Saturday, October 29, 2011

Garden Journal 10/29/11: Twenty-Five Degrees this Morning

Frosty kale in the kitchen garden on a 25 degree morning -
Cold kale in the kitchen garden

Realization of the Day:
Sometimes it's better to wait until the sun hits the garden before venturing out to see how your plants survived the cold.

Last week it dropped down to 24 degrees, and this morning it was 25. Everything was icy, but it's amazing how quickly the cold hardy plants recover as soon as they defrost in the sun. A few hours after snapping this photo, you couldn't even tell the kale had been totally frozen.

Our official frost date here in Missouri is October 15th, but this year we had our first light frost nearly two weeks before that. Since we're located down in a little valley, we often have earlier fall frosts and later spring frosts than predicted. On clear nights, it also gets colder down here than 'up top' during the fall and winter, which means if the forecast says low 30s, we figure on low 20s. Now if only that were true in summer, too.

The weather has gone up and down this month, and we've had everything from sunny days in the 80s and rainy nights in the 50s to days in the 50s and plenty more frost. In other words, it's been a typical October.

Despite a dry September, the autumn color has been beautiful around the farm this year, thanks, in part, to an unusually wet August; you can see some of it here.

Summer is definitely over, but there's still a fair amount going on in the garden:

More below. . .

—Some of the spring kale, including the plant pictured above, has come back to life now that the weather is cooler and the cabbage worms have finally frozen.

—The 4'x8' raised bed I seeded last month with several types of hardy greens has one strip of baby kale plants in desperate need of thinning. The rest of the seeds, which were several years old, were duds.

—The chives, which are very cold tolerant, are still doing well despite only being covered with floating row cover during the two coldest nights.

—The comfrey patch looks better than it ever has, with lots of huge, healthy leaves I've been feeding the chickens.

—There are a few purple basil leaves that haven't frozen yet, thanks to being covered with old bedsheets, but for the most part both the purple and green basil plants are history. You can read more about how to extend your basil growing season here, and find out what to do with purple basil (including my favorite pesto recipe) here.

—During the past two weeks, I've picked over 30 pounds of green and partially ripened Roma tomatoes from my six plants, which I've been letting ripen in the kitchen. The sprawling plants didn't start setting fruit until late in the season because it was too hot this summer—disappointing because this has a really bountiful harvest.

The flavor and texture of tomatoes that ripen indoors after being repeatedly subjected to outdoor temps in the 30s are less than ideal, but they're much better than no tomatoes, and still miles above than anything you can buy in the supermarket, especially this time of year. Quickly roasting them coaxes out lots of flavor without taking hours of oven time.

Just mix together some good olive oil, a splash of balsamic vinegar, a generous amount of salt and pepper, and a dash of sugar. Cut the tomatoes in half lengthwise, scrape out the seeds (but not the cores) if you like, spread them evenly, cut side up, on a a heavy duty baking sheet (I love my commercial baking sheets) lined with unbleached parchment paper, and drizzle with the olive oil mixture.

Roast at 450° for about 30 to 50 minutes, depending on the size of the tomatoes and how you like them roasted—then try not to eat the whole batch straight out of the oven. I scattered some on a pizza last night instead of sauce, and they were fantastic (you'll find my favorite easy pizza dough recipe here).

—I've been halfheartedly covering up some of the other varieties of tomato plants that are still loaded with green tomatoes, but even during the summer their flavor was disappointing. I need to get back to starting my tomatoes from seed rather than having to rely on the meager (and boring) selection of plants available locally for sale.

—The homemade greenhouse has mostly been taken over (as usual) by volunteer Swiss chard, but there's also a big patch of lemon balm, a pot of Greek oregano, three small pots of rosemary I bought last spring, one of last year's rosemary plant barely clinging to life in the ground (I am so good at killing rosemary), a few volunteer parsley plants, two scraggly sage plants, and a whole lot of Swiss chard seeds I never got around to collecting—which is why I always have such a bumper crop of volunteer plants.

Swiss chard is cold tolerant, heat tolerant, even more versatile than spinach, and so easy to grow from seed. (That Swiss chard growing post also includes links to my favorite Swiss chard recipes.)

And I guess that's about it. I had big plans for direct seeding more cool season, quickly maturing fall crops like lettuce and arugula (read about how to grow them from seed here and here), but that never happened. I did,however, manage to plant a 4'x8' raised bed with garlic last week—on time for the second year in a row!

I'm hoping to write about this year's gorgeous garlic harvest and my recent garlic planting soon, but you know how that goes. In the meantime you'll find all of my previous garlic growing posts here.

