December is a time of digging in and staying warm. There is still life in the garden! In the beds and pots, kale, cabbage, salad burnet, sorrel, rosemary, oregano, garlic, onions, lettuce, leeks, chard, dill, celery, carrots, spinach are all still green in December.
Fresh herbs are just steps away from the back door. Thyme, oregano, chives, winter savory, sorrel, sage, onions, rosemary, lavender are all still harvestable in the early December garden. I have picked fresh herbs for Christmas dinner many years in our Zone 6 garden.
You can also grow most herbs indoors as well like chives, parsley, oregano, rosemary, parsley, chervil, and basil. Just place your potted herbs in a sunny window. If you are using a greenhouse, your kale, celery, mustard, lettuce, chard, spinach, cabbage, broccoli are still happy under cover. They will not grow much until sunlight gets back to 10 hours per day in late January.
All cold crops are at their sweetest during the cold weather. They make great salads and are tasty steamed or braised.
The Buying Local Option
There are several winter farmers markets across the country nowadays. Check out www.localharvest.org for one near you. This is a great place to see what grows well in your area in the winter. Local farmers are almost always willing to share what they know and give tips on the varieties they have had the best luck with.
CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. It is where you invest in a local farmer in January when they have to purchase their seeds and supplies for the upcoming gardening season. You then get a weekly share of the farmers harvest from May through October.
Before I started our own garden, we joined a CSA. It was great. We got lots of super fresh produce, our weekly grocery bill was significantly reduced as our meals were planned around the vegetables, and it was an adventure getting to try new recipes with veggies we had never ate before. The CSA experience provided a perfect blueprint for what we liked to eat and what grows well in our zone.
If you are interested in produce grown without pesticides, herbicides or other chemicals, ask if the farmer uses organic practices.
Where to find a CSA? You can do a search on www.localharvest.org. Many sell out so don’t delay if you want to join!
Preserving the Harvest
It is easy to store winter squash in your pantry to pull out anytime. We have eaten butternut squash from the garden all the way into June of the following year.
If you put garlic in your pantry and some have dried out, make garlic powder. Just process the dried garlic in a coffee or spice grinder. Now you have great flavor to add to burgers, sauces, or steaks.
If you threw your extra tomatoes into the freezer and are now thinking it would be nice to have tomato sauce, canning tomato sauce is simple and easy to do. I use Weck’s canning jars. They are all glass so no worries about what is lining the lid. And they are a really pretty shape.
All you need to can tomato sauce is a large pot, canning jars, a metal funnel, and canning tongs. A pressure canner is not needed for acidic foods like tomatoes. Always follow the recipe as written to insure food safety.
I throw the entire tomato (de-stemmed) into the food processor. Most recipes say to remove the peel and seeds so you don’t have a bitter taste, but I have not noticed any issue with bitterness.
Here is the recipe from Ball’s “Complete Book of Home Preserving” for tomato paste:
9 cups of pureed tomatoes, 1½ cups of chopped sweet bell peppers, 2 bay leaves, 1 teas salt, 1 clove of garlic.
I put it all into a large pot and let simmer until it is the consistency and taste I like, about 2.5 hours. Remove the bay leaves and garlic. Boil the jars, lids, and seals as the sauce is close to done.
Add 3 teas of lemon juice to each hot pint jar, fill with the hot tomato sauce to within ½ inch of the top, and seal the lid, following the instructions for the type of jar you are using. Place all the filled jars in a large pot, insuring they are fully covered with water. Bring to a boil and process for 45 minutes. Remove from canner. Let cool. Test the seal after the jar is completely cool. It should not lift off. That’s it!
Other high acid foods you can using a water bath are jams, jellies, condiments, salsas, pickles, and relishes. Consult with a canning book for more tips and be sure to follow the recipe exactly.
Garden Corner Recipe: Herbal Salad Dressings
You can use your fresh herbs to make your own salad dressings to pair with your homegrown greens. Here are a couple we like.
