(And I may never give up my saucy cabbage-leaf cap.)
Hard to believe it, but it's time to begin tidying up the garden for winter. Today we cut down the cornstalks from the patch of Oaxacan Green Dent, with the intention of chopping them up and composting them. Which we did, to an extent. But these are the Green Chillis, and our imaginations know no bounds. One can do many things with a cornstalk.
And the bold takeover of the library:
Quite a satisfactory afternoon, I should say, what-what!
(And I may never give up my saucy cabbage-leaf cap.)
Today we harvested the bulk of our Oaxacan Green Dent and Two-Inch Strawberry Popcorn! If corn kernels were as hardy as minerals, we wouldn't have to mine at all to have a plentiful supply of colorful, iridescent gems for our jewelry-makers.
We planted our Strawberry Popcorn from seed we saved last year from our mini-field in the parking-lot median (that, in turn, was planted from seed I grew in my own garden at home). Though planted in a smaller area, this year's harvest was even better! This was probably due largely to better soil, more timely planting, and plenty of rain. The ears were larger and we didn't see any huitlacoche, which claimed several ears last time (though that was a treat in itself - or at least a worthwhile experience, depending on who you ask).
Though we planted late enough last year to avoid cross-pollination, this year our corn was tasseling around the same time as the Oaxacan Green (I think we missed the window for crossing with the conventional field corn around the library). That, or a recessive gene, or who-knows-what-in-the-mysterious-history-of-this-variety-of-corn may have contributed to the exciting finding we had: four ears of white corn! They looked like albino versions of the normally red ears, except that one of them had a single yellow kernel. Maybe that yellow kernel came from a few years ago, when I planted the ancestors of these seeds at home near a plot of Tom Thumb Popcorn (I don't recall if they tasseled at the same time).
We've sent off photos to our friends at the Seed Savers Exchange (the original seed came from them), and we may try to grow these seeds out and stabilize the unusual trait. Backyard genetics for the curious gardener!
We took advantage of growing our own dent corn to harvest a few ears early for green corn tamales. Now, although our variety is Oaxacan Green Dent, "green corn" refers here to corn that is usually harvested when hard and dry, picked while still somewhat immature. In our case, we probably let it go a little too long, as it was pretty dry when we went to grind it into masa. Nevertheless, our experimental tamales turned out quite tasty, especially when paired with the wonderful fresh salsa that the Chillis whipped up with fresh tomatoes, peppers, and chives. You can see the tamale recipe on which we more-or-less based our own endeavor here.
This ear of Oaxacan Green Dent (pictured below) is a little more mature than the ones we used for the tamales. But isn't it gorgeous?
First, I cut the corn from the cobs and scraped them well to remove as much of the kernel as possible. It was at this point I realized our corn matured to a drier state than would have been ideal for the tamale project. However, we went ahead with the experiment. We ground the corn in a blender, though a food processor would have worked better, as dry as the corn was. We blended in the butter, and then mixed in the masa harina with a hand mixer until the mixture was fluffy. We put a generous spoonful in each corn husk, and folded them up (adding a strip of hot pepper to some of them), and the little packets were ready for the steamer.
Steaming tamales. (Important: add water to just below the tamales, but add more during the process as needed and don't let it boil dry [it can happen faster than you think]. If it boils dry and the corn cobs scorch, you will never be get your pot clean again, especially if it's made out of stuff you can't use a scrubby on. Not that I know from experience or anything...)
In preparation for our first day of Green Chillis this year, I was digging through the old card catalog drawers that we use for storing seeds. I nonchalantly opened one labeled "potatoes," and nearly leapt back in surprise, as a myriad of purple tentacles reached out of the dark recesses of the drawer! Though I hadn't noticed until then, they had even worked their way through and were peeking out of other spaces between the drawers above. This, my friends, is apparently what happens when you store your seed potatoes saved from last year in too warm an environment. As I learned afterwards, it's best to store them in the refrigerator. I wish I had thought to take a picture of them in the drawer! What follows is a log of our blue potato experimentation. We'll see what happens.
The day I found them, it was still way too cold for planting them out, so we decided to try a variety of things to keep them from using up all their energy and petering out before getting in the ground. For most of them, we broke off the long tendrils, leaving little stubs, and put them in a plastic bag in the fridge, hoping to slow them down again until we could plant them outside. The tendrils we put in a jar to see what they would do. The four other little spuds you see below, we planted in a pot.
We planted the potatoes from the fridge and the rooted shoots out in the garden on April 3. Awhile later, we planted out the potatoes we potted, which had grown enormous! Over the summer, both groups sprouted and grew, thought the rooted shoots and potatoes from the fridge took a while to establish (in fact, I'm not sure how many of the successful plants were from the shoots and which from the fridge).
