The Long Goodbye | Sweet Domesticity

On at least a few occasions here, I have confessed my tendency to put off any and all end of season garden clean up until the last possible minute.  With so much time and effort put into the garden, I always feel like I’m cheating myself if I give up too soon and so I try to take advantage of every possible minute of the growing season – even if it means I am harvesting the last of the garden produce in the rain as it starts to turn to snow.  I am hardcore stubborn like that.

I usually enjoy the thrill of tempting my luck with frost (and sometimes even snow), but this year is a little different.  Faced with an extremely busy fall – and the repeated need to protect the garden from frost most of last week – and not having nearly enough time to do it all, I realized it was time to start the process for the sake of my sanity.  I haven’t gone all out (there is still a lot growing, actually), but a little here and there has made a huge difference in making the garden a little more manageable during this busy time.  I’ve started to refer to it as my Minnesota Goodbye with this year’s garden.

The Long Goodbye | Sweet Domesticity

The tomatoes were the first thing to go.  The plants are just so big and so time consuming to cover, that picking anything that would still ripen was the easiest first step.  They are currently ripening faster in the boxes in my kitchen than they were on the vines this year, which has made the decision to pull them early a little easier.  Of course as soon as all of the tomatoes were gone, the plants started setting blossoms like crazy.  The eternal optimism and tenacity of nature is pretty astounding.

The Long Goodbye | Sweet Domesticity

I also pulled the last of the tomatillos and ground cherries and I will have some quality kitchen time ahead of me as I put them up for future use.  Both harvests were really impressive this year!

The Long Goodbye | Sweet Domesticity

I haven’t given up on the pepper plants yet.   Covering them up is completely manageable, and now that the garden is mostly empty, their colors really show through as the gobs of green peppers continue to turn red, orange, yellow, and purple.   Also, the demand for pepper jelly is high this year, so I’m counting on this week’s warmer temps and much needed rain to make the most of the green peppers remaining on the plants!

The Long Goodbye | Sweet Domesticity

The other thing I am still covering up as needed is the arbor where the Good Mother Stallard beans are growing.  There are still a good number of beans that need a little more time to fully mature and start to dry before I can harvest them – and these beans are waaay too good not to try to get every last one.    The arbor is a little challenging to cover, but I think this is some of my more refined work!

As you can also see, the humble beginnings of my herb and pollinator garden is still showing off a little color, even with several sub 32 degree nights.

The Long Goodbye | Sweet Domesticity

Over on the other side of the yard, I let the cucumbers and beans go (they were all but done anyway) and the brassica bed is holding its own without any extra help from me yet.  I’m still getting a little broccoli harvest every few days, the kale is growing like crazy, the cabbages are setting new growth, and I even have some broccoli seed saving in progress.   I’m hoping that our first hard frost holds off so I can continue to enjoy these harvests well into the the fall.

I also have a nice crop of chard continuing to grow.

The Long Goodbye | Sweet Domesticity

Sadly, I let the pumpkins go as well after harvesting a handful of pretty gourds and a couple of baby pumpkins that started to turn orange (they probably aren’t mature enough to amount to much, but at least I have something to show for my work!)  The squirrels did a number on the pumpkins this year, but I’ll be back with a better plan next year.  I’m not giving up on backyard pumpkins, and apparently the frostbitten pumpkin vines aren’t ready to give up yet either!

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Cucumber Salsa | Sweet Domesticity

If I had to pick a star of this crazy garden season, it would easily be the cucumbers.  I grew three heirloom varieties this year, Delikatesse, Boston Pickling, and Mexican Sour Gherkins.  All three varieties thrived and produced so prolifically, that I couldn’t even keep up during the busy weeks of August.

The more traditional varieties have slowed down pretty significantly in the past few weeks, but the Mexican Sour Gherkins are kind of like the Energizer Bunny of cucumbers – they just keep growing!

Cucumber Salsa | Sweet Domesticity

Today I’m wrapping up Salsa Week with a recipe that is perfect for these last summery harvests.    Crisp and refreshing cucumbers are elevated to another level with the addition of sweet scallions, hot chili peppers, lime, and a little mint.

Cucumber Salsa | Sweet Domesticity

The Mexican Sour Gherkins add their own something special to the mix.   These little bite-sized cucumbers are plump and crisp and almost pop in your mouth with a really pleasant lemony tang.  They’re incredibly beautiful, too!  I’ll be honest, not many of these little guys made it past the garden this summer!

