Thursday, December 31, 2015

Potato Rescue

In 2014, the potatoes we harvested in September lasted in storage until May of this year before the few remaining softened and sprouted. They were kept in a bushel basket packed with shredded paper (hat tip to Rachel for that method), in a dark closet in the guest suite of the house, where the temperature through the winter was a fairly constant 50 degrees F.

This fall we started using that part of the house, because of renovations to the upstairs bathroom. I built some storage bins and put this year's potato crop in the cellar. It turns out the cellar, because of the weird warm fall weather, had much higher temperatures and humidity than I was expecting. Result: nearly all the potatoes sprouted after three months. So what to do with them?

I guess some sort of freezing methods could be used, but we are really trying to keep from adding more stuff to our two freezers. So we decided to try dehydrating potato slices. I'm using the royal "we"; The Kitchen Goddess did the work as usual.

Here is our method:

Slice as many potatoes as the dehydrator will hold, to 1/8" thickness.

A mandoline makes this much easier and more exact.

Blanch the slices in salted water for 8 minutes.

Chill in ice water for 15 minutes.

Pat-dry the slices, and arrange on the shelves of the dehydrator. We just have an entry-level NESCO "American Harvest" machine. There are other brands and models which are undoubtedly better and more efficient, but this one meets our needs (mostly), and has for years.

In our machine, it takes about 5 hours. Meanwhile, spend two hours cleaning potato starch off everything.

The dried slices, now like thick potato chips, can be used in Au Gratin-type recipes, and reconstituted for mashed potatoes. Not as versatile as whole potatoes, but as said, this was a rescue. Since we had 15-20 pounds of potatoes to go through, this is a batch process over several days. We just add to gallon bags as we go.

Can you think of other ways of preserving sprouting potatoes, and what to do with them?

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Happy Holidays from Eight Gate Farm!

A short post to wish my readers (all three of you!) happy holidays, whatever you may celebrate!

The Kitchen Goddess made caramel apples to give to our friends--using our own Granny Smith apples and our own maple syrup. Some chocolate-free ones on the right for those with sensitivities.

I wish you could try one. They are amazing. But you need a knife and fork to eat, or it will be a Kriss-Mess.

I'm looking forward to the coming garden season, as no doubt all of you are. Let's hope for a stunning year!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

We visit a "seed bank"

The Kitchen Goddess and I are on vacation in Northern California's Wine Country. We both love wine, but she's a wine geek. And I'm a gardening geek. She graciously allowed me an interlude away from the vineyards. So how about a visit to a "seed bank?"

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds has a retail outlet in nearby Petaluma (40 minutes from Napa). It's in a beautiful 1920s-era bank building. So it's a, get it?

Walking through the doors, I was instantly a kid-in-a-candy-store.

I can't say for certain, but it looks like they have every variety in their standard free catalog, maybe even their full for-purchase "Whole Seed Catalog."

Peppers galore:

Maybe 2 1/2 full racks of tomato varieties.

I was able to find everything on my list, and of course bought more than that.

The prices ranged from $1.75 to $4 per packet, with most in the $2 to $2.50 range. The sales tax is weird--food seeds are tax-free, but not flower seeds. How do they determine what constitutes food? Some people eat marigolds.

Baker Creek is a fine, environmentally-conscious company. It was great to visit one of their stores. I strongly recommend coming here if you're ever in Wine Country.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

2015 Garden Report Card

Every year I like to assess how the garden grew. It pleases me that I grow 40 different vegetables and fruits. As always, some are successful, others not. So here's 2015's report card:









2 trees. Over 10 bushels, still left some unpicked.



Started with 6 plants, voles killed 2. Harvested 11 'chokes.



12 row feet. Decent production from young plants. Planted a 2nd 12 foot row this year.

Beans, Green


24 square feet, great initial harvests, dwindled rapidly. Still got plenty.

Beans, Dry


Approx 80 row feet yielded 4.5 lbs. Still think we could do better than that.

