This past weekend brought the first frost to the farm. The first night the forecast was for 30 degrees and they hit it bullseye. Forecasts are tricky here in the mountains where temps can vary depending on which mountain or valley is yours and where you are situated on the slope.Read More
The mound of basil spread on a magenta towel on top of the washing-machine is starting to wilt. Last night leaves stood up from the stems, crisp and fleshy at the same time, like a cat’s ear. This morning it is a soft, pungent pile. I pick up the bundle and turn the whole thing over, fluffing the leaves apart. A cloud of verdant scent rises as if summer exhaled. My hands now carry the spicy odor, even typing this later, sharp and earthy at the same time. The leaves need to lose a little more water to the room air before I put them in the herb dehydrator. Otherwise it will take days to dry completely—as it must be to get crumbled and funneled into the bottle labeled Basil.
October 7th, last night, was first frost. Just more odd timing in a year filled with weather oddities here in the Ozarks. Halloween has been a more common frost date in the seven winters I’ve lived here. But this is the year no winter to amount to anything ever came in late 2011. I kept thinking the cold would catch us off-guard the following spring. But it never bothered. The figs that usually freeze to the ground and must regrow from there had green buds high on living branches in early April. Peach blossoms so often nipped by late frosts were untouched and lit up the branches like pink birthday candles. Those same branches would be stressed by severe drought a few short months later. The new queen of weather is bipolar compared to the more reliable ruler she overthrew. A coup d’état by carbon apparently.
The winter we missed last year acts in a hurry to catch up. At least for a night. The surprise low of 27 predicted only reached 32 at our house, set on a slope in the “sun bowl” as we call it. But 32 is more than enough to brown or blacken basil. So last night had me once again gardening by headlamp. I located and cut the huge basil plants I’d put in late that had not flowered yet. This means peak flavor. Today I will pluck the leaves off the stems and arrange them like puzzle pieces on the racks of the dehydrator. Then set the thermostat only at 95 so the most scent and color will be retained. Though it will take them two or three days at least to get fully dry this way, it’s the only way to keep the full flavor. I want the taste of this basil to be strong enough to cut through a winter day. I want the scent sharp as a green blade, smelling as if it were plucked right from the perfumed hands of Summer herself.
—A Larrapin Garden, where the basket of basil picture shown at the top was—full disclosure—actually the September batch I used to make a winter’s worth of pesto. I *love* basil so I grow a lot, as you can see and read. It takes at least half as much as you see in the picture, after drying and milling, to fill a full-sized container for the spice cabinet. Lotta summer in that little bottle! Like Larrapin Blog? Please subscribe to get blog posts in one weekly email. You can also get bonus links, giveaways and recipes by “liking” the Facebook page or following on Twitter. Thanks! LeighRead More
Sometimes, things get away from you before you can weedeat! Take this tiny pasture which has thin rocky soil and gets half shady in the fall. I’ve had no luck in growing anything I wanted to grow in it. I intended to knock back the weeds all summer, which at the time were about knee-high, with generic-looking green stalks. (Let me note here, that we never needed a weedeater when we had goats!)
Then the brush got chest high and I dreaded the nightmare weedeating job and put it off longer because now it would involve the gasoline weedeater vs. the lightweight electric. But it was funny to let the chickens run around in their own personal chicken maze, completely invisible once they entered, and scratch around to their hearts’ content. And by then it was far too large for even a herd of biddies to hurt.. Finally, it got so close to first frost that I decided to let winter take it all down….sigh of relief.
But before that happened, everything bloomed. WOW! I’m not sure what these little white aster-like weeds are (anyone?) but the flowers cover the pasture now. And I have never seen so many pollinators in one place at one time! There have been native bees, butterflies, flower flies, and of course the Larrapin honeybees have been all over it. Meanwhile, all kinds of songbirds are hanging around the perimeter have a feast on all the various bugs. (Stay away from the bees you guys!)
You can stand in the middle of it be surrounded by a lively buzz and every flower, I mean every one, has somebody enjoying it. Amazing! My bee mentor told me how much-loved this wildflower is (as one of the last nectar sources of the year) because light frosts actually make the plant produce more nectar.
I’m so very glad I procrastinated this time. Now I have a whole different outlook on this particular “weed.” While I’m a farmer at heart, at the same time, I love what nature does to the land when the farmer steps back a bit and let’s the real master-gardener show me how it’s done! Hope you all are enjoying this beautiful Ozark fall.
Look at the size of this guy and what an amazing pattern. He was happily munching on a privet bush. So we let him keep on munching…Read More