The First Freeze, Fall 2021

Well, this season has zoomed by. As expected, I was too busy just keeping up with the garden to bother to write anything about it. But I took a ton of pictures, and I have many snowy months ahead, and I have many analysis posts bubbling up to post. But as I’m still in the middle of wrapping up the garden for winter, it may be a bit. And given that I got my first bad head cold in over a year this week, I haven’t been able to take advantage of the last week of warm weather to do my clean-up. 😦

However, now we’ve just had our first freeze– FINALLY! Our usual first freeze is the 1st week of October; this year’s freeze didn’t hit until November 1. I had gotten to the point where I was tearing out my squash and tomato plants even though I knew, based on our weather reports, that they could have had another week or two in the ground. I never thought I’d be wanting the winter to come sooner, but these past few weeks I was getting kinda twitchy waiting for it to finally hit. The leaves are only just now changing and dropping from the trees–usually the trees are bare by the time Halloween comes.

Plants That Did Not Survive The Freeze:

Now that it has, I can say without a doubt that dahlias do NOT like freezing temperatures whatsoever. All of my backyard dahlias turned brown and limp overnight. I harvested the last of the blooms on Halloween–my kitchen windowsill is completely filled right now. It looks beautiful, but for the first time in three months, I have no new bouquets to look forward to. The plan is to let the dahlia plants sit for a week or two and then dig them up and store them. Dahlias will get their own post–maybe even two. I have a lot to say about dahlias this year.

Other plants that did not fare well in the freeze were my zinnias, and my potatoes. The zinnias look just as brown as the dahlias. The potato leaves looked brown and flopped over completely. I harvested the last potato planting from September today, and did actually get a fair amount of fingerling potatoes. The nasturtiums died as well. I thought I remembered them being more cold-resistant last year, but apparently they are only warm-weather plants.

Also, my night-blooming jasmine bushes, which I knew ahead of time would not be happy with the cold, did not survive. I had three but only have the space to overwinter one, so the other two were left out in the cold, and are looking just as bad as the dahlias. (Unfortunately no one in my area had the space or setup to successfully overwinter medium-sized bushes.) Technically the two outdoor plants are still green, but the leaves are limp and I’m sure another night of freezing temps will kill them entirely.

And, surprisingly, my lovely Moonflower vine died just as quickly as the dahlias. I wish it was a perennial–it took a good four months for the vine to get up and going, and I only had a month and a half to enjoy the flowers.

And my green onions and smaller calendula plants (both of which are planted in greenstalks) did not fare well.

Plants That Survived The Freeze Just Fine:

My white-blooming Nicotiana plant survived, surprising enough. I though that given that it has very soft foliage, it was sure to die off. And it’s massive–the seed packet didn’t lie, it did actually get 6′ tall! And 3′ wide. It has HUGE, fuzzy, sticky leaves which are also apparently resistant to frost. But, the freeze has not made a dent in any part of it yet, as for as I can tell.

The rudbeckias and echinaceas are also unfazed. My Shasta daisies and sunflowers were already dead before the freeze hit. The violas and pansies also petered out before the freeze, but I think they could have taken teh cold temps if the plants hadn’t been so old.

My large purple cabbages are also unaffected, though their grow rate has significantly slowed. The beets and turnips have also survived–but again, are not growing significantly. The Brussel sprouts are also alive but no longer growing.

The leeks are faring the same–still healthy and alive, but not really growing.The swiss chard also survived, but I’m not sure how much longer it’ll last.

Plants That Are Thriving Now That It Is Cold:

My broccoli plants are the happiest campers right now. They are obviously continuing to grow, and the leaves are crisp and fresh-looking. Admittedly, I planted my broccoli late–in mid-September, IIRC–but the plants are still happy. They are not producing shoots yet, so we’ll see how it goes. I’m growing the Rudolph variety, which is supposedly December sprouting. I also planted a variety that is supposed to be able to overwinter in Zone 6 (I’m zone 5 a/b) so we’ll have to wait and see how that one does.

