Thursday, August 18:
We are reading Eliot Coleman and dream at night of crushed limestone and greensand. Compost and manure have always had a big role in our gardening, but we have shied away from what required bought inputs. Coleman is making us rethink this prejudice; even more, vagaries in our gardening success are making us look for answers. The Golden Bantam corn we grow every year for the table is as good as ever, but the ears are fewer; a good many of our cornstalks had no ears at all. That early windstorm that knocked over our three and five foot stalks (first and second planting) may have had something to do with the poor pollination that results in spotty ears, but we don’t know how it could have caused no ear to form at all. A too-acid soil might be part of the answer.
All day in the kitchen. Salsa is a labor-intensive product because of all the peeling, seeding, and chopping that is required; even with a food processor (courtesy of Shawn’s mamma) we spent from mid-morning to about four in the afternoon getting a large batch (about four gallons) of salsa into the canners. Many pounds of tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, hot peppers, and garlic go to make a batch of our salsa, but we use a lot of it: it is not only to be eaten on chips and in burritos, it is a significant ingredient in many dishes, such as chile con carne, “spanish” rice, okra gumbo, and taco salad. We try to put up at least forty quarts of salsa every year. This year, so far, is a good one for salsa ingredients.
We are concerned about the potato crop. As we do every year, we have sorted out those potatoes which were spiked with a garden fork in the digging, and they will be used first. The rate of spoilage has been extremely high for some of these; in the week the potatoes spent on the garage floor curing, almost a five-gallon bucket (thirty percent of the spiked potatoes)were completely rotten. Now we are finding small brown lesions on some of the remaining damaged potatoes, lesions which look suspiciously like blight. Years we have had blight in potatoes or tomatoes, it has usually destroyed the whole crop. We will watch the stored potatoes closely; if at all possible, we will prevent rotting potatoes from infecting the rest of the harvest.
Trimmed and cooked, the spiked potatoes are very good indeed; as roast potatoes last night, hash this morning, and mashed potatoes this evening for dinner. God preserve our potato crop.
We have been learning a valuable and probably obvious lesson lately. NEVER BE WITHOUT PIGS IN LATE SUMMER. There are so many things available to feed a pig, and in quantities the chickens can’t even begin to deal with. In the first place, there are all the sprouted potatoes in the root cellar, left over from last year’s crop, perfect to be boiled and offered as pig ration. There are all the trimmings of the things we are eating ourselves, of course. And there are the plant residues generated as a result of all the canning and freezing that is just beginning to consume our lives, all the corn cobs, tomato skins and seeds, green bean ends, onion tops; later there will be the apple mash, and grape skins, peach skins, cabbage leaves, carrot tops. In the late fall there will be all the vines and stalks we pull out of the gardens before the ground freezes.
And what about all those immature pumpkins we had to pull out of our bug-infested pumpkin patch, pumpkins which will never form the nice hard rind that would protect them for winter storage, nor develop the sugars and starches which make a pumpkin worth eating? We can cut these small and feed some to the cow and steers, some to the chickens; but pigs would make the best use of it, converting the poor harvest into firm porcine flesh. We have spoken with C. F., and should be putting three small pigs in the white barn pigstye tomorrow or the next day. That’ll be one thing done right, anyway.