Winding Down the Garden

Sunset at the community garden.
Our home garden got frosted, catching us off guard about two weeks ago.  We'd been checking the forecast and thought we were fine.  Other gardens in town didn't get frost, including our plots at the community garden.  It must be our proximity to the rims or something.  I don't know.
Matt pulling tomato plants--and green tomatoes--at the community garden plot.
It was a mixed bag though.  Covering the garden with sheets and things can be a hassle--and is only postponing the inevitable.  Our fall had thus far been unseasonably warm--much to the benefit of our peppers, eggplants, and tomatoes.  We've had good harvests of all three.  So, we really weren't that broken up by the shriveled, black tomato plants.
A beautiful fall day at the community garden.
We've been systematically winding down the garden--harvesting food, pulling plants, building compost heaps, mulching open beds--since then. There has also, of course, been much canning, drying, and freezing of homegrown goodness for later use.  Its been a really good gardening year on most counts.
A counter top of bounty:  red and gold potatoes, tomatoes, green beans, red peppers, yellow and green summer squash, pint jars of apple sauce, a windowsill of tomatillos.
We added more flowers to the mix and have really enjoyed them.  The bright colors make being in the garden even more pleasant--which is saying something because we already thought it was a pretty great place to be.  The bees buzzing around them make me happy.  I think Matt and I are finally starting to "get" flowering gardening.
We grew the biggest cabbages I've ever seen in real life.  Huge.  Bigger than basketballs easily.  The largest of them was stolen from the community garden, but the other two were pretty close to it in size.  We just keep telling ourselves that someone hungry really needed it.  And then Matt adds a little joke, "...just so long as they didn't make sauerkraut with it..."  Though we both like cabbage, neither of us are fans of kraut.  We're going to freeze some for soup--at the suggestion of one of Matt's co-workers.  We've sure enjoyed loads of springrolls and stir-fry dishes, too, and have some cabbage-potato samosas in the freezer for those I-don't-feel-like-cooking nights.  I'm so glad my friend, Meagan, convinced us we actually do like cabbage.
Big, beautiful cabbages.
We still need to harvest our sunchokes, but had been holding out on that for some frosts.  We've never grown them before, but from what I've read the tubers are sweeter after a frost or two.  We should have cut the flowering heads off, I guess, to encourage more root growth, but...we didn't.  They were really pretty, yellow flowers though--and tall!  Goodness did the sunchokes grow, grow, grow!  They were multiple feet taller than our garage.  At least 15 feet, I'd estimate, maybe more.
Towering sunchoke blooms.  They made me think of sunflowers or brown-eyed susans.
We've been working on growing more herbs, too.  We've been self-sufficient in sage and oregano for a couple years now.  We'd like to grow on that.  We let some of our fennel go to seed.  If we have homegrown fennel and homegrown sage we can make homegrown sausage spice for country gravy, pizza, etc.  We also have some tarragon drying--though we don't really use it much.  We'll have to find some ways to incorporate it.  There was a huge tarragon bush in the community garden plots we inherited this year.
Fennel seed from the community garden.
The hot weather crops did pretty darn great this year.  The peppers were just off the hook!  This, of course, makes my pepper-loving soul very happy.  We've got a few pints of the sweet peppers chopped and frozen and have been eating them fresh like mad.  I could put peppers and onions in just about anything though and be happier for it.  The hot peppers--cayenne and jalapeno--also did superb.  I've been playing around with some different hot sauce recipes.  I almost have one perfected enough to share.  Its much spicier and less vinegary than my go-to hot sauce.  Matt likes it much better.   I also pickled some hot peppers for the first time.  I am eager to try them--soon I'll be passed 30 days in the brine and will crack one and have a go.  I've got hundreds of peppers strung up to dry.  It will be a hot and spicy winter.  Just the way I like it.
One loaded sweet pepper plant.  I got a kick out of, not only how many were on this plant, but that they were all growing upside down.
This harvest basket made me overjoyed--pepper heaven!
Pickled jalapeno and cayenne peppers along with some fresh eggplants and sweet peppers.  The mini-pumpkin was a gift from my friend, Mary--though I gave it the smashing, snaggle-toothed expression.
The tomatoes did pretty well--more than double what we managed last year.  We had a bum year for tomatoes in 2014.  This year we grew a variety called Bellstar that did not do well for us.  The plants were puny compared to their neighbors.  We really adore the Amish Pastes though.  They are perfect for making sauce and grow quite prolifically.  We also tried a few oddballs, including a tiger-stripped tomato.  They're pretty and interesting, but those Amish Pastes are like the workhorse of the tomato world in my mind.  We'll probably always play around with our tomato varieties, but the Amish Pastes are in for the duration.  I actually got turned on to them by one of my blog friends--Jamie, over at Ngo Family Farm.  We ended up picking a bunch of our tomatoes while still green, but are letting them ripen up in boxes and baskets in the craft room.
Pulling the tomatoes at the home garden.
The final tomato harvest at the community garden. 
Matt meticulously washes and spreads the tomatoes out, sorting out one that are soft, before packing them into boxes for further ripening.  He checks the boxes daily, pulling out the tomatoes as they ripen and checking for any that are just going bad instead of turning red.
This wasn't our year for squash.  We were super late in planting both the summer and winter squash.  As such, we actually had to buy some zucchini at the Farmer's Market.  I can't remember the last time we had to buy zucchini.  I guess the plus side is that we never got tired of it or overwhelmed by mountains of zucchini.  We got a good number in the end, but they were all near the end of the season, too.  We got rather tiny, under-ripe butternut squash.  We'll see if they ripen off of the vine (we don't know) or if they're any good as is.  We bought a couple dozen various winter squash from a friend that operates a local greenhouse to hedge our bets though.  We must have squash for the winter and they were locally grown and affordable, too.  It just wouldn't feel right without a stash of squash in the storeroom.
Baby butternut.  It probably only as big as a couple fists.
Like the tomatoes, the tomatillos did well this year.  Better than last year.  Plus, we go so many purple ones!  They are so pretty.  Actually, I think that tomatillos in general are very pretty.  I like their little hanging lanterns.  We'll be making a bunch of salsa with them, mostly.  The salsa is a great addition to chili we discovered last winter (or was it early this spring?).
Even the parts you don't eat are strikingly attractive on a tomatillo.
We still need to dig the rest of our potatoes and the small patch of celariac roots (an experimental new vegetable in our garden this year).  The garlic needs planted, but it had been so warm we wanted to wait a bit so it didn't sprout early on us.  We also still need to bag up some leaves for overwintering the carrots and get that bed all tucked in.  Projects for the weekend.
The fall home garden--lots of open beds these days.
Ginger has been keeping us company in the garden all year--including this tear down phase.  In fact, she has been especially interested in all we're up to lately.  She absolutely must smell and rub on the plants as we pull and mound them up.  While I think she prefers having a lush "jungle" to stalk through, she has been rolling in all the newly de-vegetated earth with great delight, too.  She still has her carrot patch to hunker down in--for the moment at least.  She curls up in there even when the carrot tops are covered in frost.  She loves the garden.
When picking the tomatoes at home I turned around and see Ginger just going to town in the empty potato bed.  She rolls and writhes and gets herself thoroughly dirty.  "Dust bathing" seems to make her quite happy.
There has been a frost on the grass every morning this week, I think.  But, no snow yet.  I can't believe its almost November.


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