Beans, Runner


Sowed 50 seeds, yielded 1-2 meals of dry beans plus next year's seed.



Planted 16 squares, 9 plants per square. Not a good year for beets.



12 plants. Heads not as large as last year.

Brussels Sprouts


12 plants. Excellent production.



32 square feet. Decent production, but not as great as prior years.



8 square feet. Got a slow start and had vole problems.



2 trees. Incredible fruit set--birds got most.

Chinese Cabbage


Grew in summer only, 6 plants. Outstanding production.

Corn, Sweet


Early corn not productive, mid-season very productive and tasty.

Corn, Flint


Approx 50 row feet. Yield 8 pounds shelled kernels.



First planting did not get off to a good start, second planting did well.



Slow start, production low.



2 bushels, made 5 gallons of blush wine, aging now.



This just keeps getting better and better



6 plants. Large yield.



First time growing. Quite a nice haul of fairly slender leeks. Took a long time.



More than we knew what to do with.



Finally got some large fruit, but still not enough.



Better production than last year on fewer sets.



2 small trees. 25 small pears.

Peas, snow/snap


Big improvement over last year.

Peas, soup


First time growing. Got about a quart of dried peas.



Got off to a bad start. Low production.



29 lbs. from 2.5 lbs seed. Plants not as large as last year. Variety "Kennebec."



Terrible year compared to last.

Radishes, spring


Row cover greatly helped root maggot problem.

Radishes, summer


"Watermelon" variety, summer planting. Got even better yield than last year.



Picked several gallons over the weeks.



I still cannot grow spinach! Grew slowly, then bolted.

Squash, winter


Got off to a bad start. Low production.



Grew "Mongolian Giant," which lived up to the name.



Grew 4 plants of the "Orinoco" variety. A very pretty plant with a "benefit."



8 determinate, 4 indeterminate. Initial yields good, but plants taken down by blight quickly.



Finally got larger fruit, but still undersized.



4 plants this year. Production good.


Monday, November 2, 2015

Harvest Monday - 2 November 2015

Welcome to another Harvest Monday update from Eight Gate Farm! As you probably know, Harvest Monday is hosted by Dave at Our Happy Acres, where gardeners worldwide show their harvests and harvest processing for the week. Thanks, Dave!

We cut the parsley in the Kitchen Herb Garden down to the ground, and here it is about to be dehydrated. We use a lot of parsley.

Next up is our Brussels sprouts. We started 12 plants; 11 made it to maturity. Having been through at least 3 frosts, we judged it was time.

The largest stalk was 30 inches. Setting aside four stalks to give away, The Kitchen Goddess cut off and froze 30 cups of sprouts.

Next, we took all six kale plants. They, too, profit from frosts, but really no need to wait.

TKG stemmed, chopped, blanched, and froze 28 cups from that.

Next, all the remaining leeks were pulled.

None are huge like you might see in a farmer's market, but they have a lot of nice white showing.

Brussels sprouts and leeks are the kind of crops that you plant in spring and just wait, with very little tending needed. Well, we do fuss over the sprouts a little bit. We snap off the lower leaves as the stalks grow, and in early September cut off the growing tips so the plant puts energy into sizing up the buds. It seems to work.

We also took the last of the chard. It yielded a couple of packages of chopped leaves.

We got invited to a BYOB Halloween bonfire. In our case, that means Bring Your Own Brussels sprouts. Here was our hostess gift. Gardeners are weird.

On Sunday we pressed some of the apples I showed you last week. Here's a little of the process in case you were wondering.

First you have to cut the apples (into eighths works best) and run them through the grinder.

Apple gook, pre-pressing.
Then you dump into the press and crank away.

Lovely luscious liquid.
Of course, it requires multiple trips to the compost pile.

Apple gook, post-pressing.
We processed four bushels, and got six and a half gallons of cider [right about now is where metric folks scratch their heads]. It's hard work, so we rested between each bushel. All told, it took about 4 and a half hours. Five gallons are getting fermented, and the rest we'll enjoy fresh. I'm not sure what we are going to do with the other four bushels of apples. I'm pretty sure they'll keep in the cool barn for awhile, so some will get used.

