Wild Gardens for Busy Parents: Turning Colors

Wild garden colour in November

We gave our garden just enough attention to keep it growing, and the garden gave to us abundantly throughout the season. Now, our garden is turning fall colors.

Despite our September and October snow, we haven’t had a hard frost yet, and we’re in the middle of one last 70-degree day, so we’ve left the remnants of our garden—mostly for the snails. I estimate we got 75% of the harvest, and the snails got the rest. I left the damaged tomatoes on the vine for them.

Next month will be my final garden post. By next month, I will have cut everything back before the snow stays on the ground. I love seeing the progress in the photos below. I feel so attached to my wild garden. I am so happy to see the purple, orange, and green leaf colors all pop against my grey house.

November Harvest

When we were afraid that we would have a hard frost a few weeks ago, we picked all of our green tomatoes. We made fried green tomatoes, green tomato salsa, green tomato pickle, and green tomato anything at all. (See our post on green tomatoes recipes.) Even after all of that cooking, we still had a lot of green tomatoes. Rather than freezing, we decided to let them ripen.

We lined boxes with newspaper then set out all of the green tomatoes so they had plenty of air circulation around them. It worked. Now, we shop for our post-season harvest in the basement.

Ripening tomatoes

Total Cost So Far

Total for November – $0
Total for October – $0
Total for September – $3.00 (stakes)
Total for August – $0 (nada!)
Total for July – $3.00 (supports)
Total for June – $16.50 (plants)
Total for May – $34.00 (manure, top soil, peat moss)
Total for April – $18.00 (hops)
Total cost for the year – $74.50

Total Time So Far

I spent no time on the garden this month other than to stand the pumpkin up from where it grew at the edge of our sidewalk so it was visible to neighbors. That’s my fall decorating done. It took all of two seconds.

Total time so far = 11 hours 30 minutes

Our goal has been to spend less than 30 minutes in the garden most months.Depending on your climate and your weather, you might want to spend your 30 minutes this month cutting back vines and sending all of that green into the compost so it can feed your garden next year. Since we are still having mild days, we will wait until later this month to cut back completely.

Our Wall of Green

Our blackberry leaves have turned purple and red. This is the only way to see the blackberries stand out against the raspberries and the grapes that have created our wall of green this season. Tomatoes are greying, though you can see the red of the tomatoes we left for the creatures. Only the kale still carries on growing green.

Our wild garden in November

Progress in the Cultivated Raised Bed

Progress of our raised bed in November

Wild Gardens for Busy Parents: End of Growing

My raised bed in October

We experimented this year. Every year, Nature Mom and I discuss how to encourage you, bynature.ca customers and other readers, to plant a garden. Every year she and I have big plans for our own gardens, and every year we get so busy that we neglect our gardens.

This year, we decided the wild, neglected reality of gardening for busy parents would be our whole theme. My intentions were to give more care than I did. Even knowing you were watching, I still didn’t find the time to tend the garden. I let the snails eat their fill of tomatoes. I didn’t trim the fennel in a way that would keep it from going to seed so early. I let the mint spread into the flowers. The pumpkin has covered the sidewalk and creeps into my neighbor’s driveway every day. Grapevines have crossed the canyon beyond the house to claim the garage. Tomatoes tell the UPS man “No Passage Here.” It’s garden chaos. It’s beautiful chaos. It’s the last push of green before it all dies back.

And this is the lesson. Even through my neglect, the garden gives us bounty. You don’t need to put much into your garden to have it feed your family a meal here and there throughout the summer. If you decide you want to get more serious, it doesn’t take much attention to harvest that bounty and preserve it for the winter. I know you are busy parents, but you can plant a garden.

October Harvest

Yesterday it snowed. There is no nighttime frost yet, so some of my green tomatoes are still on the vine, but we only have a week or so before everything will be finished growing.

The end of my harvest will include:

  • 4-5 dozen monstrous green tomatoes
  • grape leaves, to be frozen and stuffed through the year as dolmathes
  • one giant pumpkin, painted (not carved) then eaten
  • several varieties of slightly bitter mint

 Total Cost So Far

Total for October – $0
Total for September – $3.00 (stakes)
Total for August – $0 (nada!)
Total for July – $3.00 (supports)
Total for June – $16.50 (plants)
Total for May – $34.00 (manure, top soil, peat moss)
Total for April – $18.00 (hops)
Total cost for the year – $74.50

Total Time So Far

Most of my time in the past month was spent moving vines that were trying to take over. That might have taken 10 minutes all month.

Taming – 10 minutes
Previous time spent  – 11 hours 20 minutes
Total time so far = 11 hours 30 minutes

Our goal has been to spend less than 30 minutes in the garden most months. Unless you want to start the garden cleanup early, there isn’t much need for 30 minutes this month. Most of your garden time is actually kitchen time. Slice green tomatoes for salsa, relish, pickle, or other side dishes.

Your 30 minutes for September:
Taming – 5 minutes
Harvest – 10 minutes
Cooking – 15 minutes

Growing & Gathering Hops

This past month, my husband gathered the cones from his hops. You can use fresh hops to brew beer, but you have to do it right away, so he chose to dry the hops. He harvested .3 ounces when dried from one plant, the Nugget. The other plant didn’t produce this year. That isn’t a lot, but he was pleased to have harvested anything at all.

Dried and frozen hops cones

His homegrown hops inspired him to look for feral hops. In old cities, hops often grow long after the families who planted them are gone. My husband found three big groups of feral hops in the city. One of the plants he has been watching for a couple of years was in a 19th-century neighborhood that is now hip businesses in the shadow of downtown. That plant is called Cluster, which is more of a heritage breed. This plant is probably more than 100 years old. The other large producer lines a parking lot near a cultivated public garden. This breed is probably Cascade, a varietal that is about 30 years old. The bitter smell of Cascade currently dominates my house as he took it out of the dehydrator this morning.

