31 October 2008

Frosty Blooms

We woke up to a gorgeous frost late last week, the ice crystals were so thick it almost looked like snow. It was also my cue to bring in the last of the carrot and onion harvest. And I'm glad I did because Tuesday this week brought 5 1/2 inches of rain! Probably the last big rainfall for the year, we are expecting snow anytime, and judging from the amount of rain we have had this summer, we will likely have plenty of snow this winter. Climate change scientists have predicted that Atlantic Canada and Northeastern US will recieve heavy precipitation as a consequence of the melting Arctic.

We are prepared for heavy snowfall. Without a car, we do not need to keep the driveway clear, which is one complaint our neighbors have, waking up to three feet of snow. We pack trails out to the road and the barn with snowshoes, and hit the road with our bikes. Our food supply for the winter is stored in the cold room and pantry, so we have little need to get to town. And the thick blanket of snow is actually beneficial to us in the growing season. Last winter's 14 feet of snow replenished the reserve of groundwater to a level that we did not have to water the garden, except directly after transplanting. Also the snow insulated the ground from freezing, which is beneficial to overwintering crops like garlic, winter rye, or crops like chard, parsley and fennel I hope to overwinter for the sake of seed saving. A thick blanket of snow is also beneficial to my garden ecology. Insect eaters like voles and toads fare well, and they are the main predators of my most problematic pests: cucumber beetles, flea beetles, cabbage worms, and potato beetles. So I really do hope the snow comes early and thick, before the ground freezes hard, and stays all winter long.

The brussels sprouts don't mind the heavy frost, even though I got them started a bit late, we will still get a late fall treat. Some of the last fresh greens for a few months.It looks like my crop of broccoli seed is too late this year. The seed pods have formed on many of the plants, but the seeds are not filled out, and will most likely be killed by a freeze. I was hoping to harvest some extra broccoli seed for sprouts in November and December, but at least I know how early to start them next spring. But letting these broccoli heads go to seed was well worth it to see the bees collecting heavy baskets of yellow pollen so late in the year. There is no other souce of pollen for them, not in my garden, and not in the fields around, so perhaps this late bloom will help these wild honey bees survive the winter.
Our onion crop was not the best, but they did well for the poor ground and just adequate manure coverage they were planted into. They were planted from my first crop of saved onion seed, and I was pleased with the germination and vitality of the seed. The best bulbs have been set aside for next year's seed crop.
Our carrots have astonished me this year. Some of them are almost two pounds of crispy sweet carrot flesh! These, and green beans, have been our bumper crops for 2008. I was expecting at most 200 lbs of carrots from the 150 row feet planted, and we tipped the scales, so to speak, with 400 lbs! But it is not just the weight of the harvest that pleases me, the carrots are of a very high quality and flavor, and will store well.


MeadowLark said...

Holy Cow!
Was that a "Franken-Carrot" for Halloween? That thing is HUGE!

Freija and Beringian Fritillary said...

It was almost big enough to be my Halloween costume! And it is not the only one. I should have made a Carmen-style hat with carrots and brussels sprouts instead of bananas and grapes.

Susy said...

WOW, that carrot is huge. My carrots were teeny tiny this year.

So how do you store your carrots for winter?

Maureen said...

And my question would be....how do you know which onion bulbs to save? We are planting onions for only the 3rd time this fall (CA...warm winters) and have never done anything but eat all of ours. Should we be saving the small ones to plant next year...and how do we save them (where, at what temp)?


farm mom said...

Lovely post, as always! :) We've been getting some hard frosts here as well, and we've had sleet but so far no snow. Some mornings the duck pool is frozen over....but those silly birds still swim in it like it's 90 degrees out!! BRR! :)

Freija and Beringian Fritillary said...

Susy, we had lots of bitty carrots last year. I tried using up the small ones first, and then in the early spring, just as they would have started to grow tops and go wimpy, I canned the rest in the pressure cooker. Might be a no-no, but I didn't have enough bottles to do it in the fall, and I wasnt going to let them spoil. They tasted great.

I store my carrots in feed bags, about 50-75lbs per bag. The feed bags are similar to tarp material, woven plastic, so it keeps moisture, but it breathes just enough so that there is no condensation. And the bags are in our make-shift cold room. It is an unheated room with a window to regulate temp. It keeps about 35F through March. I have seen carrots store really well in metal or rubber garbage bins with the lids on, just keep an eye on condensation.

Maureen, you should be able to store onions well in California. They need 60-70F in a dry dark room or cabinet. Moisture and light will encourage them to grow or rot. You would need to cure them first.

For seed saving, choose your best onion bulbs. So if you want large onions, save seeds from your biggest bulbs. I set aside my biggest onions with thin necks and only one stem. I also put aside twice as much as I will need to plant so that I can select for storage ability, and only plant the ones that kept well without sprouting early. Replant the bulbs as early as you can in your growing season, they can handle frosts.

For that matter, you may be able to just leave yours in the ground and let them go to seed. Only if they are not planted in a spot that floods a lot, because they will rot if it's too wet.

farm mom, those ducks are crazy, it's amazing their feet don't freeze!

Maureen said...

Thank You!

Throwback at Trapper Creek said...

I missed this post, our onions did poorly this year for the first time ever. Too many thick necks, even though the only thing different was the weather. So I will have to dry, freeze or pickle the onions that won't keep. I have good luck with potato onions, but I want to save seed from some larger bulb onions too. Thanks.

Freija and Beringian Fritillary said...

Trapper Creek, my research online has taught me that lots of thick necks and slow growing bulbs are a sign of phosphorous and/or potassium deficiency. If the tips of the green leaves turned brown then it is another sign of potassium deficiency.

Throwback at Trapper Creek said...

Thanks Frieja, I will look into the phosphorous deficiency issue, there were no brown tips at all, and all the other alliums in the block (garlics, Walla Walla onions, and potato onions all grew vigorously and matured properly. I always plant set for the larger keeping onions and I'm thinking I should quit the sets - since I have no control over the growing conditions of the sets if I purchase them. Seed or just planting more potato onions would take care of our needs.

Freija and Beringian Fritillary said...

I have never heard of potato onions, are they the same as egyptian walking onions?