Homemade version of Hidden Valley Ranch is easy to make. Just mix equal amounts of buttermilk, mayonnaise, and sour cream (half cup each). Then add parsley, dill or chives, garlic, dried onion ( ½ teas), salt ( ¼ teas), and pepper ( 1/8 teas) to taste. If the mayonnaise is too overpowering, I substitute yogurt.
Apple mustard vinaigrette is another easy, healthful dressing. Mix together 1/3 cup finely chopped shallots, honey to taste, ¼ cup apple cider vinegar, ¼ cup olive oil, 2 Tbs water, 2 Tbs country style Dijon mustard, ¾ teas salt, ¼ teas pepper.
Feel free to experiment with different herbs that you like!
For more small space and container gardening ideas, visit my blog at www.victorygardenonthegolfcourse.com.
When a hard freeze is in the forecast, it is time to pick the last of the tomatoes, peppers and eggplants and clean the plants from the garden!
All the tomatoes, peppers and eggplants should be harvested before the vine is killed. Green tomatoes can be made into fried green tomatoes (I love a spicy fish breading on mine), pickled, or stored in a dark place to ripen. You can bring your pepper plants indoors and they will flower and produce for weeks. They will survive the entire winter and get a one to two month head start on next year's season.
You can compost any garden debris that is disease free, but dispose of any diseased plants in the garbage. Only high sustained temperatures will destroy the spores and it is not worth the risk of spreading into next year’s garden.
This is the time of year to put a coat on your potted plants that you are going to leave outdoors. The best place to locate your plants and greenhouse is close to protection and on the south side of the house in full sun. Putting the greenhouse against the house will help keep the temperatures warmer for your plants.
I have my portable greenhouse over my three Earthoxes that contain kale, celery, French dandelion, spinach, lettuce, blood veined sorrel, and garden purslane. It is also best to make sure the pots are sitting directly on the ground. I have my pots placed next to our outdoor kitchen and on the concrete patio. The outdoor kitchen wall and concrete patio absorbs heat during the day to release overnight, keeping the temperatures from dipping inside the greenhouse.
I put five 1 gallon jugs filled with water and spray painted black inside the greenhouse along the outside edge. I have 2 on each side and 1 in the end. The black will help heat up the water during the day. These will help moderate the temperature inside the greenhouse overnight. Make sure you have the edges of greenhouse secured to the ground (there is an internal flap all around the inside of my greenhouse that I placed the milk jugs on to hold the flaps down).
The biggest risk with a greenhouse? Overheating! The sun’s rays are quite hot on a cloudless day. I open the vent on my greenhouse when it is sunny and in the 30’s. I will unzip the front door flap when it gets into the 40’s. In the 50’s, the cold crops really don’t need any protection.
For more potted and small space gardening tips, see my blog at VictoryGardenOnTheGolfCourse.Blogspot.com.
When I was very young, it was unheard of to harvest nuts in my climate. This week I have been harvesting Carpathian walnuts. A friend in California called them the best tasting walnuts she has ever eaten. The tree was planted 31 years ago as a seedling that was grown by Les Shandrew, a childhood friend of my grandfather. Les is the boy shown in the photo irrigating the field with his father Sylvester. The irrigation ditches in my community were originally dug by hand and horsepower. The ditch crews developed a habit of planting the apple seeds from their lunches into the soil next to the canal. It has been 150 years since my village started digging canals. There are “wild” apple trees growing every few hundred yards along the entire length of our canal systems. The trees and/or their descendants are still providing an abundance of fruit for the community.
The apple trees are genetically diverse as expected from seed grown plants. There are early apples, and late apples. There are tart apples, and bland apples. Some of the fruits are highly attractive to apple maggots, some of them are immune. One of the trees is my favorite apple ever. It matures in early summer. It has blotchy red fruit that is super fragrant and very tasty: the perfect blend of sweet and tart. I really need to work on my tree grafting skills. I tried three years to graft a scion from it onto other apple trees. This year I had many grafts take for other varieties, but alas not for my favorite. I expect to keep trying until one survives.