Cucumber Salsa | Sweet Domesticity

As light and refreshing as cucumbers are, I wanted to keep the onion notes a little milder than in some of my other salsas, so I used a small bunch of red scallions (a mild, sweeter heirloom variety, Red of Florence), but I also wanted to use this cool background to really turn up the heat.  I added a couple of small green Joe’s Round peppers (seeds and all) for an outstanding hot salsa.

Cucumber Salsa | Sweet Domesticity

I was this close to chopping up some cilantro to finish the salsa, when I paused in the herb garden long enough to notice the mint that I’ve hardly touched this season.  Cucumber and mint are such a natural combination, I had to go for it – and I was not disappointed!

This is a salsa recipe that will definitely be making a repeat appearance at our patio table next summer when the cucumbers are coming in faster than I can use them up.

Cucumber Salsa | Sweet Domesticity

Cucumber Salsa
2 medium-sized cucumbers, peeled and seeded
12-15  Mexican Sour Gherkins
8 red scallions
1 or 2 green chili peppers
Juice from half a lime
Fresh mint leaves

Prepare ingredients by finely dicing the cucumbers and Mexican Sour Gherkins (I found it easiest to cut in half length wise, then slice),  slicing the scallions, and mincing the peppers (leave seeds in or remove, depending on desired heat level).  Combine in a bowl, squeeze the lime juice over the ingredients, and finish with ribbons of finely sliced fresh mint leaves.  Toss until well mixed.

 

 

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Salsa Verde | Sweet Domesticity

You know the saying, “when it rains, it pours?”  That’s how I’m starting to feel about my experience growing tomatillos.  My initial bad luck with tomatillos has given way to a living, breathing tomatillo monster that has taken up residence in the middle of my garden.  It’s a little hard to tell by the photos, but the tomatillos have taken up close to 36 square feet of garden real estate in the middle of the center bed:

Salsa Verde |Sweet Domesticity

I was a little surprised to see the tomatillos sprawling as much as they are, since I grew the very same determinate variety (Rio Grande Verde) last year in the community garden.  Last year the plants were a fraction of the size and required no additional staking beyond a sturdy tomato cage to provide a little protection from the wind.  Clearly, my soil quality is much better here at home!

Not that I’m complaining, though.  Massive tomatillo plants mean a massive tomatillo harvest, which in turns means massive quantities of Salsa Verde!

Salsa Verde | Sweet Domesticity

I made my first batch with this recipe late last season, and knew even before the first jars went into the canner that this recipe needed to be included in Salsa Week this year.  I looked at a number of recipes before diving in, but in the end I made a few safe changes to the basic recipe in the Ball Blue Book.  I decided to oven roast my tomatillos to enhance the flavor.  I used spicy serranos and substituted lime juice for the vinegar* to bring out a bright, citrus quality in the salsa, which resulted in a great tangy-spicy combination (I’ve included the original vinegar and lime juice quantities below, for those who might want to go the other direction).

*An important note on substituting bottled lemon or lime juice for vinegar: lemon and lime juice are more acidic than vinegar, so it is safe to substitute the same amount of lemon or lime juice (used bottled juice to guarantee acidity) for the vinegar in a canning recipe, but not the other way around.  Unless a recipe specifically indicates that you can substitute vinegar for lemon or lime juice, doing so may reduce the acidity of the final product.

Salsa Verde | Sweet Domesticity

Last year’s Salsa Verde was consumed with a lot of enthusiasm, so I was pretty excited when I had harvested enough tomatillos to make the first batch of the season.  It makes a nice addition to a spread of chips and salsa and taco bar nights with friends, but our all time favorite way to enjoy this salsa is in a pan of white or green chicken enchiladas or in a batch of white chicken chili.   With many more bowls of tomatillos to come out of the garden yet, I am anticipating a good supply this winter and ample opportunities to find a few more recipes to add to our salsa verde repertoire!

Salsa Verde | Sweet Domesticity

Salsa Verde
2 lbs. tomatillos, husked and washed
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped serrano peppers
4 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup  bottled lime juice*
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

Spread tomatillos in a baking or roasting pan and place in a 375 degree oven until tomatillos are soft and are just beginning  to brown (about 30 minutes or so).   While tomatillos are roasting in the oven, prepare onions, peppers, and garlic, and set aside.

