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Celt's Garden - Garden Dreams and Pumpkin Soup

The glossy garden pornography has started to arrive. The Pinetree catalog was first. Pinetree sells small packets for modest sums, with a good selection of heirloom varieties and a focus on small-space gardeners. Best to start with a garden plan. Then the catalogs are more of a reference and less of a temptation. Inside on a snowy day, we can dream and plan next year's garden. Now is the time to think about adding a raised bed, or putting in a trellis, perhaps some herbs in pots. What worked for you? Would less zucchini be more? How can you best use your garden space for a long harvest, from early spring greens to hearty brussels sprouts and cabbages next winter?

As you are planning next spring's garden, I would like to encourage you to aim to maximize value from your garden and minimize aggravation. Keep your rotation plan in mind. The nightshade (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers), allium (onions, leeks, garlic) and cole (everything cabbagy, from broccoli to kale) families are the worst offenders for building up diseases and pests in the soil. Keep three years between planting them in the same bed. Work in everything else around that basic rotation.

As you dream, consider your space. Is there room along the edge for some perennials? Plenty of room for a trellised grape vine or are you looking at something more along the lines of one thyme plant? The tall stuff goes on the north side of the garden or along east or west walls. Short herbs and berries can go where they won't shade your annual veggie plots. Stuff grows. You want to keep that sunny spot in the middle for your annual veggies even when the perennials are full sized. Even a slow growing lavender will eventually sprawl out of its assigned spot and have to be cut back or replaced. Match the plant to the spot: warm, sunny and sheltered for your rosemary, full sun and acid soil for blueberries, south facing wall or fence for an espaliered fruit tree, shade loving herbs for a hole in the trees. Perennials still have to be weeded, so be sure that you can get to everything without squishing your food forest.

Perhaps you can just use your existing raised beds more intensely. Trellises for annuals can go north-south (sun on both sides as the day progresses) or south facing. Tomatoes, pole beans, cucumbers, winter squash and peas can be trellised. You can extend your season a month on both ends with covers like Grow-Therm over a wire hoop frame. A 6' wide section of row cover will cover a 4' wide raised bed. The hoop are made from 9AWG wire, 7' long so that you can shove the sides in the ground. A little algebra reveals that this set up gives you 18" in the middle of the row, so we are talking lettuce and starts here, not a full sized brussels sprout plant. The brussels sprout doesn't care about winter, unless it really freezes hard, and then the whole garden has to wait for spring, anyway. Taller hoops tend to blow over unless made of pipe.

If you are a container gardener, perhaps you can add some containers for salad greens and fast growing bok choy and mustards to stir fry. A patio tomato (look for early, smallish determinate varieties or cherry tomatoes) and a fancy summer squash by the front door might be all you have room for. Butterstick is a good container squash. The scalloped and round squashes didn't do well in containers for me. Your basic green zuc in a big pot just kept pumping them out. Pole beans can go up a trellis. Since you are dreaming, how about purple Dragon's Tongue, yellow wax or Romano beans for fresh eating. Use your valuable space to grow something that you are too cheap to buy.

The best pumpkin pie you can make starts with a whole pumpkin, cut up, seeds cleaned out and chunks steamed. Then scoop out the flesh to make pie filling. After you make your pie, you still have half a pumpkin left. This soup is really good on a cold winter day. If you still have more steamed pumpkin left, it freezes very well.

Pumpkin Soup

4 quart soup pot
1 onion
2-3 cloves garlic
2 medium potatoes
2-3 cups steamed pumpkin
1 bay leaf
pinch each: thyme, savory, basil
1 tablespoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper and a dash of paprika
1 quart vegetable or chicken stock

Peel and cut up the potatoes into 1" chunks. Slice the onion and garlic and saute until translucent, in a little vegetable oil in the soup pot. Put everything else in the pot except the pepper and paprika and cook on medium-low until the potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes. Add some water if starts to lose the soupy quality and get too thick, more like the consistency of mashed potatoes. Add pepper and paprika and serve with toast for an easy meal.

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