We began the 2013 planting season on February 23. We had a few nice days and the raised beds had drained well from the heavy rains and a few relatively light snowfalls that had taken place over the December-February time-frame. So the adventurous soul that Jim is and with the success of early planting in 2012 still in mind, a bright sunshiny day or two beckoned him to try his luck again.
Several varieties of lettuce such as romaine, butter crunch and red lettuce were planted in a bed with 8 Georgia collard plants. Yellow and purple onions and garlic were planted in another bed.
The Red Norland potatoes that did so well last year were planted in another full bed. Since the weather has not been as cooperative this year (as of March 25, 2013), with snow and many cold and below freezing days since planting, we may not be as fortunate as we were last year. We will soon know what has survived and what God has returned to the soil for the future.
This may be the year that we use the PVC piping and row covers over the beds to ward off a late frost. To the left is approximately what the bed will look like covered. The material that is placed over the hoops lets the sun shine and rain through but encourages the warming of the soil and protects from even a heavy frost. The picture is for a large raised bed just above ground level. The picture on the right side was taken in 2009 when we were constructing the garden. When we built our 20″ high beds we bored holes on each side of the bed to allow us to install the PVC piping as needed. Initially I placed deer netting over the hoops because the fencing was not yet installed and we had no protection from four legged predators. We already have the piping and the mesh on hand and I am anxious to give it a try for the purpose that it was originally intended. No, the hoops will not be that high this time! I’ll provide an update later.
Updated as of 2013-05-22 – Well it is now late May and the garden is in full swing. The row cover worked fairly well as it provided protection from the rather cold weather that was experienced in April. Most of the seeds in the starter seed bed came up with the exception of the tomatoes. The ground was just too cold for the tomatoes. The cucumbers and zucchini prospered and have been transplanted. The sunflowers had no problem at all in the seed bed. They have mostly been transplanted throughout the garden and will be beautiful later in the summer. Some of them are 8-24″ tall, some are of medium height at 60″, and the tallest will reach 72-80″. The Norland Red Potatoes planted on February 23 are doing very well and I have “hilled” them by adding soil at their base to allow more underground room for the potatoes to expand as they grow. The strawberries and thornless blackberries are in full bloom and I have already eaten come of the strawberries. The blackberries will begin to mature in late June into the month of July. The onions and garlic are just beginning to head. Yellow squash was planted from seed last week and should be pushing through the soil later this week. Two versions of pole beans have been planted … our favorites are called Rattlesnake and the second variety we have dubbed “Uncle Frank’s Beans” for my uncle Frank Hixon who is thought to have planted these for many years beginning around 1935.
Here are a couple of collages of the vegetables at this stage of development.
Updated as of 2013-06-03
Today was the first canning day of our season. Strawberries are in abundance. We have devoted one box to them. Most are ever-bearing and will have fruit until frost in the fall … but the most abundant harvest is in late spring. Here’s a collage of today’s Strawberry Jam effort.
This year we have again planted Rattlesnake Pole Beans and our Uncle Frank’s Heritage Pole Beans. We use Bean Towers to conserve space. This year we added a new bed that is a little closer to the ground as I was having trouble reaching the tops of the bean towers with the 20 inch beds. The thornless blackberry plant is some twenty-five feet from the mother plant that sent out this runner. The blackberry plants produce like crazy, but they are hard to contain … just like in the wild. In front of the blackberry plant are three small sunflowers that will reach a height of 24 inches and four cilantro plants that we cut as we use along with fresh tomatoes, onions and avocados to make a tasty afternoon guacamole treat.
Updated as of 2013-06-09
Red Norland Potatoes were planted this year on February 23, 2013, a day when the high temperature was in the forties (F) and the clouds were hanging low. These beauties were harvested on June 9, 2013 as a test. Most are of perfect size, but I will wait just a bit longer to harvest the remainder of this box.
Wikipedia relates: “Red Norland is a red, early-maturing potato. Smaller tubers (B and C size) are commonly sold as “baby reds” and this variety is often served boiled or in potato salads. The progenitor variety, Norland, was released by the North Dakota Agricultural College in 1957. Since the release of Norland, other darker red skinned variants were selected, most notably Red Norland and Dark Red Norland. None of these three varieties are under plant variety protection. The darker red strains are now widely grown, and Norland is rarely grown. Norland and its selections are widely adapted, but have relatively low to intermediate yields.”
Updated as of 2013-06-10
Today was a jelly making day. I remember as a child going blackberry picking with my Mother. She would locate the wildest and meanest looking blackberry patches and we would load the car with pails and buckets and head off to her find. It seems like my Mom always picked 2-3 times what I did. The fear of briars, chiggers and ticks weighed heavily on a little boy that would rather be somewhere else playing. Nevertheless, our trips were usually successful and Mom turned the blackberries into jelly and cobblers. Blackberry jelly was my favorite over peach and strawberry. I never really liked apple jelly as I thought it did not have enough flavor. Grape was okay, but if there was blackberry available it won every time, hands down! So when we planned our garden blackberry vines were on my list.
I chose the Apache Thornless and they have produced like crazy. Gurney’s Seed and Nursery describes them this way: “Jumbo-sized fruits with jumbo-sized flavor! Extra-fertile flowers, so you get more berries that are perfectly formed. Canes stand erect and are thornless. Ripens mid to late June.”
Okay, I know it is early June, so how did I make blackberry jelly when the berries haven’s ripened yet in 2013? The answer is I flash froze the berries whole last year that we did not use and pulled them out of the freezer some 11 months later. These berries tolerate freezing very well, but I would recommend that you don’t wait a year to process them like I did. I wanted to make sure there was room in the freezer for this year’s haul that will start maturing late June and well into July at our Lookout Mountain location.
