A Tall Glass of Garden Harvest

Every year, when late summer is at its peak, and autumn begins to peer around the corner, we are faced with an important question – what am I going to do with all of my excess garden harvest? And usually we answer that question by sharing with our families, friends, and neighbors, donating to a food bank, and making all sorts of culinary delights. However, what do we do when family, friends, and neighbors start barring the door when they see us coming with more zucchini, when the food banks are unable to take any more, and when we’ve had our fill of salads and zucchini bread? Well, I’d like to suggest another option of which you may not thought. How about creating beverages out of your garden harvest. What kinds of beverages? Allow me to elaborate.

Juices and non-alcoholic ciders– this is somewhat obvious, but also fairly easy to create. Juices can be extracted from your garden vegetables either by cooking the juices in filtered water, then straining out the fibrous plant material (juices), or by cold-pressing the vegetables in a screw-driven press (cider). Your juices and ciders will taste fresh, and best of all, you can serve them to your family with confidence, knowing that there are no potentially harmful preservatives.

Alcoholic ciders – this involves taking the juice you’ve extracted from your garden fruits and vegetables and putting it through a fermentation process. It requires an initial expense of equipment and ingredients, but it can be done, and it doesn’t require years of experience. You can purchase cider-making kits online that not only have all the equipment and ingredients in one package, but also come with detailed instructions.

Wine – what, you say? Wine? But isn’t wine made from grapes? Well yes, but not exclusively so. In ancient times, growing grapes was considered a luxury. But that didn’t stop those of lesser means from making wine. They simply made it from whatever they were growing in their gardens – herbs, garden fruits and vegetables, potatoes, berries, etc. How about a tomato wine? Or a crabapple wine? Or a mint wine? Don’t knock it ‘til you try it!

Syrup – can be made in small quantities, can be made easily and quickly. They don’t require processing in a water bath or pressure canner, and have a fairly long shelf life.

Tea – why shell out big bucks for exotic teas made from foreign herbs and flowers when you can make your own tea from your own garden harvest for pennies? Take the money that you would normally spend on that exotic oolong tea and instead invest it in fertilizer, soil, and seeds, and grow your own bee balm, chamomile, red clover, mint, lemon balm, and many other plants, and create your own brand of tea. No muss, no fuss, great taste, potential health benefits, no unpronounceable additives, more money left over in your pocket – what’s not to love?

Making your own refreshing beverages from your garden fruits and vegetables adds many more options for how to use up that excess harvest. So give it a try!

Believing in a Brighter Future

To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow – Audrey Hepburn

One could be forgiven if they were to feel as though our world today is drenched in a coating of sheer madness — an insanity that coats our planet like caramel on an apple. Conflicts ranging from minor skirmishes to outright wars across the globe. Deep divisions, both political and philosophical within our own nation. Wildfires, mudslides, hurricanes, and other severe weather events destroying property and lives. And of course, let’s not forget a newly resurgent COVID-19 pandemic creating mass sickness and death among the human population. I’m sure there are days when many of us feel like crawling under our beds and not wanting to come out. So how does one live a good life in a world drenched in insanity?

First of all, a little perspective. To some degree or another, our world has always been drenched in insanity, because human beings are an insane people. We hate someone because their skin is a different color than ours, or the deity that they pray to is different than ours. A group of people will terrorize and make war on another group of people for some of those same aforementioned reasons. We want more things than anyone else, so we lie, cheat, steal, and murder to accomplish this. And worst of all, we’ve decided that we human beings are more important than any other living creatures, so we cruelly exploit this planet’s resources for our own gain and to the detriment of all other life. This is the way of humans, and this has been the way of humans since time immemorial.

