The garden is nearly done, but still giving. Brussels sprouts and kale are still producing. The garlic is finally all planted, and on the dewy, sunny morning that I’m writing, the whole garden smells faintly of it (which I hope doesn’t mean it’s rotting, thanks to a few days of unseasonably warm weather. Yes, after the Halloween blizzard. Go figure.)
I went out this weekend to finish pulling and composting the remaining plants and harvest the last of the (too big) parsnips. I was surprised to find that cilantro, one of my favorite herbs -- and a key ingredient in my last recipe -- has once again self-sown and erupted among the gravel paths of my garden. I tried to grow cilantro in my early, herbs-only gardening phase, and it failed miserably. The last two years, it’s grown itself, only in the paths around the tomato beds. I’ll take it. That kind of serendipity is, for me, one of the joys of the garden.
This is not to say that I eschew structure and planning. Rather, I fight to impose these, because they are not my default mindset. With all the garlic in its beds and (personal victory!) properly marked, I realized it was time to start mapping the garden for next spring. This is one of those tasks that I ignore at my peril. In the heady haste of planting, it can be easy to forget to mark out not just varieties, but even which vegetable I’ve placed where. (Sounds impossibly disorganized? You’ve never seen my office.)
This year, I’ve vowed to do better. When I first put the garden in three years ago, I made a little map on graph paper to plan out the use of each bed. I only have eight raised beds, each 3 x 8 feet, so space is at a premium. Tomatoes always get a whole bed to themselves; potatoes, too. Now, garlic's taken over one and a third of another. I learned the hard way this year (poor, sad beans) that asparagus doesn’t share nicely, so they’ll be going it alone in their plot next spring, though I do plan to add a few crowns to the extra space.
My map goes into a binder where I also keep (theoretically, anyway) lists of what varieties I’ve bought, and from which seed house ... you get the idea. A more organized record keeper ought to also keep notes on what thrived and what didn’t. Which pumpkins were the tastiest, which the best producers. If you save seed, which I do try to do (more on that, and pumpkins, in a bit), this information is especially useful, because you can track production year to year.
There are fancy garden planners on the market, and there’s nothing wrong with them. (Great gift!) But just as I treasure the binders stuffed with clipped recipes from newspapers and magazines in my kitchen, my garden binder, too, is a kind of memory book, of the good, the bad, the delicious, and the beautiful. As brown leaves replace green ones, it’s a lovely tool for realizing that the garden will be back, if not soon enough.
READING: Sara Noel's Frugal Village has more ideas on starting and organizing your garden journal, including examples and resources.
NEEDING: It's time to start thinking about holiday gifts for family and friends. For the newbie gardener, maybe a pre-organized Moleskine garden organizer? For the more experienced, monogrammed gardening gloves are just the right mix of practical and absurd.
SEEDING: Four years ago, I tossed our Halloween pumpkin scrapings into the compost pile. The next fall, I told my astonished children the Great Pumpkin (Charlie Brown, remember?) must have visited: two gorgeous, gigantic pumpkins -- one for each child -- had appeared down behind the chicken yard. I decided to see if I can replicate the Great Pumpkin’s visit for next year. I buried the pulp and some seeds of a delicious cheese pumpkin in a different, nicely fertile corner of our property. We’ll see if next fall brings any surprises.
EATING: My tattered and spotted recipe binders are always out this time of year, for Thanksgiving menu planning. This year, I’m a guest, not a host, and so I have to decide what to contribute to the meal. (Good idea to ask the hostess, I find. Imposing your favorite family concoction into someone else’s vision for their holiday table can result in an end to invitations.) I haven’t figured out what to bring, but the recipe that follows is one I pull out of the binder every year. We’ll be enjoying it prior to the holiday with the last of our harvest of brussels sprouts. It has converted many a brussels sprouts naysayer to a fan.
Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta and Garlic (Gourmet magazine, January 2001)
1 lb Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved (quartered if large)
2 oz pancetta, visible fat discarded and pancetta minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup water
Preheat oven to 450°F.
Toss together Brussels sprouts, pancetta, garlic, oil, and salt and pepper to taste in an 11-by-7-inch baking pan and spread in one layer.
Roast in upper third of oven, stirring once halfway through roasting, until sprouts are brown on edges and tender, about 25 minutes total. Stir in water, scraping up brown bits. Serve warm.