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It’s finally October and time to clear out the greenhouses for next year. Time to pull all the massive sunflowers and gather the corn stalks to put through the chipper for mulch. The birds are feasting on the last bits of our garden and enjoying the last days of the birdbath before we pack it away for winter.
Meanwhile, I’ve been busy canning, blanching and freezing, and putting our solar system to the test with my freeze drier as I sock away this year’s harvest.
Happily, all was not lost in the garden while we were evacuated in August. Although the road closure signs kept popping up all around us, we just kept driving right around them to go water the garden. You’ve got to have your priorities, right?
Nearly everything in the garden survived, despite our limited attention. A few of our zucchinis, which we weren’t able to harvest at their peak, grew large enough to rival a watermelon and I’m still watching them in amazement. I won’t pull them. I’m just waiting to see how big a zucchini can grow.
And speaking of watermelon, I actually grew one in the greenhouse along with several Amish melons (a kind of cantaloupe).
Last fall I planted half as many potatoes as the year before. Still, we harvested 3 bags full, which is roughly 100 lbs. of Russet Norkotah potatoes. We lost some to moles so next year we’ll probably plant a couple more pounds of seed - for the moles. The moles are almost as prolific as the grasshoppers. Because of the moles and their tunnels, much of our property resembles swiss cheese. I’m choosing to view it positively, as soil aeration.
This year we grew four types of corn: two sweet corns and two types of popcorn. I’ve frozen and freeze-dried the sweet corn but the popcorn is a mystery to me. Is it ready? It’s so small… what do I do? I’m still puzzling that experiment out.
Regarding tomatoes, I wasn’t aiming for a large tomato harvest this year since I already have jars of tomato sauce, tomato paste, stewed tomatoes, etc. from previous years. Thus, I only planted two in the greenhouse, which were enough for salads and such.
As an experiment, though, I planted four more tomato plants in the garden and pretty much left them to their own devices mixed in with the dill, sunflowers and borage.
We had a very mild summer. I don’t think the temperature rose above 95 degrees, which is a bit unusual. As a result, however, the garden tomatoes hardly ripened. It’s October now and they’ve just begun to show color. We had heavy rains and cold nights about the same time they decided to try and ripen, so the garden tomatoes are waterlogged, frostbitten and generally sad.
Perfect for chickens.
While we’re talking failures, what else didn’t go as planned? The sweet potatoes.
Don’t you just want to cry for them?
On the bright side, we harvested 60+ sugar pumpkins, more than a dozen French pumpkins, 30+ spaghetti squash and about 50 butternut squash.
Apparently, we can grow squash like nobody’s business!
While the broccoli experiment failed again, the brussels sprouts surprised me. I think I was impatient last year and didn’t wait long enough for the sprouts to develop. This season, they look promising…
We also harvested an abundance of bell and elephant peppers, which I froze and freeze dried, as well as more carrots than we’ll eat in a year. I froze those as well and juiced a lot of them, too, saving the pulp for carrot muffins.
Earlier in the season, we harvested cherries and apples and one lonely pear. Our pear tree has blight of some sort and isn’t doing well. Yet another mystery to solve... The apple trees were heavier than we’ve ever seen them, though, and they ripened early.
Finally, this year I made use of the herbs I’ve been growing (as well as the wild ones!) to create a few medicinal tinctures, powders and oils.
I even tried my hand at soap… You win some, you lose some.
Despite all of our growing, harvesting and preserving, I’m still painfully aware that we don’t grow enough food. Yet. Sure, we grow a lot, but we still go to the grocery store like everyone else. I still buy cheese and flour and cream for my coffee - and, of course, coffee! Honestly, there are so many things we don’t grow and can’t grow ourselves. That realization punctuates the importance of preserving and storing, and I hope you’re doing it, too.
As of now, for us, one year’s harvest just isn’t enough to feed even two people. But this year is better than last and last year was better than the year before.
And on we go.
This is our fourth year gardening here and if you go back and read our previous failures and wins, you’ll notice it isn’t a straight trajectory forward. It takes time to learn what you actually eat, what seeds cooperate with your terrain, what garden forces really are out to get you and how best to combat them. We’ve had major wins and we’ve had major setbacks.
It all takes time.
After four years, I’m finally starting to feel like I might know what I’m doing. I’m finally learning our land.
I hope you put your hands in the dirt this year and learned something. I hope you grew something - even one thing - you can grow well and enjoy. To grow a living thing, especially one that nourishes your body, is to participate in a holy and sacred act of creation.
In this world bent on confusion, destruction and dissention, creative acts are revolutionary acts.
We need more revolutionaries.