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Fall garlic planting

We recently got the garlic in the ground. All 600 feet of it – close to 900 cloves. Shout out to my husband for his help! Putting the garlic in the ground always feels like putting the garden to bed at the end of the season. We had our first hard frost on October 21st, and have since gotten down to 19 degrees here (we tend to run about 5 degrees colder than in town). I’m STILL processing peppers, and have a few cauliflower still out there under cover, but for the most part, the 2020 gardening year is “put a fork in it” done. (More wrap up in a separate blog post).

So now is a good time to get back to myd series on garden plant families. If you look back through the posts, you’ll find we’ve already covered the mints, the brassicas and the nightshades (the series is also listed under “gardening” on the DIY homesteading tab above). What better time to discuss the allium family – garlic, onions, scallions, shallots, leeks, chives – than as we wrap up the fall harvest.

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This year’s harvest.

Carrots are one of the first things beginning gardeners want to plant. Nothing says garden success like a handful of carrots pulled fresh from the ground, dirt still clinging to their orange roots! And if you look at gardening books, you learn that carrots are a cool season crop, meaning they can take a frost. And so gardeners are encouraged to plant carrots up to 4 weeks before your last frost. Around here, that would mean early April.

But carrots are also one of the vegetables most beginning gardeners have a hard time with. I don’t know how many times I’ve talked gardening with friends, and they have said, “I planted carrots. But they never came up.” I wrote a whole blog post way back in 2012 on how I used to plant carrots. It was all about doing a scatter method for seeding, and keeping the seeds damp using burlap. This is a great method for raised bed gardening.

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Esterina yellow cherry tomato

Well, tomato season is FINALLY here (we’re late this year due to our cool spring), so I thought the next in the series on garden plant families should be Solanaceae – better known as the Nightshade family.

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Catnip in bloom. One of the best things about this plant family is that bees seem to love them ALL.

This is a continuation in the series on garden plant families. The first installment, on the Brassicas – aka mustards – aka crucifers, can be found here.

Today we’re here to talk about the mints (Lamiaceae – which includes MANY of our herbs). Reminder: as a companion to this series, I highly recommend the brilliant book Botany in a Day. The Patterns Method of Plant Identification by Thomas J. Elpel.

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Broccoli, gone to seed and slowly being buried in aphids, a frequent pest.

When identifying plants, people tend to know the names of the individual species. This is echinacea. This is lemon balm. This is a tomato. We rarely step back and ask, what do certain plants all have in common? But this information can be SUPER useful, both in areas such as plant identification, and for things like crop rotation from year to year. So, at long last (I’ve had this idea for years) I’m writing a series on culinary plant FAMILIES.

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With the changing landscape that is Covid-19, a LOT of people have returned to gardening, or put in a new garden for the first time this spring. Stories of empty seed racks and searches for local compost abound. Because feeding yourself is powerful in these uncertain times.

Because I’m part of several Facebook groups for local farmers and gardeners, I’m seeing a lot of newbie questions and common mistakes. So I put together a list of my top 10 things I wish beginning gardeners knew, in no particular order. This isn’t a definitive list. But it is a place to start if you’ve never grown a plant that you’ve then eaten in your life!

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Sprouted onions from the latest cull, on May 21st. While these can still be used, I find the flavor changes significantly once they have sprouted, so they normally are enjoyed by the sheep instead.

Back in late October 2019, I reported on the grow out of 7 different onions; 6 yellow storage onions (5 open pollinated and one hybrid as a control) and one red storage onion, in this post.

I kept the 10 largest onions from each variety (except the red), and put them into storage in my garage pantry, where the temperature never gets down to freezing, but is otherwise unregulated. In short, typical of most home storage. The room tends to be 10-20 degrees warmer than the outside temp in the winter, and cooler than outside but warmer than the house in the summer.

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Onion harvest from way back in 2011.

Every year, I do my best to grow enough onions for our own use that I don’t have to buy onions at the store. This is kind of a silly point of pride, as store bought onions are inexpensive and even when conventionally grown have a low residual pesticide residue. But there’s just something about having a storage pantry full of onions I grew myself that makes me feel rich in a way that buying from the store can’t provide. So I try to store 100 storage onions in the fall. (Figuring a rough average of two a week for 52 weeks, when in reality some weeks are higher and some lower depending on what else is in season and whether or not its stew season).

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I grew out a few new varieties of tomatoes this year. Four new cherries, a black, a white (really a pale yellow), esterina (yellow) and skakura (red). All were an attempt to find cherry tomatoes that didn’t split on the vine, after picking, and in the display box at market (looking at you Sungold – love you, but dang…). I also ended up with an accidental cherry when growing out some saved seed from a German Pink. I always put my German Pink’s near my cherry tomatoes, and it was clearly a cross with sungold. Kind of a fun slightly larger very round bright orange cherry. And I threw in a Brad’s Atomic Grape Tomato from a plant sale, because I was swayed by its amazing looks. Turns out its not much on flavor in our growing environment. Tough skin, not terribly sweet, and the plant struggled to keep up all season while EVERY other tomato plant I had did just fine. So definitely a dud for me.

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A while back, I joined a “Market Gardening Success Group” on Facebook. I’ve been listening to a lot of farming podcasts of late (Bootstrap Farmer Radio, No-Till Farmer Podcast, Farmer to Farmer, Thriving Farmer Podcast, The No-Till Market Garden Podcast), and thought it would be nice to have a place to discuss the business of farming and ask questions. And occasionally, a real gem DOES come through that is well worth knowing (like this hidden publication from the USDA. The Commercial Storage of Fruits, Vegetables, and Florist and Nursery Stock).

But for better or worse, this group takes all comers, and while, yes, everyone has to start somewhere, the hubris of people starting a business of selling vegetables when they can’t tell you what growing zone they are living in, or name a warm season vs a cool season vegetable, or anything about the type of soil they are growing in caught me a little off guard. SO many fundamentally beginning gardening questions. Not beginning MARKET gardening questions, but truly questions from people who are growing a tomato for the first time in their lives ever. And then wanting to sell it. Sigh. Read the rest of this entry »

Jennifer Kleffner

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