Constantly Playing Catch-Up, While Actually Making Salsa

It’s been a busy quarter around here. The end of the season turned out to be very prolific with our final harvest of tomatoes being taken in due to a frost warning. It was time though. On three other occasions, we averted a light frost by covering up the garden with tarps on the nights we knew there was a threat. This took some doing since the plants were large and growing around bean cages, we prefer those since they are sturdier and tall enough to support a healthy growing tomato plant. The tomatoes were taking their own sweet time to ripen, cool nights and not a tremendously hot summer seemed to make the growth in the garden slow in comparison to our days growing down in Connecticut (zone 6) and in the end we ended up picking over three grocery bags worth of green tomatoes, plus two large bowls and one colanders worth of ripe tomatoes of all sizes.

Last year I canned 10 gallons of tomato sauce which we still have some left over which is odd since we used to go through it so fast. We always had to try to extend it into the next season when at least some fresh tomatoes were in season. But I don’t think we ever put up that much sauce before. Plus I don’t think we ate as much pasta last year overall.

This year I opted to make salsa. I have tried one other time and remembered it being simpler than making sauce. You don’t cook it as long as you do a sauce cutting the time down thus making it feel easier. I love making salsa and have finally discovered another way to use Mark’s ridiculously hot peppers in a way we can enjoy without just tasting the heat. I actually enjoy using a variety of peppers with a varying amount of heat, some jalapeños, serranos, habaneros…Mark likes to get a variety of hot peppers including the super hot ones like the Carolina Reaper!

A variety of Mark’s hot peppers

Although hot peppers can be a bit finicky when it comes to growing up in zone 5, 1500ft up on the side of a mountain. I’ve discovered that the deck and on the stairs in our containers has been as successful, if not a bit more so, than in our raised garden beds.

Next year I will plant more bell peppers as well as hot peppers and onions. Although truth be told I was disappointed with my bell pepper outcome – again they seemed to take forever to finally flower and ripen. I did plant more onions this year but I think even more can be added to the garden. Garlic, we have covered pretty well since we were able use plenty of our own bulbs for next season, although as I type this I am second guessing myself and feel compelled to run out and perhaps add a few more. You can never have enough garlic in my opinion. Fresh compost was added to the garden beds and still have one more bag from our Food Cycler compost that needs to be carried over to the garden and dumped in a bed or two. I seeded a few overwintering carrots (Merida) and peas and some Winter Density lettuce under the cold frames as well. I started to cover the raised garden beds with a generous layer of sterile hay/straw blend (around 3″ thick) everywhere except under the cold frames – although I may throw a thinner layer in there as well. We get wicked cold winters up here, 139″ of snow last season and although that soil will be protected under the cold frame – a thin layer could be helpful.

Recipe for the Best Homemade Salsa for Canning

I used that recipe as a guide and added here and there.
Here’s what I did:
9 cups chopped tomatoes – they recommend peeling first, but I don’t bother since a lot of nutrients are in the skin
3 cups, chopped green peppers
3 cups chopped white onions – I used yellow and purple because that’s what I grew primarily
3-4 jalapenos, chopped
1 Albino hot pepper or Hot Portugal pepper
8 cloves garlic, chopped
6 teaspoons canning salt
1 cup white vinegar
12 oz can of tomato paste
a dash of Peri Peri Mozambique blend from the Spice House

As the first days of November, I still have some fresh potatoes that I can enjoy. Last night we ate some simply made with some olive oil and Greektown, another spice from the Spice House. [FYI – I get nothing from them for recommending them, I just really love their spices and blends]. I have already make and frozen some soup, unfortunately not as much as I would have liked – I forgot to order some seed potatoes early and I didn’t have a chance to get as many as I would have liked. I have to remember to set a calendar reminder for February, maybe even the last week of January. The best stuff always goes first – that’s just the way life works. That’s why I try to plan ahead and get my orders in early.

This month I will be cooking. I will be trying to use up all my fresh homegrown tomatoes in more salsa and possibly some sauce. From there I will turn my attention to the delicious dishes that center around my birthday and Thanksgiving. My day before Thanksgiving birthday will probably be filled with me preparing the side dishes and doing whatever other prep work will need to be done for the day. Thankfully its a small gathering, so I can focus on what’s important that day which is the family.

Homegrown Harvest Q&A Thursday

Every Thursday live on Instagram @homegrown_harvest answers questions from followers about gardening and sustainable living. If you have any questions you would like answered, we would love to help out. Send your questions to info@homegrownharvest.com.