All of my lettuces are also quite happy–they look even better than my kales. I’m growing several of Johnny’s Salanova varieties, and other varieties that are supposed to be able to withstand the cold, and so far, so good.

The snapdragons are quite happy as well, and are still showing the light-green of new growth. They do not have as many blooms as they produced during the summer, though.

To be continued…

Leeks are planted!

The leeks are planted! As are the onions. I just barely made it in time–waiting 2.5 weeks out of the 3 weeks that Dixondale recommends as the limit. The starts did look pretty dry, but they weren’t moldy. I gave them a good watering and some fertilizer, so here’s hoping they’ll settle in. We have relatively warm weather for the next 2.5 days before it heads back into freezing again, so hopefully that’s enough time for them to get acclimated. Item #1 marked off of my Garden 2021 to-do list, huzzah!

They’re here! (and way too early): Onions and Leeks

So my first live plants arrived a few days ago! Dixondale’s leeks and onion starts have arrived. I knew they’d ship in March but the posted ETA was 3/15 and I assumed they’d arrive a few days after that. They did not. They arrived 3/11/21. I was caught unprepared.

This was not necessary Dixondale’s fault. I had not read the website thoroughly to begin with and originally had them scheduled to arrive back at the end of January. Dixondale, however, being the professionals that they are, checked my zip code and decided that I really wanted the leeks to be shipped mid-March. Once I finally found the email that told me this (several weeks after the fact-my inbox has been getting really strict in deciding which emails are junk and which ones are not), I relaxed. At least, I did until my knee surgery got more complicated than expected and I found out I’ll be on crutches for at least 6 weeks, not 2 weeks as originally planned. On top of that, they did actually arrive at least a week before I expected. While the snow has all melted, I haven’t gone outside to even look at my garden. Nothing in my garden is prepped yet.

When the leeks and onions arrived, I wasn’t even really mobile enough to get the materials to unpack and store them properly in my back hall (which in the winter works well as cold storage). Luckily, a gardening friend was stopping by that day anyway and helped me unpack and store them. The “plan” is for her to come over again tomorrow to attempt to get out into the garden tomorrow and plant some of them, at least. Dixondale’s website states that, since leeks and onions are part of the lily family, they can store up to three weeks in a cool, dry area, and not to been worried if the tops and bottoms turn brown b/c they will revive once planted in the soil. To be fair, given our current weather and the temperature of our soil, this week really would have been an ideal time to plant the starts, had I not been injured.

Luckily, I did do a pretty good job tidying up last fall, so the garden is not a mess. And I have a large tub which was going to hold sweet potatoes but for now can hold most, if not all, of my leeks starts. I think I’ll try to plant the onions in the beds that already are half-filled with garlic; those beds are already prepped, and I might as well keep the alliums together. And I’ll likely have extras to give to my friend should she want them. No two-person household really needs that many leeks or garlic.

I ordered one bunch of Lancelot Leeks (the only variety they carry) and a mixed bunch of long-day onions, which ended up being comprised of Walla Walla sweet yellow onions; Ringmaster white onions; and Redwing red onions. (I’ve only ever tried the Walla Walla onions, but onions are onions, I guess.) Each bunch has 50-60 starts in it. I’m mostly excited to grow the leeks. Over the last few years I’ve picked up a couple of staple recipes that use leeks, and they are a pain to get from the store as they are not always in stock and are often expensive. Luckily they do store quite well in the fridge, even already chopped and cleaned.

Here are my favorite recipes for which I hope to use my own home-grown leeks:

Potato Leek Soup — I substitute cauliflower for the potatoes–it has a better glycemic index, and I think it tastes better with cauliflower anyway.

Chicken and Leek Pie (William Sonoma) — This recipe tastes amazing. I make it exactly the way the recipe calls for (which is almost unheard of in my kitchen). It really is that good. The way I make it is essentially as chicken pot pie, with bottom crust but no top crust. It freezes well, too.

