Garlic Forever

I harvested my garlic a month ago, and since then it’s been dangling from strings wherever I could find space in the basement.

It’s time to consolidate.

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I hung the whole plants, bulbs down, in three bundles spaced loosely enough to allow good airflow. Since the plants are good and dry now, I can cut the bulbs away. I just snipped through the stalks  with a pair of scissors about an inch above the bulbs.

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I also trimmed off the excess roots, mostly for aesthetics and to keep the bulbs from tangling with each other.

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Here they are nicely shorn.

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Last summer I harvested about half a dozen bubs. If I keep expanding at this rate I can go into production soon.

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I’m not going into production yet. (I’m not even sharing with my housemates!) But I do want my garlic looking its best. I gently peeled off the outer, dirty layer of papery skin.

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And that’s it! I tucked them an old mesh onion bag and hung them from a nail in a dark alcove of the cellar. Last year’s garlic lasted all winter like that, so I have high hopes. Around Halloween I’ll break up one or two and plant the cloves – I’m excited to get a multi-generational crop and finally become garlic self-sufficient.

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I’m using “self-sufficient” very loosely. There’s no way this is lasting a year.

Winter Is Probably Still Coming

The hoop house may have been a bust, but my cold hardy vegetables are none the wiser. The kale, chard, carrots, and beets are all growing happily.

A little too happily.

I haven’t done a big harvest in a while, and the kale has been getting away from me. My hope is that the hoop house will pull through this time and keep it alive into the winter, but I’m not putting any money on it.

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Instead, I’m freezing my leafy greens before New England gets a chance to. I’m not giving up entirely, so I left enough leaves that everybody should be able to keep growing, making for some strange shapes.

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I found myself with more loose leaves than I could ever carry in my arms. Luckily, I was lazy and never put away the containers from my poor doomed peppers and eggplants. I threw together some festive arrangements and headed home.

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Late season kale is a haven for little powdery bugs. I’d sprayed for it a few months ago, but the kale kept on living and the bugs eventually came back. I washed, leaf by leaf, until I was completely sick of kale. And then I washed for another hour or so.

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Meanwhile I boiled a big stockpot of water and, batch by batch, blanched my leaves for two minutes. This supposedly kills any microbes that might be hanging around. It also turns everything a healthy green.

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From the boiling water the leaves went straight into an ice water bath to halt the cooking process. From there they went into a colander and I went to the freezer to dig around for more ice.

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After the first batch of leaves, the water turned a distinctly orange color. Is this because kale is so high in iron? Er… yes. Let’s say that it is. Because I honestly have no better ideas.

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After draining the cooled leaves, I gave them a good squeeze to remove excess water and mould them into handy portions. No one wants a solid gallon of frozen chopped kale. I don’t care who they are or what they think they need.

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I let the leaf balls sit on their cookie sheets in the freezer over night. In the morning I had some very sturdy and very frozen balls of solid fresh leaf. I packed them away into freezer bags and stowed them in the freezer. In all, it was three or four hours’ work for an amount of vegetables that would cost me a few dollars at the store.

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No wonder people usually just buy food.

 

Honey Take Two

Everything’s coming up bee.

We went into the hive recently to check on the state of the honey box, and we were shocked to see that it was almost full. These bees are not playing games when it comes to preparedness. It’s bad news for the impending winter, but it’s good news for honey!

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We threw in a triangle board and a shim and waited a few days. In that time the bees not only abandoned the honey box, they also set to work on filling in the shim with comb. I’ve been reading a lot about Bee Space lately. It’s the distance we leave between frames so we can pull each out individually without ripping through comb. About a centimeter, it’s the magic distance at which bees won’t fill things in. Bees are all about filling things in – any less than a centimeter is patched up with propolis to prevent drafts. Any more than a centimeter, as we can see here, is fair game for expansion and will be filled in with comb. They built all of this over the course of a weekend. Bees don’t get time off.

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We made off with the honey box, just like last time. With all that burr comb we had to break apart to get inside, though, this theft was a little messier. Some of the equipment got sticky, and the bees were wise to it. As I was putting out the smokers, this little guy was frantically cleaning up a thumbprint of honey.

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Soon after collecting the honey, we had one heck of a storm. The bees stuck it out like champs, but we were so afraid the hive would get toppled. The fact that we’d just removed the honey box and a foot of height may be what saved us. In order to sleep a little easier, we put up this windbreak. The hive is already nicely protected to the west by a picket fence, and the lattice is at an ESE angle that should break up any gusts coming up the river.

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With the hive secure, we could turn our attention to more important things. Like honey! The bees had really done a stellar job collecting, and had filled and capped almost all ten frames.

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There were, sadly, a few casualties.

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We made sure to get another hot knife. It uncaps frames like a dream. I did drip a drop of honey from it onto my hand, however, and I got decent burn from it. I’m a little worried the heat may affect the quality of our honey…

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Heat notwithstanding, the honey is gorgeous. It’s so dark and rich it’s impossible to see through. Here it is dripping its way through our filter. Only in the thinnest spots, with the light shining straight through, does it approach a color I might be willing to call “honey.”

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We’re pretty excited about it.

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The garden is pairing with a fabulous and very locally-driven restaurant for a cooking class later this month. Kim is speaking at the class and I, purely by chance, won two free tickets to it in the garden’s fundraising raffle. Some may claim nepotism. I’m claiming that I put close to $30 worth of tickets in the cup. I also put my blood sweat and tears into this class, meticulously filling twenty little 3 oz bears to be given as favors.

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The honey is the most impressive when you look at it next to the batch we harvested in the summer. I have almost a full jar because I’m a hoarder and can’t bear the thought of it disappearing forever. Both jars were collected from the same hive in exactly the same spot, but two months apart: the jar on the right on August 10th and the jar on the left on October 12th. The difference is, as far as I know, purely floral. Spring and summer mean delicate light flowers like pea and squash blossoms, but late summer and fall mean rougher, darker flowers like Black Eyed Susans and sunflowers.

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Am I making all this up? Maybe. But whatever the reason, this honey is so dark it’s almost black, and it tastes, I swear, like elderflowers. The summer stuff was great, but this is a world apart.