Monday, September 24, 2012

Harvest Monday–24 September 2012

Nashoba Valley Winery, Bolton, Massachusetts

This week was a little different than usual. I did harvest the usual cukes, beans, and zucchini (photos at the end), but the garden is getting close to done. I have to clean up some of the beds to get ready for planting garlic next month. The big event for us happened Sunday when I signed up to pick wine grapes at our local winery, Nashoba Valley Winery, and suckered my wife and daughter into keeping me company.

I had to pay $18 per person for the privilege of working and we had to show up at 9:30 Sunday morning with gloves and shears. Perfectly reasonable. Over coffee and apple cider donuts Rick Pelletier, the owner, explained our task: pick 4-5 tons of grapes in 3 hours. Piece of cake. Our family was assigned to pick Vignoles, a white grape. Rick had hoped to pick it in two weeks when the Brix readings would have been closer to the desired 23 degrees, but the appearance of sour bunch rot required its addition to the day’s assignments. What’s another 2-3 ton of grapes? Besides, it was a gorgeous New England Fall day.

Here we are at the top of the Vignoles vineyard. Rick is explaining what to do and how to pick off or cut out the rotten grapes. Note the Segway with all-terrain tires Rick used to fly around supervising us while we lugged around 30-pound boxes of grapes by hand.

Richard Pelletier, Owner

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Another Sign of Fall

Wild grapes

Certainly nights are now cooler and the sun is not as strong. The air is drier but also fragrant with the aromas of ripening fruit wafting from the orchards. A surprising aroma is the sweet perfume I encounter when I take a walk along the roads near my house. It is the smell of the ripening wild grapes that grow in the mass of brush along the roads. It drives the bees and the birds wild and explains some of the purple messes I find on the roof of my car this time of year. Another view of the vine shows it towering over and smothering the young sugar maples it is using for support. The South has its kudzu and we have wild grape.

Wild grapes smothering a young sugar maple

The wild grapes that grow in the Northeast are Fox grapes (Vitis labrusca), a native North American species. Martha’s Vineyard was supposedly named for the wild grapes that grow everywhere. The Concord grape everyone knows is a cultivar of the wild grape developed in Concord, Massachusetts in the nineteenth century.The farm stands here all have baskets of Concord grapes for sale now. They are pretty and make good jams and jellies but are not so good for fresh eating. The skins are thick and tart and the seeds are large. One surprisingly good dessert you can make from them is grape pie. The pulp is separated from the skins and cooked in a saucepot, then strained through a coarse sieve to remove the seeds. The pulp is combined with the skins, sweetened and baked in a pastry crust.

On a road trip to Missouri one September a few years ago, I was driving along I-90 in upstate New York. I was running late and hoping to at least make Erie, Pennsylvania for the night. It was already dark as I turned the corner outside Buffalo and was heading south on I-90 along Lake Erie. Suddenly the car filled up with the a sweet perfume that reminded me of the wild grapes along the roads at home. Because of the grading of the highway and the brush growing along the sides, it was hard to see what the source of the aroma was. Eventually there were breaks and in the moonlight, I could see huge vineyards stretching off towards the lake. I later asked a tax client of mine who works at Welch’s if what I saw could be Concord grapes. She confirmed that area is one of their big producers, growing Concord, Niagara, and Catawba grapes for Welch’s.

The name you most often associate with Concord grape jams and juices, of course, is Welch’s. Welch’s is headquartered appropriately right here in Concord, Massachusetts, and the reason it has not been swallowed up by one of the mega food corporations is that it is a co-op. Welch’s is owned by the National Grape Coop, an agricultural co-op of more than a thousand grape producers located in Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Washington, and Canada. For me, Welch’s is one of the few feel-good products you can still buy in the stores, although I don’t use a lot because of the sugar content. These days, I prefer my grapes made into wine.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Harvest Monday–10 September 2012

Wild turkeys moving through my back yard

Another sign of Fall: the wild turkeys are getting nice and fat. You can see one of my abandoned raised beds in the picture, slowly being engulfed by the forest in the back. I gave up the fight and got a plot in the community gardens. The picture is fuzzy because the camera was on full optical zoom.
The last of my red onions are now drying in the garage. I don’t know what variety these are, I just bought a pot of seedlings at the farm stand. I think I will plant a lot more onions next year and I already have my garlic on order.

This year I had too much perishable produce (lettuce, chard, beans, etc.) all at once, so I wound up giving away a lot or actually losing it. I might as well plant things I can easily store and reduce the amount of perishable produce to what we can easily consume. Forget freezing. We seem to have a week-long power outage about every year now. All the frantic tree trimming done by the power company and the town doesn't help when the whole tree goes over in a freak October snow storm.

My modest red onion harvest

More beets, Red Ace and Bull’s Blood (with the red leaves).

Red Ace and Bull's Blood beets

Bush beans on the left and Fortex pole beans on the right. The pile on the left was made into stewed beans for the community garden pot luck dinner Sunday night. I didn’t have a Jalapeno so I used three tiny Thai chiles. That lit it up pretty good. Those things are hot! The pole beans are going in to a bowl of South African Green Beans for dinner tonight.

Bush beansFortex pole beans

The two tomatoes lower right are my first Striped Roman tomatoes. In the close up you can sort of see the orange stripes down the tomato. When they are green, the stripes are a darker green than the rest of the tomato, which makes them very attractive even when green.

Today's harvest

Striped Roman tomatoes

To see what other gardeners around the world are harvesting from their gardens, head over to Daphne’s Dandelions, out host for Harvest Monday.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Harvest Monday–3 September 2012

It’s definitely getting to be Fall. The days are cooler and the nights are colder.There are other signs around. Late August is when the garlic chives start blooming. The bed below started out as a small clump that I planted from seed and has self-seeded itself into a large bed (reminder to self: I have to remember to deadhead these things this year). The flowers are always a welcome sight, one of the few plants that bloom this time of year. They have a sweet, almost spicy fragrance that drives the bees wild.
Garlic (aka Chinese) chive blossoms

Bee on chive blossoms

Meanwhile, the garden is producing mostly cucumbers and zucchini, some oversized because I got to the garden a day late. The dark, slender cucumbers are Summer Dance. They are interesting in that they just grow longer, not fatter, the longer you leave them on the vine. Some of the ones below are over 10 inches long. They have a small seed cavity and probably would be good for pickles. The shorter, lighter green, cucumbers are Diva.

Jackson Pickling, Diva and Summer Dance cucumbers

Fortex pole beans and Dunja zucchini

Beans, zucchini and cukes

To see what other gardeners around the world harvested from their gardens last week, drop by Daphne’s Dandelions.
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