Fall Harvest and Winter Gardens In The Mountains

I apologize for being a bit absent from the site. My husband, Matt, started a lot of gardens at the beginning of the pandemic and our pear tree decided to produce like crazy this year. I have been helping get things preserved and reorganizing everything so that we are in a better position going into winter.

Our pantry and food supply look a bit different than it did last year. There are barely any small packages of store-bought goods. Purchasing in bulk means providing your containers. Good ones are not cheap, but they will last forever with care, and they prevent food from spoiling. Just avoiding spoilage makes them well worth the investment. I was tired of throwing out greasy disposable plastic too. It seems like you can never get the bulk plastic containers clean. I don’t want to have to wash something twice just to clean the last meal off it. I settled on the Rubbermaid Brilliance line of containers. The pantry set is around $40. Buying the containers individually or in packs of two cost substantially more.

Cherry tomatoes in the Garden Tower. You can grow quite a bit of food in a small space. We were sent a Garden Tower for review a few years ago. They do save a lot of space but you must water them every day that you don’t get rain.
Garden Tower Project

I decided to not can anything except for jelly and jam this year. I had some jars and lids so that was not the deciding factor. My reasons are the time involved with canning and the space the jars take up. We built a small cabin. Jars take up a lot of space compared to dehydrated foods. So far we have dehydrated the following:

  • Pears
  • Melons
  • Onions
  • Green Beans
  • Yellow Squash
  • Zucchini
  • Shiitake Mushrooms
  • Tomatoes
  • Basil
  • Corn
Matt picked a lot of basil and made pesto. We froze enough pesto today for a lot of meals. Check out our previous post on making pesto for some recipes and ideas.

We have a lot of blueberry bushes but in our experience, they do not dehydrate well. I froze what we picked this year. Freeze-drying blueberries is the only drying method that gives a good result from what I can tell. If you have any secret methods for drying blueberries, please let me know. When I tried it they were as hard as a rock and the flavor was lacking.

Grapes

This is a very hardy grape variety called America.

We didn’t grow as many grapes this year. The late frosts set them back a lot, and we decided to just not put a lot of effort into the others for many reasons. There are only two of us, and the pandemic led to a lot of extra work for both of us. Grapes are a ton of work to grow and have a lot of inputs. The hardier varieties did produce though. I think we are going to be replacing some vines with those that can take the climate the best.

I believe that Cornell University and a few other colleges with cold-weather grape programs have done a great disservice to the grape industry by leading people to think that some of the grape varieties they have developed are more tolerant of cold and disease than they really are. Many growers have run into the same issues.

Grape jelly, pears waiting to be processed, and our “squash box”. We have to do something with all that acorn squash. I might freeze some and dry a few.

Soup Mixes

Dried veggies and mushrooms are great for making your own dried soup mixes. I combined some into bags and I plan on adding mashed potato flakes, veggie broth powder, powdered buttermilk, and cheese in various combinations to make soup blends. I have tomato powder that I can use as well. We quit buying canned soups a long time ago.

Future Harvests

We have a big patch of sorghum and sunflowers to harvest. The sorghum is close to ready. The sunflowers can be picked any day now. Unlike our neighbors across the mountain, we don’t cook our sorghum for syrup. We don’t grow enough to justify the setup. Our reason for growing sorghum is for animal feed. At the beginning of the pandemic, Matt and I decided we didn’t like the idea of relying on a feed from off the farm to winter over our sheep, so we planted sorghum. When we were first married, we grew it and wintered over a cow and some sheep, so we knew it could work out well for us this year with some work and a little luck with the growing season.

The sorghum will be dried and fed throughout the winter. We bought corn from the feed store too so we will feed the sorghum first and save the corn for later. It seems like it is going to be a colder year.

Shiitake and Nameko Mushrooms

It has been pretty dry here lately, so we have not had any significant flushes of mushrooms. Cold Fall weather brings out the Nameko mushroom. We will get some Fall Shiitakes too. When it starts getting cold, we will get some “Snowcap” Shiitake. The Snowcaps are a variety of Shiitake that fruits at 45F. We like to use these as stuffing mushrooms because they have a thick and meaty cap compared to a regular Shiitake.

This summer was cool. I think winter will be a cold one.

Living out in the country, we have noticed that every since the pandemic started and industrial pollution and exhaust from air traffic has been drastically reduced, the temps have been colder and the sky much clearer. I remember how the older adults used to talk about how much colder the winters used to be here. Do I have to wonder if air traffic exhaust didn’t contribute to the change? Don’t get me wrong. I don’t believe the extreme global warming argument for a minute. I am talking about haze from the condensation produced by jets. This is not the first time we have seen this type of thing. After September 11, 2001, air traffic virtually stopped, and a lot of the USA saw the same phenomena. Well, in 2020, we have seen a much more extended period without many planes. Not too long ago, I found myself asking, “what the heck was that” and then I realized that it was a plane.

We didn’t get much snow last winter, so we are due. I plan to have everything in order so we can roll with it. Matt and I built a barn for the sheep so they won’t have to take cover in crude shelters. Our Shetland sheep won’t use a barn unless it is awful. The Babydoll sheep love a barn and hate to get wet.

What Matt and I are up to at the moment:

Building a carport and dog house

We ae trying to get enough building supplies amidst the shortages to build a carport for our Kawasaki Mule so we don’t have to walk down a mountain to park it in a barn this winter.

