Autumn has definitely arrived on the Western Slope. Although we’ve still enjoyed daytime highs in the low eighties, our nighttime temperatures have dropped precipitously and the early mornings have some bite. The leaves are changing and we’re expecting a light frost this week; our first average frost here is October 4, so we’re right on track.
The unusual portfolio of Quiet Farm’s first growing season.
We grew some interesting things this year – some intentionally and some not. The bulky pumpkin-type vegetable in the upper left was a compost volunteer; cured, it behaves just like any other winter squash so will be used for soup and muffins this fall. The mysterious cucumber-melon-squash thing in the upper center was another cross-bred compost volunteer and was enjoyed raw while I watered the beds. The long, slender cucumber in the upper right was intentionally planted; an Armenian variety, it was crisp, sweet and productive and will definitely be planted again next season from this year’s saved seeds.
Despite the challenges of our tomato crop, the ‘Brad’s Atomic Grape’ on the lower left were stellar. They took forever to ripen (like all of our tomatoes) and as an heirloom they weren’t particularly productive. But the flavor was unreal, sweet and tangy, and the stripey fruits are gorgeous. In the lower middle you’ll see pineapple tomatillos, also called ground cherries or Cape gooseberries (these are most likely Physalis peruviana), which are part of the nightshade family yet totally unique. Like tomatillos, these fruits are enclosed in an inedible papery husk, and they turn a light yellowish-beige color when ripe. They taste like a cross between a pineapple and a strawberry, with a little tartness to boot, and they’re another favorite for garden snacking. We’ll be growing these again, too. And finally, our ‘Indigo Rose’ tomatoes, which did eventually ripen. The tomatoes are beautiful but I wasn’t hugely impressed by their flavor; I’d like to try these again in a better growing year.
Not bad for a first try!
We actually grew potatoes, too! I wasn’t entirely sure that our potato towers would produce anything, but lo and behold we tipped them over and scrabbled through the decomposed newspaper and soil and straw to find potatoes! I don’t think we grew the full thirty pounds I was expecting, but at this point in our nascent farming career we’ll take anything we can get. The tatties are absolutely delicious, too; creamy and sweet and full of earthy potato flavor. We’ll plant lots more next season.
So much work but so worth the effort.
As the growing season winds down, the canning and preserving season ramps up. Thus far this year I’ve put up nearly two hundred pounds of tomatoes, a hundred pounds of peaches, fifty pounds of cherries and twenty pounds of apricots. I’ve also made salsa, chutney, jam, pesto and applesauce. It’s so much work to preserve food, but in the depths of blustery winter there is simply nothing like fresh pasta with homemade tomato sauce and pesto, or a warming bowl of oatmeal with local peaches that still taste like sunshine.
From left: lavender, basil, rosemary and oregano on the drying rack.
In preparation for freezing temperatures, lots of our outdoor herbs have been snipped and neatly hung on drying racks. One of the great advantages of living in a high-plains desert is how easy it is to dry things like herbs. I just snip mine, tie them in bunches and hang them in a sheltered spot away from direct sunlight. After they’re completely dry, I crumble the leaves into a large bowl, compost the stems and store the dried herbs in labeled jars with the rest of my spices. Most of these will go into homemade rolls, focaccia and naan breads over the coming months.
How are you putting your garden to bed? And have you done any canning or preserving this season? We’d love to hear.
P.S. Many of you contacted us privately about last week’s post. We hear you, we see you and your despair mirrors our own. It will take a concerted effort to turn this ship around, but there are encouraging signs – we just all need to be more conscious about our choices. The little things matter.