Thursday, 1 August 2013

The First of the Storage Vegetables

Garlic harvest is always an exciting point in the year. It marks the point where we start storing harvested vegetables, other than freezing them. When the garlic has about 3 yellowing leaves on the bottom, it's time to dig them up - carefully - and cure them for storage.

We tie them into small bundles of a dozen heads, or fewer, and then tie the bundles onto a longer string of about 6 or 8 bundles. Here's Mr. Ferdzy making one of the bundles.

Then they are hung from a rafter in our garage, where they will be quite warm, but out of the sun and with good air circulation, for about 2 weeks. This allows the remaining leaves to die down, and for the outer layers of skin over the cloves to become firm and strong. After this the garlic can be trimmed, cleaned, and stored in a cool but not cold spot, for up to a year. I am still using up the last few heads from last year, and they are fine - a few have signs of sprouting, and I threw out a few that went bad, but the large majority of our garlic stored without trouble all year. We kept them in our laundry room, which is little cooler than the rest of the upstairs but not as cold as the basement in the winter, in egg cartons. I don't think we will be able to use egg cartons this year - most of our garlic is going to be too large to fit!

Next up, the first of the potatoes are harvested. Mr. Ferdzy examines the first potato of the year, before digging up the rest of this batch. These are Envol potatoes, and we planted half the bed with them. You can see where the next variety of potato, a longer season one, has not yet started to die down like the Envol.

We tried an experiment this year with our Envol potatoes. We did not plant them in the spring, with the other potatoes, but in the fall of last year, around September 30th. It was then overplanted with spinach seed, and covered with a hoop-house.

This achieved several things, although not what we wanted, which was noticeably earlier potatoes. However, getting the potatoes in the ground in the fall freed up time in the spring when we are always under severe time pressure to get everything planted. Having the spinach planted over them worked as expected: the spinach grew well (enough) and when it started to bolt in early June was when the potatoes were starting to appear above ground, so we then pulled out the spinach and let the potatoes do their thing.

They looked like they were much further ahead than the remainder of the bed, which was planted when the spinach came out with mid-season potatoes, but they seemed to just go on and on. It turns out we did dig them 3 days earlier than we did last year, and that is not a totally fair comparison because this year has been very cool in comparison to last year, which got hot early and stayed hot. So I would say that, yes, we probably did get our potatoes earlier than we would have if we had planted them in the spring, and perhaps by as much as 2 weeks. It's just hard to see because of the difference in the 2 years.

The other unexpected result was the volume of the harvest. At first glance, we thought we got a very similar harvest to last year. Then we realised that we had planted the potatoes considerably further apart than we did last year. When we did a mathematical conversion we realised that the harvest was about 40% more than should have been the case if we had done the same spacing last year! Of course, plants don't necessarily work on a straight mathematical progression, so again, it's hard to be sure the comparison is completely fair. Still, there's no question this experiment was a complete success.

The two things we will change when we do it again this year is to see if we can get the potatoes and spinach planted a little earlier and also we will return to normal spacing on the potatoes - it doesn't look like that will be a problem at all. The spinach was planted late enough that germination was spotty and the spinach harvest could have been better, although really, we had plenty in the end.

We had the idea to do this because we are always missing potatoes when we dig them up, and then they come up in a bed where they are not supposed to be in the next year, without fail... we thought we would put that tendency to work for us.

On the other hand, I kind of blew it with the watermelons. Having grown short season watermelons (generally also short vined) for a few years now, I decided to try a much larger range of watermelons. I forgot to take into account... larger... and range...! Some of the smaller ones are being smothered, I think, and I hope those peppers in the next bed are braced to repel boarders, also the tomatoes, and the broccoli, and the cauliflowers... oh dear. Well they haven't needed much weeding; there's that.

Still, I like watermelon. And I think we might get some.

The earliest peas have been pulled out, except for handful left to go to seed. We've planted new peas in their place. Whether they make it to production before the mildew gets them remains to be seen. The beans behind them are just hitting their stride. We've been eating most of them fresh, but within the next week there will be more than we can manage and the excess will start going into the freezer for winter eating. It still seems a long way away, but the season is winding on.

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