At last, it was time to harvest! We thoroughly dug through the patch where we'd planted the shoots and the refrigerated taters, and found only a few stunted tubers. Strangely, some of them looked exactly like rough-textured rocks, and we could only tell they were potatoes when we broke them and the interior was brilliant purple! A week or two later, we harvested the potatoes we had transplanted from the pot, and had more success. For some reason, this variety of potato has a tendency to form a small potato attached to the end of a larger one, resulting in several that looked like little people (or babies, or mummies). Below is the entire (rather scanty) harvest:
Scant or otherwise, we were determined to enjoy them! So on a mid-August afternoon, we harvested and minced chives and thyme, diced our spuds, minced a head of garlic we harvested earlier this summer, tossed everything with a generous slosh of olive oil, sprinkled with salt and pepper, and roasted them until they were crispy and delicious! Tastes were shared with library staff, and the kitchen smelled amazing.
Conclusion to this season-long experiment: Best to not forget your potatoes in a drawer until they get all shrively. But not all was lost! We enjoyed our bowl of really really yummy taters.
The first of our corn was ready to harvest the first week of August: Blue Jade is a miniature sweet corn. We harvested a couple ears from their short stalks, and discovered that, although the kernel color wasn't as developed as the image on the seed packet, the taste was delicious. We tried it raw and cooked; the verdict: yummy both ways, and so pretty!
The week after we harvested the first ears of Blue Jade corn, we picked a couple more, along with a fresh ear of Oaxacan Green Dent. Interestingly, at the milk stage, the color hadn't quite developed yet on the Oaxacan Green, but it did have a smattering of bluish-greenish kernels. Once again we experimented, tasting them raw and cooked. Yum!
We eased into a pleasant summer that granted us regular rainfall - we didn't even have to lay out soaker hoses this year. The plentiful rain watered the weeds and the veggies alike, so we've been busy tackling those and mulching well to limit future weed growth and conserve moisture. The plants not demolished by small furry garden monsters are growing well, and we’ve been able to donate bags of herbs (basil, mint, and chives), mustard greens, and swiss chard to the food pantry. Before long, it’ll be time for tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants!
(You can click on the pictures below to view the uncropped images.)
In early June, we commenced our summer hours, meeting on Friday mornings to get our work done before the heat of the day. We planted some seedlings; sowed cucumbers and Malabar spinach; harvested lettuce, radishes, sugar snap peas, and mustard greens; mulched; weeded; and generally kept busy (with the reward of sampling the bounty afterwards!). I was able to bring a huge bag of lettuce and a sizeable one of mustard greens to the food pantry. Unfortunately, the ground squirrels have done in a number of our transplants, which is discouraging. But a lot of things that are growing well, and we look forward to a bountiful summer!
A growing garden! See the handsome garlic coming up there on the right? We planted it so late we weren't sure if it would survive. What a nice surprise! (Now if only I had thought to label the different varieties...) The bales of straw mulch were donated by Jim and Peggy Holmes-Hicks and will help keep our garden hydrated and suppress weeds.
It might look like we spent the whole spring out of doors, but we also had our seedlings to take care of - watering and transplanting the babies so they'd be ready to plant in the garden and share with the community.
Near the end of May, we really dug into planting! Corn, soybeans, swiss chard, carrots, and more, along with some of our seedlings.
We started out the "cruelest" month by braving the soggy weather to plant potatoes, peas, radishes (from seed we saved, threshed, and winnowed), lettuce, and raspberry canes. Digging in wet weather really isn't recommended, as the air pockets in the soil can be squished out, leaving the ground hard and compacted. But sometimes you've gotta do what needs to be done when you have the opportunity!
April certainly had its showers, but we were able to get a lot accomplished. The main project this spring was expanding our garden space again by reallocating the walls of our raised beds. One reason for doing this was to connect the beds so that we could run one or two continuous soaker hoses, which would save time when watering because we wouldn't have to switch the hose for each plot.
These beds may look easy to assemble and take apart, but those joints really can stick together, especially when glued with a season or two of mud! But the Chillis pooled their ingenuity, cheerful attitudes, and brute strength, and we managed to do a pretty nifty job of it. After laying out and connecting the borders, we sheet mulched with old newspaper and added a layer of old leaves from the autumn rakings of a library staff member's yard.
March 20, the official first day of Spring, fell on a Green Chillis day! We ventured out to the garden to see if anything was springing yet...
Pretty sure this didn't grow here! One young Chilli discovered a drink token from the VFW Post; afraid it will be some time before she can use it...
On March 27, the brassicas we started two weeks ago had mostly emerged - their glossy seed leaves looking, as one Chilli observed, like tiny butterflies. Inevitably, some cells had more than one seedling vying for success, so we thinned them out to allow the strongest one to thrive. The thinnings didn't go to waste, though - we gobbled them up! Delicious.
We also planted lots more seeds, including a flat of radishes for tangy microgreens, and re-potted an avocado tree that I started from seed a few years ago. It's now nearly as tall as our littlest Chilli!