We need to build a dog house so our big dogs can have a better place to hang out when not in the barns. We let them in the house sometimes, but the house is small, and they love to get dirty on the farm. A lovely dog house will be good. I might stick a heating pad out there during the frigid months. Our Great Pyrenees won’t care about it, but our Lab/Feist mix will. Leroy maybe half Labrador Retriever, but he hates the cold worth a passion. He starts shivering if the temp goes below 65F, and he gets severe seasonal affective disorder. I have never had a dog quite like him.

Preparing for a new puppy!

I have always wanted a German Shepard. Our oldest dog has slowed down a lot. She is a Great Pyrenees and turned ten last Spring. She really cannot put up much of a fight anymore, so we are getting a puppy in November so that our other girl has a partner to work with her guarding sheep. We have bears, bobcats, and coyotes in the area, as well as the typical opossums, raccoons, and skunks. I dread with our pup has his first skunk experience. I am glad I stocked up on baking soda. You can mix a little baking soda and hot water in a spray bottle and apply it. I wipe a waste on the stinky spots and then wipe clean. Baking soda is strong, so you need to rinse or wash your dog well afterward when using a strong baking soda solution to treat smells.

Preparing gardens and planting

Garlic

We have 5 lbs of high-quality seed garlic to plant. I recommend spending the money to get real seed garlic because you get better garlic. Seed stock is selected from the best of a crop, and you can get garlic that doesn’t have a ton of tiny cloves to separated. Since you can save some bulbs for seed every year, you only have to buy seed garlic once unless you have a particularly bad season and lose it all.

Matt and I miss fresh store garlic but to be honest, the quality at the store is often questionable. I have bought too much garlic with bad spots at grocery stores in the past.

Shallots

I went through a phase in my 20s. I wanted to expand my cooking abilities. I started reading the Martha Stewart magazines my mother-in-law subscribed to. That is when I discovered the shallot. I love this onion. What I don’t like about shallots is the $3.50-$4.00 per lb that they cost at the grocery store. They are also imported from Holland most of the time; it would seem. I ordered 10 lbs of shallot bulbs. That is enough to plant about 200-row feet. Even if the crop is sparse, we should still get 40 lbs of shallots. It is possible to yield up 65 lbs if everything goes very well. Of course, I will be saving some for next year’s crop too.

Winter Garden Greens and Roots

Carrots. We planted a short stubby carrot that will grow well in heavier soils. Repainting the house and tool shed trim is another project on the list over the course of the next month. There is always more to do than hours in a day.

We are at 3,000 feet elevation. Some crops for Fall and Winter have to be planted in July and August. Currently, Matt has planted turnips, rutabagas, beets, carrots, chard, bok choy, cabbage, collards, and kale.

Green bunch onions. We have a ton of them. One little patch will give you all you need. No more buying expensive dried chives!

Going through preps and organizing for the winter

There is always organization to be done and gaps to fill. We just placed an order for all our seeds for summer gardens. I think there will be a lot of panic buying again at some point.

Saving Seeds

Matt has been saving seeds from as many garden veggies as he can. Here is a picture of our Kentucky Wonder Bush Beans.

Writing Books

I plan on finishing a few books and publishing them. I have some works that need to be edited again and a few unfinished books on the back burner as well. I am about 30K words into my book on how Matt and I built this house and what we did while we were building it over the years. It is a kind of wild story. We lived without a lot of amenities and worked constantly.

Writing articles and getting over my breakup with Backdoor Survival

It was a good three years at Backdoor Survival. I was the editor-in-chief for the last year or so of that time. It was a fantastic opportunity that helped me get my writing out there. I like to think that I helped some people over the years. I learned a lot too. Part of what kept me there was the community. I knew that I needed my own site at some point because I did not own even a percentage of Backdoor Survival.

I did not write as much as usual for about a month after BDS sold. When I was offered another position and learned how long it would be before Backdoor Survival was publishing, it was clear that I needed to move on. I could not take a severe pay cut either. Unfortunately, after I left, the site made some changes that were not OK such as using Gaye Levy’s image and bio in a way that was a violation of the contract agreed on when she originally sold the site. For more info on that, you can read Gaye’s article “An Open Letter To Backdoor Survival.”

Unfortunately, I was listed as the contact for the site on Facebook, and my email address was still in use long after I told them to delete it. I did use it briefly after the sale to let readers know a bit about what was going on even though I had already received my last check from the site for my work. The last article from me on Backdoor Survival was published July 14 or 15. Anything published afterward; I had no hand in writing or editing. I was also not the editor until March of 2019. I just wrote articles for the first few years.

The new owners have taken steps to make the changes Gaye Levy and I requested. There are likely still some things that need sorted.

I wrote 400 articles for BDS or around a million words. I hope those words are not changed. For those of you that purchased the Lifeline archive of BDS, you will at least always have that copy.

On a positive note, I am much more knowledgeable after my three years at Backdoor Survival. As I said, I learned a lot from writing those posts and trying things out.

I am going to try to offer even better articles in the future. Harvest is such a busy time, but the end is in sight. This website is going to get an overhaul so that it runs smoother and looks better. I will be attempting to post two articles per week on my site to start out.

Hope you and your family are doing well!

Samantha

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