Transfer roasted tomatillos into a large pot along with all of the liquid in the roasting pan.  Add in the remaining ingredients.   Using an immersion blender, process until tomatillos are smooth.

Bring salsa to a boil over medium heat and simmer for 10 minutes.  Fill prepared half pint jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace and process for 15 minutes in a hot water bath.

*alternatively, use 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar (5% acidity) plus 1/4 cup bottled lime juice.

Yields 4 half pint jars

Recipe adapted from the Ball Blue Book

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Grilled Salsa | Sweet Domesticity

Have you been wondering what happened to the rest of Salsa Week?

When I left you guys on Tuesday, I was packed and ready to head out of town for the rest of the week for work.  I was pretty proud of how prepared I was: I had the last three salsa recipes queued up in my drafts, ready for one last read through before hitting “post” on the appropriate day.  What I didn’t count on, was that the resort’s wireless network would be down the entire time.  Three days left of Salsa Week, and three days with no internet access – so much for good intentions!

But tonight I’m back online and ready to get on with the salsa love!

Grilled Salsa | Sweet Domesticity

The inspiration for this salsa started with some of my favorite oven roasted salsa recipes.  I love the way a little heat transforms the sugars in the tomatoes and develops an crave-able rich flavor, but in the middle of tomato season, turning on the oven to slow roast salsa ingredients for an hour isn’t always practical or appealing.  I started to think, if roasting produces a little salsa magic, why not try the grill?

Grilled Salsa | Sweet Domesticity

I prepared a variety of heirloom tomatoes (Opalka, Carbon, Striped Roman, Old German, and Amish Paste), peppers (Anahiem, Black Hungarian, Jalapeno, and Serrano), tomatillos, onion, and a few cloves of garlic by tossing them in olive oil and then spread them out on the hot grill.  I also grabbed an ear of sweet corn to roast on the grill along with the other ingredients.

Grilled Salsa | Sweet Domesticity

I grilled everything just long enough to soften it all up a bit and achieve a little char, but not long enough to fully cook everything all the way through (the exception: the sweet corn and the garlic cloves – get those babies soft and caramelized).  After coming off the grill, I coarsely chopped everything and mixed it all together.  The result was a rich, thick-sauced chunky salsa with lots of warmth and body.  I really liked it as is, but tried a pinch of cumin with a little of the salsa and really liked what that did with the flavor as well.  Some fresh cilantro would be another good way to finish off this salsa.   Whichever route you go, one this is for sure: you’ll be dipping into this salsa over and over again until it’s gone!

Grilled Salsa | Sweet Domesticity

Grilled Salsa
8-10 heirloom tomatoes
2 large sweet peppers,
6 chili peppers
4 large tomatillos
1 large onion
3 large garlic cloves

Prepare the ingredients to go on the grill: trim tomatoes and onions and slice in half; leave peppers, tomatillos, and garlic cloves whole. In a large bowl, toss all ingredients with olive oil and then transfer to a hot grill.

Grill until the ingredients begin to soften and have a little char, but are not cooked all the way through.  It will take more time for the peppers, onions, garlic and corn, and less time for the tomatoes and tomatillos.

Allow ingredients to rest until cool enough to handle.  Coarsely chop ingredients and combine in a large bowl.

Optional: add a couple of pinches of cumin! or a handful of chopped cilantro!  or both!

Note: this recipe has not been tested for canning

 

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Ground Cherry Salsa | Sweet Domesticity

Salsa Week continues with another quick and tasty fresh salsa today: Ground Cherry Salsa!

You may recall my adventures in starting ground cherries were a little hit and miss earlier this spring.  After all of my efforts to grow ground cherry seedlings ended in failure, I scratched what was left of the seed packet directly into the garden soil, watered, and hoped for the best.  I figured since most people who grow  ground cherries talk about how readily they reseed themselves, it was worth a shot, and wouldn’t you know it, that’s what finally did the trick!

Ground Cherry Salsa | Sweet Domesticity

Ground Cherries are extremely fragrant and have a bright, complex, almost tropical flavor that is sweet and fruity like a pineapple, but full and smooth, kind of like the flesh of a really sweet cherry tomato.  When picked a little on the green side, they tend to be a kind of tart, but when fully ripe, they are sweet and smooth.

