This Week in the Garden, by Maxine Rogers
You might wonder what it is we are doing in the garden this late in the year. I hope you will be favourably impressed by the variety of vegetables and one very exotic fruit we are harvesting.
We have never done better in late-planting the garden and as a result, we have 3 different kinds of winter lettuce to eat and to lift some of the plants and put them to bed in the polytunnel where it will be much warmer for them.
We just had to repair the polytunnel as we had fastened the wooden frame of the tunnel together with nails, thinking they would hold. We were wrong and some very high winds came and started to pull the nails out of the wood. The edge of the polytunnel was pulled clear away from the outer edge of the beds and we had to push the timers back in place and used screws this time to fasten the wood. Should do for another few years.
I love winter gardening, especially with such warm weather as we have been having in mid-November. All I have to do is to go out shopping. We have heaps of beets and carrots still in the garden. Lots of parsley and rutabagas, cilantro and celery. We tried celariac this year for the first time and they look nice. Our prices are the best in town for organic produce. We get it for the cost of a little study and labour.
Our best, and most unexpected, vegetable crop has to be the Brussels sprouts. I did not expect such bounty as I planted heaps of seedlings in the new garden and was expecting few if any Brussels sprouts. That is because when I first started gardening here, low these many years ago, I planted Brussel’s sprouts and they grew as tall as a pencil but not quite as thick. The soil was terribly poor so I expected a rerun of events in the New Garden.
Everything we planted in the new garden shot up and produced like mad. It was the same soil as in the Old Garden. In fact, the only difference was that we had rotation-grazed sheep on the area that was to become the New Garden for about ten years before converting it into a vegetable garden. The difference is striking and the Brussels sprouts crop is vast.
I was recently talking with an old gardening friend and he said he was not allowed to grow Brussels sprouts because his wife does not like them, thinking them too bitter to be worthwhile. I explained that the bitter Brussels sprouts were bred to stand very straight so they could be machine picked. They were bred without any regard for their flavour. The older varieties are bred to have very mild, even sweet, little cabbages up their stems. Indeed, my sister who was just visiting thought our Brussels sprouts to be much superior in flavour to the ones she can buy in the city.
The crop of, strikingly beautiful, onions I harvested earlier this fall are holding up really well. They are still very crisp and flavourful and vastly superior to any onions I have ever bought. When I first harvested them, I was a little disappointed that they were so small in comparison to the sort I used to buy at the grocery store. I think this difference in size and the soft, watery texture of store-bought onions may come from their being fed a diet of synthetic fertilizer instead of really nutritious compost.
I have had no rot in my stored onions and there is very little waste when I cut them up as they are wrapped in a very thin layer of onion skin and none of the flesh has to be cut away due to spoiling. So, now I can make a soup with my own garlic, onions, celery, carrots, leeks, shallots, parsley, dried beans, meat and tomatoes. The simplest soups we make are judged to be gourmet treats by visitors from the city.
The fruit we just harvested today, in mid-November are persimmons. I was quite surprised as the fruit was from a tree in the orchard. We got about 20 persimmons from the tree and they were just turning orange. That we got any at all is a bit of a miracle. They need a much hotter climate than we have and the need the heat to stay longer than our summer lasts.
The variety I grow is the Nikita’s Gift, hybrid persimmon. These trees are a cross between the very hardy and cold-tolerant North American persimmon and the lovely, sweet persimmons of Asia. Being hybrids, fruit have no seeds.
I have another Nikita’s Gift in the polytunnel and after a few years of dropping all its fruit in the summer, it went and set 18 or so lbs of fruit and they ripened to a deep orange in the extra warmth of the polytunnel. They were still not quite ripe so I brought then inside and got a large paper feed bag. I put some apples in the bag and piled the persimmons on top of them and rolled down the top of the bag. After a few days, the persimmons were gas-ripened to a deep red.
I took them out and ate a few fresh; however, I am alone in my family in my appreciation of fresh persimmons. Being a hybrid with American genes, they are a tiny bit astringent but they dry really well and my family all like dried persimmon candy. Drying is how the Indigenous people in the Americas liked to preserve and eat this fruit.
I will put my orchard-grown persimmons in a paper bag with some apples and see how well they ripen.