Final garden harvest of 2008

Despite my previous assurance that I was going to only briefly talk about gardening rather than politics, I’m afraid that I’ve done no better than a fast-talking politician on that pledge. While I stand by my previous statement, er, do not recall any details of my previous post on the matter, I do know that today we made our final harvests from our two gardens. And wowsers, do we have a lot of food now!

From our two gardens we got three more champion beans; twelve tomatoes, of which six are ripe; a total of twelve jalapeño and Hungarian wax peppers; some twenty radishes; three beets; and a full seven pounds of Brussels sprouts! That does not include the several pounds of herbs that we’ve collected, including oregano, basil, parsley, sage, and lemon thyme. We even got a bag-ful of catnip, which should make ol’ miss Miranda a very happy camper this winter.

(Please note that that was all from our final harvest. We’ve been eating from our gardens from this past June straight on!)

Here’s how it looked:

Going clockwise, at the top are the radishes, beans, and beets. At three o’clock are the tomatoes (mostly the Wisconsin 55 breed), wax peppers, and jalapeños. More not yet ripe tomatoes are at six o’clock. And in the green colander at seven o’clock is at least six or seven pounds of Brussels sprouts. Seven pounds! (We should’ve taken pictures of the process of harvesting them. It’s pretty curious how those things grow.)

The metal bowl at one o’clock is full of stems and leaves that came from today’s harvest. Some of those came from the Brussels sprout plants, which grew thick stalks that were over four feet tall with big stems coming off in all directions around the circumference of the stalk. As it turns out, the thing we know as “Brussels sprouts” grow in the armpit of the stalk and stem. The stalks still had a significant weight even when the stems and sprouts had been picked off. The stalks resembled spears, and they were so big that I could hurl them a good ten feet before they noisily clonked on the ground.

Now, here are the best of the radishes from today’s harvest:

They’re generally bigger than a golf ball, and have a deep red hue that’s rather washed out in this picture. If you look closely, you can easily see dirt is still on them, as this was taken before they were washed. Next year I’ll make sure that they each get enough room in the planting bed and that I harvest them a little sooner. With enough room, a single seed grows into a shining red sphere; crowded together they grow small and feeble. If you harvest them too late they’ll start to split open due to some force I don’t yet quite understand. As long as it’s not rotted, it’s all right if they’re split on the side; the radish is still quite edible.

Also, check out the Brussels sprouts in the lower left of the picture. Seven pounds! We’ll probably freeze most of those which we don’t give away.

Now, credit where credit’s due. This year’s gardens would not have been possible without the following people:

• My family, Stacie and Hari. Young miss H. was a tireless seed-planter!

• The Bay View Garden And Yard Society and the Village Roots Garden.

• Godsil, Dave K., and everyone in the Milwaukee urban farming community.

• And finally, Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen, authors of The Urban Homestead: Your Guide to Self-sufficient Living in the Heart of the City. This book really got me rolling this summer and has helped me grow at least thirty pounds of the most delicious food I have ever eaten in my life. Schwartz on Downer has one copy on hand as of this writing. I would like to challenge one Milwaukeean to buy it, start a small garden, and enjoy the inspiration that comes from the bok. (Yes, I’ll help you out!) (Oh, and that other bookstore’s web site has a little more information on this title.)

Now, given the interesting times that the world financial markets have been in lately, I am trying to take a long-term perspective on all matters financial. In that sprit, I am on the waiting list for a twenty-by-twenty-foot garden plot rental through the city of Milwaukee for next year. Chances are between the city plot, Village Roots, my home garden, and whatever I plant over at (or on) Godsil’s house, we’ll be well-fed again next year.

I can’t say enough about the quality and flavor of the food we grew this year. There’s a French word that I learned, terroir, (“ter-WAHR”) that refers to “all the influences on grape growing.” Now obviously I’m growing food, not wine grapes, but the term remains quite prescient, as it “includes the interplay of farming techniques, soil, bedrock, sun and wind exposure, water table, climate, farming methods etc coming together in a unique expression in the wine [or food].”

And it’s true. Perhaps it’s only me, but I can tell that the tomatoes I grew came from this part of earth in the back yard. The ones from Village Roots actually taste a litle different in some way I can’t easily describe except to say that they each have a different “flavor of the earth.” It’s remarkable. Next year I’ll try growing tomatoes with Growing Power’s “Black Gold” vermicompost and see how that affects the growing and the flavor.

If you’ve never grown your own food before, I heartily encourage you to try. It’s not that hard. With a little work, you can turn a small patch of soil into robust little garden that will make some of the best food you’ve ever had.

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Author: Jason Haas

Jason is an elected member of the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors, occasionally moonlights as an amateur gardener, and is a proud father of two, or three, depending on how you do the math.