It has been a while since my last post. Sounds like holy confession. The problem is that there is a glut of things to write about and I am having trouble picking one topic and sticking to it. Like most things in life, not just blog posts.
This year I grew my 25th vegetable garden at home here on the island. I can hardly believe that figure; have I really been planting a kitchen garden for a quarter of a century! Am I allowed to swear on a blog! I could write entirely about the garden and never mention anything else in my life, but really, the garden is just one aspect of this island life, though I do spend a lot of my time engaged in it one way or another. Today I am going to narrow it down to a fraction of that aspect, and tell you a little bit about the harvest of my garden, this particular autumn.
The day I arrived home from the Alberta road trip was the last official day of summer, the sun was shining on the sparkling blue sea, the weather was warm, the light golden. A blissful sense of peace and contentment pervaded the scene. The following day, the first official day of fall was completely the opposite; the temperature had dropped overnight, the wind was coming out of the southeast bringing strong, steady rain. It was time to get up to the garden and gather up the heat loving produce before it was too late!
We have a large vegetable garden, about 45 by 70 feet, where a variety of vegetables as well as perennials such as currants, blueberries, raspberries and rhubarb grow. As well as the garden there is a mature orchard containing ten apple trees, three pear trees and a lonely plum tree. The harvest has actually been on for some time now, starting in early summer with a few strawberries and various salad greens. But now, at the start of the fall season, it is the apples, pears, tomatoes, winter squash and the potatoes that demand my attention. There is so much to be done! Where to begin!
First the apples: So far I have picked about a dozen boxes of various varieties of apple and there are still more to harvest. Some have been given away. The perfect, unblemished ones have been carefully stored in a number of handsome wooden boxes that my partner built specially for the purpose of storing apples. The boxes are narrowly slatted on the sides, allowing air to circulate but preventing the mice from sneaking inside to ravage the fruit. Last week we took four big boxes, by boat, over to the next island where one of our neighbours was having an apple pressing session. We came home with about 5 gallons of fresh, raw apple juice some of which has been consumed fresh, the rest processed by bottling in glass quart-size jars. More about the neighbourhood apple pressing session another time.
This past summer, which I recall as being lovely and warm, provided good growing conditions for the winter squash. Normally I plant these heat-loving vegetables in the spring with little hope that they will be very successful due to our traditionally cooler, damp summer weather. This year, however, I was pleasantly surprised when I went searching for the results of this year’s crop. Like a delighted kid on an Easter egg hunt, I kept finding more of the hard skinned fruit, variously shaped, in amongst the leafy, sprawling vines. In the end, a wheelbarrow full of squash was the prize.
Buttercup, butternut, delicata, kobucha, spaghetti, as well as dark green zucchini and flower-shaped pattypan are the varieties. Once cured, these delicious squash will keep well in the pantry over the winter months. Roasted, steamed and mashed, stuffed or added to stews and other dishes, the bright orange flesh of the winter varieties will provide us with plenty of beta-carotene which is supposed to be very good for our health!
Harvesting the stuff from the garden is only part of the end game of having the garden in the first place. How to go about preserving and storing the harvest poses the next part of the question. Canning and freezing are obvious solutions, as well as eating as much fresh stuff as possible. What does not keep goes to the chickens, who provide us with eggs most of the time, so really nothing much is lost. We have two freezers that are already pretty full with the berries picked in early summer, the salmon caught by my partner during the fishing season and the venison that he hunts during the late autumn.
My pantry shelves are already laden with jars full of tomatoes, apple sauce, chutney and relishes, jams and other preserves from previous year’s harvests, so this year I have been experimenting with drying some of the fresh stuff. So far I have successfully dried three gallon-sized jars of apple rings and am now working on drying some of the small plum and cherry tomatoes as well as some lovely pears that seemed to all ripen at the same moment. The blemish-free fruits are sliced and placed on drying screens that hang from cords above the wood stove in the kitchen. This method seems to work quite well now that the weather is cooler and the wood stove burns steadily to heat our home.
I borrowed an electric dehydrator recently and have tried to use that for the pear and tomato slices, but this is only possible when the sun is shining and our off-grid micro-hydro electrical system is augmented by fully functioning solar panels. The electric dehydrator, like other heat-producing electrical appliances such as irons and hair dryers, draws too much electricity for our system to handle, unless the sun is shining. The heat produced by the wood stove seems to dry the slices of fruit in a few days, and the resulting tidbits can be stored for a long time in airtight glass jars, ready for snacking or to be used in various recipes.
As I re-read this draft of today’s post, I realize that there have probably been more questions raised about this island life of ours, then there have been answers. Also, that some more photographs would not go amiss. We all know that a picture is worth a thousand words….
Meanwhile, my friend has just returned from town aboard the Ashley Em, our ex-gillnetter, where he has been busy for the past three days having her hauled out of the water at a local marine ways and power-washing, scraping and painting her hull. This annual event in boat maintenance will be another story altogether!