Roly poly, chubby, orange pumpkins are a jolly welcome addition to this time of year! I grow mostly pie pumpkins - cute little pumpkins with meaty, sweet flesh that I bake and then freeze up for a winter of muffins, pies and soups. These harvested pumpkins are now sunbathing on the south facing deck for continued ripening. White, green, or warty ghoulish pumpkins are all the rage. This year I grew a very fun batch of gray-green pumpkins with orange spots. Growing pumpkins requires plenty of sprawling space, full sun and they’re big feeders, preferring rich soil with lots of compost. But if you haven’t the space, you can find these pudgy globes of orange at most any store – a classic celebration and decoration of fall!
In the damp paths of our forest, we often get patches of mushrooms, and some of them are like creatures from the deep! But the last few years, on a mulched side path in the garden, a desirable, edible mushroom has joined the party. This whitish, oblong mushroom with soft, cowlick flaps is a Shaggy Mane. I am not a mushroom picker (yet), but was tempted this year to try this supposed culinary treat. However, you can’t consider the temptation too long, as within a day or two Shaggy Manes darken to grey then wet black, rolling up their fleshy ovals into an inky umbrella that does not look appetizing. Shaggy Manes are part of the ‘Inky Caps’ family. They are an edible mushroom but deteriorate quickly, needing to be picked at their prime and eaten the same day. Maybe next year I will decide fast enough.
The August planted arugula has grown into perfect green lusciousness, and I have fallen in love with it all over again! Arugala adds a unique zippy, zesty flavour, thus its alias of ‘rocket’, ‘salad rocket’ or ‘roquette’. The tasty leaves can be added to salads, top a stir fry, or spice up an omelet or sandwich – yum! And these peppery leafy greens are so easy to grow; sprinkle the seeds as evenly as you can over fresh soil in a ground or container garden, cover with another 1/4 to 1/2 inch of soil and then water. I haven’t tried them indoors, but may this winter!
You have to love the warm, rich scent in the house when you are saucing tomatoes! Sauce can be traditional for many people. For me it is all about harvesting the fresh flavours from the garden, capturing them to enjoy in our long winter months. And being more of a pasta sauce than just tomatoes, this batch collected from the garden: tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, garlic and basil.
Dill pickles are one of those things that once you have homemade, you can’t go back. They have a sour, salty, tangy, dill-y taste that cravings are made of. The basic flavouring ingredients are simple: equal parts vinegar (I use a mix of white and cider vinegar) and water, lots of fresh dill, mustard seed, and salt and fresh garlic to taste. Since I grow cukes, garlic and dill in the garden, dill pickles are a must every year. I never tire of the vibrant green when you pour the hot vinegar mixture into the cuke and dill packed jars. Now to wait a month or two while the flavours steep!
The veggie garden has moved into summer harvest mode. Zucchini and pumpkins are in lavish bloom, with baby zucchini now on the menu. Tomatoes are blooming, ripening and some are ready to pick. Peas and beans are hanging heavy with their bounty. Raspberries and blackberries shine in the sun, getting riper and sweeter. Beets have fattened under the earth, and are now waiting to be plucked. Glorious kale, with purple stems and curly green, is a regular harvest. Lettuce marches on despite summer heat. Cabbage is a luxurious blue-purple. Nasturtiums, with edible flowers and leaves, add spice in taste and colour to greens. In a week or two I will plant another round of lettuce, arugula and peas, to sneak in more harvest before cold weather hits.
I hear the comment all the time, ‘veggie gardens are a lot of work’, and I am sorry to say that it is true. Plus you need full sun, good soil, and regular watering, so there better be big reward! A short walk in my veggie garden this morn revealed lots of rewards. Chives are in full mauve pom-pom bloom. Baby zucchinis are just forming from their golden trumpet blossoms. Green beans in an orderly row will soon be blooming. Kale, with its purple stems contrasting to slate-green curly leaves, is ready for the picking. Gorgeous garlic has a fan of green topped with arching, elegant scapes. Lush lettuce begs to be harvested. Baby beets have a way to go, but some will be stolen away as greens. And there is ripe red treasure hiding in the strawberry patch. If you don’t have the space or time for a veggie garden, this is an excellent time to seek out your local market!
Seeds and seedlings are finding homes in the warm earth of the veggie garden. They’re nestled in rows enriched with composted manure with happy worms doing their thing. Old straw is waiting to mulch betwixt and between the rows. I have pinched the odd tiny leaf of arugula to taste its peppery flavor. Peas, lettuce, beets and carrots have all sprouted. Purple cabbage, banana pepper and kale seedlings look so tiny, but how they will grow. Asparagus keeps pushing through, and rhubarb is crazy. Seeds for green beans, pole beans, swiss chard, zucchini, cukes, pumpkins and next flights of peas have all been planted, and the tomatoes have just started going in. Strawberries are blooming. Now if we could just have a nice gentle rain to tuck it all in!
The miracle of a little seed that grows into a plant. I am not devout about collecting seeds, but I do have some easy to collect (and grow!) favourites - morning glory seeds, calendula seeds, and my most beloved seed is the scarlet runner bean. This is an annual vine that grows easily and quickly, has vibrant scarlet flowers that turn into edible beans, and if you don’t pick them to eat, you have wondrous pods that dry into treasured little envelopes that hold ‘magic beans’. I tell my son they are magic beans, and it is believable when you open a crackly, dry pod to find lustrous blue back beans with hot pink stripy swirls. And he can save them until the spring when we will plant those gorgeous beans and magically get a lovely vine with scarlet flowers and it starts all over……
An arbour-full of grape vines gives me a bushel of grapes each year. I grow concord grapes, easy to grow in full sun, with wonderful gnarled, twisty vines, ‘memories of Italy’ leaves and those wonderful clinger curlicues. The grapes themselves are luscious, no better word! They are purple black with a matte finish, and a sweet sour burst of flavor that closes your eyes and makes you smile. The hardest part of growing grapes for me is deciding when to harvest – I want them to be as sweet as possible when I pick, but as their purpleness deepens, I am at higher risk of the raccoons stripping the fruit before me. I have made jelly the last few years, just using the recipe off the Certo box – the scent of cooking grapes is divine!