I found a slug on my lettuce that’s no my Tower Garden, what can I do?

We recommend using copper foil tape – copper gives them a very mild shock since their slime reacts with the copper.  If you see slugs or snails – hand pick them off and put into a container of soapy water.

If you’re using a Tower Garden put the copper foil tape around the base of the unit, so they won’t be able to crawl up the sides. 

If you’re using a container – you can place the copper-foiled tape around the container.

You can also find copper sheets which can easily be cut with tin snips to create bands that you can use to place around the base of the individual plants or raised beds.

Some people recommend Diatomaceous Earth; however, I recently read recently that DE can harm bees – because the power gets on them and they take it back to the hive where it does some damage.

It’s mid-June what should I be doing in the garden?

At this time of year there are plenty of things that need and can be done in the garden. Tall plants should staked by now, so be sure that supports have been put in for your tomatoes, bean, cucumbers and other vertical growing veggies that ultimately will need to support to thrive.

Succession planting is something else to think about this time of year. Seeding fast growing veggies – crops like carrots, bush beans, radishes, etc… will help crowd out potential weeds from taking root and give you more produce to enjoy.

Once you are done with transplanting and seeding, we recommend putting down some mulch, like weed-free straw or shredded leaf mulch. Mulching will allow you to decrease watering, prevent weed growth and helps reduce soil-borne diseases from building up.

Mid June is a good time to throw some light-weight netting over your strawberry patches & blueberry bushes to protect them from hungry birds.

Also, during today’s show, Mark and I talked about a survey about Americans most favorite and least favorite vegetables and about snapdragons! You can find our Homegrown Harvest Live videos on our new You Tube channel.

Homegrown Harvest Q&A Thursday Live!

Thursday – May 23, 2019

Every Thursday live on Instagram @homegrown_harvest answers questions from followers about gardening and sustainable living. If you have any questions you would like answered, we would love to help out. Send your questions to info@homegrownharvest.com.

I am worried about my newly planted seeds washing away in these torrential rains. What can I do?

  • Put a light layer of pine straw as a mulch to help hold things in place and diffuse the heavy water.

My compost this spring didn’t seem ready. I have a black plastic box. I was ill this winter and didn’t turn the lawn mowed leaves from last fall. I put in some organic compost starter to get it moving. Does my compost need to be as broken down as what comes in the bags to spread in the garden?

The short answer is yes it should look like what comes out of the bag if you were to buy it. Compost is ready when it looks dark brown in color, feels like rich crumbly earth, and smells like rich earth. It should not smell like rotting vegetables – nor should you be able to recognize any kitchen scraps or garden refuse.

It’s important that your compost is ready since it does contain substances which can be damaging to plants such as acids and pathogens which need to go through the complete process of decomposition to be safe to use.  Plus, nitrogen and oxygen are used during the process and would not be available for the plants use if the soil is still using it to decompose matter.

Hot piles require regular turning – which may be one reason your compost didn’t’ seem ready since you were sick. Also since you didn’t add your mowed trimmings you may have not had the regular balance you always have of nitrogen to carbon (greens to browns) which also effect the rate of decomposition. Composting requires the right balance of carbons to nitrogen (brown matter to green matter). 2:1 carbon to nitrogen for hot composting and 3:1 carbon to nitrogen for cold composting.

Screen your mulch and pick out large things that haven’t decomposed that take a long time like avocado pits and corn cobs – throw then back in to the compose – they will eventually break down

Last year my basil was three feet tall. This year I can’t get it to grow at all. Good irrigated soil, same location. I do see some tiny holes in lower leaves. Any suggestions?

You may have a soil borne disease building up in your soil.  Although herbs are not as susceptible to soil borne diseases like other vegetables, we recommend rotating herbs along with your other crops. Also like other crops, herbs will benefit from having some fresh compost put in the area where it’s to be planted. Pruning your basil also helps it to thrive.

You can watch our Homegrown Harvest Live videos on our new YouTube Channel and this episode which aired May 23, 2019.