Yet it is still possible to find gold even within a world of dirt. While it is true that the mass population of human beings are insane, it is also true that there are those individuals who manage to live in a world coated in madness who manage to resist getting that coating on themselves. Many of them are enshrined in the pages of history, but there are many more whom the world at large does not know about. These are people who manage to carve out their own life of peace and happiness among the craziness. They create organizations and foundations dedicated to the betterment of others. They actively work to slow or stop the exploitation of our planet’s resources and reverse some of the damage that has been done. They put effort into reducing the hatred between people and creating peace where there was once war. You can also find them in their own nations, cities, towns, and neighborhoods doing simple things like taking an elderly neighbor shopping, volunteering in their children’s schools, picking up litter, etc. – the list goes on and on.

And they plant gardens (you knew that was coming, right?). When you’re a gardener, madness is not part of your world. You don’t have time for such luxuries. As a gardener you are constantly creating new life. You know that the seeds you plant today will sprout into beautiful plants tomorrow. Plants that provide color to delight the senses. Plants that provide nutritious food to feed you, your family, your neighbors, and your friends. Plants that provide fiber for making cloth that can be turned into wearable garments. Plants that provide nourishment and shelter for the other inhabitants of planet Earth. As a gardener, you carve out a little piece of joy and happiness where there was once only sadness and despair. And when you share your garden bounty with others, or help those others plant their own gardens, you increase the size of that piece of joy and happiness, and you further reduce the sadness and despair. No, gardening will not solve all the world’s problems. The world will continue to be coated in madness until we humans find better ways to live that don’t hurt other humans or the planet on which we depend upon for survival. But for you, the individual that wants to find some light among this darkness, planting a garden will go a long way towards keeping the sticky tar of madness from sticking to you.

A Gardener’s Work Is Never Done

I forget all about the sweatin’ and diggin’
Every time I go out and pick me a biggun

Guy Clark – Home Grown Tomatoes

Another season of planting has now faded into history. The soil has been dug up, amended, and fertilized; seeds, bulbs, roots, etc. have long been planted; and are now (we hope) actively growing and producing strong and healthy plants that are beginning to flower and may even be producing fruit. Now you can breathe a sigh of relief that your hard labor is beginning to pay off.

But wait! Your work is not yet done! Far from it! Your garden’s labor requirements may have eased, but they are by no means non-existent. Now is the time to begin the work of maintaining that garden that you worked so hard to plant. Now is not the time to rest on your laurels. For without proper care those laurels – as well as those tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, corn, etc. – will wither away and die.

So what efforts are required of you now?

First of all, there is the critical task of watering. Mother Nature may have been generous with rain in April, May, and possibly in June. But come July, she starts becoming rather stingy with her water supply. So you must become Aquarius and start bearing water to your garden. If you applied mulch to your garden in the spring, you can reduce your watering chores somewhat. You can further reduce your watering labors by installing an irrigation system and hooking it up to a water timer that will turn the irrigation system on and off for you. But you still have to check to make sure that your plants are getting sufficient water. No irrigation system or water timer is going to do that for you. You still have to get your hands dirty. Because if you fail here, you will have nothing to show for all your spring labors but dead plants. No fresh tomatoes in your future!

And speaking of getting your hands dirty, the next critical task is weeding. Yes, I know you don’t want to hear it. It’s not a task that makes people want to jump with joy. It’s hard, dirty, laborious work that causes you to sweat more moisture than Niagara Falls, and, if you fail to apply the proper protection, fries your skin redder than a stoplight. But it must be done. If you applied mulch in the springtime, your weeding chores will be reduced considerably. But mulch is not a cure-all. Some weeds here and there are bound to get through, and you will still have to pull them or hoe them.

Failure to weed will make your garden look unsightly, spread insects and disease to your garden vegetable plants, and in general, rob your garden vegetable plants of nutrients, water and light. It may not kill your garden outright, but it will considerably reduce the yield you would have otherwise gotten if you had put in the effort to remove those unsightly weeds.

