fall crops benefit from kelp, milk, and compost

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After such a challenging summer, this mild autumn has been very kind to late crops. Despite being the wettest autumn on record, there have been enough clear days to encourage terrific growth on everything I planted in September and even into October. Kale, shard, collards, mustard greens, and even celery are filling in faster than usual, while lettuces are making great, fluffy rosettes of lime and emerald and rose. Garlic and leeks are also sizing up quickly and we are harvesting lovely little marble sized Cippolino Italian onions as well (see a delicious recipe below). As I clean up my little beds, I remove all fading foliage and detritis from earlier crops, then carpet the soil with mature, well-rotted compost.

More Milk, Please

As I tuck in the autumns starts, I water each in with a diluted solution of liquid kelp (1 tablespoon of Maxi-Crop per gallon of water) and spray the foliage with diluted skim milk (1 cup skim milk powder per 10 cups water). When in rapid growth, as they are now, plants take up the extra calcium quickly. Both these treatments help boost root growth and encourage sturdy stems and dense foliage that tastes beautifully tender. This diluted milk spray is very helpful on squash relatives, all of which are prone to mildews and molds. When sprayed on foliage, the milk’s readily absorbable calcium seems to give an extra degree of protection against foliage diseases. I try to spray early on a dry day, since rain will wash the milk away, but at least some of it will make it to the plant’s root system, where it will also be welcome.

Italian Treats With Fall Vegetables

In Italy, autumn vegetables are treated as lovingly as the first asparagus of spring. There are many classic ways to cook the lovely little onions called cippolini, including tossing them with fresh peas and clotted cream and serving them with angel hair pasta. I love to make these sweet and sour Italian onions for Thanksgiving or any friendly feast, because they are just as delicious with vegetarian entrees as with fish or chicken. Don’t overcook the little onions; they should be tender-crisp, not mushy.

Italian Sweet and Sour Cipollini (tiny onions)

1 tablespoon virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 cup tiny onions, peeled
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/3 cup dry white wine or water
2 teaspoons cane sugar
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons parsley, stemmed

In a wide, shallow pan, heat oil and butter over medium high heat. Add onions, sprinkle with salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly gilded (8-10 minutes). Add wine or water, bring to a simmer, stir in sugar and balsamic vinegar, cover pan, reduce heat and cook until barely tender (8-10 minutes). Serve warm with roasted vegetables or grilled fish or chicken.

Those Grafted Tomatoes Are Still Going Strong

My grafted tomatoes are still ripening happily in my sun porch, keeping company with a few pots of basil and some jasmine, which is just budding up for its winter performance after a summer outside in the sun. If you did manage to ripen some tomatoes, here is a rewarding way to use them, along with some leeks. The white and palest green parts of leeks are the most tender, but save all your scraps for broth (see below).  Leeks and tomatoes are natural companions, and they taste especially good in this rich sauce, with crumbles of soft goat cheese melt into the hot pasta.

Pasta Sauce With Leeks and Goat Cheese

1 tablespoon virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon fennel seed
2 cups fresh leeks, sliced (white and pale green parts only)
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup shredded carrot
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, stemmed
1 teaspoon fresh lemon thyme or any thyme, stemmed
6 cups ripe Roma tomatoes, diced (canned works fine)
2-3 ounces soft fresh goat cheese, crumbled

In a wide, shallow pan, heat oil with fennel seed over medium high heat to the fragrance point (about 1 minute).  Add leeks and garlic, sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt and cook until tender (8-10 minutes). Add carrot, rosemary, and thyme, cover pan, reduce heat to medium and cook until soft (5-7 minutes). Add tomatoes, mash gently, bring to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt and serve over hot pasta, garnished with goat cheese. Makes about 1 quart of sauce.

Home grown vegetables are so flavorful, it’s a shame not to enjoy the flavor of every little scrap. True, the chickens also appreciate kitchen tidbits, but everything from potato peelings to onion tips and tails will enrich your basic stock. In fact, onion skins and roots add a warm, appetizing amber brown color to stock, which can look a bit like dishwater. If you like, gently squeeze out the cooked garlic after straining and add it to the broth; you’ll lose clarity but gain depth of flavor. The recipe below is just an outline; add whatever you have on hand, tasting after an hour or so to adjust the flavor if need be. Freeze extra broth (leave headroom if you use canning jars) and use it within a few months for best flavor.