Potato- Potahtoe

Every springtime I wait like an excited child at the window to see the dandelions come into bloom. It’s one of the signs that nature tells me it’s time to plant the potatoes. We love homegrown potatoes as much as we love tomatoes. Just like with most fruits, vegetables, and herbs, there is a greater variety of homegrown choices to chose from than you will ever find at the supermarket or farmer’s market. We plan our garden with our stomachs in mind; meaning we know the types of things we like to cook and plant accordingly.One of our favorite things we like make from our harvests is potato soup. We make and then freeze portions of the soup so that we can easily take out and enjoy a delicious homegrown home-cooked meals anytime for lunch or dinner. We find this is really handy for those winter days where we are too tired to start something from scratch but are hungry.

Earlier this week on Instagram @homegrown_harvest did our weekly Monday live broadcast. We just started to broadcast live on Instagram and then rebroadcast the shows on Facebook and Pinterest. We are beginners at podcasting but we love sharing with people our knowledge about gardening and try to show them that gardening doesn’t have to be hard or intimidating. Growing your own food can be simple and fun.

Smart pot and some organic rich soil

When we grow potatoes we like to use grow bags. We started growing this way years ago since Mark likes to grow a surplus of tomatoes and didn’t want to give up any planting space and have less tomatoes. Tomatoes and potatoes are both in the same family, solanaceous crops are susceptible to the same diseases so it’s not recommended to plant them in the same raised beds, as you risk losing both crops.

If you are interested in growing potatoes, you first need to get some seed potatoes. It’s not recommended that you use the old potatoes from the grocery store. Varieties that are grown by farms for commercial use are chosen for their ability to travel from farm to table which averages 1500 miles. Flavor is not taken into consideration and aren’t we all tired of the same selection of potatoes the grocery store has to offer?

The other place I have ordered from is John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds. This spring I bought some of their Red Sonia potatoes another yellow fleshed potato that looks like a pre-buttered, melt in your mouth morsel of tasty goodness. I’m a sucker for delicious sounding descriptions of herbs, fruits and vegetables, that I tend to go crazy wanting to try this that and the other thing.

A variety of Nicola, Red Gold and Desiree potatoes

The varieties offered come in amazing colors, tastes and textures. We fell in love with German Butterball after I made one of the creamiest most delicious soups. I remember the potatoes looked as if they have been previously buttered but they had not been. The Maine Potato Lady, who is one of my potato seed go-to websites, describes it as being a versatile “round to oblong tuber …this beauty is superb for everything – frying, baking, mashing, soups.”

Finally I recommend once you do find a variety that you like, you begin to save your own seed potatoes. We saved many seed potatoes from last year’s harvests and are looking forward to some repeat performers like Nicola, Desiree and Red Gold.

Step by Step to growing potatoes in sacks

  1. Fill sack with 2′ -3′ of organic rich soil mixed with aged compost or manure.
  2. Place 4- 5 seed potatoes in the sack -place one in middle. To place the other seed potatoes think of the bottom like a clock and place one at 12, 3, 6 and 9 o’clock.
  3. Cover the seed potatoes with 2″- 4″ of soil.
  4. water the sacks daily and keep and eye for growth of green leaves. As the leaves appear continue to cover with 2″- 4′ inches of soil until your grow bag is full.
  5. Harvest your potatoes once all the flowers have bloomed and a majority of the plant is dead. Store, cook and enjoy!

As I mentioned earlier, we started to grow potatoes in the sacks: one because we didn’t want to give up planting space, and two, I had tried it once in one of the raised beds and found it difficult to hill and was worried about the ones that grew near the surface would green. Which is why you need to hill potatoes properly to prevent greening which is not only bad for your potatoes but can be toxic. I also found harvesting the potatoes to be difficult and a pain in the butt. The grow bags make harvesting the potatoes a snap since all you have to do is overturn the bags and finding the harvest becomes like an easter egg hunt. We reuse our soil filling in areas that have eroded; adding it to our compost to replenish the nutrients that the potatoes have used up. This will be the 6th year we have been growing our potatoes in grow bags, I have never felt the need to try to go back to growing potatoes any other way. We have always been happy with the yields and never had a problem with drainage since the bags are essentially designed to allow for drainage and air flow.

Harvesting our potatoes

The other reason we enjoy using the grow bags in our garden is the flexibility they offer us in the garden. Year after year, the bags can be reused and at the end of each harvest once you empty them – they can be folded up and stored away. Once the grow bags are filled to the top I add companion plants to the tops such as some basil, parsley or thyme which help to enhance the flavor of the tubers. Beans help to add nitrogen into the soil so I will add some bush beans in and finally flowers like petunias and marigolds. There are plenty of other companion plants that can be added to your potato sacks depending upon your tastes – lettuce and radishes are also great companions and quick growers so you can seed more than one crop during the growing season.