Ground Cherry Salsa | Sweet Domesticity

They are a member of the solanaceae family, and the growth habit is very similar to tomatillos, only on a smaller scale.  The marble-sized fruits are a little fussy to harvest and clean, but well worth the effort.  As they ripen, the husks start to turn from green to yellow, and the fruit falls to the ground (thus, the name ground cherry).  Every day I search the ground beneath the plants for the day’s windfall.  It often is only a handful or so, but picking them off the ground right away is the best way to keep the ants and other sweet-toothed insects from finding them first!

Ground Cherry Salsa | Sweet Domesticity

Once collected, the husks are removed and the fruit rinsed clean.  In falling to the ground, it’s not uncommon for a little dirt to find its way inside the husk and onto the fruit, but the berries clean up quite easily with a little running water (one here or there might need a little rub to remove dirt).  It’s also not uncommon for some of the fallen ground cherries to be a little green still.  If that is the case, just set them out in a small bowl and they will fully ripen in a day or two.

Ground Cherry Salsa | Sweet Domesticity

In preparing this salsa, I simply cut them in quarters with a serrated knife (I prefer this salsa with a little more body, but you could also pulse them in the food processor a couple of times to cut down on the prep time a little).  I love both the golden color and the tropical aroma they bring to this salsa–it’s very fresh and light.

Ground Cherry Salsa | Sweet Domesticity

Because the ground cherries are sweeter, this is a salsa that lends itself well to some good heat.  I used a couple of red chili peppers (Black Hungarian), but I would love to try this out with the slightly hotter Joe’s Round that aren’t quite ripe yet, or a bright red Santa Fe Grande, and I also have hunch that a little bit of finely diced habanero would add an interesting dimension to this salsa.  The red chili pepper and red onion keep things bright and colorful, and the fresh cilantro and lime juice really pull it all together. Go ahead and throw and extra handful of cilantro in this one–you won’t be sorry!

Ground Cherry Salsa | Sweet Domesticity

Ground Cherry Salsa
2 cups ground cherries
1/4 cup diced red onion
2 red chili peppers*
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilanto
Juice from 1 lime
Pinch of sea salt

Finely dice ground cherries and peppers and combine with onion, and cilantro.  Add a pinch of sea salt and the lime juice and toss to mix all ingredients.

*increase or decrease as necessary, depending on the heat level of the variety of red chili used

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Salsa Cruda

Salsa Week is FINALLY here! In keeping with this year’s strange growing season, it’s a little late (it’s usually the first week of September), but given that the last week has felt a lot more like the last week of August than the last week of September, it somehow seems appropriate to wrap up September in this way – and I’m kicking it all off with salsa in its purest form: Salsa Cruda

Last February Mike and I spent a week in Mexico  for an early 5 year wedding anniversary celebration (the real deal was last week).   For an entire week, we ate most of our breakfasts and lunches at a little open air beach-front restaurant with this view:

Salsa Cruda

And each and every one of those meals included Salsa Cruda in some shape or form:  incorporated into a breakfast omelet,  served along with any number of authentic Mexican lunch entrees, and straight up with chips, salsa, and fresh guacamole as we sipped margaritas and anticipated a fresh seafood lunch.  We definitely ate our fill and I knew before we were even halfway through our vacation that Salsa Cruda was happening with this summer’s garden harvest.

Salsa Cruda

Salsa Cruda is simple and pure: finely chopped tomatoes, onion, jalapeno, and cilantro.  That’s it–no extra seasoning, no dressing, no extra ingredients, just fresh, uncomplicated flavors that meld together perfectly.  A meaty roma or paste-type tomato with good fresh flavor is key (my favorites are Striped Roman and Amish Paste).  If possible, select tomatoes that are ripe, but still a little on the firm side, which will give the salsa good body.

I will admit that you can’t really duplicate the ambiance of the Mexican Riveria Maya, but a warm late September evening on the deck with a delicious sun-ripened and homegrown tomato salsa is a pretty great close second.

Salsa Cruda

And just like in Mexico, you’ll find the bottom of the bowl way too quickly!

Salsa Cruda
4 large roma or paste type tomatoes
1/2 large onion
2-3 jalapeno peppers*
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
pinch of sea salt (optional)

Remove seeds from tomatoes and jalapenos.  Finely chop all ingredients and toss together in a bowl to combine.

Flavor is best if salsa is allowed to rest for about 20 minutes before serving to allow flavors to meld; a pinch of sea salt can help this process along, but is not necessary.

