With an unusually warm October for Winnipeg, our gardening projects have continued a week or two longer than they normally do.
All of our vegetables and fruit are harvested and preserved (canned, fermented, frozen, and/or put in storage) and as I write the draft of this post, I’m currently drying the last of our herbs. Parsley is in the dehydrator right now and thyme will go in tomorrow. After that, I have to finish up the mustard seed—I have a few plants drying in large paper bags and I need to break out the seeds and filter out the detritus—and with that, make a batch of mustard. The ginger still needs to be dug up, though we’re undecided if we’re going to put it in a pot and turn it into an indoor plant or if I’m going to make candied ginger with it. In my September update, I’d mentioned the plan to dig up and remove the horseradish from the front yard—at this point I think we’re keeping it where it is for one more year.
As I’m typing the draft of this post, my husband is building a pergola in our front yard—a large wooden structure for the grape vine to wrap itself around. Previously he’s used a structure made of dried out sunflower stalks (which are surprisingly durable) held together by rope, but it really wasn’t a long-term solution. This September, a windy storm knocked the whole thing over.
This pergola has become a community endeavour. John (my husband) is one of those people that knows everyone in the neighbourhood. He got initial advice from our neighbour, who directed him to another neighbour across the street—and that fellow has become John’s co-worker on this project. John has little to no experience building wooden structures or woodwork in general, so this across-the-street neighbour’s help is greatly appreciated. In order to put the posts securely into the ground, John borrowed a post-hole-digger from another neighbour down the street, who similarly offered advice on the project.
If it were me doing this, I would have just hired a company, LOL. But, John being John, this has turned into a more-affordable project that is almost community-driven. (On the plus side, when John sent me to the hardware store for the washers he forgot to buy, I noticed another neighbour down the back lane had put their old barbecue out with the trash—so I got a new-to-me barbecue that’s a definite improvement over our old one, which I would have missed out on if John hadn’t taken on this project.)
The pergola is done now!
Our grape vine is certainly going to love this! These are red wine grapes. In the spring, we might buy a white wine grape vine to plant on the other side of the pergola. Hopefully in a few years we’ll have enough grapes in a summer to make small batches of wine.
Speaking of wine…
To sum up, the following are still fermenting:
- Chokecherry wine (this might be almost finished)
- Beet wine (does not taste like beets)
- Honeydew melon wine
- Corn cob wine (does not taste like corn)
- Grape wine (this might be almost finished)
- Rosemary wine
Since the last post, the sour cherry wine completed its thing and I bottled it up. It is amazingly delicious! I got seven half bottles (375 ml)—we drank two of them pretty quick, we shared two with the person whose cherry tree we raided, I put two in storage for next summer (my step-dad lives out-of-country and will be back in the summer, so I’m saving a handful of different wines to share with him), and I have one bottle left that John and I will likely pull out soon. We like to share some wine when we’re watching a season premiere or season finale of a show, so we’ll likely share it this week when we start season three of What We Do In The Shadows.
The sour cherry wine retained much of its cherry taste, which was a nice surprise. (Some wines like beet, parsnip, and corn cob lose their original taste—thank god.) And now I’m in a bit of a conundrum. I have a big bag of cherries sitting in my freezer, waiting to be used for something…and I don’t know if I should make more cherry wine, more cherry gin (which tastes phenomenal with simple syrup and lemon juice), or more cherry liqueur (which is also phenomenal). I’ll have to do a survey with friends and family to see which they liked best.
Because of the magic of the Instagram algorithm, the app shows me content from food preservers and homesteaders. Around this time of year, they’re all showing off their pantries filled to the brim with canned and preserved goods.
I think I’m almost at that level. At least for us, a family of two, I’m at that level. (Quite often these social media posts come from content creators who come from families of four or more—they would need to produce and preserve a lot more food than we would.)
Because our house is tiny and doesn’t have a basement, we’ve been using my mom’s place for food storage. Unfortunately, it’s always been a bit of a mess that my mom has thankfully put up with. This year, John got in his organizing mode and decided we needed to treat my mom better. We got a bunch of metal shelving units from the hardware store and lined them along the walls in an unused bedroom in my mom’s basement. It’s now our food storage room. We keep all of our jars of preserved food in there, our wine-making equipment, and the squash.
We keep the potatoes in a separate room in my mom’s basement, one that does not have a window and where the door is rarely opened. The total darkness keeps them fresher for longer.
As usual, we filled up my mom’s chest freezer, mostly with rhubarb. This year we bought a small chest freezer for our house…and quickly filled it up. So we bought another small chest freezer for my mom’s basement…and it’s half full. (And in case you’re wondering, the freezer attached to our fridge was filled to the brim with veggies back in June.)
We clearly have a year’s supply of vegetables.
As a thank-you to my mom for letting us take up so much space at her house, she has free access to any and all food stored at her place. She’s been enjoying the pasta sauce, salsa, and beets that I canned this year.
Celebrating the harvest
Every year as the garden wraps up, I host a Garden Harvest BBQ, where most of the dinner ingredients come from the garden.
This year the dinner included:
- Pumpkin sourdough bread
- Grilled baguette slices
- Basil pesto
- Pickled banana peppers
- Cowboy candy (candied jalapeño peppers)
- Pickled beets
- Toum (a fluffy garlic spread)
- The pumpkin, basil, peppers, beets, and garlic all came from our garden.
- Garlic and rosemary grilled pork chops
- Roasted Brussels sprouts, butternut squash, and potatoes
- The garlic, rosemary, Brussels sprouts, squash, and potatoes all came from our garden.
- Black bean brownies
- The black beans came from our garden.
- Mint tea
- Rhubarb wine
- The mint and rhubarb came from our garden.
Unfortunately, I forgot to take any pictures to share with you… but it was delicious!
