Let's Get Dirty
A gardening blog for adults who still love to play in the dirt.
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By Penny Stine
Tuesday, December 30, 2014
Here’s my east garden covered in snow. Last year, the sight of it in late December sent me into a tailspin of sadness, but this year, it's not as cold, nor has the snow been there that long, so I'm not as sad and can appreciate the snow. It's actually good for the garden, since I have garlic, onions and spinach all planted and waiting for the right time to germinate. I’ve seen spinach sprout at the end of January, as soon as the snow is gone, so I’ll be keeping an eye on it.
In the meantime, I’ve been getting seed catalogs in the mail. One of the companies that I’ve purchased from in the past must have sold my name, since I’m getting catalogs from a bunch of companies that I’ve never ordered from. Normally, that would annoy me, but since it gives more garden porn to peruse, I’m OK with it!
The only bad thing is that it makes me want to tear out more lawn in the spring so I can plant more, and my hubby says no. Actually, I can't handle a bigger garden, either, but it sure is fun to dream about room for more melons, different cucumbers and lots of tomatoes in the middle of winter.
By Penny Stine
Friday, December 19, 2014
I went home for lunch today and decided to check on some of the plants that I left still doing their thing out in the garden last month. It’s been fairly mild, so I wasn’t surprised to see that they’re doing just fine.
This is the Swiss chard that I found when I was going to pull the broccoli. It looks like it’s grown since last time and is doing quite well. The broccoli is pretty sad. I really should have yanked it out. If I think about it, I’ll pick the chard and eat it this weekend. Yes, I know there's not enough to eat much, but still... I'm picking Swiss chard in December. How cool is that?
This is the Brussels sprouts that never produced anything. Maybe I’ll have sprouts by Valentine’s Day. And maybe it will freeze next month and I'll pull out a dead plant in February.
The kale surprised me, because out of everything that I left out there, it’s the one thing I know that can survive, no matter how cold it gets. All the kale I picked this summer was from kale that I had planted two to four years previously.
This kale certainly looks dead as the proverbial doorknob. I have a feeling that when I cut it back in mid-February, it will start growing again, which is what usually happens.
I had a bunch of carrots that were coming up from seed I scattered quite some time ago. They weren’t big enough, so I just covered them all in straw. It looks like they’re alive and well under the straw. I’ve read that they’ll overwinter just fine like that, but sometimes they become a target for bugs looking for something tasty.
I’m sure we’ll get some colder weather in January, but so far, all of this bodes well for my early spring garden.
By Penny Stine
Monday, December 15, 2014
Yes, tomatillos. I've grown them for years, but this year, my appreciation for tomatillos is growing by leaps and bounds. In previous years, I usually made green salsa or just canned them with tomatoes, chiles and spices to create a Mexican sauce. After talking to a friend of mine who worked as a missionary in Mexico for several years and who used them for so much more than green salsa, I decided to simply freeze most of the tomatillos that I grew, with plans to experiment with them more this winter.
Freezing them was easy - I peeled the papery husk and washed the stickiness off, then put them in a freezer bag. I ended up without about 4 or 5 gallon bags full of tomatillos.
So far, I've used them in pork stew, chicken stew and in the crock pot when I cooked a roast beef and potatoes. Cooking them for a long time rids them of that tart, almost bitter tang and adds a touch of lemony sweetness. They were really good with the roast beef and potatoes. Yes, even my hubby (who is not a No. 1 fan of tomatillos) agreed that the roast was good. They also help to thicken soups, stews and sauces, which is a plus.
The good news is that tomatillos are one of the most economical crops to grow. Once you plant them, they often come back in following years, especially if you're not very good about picking up every last tomatillo that falls to the ground at the end of the season. I deliberately left a bunch on the ground, so I'm sure I'll have plenty of tomatillo plants to share with friends next spring.
By Penny Stine
Monday, December 8, 2014
It was such a nice day on Sunday here in the Grand Valley that I decided to go finish clearing and cleaning up my garden. I had left a few plants out there in November when I tore out almost everything. Most of them had died, dried and were obviously done.
Then I saw this Swiss chard plant, which had been hidden by the enormous broccoli plant next to it, and it looked green and healthy, like it wasn’t quite done growing. Rather than tear it out, I gave it a gallon of water to drink. I left the broccoli in place, too, figuring that perhaps the broccoli was shielding the Swiss chard from the cold. Or something like that.
The nice thing about plants surviving this late is that the bugs are long gone. In the summer, some of my Swiss chard got chewed up by those little leafhoppers that suck all the pigment out of the leaves, but that's one thing I don't have to contend with right now.
I had two other Swiss chard plants in this other bed, and you can see that they don’t look near as healthy as the other one. But I wondered if maybe they’re just thirsty and no quite ready to be done for the season, so I watered them both, too, and left them where they were.
With night time temperatures only dropping into the 20s and daytime temps in the 50s, it will be interesting to see if they grow at all in the next week.
I’m already thinking about what I can cook next weekend that will use just a few small Swiss chard leaves.
I know, it's December and I should accept that the garden is done, but as you can see, it's just not that easy for me!
By Penny Stine
Wednesday, December 3, 2014
When I planted herbs in the spring, I made certain to put the rosemary and the pesto perpetuo basil in pots. Rosemary is a tender perennial, which means that it grows best in places where it doesn’t get as cold as we get here in Grand Junction, and may survive if you bring it inside when it gets sub-zero. In previous years, I've brought in pots of rosemary, only to have them die in the house, but I planted it in this big planter last spring with high hopes in spite of my history.
As you can see, the rosemary is looking quite healthy. The flowers in the pot have powdery mildew (and should have been pulled a couple of weeks ago, but I'm a lousy indoor gardener), but the rosemary looks good. I’ve got it in a sunny spot on the floor in my living room. The south-facing window is also a pop-out, which means that there’s no crawl space and not much insulation under the window, so the floor stays cold all the time, while the sun coming in the window keeps the air relatively warm.
Pesto perpetuo basil is a variety that’s supposed to be a perennial, too, so it didn’t try to flower and go to seed at all in the summer. I can't tell any difference in taste between this type of basil and the traditional Italian basil I also grew over the summer.
I also have high hopes for this basil, which appears to be pretty healthy and happy in my living room. It's about 18 inches tall. Probably if I stripped every leaf from the plant, I'd have enough basil to make one or two little batches of pesto. Since I want it to last all winter, I haven't actually cut enough leaves for pesto.
I have, however, used both the basil and the rosemary for cooking, which makes me happy. Walking to the living room to pluck a few leaves before cooking isn’t quite the same as a good garden stroll in the evening, but you do what you gotta do in December.
I’m also still using sage from this plant, which is outside on the south side of my house, rather than inside, near a south-facing window. As the winter progresses and the plant gets chilled and dehydrated, the leaves will start to not look as good and fresh, but they’ll still be flavorful for cooking.