*increase or decrease the amount of jalapeno to achieve desired heat level

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How to Protect Your Garden from Frost

I was really, really hoping that I had a few more weeks before I had to finish up this post, but unfortunately for many here in Minnesota, the potential to see our first frost in the next day or two is looking more and more likely.  Fortunately, frost in the forecast doesn’t necessary mean the garden season is coming to an abrupt end.  With a little effort and a few basic supplies, you can cover up your plants to protect your garden from frost and keep it growing for several more weeks.

How to Protect Your Garden from Frost

When to Cover

Predicting frost can be a little tricky at times.  As accurate as weather forecasts can be, they are not always perfect.  We’ve all experienced days where the actual temperature has fallen a bit short or exceeded the projected high, so it goes without saying that the same can happen when the weather models are forecasting the overnight lows.  There are also a lot of local environmental variables that can make the actual temperature in your garden a few degrees warmer or colder than the surrounding area, making it possible to experience frost in your garden even when the forecasted low is higher than 32 degrees and no frost or freeze advisories have been issued.

A difference of just a few degrees can make a pretty big difference when you’re hovering close to freezing, which is why it’s important to know the conditions that increase your chances of frost:

  • Clear Skies: Clouds act as a blanket, holding the heat of the day in the atmosphere and keeping temperatures more even overnight.  When skies are clear, that heat is more readily lost, and overnight temperatures tend to dip lower.
  • Low Humidity: The more moisture there is in the air, the easier it is for the air to maintain daytime temperatures.  When the dew point is at 45 or less, frost is more likely.
  • Still Air: Cold air is heavier than warm air, so on nights when there is no breeze to keep the air moving, the cold air settles on the ground and increases the chances of frost.   
  • Location: Along the same lines, if your garden is situated in a low spot or at the bottom of the hill, it is more susceptible to frost than gardens that are situated on higher ground.  Similarly, gardens with southern exposure retain more heat during the day than gardens with northern exposure.

There are a number of factors related to your specific micro-climate that can come into play as well, like tree cover, proximity to bodies of water or other heat-retaining features of the landscape, and urban density.

As a general rule, I tend to pay close attention whenever I see the forecast call for a low of 40 or lower.  For me, that’s the “too close for comfort” threshold, and the point at which I find myself really evaluating if extra precaution is necessary.  At 40 degrees, I may or may not decide to cover the garden, depending on the conditions and details of the forecast, but when the low gets within about 5 degrees of freezing, I usually go ahead and cover the garden no matter what, because I’d rather be safe than sorry.

It is also important to look beyond the immediate forecast for frost and see what the long-term forecast is looking like.  If it appears that temperatures are going to rebound, it can be worth your time to cover the most vulnerable plants in your garden, but if the long term forecast shows little chance for a return to good growing conditions, you may want to weigh your options to simply harvest what you can and let the rest go.

How to Protect Your Garden From Frost

What to Cover

Knowing how to quickly triage your garden when frost is forecast can be a huge time and energy saver, particularly if your garden is so large that it is not possible to protect everything from frost.

Plants that always need protection from frost are your tender plants, like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, beans, cucumbers, melons, squash, onions, and most herbs.  These plants have a lower tolerance for cold temperatures and are likely to sustain frost damage even from a very light frost.

Plants that are more tolerant of frost include: kale, broccoli, cabbage, radishes, parsnips, carrots, spinach, lettuce, chard, beets, turnips, and celery.  These cold hardy vegetables will often bounce back from a light frost as if nothing ever happened, and often can survive uncovered until you are facing a hard frost (when the temperature drops below 25 degrees and stays below 25 degrees for several hours).

What should you skip, if you can’t cover everything? Skip the rhubarb, strawberries, and any other perennial fruit or vegetable that has already produced its crop for the year.  These plants have already stored up nutrients for next year, and there is really no advantage to keeping them going a few more weeks. Likewise, skip any plants that have significantly slowed in production or quality.  The small number of extra beans or one more cucumber that you might be able to harvest in the next few weeks is probably not worth the effort at this point in the season, whereas a tomato plant loaded with lots of green tomatoes might still have a chance at ripening a good number of fruit.

How to Protect Your Garden from Frost

What Kind of Cover to Use

The best covers for your garden are lightweight fabric, like sheets, light blankets, and burlap.  Heavier cloth like canvas tarps, drop cloths, or comforter-style blankets can also be used, but it it might be a good idea to use some sort of support to help bear the weight so as not to crush or damage the plants.  You can also use newspaper or large pots to cover low to the ground plants.

