Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Making Magic.

Last week, I picked up a novel called The Magicians by Lev Grossman, thinking that this might be a fun read for our girlie. As I found it in the teen section, however, I decided to read it first. (Confession: I love kids books, teen books, ANY books.) 

Whew. Thank goodness I checked it out! Within the first two pages, the author introduced topics including virginity (or lack thereof), masturbation, as well as some... flavorful... language.

Now, I'm not a book burner. In fact, nothing incites me more than extremist groups who try to ban Harry Potter from school libraries. But, I do worry about age appropriateness, particularly when a 10-year-old reads books with teen protagonists.

Yep. Not passing along this book to my daughter just yet.

Don't get me wrong—it's a good read so far. It's just too mature for my Kiki. Although she loves books with magic and fantasy, this one has a bit too much harsh reality that I don't want her to experience ever too soon.

Still, there is something magical about pushing the limits. As a child, I definitely read books that were too advanced for my age. And boy, do I remember the trouble we got in for passing around my friend Diane's dog-eared copy of Forever. I wasn't typically a rule breaker, but on the few occasions that I did—it was, well, thrilling.

And empowering.

Maybe even a little magical.

Breaking the rules and pushing limits is still a bit of a rush—but now, my rebelliousness lives in the garden.

(Wow, writing that aged me about 20 years, didn't it?)

I admit—I am very behind on my gardening chores this fall. In fact, I just planted our fall vegetable garden—two weeks ago. Even by South Carolina, zone 7b standards...that's late. It's almost futile.

Unless you push the limits and disobey certain rules.

Recently, I've become enamored with the concept of season extension. What can I do, with our little piece of earth, to feed my family throughout the winter? How can I keep my fall garden producing? Can I fight the elements and extend the harvest, even if the “experts” disagree? Will my garlic crop fail if I don't get it planted by Halloween? Will my lettuce wither and melt if I plant it in late October instead of mid-September? Or can I thumb my nose at conventional gardening wisdom and produce a bumper crop of brassicas to harvest in January?

The key, I think, is to break some of the rules...but still adhere to some of the tried and true methods for season extension.

There's a really terrific program with which I'm lucky enough to be associated: Greenville Organic FoodsOrganization's (GOFO) Grow Healthy Kids. Through GOFO, schools in a local district can participate in growing an edible garden, complete with lessons that match the ever important state curriculum standards. The students receive transplants and seeds, as well as organic fertilizer and supplies, from GOFO. However, the key to the success of the gardens is the highly technical row covers GOFO provides, which allows the schools to protect their crops during cold periods, so that the kids can continue to harvest crops throughout the semester.

Plastic covering + bent metal masonry ladders = mini greenhouses.

The schools can participate in both the spring and fall, with the focus on cool weather crops, since those are the veggies most easily grown during the school year in Upstate South Carolina. The low tunnels are easy to install, and the supports can remain in place throughout the growing season. When a freeze watch is issued, the teacher or students can simply place the plastic over the supports, securing the covering to the ground with rocks or bricks to keep it in place. The plastic protects the plants from damaging frost and insulates the plants from severe temperatures. On average, the temperature in the low tunnel is approximately 10 degrees warmer than the outside air. In our zone, those 10 degrees can mean the difference between an ongoing harvest—and complete crop loss.

Because I'm the Master Gardener liaison for the Grow Healthy Kids program, I decided it's time to practice what I preach.

Typically, I plant our fall garden in the potager—my experiment in an attempt to design a formal, attractive kitchen garden. Honestly, our other gardens are—to put it nicely—wild. Unkempt. In serious need of hours of weeding and prettifying. The potager is my one place that I try to keep balanced and organized. 

It's also the perfect experiment for bending the rules with season extension.

Because the potager resides in the midst of our backyard, and because our two sweet pups are fabulous destroyers of all things green, my darling husband installed a fence around the potager when we designed it.

My supports are already in place!

With no need to buy additional hardware to make low tunnel supports, I headed to the big orange box store to purchase the plastic cover. I spent a little bit more for a thicker covering. Wow--who knew how many assorted plastic drop cloths are available? For $25, I found a 4 mm, 20' x 50' plastic sheet to serve as the insulation of the low tunnel.

Honestly, the trickiest part of installing my winter covering was unrolling the plastic—if you have a friend handy, recruit the extra pair of hands. Still, in less than 15 minutes, the potager was covered, the plastic was secured to the ground on each side of the fence with several rocks, and the cool weather crops were insulated against the nighttime low of 30 degrees. 

Now, that's cold for South Carolina!

While the plastic protects against the freezing temperatures, it can also damage the garden if the temperature spikes. Immediately following our few days of freezing nights, we're back in the 70s this week. 

The beauty of the low tunnel system is its simplicity—when it's warm, roll the cover off the frame and leave it on the ground (or, in my case, on one side of the fence...)

and when the temperature drops—pull the cover back over the frame.

Presto! Fresh veggies into the winter!

It's like magic! (I hope.)

So, because I planted the fall garden so recently, I haven't harvested anything from it yet. Soon, I hope we'll have lettuce (eight heirloom varieties), spinach, chard, broccoli, pac choi, red cabbage, and cauliflower. 

But, because of the “Produce Post” hosted by smallkitchengarden.net, I thought I'd share a few things we're enjoying this week from the garden:

The fraise des bois keep surprising me. Even after several frosts, they are still producing fruit—and more flowers! Love, love these tiny delicious garden gems.

Last night, along with the quiche made from the eggs provided by our backyard chickens and enhanced with chives from the garden...

...we ate one of the last tomatoes of the season...picked green and ripened in a paper bag with a banana. Ripening green tomatoes was a huge success—our freezer is now filled with bags of tomatoes to use this winter, all picked while still green.

Our nine varieties of garlic harvested this summer continue to be a staple ingredient in almost every dish we cook. How can anyone not like garlic—especially homegrown garlic?

Probably the single most prevalent item I'll be using from the garden this week will be herbs...lots and lots of sage, parsley, rosemary, and thyme for Thanksgiving dinner. Our local, organic turkey will be dressed with many herbs. I'm still harvesting:

 Provence lavender

Italian Flat Leaf Parsley

 Pineapple Mint


 Tri-Color Sage

Curly Parsley


 Greek Oregano

 Lemon Thyme

 Rosemary, possibly my favorite of all herbs.

So, while we won't be eating from the potager just yet, we might be harvesting heirloom lettuce to serve at Christmas dinner.

Homegrown lettuce in December? It's kind of...magical, don't you think?

Happy gardening!

XO ~



  1. To me, everything about gardening is magical. As is being a rule breaker. I let my kids get in the gulf on Sunday (the week before Thanksgiving!)and it was magical...

  2. Really pretty potager!! Good to know about that book! At the high school where i work, we do our summer reading like a book group and the book I chose one year (the brief and wondrous life of Oscar wao) was so incredibly inappropriate I was having panic attacks all summer after having chosen it. I didn't read it in advance, but it had won all these awards for teen fiction so our librarian said it was ok.