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Fall Compost

Fall Compost

It’s fall, it’s been a bumper crop year and at the gardens at Smiling House, you can’t walk twenty feet without something that needs digging, pulling or picking. I haven’t quite decided which is the greater danger: butt herniation or exhaustion.

Here’s where we stand in the battle to get everything inside before the ground hardens and the snow stops all gardening cold.

I planted five 30 foot rows of Yukon Gold potatoes this year. That may seem like a lot, but since we’ve gone pretty much gluten-free in our household, a good harvest will last us till May, when the wrinkled dregs in my potato box become seed potatoes. We’ve been eating from the garden for over a month, so there was only a third of that row left to dig. Yesterday, I finished it off and dug two more rows.

That may seem like not a lot to do in a day. But it has been a busy year and the law is, If you work on project A, project B becomes harder to do. So if I’m fencing, the weeds in the garden grow. If I’m painting, the fences get weaker under the bulldozer noses of the cows AND the weeds in the garden grow. And on. And on.

So it happened that I spent most of the summer not weeding the garden. The chickweed became a thick quilt of green snarl. To get at my spuds required some serious raking. And then the heaping piles of chickweed needed to be brought to the salivating cows, out the garden gate, down past the compost and flung over the fence at them. (One cow was walking around like a gluttonous um… cow… all day with a long strand of chickweed trailing from the side of her mouth like drool.)

Then the digging began. In previous years, the ground was so soft I tossed the shovel, got down on my knees and pushed the soil off my spuds with my hands. Not this year. It was shovel and bend the whole time. I got a large wheelbarrow of potatoes from each row, somewhere between 75 and a 100 pounds each. Not too shabby for a hilled, but otherwise neglected patch of earth.

Today is another day of ass-breaking work, as it’s going to rain tomorrow and the next day. And if wet spuds, or spuds with dirt attached to them, do not winter well.

My carrots were a whole other matter. No one could ever accuse me of being shy in thinking the worst might happen. Last year was so wet I got maybe five gallons of carrots. This year, I estimate I have about 30 gallons. And since I made the decision to freeze them, I’ve spent the better part of three full days digging, washing, topping and tailing, chopping, blanching and bagging.

I’ve done the wet sand thing for a lot of years (storing them in wet play sand in nice neat rows in plastic containers in my potato box). I’m old now. I don’t like freezing my fingers trying to dig the damned things out in January, then washing pounds of sand down into my septic tank. Someday, when the zombie apocalypse comes and we have no electricity, sure. No problem. Just not this year.

I still have about twenty gallons of carrots to go. Wish me luck.

We’ve had quite the varietous garden this year. I successfully grew mini watermelons and giant pumpkins. A big batch of turnips are awaiting processing. Though I’ve been eating beets almost every day, I think the rest are going to end up in the dehydrator. I’ve frozen (no-blanch) spinach and string beans and for the first time had a few strawberries.

Processing the apples from our two ancient trees now seems like a distant memory, though it was only a month ago. I swear, the horses got as many as we did. But I ended up filling our little apartment freezer to the brim with apple sauce. We’re talking maybe 50 litres.

We don’t really buy apples anymore. I used to eat two or three a day all year long. Now the quality of commercial apples is so low, I can’t stand to eat them. Like our carrots, even after being frozen for months, my applesauce always tastes like summer. I’m so spoiled by it I can’t imagine having to go back to store-bought.

I’m still in the harvest trenches. Two rows of potatoes and four rows of carrots to go. Then whatever cleanup and soil-turning I can do before the snow flies. While I’m in the garden, the chickens pace the fence, trying to get in. Or sneakily grab nips of chickweed from the cows. The horses yell at me from a stone’s throw away, wanting a bite of whatever I’m digging. Geese fly overhead in ragged vees. Crows stop to caw in the big trees to see if there’s a small enough chicken to grab. And the collies bark at the squirrels. Interminably.

Yup. It’s fall. Still too hot for a jacket. Already too cold not to wear one. At the end of the day, I can’t wait to slump onto our cushy couch. At the end of the season, I can’t wait for snow.