Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A New Way of Thinking

Otherwise entitled ‘Why the Basil determines our season’

It’s October 24th and by my calculations we’ve had 10 nights of freezing weather, not just frost, freeze.  We're also to a point where there are only a little over 10 short hours of sunlight a day. Monday I went out with the camera and snapped a few shots of what is still usable in the field.  You’ll have to excuse the fact that some of the photos are blurry, if you will remember – Monday was REALLY windy.  I promise – every photo on this page was taken Monday, October 22nd 2012.
As you can see, the sage has taken on its winter color but all in all is still very usable.

The Thyme too is usable.  As I’ve written in our hints and tips before, Thyme is an evergreen and if you could find it under the snow in winter, you could still use it so it is not surprising that it’s still doing well.  It is a little short as we cut it way back in preparation for winter.  Next spring we want to be cutting fresh new growth from the Thyme and not having to pick out the woody older growth when we harvest so we cut it down to about an inch in the fall.

The Oregano’s and the Marjoram are showing a little red around the edge, signs that it has been cold, but they too are hanging in there just waiting for me to make spaghetti or gyro’s.

Greek Oregano

Italian Oregano

Fresh picked Rosemary went well in our venison steak sandwiches last night.

And this weekend when I am planning on having a guest in the house, I’m hoping to find a way to use some of this Cilantro.

A testiment to the fact that cilantro is a cold weather plant is below - this is a whole row of it next to a row of dill:

With the cold weather, there’s been a lot of soup being made at our house and the Parsley is always better fresh out of the field.  Chives go well in soup too and Winter Savory is my absolute favorite in potato soup!
Italian Flat Parsley
We mow down the Parsley each fall instead of pulling it out.  Then in the spring we just till it and the roots back into the soil.  It helps to add organic matter to the soil and Parsley is pretty disease and pest free so this is one kind of garden debris I don’t worry about leaving.  Although this year I did have Boy leave a couple standing for us to use.
Winter Savory
The Chives might be laying down on the job a little but still worthy of a good soup!

The stores already have Christmas items out and we’ve been having more hot chocolate at our house.  What goes good with holiday baking and hot chocolate?  Mint!  Our spearmint and peppermint are still green and full of flavor.


Our spearmint and Peppermint beds.
Don’t tell John at 10 North Main, but the Tarragon is still doing exceptionally well and looks wonderful!


Which leads me to the other title for this article.  This Tarragon looks spectacular (after more than 10 freezing nights) next to the very sad, very dead, rows of Genovese Basil we have yet to pull out to its left.  Basil loves loves loves the heat.  It begins to look sickly when nighttime temps go into the 40’s and one night in the 30’s practically makes it die right then and there.  Basil makes up the majority of our sales.  If we take Basil out of the equation, we may not make enough to cover costs of labor, transportation, packaging, etc.  Also, without the Basil, our grocery stores would rather go back to their ‘winter’ suppliers as ordering half of what they need from us and half from them is a hassle and quite frankly ticks off the other guys.  So, even though we still have a nice variety of herbs that look great, we just can’t continue to deliver to our customers once the Basil is done.
Also – now back to the real title – I post this topic to try and get people to understand that we CAN lengthen our season.  We are so trained to think that once that first killing frost has come, the garden is done for the year.  I think these photos prove it is not – and does not have to be.  I does require a change in eating habits and in gardening habits and a total revamping of thought.  What it takes is for us to switch from a ‘grow it’ mentality to a ‘harvest it’ mentality.

I wish the industry would quit calling it ‘fall planting’ as what it really is in our area is summer planting.  There will be some items that you need to plant in July or early August, still summer to me, to ensure they are large enough once the shorter days and cold weather hit.  The goal is to have them at just the right stage for picking before we begin to have temperatures too cold for them to grow and days so short they have very little sun.
By calling it ‘fall planted’ vegetables or a ‘fall planted’ garden, the industry does gardeners no favors either.  With those kinds of terms, most people wait until ‘fall’ to try and plant these things.  That might work in Tennessee but not in North Dakota.  So let’s all begin to think of it as late summer planting for early winter harvest.  We also have to stop thinking about it as ‘winter growing’, another term used by the industry.  Let’s not kid ourselves; the only things that grow in ND in the winter are the snow banks, men’s beards, and our eagerness for spring.  It’s not winter growing or winter gardening unless it is indoors.  It is winter harvesting, or fall harvesting.

To successfully have garden fresh items well after the first, second or even third killing frosts, you have to think of it as growing it earlier to harvest it later.  There are many things, including the herbs I’ve pictured here, spinach, mache’, kale, chard, carrots, rutabagas, beets, salsify and more that can take the frost and still be fine.  The key is to plant these items while there are plenty of warm days left.  Root crops can be left in the ground until the ground is frozen, this cooling and hardening off period actually makes them better tasting!  Some greens can literally freeze overnight, thaw with the sun and warmer temperatures of daytime and be ready to use again for lunch.

Carrots from our raised kitchen garden, just think – all these carrots from two six foot rows along the edges of our raised bed.  We like the little ones for fresh eating, the big ones for soup and the middle sized ones for salads.
So this year when the  seed catalogs arrive in our mailboxes, let’s start by making TWO lists.  One for seeds we will plant right away in the spring and the other list will be our ‘summer’ garden for ‘winter’ harvest!