I am also growing a pear tree that was grown from a seed by Les. I had to learn how to use the pear appropriately because it has a bitter skin. The bitterness fades when the pears are super soft and ripe, but if I want to eat a semi-ripe pear I peel them because the bitterness is only skin deep. The really nice thing about the bitter skin is that it is repulsive to insects, so I can grow the fruits organically and not have insect blemishes on the fruits. The fruits fall from the tree when they are still green, so I pick them and ripen them on the countertop. The pear has become one of my favorite trees. It’s not like every other pear. It has its own quirks. My caretaking skills have evolved to accommodate the quirky nature of the tree. It feels really good.
I have continued my community’s tradition of growing fruit and nut trees from seeds. Volunteer walnut trees sprout prolifically in the yard. Instead of treating them as weeds, I treat them as a valuable source of genetically-diverse locally-adapted walnuts. I share the seeds and seedlings with the community for planting. Winter hardiness is an important trait for nut trees in my area because we are near the outer edge of the plants ability to survive. I am able to screen hundreds of volunteer trees per year for winter hardiness. It may be many years before we can evaluate nut quality. If any turn out bad we have the option of grafting.
I consider myself to be part of a multi-generational project to develop locally-adapted survival-of-the-fittest landraces of fruit and nut trees. There is a thriving sub-culture that continues the village tradition of growing fruit and nut trees from seeds. Each generation the offspring are selected for better growth, higher production, and increased winter hardiness.
When I was very young, it was unheard of to harvest nuts in my climate. This fall we harvested walnuts, hazels, and pistachios: All of them from genetically-diverse seed-grown plants that have become localized enough to have passed the survival-of-the fittest test for our valley. I expect that if the tradition continues - of growing landrace fruits and nuts from seeds - that my great-grandchildren will be harvesting many additional types of fruits and nuts that are currently unavailable to me. This is part of the reason why I believe that landrace gardening is a path towards food security through common sense and traditional methods.
Joseph Lofthouse grows vegetables in a cold mountain valley where he practices the art of landrace gardening in order to feed his community more effectively.
Photo by Terri Shandrew
Have you seen the concerns about long-term damage from widespread, world-wide use of Monsanto's Roundup herbicide (glyphosate) being detailed by retired Purdue plant pathologist Dr. Don Huber? Dr. Huber (photo, left) summarizes his concerns this way:
"Most people don't realize that glyphosate is patented as a very powerful antibiotic that kills many beneficial microorganisms in the soil, plant, environment and gastrointestinal tract of animals and man that are essential for nutrient availability, absorption, physiological function and disease protection of living things. Glyphosate is a strong, broad-spectrum nutrient chelator that inhibits plant enzymes responsible for disease resistance so that plants succumb from pathogenic attack. This also predisposes RoundupReady (GMO) and non-RR plants to other pathogens.
"The introduction of such an intense mineral chelator as glyphosate into the food chain through accumulation in feed, forage, and food, and root exudation into ground water, could pose significant health concerns for animals and humans and needs further evaluation. Chelation immobilization of such essential elements as Ca (bone), Fe (blood), Mn, Zn (liver, kidney), Cu, Mg (brain) could directly inhibit vital functions and predispose to disease."
We asked our colleague Hank Will (photo, right), who holds a PhD in Biochemistry and Genetics from the University of Chicago, for his opinion of Dr. Huber's arguments. Here is what Dr. Will had to say:
"I think Dr. Huber is credible. I think he is on to something real, but it is incredibly complicated and integrative and so it is easy for Monsanto to "discredit" him, and he is easy to ignore because he's retired. He has studied soils forever and is in a unique position to put more puzzle pieces together than anyone in the pesticide world. Thankfully, he is a decorated scientist who is retired — so he doesn't really need to care what the discreditors do to him.
