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The Self-Taught Gardener: Wilder Times

Wednesday, Jan 10 / By / Living now in Iowa, Lee Buttala ponders the relationship of the prairie, brought alive to many of us in Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little House on the Prairie" stories, to the cultivated farmland that lies alongside it.

NATURE’S TURN: Garden to table: Good keepers

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By Monday, Jan 19 Home & Garden More In Real Estate
Judy Isacoff
A harvest wheelbarrow loaded with 'keepers' for the winter storage.
January 19 – February 1, 2015

Mt. Washington — As we plan for the 2015 Berkshire growing season, we praise the unsurpassed beauty and quality of vegetables and fruits from last summer’s harvest stored at home and on the region’s farms to feed us through the winter. Whether grown in our own gardens or procured through a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) contract or from other local farms, let’s consider some crops that are good keepers without specialized storage facilities. That’s not to say that keeping the harvest doesn’t have very specific requirements. Planning from the start will assure that throughout the growing season we will feel confident about storing surplus through the winter and spring with minimal spoilage.

Schoolhouse Garden is my family garden and a resource for my educational initiatives. It is at the doorstep of a refurbished schoolhouse built in 1865. Here’s a sampling of what we grow and purchase for storage and how we store the produce within the limitations of a rather small house without a root cellar or attic. This is just the beginning of a discussion of the topic, sure to be enriched by shared experiences of readers.

Braids of garlic, onions and sweet corn adorn the author's kitchen.

Braids of garlic, onions and sweet corn adorn the author’s kitchen. Photo: Mackenzie Waggaman

Every winter, braids of red and gold onions decorate the kitchen; winter squashes in baskets and potatoes in closed boxes keep fresh in a cool, dark vestibule; garlic and more onions hang in mesh bags in a cold corner.

The refrigerator is crammed with rock solid red cabbages wrapped in paper, next to carrots, parsnips, winter radishes, turnips and beets packed into recycled perforated cellophane bags. More root crops are stored in buckets of sand in a sometimes unheated room. Lined up at the back of refrigerator shelves are lacto-fermented green beans, cucumbers, garlic scapes and green cherry tomatoes stuffed into quart and half-gallon jars in creative combinations dictated by overabundance.

The freezer at the bottom of the refrigerator is filled to the brim with zip locks bulging with briefly sautéed red and yellow peppers and steamed shredded kale, broccoli and green beans. There are little logs of kale and basil pesto and recycled containers of EOS, that is, End of Summer vegetable stew, a moniker coined by a neighborhood of Vermont gardeners for the very last of the cornucopia of frost tender vegetables. Prized also are gooseberries and red currents from our garden, blueberries from Mt. Washington’s pick-your-own Blueberry Hill Farm and September corn from Great Barrington’s Taft Farms. An overflow of tomato puree and summer squash found room in a dear friend’s freezer.

In sum, in planning the garden my emphasis is on staple crops that store without any preparation and fit into the existing storage “infrastructure.” Additional priorities include planting produce that is expensive to purchase in winter or not available organically grown.

Recommendations for specific varieties of seeds, seedlings, tubers and bulbs will appear right here on Groundhog Day.

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NATURE’S TURN: Winter garden 

Monday, Jan 5 - In the first of her biweekly columns about growing and gardening in the Berkshires, Judy Isacoff writes: "Stars, the sunlit moon and planets circle the expanse of frozen, fertile ground during these long nights. There’s the sense of a night shift at work underground."

Applegate Farm

Friday, Jan 19 - Applegate Farm, on the border between Sheffield and Egremont, brings you elegance combined with a relaxed back country feeling. You can't do better than this!