Garden Cleanup, Cardoons and Carrots and What I Learned

My Monster carrots

Since it’s been chilly in the mornings for a week or more I decided to tackle my severely overgrown beds to make room for some chard, collards, lettuce and other plants I wanted to eat during the winter. With the night temperature only 13 degrees away from freezing I knew this was something I should have done earlier and that I’d better get them in the ground fast. I also had to finish tying up my cardoons and wrapping them in paper for blanching.  It’s more challenging than you might imagine corralling these enormous spiny leaves, getting them all together in a bunch, then getting the twine and some paper secured around them.  The larger plants were so heavy they needed to be further tied to a sturdy stick to remain upright. I don’t know that I’m doing this at the right time or even remotely correctly, but I’m determined to have properly blanched cardoons at least once this winter. After that I’ll plant them as ornamentals for they are exceptionally handsome plants.

The huanzontle, or Red Aztec Spinach, grew tall and extra-voluminous. I didn’t have much success in the cooking department having waited perhaps too long to commit its seed heads to the kitchen. The buds that should have been eaten while green were now a dusky scarlet. I really wanted to free up that bed for other vegetables, but I also wanted to see just how intense the color would get. I ended up with a weak compromise, cutting away some of the heavily seeded branches and using them to cover a bed I had dug a few weeks earlier and planted with all the half-used packages of radish, turnip and bok-choy seeds left from other gardening seasons. I figured the seed heads would protect the ground and the new seedlings, which had in fact come up.  And if any haunzontle sprouts appear next spring I figure I’ll have a second chance at making those huanzontle fritters I like so much.

Until this summer, one of the toughest challenges in gardening was to actually harvest anything that made it to the edible stage.  My confidence wasn’t strong, hands-on knowledge was iffy and it always seemed so remarkable that anything grew at all that I could hardly bring myself to pick it. Instead I watched the gorgeous purple kohlrabi betting bigger and lumpier until they were fibrous and tough beyond redemption. I let the chard go to seed and then tried eating the prunings; I let the lettuce make it’s bitter towers then flower instead of just eating it and planting more.

But since moving my garden into the sunshine and away from competing roots of the apple trees greedy for water, I realize that I no longer have that problem to such a degree, although I was still reluctant to use everything up by eating it.  So not surprisingly I managed to find some gnarly and neglected Oakley Sunglasses cheap carrots of such heft that I would have walked right past them if I had seen them at the farmers market. But since they were mine, I looked at them with awe and immediately wanted to rinse of the dirt and barbarically roast them whole.  Some beets too, had gotten away from me. One weighed in at pound and others were close to that. Again, they wouldn’t have been my first choice at the market, but both they and the giant carrots turned out to be sweet and delicious when I cooked them. Those damn Fairy Tale eggplants that I had planted in excess finally had to go even though they were still producing. I’d had enough of fiddling with them, plus they weren’t my favorite variety in the end, so up came two plants and with them, 38 eggplants, many of them now too pale and seedy to be much good. I never dreamed I’d be able to do such a thing—yank up a producing plant, but I did. In it’s place, collards have been planted.

I saw my gardening mistakes from the season: too much of this, not enough of that and no skill at keeping the crops coming. But I saw some surprising success, too.  The black-eyed peas, which have been the most entertaining plant ever, did just as well in their open bed with no drip and only intermittent care as they did in the coddled home of their store-bought soil-filled raised bed and its steady drip system.  Ditto the Rosa Bianca eggplant and the daikon.  The tomatoes really did need more room than I had given them, and they all listed towards westward, as if trying to climb out of their cages to smother whatever was in the next bed. Next year I’ll put them more towards the west end of the lot and give them a lot more room, just the way the gardening books tell you to.  I had planted some chard seeds next to a row of chard that were already about 10-inches tall. (I learned that a single row provided far more than I could possible eat, giving me plenty to share.) These newbies had spent the summer shaded by their big brothers and sisters so they cheap oakley never really grew up, but now I viewed them as bonus cache of transplants.  I moved them to a new bed and put a cover over the hoops in hopes that I’ll have some fresh greens during the winter after all. Cumin and anise were fun to grow, but not a very efficient use of limited space. However the anise is very pretty in bloom.  The vetch seeds have turned out to be really vigorous and hopefully they will do something good for this tired looking dirt, along with the red clover. The amaranth I planted which was supposed to be red, instead made pale green frothy looking seed heads that are towering over the too close tomatoes. I should probably pull it up, but I’m going to wait until it forms seeds, then I’ll use it as mulch for another bed. If new plants come up, fine.  And they should. After all this splendid amaranth appears to be a gigantic version of what’s growing in my garden as weeds. Finally, when I dug up a celery plant, I realized what I really had were four or five celeries (lesson: next year thin more rigorously) that had grown together and produced a massive fusion of the same snaky roots that will be found covering the nearby celeriac. And that, by the way, is really doing really well, but I’ve no room for anything else in the kitchen.  I really am cooking as fast as I can, so the celeriac will have to wait until we cook our way through the eggplants, carrots and beets.

I think I see a root cellar in my future.

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