Basic Vegetable Broth

2 cups potato peels
2 cups tips and tails of carrots, onions, celery, etc.
4 cups leek greens (roots and tops)
onion skins
1 whole head garlic, broken into cloves (unpeeled)
1 sprig rosemary
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 cups water (or to cover)

Bring to a simmer over medium heat, partially cover pan, reduce heat to low and simmer gently for 2-3 hours, adjusting flavor if need be (carrots for sweetness, potatoes for body, onions for savor, herbs as desired). Cool and strain. Makes about 1 quart.

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9 Responses to fall crops benefit from kelp, milk, and compost

  1. Ann Lovejoy says:

    Tante grazie! please come again!

  2. hello!This was a really impressive topic!
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    Also I obtain a lot in your Topics really thank your very much i will come every day

  3. Pat Patterson says:

    Hi Ann,

    I see you did not have a September Green Gardening in the Archive. I too have been too busy for casual computing for quite a while. Here it is near the end of October-hard to believe. We got a 30 killing frost Monday last. Matt’s Wild Cherry tomato was the last to go and part of it is still green and bearing. This is a tiny tomato with an intense flavor. It is Lycopersicon pimpinifolia (sp?) and thus a cousin of our usual tomatoes. I would put it up against the Tomaccio any day. In fact, the latter was a bit of a disappointment for me. Wrong climate for an Israeli I guess.
    Our news is that the Oregon State University Extension in Lane County closed September 2 after the May failure of the levy. We had until September 30 to clear out 50 years of accumulation. The Master Gardeners ™ did not give up and turned out in force. At the penultimate moment we struck an agreement with various community groups such as Lane Community College and are now in a new small office with a phone and computers and ready to go. We just reopened last Monday. Between all that and the garden, you can see why I have been so long absent. Unfortunately, none of the other programs made it, so Master Food Preservers, Forestry, 4-H etc. are now suspended. I set up our Adaptive demo garden in the patio in front of the new office (783 Grant between Garfield and Chambers in Eugene, OR) so it has a homey feel as you come in to the office. Nothing like plants for instant decorating 8-). Now we have to let everyone know MG/Hort is back in business.
    I love your hints and the recipes are overwhelming, but I have lots of green tomatoes to experiment with, so thank you very much!
    I am hoping life will settle down as soon as I deal with the load of beets (pickled beets, I hope) and the 6 or 7 flats of tomatoes in the harvest kitchen. Like you I hauled in two tomato plants, 3 stevia plants and 4 pepper plants (all hot peppers.) All seem much happier in that out! One of the peppers (a large red cayenne) is now on its 2nd year of bearing for me. I managed to get a small pepper burn this season also, but treated it with aloe vera gel successfully. I’ll remember the anti-histamine tip if I am so dumb again. I had just pulled off the gloves when I found one I had not chopped, so I did-Whoops!
    The winter garden is in and growing pretty well. Now to rebuild beds for next year, haul the tons of compost we have been making etc. A gardener’s work (and Joy) is never done.
    I wish you the best in life,
    Your friend,Pat

    • Ann Lovejoy says:

      Wow–what a month you’ve had! I am amazed that after so many years, the Master Gardener program are not better supported. Weren’t the very first programs started in Washington and Oregon, about 40+ years ago? I’m glad you were able to save at least the bare bones, but what a shame so much else will be lost (perhaps temporarily–or so we can hope). I’ve been dealing with multiple family health issues but find my little garden a joy and a blessed retreat. I’m so tickled that my celery is doing so well–the best I’ve ever grown! Tons of greens still coming, and leeks, B. sprouts, onions, late carrots etc. still to pick. Local mushrooms are fabulous right now, and after a brief cold spell, we’ve warmed up again–maybe summer decided to come back and try again?


  4. Pat Patterson says:

    A PS. I planted all the garlic with eggshells as usual and then found a bag of Localon I had missed. The tulips are in with the same treatment. I also scatter crushed eggshell heavily over the bed surface. Before I started doing that the squirrels dug all my tulip bulbs for their winter treat. It is supposed to also deter slugs and snails, but I am not convinced of that. Sluggo is a surer bet.


    • Ann Lovejoy says:

      Hi Pat,

      Huh–eggshells have never been very effective for me, but I’ve had great luck with very selective use of Sluggo/Woryfree/similar iron phosphate-based baits. I never scatter the stuff–it just becomes expensive bird food. I put just a tad at the base of susceptible plants–slugs, after all, can’t fly–and have only needed to replace it occasionally (maybe every 6-8 weeks). Coffee grounds are great, though–all that nitrogen and slug-destroying to boot!


  5. Ann Lovejoy says:

    Sure–what kinds of plants are you trying to feed?


  6. mackdaniel says:

    this was a really nice post, thanks

  7. Ann Lovejoy says:

    What kind of details are you looking for?


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