Ready for Winter

October 26, 2017

 

We are ready for winter – rain barrels are emptied, eaves troughs cleaned, equipment put away and wood sheds stocked. And just in time, too. We awoke to a blanket of white this morning and the forecast is for -10C tonight. There is a good chance the snow will disappear tomorrow (fingers crossed!), as the forecast is sunny and +3C. While I would be more than happy with a few more weeks without snow, its nice to know that we are ready when it does decide to stay.

Garden update:

The garden has been put to bed for the winter. After everything was harvested, which was not until mid October this year, Ken tilled the soil. If you remember in the spring, when I planted the garden, I planted in large 5 foot wide beds, with walking rows in-between. I removed the top 6 inches or so of soil off the walking paths and put it onto the garden beds. Then I mulched the paths as well as the beds. As planned, we tilled under the beds only this fall, leaving the walking paths.  We will see how it works in the spring when he tills once again before planting time.

Our expanded garden area is coming along nicely. The Forage Radishes we planted in the space this fall are growing nicely. The roots can grow to 6 feet long, opening up the soil as they grow. I pulled out several of ours and the main root is over 6 inches long, with small roots going even deeper. And they are good to eat too. Hot and spicy. I even pickled some for winter eating and they are delicious.

Composting:

Instead of hauling off the garden scraps at the end of the year- carrot tops, tomato greens, etc – and making a compost heap that takes years to compost down, I like using the sheet composting method. I leave all the scraps on the garden beds after harvest and then we till them into the soil. I also empty the compost bin directly onto the garden beds as well. The bin is generally full by the fall with kitchen scraps and partially decomposed. It gets tilled into the soil to fully decompose. The soil then has the fall and spring to compost this organic matter. I love this method of composting and found it works well if you have a good tiller. We have a 5 foot wide rototiller that pulls behind our tractor. It does a great job but is not fond of vines – cucumber or squash. They get twisted round the blades then have to be cut off. However, I found if I used the machete and chopped up the vines into 1 or 2 foot sections, the tiller would work them in just fine. By spring most of this organic matter will be decomposed. In the spring, I empty the compost bin with the kitchen scraps accumulated over the winter and this all gets tilled in again. By planting time there are few remnants left, and those left will compost over the summer. Its the lazy man’s compost but it works so well. I rotate my compost bin around the garden each spring and fall to spread the wealth. (If you have pests or disease, you will have to cart away that vegetation to compost elsewhere so it doesn’t spread. ) The only thing we haul off to a separate compost area is the corn and sunflower stalks.

I was using one of those black plastic compost bins for my kitchen scraps, but it got pretty beat up in a wind storm this fall. We are currently brainstorming ideas for constructing a new one.  One that is a little bigger but still easy to empty and move around as I move it each spring and fall.

Fall Planting:

This year I tried a fall planting of spinach, onion and garlic. After the garden was tilled, I planted a section that could be left undisturbed in the spring. After the October long weekend, I planted. Firstly I planted garlic, lots of garlic – some cloves I bought from a market in BC (hope they survive a Manitoba winter!), some cloves I grew myself this year (I planted purchased cloves in the spring and got a couple dozen small heads. I planted the big cloves hoping to multiply my harvest), some cloves that a local garlic grower gave me (Thanks Olive)  and some garlic seed bulbs (from the seed heads that form on the garlic as it grows). The seed bulbs will take 2 years to fully mature. Next summer these bulbs should form large garlic ‘onions’ –  it looks like one large solid garlic, not split into cloves. I plan to dig them up them next summer (August) and store them until the fall. In the fall, you plant the garlic ‘onions’ and the following year they should form large garlic heads. I have been taking lessons from some local garlic growers and am determined to learn to grow great garlic.

I also planted a few ‘Multiplier’ onions. I had some left over from this spring that I forgot to plant and my local source (Olive) told me that she often plants them in the fall for early onions in the spring. I am always willing to try something new!

And I planted spinach. I have tried this before with mixed success. This year I planted two ways – a few small rows that will be within a cold frame and a few rows out in the garden. My plan is early next May I will cover the cold frame with the glass cover (right now only the wood frame is in the garden) and hope that the sun will warm up the soil and the spinach will germinate and come up early. The spinach planted in the garden, I am thinking, should come up a bit later. Then I can plant more spinach when I plant in the spring for a later crop. Spinach loves the cooler weather and my spring planted crop often bolts before it gets a chance to develop well.  This year, I did a second planting of spinach in August and it was just getting nice in October. I got a small harvest off it. I will likely try a late summer planting next year as well and try for a better fall harvest.

Hothouse Update:

Hothouse with peppers, eggplant and basil

The little greenhouse/hothouse Ken built for me this spring worked out really well.  After my transplants – tomatoes, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, etc, were planted out in the garden, I planted the peppers, eggplant and basil directly into the soil in the hothouse opening the windows as needed to prevent overheating. The plants loved the hot environment and grew like crazy. I had buried a soaker hose in the soil and kept the hothouse watered through the soaker hose attached to a rain barrel.

Some of the peppers grew right out of the hothouse and the plants had to be trimmed down in order to close the windows. I had a few peppers sunburnt but only a couple. I had a banner harvest, picking a big bowl of red, orange, green and purple peppers. I had planted a couple peppers in the garden and from those I got 1 green pepper. The difference was obvious and I will continue to grow peppers this way in future years. The fruit was large and fleshy – just like store bought, but better!

