Monday, November 25, 2013

Harvest Monday - 25 November 2013

Awoke Sunday morning to wind, bitter cold, and the first snowfall of the season, albeit just a dusting.

I must have known something was up, as the previous day I worked (and froze) in the garden to put the finishing touches on winter-bedtime. We also picked the fall carrots that were outside the coldframe. Not very impressive, but it is a harvest, and they will be excellent in The Kitchen Goddess's mirepoix for the Thanksgiving turkey, just a few days away!

And now, in the spirit of Harvest Monday where it's not just what you pick, but how you use it, I will show you how we finished processing the apples picked in September.
In my post of 30 September, I showed how we crushed and pressed 5 bushels of our apples, and put the cider into fermenting buckets. About a week or two after that, we siphoned the buckets into glass carboys for secondary fermentation. Today, it was time to bottle!
Here is what the fermented cider looks like:

First thing is to wash and sanitize the bottles. A clean dishwasher makes a handy rack for draining them. We use longneck beer bottles--the best kind of recycling! No screw-tops of course.

All your other equipment has to be cleaned and sanitized too, even the bottlecaps. Then prepare some priming mixture. This is just brown sugar in water, heated to a boil. This is what will give the cider its sparkle, as it slightly reactivates the small amount of yeast left, whose sediment you can see at the bottom of the carboys above.

Then siphon the cider from the carboy to the bottling bucket (just a primary fermenter with a spigot).

Then, it's just a matter of filling the bottles: 

And capping them!

Of course, you can label them for fun. This is the second year of our "Chucky" label, this year commemorating the maurading woodchuck who met his demise. The first year's label (still a few bottles left) is in the center, flanked by this year's.

We also bottled our plum wine (plums from a friend's tree), and the small amount of wine we got from our wretched grape harvest. All told, 3+ liters of plum wine, 1+ liter of grape wine (note the classy name--"Black Rot Wine"), and 98 bottles of hard cider. Here it is on parade:

Now it all has to age. Last year the cider did not mature and develop carbonation for a number of months, but when it did, it was outstanding (it was pretty good to start with). We have high hopes for this year.

If you ever want to make your own hard cider, either with your own apples, or with apples or soft cider you purchase, here is a great concise article from Mother Earth News.

With that, I wish the Daphne's Dandelions community Happy Thanksgiving! Even if you're not from the U.S.!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Harvest Monday - 11 November 2013 + Garden Report Card 2013

Welcome to probably the last Harvest Monday at Eight Gate Farm. Thanks again to Daphne's Dandelions for providing us the opportunity to share.

What happens when a warm rainy day is followed by a freezing night?

You might have Jack Frost leave you lovely paintings on your screened-porch skylights!

The only thing happening harvest-wise is Brussels Sprouts. So at least I have something to show you.

I had to cut the stalks with a saw.

This yielded over 5 pounds (~2.5 kg.). I never was much of a fan of Brussels Sprouts until I grew, and tasted, my own. Now I'm sold.

That will pretty much be it for harvests for the year. I thought now I'd present my 2013 Garden Report Card, in which I evaluate the crops we grew this year. Overall it was a pretty successful year, but as always, there were disappointments.

I think a major contributor to lack of success in certain areas was timing. I follow advice once told me by an old farmer--plant tomatoes after the last full moon in May. I always took that to extend to peppers, eggplants, melons, etc.

This year the last full moon occurred on May 25, a Saturday. But we were having an unusual cold snap, with nights into the high 30s F. I was faced with a dilemma. I had to go out of town on business the next week, and the tomatoes especially were getting leggy. So I gambled and planted all those seedlings on Monday (a U.S. holiday). The weather while I was gone started to warm up, and by the following weekend we were in a heat wave. I think the combination of the initial cold and later heat was not healthful for the plants.

All the plants looked stressed for a long time. The tomatoes recovered amazingly, and we had a record harvest by season's end. But the peppers and eggplants never really took off. So I have learned that it's okay to wait a week or even more until I can be reasonably sure the weather will cooperate.

Another possible contributor to lack of success is the fertility of the soil. The raised beds were constructed a long time ago--not by me. By the time I came along the soil was very depleted. Last year I began a concerted effort to improve the soil by adding blood meal (N), bone meal (P), and potash (K). This year saw huge improvements in yields, except for seeds planted on the edges of the beds. I think I did not evenly spread the nutrients.

2 trees. Produced way more than we could use, even being creative.
2nd year trying. Last year got beautiful plants but no chokes. This year, plants poor.
12 row feet. We were cautious about taking too many; next year should be abundant
Beans (fresh)
Got all we needed for the year on 16 squares, four plants per square
Planted 32 squares, 9 plants per square. Not all grew large.
Grew in 3 sets, spring (from starts), fall (from seed), fall (from starts). None was heavy producer.
Brussels Sprouts
Took a long time to grow, but got a lot.
Planted 4 hills, 3 per hill. Only got 5 fruit. Bad bug problems.
Planted 32 squares, 16 plants per square. Not all grew, but got an abundance anyway.
Planted 4 squares, 4 plants per square. Not as prolific as expected.
2 trees. Lost entire crop to birds.
Chinese Cabbage
Planted 8 squares, 1 plant per square. Grew in 2 sets, spring (from starts), summer (from starts). Summer crop better-no root maggots.
Planted 5 12-foot rows, plus four 3-Sisters hills. Bad insect troubles, what we got was good.
Got enough for fresh eating, not much for pickles. Problems with powdery mildew.
Never recovered from setting out too soon. Got some.
Five 12 foot vines. Devastated by black rot.
One plant now two years old. First harvest this year, a handful. Should be better as the years go by.
Fall planting. Never grew large.
12 squares, 4 plants per square. Grew 3 varieties, all for spring into summer. More than we could use.
Never grew large. Got a few to ripen. Tasted great.
128 sets planted, got good results.
2 trees, got 30 small fruit. Have to give them credit for trying, in a bad spot.
Planted four 8 foot rows. Fair production cut short by early heat wave.
Never recovered from setting out too soon. Got some.
Planted 4 hills, 3 per hill. Only got 3 fruit. Bad bug problems.
Spring: 4 squares, 16 per square. Fall: 2 squares, 16 per square. Spring did well despite root maggots. Fall did pretty well too.
Got enough for fresh eating, not much for jam. Fall-producing plants better.
Planted 6 bulbs, which multiplied 5-fold.
Planted 8 squares, 4 plants per square. Seemed to bolt very quickly.
Planted both for seed and landscaping. Very pretty; got seed crop too.
Had high hopes for this plant. Did not prove resilient. Got some.
12 plants. Recovered wonderfully from setting out too soon, got enormous production.
Never grew large. None ripened.
Grew 4 plants. Problems with mildew and bugs; still got all we needed.