Looking ahead to November
Gardening is really a year-round activity, especially when you go all-in on food preserving and homesteading (even just urban homesteading like we’re doing). While things certainly slow down in November, they don’t cease.
In early November I’m going to treat myself to a steam juicer—this one, I think—as it will make juicing apples, rhubarb, cherries, and tomatoes so much easier. I’ll have to test it next year to see if it works well with cucumbers; my concern is the heat of the juicing process might dampen the freshness that’s associated with cucumber juice.
When it arrives, my first project will be juicing that bag of sour cherries, provided I figure out if I’m making liqueur, gin, or wine.
Buried in the back of my freezer, I also have pincherries. This is something my stepdad harvested when he was here this summer. I’ve never worked with them before, so I’m not sure what to do. Since I don’t have a ton of them, maybe I’ll soak them in some gin and make pincherry gin. (If I do that, then I think that reduces my options with the sour cherries to liqueur or wine.)
Sometime in the next month or so, our popcorn—what little of it we were able to save from the squirrel—might be dry enough to pull from the cob and start using on movie nights.
The squirrel story: We had somewhere around 60 cobs of popcorn, which would have easily been enough for a year’s supply. In half a day—half a day—the squirrel either ate, partially ate, or absconded with 54 cobs. Yes. Out of 60, we’re down to 6. We harvested them right away, but they’re supposed to fully dry on the stalks before harvesting and then dry further in the house, so I’m not sure if the early harvest will affect the poppability of the popcorn.
Looking ahead to next year
We’re always thinking of what to do next year. What do we want more of, what do we want less of, and what do we want to introduce?
There was some concern that the neighbour whose yard we use would move, but he’s committed to staying at least another year. To sweeten the deal, my husband offered to help him tend to his flowers all of next summer.
We definitely want our lengthy list of usuals: Brussels sprouts, broccoli, beets, onions, cucumber, peas (for canning), sugar snap peas (for snacking), potatoes, squash (pumpkin, spaghetti, butternut, acorn), bell peppers, hot peppers, popcorn, sweet corn, tomatoes, kidney beans, black beans, garlic, celery, mustard, green onions (I think they’re also known as spring onions), sunflowers, Saskatoons (AKA June berries or service berries), blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, grapes, rhubarb, horseradish, basil, rosemary, parsley, mint, dill, and thyme. I’m sure I’ve forgotten one or two things.
I know we want to increase our mint (John has a renewed love for mint tea) and our fruit. Part of increasing fruit means buying more blueberry plants and possibly getting another grape vine. But it also means figuring out what other fruits we want and figuring out if we can grow them in our climate—I definitely want to try watermelon again (we’d tried it this year, but the squirrel…), and if this honeydew melon wine is tasty we’ll want more of that.
Another thinking project for next year is figuring out where we want to plant things.
Part of this means where in the yard. Mustard is better in the back yard because it gets covered with insect eggs in the front yard. This year we moved the celery from the front to the back and nearly the whole crop was destroyed by slugs.
Part of this also means which property. We been invited to use up some of the garden space at a meditation retreat centre just outside of Winnipeg where—(wait for it…)—they do not have a squirrel problem. Our popcorn is definitely going out there.
John may move both our sweet corn and popcorn out to this rural garden, which frees up a ton of space at home. Ideally, corn is alternated with beans year after year—corn uses nitrogen and beans replenish nitrogen—so we will likely be growing beans in our corn patch next year. We can only eat so many beans, so we also need to figure out which beans to grow and at what quantities and what to do with them. We definitely want more black beans as we’ve almost used up this year’s supply already (I made a batch of black bean brownies and today I made a batch of black bean tofu).
As well, it’s gotten me thinking…if we’re looking at alternative protein sources like beans, should we be expanding our meatless meal options? Both John and I don’t eat a lot of meat and we like the idea of being friendlier to the environment, so this is leading me to wondering if chickpeas and possibly lentils could be grown in our climate. As well, we don’t consume a lot of dairy, so can we look at homemade non-dairy milks and cheeses made from legumes? Those are questions to explore over the winter.
The big unknown for next year is the sour cherries. The couple that owns the property where we pick cherries has pointed out that the tree is dying and might not last much longer. If it does die, we’ll have to find a new source of cherries. (I think a house across the street from us has a cherry tree—the strategy might be to send John over there to make friends with yet another neighbour.)
Enjoying the harvest
The big task over the next eight months or so is to simply enjoy the harvest and the months of effort put into food preserving.
We have a full year’s supply of vegetables—we’ll run out of broccoli pretty quickly, since we didn’t get a big harvest, but that’s easily made up for by our over-abundance of bell peppers—and we easily have a year’s supply of lots of canned goods. As the wine fully ferments and gets bottled, we’ll likely have a year’s supply of it. Grocery bills dip in the winter due to all this, but more importantly, quality of life skyrockets with all this gourmet homegrown produce.
I mentioned in an earlier post about how we expanded into our other neighbour’s yard this year with just a strip of their property along our shared fence. We may or may not expand beyond that strip in their yard next year. I think they want us to expand so they don’t have to mow the lawn, but it’s also a lot more garden work for us, and we’re realizing we do have limits. This neighbour is a group home with a couple residents and a few regular staff. One of the absolute joys this year was to show up at their doorstep and give them bags and boxes of vegetables, most of which were grown on their property. We’ve learned that one of the residents there absolutely loves fresh corn on the cob, carrots, and potatoes. Whether or not we expand further in their yard next year, I think we’ll be sharing more of our over-abundance with them. It helps build neighbourly relations, but more importantly, my husband loves knowing that someone is truly enjoying the work he puts into gardening, and he definitely has a very appreciative fan next door.
The only appreciative fan my husband dislikes is the squirrel.