Triple Mushroom and Leek Soup –A great soup for a cold day. I omit the cream in this soup (as I do with most soups, as I’m lactose intolerant). I think it tastes amazing either way. For this soup, I recommend a health dose of shiitake mushrooms, with a few white mushrooms and the rest crimini mushrooms (or whatever version of portobello that looks good at the store that day). I’ve also made it using chantarelle mushrooms once; it was divine.

I’ve also been told that the leek greens are also good in veggie and chicken stock, though I usually just toss or compost them instead.

Leeks are amazing. They are one of the few plants I’m growing this year that I’m really counting on to succeed. The rest (tomatoes, peppers, sweet potatoes, et al) are honestly just a bonus.

Ordering Live Plants, part 1–Fruits and Veg

Or, some plants are better not grown from seed.

In planning for this year’s garden, I ended up taking a few shortcuts. While growing veggies and flowers from seed is easily the cheapest way, some veggies and flowers take a very long time to mature and produce food. And I’m not the most patient person.

Veggies:

Asparagus

I had high hopes for having fresh asparagus this year until I found that it takes a good 3-5 years before you can harvest any asparagus that you’ve grown from seed. In lieu of this, many seed companies sell 2-3 year old asparagus “crowns” which is the root of an asparagus plant. I’ve ordered a set of 10 crowns of Jersey Knight Giant asparagus from Gurney’s (many other seed companies were already sold out). Jersey Knight seems to be the favored variety.

Jersey Knight Giant asparagus

Leeks and Onions

Leeks are another crop I had high hopes for. It can be grown from seed–I actually have three packets of different varieties in my seed collection already. However, my experience with growing both leeks and onions seeds last year was really frustrating–all I got was a series of chives, or, at best, green onions. So when I heard that you could order leek and onion “starts”, I jumped on it. (Onion starts are different from onions sets, which are essentially bags of mini onion bulbs which more often than not will bolt early–onions are biennials and the process of being stalled at the small bulb stage makes them think they are on year two and should start putting out flowers instead of growing a bigger bulb.) Several companies, such as Johnny’s Seeds, sell onion and leek starts, but one company specializes specifically in onion and leek sets: Dixondale Farms. I ordered a bunch of leeks (30 or so in each bunch) and a bunch of mixed onions–yellow, red, and white from Dixondale. These will be the first of my live plants to arrive as they are supposed to be shipped out mid-March. I think I’ll put them in the beds next to the garlic, though at this point I’m not sure if I’ll even be able to get into the garden to prep the beds and plant them. Erik may end up doing more gardening that he had planned on this spring.

Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are another crop that could theoretically be grown from seed but no one does. Instead, companies sell “slips” (sweet potato starts), or you could make your own from old sweet potatoes. Last year I received three different types of sweet potato slips from Baker Creek–Pumpkin Yam, Jersey Yellow, and Molokai purple. Of the three, the Pumpkin Yam grew best and tasted amazing roasted. The Jersey yellow did not grow that big, and also didn’t cure well. The Molokai purple were also very skinny–they cured well, but as they are so thin I haven’t bothered to use them in cooking yet.

As I’m not sure if Baker Creek will even offer sweet potatoes slips this year, I went ahead and ordered a set of Murasaki Purple sweet potatoes from Gurney and a set of 25 slips of Mahon Yams from Johnny’s Seeds. I think I’ll plant them in a large container again this year. One set of slips is set to arrive in late April, and the other set is scheduled to arrive late May. Honestly, I’m not sure what I’ll do with the April set, yet as sweet potatoes are finicky and only like hot weather and April is not hot in Northern IL.

Mahon Yams

Apple Trees

My first purchase when we moved into the new house were some apple trees. Unfortunately, they were sold out last summer, and even when I went to pre-order trees this winter, many were already sold out! My preference is Fuji apple, but all the companies I could find were out of stock. Instead, I ended up with a HoneyCrisp and a Haralson, both of which cross-pollinate well with Fujis (and each other), from Gilby’s Orchard, a tree company based in MN. These apples are all dwarf varieties, as I live in the middle of the city and full-sized trees would be too large (plus, a pain to manage). I’m not entirely sure where I’ll put them yet, but there is plenty of room as all of the house’s previous trees have been removed due to illness and old age.