During our live broadcast, Mark and I talked about our favorite potato soup recipe that we like to make which is actually thanks to one of our favorite shows, The Pioneer Woman. Ree’s Perfect Potato soup is so easy to make and tastes delicious. Contrary to Mark’s memory, there is some milk and cream in the recipe but not a lot and when you grow potatoes that are perfect for making creamy soups, I find you can cut down on the added dairy.

https://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/perfect-potato-soup/?printable_recipe=12045

Trying new things is a part of enjoying life. Fear of the unknown, or failure tends to hold too many people back from even trying new things. Whether it’s learning to grow food in fabric bags, grow a new variety of a vegetable you have never grown before or starting a gardening podcast – taking the first steps can be hardest part, but the fruits of our labors can be so incredibly satisfying.

Homegrown Harvest Live! Q&A Thursday

Every Thursday live on Instagram @homegrown_harvest answers questions from followers about gardening and sustainable living. If you have any questions you would like answered, we would love to help out. Send your questions to info@homegrownharvest.com.

Can the newish full spectrum LED home light bulbs do double duty as grow lights?

  • The short answer is yes – the words full spectrum give you a clue that it includes the full light spectrum
  • However, plants only need 2/3 of the spectrum to grow so therefore you would be wasting 1/3 of the energy the light is putting out.
  • Horticultural LED bulbs are inexpensive and deliver the exact type of light plants and flowers need to thrive indoors.

I recently learned that daylilies are edible and already knew pansies and roses were too. Can you recommend some other edible ornamentals?First, as far as edible flowers goes, its important to stress that you need to know EXACTLY what you are eating and check with your doctor first and talk to a plant specialist. There are some plants which may be dangerous to you if you have certain conditions.

There are plenty of edible flowers which can be added to our gardens and plates. But it’s important to know about the plants we would like to consume and what they can do for or to us. It’s highly recommended that you always use flowers sparingly as digestive complications can occur with large consumption rate.

Cooking with flowers has been around since the early Romans and is a part of Chinese, Middle Eastern & Indian cultures. Not every flower or plant is edible and sometimes the flower may be edible but the foliage is not; or it may be edible only after cooking. Also never harvest flowers or plants that have pesticides or other chemicals on it if you plan to eat and NEVER harvest plants/flowers by the roadside.

  • Some flowers are edible but it doesn’t necessarily mean they should be eaten. For instance waxed begonias are edible but taste bitter and can taste swampy. Other begonias are edible as well but if you have gout, kidney stones or rheumatism – you should stay away from these.
  • Calendula has a start taste similar to saffron and is actually called Poor Man’s saffron. Sprinkle on soups, pasta, or rice dishes, herbed butters and salads
  • Carnations – petals are sweet – don’t eat the bitter white base of the flower; carnation petals are the secret ingredient in the French liqueur, Chartreuse since the 17th century  
  • Chrysanthemums – flavors range from faint peppery to mild cauliflower; should be blanched; leaves are used to flavor vinegar – always remove the bitter flower base.
  • Dandelions – good raw or steamed, made into wine, sweet when picked young, buds tastier than the flowers.
  • Fuchsia blooms have a slimly acidic flavor, berries are also edible
  • Hibiscus – cranberry-like, dried to make tea.
  • Johnny-jumps ups have a mild wintergreen flavor, good in sales, add in drinks, soups, dessert and salads
  • Nasturtiums are a sweet, yet spicy flavor similar to watercress. Stuff the flowers and add the leaves in a salad to add a peppery tang.
  • Violets have a sweet perfumed flavor, related to pansies, violas and johnny-jump ups; use the tender leaves and flowers in salads, cold drinks and desserts; the heart shaped leaves when cooked taste like spinach.

Big Bug, Little Bug, Bad Bug, Good Bug

If you are anything like my sister – you don’t like bugs. When she was young, she would stare up at the ceiling trying to spot them for her older siblings to kill. I believe it all stemmed from a traumatic moment she got trapped on the landing of our stairs at our country house by what she believed to be a giant green bug. It was in reality a leaf that had blown in the front door which she happened to be standing next to at the time. She was only three years old at the time – I, on the other hand, was ten and thought it hilarious and tease her to this day about it. Theoretically, she gets the concept that good bugs exist in this world which is fine as long as they stay out her sight and not in her house.

