Update: Extending Fall Harvest with Mini-Greenhouse-Pods

2/20/17 Update:  I didn’t get any greens over the winter, but it looks like I’ll get plenty of spinach and lettuce a head of everyone else, and my rosemary bush survived.  Not bad for the first try.


Update:  This is the garden and pod after 24 hours of 10 – 14 degreed F weather in mid-December 2016.

Surprisingly, the broccoli (and some weeds) survived with no water buffer.  The blue-green plastic I put on the plants are Wall o’ Waters, empty of water.  I figured two layers of heavy plastic couldn’t hurt!


The two pods with Wall o’ Water covering and without are shown below.  The rosemary, choi and spinach did very well.  The lettuce survived, but not very well and I doubt it will turn out to be productive before January kills it.  It looks like the rosemary may survive all winter.



Last Tuesday, 12/6, I harvested the last of the greens from the garden, finding a nice batch of chard, spinach and even a little kale under frost-wilted outer leaves.  But I knew the end was near with several days well below freezing predicted.  Below is a picture of the final harvest before I opened up the garden and let the chickens in.


By yesterday, 12/11, the chickens had stripped out all of the frost wilted greens, the clover cover crop, and even a lone (and thorny) artichoke that decided to finally grow far to late for me to get any benefit of it.  You’ll note the plastic “pods”:  the big ones are about 2′ x2′ x 3′.  The lone blue pod is where I put a dahlia bulb in a deep hole — the highest point of the bulb is about 18″ deep — and then covered it with hay and then the blue half barrel shown.  I hope the bulb will be sound when I dig it up in the spring:  that is the experiment.


The last few nights the temperature had dropped down to the low 20s, so I added buckets of water to fend off freezing temperatures.  Since freezing water is exothermic (gives off heat) the temperature inside the pods should stay at the freezing point (but no lower) until all of the water in the five gallon buckets has frozen — though obviously the plants further from the bucket will be colder.  As you can see below, so far so good.


The plot on the left is:  rosemary, toy choi, spinach and lettuce.  The plot on the right is the same, minus the rosemary, and plus some volunteer garlic.  The difference is, the lettuce on the left was transplanted, and the spinach on the right was transplanted.  (All of the toy choi was transplanted.)  Next year I’ll have to specifically plant little 2′ x 3′ plots with the pods in mind, since transplanting really knocked back the growth.

Thursday night is supposed to drop down to the low teens, and stay there for over 24 hours!  I’d hoped my mini-greenhouse-pods would last at least through December, but the plants may not make it through this atypically cold onslaught.  I plan to add a layer of plastic over them and the buckets — and to gather enough greens for a salad on Wednesday night, just in case.

Below is what’s inside the smallest pod (a cracked storage container that worked as an excellent cold frame this spring):  broccoli.  I don’t see any way this is going to survive the extreme cold on the way.


It’s Time to Plant Garlic!

Planting Garlic Update (2/20/17) — so far so good!


At least I think it is.  One rule of thumb is plant garlic on Columbus Day, another is after a few frosts, and I went with Rule No. 2 given this year’s long and balmy fall.  The first frost last year was mid-October, and this year was on November 11.

These are Russian garlic cloves and bulbs (a hard neck variety) that I bought from the Enon Valley Garlic Company at the Seven Springs, PA Mother Earth News fair.  I picked them because they were midway in terms of hotness, and mostly because the cloves were very large, which will make processing the cloves much easier as I use them.  The selection at the MEN fair was much larger than on the Enon Valley website.


The Enon Valley website has planting instructions and I based this effort on them.  My raised garden is made up of rotted wood chips, and the parsnip harvest showed that better drainage is needed for some root crops, and garlic needs well draining soil, so I mixed in a little sand and set the garlics in place on top of the natural level of my garden.  The garlic should be spaced so that when the bulb grows to maturity there will be 2″ between finished bulb.


I dug a ditch around the garlic to help with the drainage, and mixed the dirt from the ditch with some sand.  Maybe 10% sand; maybe less.  Then I shoveled this on top of the garlic.  I added about 2″ of partially decomposed chips, and then about 2″ (pressed down) of hay, followed by chicken barriers — since the chickens have the run of the garden in the winter, and since they destroyed my garlic last year.

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The idea behind planting in the fall is that the roots will grow and get a head-start in the spring leading to stronger plants and bigger bulbs, but care must be taken to not let the plants grow too much before winter comes, thereby expending too much energy only to die.  This is what happened to my garlic last year.  Hopefully I waited long enough!

Growing and Cooking Parsnips

two-fat-ladiesI loved watching the Two Fat Ladies, and if you like cooking and have not watched their shows, give them a go.  The show ended when Jennifer Paterson died of lung cancer (she smokes quite a lot on the show), but while she lived, hers was a colorful and joyous existence.  One of the things they cooked on their show was parsnips.  I had heard the word, but had never taken a bite of one.  I bought some, tried Jennifer’s recipe, and it was good.  I have tried cooking them other ways, and not so much.

The recipe from Cooking with the Two Fat Ladies, snapped from my book, is at the bottom of this post.  Yes, there is a lot of cream and butter (they are fat, duh).

This is the second year I grew parsnips, and they seem to be easy to grow.  Make a groove in the dirt, put the seeds in it, cover it up and up they sprout.  Thin them after a few weeks to about six inches per plant, and then just wait for fall to pull them up.  I had a single ten-foot row of parsnips and harvested 5.5 pounds of parsnips.  Parsnips cost $2.68/pound at Wallmart so I saved $15.  Whooo hooo!  But the flavor is better out of the garden, and they are very easy to grow so I’ll keep planting them.  If you want to grow them, the soil should be loose, and well draining.  The rotted wood chips I use in my raised bed garden held too much water (especially problematic this year) and some roots had started to rot a little.  Also, to improve their flavor, they’re supposed to be harvested after a frost or two.  I harvested early this year because I saw new and vigorous mole activity in the garden, and they tasted great anyway.

Whether bought in the store or pulled from the ground, they will have to be washed, skinned and cooked so the effort isn’t very different.  I did these chores for all of my parsnips at once, and then froze them in chunks in freezer bags:  2.5 cups per bag.  The parsnips coming out of the garden certainly had more interesting shapes than those out of the store, which are usually shaped like fat, poorly proportioned carrots.  Sometimes out of the store they are woody — this has never happened out of my garden.  When I buy parsnips I avoid the very fattest ones since they’re the ones most likely to be woody.

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The recipe I use is very similar to the Jennifer Paterson’s:

  • Toast a slice of bread (doing this first allows the toast to dry out).
  • Pre-heat oven to 350 F.
  • Put 2 tablespoons of butter into an oven-proof cup and add 3-5 garlic cloves or ramp bulbs (to taste) and microwave until soft.  Coarsely chop the vegetables first.
  • Put the following into a food processor and blend until uniform:
    • Butter and vegetable mix
    • 2.5 cups cooked, cubed parsnips
    • 1/3 cup cream and 1/3 cup milk
    • pinch fresh nutmeg
    • salt & season to taste
  • Taste blended mixture and season as needed.  Add 2 oz chopped ham (small pieces).  Put in a small casserole dish and spread out flat.
  • Break toast up into pieces and turn to crumbs using a small food processor or blender.  I sometimes add pecans and blend them with the toast.  Add salt and seasoning as desired and a drizzle of olive oil.  Blend briefly and spread the crumbs evenly over the top of parsnip puree and gently press down.
  • Bake for about 45 minutes; check in 1/2 hour.  Pull out when nicely browned.


Below is Jennifer Paterson’s recipe: