RD Put Luck November 2017

Down in the garden

He’s calling for a frost in low-lying areas tonight. First of the season for many, despite being well into October. Here on the coast, on a hill, there’s not a chance remaining tomatoes will get hit, although I wish it were otherwise. Jack Frost would be welcome to take the tomatoes, the beans too, and don’t forget the zucchini. It is time for a break. Besides, the freezer is full. Jars of salsa and tomato-apple chutney are having to nudge for elbow room on shelves still burdened with foods put down last year.
    Time to harvest winter squash – Hubbard, Buttercup, and Acorn – and to plant next year’s garlic. Some frost-hardy vegetables, including Brussels sprouts and leeks, remain to be harvested some weeks on. Three artichokes that barely survived last winter, producing a whopping crop of two small globes, will be given a second chance under deeper piles of straw this time around. Friends Bruce Blakemore and Hugh Jones have had success growing this warm-loving perennial farther south on Purgatory Point. It is the kind of crop greenhouse farmers might try growing for their farm market customers. 
    Another warm-season vegetable, the Sweet potato, was for years only grown on a small scale in Atlantic Canada, for the most part by home gardeners. Climate change and chutzpah have led at least one large Nova Scotia grower, Charles Keddy, to grow acres of the tuber (no relation to the common spud). Katie Keddy’s photo of this year’s Sweet potato harvest in progress was on the cover of October’s RD, and next month we hope to provide a full-blown exposé on the Keddy enterprise.
    Growing Sweet potatoes has its challenges. Our own attempt a few years ago yielded a strange crop of tubers that came in all sizes, from small footballs to a far greater number no larger than overgrown string beans. Then came the curing process, which called for some extended length of time in a warm, moist environment. The bathroom was pressed into service. This entailed spreading Sweets out on a wire frame on top of the half-filled bathtub, behind which there is a wall-mounted electric heater. 
    Farmer Keddy must have one hellova large bathtub.
    Speaking of warmth and moisture, we have just come through an amazing season for mushrooms. Just such conditions encouraged the growth of greater numbers and varieties – so ideal that a fully-spent birch log, left to decay after shiitakes were grown on it for several years, popped a crop without having been intentionally shocked awake. 
    There have been wild species not seen before. Two of these, Olive earthtongue, and White elfin saddle, are so distinct by colour and form as to be easily recognized by the rankest amateur, yours truly for prime example. George Barron (Mushrooms of Northeast North America) says the earthtongue, Microglossum olivaceum, is “widespread but rare.” The Elfin saddle, Helvella crispa, he characterizes as “widespread but not common.” 
    I would give this ghostly white Helvella a different common name. It hardly resembles a saddle suitable for any two-legged creature. It has more the look of a discarded tissue, there at the edge of the woods behind the beach. “Wadded Kleenex mushroom” would seem more appropriate.
    Seeing that Helvella c. reminded me of another beach walk adventure many years ago. In a “Mark Trail” frame of mind (emulating the ever-curious forest ranger character from that popular mid-century cartoon strip), I came upon a quite large scat atop a sand dune at the far end of Sandy Bay. “Hmm, must be bear,” thought Mark.
    Ever ready to get close and personal with his natural world, Mark proceeded to break a small branch off a nearby low-growing bayberry bush, with which to poke about said scat in the interest of discovering what seeds and berries were making up the bear’s diet.
    “Hmm,” said Mark to himself once again, for he found no evidence of seeds or berries or, for that matter, any recognizable source of sustenance. What in the world was keeping this bruin alive? Only then, straightening up, did he catch sight, off to one side, of toilet paper flapping in the breeze. A Charmin bear? I think not.
    This past summer there has been no shortage of bear sightings, of bear tracks, and piles of poop revealing (without probing) the fact that there was a wealth of apples and berries of all sorts to sustain our Ursidae neighbours.
    Off now to sort garlic bulbs curing in the barn. The largest will be broken apart for planting, while the rest of this year’s crop will find the cool, dark, dry hallway just right for a long rest. DvL