These materials are ideal because they are breathable, and they easily insulate your garden by trapping a layer of warm air around the plant.

The use of plastic sheets or plastic tarps should be avoided unless you are able to utilize supports to tent the plastic over the plants without the plastic coming into contact with the foliage. Plastic acts as a conduit for cold temperatures, and if the plastic is in direct contact with the plant, you are likely to see damage to the leaves because there is no layer of air between the plant and the plastic to insulate from those cold temperatures.  The moisture that can become trapped underneath the plastic can be problematic for this reason as well.

Plastic can, however, be used as a secondary layer, placed over a first layer of cloth covers if wet weather is anticipated along with the frost.

How to Protect Your Garden From Frost

How to Cover:

If possible, water your garden really well the morning before frost is predicted.  Wet soil will hold more heat than dry soil, and you want to capture as much daytime heat as you can when frost is in the forecast (mulching your garden can have the same effect).

Wait to cover your garden until the sun starts to get low in the sky and is no longer having a heating effect on the garden.  Ideally, you want to cover the garden before the sun sets, so you have enough light to ensure that everything is properly covered, but I have certainly spent more than a few nights in the garden with a flashlight, frantically covering everything in the dark, so ultimately you do what you need to do when the tomato crop is at stake!

Start by draping the fabric over the plants, making sure that there is enough material to reach all the way to the ground.  This is important because the soil is where most of your heat is stored, and you want that heat to help warm the pocket of air you are creating around the plants with your covers.  Overlap your covers as necessary to make sure that there are no gaps where heat can escape and cold air can settle in.

Once everything is covered, start to tuck the covers in around the edges.  Fold the material around the plants, and tuck it in at ground level to ensure that all of the foliage is under cover.  You don’t want to pull the material in too close to the base of the plant, but rather let it naturally fall straight down to maximize the benefit of the heat that the soil has retained throughout the day.  As necessary, use rocks, bricks, or other heavy weights to hold the bottom of your material in place and to prevent the covers from blowing open or off in the wind. Clothes pins can also come in handy to keep two pieces of material together or to secure a piece of material to the top of a tomato cage or fence.

It is safe to uncover your plants as soon as the temperature warms back up above freezing.  This usually happens within an hour or two of sunrise, but it can take longer, depending on how low the temperature dropped overnight.  Obviously the air flow and sunlight are good for the plant, but more importantly, you want the plant and the ground underneath it to start warming up as quickly as possible.

However, if you are like me and usually leave for work in the morning before the sun rises, it is better to just leave the covers in place than to risk taking them off too soon. When conditions are favorable for frost, the temperature usually continues to drop until just after sunrise. Leaving your plants covered all day isn’t ideal, but it’s not really going to seriously harm your plants either if it’s just for a day (or two, if there is a stretch of cold nights).  As long as you are using light fabric covers, enough air and light can pass through that the plant will survive; you just won’t see the ground or the plant warm up as quickly.  If you are using plastic covers, it is more critical to remove the covers, or at the very least vent the covers to allow for air flow.

Finally, allow the covers to dry out before returning them to storage, but don’t put them too far out of reach just yet.  This time of year the forecast can change quickly, and you never know when you might need to protect the garden from frost!

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A Squash Garden Update

As you may recall, back in June I created a squash garden out of an underutilized space behind the storage shed in our backyard.  It was an idea that had been brewing in my mind since late last fall, and after making the decision to forego a community garden plot this summer, the idea quickly began to take shape.

In many ways, the garden has turned out exactly as I had hoped.  The above photo that I posted to Instagram a couple of weeks ago is exactly what I imagined on those now-distant winter nights in front of a stack of seed catalogs.  I love the lush look and feel of the vines as they meander about the garden, and the stray vine here and there that makes a run up the fence or the side of the storage shed.  In most places, you can’t even see the mulch-covered ground.  I have to carefully check under the leaves before I take each step to make sure I’m not walking on the vines or a little pumpkin.

A Squash Garden Update

There have been no shortage of squash blossoms this summer.  Within a few weeks of getting the squash garden in, the male blossoms started to appear, attracting all manner of pollinators to the garden.  I’ve seen a good number of honey and bumble bees, which is always good, but perhaps more interesting is the diversity of native bees in our backyard that I have not noticed until this year, which is also good news!

