By Valerie Barr
We are heading into winter, with frosty nights in the last week and snow in the forecast. We bid goodbye to that warm time of year when we live outdoors. We now look forward to a quieter indoor time when we rest, and use our brains more and our bodies less. That is true for me. I need the rest and change of pace, a change of seasons.
As gardeners, we know the food growing cycle begins again in two months. In January, the seed catalogues arrive. Won’t it be sad when we can only access catalogues digitally? Our “orders of aspiration” for basil, kale, zinnias, and much more, will get us excited for the new season. By February, we will be pulling out seed trays and grow lights, and enjoying the first garden flowers of a new year.
Looking back over the garden of 2020, we analyze what did well, what was too abundant, what produced a small amount of food for the work or the space involved, and what failed and why. Every garden year is different. In 2020, spring was late but lovely, and June (our transition month to summer) was wet, which relieved our anxiety about forest fires. The spaced-out days of rain through the earliest part of the summer kept our shallow well full all season. From mid-July through September, the weather was beautiful, and this trend has continued into November – what a beautiful fall.
With temperatures into the 30’s in early August, the energy needed to ripen and mature our crops was perfect. Warm weather crops, like basil, eggplant, tomato, and tomatillo, rushed to their harvest stage. In spite of the predation by slugs, woodbugs, and other insects, the cooler crops, especially the kales, leeks, beets, carrots, and squash (which start as a warm crop and mature in the cooler part of late summer), did especially well.
A 2020 Record of Our Garden Produce
From August 4th to September 30th (I kept a log this year), I hot bath canned this year’s crop: Dill Cukes and Dill Bean Pickles, Raspberry Vinegar, Blackberry Jalapeno Jelly, Chinese Plum Sauce, Salsa Verde with Jalapeno, Tomato Salsa, Cherry Plum Ginger Conserve, and Pickled Anaheim Peppers. In different sized canning jars this totaled 95 jars. I also dried 5 layers in a large dehydrator of cherry tomatoes, now stored in a jar on the groaning pantry shelf.
Throughout the summer months we froze: sour cherries, plums, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries. I made and froze 25 dinners of basil pesto (250 ml each), and 9 tubs of kale pesto to add to soups and stews. When the too-large zucchinis went un-noticed, I chipped and froze them to use later in any stew-like dish. Many bags of green beans (we only grew Blue Lake pole beans this year) and 4 plastic jars (800 ml each) of black beans were also frozen (we do not dry them). I cooked up any leftover green tops of the onion crop after harvest, added zucchini and extra peppers, and froze 24 pots (800ml each) of this yummy addition to any sauce, but especially for tomato spaghetti sauce. I roasted in the oven and froze 22 small baggies of oven roasted herbed cherry tomatoes – they are delicious (see recipe below). The freezers are full, and I am rearranging them as we eat our way down the stacked volume of winter food.
We harvested and dried all the onions, which are now hanging in onion bags from the shelves in the pantry. I washed and dried our 79 winter squash, which sit in the cold guest room and will last until April. I think we will have to give some more away – 79 is a lot of squash. I also dried herbs: 2 kinds of mint, young dill leaves, and oregano. And I also air dried many Aunt Molly’s Ground Cherries which we snack on as a dessert after lunch. Aunt Molly’s are reported to last un-refrigerated for up to three months in their husks.
The potatoes had a bountiful year. All my concern about so many wire worms on the soil surface in the Spring proved unfounded as this year they did not infest the potatoes. The wire worms must have been in a life cycle transition in the Spring. Storing potatoes in the pit in Grant’s shop, with our excess apples, does not seem to have affected the potatoes. I always believed that the ethylene from the apples would cause the sprouting buds on the potatoes to grow prematurely, but that has not happened in the last few years.
In the garden, there are still beets. I am just harvesting the balance of them as they do not overwinter well in our wet soil. I cook the beets with a Harvard Sauce and freeze tubs full for later consumption. Carrots, which taste lovely when freshly dug, are still happy under our covered tunnel. We have just covered the winter leeks with maple leaves – they will keep through April as we slowly eat our way along the patch. I have made kale chips again from the Lancinato Kale (see recipe below) since it does not overwinter well in our wet soil – the plants will be left in place in the hope that they do survive. The Russian Red and Scotch Curled Kale will normally survive the winter – we will continue to pick and eat the leaves unless an “Arctic cold front” sets them back too much. We also have some swiss chard which we will hopefully eat more of soon.
Our Disappointing Crops This Year
Our cabbages were attacked by slugs and sow bugs more than normal. We still ate many dinners of lovely coleslaw, and I have fermented the red cabbage which we keep in the fridge (see recipe below).
My beautiful eggplants were just that, beautiful. I love the texture of the leaf and the cute pink flowers. We ate quite a few roasted-in-the-oven eggplant dinners, and I did make Baba Ganoush once – very good. The disappointment was I did not grow the huge crop I had imagined – perhaps it is a lot of work and space for the number of fruit per plant harvested in our climate.
The brussels sprouts are still not a great performer for us. I will try again next year. I am trying to get my timing right for the sprout buds to mature before the temperatures cool – I think I planted them too late, but I was following the seed package instructions. There are lots of little buds not quite big enough to harvest. We will leave them in place to see what happens.
