Gardening, January, 2017

Here we are, at the end of January, and I haven’t ordered any garden seed yet. I say “yet” because usually thumbing through seed catalogs and garden planning is what helps to get me through the winter. Well, that and chocolate…

We have what some people call a “truck patch” garden. It’s big enough to provide what we need with some left to share or sell. We give away what we cannot “put up” (can, freeze or dehydrate). We are going into our fourth year of gardening and we have learned some key lessons, namely in space planning and seed amount and type. Now I grew up on a farm where we planted acres of various foods so space planning was really never a concern. Our first year, I wanted to plant gourds. I had some grandiose idea of creating awesome art projects with them after harvest. Big lesson learned that year? Never, ever, never plant gourds in a vegetable garden. I grew up listening to and reading Bible stories but I truly never understood how the gourd grew up so fast around Jonah to provide him shade until I grew some of my own.

In addition to the gourds, we also planted an entire row of yellow summer squash. Other than waiting until after the first frost, I only have specific planting guidelines for potatoes and cabbages. According to my grandmother, cabbages need to be planted by March 17 and potatoes need to be planted on Good Friday. Somehow, inadvertently, we must have planted under the squash sign because that one row produced over 800 harvested squash. To replay a scene from Forrest Gump about Bubba and his shrimp, we dried squash, froze it, had it in various casseroles, stir fries, etc… We also gave it away. It was so bad that our friends stopped answering their phones when we would call.

The second year, we had an abundance of green beans. It was a puzzle to us because no one in our area had any luck with green beans that year. We planted Half Runners and Kentucky Pole Beans and ended up canning around 150 quarts. That doesn’t count the bushels we picked and gave away. That was 2015 and we are still eating on those beans. This was also the year that I planted milling corn because I had the grandiose idea of grinding my own cornmeal. The two varieties I planted were White Nighting and Cherokee White Eagle. I ordered them from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. (Here’s a link to their website where you can order seed or a catalog Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.) It wasn’t a completely foreign concept as my grandpa had a grist mill and always ground his own meal. But here was the rub to growing milling corn–I don’t have a grist mill or access to one. As such, you had better have a friend that owns a mill or a deep pocketbook to purchase a top of the line mill.

Unbeknownst to me at the time of planting, corn is one of the hardest of all kernels to crack and it must be cracked prior to grinding. I read story upon story of people who had ruined Kitchenaids, Cuisinarts and VitaMix machines trying to crack corn. Thankfully, since I don’t have deep pockets, I did have a friend that owned a mill and cracked the kernels for me. (“Denny, cracked corn and I sure did care!” Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) We finished grinding the corn in my mother in law’s VitaMix. Between the grinding and sifting and regrinding, it was a lot of work and it is still somewhat gritty. I re-sift the meal prior to using and put the grits in a bag in the freezer. I will either grind it again or attempt to cook them as grits.

Last year, 2016, was kind of a bust for us, garden-wise. The rabbits ate our pea vines faster than they could grow. It got unseasonably warm early so the cabbage never took off and the potatoes were somewhat stunted. I decided to plant “eating” corn and put in four rows of the Kandy Korn variety, a super sweet yellow corn. About two weeks prior to a full harvest, we had thunderstorms go through our area with high winds that knocked every stalk of that corn to the ground. That is one of the pitfalls of sweet corn–it has a very shallow root system. It was a shame because the sample of corn that we had tasted was delicious. I got what bit I could but we lost probably 90% of the crop. The one thing that did grow for us was tomatoes. This was the first year that we had any luck with them and we don’t have a clue why–they just grew and produced in spite of any effort on our part. I ended up canning about 25 quarts of tomato sauce and still gave a bunch of tomatoes away.

So what are we planting this year? I’ve been thumbing through the seed catalogs and I’m thinking I would like to raise peanuts! If I plant any more sweet corn, I am going to pick a variety that grows roots and weathers storms. Maybe some eggplant and peas that can grow faster than rabbits can eat them. While I’m indoors this winter eagerly anticipating the arrival of spring, gardening daydreams help to pass the time. And so does snacking on chocolate!1a.jpg

This is a harvest photo from our 2014 garden.

(Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with Baker Heirloom Seeds and I am not receiving any compensation from them for the link.)

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