And now here's a parting shot of the fenced garden, with all beds sporting a blanket of chopped leaves, ready to be tilled in.

All harvests are now in, so there won't be much to show you in the coming months. It's been a great season. Thanks for reading, and I look forward to everyone's posts.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Harvest Monday - 26 October 2015

Welcome to another Harvest Monday update from Eight Gate Farm. This will be a short post because there's really only one harvest to feature.

We picked about 7.5 bushels of apples from our late-bearing (Granny Smith?) tree. Not only was this more of an abundance than ever before, but the apples were larger and better-shaped than we've ever experienced.  And we didn't completely strip the tree. What a fruit year!

Unfortunately they just aren't of marketable quality. Here you can see both sooty blotch (thanks Rachel for identifying that!) and apple scab, which is on the entire crop.

Apple scab and sooty blotch

They are just cosmetic flaws, but I doubt even an organic grocer would stock these. Americans are just so conditioned to having perfect-looking produce. I don't spray with fungicides, thus you get fungi.

Obviously there are more apples than any home grower could ever use. I find this quite sad. I doubt that even if I could locate a local food bank that accepts fresh foods, they would take them.

OK, what will we do with them? The Kitchen Goddess took 25 and canned 6 pints of applesauce.

Unsweetened apple sauce

Great, that leaves just 1,342 to go. Next weekend we will press 2 - 3 bushels into cider for fermenting. That should make 5 gallons of hard cider, enough to last us a long time. If we are energetic, we'll press one or two more gallons for fresh consumption (it goes bad fast). I wonder if you can freeze soft cider?

Sadly, I'm expecting that half the crop will just get dumped in the woods. But what can we do?

Thanks for reading! And thanks to Dave at Our Happy Acres, our host of Harvest Monday. Be sure to read all this week's submissions.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

A Kale Tale

I truthfully had not visited the fenced garden this week since just before our Saturday night frost, To my surprise, the chard did not fare well. I should have picked it.

I seem to remember chard being tougher. Oh well, not to worry. The kale is unaffected.

Another kiss of frost to sweeten it, and we will soon be swimming in greens.

Just in the background you can see some Brussels sprouts, sizing up nicely. One or two more sweetening frosts for them, too.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Harvest Monday - 19 October 2015

Welcome to another Harvest Monday update from Eight Gate Farm!

This weekend we had the first true frost of autumn. It was predicted, so we had time to harvest the sensitive crops.

Out came the remaining peppers and eggplants.

Clockwise from bottom left, there are "Big Jim," a New Mexico chile, perfect for chiles rellenos (yum), the yellowish Cubanelle pepper "Aruba," for frying, "Rosita" and "Amadeo" eggplants, "Mellow Star" shishito-type peppers, "Maule's Red Hot cayenne peppers, and in the middle, "Big Bomb" hot cherry peppers. If I'm lucky, the spicy peppers might go into a pepper jelly called "Cowboy Candy" which I love.

Any tomato which had any shade beyond deep green was taken. I'm sure some of these will rot before they ripen, as they have blemishes or other grossness.

It was such a frustrating year for tomatoes! With all the different blights, I almost feel like giving up on them. How did this happen? You used to be able to rely on tomatoes. I rotate the beds religiously, and this year all tomatoes were grown in brand new soil, but the blight was worse than ever. If you've managed to escape it, consider yourself lucky. OK, moaning over...

Also the rest of the cannonball watermelon crop was harvested. Actually these are some of the biggest I've grown, which speaks to my melon farming skills.

The rest of the "Orinoco" tobacco crop was also taken out in several stages this week. Here it is curing in the barn. We'll have to find another location for finishing the curing process, as it won't be long before the barn gets too cold.

Orinoco tobacco curing.

Other crops were taken, even though they don't mind light frosts. Here are a few leeks, the remaining carrots, and some watermelon radishes.

And this is all remaining Long Island Cheese pumpkins.

