We had our first freeze here in NE Georgia two nights ago. So my friend and I went out and harvested everything possible that would not make it thru the cold the day before and that morning. We got out a HUGE amount of stuff!
We picked all the green tomatoes, even the small one, loads of peppers, squash, gourds, and a huge pile of herbs of various kinds. The Tulsi (holy basil) was in great condition with lots of seed heads and leaves, so we cut the whole plant off at soil level.
The few green tomatoes we got in this last harvest will sit in a basket lined with a paper towel until they are ripe but in former years when the last harvest was very profuse, they went into a box lined with newspaper in the garage and were there and checked out routinely for ripe ones so we had fresh tomatoes until late December for sandwiches. The tiny ones usually don’t make it till ripe, but can be added to soup for a tart addition.
Some of my friends make pepper jelly but I’m so allergic I only grow hot peppers for friends or for trade or sale. Usually they get dried and mixed into excellent flavoring powder but I can’t do it in my house because I will sneeze for a week, but when sent as dried peppers, others do the powdering.
The lemon grass plants were in excellent shape and they got cut off as low as I could cut them leaving only about 10 big leaves sticking out in case the plant made it. Then we made a pile of straw over both plants and the soil around it to insulate the plant’s roots. I have not had lemon grass survive a cold winter before, but I didn’t really know how to insulate them. This is an experiment.
My Malabar spinach had 15’ long vines and loads of them. I cut all of it off at the root. Then I carefully cut off all the black berries separately. Later I removed all the leaves and picked off the black berries from the berry stems. Got about half a cup. I will juice the berries and save the seeds to plant next late spring. Malabar spinach is a tropical plant and likes it hot, so it will get propagated in late May.
We got about 9 Japanese eggplant that were worth harvesting. They just went into the frig. I’ll later bake them in the toaster oven till they pop, and sprinkle them with fish flakes and soy sauce – a Japanese delicacy.
Some other herbs were harvested like Sida rhombifolia. I have not harvested this before having just discovered the amazing herbal medicinal properties of it. This plant has naturalized in my garden. I kept pulling it and cursing it because it’s a tough little plant. Then I identified it and was cursing myself for being such a fool. This is a super herb. The woody stems are used in some cultures to make brooms, so we’ll see if I can do something with that too as I like the idea of making a broom. http://tropical.theferns.info/image.php?id=Sida+rhombifolia
Tulsi (Holy Basil) is a wonderful healing herb, delicious in teas, and so soothing. I grew two kinds this year – Ram and Krishna. They have very different flavors but are equally medicinal and kind to bodies. I save the seeds by cutting off the seed heads and letting them dry in the air on paper towels, then when the seeds start dropping out, I put the seeds in little glassine envelopes I buy by the thousand thru Uline, label with a sharpie, and store till next year. The leaves get dehydrated and stripped off the stems when dry. I blend this herb with many other kinds of relaxing and adaptogenic (balancing) herbs for tea. I also make a tincture of Krishna for an instant pick up and soother.
Once we finished harvesting, we worked on the beds, mulching any that were low on covering. We leave the tomato and squash vines because if they live thru the freeze they can grow a bit longer. But usually they wilt at which time we gather everything up, compost it, and take down the supports like tomato cages or bamboo trellises.
Years ago before I figured out how to protect my winter crops from the cold with the tomato cages holding up the plastic, the cages would sit outside and get rusty and be in the way. But by using them under plastic all winter, they tend to hold up better. I have 12 year old tomato cages still in use. Plus they are low enough to the ground even with space for air and heat holding, they don’t catch the wind like aluminum pipe hoop house type supports the smaller size I was using was about 3’ up from the soil. I did that last year and had to go out there in the wind and catch the plastic because it was too high and caught the wind. And I don’t think the air was as warm as if a thinner air cover. It never gets ‘warm’ but it keeps from a hard freeze. Even lettuce will wilt if too cold.
In the beds that are thus unplanted, I wait till it warms up for a few days then plant seedlings of the cool and cold weather varities (like cabbage family, spinach, lettuces, beets, carrots or anything else ready to go in), and cover them when the weather man says more freeze is on the way. Usually I lay my now unused tomato cages alternatively faced down the bed to act as plastic support. This makes an air space between the soil and the plastic which if not opened would squash delicate plants.
This year we had such weird weather in the last month of super wet or very hot conditions that I planted 3 times the cool weather seedlings so carefully germinated and babied, only to have them wilt or rot. Very frustrating. I may have to purchase some established seedlings this year. Once all the supports are torn down, I will add and dig in (but not till) a bunch of bunny poop my rabbit raising friend traded with me for herbs, so the next crop has nice fertilization without chemicals.
Then once planted, because I have a nice supply of spray free wheat straw (also traded for), the beds will be carefully mulched to act as insulation and worm food, supports layed down, and covered with plastic. I have found that clear 3.5 mil clear plastic sheeting from Home Depot is the best covering and can be used for several years. It’s not expensive. All the containers growing things get covered and weighed with bricks or single cinder blocks (scavaged) and often because we get bad winds in the winter, I lay sections of rebar over areas of the plastic so they don’t end up being sails.
Home Depot has really long rolls of plastic sheeting too – 7’ x 100’ for about $20 in both clear and white. Either one will work. Just be careful if you get an unexpected hot spell during the winter, to pull the sheeting off so the delicate cool loving plants don’t cook.
