Saturday, September 28, 2013

Cool Down Boosts Veggie Production

The cooler weather and half an inch of rain have conspired to give the late summer garden a boost in productivity. Suddenly, the okra plants are producing two or three pods at a time, rather than doling them out one by one. Beans that we were ready to pull up and compost have caught their second wind. I froze several pints last week, and am going out this morning to harvest more.

Likewise, the peppers are flush with blooms and new green fruits. Because they are growing on one of our walk-in coldframes this year, the peppers should continue to bear until Thanksgiving. If the ground remains warm, even a light frost should not stop their production.

If you don't have a coldframe, you can nevertheless extend the pepper season by at least a couple of weeks. When frost is predicted, uproot the plants, shake off most of the soil and place the roots in a bucket of water. Set the plant in a protected spot, such as a garage, and the fruits should continue to ripen normally for a while longer.

Bak choy, lettuce, mache, cilantro, scallions, chervil, spinach and radishes that I have planted in the last few weeks are all up and going strong. I intend to transplant bak choy this afternoon. The others will take a bit longer to get large enough. The radishes will stay in their container until they mature. I have finally learned to thin radishes as soon as they are about an inch tall, keeping them about two inches apart. When they are the size of a marble, pull every other one for salad, and let the remaining ones mature to golf-ball size.

Jerusalem artichokes are blooming along the roadside near our house. The plant is Helianthus tuberosus, a North American native that has been used as food for centuries. They are exceptionally easy to grow, to the point that they can become invasive if not restrained. A large raised bed is best, because the plants are confined. If you plant them where they can spread freely, be sure to harvest every single tuber each fall, or they can become hard to control. Also, cut the flowers before seeds form. Otherwise, self-sown seedlings can pop up all over the garden. They make beautiful cut flowers. The tubers can be prepared in a variety of ways, much like potatoes.

Dill stars in the herb garden at this time of year, with its bright yellow flowers that attract butterflies, and the savory leaves for potato salad and fish dishes. Basil plants can start to look worn out if you have harvested them regularly. It is time to consider removing them to make way for parsley, chervil and cilantro. Preserve the flavor of fresh basil by making pesto, basil butter, or flavored oil. Recipes for all these abound on the Internet. Mint is at its best at this time of year. Harvest the smaller leaves for the best flavor. Mint can be preserved as syrup. Make a simple syrup consisting of two parts water and one part sugar. Bring to a simmer, dissolving all the sugar, and remove from the heat. Add an ounce or two of mint leaves, crushed, to the warm syrup. Allow to cool overnight, then strain. Freeze the syrup in ice cube trays, then store the cubes in a zipper bag in the freezer. Use them to add summer flavor to winter fruit dishes, and to drizzle over ice cream or cake.

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