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Late Autumn Garden Review

>> Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Surprise, surprise!

While engaged in our massive yard-work Sunday, I took a few minutes to clean out the garden and to reflect on my gardening successes and failures from this, which is really my first year of vegetable gardening.  The cauliflower above was a pleasant surprise.  I knew I had grown massive cauliflower plants, but all the rest had not grown heads, but rather had long stalky bits with whitish nubs at the ends, mixed in with lots of little leaves.  They were rather weird.

Not easy to eat.  I'm not sure how I managed to achieve that effect.  Regardless, I'm tickled with my one pretty cauliflower, which will be a lovely addition to my dinner table.

My cabbage, on the other hand, was largely a failed experiment.  They did grow to enormous proportions - check out this stem:

They weighed a ton.  Trouble is, everybody apparently loved my cabbage.  This is what they all looked like:

After having found the proverbial half worm in a partially eaten bowl of homemade potato kale soup earlier this summer, I have been reluctant to wrestle my way through a cabbage that looked like that to try to select the few edible bits, sans protein.  Just the thought of potentially slicing through a few dozen worms in a chop made me cringe.  Since we do (mostly) organic gardening I couldn't come up with any obvious solution for discouraging the little chompers.  So, we left the cabbages for the worms.  I think I'll skip the cabbage next year, unless someone gives me some tips on organically discouraging all the nibblers.

We did eat one head before they got to looking quite so bullet-riddled, and it was the spiciest cabbage I've ever tasted.  Query:  what kind of critters want to eat something that spicy?  It never makes sense to me what things the garden pests will like best.  Bugs love strawberries - okay, that makes perfect sense.  But then bugs also love artichokes.  Huh?  I don't even know how they get through those fibrous leaves, much less spit out all the little spikes.

I can only say "mostly" with regard to our organic gardening because I have one weakness:  poison ivy.  That horrid stuff follows me around.  It stalks my ankles (pardon the pun).  We had massive infestations of it at our most recent rental townhouse, and I had my first ever poison ivy rash from it.  I'm amazed I never had a reaction to it before given a) the amount of time I've spent in the woods, and b) that my immune system is completely absurd and reacts to all sorts of things it shouldn't (like foods), so should theoretically be overly sensitive to something as irritating as poison ivy.  That one horrifyingly itchy blistery rash was enough to make me completely paranoid, though. 

When we moved here and I found poison ivy in both front and back gardens, I caved, and bought a pesticide that supposedly specializes in poison ivy.  I have no idea what's in it and frankly don't care.  My concession to my organic gardening was to use as little as possible.  It worked.  Mostly.  I just discovered 2 stems and 6 little poison ivy leaves in my front garden this weekend.  A pox on the stuff!

Back to the things that are supposed to be in the garden.  Here's my kale.  It tied with potatoes for 1st place in my garden.  After harvesting more than half of it, and following several hard frosts, it still looks like this:

Looks like I have a lot more blanching and freezing to do.  My Brussels sprouts, in contrast, were pretty pathetic.  Check out how weenie those little sprouts are:

But damnit, I'm going to eat them, regardless.  I'll carefully shave them off with a sharp thin knife and chuck them in the pot of stew.  One thing is for sure - they won't need to be in there long to be cooked through.  They'll be hard to distinguish from the peas.

Other successes included two varieties of incredibly good peas, several varieties of lettuce and arugula, a pretty crop of onions, and some delicious butternut squash, including one that is staggeringly huge.  The mint, of course, is threatening to take over the whole garden, and some of the other herbs did really well, too.  Complete failures included okra, some cool twisty gourds that never appeared at all, and carrots (one feathery frond appeared but never grew a root).

I wish we had more space for vegetable gardening.  The only part of our yard that gets enough sun for veggies is the front yard.  Thankfully, the neighborhood isn't so persnickety that anyone is inclined to complain about our unruly veggie patch in the front yard.  We did mix in flowers and try to make it look vaguely like an overgrown perennial patch rather than just a vegetable garden, but we're really out of room for any more vegetable gardens.  While we live here I'll have to just make do with a little veggie garden dabbling, and lots of trips to the farmers' markets.

While not edible, I am particularly proud of my holly.  I'm partial to holly generally since it's my namesake.  However, when we moved in all our gardens were in shameful condition, and the poor holly plants were practically dead - largely bare branches with a few scraggly blighted leaves.  I couldn't even tell at the time if I had a male and female, which is necessary if berries are desired.  Lots of organic acidification and TLC later, and here's my female holly this fall, a year and a half later:

Lookin' good!


Ellen Rathbone November 10, 2009 at 10:42 AM  

You could try using row covers over your cabbage family plants. Done at the right time, you could avoid the butterflies laying their eggs and having them hatch into the little green worms.

If slugs are a problem, try sprinkling wood ashes around the garden beds. Keep the grass short around the edges (the slugs hide out there). And there's always the good ol' beer trap.

I've never had luck with cauliflower, and this year my broccoli was also a lost cause. I think I'll give broccoli one more year before I call it quits. The same holds true for corn.

Woodswoman Extraordinaire: November 10, 2009 at 10:56 AM  

Ellen, thanks for the suggestions. We certainly have slugs, and my beer traps haven't been overly effective, so I'll definitely be trying the wood ashes. Like leaves, we have plenty! I'll also look for row covers. Thanks!

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