Monday Harvest Update 10-24-2011

Fall has definitely arrived this week at Stoney Acres.  Along with it comes a huge drop in the amount we get from the garden.  In another week all we will have to report on our week harvest will be greens and carrots.

Lettuce was the highlight of our week.  We have started harvesting the lettuce in the cold frames.  I anticipate we will be eating salads 3 or more times a week now.  As you can see from the picture we have 5 types of lettuce, plus sorrel and someNew Zealandspinach.

Popcorn is another winner for the week.  This was the first year we have grown popcorn.  We “shelled” it all the other night and ate our first batch!!  More to come on growing pop corn later this week.

While we were working on cleaning up the garden over the weekend we discovered a couple of small heads of broccoli that we had missed.  That was a tasty surprise.

Also this week we got a couple of good pickings of raspberries.  We have some really cold weather coming in a few days that I think will finally put a stop to their production.  We also had some strawberries, a few tomatoes and the last two yellow squash.

 

Here’s this weeks totals:

 

  • Raspberries – 2 ¼ lbs
  • Strawberries – 1 lbs
  • Yellow Squash – 1 ½ lbs
  • Tomatoes – 2 lbs
  • Cherry Tomatoes – 2 oz
  • Lettuce – 1 lbs
  • Broccoli  – Not weighed
  • Popcorn – 2 lbs
  • Eggs – 23
  • Total –  9.75 Lbs

 

That brings our total for the year to 679.75.  Check out what other gardeners are growing this time of the year at Daphne’s Dandelions with her Monday Harvest Series.

Protecting your garden from Early Frost

Protecting your garden from Early Frost cover

It never fails, almost every year we have 2 or 3 nights in late September or early October that reach the low 30’s and leave a frost.  They are usually not really hard frosts but they are enough to ruin the squash plants or nip the tomatoes.  These cold nights are inevitably followed by 2 or 3 weeks of beautiful weather in the 70’s with lows in the 50’s.  Not perfect weather for summer crops but still warm enough to ripen some tomatoes or grow a few more zucchini.  So what do you do to protect your crops from these early light freezes?  In our area it is not worth it to try and put up a hoop house or other structure.  So what is the answer to protecting your garden from early frost?

Floating Row Covers!!

Protecting your garden from Early Frost

Held down by some clips this row cover protects tomato plants well from light frost

Floating row covers are the best solution for protecting your garden from early frost.  Row covers are lightweight blankets usually made from spun-bonded polypropylene.  They are relatively inexpensive to buy and can be found at most garden supply stores or on online.  They can be known by several trade names like Agribon or Remay.  I always buy the heaviest grade sold.  The heavier grades last a lot longer, usually 5 or more seasons of heavy use (I’ve bought some lighter grades that only lasted one or less).  The heavy grades offer from 6 to 8 degrees of frost protection, meaning they can protect down to 26 maybe even 24 degrees for a short time.  These row covers can also serve double duty by adding extra protection in the cold frame later in the winter.  They are rain permeable and let in plenty of light. But the heavier fabrics are not meant to be left on long term.  My suggestion is that if it is going to warm up during the day then you should take your row covers off to let the sun light in!

Protecting your garden from Early Frost 1

Here’s an example of the heavier grade row cover fabric this piece has been used heavily for 6 seasons

 

Protecting your garden from Early Frost 2

Lighter grade row covers don’t last nearly as long, this cover was used for only a couple of months this spring

Most of my row covers are cut to about 10 x 8 foot pieces so that they will also fit the cold frames with some over lap.  I simply take them out and throw them over my plants and secure them with a few rocks or attach them to the tomato cages with some clamps.  Although they are not perfect, for early light frost this seems to work well and assure my plants will live to fight (or produce) another day.

protecting your garden from early frost 3

Here’s a good example: the pumpkin plants on the right were under the protection of row covers after our first frost the left side wasn’t protected

protecting your garden from early frost 4

Even after a the heavy frost we had earlier in the week these tomatoes are still doing well under row covers

Of course row covers can be used to great effect on the other side of the gardening year as well by protecting your spring crops from a late frost.  Everyone interested in simple season extension should have plenty of row cover fabric on hand!!  I think every gardener should have at least 4 – 4 x 10 foot pieces on hand.  I seriously don’t know what I did before I bought my fabric row covers (oh wait, yes I do, I used to cover my tomato plants with old bed sheets).  Trust me fabric row covers are one of the handiest things any gardener can have around!!  Buy some today, before the frost comes!!

First Frost!!!

Well it was bound to happen sooner or later and finally it did.  We woke up this morning to the first frost of the season and it didn’t mess around with just a little frost.  The lawn was covered and by noon today most of my warm season plants will be toast!!