The eggplant on the west side produced 2 big eggplants. My first ever produced. The one on the east side did not produce. The basil did incredibly well. I was able to have fresh basil early, all summer long and well into October. The last leaves I harvested in late October and froze as pesto. The basil grown in the garden did well for July and August only. We had plenty for fresh eating and I dried some for winter use.

 

Brassica Cages:

The net cages that Ken made for the cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and kale worked like a charm. I got 4 large cabbage heads, 3 cauliflower, several cuttings of broccoli and tons of kale. I planted kale around the edges of the cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli so that once they were finished producing and were pulled out, the kale could take over the cage. I will do this again next year. I also planted kale in the garden and it produced well early in the year, until August. Then the cabbage butterflies got the best of them and ate them up. Good thing the kale in the cages was doing well by then. We harvested kale right up to mid October when I finally cleaned it all out so that Ken could till the garden under.

Harvest Update:

What a great garden year 2017 was. My best garden to date, and I have been gardening for over 50 years! In most part, I think it was because I finally had time to devote to the garden. With most of the house building done, I had time for mulching, weeding, watering, harvesting and preserving. And we made such good use of the produce. It helps that we had our Workawayers here for part of July, all of August and part of September. These volunteers not only helped in the garden but really appreciated the fresh produce. Everyday we would see what it had to offer and plan our meals around its bounty. And they helped me preserve what we couldn’t eat. Nothing wasted this year.

The basement storage rom is loaded with jars of dill pickles, sauerkraut, tomatoes, tomato sauce, salsa, corn, pickled radish, relish, and apple sauce. As well, I have jars of dried herbs and greens. This winter I am going to try making green smoothies out of dried greens – kale, spinach, beet greens, parsley, nettle, lambs quarters, etc.  Dehydrating is a great way to preserve produce for the winter. I also have dehydrated apple chips, kale chips, rose hips, and mushrooms.


 

The root cellar has pails of carrots, beets and potatoes. I have difficulty keeping carrots all winter long. The potatoes and beets seem to keep well, but the carrots get mushy. Everyone I asks says they keep theirs in a spare fridge, I luxury I don’t have. Last year I tried storing them in wood ashes, something I have lots of. Not a success. They still got wet and I ended up with wet ashes on them. This year, I am trying sawdust, also something I have lots of. Both the beets and carrots are stored in pails layered with sawdust. So far I like it. Much nicer to dig through than ashes and I can use the pails sawdust after for feeding the central composter for the composting toilets (it gets fed a weekly diet of sawdust and peat moss).

The geraniums are also stored in the root cellar. I bring the geraniums in in the fall and store in the root cellar. In April, I bring them upstairs and start watering them again. By end of May they are ready to go back outside for another season.

Bench seat removed and cover off the dumb waiter

We have a trap door in the front entrance that leads to the root cellar. It has been great for bringing in the produce and getting the geraniums in and out of the root cellar. Open the trap door, hook the hook on the rope onto your pail and lower it down to the person in the root cellar. Unhook the pail and send the hook back up for the next pail. Geranium pots are put into pails to move them up and down. So much easier on your back. A simple dumb waiter.


Our freezer is packed with frozen garden produce as well – corn, snow peas, green beans, kale, green broad beans, local cherries, choke cherries, cranberries, sea buckthorn, raspberries, and strawberries. In fact, our freezers were packed to capacity. We had a small apartment sized chest freezer and the 3 freezer drawers in our Vestfrost fridge. We decided to replace the chest freezer with a larger more efficient one and found a great Danby Premiere Energy Star upright freezer with 8.2 cubic feet of storage. I found boxes to fit on the shelves and you can pack a lot of produce into this baby. The boxes help keep the cold air in when you open the door and allow you to pack a lot more stuff on each shelf. It uses just a touch more electricity than our small chest freezer did, and provides a lot more room. We keep it out in the unheated porch so it doesn’t  run much in the cold weather when power is less abundant. We moved the chest freezer to the garage, and I will be able to freeze more garden produce next year.

I still have some garden produce in the sunroom right now. All my squashes are being stored there while they ripen and harden for storage in the basement. I have some tomatoes still ripening for fresh eating and canning. And I have some late harvest herbs drying.

 

Although I am sad to say goodbye to the nice fall we were having, its kind of nice to start a new season. We have been working outside since the spring and now its time to concentrate on indoor projects. The upstairs bathroom is next on the list, then the upstairs hardwood floors.

Today was a snow day, our first snowfall of the year. We enjoyed our morning and evening walks, using the bush trails to avoid the brisk north wind. The scenery has changed. No more walking on crunchy leaves.  Hanna (German Sheppard) loves the snow, Sox (the cat) not so much.

The solar panels were covered in ice and snow this morning. Ken cleaned off the snow and although it is cloudy out, there was enough sun to burn off the ice layer and let in a bit of solar power. Not enough to fully charge the batteries but enough to top them off. Today we watch our electricity consumption. Enough for the necessities – fridge and freezers (both in cold rooms so not running much)  and computers LOL,  but not enough for power tools, blenders or electric mixers. However, the local town was without power this morning for over an hour. So while we have to watch our consumption, we still have power.

Today we relax and live simply. The wood stove is on so we have heat and hot water. I mixed up a batch of dough (by hand, no electric dough mixer today) for a nice garlic, olive focaccia bread and made a big pot of Red Lentil, Carrot and Coconut Milk Soup. A pot of Chili Non Carne is simmering on the stove for supper. Life is good.

 

 

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About Darlene & Ken

Experiencing life off the grid, building a home, and trying to live sustainably.
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