A Squash Garden Update

But here is where the story of the perfect squash garden takes a couple of twists.

The first challenge I encountered was dealing with the healthy slug population in this corner of the yard.  I knew they were an issue in the strawberry patch during berry season, but I had assumed (incorrectly) that the wood chip mulch would be rough enough that they wouldn’t travel too much throughout the squash garden.  I noticed a little damage on some of the gourd plants one morning, but didn’t think it looked too bad, so I decided to keep an eye on it.  A few more nights passed and the damage was increasing, and they even started to go after some of the little pumpkins that were forming, so I did what any good gardener does in this situation: I grabbed a beer!

A Squash Garden Update

The beer and a few shallow plastic containers from the recycling bin took care of the issue pretty easily.  I dug down into the wood chips so the lip of the container was at ground level and the slugs could easily belly up to the bar.  Then I filled them with some cheap beer.  After the first night the traps were absolutely full of slugs.  It was disgusting, but don’t worry, I didn’t photograph that.  I dumped them out, reset the containers, and refilled the traps with more beer and repeated this process for a good week until the traps were eventually only getting one or two slugs a night.

There are still a few slugs to be found out there, but they are no longer doing quite as much damage as they were earlier in the season.  I’ve been reading that it is probably a good idea to treat this entire area with some slug bait (Sluggo is the most commonly recommended brand for organic gardens) later this fall, once all of the vines have been pulled.  This should reduce the number of slugs next spring and make management even easier next year.

A Squash Garden Update

With the slugs under control, I was ready to start watching some pumpkins grow!   With lots of female blossoms popping up, and a lot of pollinator activity, I was seeing new pumpkins set every day.

They would grow to about the size of a grapefruit, so big, so beautiful and full of promise, and then…

A Squash Garden Update

Total squash garden carnage.  Every single one, every single time.

I have a hunch the squirrels are to blame, but I guess I can’t rule out the possibility that is some other equally annoying critter tearing into my squash. Either way, I’m kind of at a loss as to how to protect my squash.  I’ve tried putting small sections of chicken wire around the little squash, but no matter how I position it, the squash still vanish.   I have no idea how to keep whatever it is out of such a large area, so if you have any experience with this kind of garden defense, please let me know!

A Squash Garden Update

The only exception is the gourds.  They either are not nearly as appealing to the critters as the squash and pumpkins, or they just haven’t found them yet, because  I have a good number of these cute little crook neck gourds on one end of the squash garden.  I saved the seed from several interesting looking grocery store gourds Mike picked up last fall to decorate our front steps, so it has been fun to see which ones I ended up with.

As for the squash and pumpkins, they aren’t giving up yet.  The vines are still healthy and vigorous, and they continue to set pumpkins, even though we are quickly running out of days to reach maturity.  Right now there about three squash looking really promising, and so far, no squirrel or slug damage. Depending on how the fall goes, I think it’s possible that I could still see some mature squash, but it’s hard to say.

All in all, a bit of a mixed bag for the first year of the squash garden, but at least there have been some good lessons learned that will help with future squash-growing endeavors.  Perhaps next year will be there year I dazzle you with my abundant squash harvest!

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Ladybug on Sunflower Leaf

I know I say it every year, but this year it seems more tangible than ever: the summer is just flying by!  I feel like I have so much to catch up on, and so little time to do it before things really start to turn towards fall.  It’s been a crazy summer for us, but I fear that if I don’t start to put some of these moments out there now, I never will, so without further ado, here are some short tales about what’s going on in my garden lately:

Tomato Harvest

The biggest story of the summer has been the slow pace of the tomatoes.  I wrote more extensively about this in my last post, but last week I’m pretty sure I actually gasped out loud when I saw the first Opalka starting to turn.  The next day there was another tomato turning on the Striped Roman plant, and the next day, an Amish Paste.  By Friday morning, the hot and steamy stormy weather we’ve had all week had given way to a fall chill, but I harvested two ripe tomatoes to make up for the fact that I had to grab a sweater for my morning garden walk.

A quick programming note: for those of you keeping track, I’m aiming to have Salsa Week (which is normally the first week of September) start in another week.

