And so it begins; slacking posts as I get really busy.
Despite a return to rainy, wet weather, we had a lot of movement in the fields this week. The area in front of the greenhouse is now a solid block of gigantic squash leaves and sunflowers, the latter having barely made it up above the sea of green before the squash closed in on it. Every year I convince myself that I should put the squash just a couple inches closer than recommended and get one more hill, and every year I put my head in my hands and weep at the horror I’ve wrought.
The tomatoes are looking good, with the exception of three “accident” tomatoes that had their main stems pruned along with the suckers. It’s a fierce learning curve, kids. The thing about doing this is it’s really hard to hide your mistakes, as I was reminded when a cluster of beans was pointed out to me growing, rather incongruously, from the side of a raised bed, as opposed to inside that raised bed. Try and try again, I suppose.
We may harvest some cabbage later this week; the Early Jersey heads are starting to firm up and get nice and big, so soon it’ll be pickling time. We’ll be using a few heads so everyone can get some kraut, and we’ll mix up a nice sized batch together. The red cabbage are going to take a couple weeks more, and I’d like the Savoy to get bigger before we start picking them, but all in all I’m really pleased with the way the cabbage has turned out in this half of the season, and I think we’ll plant even more for the fall, so I’m looking forward to getting those in the ground in the next few weeks.
Our peas are beginning to slack off, just in time for the cucumbers to start getting big and flower in quantity. All of the cucumbers we grow are pickling varieties, as it should be clear to anyone who has progressed beyond a kindergarten level education that the true intended purpose of the cucumber was for pickles. With sixty row feet, we should have enough to make quite a bit of pickles— which makes it all the more tragic that the dill failed me. (After three tries! Three! Clearly, it was not meant to be.) We’ll be making both fermented and quick pickles, and we should be able to put up a nice stock for winter. I recently came across a recipe for a cucumber infused sake that looked interesting as well, so that may become an experiment.
Preserving is an integral part of growing our own food. If we’re serious about attaining some level of food self-sufficiency, we need to plan ahead for the winter and early spring while we’re still in the heart of the growing season. People have known this for thousands of years, of course, but it’s odd how far we’ve drifted away from that under the industrial food culture. When everything is available all the time at a near static price, we don’t, and almost can’t, comprehend the near miracle behind having, to choose the obvious example, tomatoes during the winter time. That’s the grocery store. If we want to grow all our own food, we need to figure out ways to keep it, and we need to plant with that end in mind. When I planned the garden this winter, the thought wasn’t just “what will I want in June” but “what will I want in January”. So, more or less, this garden features a heavy emphasis on crops that hold up well to storage and are easily preserved, whether by pickling, canning, drying, freezing or cellaring. This doesn’t mean that we don’t have less preservable crops— we grow lettuce, we grow radishes, we grow snap peas and spinach and flowers. But the things we grow in quantity— potatoes, pickling cucumbers, cabbage, alliums, tomatoes, fall squash and corn— these things are all easily put aside at minimal cost for the winter time.
So the challenge is balancing the immediate needs of harvest season, and the long term needs of the off season. We are blessed with a mild enough climate that we can often grow year round, or at least very late into the season. So we plant for three to four seasons, overwinter some crops, and make sure to plant enough preservable crops to last into the winter to help meet our vegetable needs when it’s pouring rain and 38 degrees for ten weeks in a row. If we’re serious about wanting to get off of industrial agriculture, and about wanting to take personal responsibility for where our food comes from, this is the crucial point. And in the end, it’s cheaper, it’s healthier, and it’s more fun. Food is the first wealth; there’s nothing more satisfying than looking at a pantry that, in September and October, is chock full of preserved food for the coming winter. I think on some level, our bodies remember that natural rhythm, and crave it. Your belly knows it’s good to have 30 quarts of tomatoes canned, even if you have to do it in the August heat.
These past few weeks have been filled with making raspberry and strawberry preserves, rhubarb preserves, and if we can get it together in the next week or two, cherry preserves. Later in the season, we’ll do blackberries and blueberries, and I personally have my heart set on a case of peaches, although I’ll have to find a good farm to get them from. Not all of these come from the garden of course; most of them don’t, and couldn’t given how much land we have to work with. But that’s part of what makes this worthwhile— we don’t have to buy veggies, which lie at the core of our diets, and so we save money that we can then afford to spend supporting other farms growing things we can’t grow. We gain a degree of autonomy that lasts us the year, we gain choice, and we gain the freedom to buy that case of organic peaches and make preserves. One of these days, I’ll figure out the cash value of what I make if I was to buy it all, and I thoroughly expect to feel like the wealthiest boy in Portland.
Going into the winter, I hope to have preserves of every fruit I can get for free from trees and bushes in the city, as well as some that I’ve bought, enough pickles to survive my decadent pickle habit, cured meat from our pig, and a field full of winter greens and root veggies to last through the hard rains and first freezes. Existing like this, we’re in the peasant economy— I don’t think that’s such a bad place. We may not have cash to show for our labor, but we’ll have full larders and freezers and root cellars, and if we thought straight as a culture, that would be the highest of achievements.
Pictures are below! We did some weeding today, and next weekend I’m hoping to get the final raised beds cleared and planted. Beans are up, cucurbits are flowering, greens are trucking along and the corn is knee high, and it’s not even the fourth yet. Everyone’s hard work is great, and the plants are looking strong, healthy and happy.
This is the enemy. This is what we contend with, daily.
Harvesting this week: peas, kale, chard, turnips, beets. Not pictured: green onions, scapes, raspberries.
Beautiful root crops! Apocolypticrops!
As always, many thanks to everyone who came and helped out this week, it’s been awesome to see people get acquainted with and excited about the space.