We covered the still producing (cool weather plant) beds with sheeting and in the seedling area on the back deck they got covered with a repurposed clear shower curtain. Everything out there was determined either freeze safe or brought in or covered with plastic. I have a big plant table in the South facing window of my living room and all the tender perennials are now on it inside. That included one plant in a container of lemon grass. The rest was harvested.
Now I had huge bags of herbs, trays of hot peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant. The hot peppers went into the dehydrator (I save the seeds from some this way, and the rest goes into fierce pepper powder). Tomatoes are still ripening which we will then eat. It wasn’t many as I’ve been keeping up with harvest.
I did a bunch of furious research because I’ve tried dehydrating lemon grass in the past but once it becomes dry it looses its flavor. It still has medicinal properties, but I have not been happy with the results. I found out that lemon grass tincture is loaded with very beneficial medicinal properties, so when I come back from the package store today with a couple of quarts of vodka, I’ll start making the tincture. https://www.organicfacts.net/health-benefits/herbs-and-spices/health-benefits-of-lemongrass.html https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3217679/ Tincture making: http://store.newwayherbs.com/lemongrass-cymbopogon-itratus-p59.aspx
Lemon grass is also a wonderous herb for skin and healing, as well as pain killing properties for sore muscles. It makes up into a lovely infused oil. For medicinal purposes I use a carrier oil of extra virgin olive oil, for cosmetic uses a lighter oil like sweet almond or jojoba. Later I will make some salves, ointments and butters with it. But it will dry quickly and I want to preserve it but won’t have time to make these products right away, so they will be infused in oil now.
I spent time picking the leaves off of the Malabar spinach and separating the stems in a huge pile. This is the first year I have had enough of this to need to find a way to preserve as the leaves left in the frig have a short life. They are delicious in salads, and can be used in soups, stews, sautés and I would imagine quiche but have not tried it. However, the nutrients in this vegetable are amazing. http://agrihomegh.com/malabar-spinach-health-benefits/ Its texture is mucilaginous (slimy when cooked) but this has amazing health properties because it is a prebiotic. A prebiotic is a fiber that is food for the good microbes in your gut responsible for up to 85% of your immune system, and without that food, these microbes crave sugar (which then makes YOU crave sugar) but when provided, your microbiome (the lining of the good gut microbes in your whole gastrointestinal tract) is fed and healthy.
Cooking the fresh leaves with slivers of bacon, then adding lime or lemon juice is actually quite delicious. But then I like boiled okra so maybe that’s a deal breaker for some. Just don’t overcook it and it has a nice texture.
Finding a way to preserve and use it has become a challenge. I’m going to try making it into a soup with chicken bone broth, then freezing it. The stems are a thickener. And I had the thought to juice some of it and freeze that. Another thought was to dehydrate and powder some of it to add to soups, stews and sauces for the nutrients.
I have a large bay laurel bush/tree (bay leaves) which grew all summer to amazing proportions. They got pruned and the leaves gathered. I sell these or give them to neighbors and friends as gifts, tied in little bunches. But the leaves are also medicinal. http://home.remedydaily.com/2016/07/25/the-incredible-benefits-and-uses-of-bay-leaves/?src=share_fb_new_54193 I dry them and powder the leaves, then encapsulate the powder as a supplement for heart health, arthritis and inflammation. It has many other medicinal and healthful benefits.
I cut the tall (up to 12’) Jerusalem artichoke (aka sunchoke) stems up a foot from the soil once they died off in October, and let them lay in the sun. So, the other day we cut them up into 1’ sections and use them all winter as kindling as they make great fire starters. The tubers (Jerusalem artichokes aren’t really artichokes, they just taste like it when cooked a certain way) need to get a good hard freeze before we can harvest them. By leaving a foot of stem in the soil you can tell where the tubers will be found. But we wait till it’s warm for a couple of days before that harvest.
Going thru all the herbs and making tinctures, oils, or freezing or otherwise processing all these abundances means some furious activity and bringing in extra supplies like vodka.
But I also am a 1700’s living historian at the Fort Yargo Living History Society in Winder, Ga. and our members met this weekend Saturday, so I brought boxes and bags of the abundance and did a little trading with one member for a lovely brown felt hat (period correct of course), and a lovely loaf of bread right out of the bee hive oven by our master bread maker, so sharing is a big part of why I grow and harvest so much. When the hot peppers come out of the dehydrator those also go out to friends in Florida. And some of it I will sell or use for other tradings. This helps me with getting things I want like fresh eggs or even some money now and then. And of course we have all we personally need and then some.
I love this time of year for the abundances because often friends will likewise have more than they can use and we can trade. Some of the activity now is when I find I have something left over or too much of something, or something I would ordinarily compost (like Malabar spinach stems) I do a little research and find another use for these things. When there is abundance of things, the tendency is to waste. But in Permaculture Design we go for zero waste, so finding ways to turn these otherwise wasted things into yield is a big part of why Permaculture makes for a more efficient and affluent lifestyle. When I’m cutting up those Malabar spinach stems and putting them in the dehydrator, then powdering them once dried, I’ll have a jar by the stove for thickening sauces and soups instead of using flour or corn starch which adds calories and not much nutrition.
Happy fall my friends, and live in beauty.
11-12-18 Diann Dirks
We have a shopping page for purchase of some of the abundant herbs and foods mentioned here including seeds.