Fall clean-up

Busted out: one of the few vegetables still going is this zucchini plant, which has escaped the raised bed.
Busted out: one of the few vegetables still going is this zucchini plant, which has escaped the raised bed.

As the weather cools down, we’re starting to tweak the garden. But making room for one plant often cascades into lots of moves (or expanding beds). The magenta bee balm in front of the garage window is gone, moved to the iris bed visible from the kitchen window (that now has lots fewer irises) and to a bump-out near the front door, which we hope will add height to the end of the flower bed. A few crocosmia bulbs have been transplanted in the hope of getting some red zing and height mid-summer. To make room for a red currant against the deck, some astilbe moved into the iris bed. The siamese yuccas next to the garage are no more; one has gone to the back bed in the back yard. Some of the salvia that was too close to the similarly-colored catmint has been moved further down the path with the idea of creating some color repetition. Hopefully all these plants (and others) will like their new homes. Still to do: create more drifts of black-eyed Susans for more yellow pop in September. And then let’s see what the informal plant swap in a few weeks brings. More musical chairs?
Hmm… That area in front of the dining room, once named the death zone because we’d managed to kill black-eyed Susans there, needs a rethink. The bees love the calaminta, but it needs some color.

When the glut strikes

Chutney mania
Chutney mania

Our tomatoes, as I’ve said, are just about spent, so this year the glut comes (mostly) courtesy of local farmers’ markets. Peaches, apples, tomatoes, more tomatoes … I have taken time off work to spend time doing fall clean-up/replantings in the yard and for a can-orama. (OK, so it’s not directly about my garden…)
I won’t count the number of jars of tomato chutney, tomato sauce, tomatoes, apple mint chutney, piccalilli (really a Brit thing), peach jam and blueberry jam (did I forget something?) in the cupboard, mostly from the last few days, but suffice it to say that three shelves are just about packed and some of you may be getting a jar for Christmas. It’s all very easy, and I credit the Brit’s mother for getting me started and teaching me that you don’t need to water-bath everything. (shhh … don’t tell the USDA!) For a long time, I only used regular jars that I’d wash, put in the oven cold and heat up to sterilize, taking them out just as they are needed, filling and then putting a layer of plastic wrap between food and lid (very good when you are making chutney because it keeps the acidity from coming in contact with any metal. I have rarely had a jar go bad on me (and you can tell when that’s the case). I’ve now expanded my jar collection to proper canning jars.
I know this will soon be trendy or already is because the New York Times food section had a cover story on canning (tied to a new book) earlier this summer. My favorite recipe comes courtesy of a book published by Australian Women’s Weekly. I’ve modified it a bit, mostly to take short cuts, and I always add in extra tomatoes. They call it chili coriander jam, so let it thicken plenty. And use it everywhere. I have given it to friends and had the jars returned with requests for more (or heard how quickly it disappeared, sometimes eaten straight from the jar).

8 large tomatoes/2 kilos/4.4 pounds of tomatoes, cored (more, more!)
10 garlic cloves, peeled
1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger (more, more!)
10 small fresh red Thai chillis, stems removed (or whatever you want in whatever quantity to add a bit of heat)
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
2 tablespoons black mustard seeds
3/4 cup red wine vinegar (or substitute another vinegar, like apple cider vinegar, just not balsamic or something fancy. Mine comes in a one-gallon jug)
1/4 cup fish sauce
1 1/2 cups sugar (I use white, recipe calls for palm sugar, which is brown sugar to us)
1 tablespoon ground turmeric
and just at the end, 1/2 cup fresh coriander/cilantro leaves and roots

I put everything except for the fresh coriander in a big pot and start cooking it down, stirring as needed to keep anything from sticking to the bottom. (The recipe says to put garlic, ginger, chillies and seeds in a food processor or blender until chopped and well-combined. That’s one of the steps I skip. That and softening the tomatoes in the oven.) Simmer, uncovered. Once the tomatoes are soft, I use my immersion blender to chop everything up so it’s more like a sauce but still has some texture. The recipe has you do this at the end, but I figure I can better judge this way just how thick it is. Sometimes I have gotten a bit impatient, and the chutney has turned out too runny. The recipe says to simmer it for about two hours or until thick. I always find it takes longer, hence the impatience.
At the very end, stir in the coriander. Spoon it into hot sterilized jars and seal while hot. Store it in a cool, dry place (like a cupboard) and refrigerate after opening.

If this is too Asian for you, try changing the spices to something more Italian, like fennel seeds and fresh basil. Skip the fish sauce if you are vegetarian. Don’t otherwise be put off by its smell. It’s in your Thai and Vietnamese food all the time.

Labor Day weekend

A happy note: zinnias with sedum
A happy note: zinnias with sedum

After a few hectic weeks, I finally feel like I have time to really look at the garden. In some ways, it feels like summer is truly spent (even though it’s sunny and in the 70s today). The tomatoes look like they’ve had it, unlike last year, when there were still lots of flowers and I picked a few big bowls of tomatoes right before frost. I’ll chalk it up to the weather (makes me feel better), but I will be buying a big box soon to turn into chutney and sauce.

Depressing. This has come a month early.
Depressing. This has come a month early.

In the flower beds, I feel like some of the exuberance is missing. The black-eyed Susans look great, the zinnias have finally come into their own and boltonia is starting to bloom. We finally even have a canna in bloom. Maybe it’s the Alma asters that are struggling to bloom, and the bluebird Asters that are supposed to be four feet tall and this year barely make it to the bottom of the porch. At least the bees are happy. They’re all over the flower bed. Even so, time to think about a new plan for next year.

Two years ago, we had to tie these asters back by the end of September.
Two years ago, we had to tie these asters back by the end of September.
This year, they're midgets.
This year, they're midgets.