How Green Was My Garden: Mr. Freeze

Mr. Freeze 2

Mr. Freeze is upon us. Yes, the Twin Cities has already endured the first official hard freeze meaning the growing season has officially ceased.  I had to scramble home to dig up what was left of the carrots, parsnips, turnips, leeks, beets and onions to put up in the root cellar (well the one I set up in the basement) for the winter and try to see if any of the cabbage or cauliflower had anything to harvest when the temps plummeted in late October.  I had plucked most of the green tomatoes at the first frost warning but was disappointed not to have just a few more weeks, especially now we are having this last gasp Indian Summer. 

My second harvest of peas never quite made to blossom thanks to the lack of rain unfortunately, and a bad case of fungus on a nearby squash wouldn’t have helped their quality anyway. 

It was a challenging year for gardening this season. With the very cool temperatures and drought conditions there were many challenges. I had my worst year for squash borer ever, killing most of my winter squash plants. I also battled late onset of white mildew on my zucchini and yellow squash due to all the late watering I had to do, and then very wet fall, so a very disappointing year for squash.

What I lacked in squash I more than made up for in cucumber however.  I tried a new variety alongside my traditional Organic Sweet Marketmore, a Thompson & Morgan Picolino F1 Hybrid Organic, which was a tremendous hit. Incredible producer and wonderful flavour, no bitterness, thin skin.

My peppers did yield but very little thanks to the cool temps and late start to the summer and the fact that I planted too close to tomatoes that grew out of control so they likely didn’t get quite enough light.  I got enough Jalepeno to make salsa, and red peppers to make stir fries so that is good.

My tomatoes were out of control this year.  All of my plants were from seed this year except two, the Amish Paste & Sweet 100 that I picked up at Mother Earth Gardens.  Unfortunately My experiment of trying to get the rainbow cherry tomatoes didn’t work as well as hoped and I ended up with hundreds of red cherry tomatoes. A good thing if you have people to donate them to, but after a while you do run out of things to do with cherry tomatoes. I was disappointed I did not end up with the purple, yellow and orange varieties from the seeds but the plants did thrive well and the Sweet 100 was insane with production.

The Roma, Black Plum, San Marzano, Amish Paste & Roprecco Paste Tomatoes were fantastic though as mentioned before they were delayed, once they finally started to ripen I had a wonderful crop and made wonderful sauces & salsas all summer long and have been canning all fall.

One of the nicest surprises was a new tomato variety I tried, the Matina, another organic Thompson & Morgan seed. Despite the black walnut mystery that baffled me for a while, these were a wonderful early and constant producer throughout the summer and fall.  A great salad & slicing tomato also good for sauces and cooking and even have held up to canning.

This was a first year for garlic for me and was very pleased with the result and am excited to plant again this week! Small bulbs but who can complain when you get both scapes and a fresh bulb from a tiny clove fresh from your own ground?

Onions I did not have as good a result thanks to trampling super-raccoons. They used the place where my onions were planted as their path to my yard and kept breaking the stalks, stunting the growth of the bulbs so I ended up with very small yield for my onions this year.  But have some nice shallots and a few nice ones for cooking.  Will have to address that next season.

Despite a mowing down by baby rabbits (chicken wire fence didn’t keep them out) early in the season my carrot crop is tremendous!  Am going to be making stews and soups all winter long!  There are some spotty nematode affected areas, but have found an organic early treatment product that can be applied to prevent the space alien-type distortion that the harmful nematodes create.

Parsnips and turnips did well too, despite the drought, though the turnips did also have some pest issues. Because it is an organic garden there is little that can be done other than try to introduce some more beneficial insect population.

The rainbow beets have been enjoyed all summer in salads and a second yield will be pickled and canned.  The organic compost mix and tilling I did to the corner plot seemed to be a boon for my beets though the lack of water was a challenge at times.

Being the fine Welsh lass that I am, I am probably most proud of my perfectly straight row of thick pale leeks.  I am looking forward to making a lovely bowl of Cawl with the Yukon Gold potatoes I grew in the bag this year.  The red new potatoes were lovely too, and the bag method was fantastic, such an easy harvest.

The cabbage & cauliflower & broccoli plants did extremely well but did not produce until just now so they are tiny.  I believe it is because there was a big branch of my maple tree that decided to grow over the raised bed this season that seemed to shade that area during part of the day.  It received a great deal of sun but perhaps not for long enough of the day and that may have stunted the growth, or perhaps the growing season was just not long enough this year with the cool weather having grown the plants from seed.  Either way, the plants were disappointing with only a few small cabbage heads and some plants with no cauliflower heads or tiny ones.  Will have to examine what to do with tree or bed next season.

The bush beans and broad beans were perfect for us this season, but did not yield enough to preserve as the drought took its toll on the plants late in the season. Hopefully next year is better.

Japanese Eggplant was stupendous, despite the cool weather, much better than the traditional one, which only yielded one big fruit due to lack of heat.  Will add a Thai eggplant next year I think.

With my added space from the raised beds I’ve found I need to devote more time to preserving.  We are going to invest in a new freezer for next season, though I quite enjoyed canning  it is much greater time investment, so I will split my harvest next year between the freezer and pantry, or find some sous chefs to help in the canning process in exchange for a few take-home gifts of tomato sauce or tomatoes. And I will be buying more Green Bags to keep the fresh items like cucumber and lettuce in the refrigerator longer.

It was a challenging season but the end of the year was wonderful and I am still enjoying my bounty but now it is time to cover up the beds with mulch, put away the tools and start pouring over the seed catalogs to plan for next season.

Lets see, seed starting begins in February, so that gives me three months for planning!

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