My husband has dried and frozen several pounds of hops, but he says it would be best to express the harvest in the number of batches of beer he can make with the them. He harvested six batches of homebrewed beer from secret locations throughout our city. For now, they occupy a deep basket in our chest freezer.

Not bad for neglectful gardening and gathering.

Our Wall of Green

Progress of my garden to October

Progress in the Cultivated Raised Bed

Progress of my wild garden until October

 

6 Green Tomato Recipes You’ll Love

Green tomato

I’m overwhelmed with tomatoes. I have so many of them that I have even stopped telling the snails to leave them alone. The only problem: they are all still unripe. I have masses of green tomatoes that will not have time to ripen before the frost. My wild garden was a bit late going in—that’s how things sometimes go with a wild garden—so here I am with a bountiful harvest of green.

To take full advantage of these beautiful green tomatoes, I have lined up six new recipes to try.

Fried Green Tomatoes

A southern classic. I have never tried it, but I have some flavorful, roasted corn meal that is calling out for a special recipe. Southern Living magazine links to this classic fried green tomato recipe at MyRecipes.com, so this is going to be the lunch side for my kids tomorrow. I see a bottle of Crystal cayenne sauce in the photo, and that’s how I’m going to serve this. Warning: this takes a lot of oil. This is a one-time deal for us.

Green Tomato Salsa Verde

Rather than blending a traditional tomatillo-based green salsa, this recipe goes all-out green tomato. I need to use all of the tomatoes I have, and we eat a lot of salsa, so this salsa recipe from the New York Times is the winner. Very simple salsa recipe using charred tomatoes as the base.

Green Tomato Relish

I don’t love sweet sauces, so I’m intrigued that Farmgirl Susan’s No-sugar Green Tomato Relish uses tart cooking apples for all of the needed sweetness. That’s my kind of sweetness (without the sweet peppers). Boil, thicken, and buzz in the KitchenAid.

Green Tomato Pickle

We love Indian food, and all kinds of pickle are staples of the current British diet, so this I Indian-flavour pickle recipe from NPR ought to fit right in with my family. It lasts several weeks, but we will likely freeze this so we can continue to have it through the winter.

Italian Farmhouse Green Tomato Pickle

I love the Splendid Table, so I was glad to see that they had a suggestion for me of a long-lasting, vinegary pickle. These last up to six months in the refrigerator if they are completely covered with vinegar (white wine vinegar) each time you take a few tablespoons to add to saute or to spread on a sandwich.

Grilled Green Tomatoes with Creamy Basil Sauce

I do love sauce, salsa, relish, and pickle, but I wanted to find more recipes that leave the tomatoes closer to whole. Martha Stewart came through with grilled tomatoes. They have a simple garlic, lemon, mayo sauce. This sounds like a perfect first dish to let my family know that this is green tomato season.

End of Harvest

The last mint harvest

Snow has finally ended the growing season. I like to put as much food on the holiday table as possible from our own garden. This year, we had an odd assortment of successes. We used all of the tomatoes as we harvested them, so there will be no Thanksgiving salsa. We only had one pumpkin survive from our volunteer pumpkin patch, and it refused to ripen fully by either the Halloween or the Thanksgiving deadlines. It’s sitting in the garage with our hopes for squash soup in a couple of months. We have enough frozen pumpkin from last year that we will make pumpkin soup for Thanksgiving from a previous harvest.

The last pumpkin harvest

My most bountiful harvest of the year has been mint. I have six mason jars full of dried mint, and the mint kept on growing after I harvested that. As I write, I hear my husband and son as they’ve come in from a huge snow storm with arms full of mint to make a giant bouquet for me. The mint will make our wonderful Thanksgiving treat this year:

Homemade Fresh Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

My family is going to share Thanksgiving dessert with neighbors this year, so I want to make it extra special. In addition to 2-3 (or 4 or 5) cups of fresh mint leaves, we are adding local eggs, milk and cream (delivered this morning) plus mint dark chocolate (organic fair trade from Theo, made in Seattle) and milk chocolate (organic and soon-to-be-certified fair trade from Green & Black’s, made in Canada). I am drawing on two recipes, one from Simply Recipes and one from Epicurious. We will use the snow that is falling right now for ice in our very old hand-crank ice cream maker.

I will let you know how it turns out.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of our U.S. readers. I hope you have warm toes and a beautiful, bountiful harvest table.

Surprise Pumpkin Patch

Pumpking portraitA year ago my children carved pumpkins on our sidewalk. They didn’t really clean up very well. Can you see where this story is going?

We were surprised in the spring to have little pumpkin plants pop up in our flower garden (you can see our poor flowers struggling to reach the sun between the vines). These are hearty plants. We did nothing to encourage or help them, though we did make efforts to train them back away from the driveway. They survived a complete sprinkler overhaul with serious digging all around them. We have four giant pumpkins, two of which are very orange and gorgeous. The leaves have all suffered from the frost already, but the green pumpkins are still ripening slowly.

Pumpkin patchOne of the things that makes our pumpkins special this year is knowing their provenance. A family friend owns a giant pumpkin patch nearby. They gave us the pumpkins we carved last year, so we know exactly where the pumpkin family comes from. Down the road!

We’ve heard that pumpkins may be scarce this year in some areas, though that isn’t really evident with fields and fields of pumpkins for sale near us. Still we are going to paint our pumpkins this years so we can eat each and every one of them.

We will definitely also toss a few random seeds into the flower bed and see what happens next year.