by Henry Homeyer
CORNISH FLAT, N.H. – I personally think that the Canadians have the right idea: they have their Thanksgiving feast the second Monday in October, right after the harvest. By the time our Thanksgiving rolls around, many gardeners have eaten all their home-grown veggies. It need not be so, of course, if they are properly stored.
Not all of you have the time, the space and the desire to grow veggies. I think everyone appreciates that having local farmers is important, and many of you have signed up with a farm CSA to get a box of vegetables each week during the summer. Even now many CSAs have fall or winter programs to supply you with root crops and spinach or brassicas like Brussels sprouts or kale. If you can’t get into a CSA program, think about buying local vegetables at your local food coop.
Why are local vegetables important? I have read that the average vegetable in a big grocery store travels over 2,000 miles at some times of the year. That’s right, we in New England get veggies from California, Florida, Texas and other warmer places. I am interested in reducing my carbon footprint by reducing the use of fossil fuels. Those big 18-wheelers crossing the country use a lot of diesel fuel. And fruits from Mexico and South America? I avoid them. I can (mostly) live without fruit that travels long distances.
I am not claiming I have given up citrus fruit to save the atmosphere. But instead of getting a case of oranges, I can buy a few and get my citrus fix from orange juice which is much more concentrated than fresh fruit, and easier to transport. Local apples are available pretty much year-round, store well and are tasty and nutritious.
So what will I have on my table for holiday feasts, both now and in December? Potatoes, for sure. They are easy to grow, very productive and store well. In a bed 50 feet long and three feet wide in full sun I can grow 50 pounds of potatoes – unless the blight that starved the Irish long ago comes along.
I keep a large spare refrigerator in the basement dedicated to storing potatoes and other garden vegetables. Potatoes, carrots, celeriac and rutabagas store well at 33 to 50 degrees, and do best with high humidity. A modern fridge takes a lot of the humidity out, though the drawers are better at keeping in humidity. On the shelves of the fridge I store potatoes in heavy paper bags to reduce moisture loss: in plastic bags they might rot, as they need to breathe.
Brussels sprouts are very cold resistant and will be fine outdoors until late December, if the deer don’t find them. That’s right, deer love Brussels sprouts, kale, broccoli and will munch them unless protected. I had no problem with deer this summer because of our dog, Rowan, who leaves scents around the property and advertises himself as a wolf. But deer are hungry now. There are very few nuts this year so they have moved in to my late fall plantings, and are even eating the tops of my rutabagas.
If you want to eat directly from the garden in November and December, some fencing is probably a good idea. I recently spread an old bedspread over my kale plants to keep deer away until I had time to pick and freeze them. But if you just have a few plants and like to pick fresh veggies from the garden now and in the weeks to come, think about some chicken wire fencing.
Although fencing an entire garden requires an eight-foot fence to keep deer from getting in, a small space with six kale or Brussels sprouts plants can easily be surrounded with three- or four-foot wire. Tie it onto stakes with string or zip ties. They can’t get in, and I doubt they will lean over and grab food.
I freeze a lot of vegetables each year as it is easier than canning them. Tomatoes are the easiest. I freeze them whole, skins and all. In past years I have put them in zipper bags, but we are now trying to lead a plastic-free life.
Plastic can potentially leach chemicals onto food, particularly if the food is hot. Even food-grade plastic may not be 100% safe. So this year we started storing frozen foods in wide-mouth jars. Next summer I will cut large tomatoes into chunks to fit into jars for freezing. I use frozen tomatoes for stews and soups.
I remember that many years ago there was a recall of fresh cranberries at Thanksgiving time due to some chemical that had been sprayed on them. Afterwards we all went back to eating cranberries and forgot about the scare. Now I try to get organic fruits and vegetables whenever possible, and grow my own organically – without the use of any chemicals.
I got some cranberry plants from a friend this summer and hope to be able to supply our needs within a few years. They do not require a swamp to grow, although they are found in wet places in the wild. They do require acidic soils, but that is easily provided with elemental sulfur or soil acidifier. They do best in full sun, though my friend who grows them has them in part sun/part shade and they do well for her. She uses pine needles to mulch them. Some plant nurseries sell potted cranberry plants so might try some next year.