Other necessary tasks include, but are not limited to checking the leaves of your plants (both top and bottom) for insect damage, applying supplemental fertilizer to give your plants a nutrient boost to help them through the long hot summer days, and protecting your plants from pests of the Insecta, Lagomorpha, and Mammalia variety.

And as much as we all look forward to harvesting, even that requires some muscular exertion on our part. Tomatoes do not leap off the vine and jump onto your plate by themselves (if they do, may I humbly suggest that you cut back on your consumption of alcohol, cannabis, and other mind-altering chemicals?). Harvesting also requires judgement and timing. We have to know when to pick those fruits and vegetables and when to leave them on the vine or in the ground a little longer.

And I won’t even get into the garden work that needs to be done in the fall, and the planning for next year’s garden that takes place in the winter. In short, the work of the gardener is never done. But it is work that, if done well, yields a wonderful reward of sweet, crunchy, nutritious, fruits and vegetables. And that makes it all worthwhile!

Love and Lust From the Garden

The month of February brings us the holiday of Valentine’s Day, a celebration of all things having to do with love and romance. And love and romance naturally lead to wanting to become intimate with one’s mate. Since time immemorial, men and women have searched for foods, potions, tonics, drugs, etc. that will enhance their ability to perform sexually and increase their enjoyment of it.

Would it surprise you to learn that some of the foods which enhance sexual desire and performance can be found in your very own garden? Here are a few.

Black raspberries – Black raspberries are rich in phytochemicals – biologically active compounds that play a role in a plant’s growth process, as well as defense against competitors, pathogens, or predators. Phytochemicals have also been shown to play a role in enhanced libido and sexual endurance (for the humans who consume them, not the plants themselves).

Pine nuts – Pine nuts are rich in arginine, one of the ten essential amino acids we need to consume so that our bodies can make the proteins it needs to function. Our bodies also convert some of our consumed arginine into nitric oxide, which helps dilate the blood vessels, improving blood flow throughout our bodies. This also includes the sex organs.

Avocados – Avocados contain an abundance of heart-healthy fats, vitamin B6 and folic acid, all of which help fuel the body and increase our energy. Vitamin B6 is an important ingredient for production of male sex hormones, which are important for a strong sex drive.

Watermelon – The citrulline in watermelon is converted into arginine, which is then converted into nitric oxide which stimulates blood vessel dilation – similar to what Viagra does, but for a whole lot less money.

Broccoli – Broccoli contains high levels of Indole-3-carbinol, which helps lower estrogen levels, and may have libido boosting effects in men.

Pumpkin seeds – Pumpkin seeds are a rich source of zinc (which has been shown in men to have a powerful effect on arousal and maintaining an erection) and arginine (which relaxes blood vessels)

Spinach, arugula, beets, cress, lettuce, celery, and radish – all contain nitrates, which like arginine, relax and dilate blood vessels, leading to improved blood flow and enhanced sexual arousal and performance.

We all know that gardening provides us with flavorful, nutritious food, fresh air, and exercise. Well now, I’ve just given you yet another reason to garden. And while you may not be able to grow these fruits and vegetables in time for Valentine’s Day, you now know what to buy at the grocery store or order in a restaurant for a romantic meal that will keep the works “down south” humming along like a well-oiled machine. And come springtime, you will now have a very good idea of what you’ll want to plant!

There’s No Shame In Garden Failures

“It’s a funny profession, ours, you know. It offers unparalleled opportunities for making a chump of yourself.”

Siegfried Farnon to James Herriot – All Creatures Great and Small

In James Herriot’s wonderful book about his life as a veterinarian living in England’s Yorkshire Dales, he relates a story about the near disaster of the first case he handled on his own. His boss, Siegfried Farnon, was explaining to James Herriot that no matter how good you are at the job, you are still going to experience the occasional failure, and at times that failure could be downright humiliating.

