Sunday, September 21, 2014

Cleaning Up and Preparing for Next Year

Letting Lettuce Go to Seed
As the days get shorter and Fall arrives, we are cleaning out our plots and preparing for next year.  First, we are suffering through another mini-drought at the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden.  We’ve only received about a half inch of rain so far this month.  This has made starting off our Fall crops (like lettuce, turnips, bok choy, spinach and beets) a challenge.  Lea realized on Saturday that she would have to start over and there are only so many things (like Black Seeded Simpson lettuce and bok choy which have a chance of sprouting and ripening before the hard frosts come and we close for the year).  Despite the drought, I’ve been grateful for my yard-long beans because they keep producing no matter the weather.  The drought isn’t the only negative factor on our harvests, though.  Our food pantry harvests have been a bit disappointing since our regular thieves have been cleaning out our (heavy) tomatoes and peppers as they ripen.

Lettuce seed pods
Saving Seeds.  I’ve been doing what I can to save seeds.  With my many bean varieties, that’s relatively easy (although our over abundant stink bug population has been attacking the beans in Susan and my plot with some ferocity).  I spent last Saturday saving cosmos seeds.  Next weekend, I’ll try to save some sunflower and marigold seeds.  One year, I even managed to save some kale and petunia seeds.  Every year I think I will save lettuce seeds, but I never do (except for arugula).  However, this year, I finally found time to save some lettuce seeds.  Krystle planted some romaine lettuce in her plot before she returned to Denver and she let it go to seed.   I transplanted some romaine from my plot into my raised beds at home and let them go to seed, too.  So, when the plants flowered and then dried out, I was able to harvest romaine lettuce seeds to use next Spring.  I even showed Lea how to do it and have included some pictures. (The seeds are on the bottom of the dandelion-like fuzz) and inside the seed pods).  

Lettuce seeds from seed pod
Of course, I don’t like to leave things to chance and so I grabbed a few seed packets at the GCGC meeting earlier this month and last week visited Franklin Park Conservatory, which also has some free seeds to donate to area community gardens.  It’s nice to get our seeds in the Fall because then I can decide over the winter what I need to buy before I have to start seeds (for peppers, tomatoes, etc. ) in March and April.   The kids always want to plant carrots and sweet potatoes and, after that, it’s a negotiation with me trying to get them to grow something different and nutritious.

Crusader Day of Service.    Keep Columbus Beautiful has been a wonderful supporter of the Stoddart Avenue neighborhood and the SACG.  They’ve also donated some seeds to us in the past, and a few weeks ago, let me know how I could arrange for some Capital University college students to travel a mile to our garden to help out.  So, we are looking forward to 10 Cap students coming on Saturday for the Crusader Day of Service.  I will have several projects waiting for them, including cleaning up our compost bins and turning the compost, picking up litter around the neighborhood, watering everything twice (since we’re not expecting any more rain for the rest of the month), tidying the stake storage area (as we gradually pull out all of the tomatoes and their stakes), pulling some spent tomatoes and transplanting some collard greens, etc. from raised beds in their place), pruning sunflowers, and weeding flower beds, etc.  I’ve brought home our gloves to launder them before they start working on Saturday.
Coin envelopes work great to store seeds
Visitors.  While I was running around trying to water everything twice on Saturday, a man walked into the Garden, explained that he was stranded in town (from Mississippi) until Monday and was looking for some work.  I explained that I couldn’t pay him, but we had lots of work.  He said he didn’t care.  Leon raked up the rotting tomatoes in Krystle’s plot and cut out the overgrown and dying cosmos from the food pantry plot.  I suggested that he grab a book out of our library to help him pass the time and told him how Faith Mission offers three free meals a day/seven days a week and gave him some breakfast bars and a few stray tomatoes (since I hadn’t started harvesting yet).  I had a gallon of drinking water in my car, but no cups.  So, he said he would run to the corner store and buy his own bottle or cup and return.  However, he never came back.  He was a big help anyway.   Happy travels Leon; I hope you came back for a book.

Bexley Farmer’s Market.   I’ve been stopping by the Bexley Farmer’s Market on Thursdays to grab some fresh fruit, organic cheese and giant eggplants, zucchinis and poblano peppers, which have been a great bargain.   I baked some zucchini bread last week and am considering Martha Stewart’s chocolate zucchini cupcakes for this afternoon. . . . . I’ve also been enjoying at least once per week zucchini macaroni (with sautéed grated zucchini tossed with garlic and olive oil and mixed with cottage cheese and pasta).   I’ve also been having grilled eggplant sandwiches and stuffed eggplant. 

I’ve also checked out two Rick Bayless cookbooks from the Bexley Library to expand my weekly cuisine beyond American, Cajun, French, Asian and Italian.   There is more to Mexican food, after all, than tacos and burritos.   So, I’ve started drying poblano peppers (including red ones) along with my herbs to make ancho peppers to use in recipes that I hope to try this Fall.   I’ve already enjoyed several recipes with roasted poblanos and freeze a variety of peppers from my own garden (including Serrano, jalapeno, pasilla and cayenne).    Because our cool Fall has wrecked havoc on our tomato crop, I broke down in a moment of weakness and purchased a half peck of roma tomatoes from Smith’s Farm Market on Winchester Pike for $7 so that I could (when the cold front moves in) roast them all for soups, pasta sauce and a few Bayless recipes. 
The inside of a year-old butternut squash

While at the Market on Thursday, a woman asked how long the butternut squashes would keep.  I told her truthfully that I still had a butternut squash in my root cellar from last Fall.   (I should have donated it and it’s been a yoke of guilt around my neck every time I walk into that room).  She said her experience was that its interior would dry out after a few months.  The Rhoads Farms guy said it would keep at least a few months.  So, yesterday, I decided to check out my year-old squash.  It was certainly lighter than the one I harvested about 10 days ago.  I skinned it without any problem and then cut it into quarters.  The seed area had certainly dried out more than usual, and I decided not to cook with the bottom half (although I probably could have done so).  With the top half, I made a Rick Bayless squash soup recipe with roasted tomato and jalapeno salsa and the squash cooked up just fine.  I hope my year old sweet potatoes work out as well when I try another Bayless recipe with them later this week.   
This all being said, all winter squashes are not equal.  Acorn and delicatta squashes do not keep for more than a few months because they get moldy.   However, unlike butternut squashes, you can eat the rind of those winter squashes.

For grins and giggles, I'm thinking of starting a waging pool.  I have a giant butternut squash growing in the flower bed in front of my plot.  It's not ripe yet.  It's only a matter of time before someone steals it.  I'm thinking that for $10, you can bet on the week that the squash gets stolen.  Winner gets to keep half of the money (with the rest going to the Garden).  If no one steals it before we close for the season (or a hard frost kills the rest of the plant), the Garden gets all of the money wagered and I decide the fate of the squash.  I'm not really serious, but you might as well know how warped and twisted I have become on the subject of produce thefts.

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