Summer draws to a close, fall produce starts to come in

Published 8:52 am Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Column: Notes from the Garden, by Verlys Huntley

Where has our summer gone? Although some unusually hot humid weather the last couple weeks has let us know summer is still here, the calendar shows us fall will arrive in just a little over a week.

Verlys Huntley

Verlys Huntley

And there are many indications that growing things are beginning to get ready for colder weather ahead. Many of the oak trees had an unusually large amount of acorns, which have been dropping. Some trees and shrubs are even starting to show signs of leaves changing color, and even some leaves are beginning to drop. I saw a soybean field that was starting to show some yellow coloring, which could also be partly due to the lack of moisture recently. Our last rain was on Aug. 22 when we got not quite a half inch of rain, but overall, August and the first part of September have been very dry.

Email newsletter signup

I have been watering parts of my garden, and because June strawberries start the fruit bearing process in the fall, it is especially important that they have water in August and September if they are to be productive the next year. So the hoses and sprinklers have been drug out and most of our strawberries have had the benefit of some extra watering, as well as some of the vegetables that appeared to need it.

With the cool and wet weather this spring, vegetable gardens were challenging. Many things did not get planted at the proper time because the soil was simply too wet to work up. And things that were planted did not grow well, especially those things that need warm weather. Everything seemed to be running at least two weeks behind normal. From that cool wet beginning of the season, we are now into a period of hot and dry weather.

So the big question is, when will we get that first frost? And will the fields and gardens be ready for it? Corn and soybeans both were planted much later this year, and quite a few fields never got planted. Records for the past 50 years in Minnesota show that we can expect the first frost (32 degrees) in southern Minnesota during the later part of September or first part of October. Of course, we all know that there are exceptions to that, and we are all probably hoping for the first freeze to come much later than normal this year.


Farmers market notes

Although our market opened the middle of May, as we usually do, there were not a lot of vegetables (other than asparagus) available at the first few markets. However, as the season progressed, our growers were able to get their gardens going, and now there is a wonderful abundance of local produce available at the Albert Lea Farmers Market. As you are all well aware, the downtown streetscape project in Albert Lea has affected the North Broadway area, and there was a lot of construction activity going on around the market lot. Customer parking was more limited, but I want to thank all of you who stuck with us through this.

We plan to be in the present lot through Sept. 21. On Sept. 23 the lot we are in is scheduled to be regraded and resurfaced, which it certainly needs very badly. Therefore, the market will set up through the end of October in the Northbridge Mall parking lot west of Herberger’s starting Sept. 25. We will be there from 4 to 6 p.m. each Wednesday and from 9 a.m. to noon each Saturday. We ask you all to spread the word about our new temporary location as of Sept. 25, and keep buying local from the vendors at the Albert Lea market. We do appreciate your patronage!


Featured produce: apples

The University of Minnesota has developed some wonderful varieties of apples that are winter hardy and wonderful tasting. Some of those varieties are the Haralson (1923), Beacon (1936), Prairie Spy (1940), Minjon (1942), Fireside (1943), Lakeland (1950), Regent (1964), Honeygold and Red Baron (1969), State Fair and Sweet Sixteen (1978), Keepsake (1979), Honeycrisp (1990), and Zestar (1998).

Each apple has its own unique characteristics, such as taste, texture, cooking qualities, etc. The Honeycrisp has become a very popular eating apple even world-wide, but it was developed in Minnesota. I believe it has the best taste when raised in our climate here. However, there are still a lot of people who like some of the older varieties, too. For those who like a tart apple, Haralson is always popular, and Fireside or Connell Red are still a favorite of many. There are also many excellent new varieties that are more disease resistant that you should try. The best way to find your favorite apple is by tasting different varieties to see which ones you like.

Because we were fortunate to not be affected by the frost last year during bloom time, our orchard had an extremely large crop, whereas many orchards had very few apples. And of course, last year was a really dry year. Considering these things, I didn’t think we would have many apples this year, but have been pleasantly surprised that we are getting a lot of very nice apples.

Our open house at Huntley Gardens this year will be from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday. We will make apple cider, and you can help or just watch. There will be hot spiced cider, coffee and freshly made apple doughnut balls for everyone. You can tour the gardens, sample different kinds of apples, look over some of our old garden and farm equipment, and have fun on the farm! We also will have activities for the kids, including a scavenger hunt and rides in the Gator. There will be apples and other fall produce for sale. Hope to see you!


Easy apple fritters

1 1/4 cups flour

3/4 cup sugar

1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 cup sparkling water

1/2 cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix together the dry ingredients, and then stir in the sparkling water, buttermilk and vanilla until mixture forms a batter. Let rest for 15 minutes. Peel and cut a firm cooking apple (such as Duchess, Redfree or State Fair) into 1/2-inch slices. Blot dry, and dip in batter. Fry in hot canola oil (375 degrees Fahrenheit), turning as necessary, until golden brown. Sprinkle with a mixture of cinnamon and sugar, and serve hot.


Verlys Huntley is a master gardener and the president of the Albert Lea Farmers Market.