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Archive for September, 2010

Autumn in the garden is a good time to take a break and look back. Mike did this a few days ago, when he cleaned and reorganized our chest freezer.

Well, no, that’s not exactly a break. But it is a good time to look back over all the good things the garden has given us. And maybe to gloat just a little.

We have a freezer full of pesto, frozen vegetables, toaster pastries made with seasonal fruit fillings, apple cider, cherries and currants. We have 14 or 15 butternut squash, a fully-stocked pantry of jams, jellies and tomato puree to last the year, a refrigerator dedicated to storage of pickles. (Yes, I overdid on the pickles once again.) All that plus a vat of cherry wine, still fermenting.

And we still have plenty of garden left, with pumpkins, lots of peppers, a few green tomatoes. Not to mention sweet potatoes!

“I feel, I don’t know…” Mike said, when he came up from the basement.

“Rich?’

“Yeah. That’s it.”

In fact, we do feel rich. Nothing beats the satisfaction of filling your pantry with the fruits of your own hard work–and beating Big Food while you’re at it.

It’s like money really does grow on trees.

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Mike here. Sorry I haven’t posted for a while, but I’ve been busy in the garden.

Busy harvesting seven bushels of other people’s apples. Busy washing them, grinding them into pulp and squeezing the ever-lovin’ juice out of those suckers in our cider press.

The latest version of our press from Jaffrey

Other garden chores lately  include cutting down the corn-stalk with my machete/corn knife and bundling them for fall decorations, as well as gathering up about 10 pumpkins I grew at our satellite community garden and delivering them to the art teacher at Bonjour School.

That’s the quick and dirty, but there’s a lot more behind all that. So in reverse order:

The pumpkins and corn: I grew both crops, as well as watermelons, on three plots in a community garden that had its first year behind Bonjour Elementary, 9400 Pflumm Road, in Lenexa. Sadly, it may be the last year for that partnership between Bonjour and nearby Lenexa United Methodist Church.

Bonjour is likely to close for good at the end of this school year, which made the pumpkin delivery more poignant than planned. I planted the seeds in June (which was kind of late) rather than let a  vacant plot in the community garden go entirely to weeds with the idea that the kids in school could decorate the gourds for Halloween.

That was before any of us knew that Bonjour was on the chopping block. So what was to have been an annual tradition turned out to be a one-time deal. So long, Bonjour, we’ll miss you.

Other donations to the school were the dried up corn stalks that I’m hoping some teachers will use to adorn their room this fall. I brought a couple of bundles home and let the neighborhood know that the rest were free for the taking.

I like free things, which brings us to the apples:

Once again, the squirrels picked our three trees clean. So just like last year and the year before, I scouted out seemingly untended apple trees in the neighborhood that were loaded with fruit.

I got three bushels of nice, tart apples from one tree at an insurance agency, leaving only a few for the birds. don’t think it was an act of kindness, however. The top apples were out of my reach.

Another tree I frequent at an abandoned gas station wasn’t worth picking. It was an off year, made worse by a severe trimming.

So I set my eye on a tree that a fellow scavenger has long laid claim to. Rather than jumping his claim, I knocked on his door and made a deal. Whatever he didn’t pick was mine, and he would square it with the tree’s owner.

Thus another four bushels were secured and I put our 20-year-old, hand-cranked cider press back to work.

Several hours later, I had  nine gallons of the sweet stuff  in plastic jugs. All but two jugs are now stored away in the chest freezer along with all the broccoli, beans and other vegetables we froze instead of canned this year.

Of the remainder, one jug went to my friend Ronnie as a finder’s fee (it’s sort of his tree because he picks it every year ) and the other one I gave to the  tree owner.

Though the way I figure it, she got more than apple juice out of the deal. When fall is through, there’ll be that many fewer apples rotting under her  tree.

You can use that as a selling point the next time you think about asking someone whether it would be ok to have some of the apples, pears or cherries hanging from the trees in their yard.

Though if it’s my yard, don’t bother. Rox and I have plans for everything that grows.

Posted by: Mike

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The balmy weather we’ve been having this month makes it easy to just fall asleep on the gardening.  After all, not much has been going on.

The tomatoes pretty much stopped with the late, hot weather. Ditto the eggplant. I stopped picking cucumbers and let the vines wilt because I already have too many pickles and we’re not that interested in raw ones any more. The peppers are still going, but slower than before.  We got too tired to keep picking the tiny shoots off the broccoli.

That just leaves the butternut squash, beset by an opossum but still putting on new fruit like the troupers they are. And the pumpkins which are beautiful (more on that for another post). And the sweet potatoes, which we won’t do anything with until just before frost.

So the garden is a viny, weedy mass. Just like always at this time of year.

We’ve gotten out of the habit of thinking about it because it’s still so warm at night. But all that could change in an instant.

Frost is not unheard of  in September in this part of the country. It’s been warm so far, sure. But one quick cold front could have us scrambling for the spade to dig sweet potatoes and the empty pots for all those herbs that have to come in.

And then there’s the basil. Did I make any pesto yet this year? No. No, I did not.

So I guess it’s time to get organized for that one last great push of the growing season. We can’t let Jack Frost take us by surprise.

Posted by: Roxie

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I could hardly bear to look upon the horrible sight. My babies, my beautiful darlings, lying there at the scene–so mutilated that I could hardly recognize the promising butternut squash they once were.

The garden had always been a safe place for my innocents before this year. I could leave them to grow, barely supervised, and nothing would bother them until time to pick in the fall.

This year has been different. The first malevolent chaw marks appeared a couple of weeks ago. A day or two later, I found the first victim. Then the second. The M-O was always the same. The perpetrator relaxed and took his time, eating away half of a squash in one night. Apparently he enjoyed his work. A serial muncher.

By the third time, we got angry. There’d been problems with the usual punks. We’d see them slinking down from the trees, skulking around, leaving their half-eaten tomatoes as signs. And squirrels have a known record.

So out came the live trap. Mike baited it with peanut butter. And we waited.

However, if I’d been a little better with my forensics, I wouldn’t have been so quick to do the species profiling.

Consider Exhibit A:

Note the bite marks. Whatever it was had a couple of long front incisors and a mouth big enough to drag them about an inch. And these weren’t any little nibbles, but deep bites made by an animal of some substance. This was no Rocky J. Squirrel.

Had I inspected those marks a little closer, I wouldn’t have been surprised when the trap picked up a young ‘possum. Possibly, I would have remembered that Einstein found and harassed a similar ‘possum in the yard a few nights before (we called him off and the little guy ran away). But it was a clue that went unnoticed in our zeal to indict a squirrel.

Things have quieted down since Mike relocated the perp. We hope there won’t be any more trouble.

But then again…I happened to look out the window last night and saw a small gray figure scuttling across the street from the direction of our house.

Posted by: Roxie

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