Get dirty, have fun and grow more food with great gardening tips from real-life gardeners.
It's been only nine days since Prop 37 was defeated in California by dirty tricks and big money, but far from sounding the death knell for GMO labeling, our narrow loss has fired up our Movement like never before. Look for more info on the new battlegrounds in Washington and Vermont to come out soon. Be prepared to speak out and also put your money where your mouth is as the “food fight” of our times continues. In the meantime nurture your gardens and the growing local food movement.
Last night we had our first real killing frost. The beautiful bamboo trellis once covered with Purple Hyacinth beans is now a blackened mess. It still wasn’t cold enough to phase our Old Fashioned Vining petunias, still covered with perky lavender, pink and white flowers, or our Sugar Daddy peas. I don’t think the pea blossoms will have time to develop pods before temperatures drop below 22°F and take them out as well. Still not bad for November 14th, I have no complaints. Only yesterday we decided to give up covering our remaining pepper plants and do a final harvest to freeze, dry, and pickle. We’re especially excited about our naturally fermented pickled jalapenos. We are still harvesting broccoli, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, lettuce, and the more hardy greens from uncovered beds. This week we are planning to lay out the remaining row cover, put up the low tunnels and transplant from outside into any open areas in our hoophouse before it gets any colder.
We have been going wild with natural pickling through fermentation this fall. I made three separate 5 gallon batches of kimchi (also called kimchee or kim chee) and other pickled greens. Somehow we planted twice as much bok choy as we are likely to eat before the temperatures dip below 22°F and they have to be harvested or lost. So I have been experimenting with kimchi made with lots of bok choy, some winter radishes and only a little Chinese or savoy cabbage. I have been using baby ginger grown in our high tunnel , homegrown garlic, ripe red Numex Big Jim peppers and ground dried Korean pepper flakes to make my spice paste. I keep meaning to try a batch with a sticky rice base but haven’t yet. It is supposed to really bring out and blend the flavors. I did make a batch with lots of Misato Rose (aka Watermelon) radish in the mix and it is exquisite. I shared a basic kimchi recipe last winter and you might want to visit Manchee or read a Sandor Katz book to really get into the Art of Fermentation.
For the last few years we have been focusing on increasing our year-round self-sufficiency by growing more winter greens to be harvested fresh as needed and easy storage roots like carrots, potatoes, winter radishes and turnips. We also are trying to use low energy ways to store food for winter, like solar dehydration, pickling through fermentation, and root cellaring. We’re partly inspired by permaculture educator Cindy Conner of Homeplace Earth. Cindy takes homestead food self-sufficiency to the next level with organization , analysis, and long term data collection that helps us make better choices about what to grow, how to store our harvests, and work our harvests into our everyday eating. Cindy and I carpooled to the Virginia Small Family Farm conference and had hours to talk about foods we are excited to be growing and eating this winter. You can follow Cindy’s adventures in self sufficiency on her blog on Mother Earth News.
Sweet potatoes came up as our number one pick for ease of growing and storage (unless a colony of voles takes up residence in your garden). Actually, Cindy thinks she may have solved that problem with a new bed that has hardware cloth buried 8 inches below the surface and along the sides. I’ll be looking to see how that works for her. Thankfully, we haven’t had that particular problem here at the Southern Exposure gardens. We’ve had fabulous sweet potato harvests of long-storing roots, as long as the growing location is well-drained.
Winter squash is my next pick. We both prefer varieties from the moschata species, like Butternut or Seminole pumpkin. Moschatas have superior resistance to vine borer damage and excellent storage quality. Like sweet potatoes they can keep for over a year at cool room temperatures.
Garlic and lots of it is another must have for both our pantries. I grow a number of varieties for flavor and to spread the harvest and curing period. For winter storage, I make sure to have plenty of silverskin varieties in the mix. Year after year they are what we are using come May, and until just before we harvest the new crop of early Asiatic garlic. Egyptian onions and perennial leeks also shine for the flavor and bright green they add to winter meals. I like to add them towards the end of cooking so they retain their color.
One more root we are so excited about we’re growing more each year is yacon. This crisp, tasty tuber from the Andes gets even sweeter in storage. I like this relative of Jerusalem artichoke for the refreshing texture and because it so readily absorbs other flavors, plus it helps stretch our store of fresh winter fruit for salads and pies. We hope to make a limited time offering of the roots on our website this spring. We grew a couple of varieties of the white-skinned type and a more rare purple skinned variety called Yacon Morada, shared with us by food historian William Woys Weaver.
Here is a recipe that we enjoyed recently. We used the leftovers to dress a spinach salad the next day.
Waldorf Salad With Yacon
½ cup orange juice or fresh apple cider
4 cups diced apples
3 cups well-scrubbed diced yacon
2 cups diced celery
½ cup coarsely chopped walnuts
½ cup craisins
1 tbsp veganaise (or sour cream or mayonnaise)
¼ cup shredded coconut
Place the juice (or cider) in a bowl. Add the diced apples, yacon, and celery. Toss well to keep the fruit from discoloring. Stir in the nuts and craisins. Let the mixture sit for 5 minutes so the yacon can absorb more juice then drain off any excess liquid. Stir in the veganaise. Place the mixture in a serving bowl and sprinkle with shredded coconut. Serve immediately. May be stored in the refrigerator for several days.
Thanks for stopping by and we hope you’ll come back often to see what we’re growing and cooking.
Ira Wallace lives and gardens at Acorn Community Farm, home of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, where she coordinates variety selection and seed growers. Southern Exposure offers 700+ varieties of non-GMO, open-pollinated, and organic seeds. Ira is a co-organizer of the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello. She serves on the board of the Organic Seed Alliance and is a frequent presenter at the Mother Earth News Fairs and many other events throughout the Southeast. Her first book, The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast, will be available in early 2014.