So what's going on right now in your autumn garden? Sowing? Growing? Picking? Planting? Or maybe just cleaning up and dreaming about a beautiful spring?

©, where it isn't how badly you freeze, it's how well you survive defrosting.


  1. I just finished planting my shallots and garlic, and am now pulling up the beds one by one and covering them with a layer of leaves and compost.

  2. Despite two nights of technically below-freezing temperatures, the enormous pole bean plants are still stubbornly clinging to life. But I already ripped out all the pepper plants and the Chioggia pumpkins. Which leaves chard, brussels sprouts, kale, parsnips, leeks, and some re-sprouted cabbages. (Did you know the plants will grow tiny new heads after you cut off the big heads? So cool.)

    Oh, and I wanted to tell you I made your roasted eggplant thing for the second time tonight with the last eggplants (so easy and fast--perfect for a cooking-with-a-rampaging-toddler meal) and this time I added the Italian sausage and some diced waxy potatoes and, at the end after I had turned the oven off and was waiting for everyone to get to the table, a couple of cubes of frozen pesto that then melted and got mixed into the whole mess. It sure wasn't pretty but MAN was it good, and it was a full meal on one pan with about ten minutes of prep time.

    I love this recipe. Thank you.

  3. my husband and i are desperate to start gardening come spring. $100 would sure help us get it started. thanks for the chance.

  4. This weekend I discovered a rat decided to make his winter bed in our compost bin. Because the compost bin was only a third full and hadn't been maintained very well over the summer, I decided to empty the entire thing out and start anew. As I was digging through the sometimes slippery mess of partially decomposed kitchen scraps, I came across pockets of hundreds of freshly sprouted fava beans--it looks like the rat collected many of the fava beans I lazily "sowed" in some of our raised beds and had them stashed in his compost-bin tunnels for winter nibbling.

  5. I'm new at gardening, I did pretty good this spring and summer but I'm not ready to attempt fall yet. Maybe next year, I love kale!

  6. Hi Susan,

    I've never commented before, but I've been following your blog since last spring when we planted our first organic backyard garden. I live in Wisconsin and the biggest surprise we've had over the past month is how hearty the greens are even after a freeze. Just yesterday we picked the most beautiful bright green spinach and devoured it for lunch. It had such an amazing flavor and was crisp; you could even taste a hint of corn. Is that weird? This fall, we've also been harvesting kale, beets and beet greens, bib lettuce and tons of arugula. I'm going to miss all the fresh greens this winter.

    Thanks for the wonderful garden tips. I love them all!


  7. Living in North Carolina definitely stretches the season. At the farmer's market on Thursday green peppers, squash, and definitely all types of greens were plentiful. Cone cabbages will be coming in was a new vegetable for me when we moved here. It has a nice mild "cabbage" taste and is great steamed or sautéed.

  8. Hi there,
    Here in SW Michigan I'm trying to put the garden to bed. We've had a few killing frosts and I'll be planting 250 cloves of garlic this week for harvesting next year. This year was a great success as I started with 120 cloves and have 250 to plant with lots in the dehydrator and had plenty to can with this summer/fall! I LOVE garlic!

  9. I love the way the hardy greens come back after the sun warms them. It was very frosty here in Vermont this morning, but I know I'll be able to harvest some sweet crisp greens later on. I enjoy reading your blog.

  10. Absolutely nothing is going on here in our garden in VA. We have a fenced garden that's actually too big now to use the tiller. I would love to hire someone to bring a tractor in to plow it all up. But...we'd have to take down part of the fence to do that. I'd love to make this garden into raised's the time. I just have to talk everyone else into it!

  11. You have a neat blog, farmgirl. I am also from Missouri and found you by googling Missouri cooking blogs. I'm also cooking from Missouri. Building a list of Missouri bloggers to put at my blog page. Going to add you to my site if that's OK. ; )


March 2013 update: My apologies for the inconvenience - I know word verification is a pain - but I've had to turn it on to help stop the ridiculous number of anonymous spam comments I've been getting every day. Thanks for your understanding.

Welcome to! Thanks so much for taking the time to write. While I'm not always able to reply to every comment, I receive and enjoy reading them all.

Your feedback is greatly appreciated, and I especially love to hear about what's going on in your own garden. I know, too, that other readers also delight in reading about your garden successes, failures, helpful tips, and lessons learned. Feel free to leave comments on older posts!

I try my best to answer all questions, but sometimes it takes me a few days to get to them. And sometimes, I'm sorry to say, they fall through the cracks, and for that I sincerely apologize.

I look forward to hearing from you and hope you enjoy your visits to my kitchen garden!