I think few are so brave as to go against the giant myth we call agricultural science and its moneyed backers. And few are able to integrate so diverse areas in science to even wrap their minds around his arguments. And since there will be no reward of tenure or promotion or worse, grant funding for eager young scientists to pursue his hypotheses — Big Ag will likely continue to lead us down the unsustainable path of the "anything to feed the world" status quo.
Do I think there's a chance he has it right? Absolutely. Do I think there's a chance he has it wrong? Absolutely. Do I think there's a chance he's part right and part wrong? Totally. What embitters me is that we may never be able to know because "science" has now become all about chasing dollars, not truth.
Click on the play button below to watch Dr. Mercola interview Dr. Huber about glyphosate.
Most of us have read articles on “how to compost.” Some of us (like me… your friendly neighborhood mad scientist) have read many thousands of pages on the subject.
If you listen to the experts, the process sounds like a pain in the neck. No meat! No bread! No oils! No paper! Make a nice set of boxes! Put hardware cloth and motion detectors in to control rats! Get the C/N ratio right! Ensure a thermophilic reaction! Ask your neighbors first! Keep it moist but not wet! Check with local authorities! Turn it monthly – weekly – daily – hourly!
Yikes... no wonder we keep throwing banana peels in the trash.
It’s time to take a deep breath and re-think composting.
At a basic level, composting is simply a process of rot you can harness to feed your plants. To get started right now, you don’t need bins or a mix of “browns and greens.” Compost is like magic – you take “waste” and make it into a resource. Every bit of organic material that passes through your household can be returned to the soil. All you need is a shovel. Got a garden bed? Dig a trench and dump in food scraps, egg shells, bones, leftovers, even junk mail (not the glossy stuff or envelopes with plastic windows, obviously) and then bury it. Congratulations – you’ve just added nutrients back to the soil and there’s no smell, no infrastructure, and little trouble. If you’ve buried it deep enough, the critters aren’t a problem – and as long as you’re not burying piles of sawdust or tons of paper, “nitrogen robbing” won’t be a big deal.
You’ve probably heard how the Indians taught the Pilgrims to bury fish carcasses beneath corn plants. That’s composting. I followed their lead and buried organ meat, humanure (we had a great composting toilet system going at one point) and rotten leftovers in 2 - 3' deep holes and then covered them with a mound of dirt. A month or two later, I planted squash and sunflower seeds on the hills. I’ll tell you what – the plants didn’t need any additional fertilizing. We've done this multiple times and those areas remain fertile for years. (I call them "Melon Pits... you can read more about the process here and here).
The ground consumes anything dangerous and the plant roots then take what they want. Easy.
Of course, if you want compost for your garden, you do need to follow a few more rules – but they’re not tough. The reason extension agents don’t recommend adding certain ingredients to your pile is because they can attract vermin, create odors and fail to break down quickly or safely in a typical backyard pile. It’s not because they’re useless as soil amendments.
I confess: I’m not neurotic about creating “perfect” compost. I create a few large piles a year to feed my wife’s raised beds and my collection of fruit trees. I just mix a collection of green and brown things together and let nature take its course. If you’ve got some coffee grounds (some coffee shops give them away for free), grass clippings, garden thinnings, kitchen scraps and that sort of thing, mix them together in a pile and wet it as you go. It WILL rot, even if it isn’t as fast as you’d like. Turn it when you remember and it will break down faster. Get the mix of carbon and nitrogen correct and it will convert much faster – but even if you’re totally lazy, it will eventually become beautiful compost.
Every time I drive through town, I see piles of leaves, branches, grass clippings, tree trunks, pine needles and other rich organic matter lying by the road, waiting to be picked up by waste management. WHY? Because people don’t realize what they’re doing! By sending all that organic material off their property – they’re exporting their soil’s fertility… only to later purchase some back in plastic bags marked with numbers like “10-10-10.”
Think about it: a plant or a tree pulls up nutrients from deep in the soil and uses them, along with solar energy and water, to grow. All parts of that plant are useful! Don’t chuck it by the side of the road! You’re leaving your piece of earth less fertile than it was before.