I think it is interesting how frost works.  I was up at 5:45 am to go for a run, it was cold but no sign of frost.  It wasn’t until I took my son to school at 7:30 am that I first noticed some frost on the lawn.  By the time I got back 15 minutes later the lawn was covered!

I’ll have to bring in the last of the pumpkins to ripen off the vine today because as you can see the plants will be gone as soon as the sun comes up.

This frost caught me a little off guard,  the weather forecast said we would only reach 40 last night so I really didn’t worry about it.  So the tomatoes really weren’t covered very well.  Oh well we have been living on borrowed time for weeks.  This frost is nearly 3 weeks behind schedule.

I didn’t even put the lids on the cold frames!!  Actually these lettuce plants will be okay.  Lettuce and most other greens are pretty hardy but no more laziness for me, lids on the cold frames every night now!!

Not all plants hate frost.  Frost will improve the taste of this Tuscan Kale which is super hardy and will last unprotected in the garden for a couple more months.

I don’t think the chickens were all that happy to wake up to this cold.  Time to get out the sweaters girls!

So I guess today marks the official end to the 2011 summer gardening season.  Now on to the fall and winter crops!!

Harvest Monday 10-17-2011

We had a surprisingly good harvest for this late in the year.  The garden looks empty and overall is pretty sad looking but we actually harvested quite a lot.

Berries are still our most faithful producers.  With a few strawberries left and another large picking of raspberries.

Pumpkins were our big producer for the week.  We were able to harvest 4 this week totaling 32 pounds.  Our spring was so wet and cool this year that we weren’t able to get our pumpkin seeds in the ground until almost mid June.  This really affected the size and number of pumpkins we grew.  We always count our pumpkins in our totals for a few reasons, first we cut them open and eat all the seeds, second we try to eat as much of the flesh as we can creatively deal with, third what we don’t eat will be fed to the chickens for a mid winter treat!

Harvesting the pumpkins meant we could finally move the vines out of the way and dig up the last 1/4 row of potatoes that we missed earlier.  There was only about 6 feet of bed space left to harvest but it was another 13 lbs.

The pleasant surprise this week was our tomatoes.  We picked another 4 lbs of vine ripened tomatoes this week.  This is very unusual for us this late in the year.  Normally by now we would have had a couple of killing frosts and we would have already pulled the tomatoes and brought in any green ones to ripen in the basement.  We have been spared from the  frost so far with at least another week without frost in the forecast!

Here’s our totals for the week:

  • Tomatoes – 4 lbs
  • Strawberries – .50 lbs
  • Raspberries – 1.25 lbs
  • Potatoes – 13 lbs
  • Pumpkins – 32 lbs
  • Yellow Squash – .50 lbs
  • Lettuce – unknown
  • Total – 51.25 lbs
This brings our total harvest for the year to 670 lbs.  Every Monday you can check Daphne’s Dandelions for more harvest totals from gardeners all over the world.  Be sure to check it out!

Preparing and storing Potatoes

Once our potatoes are out of the ground we like to take them inside our garage and lay them out on our makeshift table to dry.  Of course it would be even better if you could set them on some kind of screen to improve the air circulation, but we simply grow way too many for that so we spread them out on this large plywood table.

I usually let them sit for a couple of days; this allows the dirt to dry and any damage done to the potatoes when digging to start healing.

The next step is to clean the potatoes off and grade them.  I use to spray them all off good with water but that adds to the amount of time it takes for them to cure and I like to get them out of the light as quickly as I can.  So now we just put on a pair of work gloves and gently rub all the dirt off with our hands.  This also gives us a chance to look at each potato and grade it.  Any damage to the skins resulting from either your digging or natural causes qualifies the potato for the eat quickly pile.  You should only save the most perfect potatoes for long term storage.  All the others should go in the fridge to be eaten in the next couple of months.

We have also found that smaller potatoes don’t last as long in storage as the larges ones.  So we also sort them by size, small, medium and large.  The small potatoes also go in the fridge to be used up quickly in soups and as roasted potatoes.  The medium potatoes are used for mashing and casseroles, the largest are saved for baking.

 

The best place to store potatoes would be in a root cellar.  Potatoes like temperatures below 40 but above freezing so a root cellar is ideal.  But most of us don’t have that option.  We usually put our long term storage potatoes in the coolest spot in our basement, if you have a crawl space you could store them there as well just be sure they are protected from rodents.  I have friends that keep there potatoes in a bin in their garage and they keep all winter.  The main point is to keep them as cool as possible without freezing them.  As space opens up in our fridge we will usually move as many there as we can.

My mom use to can potatoes.  She would cut them into cubes and can them in quart sized jars with the skins still on them.  They are actually very tasty that way but it is a lot of work.  If you are going to try that you will need to be sure and buy a current copy of a caning book like the “Ball Blue Book.”  They also must be processed using a pressure cooker.

