September 28, 2010

Harvesting the Last of Summer's Bounty

Except for a few random sunflower heads and one pumpkin, the summer harvest is pretty much gathered in. Oh, and the okra and sweet peppers, which are still producing. And if they manage, I may get another tomato or two. But the rest of our summer garden has been harvested.

Amaranth - We weren't sure when to harvest this. One source said the seeds ripen sporadically, so that the heads need to be shaken periodically to collect the ripe seed. Considering these are Golden Giants (pix in this post), which grow to 6 to 10 feet, and that the seed heads can weigh over a pound each, this was no easy task. Another source said that commercially, seed is collected after 4 or 5 months, or around first frost.  We opted for this method, and Dan hauled quite a few wheelbarrow loads to the house.

We grew amaranth for the chickens. I've spread them out and once the heads dry completely, we'll try putting them in a bag and shaking the seeds out. I'll have to let you know how much we get and how the chickens like them.

Sunflowers - I grew Mammoth Gray Stripe from seeds I saved from last year's crop. I've always grown this variety, because I love how they look. I'm thinking that next year though, I'll try the Black Oil Seed variety. Why?  Because I want to use these as feed too, but have read that the black oil is better for that. Sunflower seeds are a good protein source, which is a necessity for good dairy and egg production.

They are ready to harvest when the songbirds start helping themselves! Sunflower seeds make excellent songbird food over winter. Just set out a whole head and watch the show. Care must be taken when drying the heads out. Last year I didn't turn them frequently enough and had problems with mold.

Sweet Potatoes - These are Porto Rico Bush. I have to say that considering how hard our clay soil is, they did quite well. I grew them from purchased slips, but hope to start them next year from these. I haven't weighed them yet, but think they'll be adequate for our use this winter. As we improve the soil friability, we should improve the harvest.

The books say take care not to bruise or damage the skin. I don't think we managed that very well as the skin seemed very fragile. I'll have to keep an eye on them to see how well they store.  Last year Dan brought some home from a local feed store, and I wrapped each in newspaper and kept in a cool dry place in the pantry. They kept for months that way.

Buttercup Winter Squash - Most of these are harvested with one or two still maturing in the garden. The vine is still blooming, bless its heart, though I doubt these will have time to produce anything. I usually grow acorn and butternut squashes, but on a whim, decided to try these instead. They are supposed to have the best flavor, but I reckon that will be a matter of opinion in the end. We have tried one in a mix of roasted veggies. It was very sweet and the seeds were in a mass at one end, making them easy to scoop out with little waste. I can't wait to try them in our favorite winter squash recipes.

Popcorn - Japanese Hulless. I got a harvest, but not a great one. Definitely better than my sweet corn, which did poorly due to poor germination. Okay, and bugs. Bug damage on the popcorn too, which you can see. Some of them were moldy, so I had to discard these. I'm still husking, but hopefully I'll get enough to enjoy for a good part of this winter. Popcorn is my favorite anytime snack.

Black Turtle Beans - I've been harvesting these as the pods have dried.  There are still a few more green pods on the vine, but they seem to dry more quickly as summer came to an end. These will be an important protein supplement for us this winter.  I  am so looking forward to cooking these over the wood heater.
For the moment, most of the harvest is spread out on old sheets on our screened in front porch. I turn it all everyday, to ensure even drying, though yesterday rain blew in all over everything.

A place for curing is something we need to consider for the future. The porch enables us to do that somewhat, while keeping out our many squirrels and chipmunks. After we finish the back bathroom, we are going to put in our new (energy star rated!) front door. As with most old house projects, this will require a number of preliminary steps including doing some repair to the porch floor joists and replacing the original wood pillars. That step will mean taking out the screens, which DH thinks were not aesthetically installed in the first place. Because of that, we haven't decided whether or not we'll put the screens back.

I do love a screened porch but maybe the front isn't the best place for it. It gets traffic noise and the hot setting sun. Not sure what we'll do instead, maybe a screened deck in back? That's a project for the future, so who knows.

Harvesting the Last of Summer's Bounty © September 2010 by Leigh at


Theresa said...