Updated as of 2013-08-22
Today it is raining … again! This has been the wettest summer I can ever recall in my nearly seventy years of earthly existence. The unusual amount of rain and the frequency of it has the entire south saturated. Even on Lookout Mountain the Little River continues to roar over the falls and produce great downstream rapids for the kayak enthusiasts. The rain has promoted a lot of disease … especially fungus … and caused many of the plantings to produce less than normal results. Nevertheless, God has provided more than enough of His rich bounty to keep us busy drying, canning and freezing for the winter.
Since my last post we dried purple and yellow onions along with an ample supply of garlic. These were planted on February 23 and while they are smaller than usual the taste is superior. We will be able to use them well into fall and early winter. The onions, red potatoes and garlic combined with a bit of butter and French Provence (herbs of Provence) make up one of our most flavorful and favorite dishes that fit right into a healthy eating plan.
This year our Santa Rosa Plums produced heavily. The limbs were so loaded that some of them broke. This is the fourth year for the little tree and I am amazed at the abundant crop. The plums were large and tart and very easy with which to deal. They made wonderful Plum Jam that will last for well over a year and make nice gifts to our family. It took a whole day to turn the fruit into jam but the effort was most certainly worth it.
We also have another variety of plum that matures about three weeks after the Santa Rosa. The tree is more upright and the plums are generally smaller. With those we tried something new and made Pickled Plums, somewhat like you would Pickled Peaches. We didn’t quite get the recipe just right, so they are extremely tart … not something that everyone would like. But spending another whole day on them will most surely convince me to keep them on my menu during the winter season. After all, plums are low in calories and very satisfying to the tummy.
This was a great year for cucumbers. Last year was a bust. The vines were lush and produced heavily.
Here is a photo of the first ones of the season from which we made Dill Pickles. We also made Bread and Butter Pickles and Sweet Pickles. Our son and granddaughter love dills so we made plenty to share with them. My favorites are also the Dill … with a hint of hot red Cayenne Pepper … same basic mix … just add the whole pepper. It also makes the jar of pickles colorful. We still have a few jars of Kosher Dills from last year that will soon be consumed.
In late July we were able to accumulate enough tomatoes to make some Tomato Ketchup. This is different from salsa by a long shot. You have to cook the tomatoes down to a thick, almost pasty consistency. In this particular formula we used a mixture of Red Horizon and Better Boy tomatoes, purple onions, bell pepper and garlic along with vinegar, salt and Splenda. The resulting Ketchup tasted really good and since it did not make much for all of the effort, I am saving it for a very special occasion. Some folks may not like the mild bell pepper that was included.
A couple of weeks later we made thick Tomato Salsa with primarily Red Horizon tomatoes, a blend of spices and Jalapeno peppers for medium heat. I love to eat the Salsa with Blue Corn Tortilla chips. Mexican food is one of my favorites and we have to “eat Mexican” about once per week. We usually take home about half of what we order so we can have leftovers for lunch. That’s when the salsa really comes in handy. The salsa is also good with beef, pork and chicken.
We made “Jim’s Sweet Veggie Relish” during June. It consists of yellow and zucchini squash, yellow and purple onions, Anaheim peppers, carrots and herbs of Provence. The vegetables were prepared with a manual food chopper that cuts them into little cubes. The cubes make the resulting relish visually attractive both in the jar and on the plate. We just keep it in the refrigerator after opening and spoon it on peas and butter beans. It is also excellent with beef, chicken and pork in particular. This batch is lightly sweetened with Splenda … perfect for a low-fat, low-calorie diet.
Our Brown Turkey figs are producing heavily this year. The first ones were picked on August 21. In the past we have made fig preserves. We still have some of those left from last year. So this year we are trying a new approach to preserving them. The figs were cut in half and cooked in water with cinnamon, a small amount of light brown sugar and Splenda … similar to what you would do when making applesauce. Of course, you don’t want to mash the figs. Our green apple tree had very few apples this year but we harvested enough to process them at the same time as we did the figs.
The apples were cored and peeled with a neat manual apple peeler that we purchased on Amazon last year. This really saves a lot of time and a lot of labor and makes the job “doable.” After you use this peeler you will never again want to peel apples manually. The device will also peel potatoes and optionally cut them into spirals.
The muscadines and scuppernongs will soon be ripening. We planted one vine of each variety two years ago and planted two more this year. The vines have plenty of grapes now … more than we can eat. We are not into wine making … just grape eating, and perhaps some jelly and preserves! I will update the photos when they reach maturity.
We also have another table grape vine that on our property that dates back to the 1930’s. I published an article on July 19, 2013 about the history of the “Spindly Grape Vine” and invite you to follow the link to read it. The vine was originally planted by my paternal great grandfather, George Washington Crowe, discussed the explanation of the History Behind the Garden Plot.
The grapes are sweet and great to eat as a snack. I love to drop by the vine several times a day and pick a handful. The skins are so sweet. You eat them by stuffing three to four in your mouth at one time and then swizzling them around with your tongue and teeth to remove the skin, bite down on it to get the burst of sweetness and release the inner grape. You then spit out the skin and suck out the seeds which you also spit out, swallow the remaining pulp and move on to the next one … just like when I was a twelve year old boy roaming the property with my cousins during the summer visit. I dreamed about these grapes for years and now have them as my own.
*** End of 2013-08-22 Update ***
Description of these photos will follow on next update.
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