Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Fall Planting

While preparing the garden early this past spring I was surprised to find out that some of the plants I was most excited to grow required seeding in the prior fall. Realizing this in the spring made it difficult to grow onions, garlic, sunchokes and any perennial berries or herbs. Garlic is an allium that I was very excited to grow in the garden. Ontario garlic has a fantastic flavour and stickiness that is incomparable to garlic from China and Argentina. While I love the garlic found at Toronto's farmers markets, growing it will take a bit of a load off my wallet. Garlic also stores wonderfully throughout the winter hanging in a dark, cool place.

So this fall I have made sure to devote a significant portion of the garden to garlic. To plant garlic, all you need is ... garlic. I used garlic from the Stop Community Food Centre's garden at Earls Court Park. The bulb is then broken into cloves and the larger cloves are planted two inches into the earth. The small cloves are reserved for the kitchen, as they wont provide a large bulb. A healthy layer of mulch is then layered over top and in the spring the cloves will shoot and develop nice big bulbs for next year.

Sunchokes are another vegetable that is best planted in the fall. We did have some luck this year with going ahead and planting in the spring, in spite of conventional wisdom. Planting in two old recycling bins in a corner of the front yard, that doesn't receive much sun, yielded almost an entire bushel of tasty sunchokes. We were all floored by the size of the sunchoke pile that sat on our front lawn. To plant for next year, we just left a couple of the sunchoke tubers buried six inches deep. Another wonder of planting in the fall is the work that it saves you from doing in the following spring.

One more fall planting that I decided to do involved something called a hot bed. Hot beds are very similar to cold frames with the addition of fresh horse manure being buried underneath the soil. As this horse manure decomposes underground it produces a significant amount of heat which transfers energy to the plants.

Finding a hundred pounds of fresh horse manure in downtown Toronto isn't as simple as it is on a proper biodynamic farm. The only horses I ever see downtown belong to the police. So I headed out with my bike trailer and a shovel to follow some police horses and collect what my bike tires normally try so hard to avoid. After collecting four loads of horse manure along Queen Street, and a lot more strange looks, I decided this was going to take far to long. So I went where police horses live, the horse palace at Exhibition Place. At first I was worried that I would be laughed out of the stables, but apparently lots of gardeners source free manure from the horse palace. They showed me to a massive pile of manure where I filled my trailer as high as possible and cycled home.

In the hot bed I planted some hardy greens. These included arugula, red and green romaine, and another lettuce whose name I can't remember. Hopefully these will provide us with backyard salads all throughout the winter.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Harvest Time

As we near the first frost the garden has gradually shrunk. Slowly but surely we ate through all of our crops. After several cool nights in a row the tomato vines were the first to be pulled from the ground. Ripe tomatoes were sun dried and preserved in oil and large green tomatoes were made into Governor Sauce. This is an old family recipe of salted green tomatoes and onions preserved with apple cider vinegar, and is served alongside roast beef or pork. Under our next door nona Franka's advice I hung the rest of our green tomatoes in the closet were they will continue to ripen.

Shortly after the peppers followed. The ultra hot red cayenne's were hung in Ristra's to dry over several weeks. The still significantly hot green cayenne's, which this cool September has left us with many, were preserved in a simple vinegar brine.

Beets and carrots were pulled last. The carrots came out beautifully, ranging in colour and size. My favourite are a deep red with a light orange centre. Last year I pickled my carrots, which I felt destroyed all the nice sweet flavours of a carrot. This year, with access to a nice cool garage, I decided to experiment with some burial preservation. This involves removing the green shoots of the carrot and laying them in sand without the roots touching. The carrots are then covered in sand and the process is repeated. I tried a carrot today and they are just as good as they were when they were buried.

Most of the beets were eaten directly from the garden and cooked into salads, risottos and soups amongst other delicious meals served in Chris's Room. Though a portion of the beets were saved to be pickled with cinnamon, allspice and apple cider vinegar.

Onions, sunchokes and watermelons were planted more as an experiment than anything else. The onions and watermelon, which turned out surprisingly well, were eaten with haste and shared with neighbours. The sunchokes, which just began to flower within the last week, will stay in the ground until the first frost at which point they will be dug up and possibly cellared, if the harvest is as big as I hope it to be.

With the harvesting of all the vegetables the fences keeping the hens out has been removed allowing them free range of the entire backyard. They are happy to finally be allowed to dig for all the worms in our rich garden bed.