Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Pomegranates: What a Difference a Year Makes

Last year around this time, I was really excited when I harvested 3 pomegranates from my Russian Red pomegranate tree. That tiny first harvest may not seem like a big deal to you, but it was a big deal to me. I felt like my little tree that I carefully grew and nurtured for a few years just graduated from grade school. It experienced some growing pains, but learned the basic skills it needed to survive.

What a difference a year makes! Last Sunday, I was beaming with pride as I harvested 24 pomegranates from the same tree. This was no small-time graduation...this was the equivalent of graduating from Harvard with honors.

Basket loaded with freshly harvested Russian Red pomegranates.
The pomegranates are not as large as varieties you typically find in a grocery store, but they do the trick.

Fist full o' pomegranates.
The pomegranate arils (seed casings) have a dark, rich color and the perfect balance of sweetness and tartness.

Pomegranate arils.
And with a little sweat and patience balanced with a dash of swearing, these pomegranates made great juice. Much better than commercial juice, no fooling. Check it out.

Freshly made pomegranate juice. No sugar required, 100% natural.
Beware, many pomegranates were harmed in the making of this juice. My entire harvest of pomegranates only made about 2 quarts of juice.

But that only made me wonder what next year's harvest will produce...

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Enjoying the Fall Garden

Like many people, I started out as a spring and summer vegetable and fruit gardener. Warm weather meant planting and harvesting. Cold weather meant waiting for next year's harvest.

It took me a few years and lots of trial and error to realize that cool season gardening can sometimes be the most rewarding gardening of all. The most notable differences between fall and summer gardening in Zone 7b are comfortable temps, very few bugs and pests, care-free veggies, and generally easy tasks. 

In its simplest form, fall gardening consists of sowing seed (in late summer), watering, mulching, more watering, and harvesting. That's just about all there is to it. Some hardier crops even survive repeated frosts and in a location like Newport News, VA, a productive four season garden is a realistic goal. 

I took the following photos of my fall garden at .09 Acres on Halloween, 2011.  

Long rows of Buttercrunch and Winter Density lettuce.
Young Rouge d'Hiver lettuce sown in succession with other lettuce varieties to extend the harvest. Succession planting spreads out the harvest over a few weeks or months.
Long Standing Bloomsdale spinach. This is my first attempt at growing spinach. I found that warmer soil temps in late September definitely hindered germination, but the spinach seems much happier in early November.
I had spotty germination of my carrots. Notice that the center two rows filled out nicely while the outer rows (far left and far right) are fairly sparse. I'll have to wait and see how they do this year. Last year was an amazing year for carrots.
It's tough to beat good beets. Here are four short rows of Detroit Dark Red and Chioggia beets. These are still quite young and probably need another month to grow. I thinned them in mid-October to allow the beet roots to grow larger, and I added the thinned greens to a salad. Definitely a great addition.
I am growing kale from seeds I saved (this spring) from last years kale plants. I battled tiny caterpillars for a few weeks when the plants were young, and you can see some of the leaf damage they caused in this picture. 
I am growing broccoli in two large pots and in a raised bed. I'm curious to see whether it grows better in-ground or in the pots. I can't remember if I planted Calabrese or Waltham broccoli. I have to check my seek packet. I may have started these seeds too late for the plants to mature in time to produce harvestable broccoli, but only time will tell. The tiny caterpillars that hit my kale also like the broccoli. Damage is visible on the right-most leaf.
Apple mint growing in half a wine barrel near the gate to my yard. It has made an amazing comeback from the crippling heat of mid-summer. This plant thrives in mid-late spring, suffers through summer, then regrows with a vengeance in fall. This entire barrel grew from a small rooted cutting I dug up from a yard where I previously lived. Mint will take over the world if it's not contained, but it's also a must-have in any yard.
Russian Red pomegranate ready for harvest. There are appx. twenty of these hanging from my 4-year old pomegranate tree. I can't say enough good things about this tree.
Negronne figs that definitely will not have enough time to ripen before the first frost. This tree keeps growing larger and producing more figs. Next year should be an amazing harvest. 
Two unripe Eureka lemons hanging from a small branch on my potted tree.
New foliage on my Eureka lemon. It usually starts out with a reddish tinge, then turns bright green as the leaves grow and mature.
More blossoms keep appearing on my potted Bearss lime tree. Citrus flowers are arguably some of the best smelling flowers in nature. My lime tree is currently holding about 10 limes. After last year's harvest, I thought it could've grown 50 limes this year. But a strong gust of wind knocked it off a table in early spring and snapped off the main trunk. I'm pretty sure I cried when I finally found out what happened.
Baby Bearss limes growing from recently pollinated flowers. I won't be dining on these limes for a LONG time!
What are your favorite fruits and veggies to grow in the fall? Are you thinking about adding additional cold-weather protection like floating row covers or plastic-covered hoop houses to extend your harvest into the winter? Fall is finally here so welcome it into your garden.