End of the Growing Season
It is November and we are putting the garden to bed. We have brought in three large truck loads of native Large Leaf Maple leaves from a friend’s property. These will cover the garden area nicely for the winter. The leaf mulch stops erosion, smothers the weeds, and keeps winter crops warmer than the air temperature. Normally we mow the maple leaves on the ground each fall, but because of busy schedules this did not happen – yet. It can wait till Spring.
We have already added, directly onto the soil, all the compost, the vines, and the stalks from all the harvested plants. This will compost down over the winter to add to the soil texture next spring. We can do this now, roughly leaving a messy bird friendly garden, because Grant will rototill in the spring and blend all this coarse vegetation into the soil. We are promised horse manure in the new year when the ground is dry enough to pick it up from the farm. The manure is a trade for work that Grant did for the farmers – a lucky exchange.
Dressed Kale Chips
- Kale leaves – a whole bunch. I like to use Lancinato, also called Tuscan Kale, but I think any kale will work.
- 1 Tbsp. or more extra virgin Olive Oil (or melted coconut oil)
- 1 1/2 Tbsp. nutritional yeast
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 3/4 tsp chili powder
- 1/2 tsp smoked paprika, optional
- 1/4 tsp fine sea salt or Himalayan Pink salt
- 1/2 tsp cayenne
Note: To be honest I don’t measure my spices so sometimes it comes out with too strong of a flavour but we both like spice.
Preheat oven to 300F.
Use a large, rimmed baking pan – it helps to use parchment paper or aluminum foil.
Remove leaves from stems and tear into large pieces. Wash and spin until thoroughly dry.
In a large bowl, massage oil into Kale pieces till completely covered. I use a wooden spoon.
Sprinkle on spices and toss to combine.
Spread onto baking pan and do not overcrowd.
Bake 10 minutes, then stir and rotate pan. Bake another 20 minutes or more until the kale firms up.
Cool on parchment or foil sheet before removing.
I always make multiple batches at one time. The kale can also be dried in a dehydrator, but the oven is faster.
I am not sure how long it will keep since we eat it till it is gone. It is not meant to be stored over a long period of time.
Lacto-fermentation – Cabbage
Cabbage is naturally covered in lactobacillus. When you add salt, you create an environment that allows lactobacillus to flourish, killing any bad bacteria
- 2 pounds or 1/2 head of cabbage – remove core. I usually use red but green cabbage works too.
- 4 tsp fine sea salt
- Filtered water – I just use our tap water which is filtered and UV treated.
Use a knife or mandolin to cut the cabbage into very thin slices. Place in stainless steel or glass bowl and sprinkle with salt. Massage with hands for 15+ minutes (I set my timer) until it is soft and you can squeeze liquid out of a handful.
Pack a 1 quart or adequate size glass jar 1/4 full of cabbage and then compress with a utensil. Add more cabbage and repeat.
Pour cabbage water into jar and top up with filtered water. Cabbage should be covered with liquid, which seems to disappear through the fermentation process so don’t skimp on the water.
Leave a 1” space at top – cabbage will expand as it ferments. You need some kind of clean weight to hold down the cabbage in the brine. I use some Chinese tea cups that work perfectly with my jars. Fermentation weights are available to purchase if necessary.
Ferment for up to 7 days in a darkish space at 65 – 75F. This year the house was cool since we were not heating yet, so I set up my seed heat mat and monitored the temperature so that it did not overheat. That worked but I turned the heat mat off at night and covered the jars with a cloth to moderate the temp overnight.
Each day remove the jar lid and push the cabbage back under the liquid. Remove any mold that may show up on the surface.
Use a container or tray under the jars to catch any overflow caused by fermentation. Fermentation shows up as bubbles at the top of the liquid and each batch seems to work on a different schedule likely as a result of the room temperature.
The ferment is ready when it tastes right – a bit salty but mild. For a sourer taste, ferment for a longer time.
Store in fridge for up to six months or more! Needs to be refrigerated, or kept very cool – the old timers stored their sauerkraut in their cold rooms.
Oven Roasted Cherry Tomatoes
Cherry tomatoes have less juice that larger tomatoes.
I cut my cherry tomatoes in half and coat them with olive oil and herbs, pepper, lemon pepper, etc. to taste.
Put in a roasting pan with lots of room to separate the pieces of tomato.
Cook at 375 – 450F for at least 25 minutes. I roast mine for a longer time, watching to see when they are dry enough.
Beautiful flavour. We had our first batch with basil pesto on spaghetti and it added a delicious complement to the pesto.
Thanks for this Opportunity
This blog is #12 in our “Through the Seasons in a Quadra Food Garden” blog series. I have enjoyed writing all 12 entries and will look forward to comparing this past year to the years ahead. I would like to thank Jennifer Banks-Doll who is the Designer and Manager of this website and an editor par excellence. She has been very patient with me, especially when correcting my capital letters and punctuation errors – mostly comas. She also has been very encouraging, asking me to add information that she thought fellow gardeners would enjoy for each blog entry. A shout out to Jennifer for all her volunteer time keeping this site active and educational. If you have a gardening story to tell we hope you will share it here.
Grant Hayden and Val Barr are happily retired to play in their garden as they like. Val worked in horticulture for almost 45 years and started her first food garden at 18. Grant grew up as a prairie farm-boy and his last occupation was in forestry. He has planted thousands of trees and cut quite a few down as well.