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.

 

Tomatoes

“The federal government has sponsored research that has produced a tomato that is perfect in every respect, except that you can’t eat it. We should make every effort to make sure this disease, often referred to as ‘progress’, doesn’t spread.” – Andy Rooney

OK, so these really aren’t those dreaded government tomatoes, just the last picking of our vine ripened, home grown beauties.  The picture comes from my daughter and was an assignment for her photography class.  But really, special effects aside, is there anything better than a home grown tomato?

 

Early October 2011 in the Garden

Things are starting to wind down from the summer here at Stoney Acres.  The plants are looking spent and we are getting the last of the warm season produce.  Here’s a quick tour of what’s going on in the garden.

The tomatoes are still ripening and the plants really look pretty good.  There is some cold weather approaching for the next few days and then it will warm up again.  I think we will keep the plants in the ground and see if we can get some more of these tomatoes to ripen on the vine.

There are still a few summer squash maturing.  I don’t think the plants will hold out much longer, they are starting to show signs of some kind of blight or disease.  But we will still have some fresh Zucchini and yellow squash for a week or so.

The popcorn seems to be coming along.  We pulled a few ears this week and they are dry, but not quite ready so I think they will continue to ripen in the garden for a few weeks unless the weather really turns bad.

As you can see the melon patch is spent.  We picked and ate the last water melon this week,  the remaining cantaloupe that you can see don’t stand a chance of ripening this late.  We will probably pull all the plants out this week along with the cucumbers you can see in the background.

The everbearing strawberries are still doing well.  As you can see we are still getting flowers.  This late in the year chances are slim these flowers will ripen, but they may still have a chance.

As the weather has cooled this Tuscan Kale plant has really come on strong.  Kale really likes the cool weather and the taste will really improve after the first frost.

The bell peppers are pretty much done.  They most likely won’t survive the upcoming cold.

This may be my best crop of winter carrots ever.  The carrots in this bed are healthy and already starting to size up.  They will be ready for eating and will be one of the few fresh veggies we will get to eat in December and January.

The pumpkins are still struggling to ripen.  You can see two in this picture one will make it, the other on the bottom left is still up in the air.

The raspberry patch is still going strong with a lot of berries still to ripen and pick.  Last year we had ripe berries until November.

 

 

The winter garden is coming along well, this second bed of carrots are also starting to size up and will be ready to eat in early December.

This is our favorite type of lettuce, it called butter crunch and is really good this time of year.  We will start thinning this bed and eating the thinning’s in salads, that will let the other plants continue to add size.

This bed contains more lettuce on the right and some pac choy on the left.  These will be the first greens ready for harvest in about 30 days and will then be replaced with mache (corn salad).  Which is already planted between the rows.

These big plants of sorrel are ready to eat any time and will be covered with the cold frame soon for eating all winter.

If you look really close in this picture you will see the first of the winter mache coming up.  This won’t be ready to eat until February but will be a welcome addition that time of year.

Well, there’s where we stand at the first of October.  Things will be a lot less impressive 30 days from now as the first frost approaches and even the first snow.  Soon the only fresh veggies will be tucked inside the cold frames.

 

 

 

 

Ratatouille

As the gardening season winds down here at Stoney Acres we will start posting less on growing veggies and more on other self reliance ideas.  Included in this will be recipes to help you use your harvest.

As you will learn we are big “locavores”.  Whenever we can we try to make meals with local or home grown ingredients.  Last nights dinner was a good example of this.  My sister gave us this recipe and we thought the kids would get a kick out of it because of the Disney movie.  Turns out the kids didn’t like it all that much, but we sure did.

Ratatouille 

9 oz Eggplant (we aren’t big egg plant fans so we substituted yellow squash)

2 Tbs Olive Oil

9 oz (one) Zucchini, thickly sliced

2 onions, cut in wedges

1 red pepper, cut in bide sized cubes

1 green pepper, cut in bide sized cubes

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 lb 2 oz ripe tomatoes, chopped

Dash of whole oregano

Dash of basil (of course you can use fresh if you have it)

Salt and pepper to taste

 Heat 1 ½ Tbs of the oil in a LARGE frying pan.  Add the eggplant (or squash) and zucchini in batches and cook for a few minutes or until lightly browned, drain well on paper towels.

 Add the remaining oil to the pan and cook the onion over low heat for 3 minutes, or until golden brown.  Add the red and green peppers and cook for 5 minutes or until tender but not browned.  Add the garlic and tomato and cook, stirring for 5 minutes. 

 Stir the egg plant and zucchini back into the pan.  Simmer for 15-20 minutes to reduce and thicken the sauce.  Season to taste with herbs, salt and pepper.  Serve over rice.

Served with rice and a piece of fresh baked artisan bread; we thought this was yummy!   The kids . . . well, they ate the bread.  The older ones liked it but that many veggies in one dish was just two much for the younger ones to handle. Oh well!!

I hope you give this one a try while you still have a few veggies to throw in it before winter.  Enjoy!!