer. If I look at it as a lifelong process of building skills and knowledge, I feel like I took some good steps. And now it’s fall, and I’m in school an insane amount, and I have to look at this as a good thing, a challenge. It’s easy (?) to run a cool productive household during the summer when you don’t have a job. Now we get to see how it works when you have 21 credits of grad school, a 3 year old to raise, a family to feed well, friends to see, and volunteer work. Oh, and a blog! I’ll keep you posted, or at least I’ll try.