Logs and sticks can be piled into corners to rot – or even buried as long-term moisture reservoirs for the soil (look up “hugelkultur” online – it’ll blow your mind). Leaves and grass clippings can be used as mulch or put in a compost pile. Pine needles are good mulch for acid-loving plants such as roses, azaleas and blueberries. Over time, all that plant material will break down and become part of the soil again, whether or not you make a nice, neat, highly managed system.
God designed things in nature to constantly cycle. Grab a piece of that cycle today and your plants will thank you tomorrow.
Now quick – go pull that banana peel out of the trash!
For daily gardening madness, visit David's blog at www.floridasurvivalgardening.com.
This is the last week the CSA share will be available to pick up until next season. A lonely cloud filled with depression swept over the yellow, Fertile Grounds delivery truck as I handed in our flattened boxes, placed the fresh produce in re-usable grocery bags, and said good-bye to the woman whose kind hello and quick exchange of a few words I’ve come to weekly appreciate.
I like to think of it as an extension to my home garden. Except I don’t have to physically tend to it. Instead, I and many other community members and families, financially support them. They also received a grant from the USDA in 2012. This pays for overhead costs and allows the CSA to educate the community about sustainable agriculture.
The home garden is a place for me to observe the forces of nature, to experience the changing seasons and connect to the force in control of it all, but in regards to time input versus food output, limitations do apply. There is always time in my life to garden, if only for a moment on some days, yet I still find myself going to the grocery store.
Now that I have a feel for what to expect from the CSA, I can plan my garden in accordance with theirs in order to reduce the amount of food I buy at the grocery store, and to get the most from my home garden.
For the past 8 weeks of the growing season, I have been a member of my local CSA. Quite possibly each week I received kale. And kale I enjoy. At home, the cabbage worms have been enjoying the kale leaves a bit more than me, despite my constant handpicking. Next year, I won’t bother with planting kale, which will free up space for more broccoli, including romanesco.
My favorite food of all is potatoes. There is no limit to my consumption. The only limit is to how much the home garden and my Dad’s garden, at this moment, are capable of producing. Not enough for my limitlessness is how much. I also hate purchasing potatoes from the grocery store, more than any other single item. Good thing the CSA offers extra potatoes for purchase, and although I love potatoes from them, I’ll make sure to continue growing potatoes at home.
Another item which seemed to be available each week, were squashes. Delicata, butternut, or spaghetti is what I’ll have my hopes up for again next season. This is great for when space is limited on the home front. Because then they exist. And I don’t even know where else, other than the CSA, I would be able to purchase organically produced squash.
That may be one of my favorite parts about the CSA. Everything is organically-produced. It’s just not certified-organic by the USDA. It’s also why I love the mystery of wondering what kind of greens each week will provide. Purchasing organic greens at the grocery store, transported from the nearest organically-certified farmer, for 5 dollars a pound and up, makes me upset. Especially when an entire pack of organic seeds costs less than that. Knowing I am getting organically produced greens freshly harvested exactly 23 miles away from my home heals all frustrations.
When items such as kale and potatoes, and greens such as lettuce and spinach, are tested for pesticide residues by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), then classified in order of most pesticide residues, with potatoes coming in tenth, I begin to develop more of a relationship with the food from the CSA. Greens, including kale, lettuce, and spinach are also placed in the top twenty. Not from the CSA.
Other than kale, potatoes, squash, and a bag of greens, Fertile Grounds goal is to give each member between 6 to 10 varieties of produce each week. I have successfully dried cayenne peppers and oregano, got addicted to jalapeno poppers and stuffed peppers, learned to cook with fresh sage and even received popcorn, all of which is currently non-existent at home.
In combination to the home garden, becoming a member of a CSA can help the home gardener overcome any limits posed by space, light, or time. The CSA also holds a lot of events for its members to get to know one another, and become more active within the community. Personally, I plan on applying to work as a harvester for one, full season soon. Monday through Thursday, 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. is a harvester’s work shift.