The same can be said about gardening. No matter how much skill and experience you have as a gardener, there are going to be times – nay, even whole seasons, where you’re going to fall flat on your face. The new cultivar of tomatoes that’s supposed to be high yielding, produces little or no fruit. Rabbits, raccoons, and squirrels freely help themselves to your harvest, and you suspect that they are secretly laughing at you. Or, you plant something that grows like the dickens, choking out all your other vegetables, and you have to spend the next two years trying to get rid of it.

I, too, have had my share of failures. And yes, they can be frustrating, aggravating, and sometimes, even downright embarrassing. And yes, it’s easy to feel all of these emotions, sometimes to the extent of wanting to chuck everything in the garbage, fill the garden patch with sod, and never garden again.

Well, don’t. Because failure comes with the territory, as surely as do tomatoes and cucumbers. Things occasionally don’t work out as planned. But that’s gardening. And that’s also life.

How many times did you skin your knee when you were learning to ride a bike? Did you give up the first time you tumbled over and scraped some skin? Of course not! You picked yourself up, dusted yourself off, applied some iodine and a bandage to the bleeding cuts, and then you hopped back on and tried again. And again, And again and again until finally one day you were able to successfully pedal and ride without falling over. And suddenly all those falls and scrapes no longer mattered. Because your persistence through the constant tumbles was amply rewarded. You now knew how to ride a bike.

It’s the same in gardening. You will fail from time to time, whether you are a rank beginner or an experienced veteran. So do like you did with the bicycle. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and apply some psychological iodine and bandages to your skinned pride. Then get back out in the garden and plant again. And again. And again and again until one day you are harvesting bushels upon bushels of fresh, flavorful, and nutritious fruits and vegetables. So keep at it, my friends, and don’t let the occasional failure get you down. Yes, gardening offers unparalleled opportunities for making a chump of yourself, as James Herriot says. But there are also infinite opportunities for sweet success beyond your wildest dreams.

Never Be Ashamed of Your Gardening Mistakes

“You must never feel badly about making mistakes,” explained Reason quietly, “as long as you take the trouble to learn from them. For you often learn more by being wrong for the right reasons than you do by being right for the wrong reasons.”

-from The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster

Mistakes. We all make them. All of us. Every one of us has done something we later wish we hadn’t; not done something we later wish we had; or executed an action that seemed to be right at the time, but later proved to be wrong. And so on and so on. And few places are as wrought with the consequences of wrong action as in our very own gardens.

How do we make mistakes in the garden? Let me count the ways.

  1. We get overly ambitious and try to plant beyond our degree of experience, and wind up overwhelmed
  2. We plant something without researching it first, only to find that it fails to grow or grows so well that it crowds out the rest of your vegetables
  3. We don’t properly prepare our soil before planting
  4. We fail to protect our crops from marauding critters that eat everything down to the roots
  5. We plant our garden where there is not enough sunlight
  6. We plant our crops too close together, which causes mold and fungus to attack our plants and either kill them outright or severely reduce the yield we get from them

I’m sure we’re all familiar with these, and I’m sure some of you are familiar with more of these than you care to admit. Some of us, especially the beginners, are apt to feel disappointed, dejected, or even outright humiliated when our hard work comes to naught. Some of us might feel so awful that we’re ready to throw in the trowel and never garden again. Well, don’t. One mistake, one failure, does not define you as a black-thumb gardener.

A very wise man once said to me, “If you’ve never been fired, it means that you never try anything new.” In a similar vein, if you never fail at anything, it means that you never attempt anything new – never try to stretch beyond your comfort zone. And this also holds true in gardening. If you’ve never had a gardening failure, it means that you never attempt anything innovative in your gardening efforts. So don’t waste time lamenting your so-called failure. Take some time to curl up and lick your wounds, if you must. Then give yourself a hearty pat on the back for attempting something new – whether that’s a brand new garden or a brand new plant in an existing garden. Then, and this is the important part, try to figure out where things went off the rails. There is a solution to every gardening problem, and with enough investigation and soul-searching, you’ll find it. Yes, you made a mistake or two, but you made it for all the right reasons. And you’ll be far more knowledgeable and savvy than the timid one who never fails but never grows beyond the confining dimensions of his or her comfort zone.