Well, this first years garden seems like it was good to you all in all! I hear you on the screened porch. What about screen frames that you can pop in when drying time comes around or, maybe screen in half the porch?
I would imagine the humidity makes good drying hard too. I have lavender drying upstairs in the small loft and with 17% humidity except what I am putting into the house air with the humidifier, it's drying well. I should go give it a turn actually.
Black Oil Sunflower seeds are loved by many, in the horse world they are known as BOSS and they love some added to their feed. Its what we put out for the birds too. The bear liked them also! ;)

Woolly Bits said...

I think given the fact, that you have a new garden and weren't really able to concentrate fully on using it - you did pretty well! we have too much rain now and humidity to do any drying, the only thing I can leave to dry off a bit are potatoes in the polytunnel. but I only want the skins to harden a bit after digging them out!
I think screening doors or porches is a thing for warmer climates than ours - most people prefer glas around the porch etc. in our weather insects are less of a problem than rain:))though I crocheted long cords for a "curtain" at the porch door for summer - to keep out flies and wasps.

Benita said...

Harvest time is always a busy time, but it's a good time, too. I love the feeling of harvest, the smell of the growth dying down and the feeling of autumn in the air. And the foods! Pumpkin pies, persimmon pudding, ham and beans cooking slowing, fresh baked breads... I think I just made myself homesick.

Just think, every time you eat something or feed something that you grew yourself to the chickens, you are bringing back a touch of summer. You should be proud of all you have done. I'd love to see an inventory of all you preserved from the garden this summer.

The Mom said...

What a fabulous harvest. I love the amaranth and sunflowers for the chickens. I wish I had the space to grow more food for my girls.

Leigh said...

Theresa, screened frames have come to mind for me too. Those would get everything off the ground/floor and eliminate the need for turning. As you mention, the humidity is a problem. September had such low humidity though, it was great! The rains, though welcome, brought the humidity with them. I just hope I don't lose anything now.

Are BOSS fed to the horses in the shell? Seems like it would be easier to feed them to the goats and chickens that way. The gray stripe seem to big for that.

Bettina, it's odd, but when we lived in Florida, folks were putting glass windows on their screen porches so they could put air conditioners out there! Sadly, everyone had aluminum roofs, so between that and the windows trapping the heat, those porches became ovens and no one used them anymore. Didn't make any sense to me!

Benita, you're making me hungry! And hoping that our newly discovered persimmon tree produces at least enough for that pudding.

Heather, I feel so fortunate to have room to grow things like this. Of course, it also means more room for weeds to grow! :)

Anonymous said...

What about using an attic to dry foods in? I thought about using our attic as a dehydrator, but discarded the idea as I'd be likely to forget it up there. It sure does get hot though.

What Pigs Don't Know said...

Thanks for the update, Leigh. I really enjoy reading about how you prepare for winter eating. There's so much to learn! -Carrie


I think you had a good season. I love that you have planned so well and gotten the rewards for it, you should be proud of what you have accomplished.

Michelle said...

Congratulations on a great harvest! You captured it well in the pics too.
I haven't figured out the Amaranth harvest exactly either, so am interested to see what you come up with. Because I like to keep it simple, I have put the whole dried cluster in the run in the winter.

Woolly Bits said...

Leigh - AC units are extremely rare over here (wouldn't make sense with our temperatures anyway!) - and so are aluminium roofs. the pitterpatter of the rain that so often comes down would probably drive most people crazy:))

Theresa said...

Yep, we feed them in shell.

Mama Pea said...

Seems like you had many, many more successes than failures. What a lot you've gotten out of your garden this year.

I'd love, love, love to be able to grow dried beans but my past attempts have been failures. Our season is so short they never have a chance to dry out in the garden so I've pulled the whole plants and tried hanging in the garage to dry . . . with not a lot of success . . . plus it's a big chore to do it that way.

Really enjoyed your pics and commentary.

Oh well, each of our unique climates has its own disadvantages, doesn't it?

Leigh said...

Thanks Theresa, that's what I was hoping.

Mama Pea, you are so right about shelling those beans. B-o-r-i-n-g. It's something to do when I talk to Dan on the phone in the evenings. Keeps my hands busy.

I certainly hope my successes outweigh the failures. I need to sit down and take a look at what I grew, how it did, and what adjustments I need to make. I do need to do some research on tomatoes and diseases, though I planted enough plants to get most of what we needed.

Sharon said...

Your produce is gorgeous and worthy of envy, mine at least. You always keep a couple projects in the wings! That house is very lucky it found you.