 

As you can see by the pictures we grew a lot of potatoes this year.  As of this writing we have 160 lbs with a few more still in the ground covered by pumpkin vines that we didn’t want to disturb with the digging.  We really hope we can keep them good well into the early spring.  We chose to grow two varieties this year, a brown russet and red Pontiac.  The russets are primarily for baking; we use the Red Pontiac for everything else and love them!

Potatoes are a great addition to any garden and are a must if you are really trying to provide the bulk of your families’ vegetable needs from your backyard farm.  You hear this all the time from gardeners, but I’ll say it any way:  garden grown potatoes are far superior in taste to any commercially grown potatoes.  This coming from someone who grew up in the heart of potato country in Southern Idaho.  You just can’t beat the taste or variety that you can get from your garden.

I read somewhere that in the U.S. there are only 5 varieties of potatoes grown commercially.  Compare that to the well over 100 types you can get to grow in your garden.  It really is worth the space to grow some potatoes.  So as you make your garden plans this winter be sure to include at least a couple of potato varieties.

Digging Main Crop Potatoes

Any one that is really serious about being self reliant has to include potatoes in their garden.  I have read authors who say at least a 1/3 of your total garden space needs to be reserved for potatoes.  That can be a lot of space.  The good thing about potatoes is they are really a fairly low maintenance vegetable.  You do have to spend some time with them in the spring planting and mounding them up, but from mid June until late September I don’t really do anything to my potatoes other than keep them watered and pull a few weeds.

Digging potatoes is one of the most satisfying things I do in the garden.  This year we decided to dedicate a lot more space to potatoes.  We love to eat them and we wanted to see how much we could grow and how long we can keep them with out a root cellar.

 

We have grown potatoes for several seasons now, each year we seem to learn a little more and increase our total yield.  After experimenting with several different methods we have settled on planting the potatoes in rows and mounding several times as the plants start to grow.  I’ll post more about that next year as we get our crop growing.

Once all the tops have died back it’s time to get the potatoes out of the ground.  We tried to put it off as long as we could this year hoping for cooler weather and cooler temperatures in our basement where we store them.  We actually paid a price for waiting.  Part of our main garden is shaded by a neighbor’s trees.  This shade gets a lot deeper as the fall progresses.  We found the ground never really dried out in these areas after the final few waterings and some rain.  This caused quite a few of the potatoes to rot in the ground; we probably lost about 10% of our crop to this.

 

Digging potatoes couldn’t be simpler.  I always use a digging fork instead of a shovel.  I found that I cut too many potatoes in half with the shovel and I do a lot less damage with the fork.  I try to start digging about 3 inches back from where I think the potatoes will be.  I then simply pry up the dirt and start searching.  Our younger kids love helping with this, it’s a lot like an Easter egg hunt for them.  As they get older they will catch on that it’s really work in disguise so make sure you get them helping early on.  Our 7 year old stuck with it for the whole 2 hours it took us to dig up our 6 rows of spuds.

Some people suggest you leave the spuds to dry right in the garden for a day.  I’m not a really big fan of this method.  When potatoes are exposed to light they turn green and become poisonous.  I know how my life runs, if I don’t get those potatoes inside and out of the sun while I’m digging them, I’ll get busy the next day and they end up sitting outside for a week.

 

Tomorrow I’ll talk about what to do with your potatoes once they are out of the ground!

 

Harvest Monday – October 10, 2011

This will be the last week with any large numbers here at Stoney Acres.  We picked the last of the summer squash, the last major harvest of tomatoes and the tail end of the cucumbers.  I don’t expect to see more than 10 lbs a week going forward, except for the week we decide to harvest our pumpkins, which maybe next week.

Raspberries continue to be the highlight of the garden.  We picked a total of 2 pounds this week with plenty more to come in the next few weeks.

Strawberries are down to one picking a week.  We got a little over a pound this week and I expect it to be even smaller next week.

We picked a total of 11 pounds of tomatoes this week and then I forgot to take a picture of them.  These 3 are the only ones not ripe enough to make it into the canner.  The rest will be soup in January!!!

 

Here’s this weeks total harvest:

  • Tomatoes – 11 lbs
  • Yellow Squash – 3 lbs
  • Zucchini – 1.5 lbs
  • Raspberries – 2 lbs
  • Cherry Tomatoes – 1.5 lbs
  • Strawberries – 1.5 lbs
  • Cucumbers – .5 lbs
  • Lettuce – .25 lbs
  • Total – 21.25 lbs
  • Eggs – 19

 

This brings our annual total to 618.75 lbs.  This post is part of a weekly series of Monday Harvests from Daphne’s Dandelions.  Head on over to her site to see a list of backyard farmers and their weekly harvest totals.