2015-11-04 / Gardening Tips / Columns

Gardening Tips: November 4, 2015

Tips and recollections
by Bob Beyfuss

I ran out of room before I finished discussing last year’s garden successes and failures. I want to thank a few readers for their excellent suggestions and for sharing their experiences too! Gardeners are usually interesting people who share a passion for creating and observing life in an increasingly unnatural world. We are different than most people in that regard. The following quote by Henry David Thoreau is a beautiful example of how a person can distinguish wildness from cultivation. This was posted on Facebook by Gary Lincoft, one of the world’s leading mushroom experts, who is also a Thoreau fan, as am I. October 27, 1855: “I try one of the wild apples in my desk. It is remarkable that the wild apples that I praise as so spirited and racy when eaten in the fields and woods, when brought into the house have a harsh and crabbed taste... To appreciate their wild and sharp flavors, it seems necessary that you be breathing the sharp October and November air... The palate rejects a wild apple eaten in the house, — so of haws and acorns — and demands a tamed one... They must be eaten in the fields, when your system is all aglow with exercise, the frosty weather nips your fingers (in November), the wind rattles the bare boughs and rustles the leaves, and the jay is heard screaming around. So there is one thought for the field, another for the house... Some of those apples might be labelled, ‘To be eaten in the wind.’”

Proving that homegrown tastes better

The food we grow is as special and as unique as the wild apples that are found in the fields and forest around us and as the wild fruit tastes better in the field, the garden food tastes so much better than that same food from the supermarket. This brings me to my potato crop. I grew Yukon Gold and Norland this season. Both are tasty varieties and available in super markets everywhere. Both seemed to grow quite nicely in a four-feet by four-feet raised bed of fertile soil, but my aversion to watering probably was the reason why the yield was so awful. I harvested about two or three pounds of decent sized spuds, but the majority of the harvested tubers were tiny, golf or marble sized balls of starch and sugar. (Marbles? How many of you remember playing with marbles as a child? The term may soon be meaningless.)

Nevertheless, these small potatoes tasted so much better than their store-bought counterparts. I cooked some supermarket ones identically right next to my garden ones to confirm this suspicion and an unknowing third party confirmed my suspicion. Ah, validation is a sweet treat, as what was lacking in yield, was trumped by taste! (Trumped? There I go again, I really need to modernize my language or risk losing all my readers who are under 60 years old!)

Harvesting the garlic family

My garlic crop of German White and German Red and an Elephant type, planted in October 2014, produced a bumper crop of great tasting bulbs. This may be because I applied a thick layer of moisture-conserving straw last fall and left it in place until July. I usually buy my seed garlic at the Saugerties Garlic Festival and I have never been disappointed with the results. It is so much more convenient to buy the pre-chopped or minced garlic in jars, but once again, the difference in flavor is significant. Elephant garlic is actually more closely related to leeks than it is to garlic, but has a milder taste than regular garlic. Wild leeks, also called ramps, also taste more like garlic than cultivated leeks. The odor of garlic tends to remain on one’s breath for some time after eating it, but ramps make your entire body smell like they do! I grow an unknown variety of leeks each year and they always do well. This year, they did not grow so well, but they are still growing strong and I will make some delicious potato/ leek soup in the next week or so.

Overall, my 2015 garden gets a “C +” for yield, with a few successes and a few more disappointments but an “A+” for taste. Few backyard gardens come even close to saving any money for the gardeners, but the joy of planting, tending, harvesting and especially eating this food is priceless.

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