The larger one was too heavy for the kitchen scale, but for comparison, the one to its left is 1 3/4 lbs. I doubt the small all-green one will amount to anything, but maybe the others will finish ripening indoors.

Also, I planted garlic this weekend--24 cloves in a 12-foot row. I tilled in compost and a sprinkling of bone meal. Why? I always heard bulb-y things like bone meal, so why not garlic?

That's it for this week. Thanks for reading, and for leaving comments, which I greatly look forward to.[Yes, I ended a sentence with a preposition.] Did you escape a frost this week? I know I will check out every post on the host site for Harvest Monday, Our Happy Acres. See you there!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Harvest Monday - 12 October 2015

Welcome to another Harvest Monday update from Eight Gate Farm.

Not much came out of the vegetable garden this week. We got a handful of raspberries every other day, and I picked the last of the midsummer-sown cucumbers. The vines were almost completely wilted, so I took them out and stored the trellises for the season. These will go into a batch of "refrigerator gherkins"--well, why not?

I also took a couple of apples to go into a roast pork evening meal. I say these are Granny Smiths, but I don't really know. They are starting to develop a red blush--do Grannys do that? Soon we will pick the entire tree for cider.

With not much happening in the garden, it was an opportunity to process earlier harvests. The "Mongolian Giant" sunflowers had lots of potential, but alas, because the flower heads are so big and fleshy, they did not dry but molded instead. Plus, many seeds had worm holes in them. Here's a sample, with the usable harvest on the left and the rejects on the right.

We really got only about twice what you see from all the rest of the heads. Well, it's a fun plant to watch grow, and I certainly have enough seeds for a snack or two, and next year's planting. I think I may have to cut the heads as soon as they droop, remove the seeds, and not leave them to dry out in the field and get bug damage. Does anyone have any tricks?

Remembering from when I planted them, I told you the seeds were an inch long. Well, not quite, but pretty close!

We also shelled the "Floriani" red flint corn. Last year I showed the simple tool I made (not my invention) to assist in this. This year I improved it by using screws instead of nails. I also shelled them in a paper bag, which cuts down (but does not eliminate) the stray kernels flying everywhere. The Kitchen Goddess cleaned off the kernels which had been bird damaged (and had mold), then handed the cobs to me for twisting through the jig. Again, maybe I leave things too long out in the field.

We got 8 pounds (~3.6 kg) of usable kernels, about 1/3 of last year's harvest, to be expected since I planted only 1/3 as much. My original thought was we had enough left over from last year, but unfortunately we recently went to get some for grinding, and found the entire stored crop had completely molded. I guess they weren't dry enough to get through the summer, This year I'm not taking any chances. I spread them out on an old window screen, and will let them sit in the sunroom for a few weeks.

So we dealt with moldy sunflowers and moldy corn. I should have called this post "Harvest Molday."

Here's what the garden looks like now. Remaining are Brussels sprouts, kale, leeks, broccoli (weak), chard, and a few carrots and radishes. The rest of the tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant are hidden behind the grape vines. The tomatoes etc. will be taken next weekend, after this week of predicted nice weather. So I'll have more to show next time.

Thanks for reading! Click on back to Our Happy Acres for more Harvest Monday good stuff. Oh, Happy Thanksgiving to Canadian readers!

Monday, October 5, 2015

Harvest Monday - 5 October 2015

Welcome to another Harvest Monday update from Eight Gate Farm. Thanks to Dave at Our Happy Acres for taking over from Daphne and letting us all continue to have fun with Harvest Monday.

I was just thinking how funny it is that in spring I show pictures of individual types of vegetables, but as the season progresses I go to more and more "group photos" because it's so boring otherwise.

