While the rush of activity in the garden usually slows at the end of September or early October, cool weather crops continue to grow until we have a killing freeze. Frosty mornings often arrive in mid-October, and the 20th is technically the night on which we would expect to find all above ground foliage frozen and wilted.
This year we had snow instead, which insulates the plants nicely right above the freezing level. The night temperatures have remained in the upper 30F’s and 40F’s since the snow. So, here we are, the last day of Novermber, harvesting lettuce, cabbage, brussles sprouts, cauliflower, and broccoli. If the EPA were to test for methane levels in our home, our garden might be shut down!
Other cool weather crops include the root crops, which protect themselves in the warm soil until winter really sets in after the New Year and the ground freezes. All summer, potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, and turnups send up stems and vines covered in energy capturing leaves. These little solar collectors charge up the carbohydrate batteries under ground for storage well into the winter.
We start harvesting new potatoes in late July, but we are usually so busy in August and September, and have many short lived vegetables at that time, that we leave the potatoes for fall harvesting. Of course, we dig up as many rocks as we do potatoes in the harvest, but this just clears the garden soil a little further down. Potatoes and sweet potatoes can be stored in bushel baskets in the root cellar. Carrots and turnips last longer by layering them with sawdust in boxes before storage. We will be grilling, baking, and stewing these up until March.
While technically not a cool weather plant, nor even one that we should be able to grow this far north, fall brings on the Attack of the Luffa. We grew these a couple of years ago on a whim, and now could probably not eradicate them from the fields. They start later in the season, thus evading the attack of the squash and bean beetles. Late in the season, they put out pretty yellow flowers when most other vegetables are growing fruits instead. If you are observant, you can harvest the fingerling fruits and dice them up like zucchini. But, most likely, you will be walking around the garden when you trip over a vine which has escaped across a less trod path, or worse stub you toe on a baseball bat sized luffa. Let them grow as large and long as you may.
But, what is a luffa? The place that you have most likely encountered the end product of luffa is in the healthy and beauty section of the store. Those cream colored, sponge things that you use while bathing to exfoliate dry skin are the innards of luffa. Of course, what they are selling you in the store is a fraction of a luffa. A full grown luffa might be two feet long and take two hands to pick up and carry. When you harvest theses, you have a water filled vegetable which can no longer be eaten and is too wet to peal. Plan to devote some floor space near a sunny window to let them dry for a few weeks. Luffa which did not mature will grow white fuzzy mold, which will inform you to cull these from the harvest and toss them into the field. The goats still manage to eat these: good fiber for the rumin.
When the luffa begin to dry out, and shaking them looses up the seeds, you are ready for preparing your bath and kitchen sponges. Cut off the ends, run the knife longitudinally end to end, and peal back the dry skin. You now have a mesh network of the luffa innards. This needs to dry for a few days. Now you can shake out thousands of black seeds and decide what neighbor to play a practical joke on by scattering a few luffa seeds in their yard (learned that one from Vicar’s Dad). Of course, you can only use so many luffa in the tub, so some of you might be finding luffa in your Christmas stocking. I have not decided whether this is a reward for being naughty or nice, yet.