Clean It Up

As the end of gardening season approaches, our gardens will, no doubt, be strewn with dead plants, bent or broken supports, and other assorted bric-a-brac. It’s late in the year, and as far as you’re concerned, you are done with gardening for the season. As for the debris? “Ahh, I’ll clean it up in the spring,” you say.

Bad move. Leaving a garden full of junk is a poor practice – one that will hinder your future efforts to have a healthy garden full of high-yielding vegetable plants. Leaving a garden full of weeds, damaged trellises, dead plants, and God knows what else is like sending out an invitation for all the vermin and pests to come spend the winter in your garden – and never leave.

Certain insect pests can survive the winter all cozily nestled up in the debris you refused to clean up. Did you have a problem with cabbageworms? Guess what? They’ll be plaguing your next year’s crop of cabbage thanks to the winter home you provide for them. Did cucumber beetles chew up a good portion of last year’s cucumber crop? Well, don’t expect winter weather to be their last hurrah, not as long as they have some nice dead plants for them to stay warm in. And were you and your tomato plants blessed by some of those fat green tomato hornworms? Don’t shed any tears for them; they’ll spend the winter as pupae all snug and warm in a pile of dead tomato plants. Then come spring, the moth will emerge and lay eggs on your tomato plants. Hello tomato hornworms! Goodbye tomatoes!

But it doesn’t have to be this way as long as you follow this simple three-word instruction – clean it up! Gather up the spent plants and dead weeds, and either toss them out or put them in your compost pile (as long as the plants weren’t infested with disease). Removing this garden junk leaves the pests with nowhere to hide, run, or overwinter. This will help reduce the odds that next year’s vegetable crops will be overrun with plant-devouring larvae or adult insects. Insects can be a severe problem in your garden. Don’t carry the problem into next year by giving these insects shelter over the winter so they can come back next year and render all your hard work in vain. Clean up your garden now, and give those insect pests the boot!

Brown Gold for Your Garden

The leaves of brown came tumbling down
Remember
That September
In the rain

-Harry Warren and Al Dubin

The shortening days of autumn signal the leaves on the trees to stop producing chlorophyll. This, in turn, causes the green to slowly fade revealing the remaining colorful pigments. Soon, even those begin to fade away, and the leaves soon fall to the ground and start to decompose.

Most homeowners will merely rake the leaves into piles, toss the piles in bags, and bring those bags to the curb for the recyclers or garbage men to take away. But we gardeners know better than to do that. Instead of letting those leaves take up space in a landfill where they are no good to anyone, we use these leaves to enrich our garden soil and restore the nutrients that our garden vegetable crops have taken away. And unlike real gold, this brown gold costs nothing to “mine and refine.”

So how do we make the best use of this brown gold?

  1. Pile whole leaves on top of the soil as a mulch to protect bulbs such as garlic, onions, or even flower bulbs such as tulip, snowdrop, and crocus.
  2. Chop them up finely, add them to a compost pile, and let them decompose along with the rest of the material in there. Chopping is necessary, as it creates more surface area and allows the bacteria to decompose the leaves in less time. If your own trees aren’t producing enough leaves to give you sufficient compost, offer to take some from your friends and neighbors. I’m sure they’ll be happy to oblige, unless of course they want them for their own compost pile.
  3. Chop them up finely and work them directly into your garden soil. During the following three or four months of winter, the soil bacteria will break down the chopped leaves and release the nutrient material in those leaves into the soil. When spring arrives, you’ll have looser, lighter, more nutrient-rich soil all ready for spring planting.

So don’t waste this precious nutrient-laden material that Mother Nature gives us for free every autumn. Let’s recycle this precious organic material back into our gardens. It’s going to decompose and release nutrients no matter what we do or don’t do. So let’s work with Mother Nature. I promise you that if we do, then Mother Nature will work with us.

