Digging potatoes? An overwhelming joy?? Perhaps it’s sounding like I need to ‘get out more’, but seriously, there is something magical about scratching in the dirt and almost immediately finding a treasure. Of course it helps if the sun is shining and the birds are singing, but even under less than perfect circumstances potatoes will almost certainly provide a deep sense of fulfillment as they tumble to the surface from some mysterious hiding place where they’ve been quietly doing their thing, with little to no assistance, all summer. I have to admit my potatoes got no attention this year, once they’d been planted. Normally I like to keep mulching and banking them up as the shoots appear, to increase yield. This year that didn’t happen but still they didn’t disappoint. One argument for not growing potatoes is cost. Yes, they are ‘dirt cheap’ at the supermarket but that price includes a whole range of chemical sprays used on commercial potato fields. Strange but true, there’s even a spray to kill the blossoms in order to rush the process and be among the first to harvest. The potato absorbs this, along with all the other chemicals it is subjected to, like a sponge. Might not be talking cents here but homegrown certainly makes more sense. Potatoes are a great intro-crop where soil is not the best and they will grow quite happily with just a scratch of dirt in a bed of eel grass.
Still on the topic of potatoes; this year we tried some fingerlings for the first time. Definitely a winner! They are so delicious and I’m now understanding why seed stock never seems to be that plentiful. Certainly not because these funny looking little spuds aren’t tasty but because they’re just too hard to resist. I know it’s going to take major self-control not to serve up every single one, seed stock included.
Another first for us was Jerusalem artichokes. The plants have grown ridiculously high and look quite magnificent now that they’re in full bloom. Having never actually eaten one I’m just hoping they are not just all show and no taste. My understanding is that the tubers will winter over when left in the ground and be a welcome food source during the ‘hungry months’ of early Spring.
Yet another super reliable, early-Spring crop that helps fill the void in the ‘hungry months’ is the Egyptian or ‘walking’ onion. I might have mentioned them before because I am a great fan of these perennial onions. I am harvesting now from a patch that keeps coming up, year after year, no matter how diligently I cull it. Sure, they take a couple of minutes more to prepare because each clump consists of several smallish onions individually wrapped but this is nothing compared to all the advantages.
This versatile onion can be used as a giant green salad onion or as a regular onion or a leek. The pick shown was used to make a delicious onion soup. I like to keep a few in the salad crisper, already cleaned and ready to go, which totally eliminates any prep time concerns. The time to plant corms for next Spring’s harvest is now. I do have some on hand and am quite happy to share for the cost of postage in Canada.
It’s also well time to plant garlic. In an earlier blog I mentioned that I neglected to do this last Fall and needed to plant in the Spring this year. As it happens I was lucky and the garlic harvest was quite presentable. I think this may have been in part because of the very cold, damp Spring that seemed to drag on forever and no doubt gave the garlic extra time to play catch up. I think it was just a fortunate happenstance that provided the good garlic harvest and I don’t plan to push my luck for a second year.
The Spring might have been bad but September and October have been magnificent.
We have not yet had any frost and the winter crops are all flourishing. This year I grew collard greens for the first time and we are really enjoying them. They’re especially good in soups as they maintain their integrity better than spinach or chard and I will definitely grow them again. They are not popular around these parts, so much so that I have never seen them growing anywhere before, but I can’t imagine why.
Another first we are really enjoying are ground cherries, also not common around here, yet, but an instant hit with anyone who tastes them. These pre-wrapped treats grow on an attractive plant and have a unique bitter/sweet flavour somewhere between a cherry and a cherry tomato. They are annuals and need to be started quite early, from seed.
Looks like we will have an excellent Brussels sprout crop this year, and I believe I have grown the biggest leek yet. And while on the subject of size, I have to brag: one of our spuds won the Biggest, Baddest Potato award at the annual Grand Potato Weigh Off, a fund raiser for the local community hall. My name is presently being engraved on the trophy which incorporates, guess what, a large Mr Potato Head. Does this stand as further proof we need to get out more! In honour of this momentous event I learnt how to make gnocchi. The name is much harder to pronounce than the dish is to make, unless you’re Italian of course. The best I can do is ‘noki’ with a nasal ‘n’ and an extended ‘o’ but who cares? They taste delicious.
There are so many ways to preserve all the joys of a summer garden. Poppy seeds are easy to collect and I like to do it in a careless way, making sure lots of seed falls to the ground so that the beautiful red of their flowers will sprinkle through next year’s garden. I’ve been working on a series of paintings that refers to tall poppies. I know I will particularly enjoy this one when the snow is on the ground. It is presently on display at Laughleton Gallery, in West Chezzetcook and two smaller preliminary studies are being shown at the Rose and Rooster, in Grand Desert.