Picking Up Post-Storm

What to do this week

Unsurprisingly, given this last week, I am in salvage mode. Few gardens escaped the effects of the hurricane, and autumnal frost warnings have started, so the rush has begun to reap and gather as much as I can.

First off, I am assessing the damage to the orchard. I only lost one tree, broken at the graft union, but many have branches that split or broke in the wind. If left dangling, these can cause even more damage, so I am clipping and sawing them off so as to leave a clean cut that won’t catch water or harbor disease later. Try to avoid leaving stubs that stick out.

Many trees lost their fruit in the wind. I have been gathering up these windfall apples and pears and putting the salvageable fruit in buckets in my root cellar. If any are too damaged, don’t leave them to rot on the ground. They will only attract pests, including mice. Feed them to chickens or other livestock or bury them deeply in the compost pile. It can be a lot of work to keep your fallen apples cleaned up, but it really does make a big difference to the health of your orchard. Many of the fruits stored in buckets will slowly ripen, even if they were a bit green when they hit the ground. I will be checking them regularly to cull any that start to go off. Before the storm I had been greedily anticipating a glut of pears this year, but I should still be able to have a small feast.

Photo: Baden de, CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Many of the windfall apples can also be used for cider. It takes some discrimination to separate apples that were clearly on the ground for a while from the ones knocked off recently by the wind. If the apple looks a bit sketchy, feed it to the chickens or compost. If you don’t have access to a cider press, you can make small quantities of juice by putting apples through the food processor and squishing the juice through a jelly bag or nylon cloth. Cut out the bad spots first. Making cider this way is time consuming but a nice treat, and fun to do with children.

Some things in the garden are too far gone to salvage. I’m thinking of my pole beans. The tractor fan belts I use to strap them to the house worked alright, but the wind tore off the leaves and just left the unripe bean fruits dangling from the vines. If the pods were starting to yellow and soften, I might have a chance of drying them down undercover, but green as they are, I’m afraid they’re a loss this year. The bush beans, being lower to the ground, were a bit mangled but managed to keep most of their leaves. They ripen earlier than the pole beans so I will let them be for a week or so – until it looks like we’re in for a run of rainy weather – then I will pull them up, roots and all, and finish drying them on trestles in the barn. This slows down the drying process and lets the beans mature naturally. Then, in November, or whenever I have time, I will shell them or thresh them out. They will be dry enough to store if they shatter or crack and don’t smush when hit with a hammer. If you are saving them for seed, make sure they have been planted at least five meters away from other bean varieties. Otherwise, save them for the soup pot.

Many tomatoes were knocked green to the ground. If you can’t handle making that much chow, you can try ripening the tomatoes off the vine. Spread them out, not touching, on trays or shallow cardboard boxes, in a warm, dry room. Check them regularly for ones that go bad. It is surprising how flavourful tomatoes are when ripened this way. Perhaps not as much as when vine-ripened,  but infinitely better than grocery store tomatoes. If you are saving seed, the germination rate for seed obtained this way will be somewhat lower than if they were picked ripe. But if it is a matter of safeguarding a rare or favourite variety, it is a good way to hedge your bets, in case an early frost sneaks up on you.

By Nicole Gordine – Own work, CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The winter squashes also survived the weather, but the frost warnings on the radio give one pause. These guys don’t like the cold at all. If an early frost threatens, you may have to pick them early. The c. maxima (Hubbard, buttercup for example) and c. pepo (pumpkins, acorn, delicata) picked early may not cure down properly for storage. The pepos should be eaten first anyway as they get stringy in storage. The c. moschatas (butternut, crookneck) actually will continue to ripen for a while after they are picked. The thin stems on those prevent the introduction of degrading bacteria that the others, with thick stems, are prone to. All winter squash should be handled gently, at least until their rinds harden, to prevent bruising and spoilage. Some people wipe them down with a solution of bleach and water but I don’t like using bleach and I have had pretty good success without it.

Wait to harvest onions until the tops fall over. If only a few tops are still standing, you can knock them down with a stick or rake. They should be dried on trays or trestles as well, until the thick necks shrivel and dry down. Then you can braid them or put them in net bags and hang them in a cool, dry place. There are always a few that stubbornly cling to their thick neck. Eat those first before they spoil.

More on harvesting and dodging the frost next week!

Market gardener, farmer, workshop leader, seed-saver, political candidate and mother, Michelle Smith has spent over 30 years coping with the challenges of our bioregion and in the process has built a store of practical and technical knowledge. The Inverness resident has served on the board of Seeds of Diversity Canada and represented Alternative Producers with the Federation of Agriculture but can do nothing about her hair. She is pictured with a head of Club Wheat, a seed that shares her approach to hairdressing.