Embrace Your Inner Squirrel
It's harvest season, and that means our focus should be on eating and enjoying what we can and storing away what we can't. Forget the weeds, roast those tomatoes!
This week, we'll cover some easy strategies for preserving produce in bulk so you can enjoy it later. We'll also discuss how to prep bare garden beds for winter and next season, and share more options for including native shrubs in your gardening experiment to feed you year after year.
Preparing Your Soil for Spring
Fall is the perfect time to seed cover crops into bare garden beds.
Nature will fill bare spots with "weeds". By planting a cover crop instead, you control what plants move in and how they impact soil health.
Why plant cover crops, you ask?
· To keep the soil moist and productive, improving soil organic matter and fertility
· To act as a living mulch, suppressing cool-season weeds and preventing erosion.
· To create a better seedbed for spring planting.
We don’t want to till the soil that we have worked hard to build up because tilling would kill our friendly microorganisms! So the best way to plant cover crops is to:
1. Loosen soil, if it is compacted, with a garden fork but don’t turn it over
2. Sprinkle seeds over the top of the bed and cover with a thin layer of soil or straw
3. Water daily until it germinates, then weekly as needed.
What kinds of plants should I use? Grasses or Legumes!
Oats and crimson clover are our favorite.
Oats will germinate in the fall, then die off in the winter, leaving you with a light coating of straw to plant into next spring. Meanwhile, it will hold some nutrients and increased organic matter in the soil. You could also add in some field peas to increase nitrogen in the soil.
Crimson clover is another cover crop that will be killed off by winter frost so you can plant
through it next spring. It's a legume, so gives you the added benefit of fixing nitrogen from the air and fixing it in the soil for plants to use. This article goes into the details.
Here is a great video that describes how to grow cover crops (they are using crimson clover) around your plants currently still growing in your garden beds. You won’t need much for a small back yard garden and you will be able to find it at your local garden center or where you order your seeds from.
Gardening Longterm: Tasty, Native Shrubs
To continue our discussion of permaculture and gardening with sensitivity to the environment, we would like to suggest a few native, edible plants you could include in your yard that are easy to care for, adapted to native soils and climate, highly productive, and grow delicious food!
Beach plum has showy flowers that attract native pollinators and add beauty to the permaculture garden. It also has edible fruit, making it valuable for people and wildlife. It flowers from May until June and is a great pollinator plant. Fruits are ready to pick about mid-August. It’s a woody shrub that gets about 6 feet tall and 6 feet wide when fully grown. It enjoys full sun and well-drained soil with a neutral pH of 6-7. You will need two to pollinate and have fruit. But believe me, it is a no-fuss shrub.
Persimmon is a little known, but oh so delicious fruit. Yes, it's native to the Northeast and is affected by almost no pests or diseases. It likes moist, but well-drained soils and is very tolerant of dry conditions, once it’s established. It prefers full sun but will do fine in 4- 6 hours of sun.
Choose a cultivar that has the attributes you like such as taste, foliage color, etc. Many cultivars need two different varieties planted in close proximity to be very productive. We have tried Yates and Meander, but there are so many others to choose from. This video will tell you everything you want to know about growing persimmon.
Permaculture & Edible Landscaping Resources
To keep you moving forward on a journey of exploring permaculture and edible landscaping, we have a few more resources to share:
The one book we refer to weekly at the farm is Grow Fruit Naturally, by Lee Reich. It's organized alphabetically by fruit type and has a few general chapters about pruning, etc.
Morag Gamble is a wonder from down under, and she has many resources from podcasts to classes to videos where she succinctly shows how to get stuff done. This video will show you how you can create a sheet mulch in your vegetable garden to create a no-dig garden that will keep all those beneficial microorganisms in your soil happy and thriving.
We suggested a few issues ago that if you’re interested in learning more about permaculture, watch the movie Inhabit. Another feature film that’s worth watching is the Biggest Little Farm. Though they do not use the term permaculture, the approach and practices in the film parallel it. It’s entertaining and informative!
Preserving the Harvest
When there's too much ripe produce to eat fresh, it's time to squirrel some away for the winter! Food preservation can sound intimidating, but don't stress. You don't have to become a master canner overnight. If you learn just one new preservation technique a year, think of how skilled you'll be in no time!
Here are some simple, tried and true methods we use to preserve common produce. With all recipes, it's best to work in big enough batches to make the project worth your while. Don't forget, we shared how we roast and freeze tomatoes and pickle cucumbers (or zucchini!) earlier in August in this post.
Leafy Greens: Blanch and Freeze
If you're like us, you have too much chard and spinach to possibly eat right now. Luckily, it's easy to preserve it for soups, stir-fries, and smoothies this winter using the blanch and freeze method. This works for any hearty leafy greens (chard, spinach, etc.), but not lettuces, and you don't really need to preserve kale. Most kale plants are very cold tolerant through winter (temps down to 10 degrees), so we leave them right where they are!
To blanch something, you cook it in boiling water for a brief period, then abruptly cool it in ice water to halt further cooking. With greens, our goal is to reduce the volume of freezer space they take up without cooking much. Check out this link for pictures and further details.
Greens of choice (we usually pick into and fill a paper grocery bag for one batch)
Large bowl of ice water
Large empty bowl
Metal colander, strainer, or large slotted spoon
Airtight storage container for freezer (ziplock, silicone bag, etc.)
Fill the pot with water (deep enough to submerge a handful of greens) and set to boil.
Remove hard stems and ribs from greens and wash them. Cut leaves to bite-size.
Once water is boiling, submerge a large handful of greens with a slotted spoon and cook for 20-30 seconds.
Remove greens and immediately submerge in ice water for 1-2 minutes (while they're chilling, prep the next batch to boil).
Remove greens from ice water, let them drain slightly, and set aside in an empty bowl.
Once all greens have been boiled and chilled, grab a small, serving-size handful and squeeze out all excess moisture and set on a baking sheet. Repeat for all greens.
Freeze your greens portions on the baking sheet for at least 30 minutes before transferring to final storage container to keep portions separate.
Enjoy your home-grown greens in chillis, stews, smoothies, and more all winter!
Peppers: Roast Em!
Who doesn't love roasted red peppers on pizza, pasta, and so much more? It's so easy to preserve your own from home-grown peppers or ones from a local farm, and the flavor is unbeatable! See this website for pictures, details, and more ideas.
Peppers (any size, type, and color. Red bell peppers are traditional)
Large paper bag
Airtight storage container for freezing (ziplock, silicone bag, etc.)
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
Cut peppers in half, remove seeds and stem. Place cut side down on a baking sheet.
Position pan on top rack and bake peppers until their skins are moderately charred and bubbling. For large bell peppers this is usually 15-20 minutes, less time for smaller varieties. If you're using multiple pans, rotate top to bottom midway.
Cool peppers and freeze in ziplock or other storage container as halves, or cut to desired size.
Optional: to remove all or most of the peppers' skin, you can transfer the halves directly from the hot pans to the paper bag and close them in for 5-10 minutes. This will steam them, further loosening skins for removal by hand. You may not get it all!
Enjoy these sweet, caramelized strips of summer when you need a burst of cheer this winter.