There was a nice harvest on October 1, after our first drenching rains in a long time. On the left are two bonus zucchinis. I'd written the plants off a long time ago but then they started to show feeble signs of life. Pretty sure this is it, though. One of the "Aruba" pepper plants had toppled over from the weight of its fruit; I staked it back up but one fell off. Also there's a nice haul of cucumbers from the July planting, but the vines are rapidly wilting unfortunately. Even a late planting doesn't escape this. On the right are four various sized (though all small) watermelons. And the tomatoes? Well, they're tomatoes. That's all I can say. I throw away more than I keep at this stage because they're just in such bad shape.

The winter squash vines out in the "Survival Garden" never got going until way too late in the season. Here you see virtually the entire crop, which I took because I wanted to clean up.

The green one is a "Fairytale" pumpkin, that never had a chance to turn orange. Its vine was completely dead, so no point leaving it out there.

Here they are all tucked away down in the cellar, in the second of the two produce storage bins I built. I wrote about that here. Some of the Long Island Cheese pumpkins (squash) have strange blemishes that look like rot, but the skins are very hard so I think they'll be OK.

A Sunday harvest, which makes a pretty strange tableau.

The deep red peppers on the left are "Big Jim" chiles; the other peppers are "Aruba," "Big Bomb" (not living up to their name), a lone "Sweet Chocolate," and a solitary shishito. It was a bad year for peppers, as I've said before. You might also see some tiny yellow zucchini, which I took from the plants before tearing all of them out. We might be able to make something with them; maybe a stir fry. Also, of course, more ugly tomatoes.

I took all the "Mongolian Giant" sunflower heads from the garden. Here they are in the sunroom to finish drying, next to the red flint corn which is also drying there.

This one weighed over 3 pounds.

I was impressed with myself over that, but not two hours later we went to the 139th annual Deerfield Fair, and in the fruit and vegetable exhibit hall there were sunflower heads easily twice as big.

We had a great time at all the exhibits, and looking at the farm animals, antique tractors, and the oxen-pulling competition. Who knows, maybe next year we'll enter something!

As I said, I cleaned up the Survival Garden. I like to burn the cornstalks, but they don't dry well on the ground and so don't burn well. So, after taking 20 for traditional New England autumn decorations, we made a tipi out of the rest. They should dry better now.

The Kitchen Goddess's sister, seeing this photo, asked if we were planning to burn a witch.

That's it for this week. Thanks for reading, and again many thanks to Dave. Please show him your support.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Harvest Monday - 28 September 2015

Welcome to another Harvest Monday report from Eight Gate Farm. When I got up this morning (Sunday) the temperature was at 38 degrees F. (~3 C.). It didn't stay there long, but still, it was a sobering moment. Here's a sample of this week's harvests.

A Monday picking. The kale and leek went with some of our potatoes into a tasty, healthful dinner that night.

The very last of the sweet corn, in convenient bite-size form. Not perfectly-formed ears, but still incredibly sweet and crunchy. This will be missed.

A Tuesday harvest. The muskmelon is a "Minnesota Midget," living up to its name at 1.25 lbs. We never get much in the way of production from melons, but the taste is fantastic.

Minnesota Midget Muskmelon
Running out of freezer space, The Kitchen Goddess has started dehydrating the carrots. These will go well dropped into my favorite comfort food, homemade chicken noodle soup. Pounds of carrots shrink down to several ounces.

Dehydrated Carrots
A bonus harvest of soup peas. I had some leftover seed from the spring planting, but not enough for next year. I sowed them in the Survival Garden and promptly neglected them. They responded accordingly. Still, it shows that you can get some production from a summer planting of a traditionally spring crop.

The final harvest of the week. From left, carrots, chard, leeks, Rutgers tomatoes, raspberries, watermelon radishes, and the last of the summer crisp lettuce. As I write this, TKG is making a quiche from some of the leeks and chard. Hey, when do we eat??

How will I know the first true frost has happened? The coleus planting will tell me. I grew these six plants from seed, and they have been brightening a corner of the patio all summer. But with the first nip of frost, they will wilt to nothing.

Coleus planting

That's all for this week. Thanks for reading! For more Harvest Monday, click on back to Daphne's Dandelions, and please show your appreciation for hosting this fun and informative gathering by leaving her a comment.