DEVOUR & CONQUER

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October in the Kitchen Garden

October 16, 2013

The harvest has started winding down on Vancouver Island, and my backyard kitchen garden was looking a little empty and sad.

That unexpected hit of Late Blight tomato fungus that killed my entire tomato crop (along with many of my friends and neighbours) was a pretty big bummer. It was also a good lesson about counting your chickens before they're hatched. Or in this case, counting my jars of marinara sauce while the unripe tomatoes were still on the vines.

But if the challenge of learning how to make edible things grow in my backyard didn't have blight and onion maggots and aphids and frost to contend with, it wouldn't be much of a challenge, now, would it? Losing crops to pests, diseases and bad weather just lights a fire under me to learn more, plant more and attempt new varieties and techniques.

So I've headed back out into the dirt to plant a winter crop in the garden and see what happens.

The first project was to pull all the strawberry plants out of my deck-edge garden (made from a roof gutter bolted to the edge of our deck). I got a great crop of strawberries from this variation of a window box garden, but instead of letting the berry plants overwinter here, I decided to boot them out into a new strawberry plot in the garden, and plant something we can eat all winter in their place.

I've now got a wide assortment of lettuce plants and bunches of spinach happily shooting out tasty-looking leaves on the edge of the deck. This spot has the best winter sun of anywhere in my very treed West Coast backyard, so I'm excited to see if they will flourish. I'd also be happy if they just stayed dormant over the winter and came back to life in the spring like the never-ending lettuce garden I planted last fall (but can't deny I'd rather eat fresh all winter and plant fresh in the spring).

The random brussel sprout plants that I threw into the garden in the spring are going strong this fall. You can see a plant that's almost ready to eat in the right of this picture, and the huge one in front looks to be about a month or so from ready to harvest. Christmas brussel sprouts from the garden this year, perhaps?

I've planted more brussel sprout plants to see how my garden likes a fall planting of brussels. I also added some donated leeks from a friend. They were pretty limp and pathetic after being transferred, but are starting to perk up now. Mmmm, future leek soup...

I just pulled my first horseradish root, that has been growing next to the herbs all summer. Made an amazing batch of fresh ground horseradish sauce with it, and replanted two pieces which are sending up new leaves a week later. Gotta love a veg that you can cannibalize and replant without guilt.

Filled with tomato plants no longer, the sunniest part of the kitchen garden is now planted with different kinds of kale and swiss chard for the winter. Everything is fluffing out already and I'm hoping for many opportunities to make my favourite Lime & Sriracha Spicy Kale Chips.

The last thing on my fall kitchen garden agenda is more 'garden-adjacent', as it will take place in my office window beside the garden. In November I'm finally going to break into this awesome grow-at-home Oyster Mushroom growing kit. Very excited to see what happens with this, as well as looking forward to creating some new oyster mushroom recipes.

Happy growing things this fall to all the other experimental gardeners out there. Even if you don't feel like planting a garden to tend this autumn, it's a great time to throw some sage and thyme herb plants in the ground for holiday and winter meals - your Christmas stuffing and winter soups will thank you.

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