Your Garden’s Second Act

This time of year is when many vegetable gardens peak, and then begin to wane. The cucumbers have produced their little plant hearts out, and now the plants are beginning to die off. Lettuce is beginning to bolt in hot weather. For most people, this is a sign that harvest time is beginning and soon, it will be time to start cleaning up the dead plant debris and putting the garden to bed for the winter. But not so fast! There are still at least three months of garden-tolerable weather ahead of us, so don’t quit on your garden now. It’s time for your garden’s second act, a.k.a. the fall vegetable garden.

Now is the time to plant a second crop of lettuce. Root crops such as carrots, turnips, and rutabaga, can also be planted at this time – and these can be left in the ground over the winter to harvest for a delicious hot stew. There’s even time to plant a crop of wax beans. And as late as October, you can plant storage onion bulbs and cloves of garlic for verdant crops of both next spring and a bountiful harvest in the summer. So don’t throw in the trowel just yet. There’s still time to grow more crops beyond what you originally planted in the spring.

Victory Gardens 2020

During World War II, the US government had to make sure that our fighting men had enough food to sustain them. In order to achieve this, many food items such as sugar, butter, milk, cheese, eggs, coffee, meat and canned goods. In addition, the war effort left the country with a shortage of labor needed to transport fruits and vegetables to market. So the US government encouraged people to plant gardens to meet their demands for fresh produce. Because these gardens were meant to help the war effort, both at home and abroad, they became known as Victory Gardens.

According to the website for Wessels Living History Farm, nearly 20 million Americans jumped on the Victory Garden bandwagon. They planted gardens in backyards, empty lots and even city rooftops. Neighbors pooled their resources, planted different kinds of foods and formed cooperatives, all in the name of patriotism. Thanks to the efforts of these victory gardeners, people had enough fresh produce to meet their needs.

Now we are engaged in a different kind of war. The enemy does not carry guns, drive tanks, fly warplanes, or sail battleships. In fact, this enemy isn’t even human and is well-nigh invisible except under the viewing power of an electron microscope. Yet this enemy is just as deadly, if not more so, than a thousand invading armies. Just as in World War II, this enemy destroys lives and disrupts our economy. Many items such as meat are in short supply. And once again, the supply chain that brings our food to market is threatened. Now, more than ever, we Americans need to take certain aspects of this war effort into our own hands.

Just as not all Americans were able to be on the front lines of battle during World War II, here in this war, not all Americans can be doctors and nurses treating patients or scientific researchers trying to develop a vaccine. But just as our grandparents grew their own produce during that 1940s world conflict, we can do likewise during this one. So once again, it’s time to revive the Victory Garden for 2020!

Now, more than ever, growing your own produce is the thing to do. With our supply chain disrupted yet again, the time is now for all Americans to do their part to help us achieve victory over this terrible pandemic. And once more, your contribution can be as simple as planting a few seeds and raising enough fruits and vegetables to meet your family’s needs. Better still, join with other families in your immediate vicinity, and plant a large garden that will feed all the families in your neighborhood. You can designate a third for fresh eating, can another third for winter, and donate the rest to a food bank to feed the needy.

With enough of these 2020 Victory Gardens, we can make sure that all of us are eating fresh, wholesome, and nutrition-packed food to keep our bodies healthy. And healthy bodies have a much better chance of surviving a disease infestation than nutrient-deprived bodies. And healthy bodies fed by the nutritious produce produced in 2020 Victory Gardens can be a small but important contribution to winning the fight against COVID-19.

To paraphrase a line from a 1940’s Captain America comic, you’re in this war even though you don’t operate a ventilator, drive an ambulance, or work up an assay. And victory gardens are a mighty weapon in this war. So get together with your family and plant a 2020 Victory Garden today!