That’s plenty of time to consciously connect to the forces that be. And who knows, other than those forces, what boundaries can become limitless then?
To find a CSA near you, click here.
I hope to learn to live off the earth, in harmony with its forces and elements, and inspire others to come in contact with both their natural environment and inner selves through organic gardening. And by writing about my experiences through my blog. “All Is One” through our interconnectedness is the important thing I believe needs to be addressed.
When you have a small yard, pots are a great way to extend your garden and harvest. You read that you can grow anything in pots. And you can. So, how do you decide what is best to plant in the ground and what is best for your pots?
Deciding what to grow can be exhilarating and overwhelming. The varieties are endless, the options infinite. Where do you begin when you are deciding what to grow for the first time or for the tenth time?
First, grow what you love to eat! Make a list of your favorite veggies. The caution for a new gardener, start small. From your list of favs, pick your top 5-7 to start with.
So, if I were to share the easiest to get started with, what would I grow my first fall and winter season? I would start with plants and grow lettuce, spinach, kale, cabbage, collards, mustard greens, Swiss chard. If I loved beets, carrots, radishes, peas and turnips, I would plant these as seeds. If I liked to cook with onions and use chives, I would get Egyptian walking onions because they are perennials and can be harvested year-round and love their home in a pot.
Hmmm. I said 5-7 varieties, didn’t I? I just counted and I did pick 7 plants, but then threw in seeds for beets, carrots, peas and an onion. See how hard it is to keep it manageable?
If you are just starting out and have limited space, look for descriptions like “patio”, “compact”, “great for pots”, “container”, etc. Here are some recommendations for your garden:
Beets. Any. You can plant these around a beautifully colored swiss chard.
Cabbage. Golden Cross 45 day cabbage did really well for us in pots this year and has a short enough time to maturity that they could be planted now. I would plant one cabbage per pot. You can add pansies for color.
Carrots. Get the short ones like Atlas and Parisian.
Swiss chard. I love all the colors to choose from. Perpetual Chard is not as beautiful, but is particularly hardy.
Collards. Any. These will produce all winter.
Kale. Look for “dwarf” in the description, but any will work if you plant on continuously harvesting the lower leaves. Many kales will survive all winter.
Lettuce. Any as you can harvest the lower leaves and the plant will continue to produce. Look for descriptions like “cold hardy,” “early winter,” “overwintering,” “winter-hardy,” “cold tolerant,” “bred for winter production” for lettuces.
Onions. I grow Egyptian walking onions in a pot. You can use the bulb for cooking and the tops as chives. Chives and garlic chives are also great for small spaces or pots.
Peas. If planted now, will give a spring crop. Look for “compact” varieties for growing in pots, like ‘Green Arrow,’ ‘Sugar Ann,’ ‘Cascadia’ or provide a support for them to grow onto.
Radishes. I would stick with the round types like Runder Schwarzer Winter or Rudoph.
Turnips. Look for quick maturing types to get the largest before winter.
I noticed that W. Atlee Burpee & Co.seed company started showing a clay pot with a check mark on the lower right hand corner of their seed packets this year to indicate which seeds were appropriate for pots. This makes it much easier to know than reading all the descriptions!
A couple of tips for extending the season as long as possible:
For more tips on gardening in small spaces, visit Melodie’s blog at www.VictoryGardenOnTheGolfCourse.com.
- Place your pots on the south side of the house as this is the warmest side and gets the most sun.
- Putting your pots up against the house gives them extra warmth.
- Place your pots in an area that is protected against the wind.
- If on stands, placing the pot directly on the ground helps.
- Put your pots in a huddle against each other to protect them from the wind, with the most tender plants in the center (like lettuce).
- Buy a portable green house to put over a collection of pots that have your greens in them can possibly keep your greens surviving until spring.
- It is wonderful to be able to just step outside your door and get fresh produce all through fall and into winter.