Joe's Round Pepper

Despite the lack of heat this summer, the peppers have actually done quite well.  I’m still waiting for all my drying peppers (Cayenne and Clykon) and really hot peppers (Habanero and Fatalii) to start turning color, but I have a good supply of JalapenosAnaheims, and even a few red Black Hungarians this time around.  Even my poor Joe’s Round (pictured) have made a remarkable turn around after some pretty severe bunny damage earlier this spring.   I just hope there’s enough heat left in the growing season to finish them off!  If not, I think this might be a good year to experiment with overwintering a potted pepper plant in the basement.

Sunflower

September means sunflowers, and thankfully these beauties are on time this year.  I planted a row of them along our storage shed this year, and it has been fun to watch the assortment of colors and textures appear.  I’ve been very encouraged by the number of pollinators I’ve observed around the garden this summer.  We’ve had a good number of honey bees, native bees, and wasps visiting the blooms in the garden.  I’m also really excited about the number of monarch butterflies that have visited the garden this year!

Cour di Bue Oxheart Cabbage

The winged creature I am less excited to see in greater numbers this year is the cabbage moths.  I’m sure they have quite enjoyed the large, dense planting of broccoli, kale, and cabbage.  All in all, things are looking pretty good though – particularly the oxheart-shaped Cour di Bue cabbage above.  I really love the shape!  Now I just need to figure out how you know when to harvest a head of cabbage…

Zinnia

I’d like to think that the influx of pollinators is at least in part due to my initial efforts at creating a pollinator garden.  It’s still a work in progress, but the vision is slowly starting to take shape!  I plan to do an update post on this project in the near future (as well as an update on the squash garden, too!).   The zinnias have been one of my favorite components; I already have my eye on a few of my favorites for seed saving, including this one and the buttery yellow one I featured in another post not that long ago.

Ground Cherries

Despite the slow-to-ripen tomatoes and peppers, harvesting has actually been fairly steady this summer.  Lots of cucumbers, greens, scallions, raspberries, basil, and other herbs.  The ground cherries and tomatillos are just starting to ripen.  I had completely forgotten just how fragrant ground cherries are!  I’m trying to save up a good number for a couple of recipes I want to try, but it’s hard not to taste test a few in the garden! I also harvested the first round of dry beans this week.  The Lina Cisco’s Bird Egg beans yielded nicely (though the rainy weather did cause a few beans to start sprouting in the pods – oops!) and I can’t wait to cook with these beauties this winter.

Lina Cisco's Bird Egg Beans

Finally, I want to give a formal welcome to all of the new readers!  Last Friday, Tumblr made Sweet Domesticity a featured blog, which resulted in over 10,000 new followers in less than a week!   I know it’s been a quieter than normal summer around the blog, and I am humbled by the rate at which the followers on the blog and the various social media sites continues to grow.  I’m thankful that you take the time to read and comment, and I hope to get back to a more normal posting schedule as soon as possible.

This would probably also be a good time to point out that there are some new social media icons on the right to check out.  I am now on Instagram and I’ve also added a link to the Sweet Domesticity Tumblr feed.

So enough about me, how is your garden growing this season?

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The Summer of Green Tomatoes

Well, here we are: the last week of August and still not a single ripe tomato.  Not even a sorta, kinda pink one.

Last week I started to wonder if I had inadvertently planted a whole garden of late varieties, but after a quick check of the days to maturity for each variety and a little math, I was reassured that I  should have at least a few ripe tomatoes by now.

The Summer of Green Tomatoes

I suspect the weather has a lot to do with with my abundance of green tomatoes.  The tomato plants  have been setting fruit well and blight issues have been nearly non-existent, but we just haven’t had much in the way of heat this summer to push the tomatoes (and peppers) to ripen.  We’ve had a few days here and there, but overall this summer has been pretty dang comfortable as far as temperature and dew point go.  Great for keeping the windows open and the AC off, not so much for turning green tomatoes red, orange, yellow, and purple.

And now with September just around the corner, it’s hard not to entertain thoughts about the possibility of a light frost before I even have a chance to harvest enough tomatoes for a batch of salsa. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a warmer and later than average fall–or at least enough tomatoes and peppers to have a proper Salsa Week this year!

The Summer of the Green Tomatoes

And so the wait continues!  This year, more than ever, that first ripe tomato of the season will be sooo worth it.

In the meantime, I’m grateful that I selected quite a few bi-color tomatoes this year to keep things interesting until the green tomatoes start to turn!  From top to bottom in the post: Green ZebraStriped Roman, and Old German.

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