For gardeners, bugs and insects are a reality we have to deal with, but not all bugs are bad. Beneficial insects are some of the most important contributors in a garden since they are the natural defense system against “bad” bugs which can devastate our crops.  Insects are an important part of our ecosystem; we need them for decomposition & pollination. They also produce products such as silk, wax and honey, even medicine. Most people are familiar with beneficials such as bees, and butterflies but there are many other beneficials which contribute to the balance of nature.

VIETNAM – CIRCA 1982: A Stamp printed in VIETNAM shows the image of a Assassin Bug with the description “Sycanus falleni Stal” from the series “Chinch Bugs”, circa 1982

Some beneficials have scary names which are intimidating alone. For instance, the Assassin Bug, which there are actually many different species of assassin bugs in North America. They generally have long spindly legs, narrow heads and broad bodies. Assassins help control aphids, cabbage worms, Colorado bean beetles, cutworms, earwigs, four-lined plant bugs, Japanese beetles, lace bugs, Mexican bean beetles, tobacco budworms, and many caterpillars.  The assassin bug pierce their prey using their long beaks and then injects a lethal toxin that kills the insect instantly, liquifying their insides which the assassin bug feeds on the liquified tissue, leaving behind an empty shell. So, if you find empty shells of insects you will know you have assassin bugs.

One of the insects that assassin bugs go after are earwigs, which like to feed on a wide range of flowers, fruit and foliage.  Favorite crops of the earwig include artichokes, bean seedlings, corn silk, lettuce, potatoes, roses, peaches and apricots, strawberries and zinnias. If you find that your leaves have a bunch of ragged holes you may have earwigs, although caterpillars leave behind similar damage.  Earwigs like to feed on dead and decaying plant matter as well.  If you need to deal with earwigs, keep your garden clean of dying and dead debris. You can also trap them in shallow containers filled with vegetable oil. Or try to put rolled newspaper into a cardboard tubes and place near your plants. Earwigs like to crawl into tunnels, and you can easily dispose of them in the morning.

small brown earwig, hidden in a flower.

Earwigs will not attack humans, despite their formidable appearance with their easily recognizable pincers, and contrary to folklore they won’t crawl into our ears despite liking to crawl into dark, small places.  Initially introduced to North America in the early 1900s, they came across in cargo and on ships and have been plaguing our gardens and farm ever since.

Insects are the most diverse group of organisms with more species of insects than any other group. In the United States there are an estimated 91,000 species which is why going forward, I will write more about big bugs, little bugs, good bugs, and bad bugs on occasion to educate myself and others about the organisms in our gardens.


Homegrown Harvest Live Q&A Thursday

Welcome to Homegrown Harvest Live Q&A Thursday! Every Thursday at 2pm, Mark and Xine answer questions related to gardening or sustainable living from followers during their live podcast aired on Instagram @homegrown_harvest

Daphne from Connecticut – Zone 6b asks “How do you take care of a Ranunculus Mache Pastel flowers? Am I supposed to prune this thing, how often do I water it, do I planted into the ground?

Tecolote Ranunculus – incredibly bold colors, make for great cut flowers with extended vase life. They need bright sun, rich soil and light watering – if planted needs to be in well drained area

In zones 8 and warmer they can be planted in the fall. In zone 7 and colder, plant bulbs in the springtime or plant in containers.

When choosing a container, you always need to be sure to pick the right size container for the plant you are growing. For ranunculus bulbs leave 3- 4 inches between the bulbs, and plant 2” deep in the container. Once there is no threat of a frost put the container outside in a sunny spot.

Ranunculus are perennials in warm climates zone 8 and higher; whereas zone 7 and lower the plant acts as an annual, so you have to start over the following spring with new bulbs

As a cut flower they can last up to 10 days!

Kristin from Connecticut – zone 6 writes in that she mulches her garden beds and the property slopes downward. What is the best mulch that will stay put in heavy rains?

All mulches will float and wash away in a flood but some stay put better than others. Pine straw is highly recommended since the needles entwine and it help it stay put better than wood chips or bark nuggets which float off onto the lawn. Shredded bark or wood is good, something with pieces that tangle and hold onto one another. 

Ideally if you can edge your garden with something high enough to hold the mulch in place – stones, wood that helps. You can also use other plants plie monkey grass of hostas or a type of ground cover as a protective border to keep the mulch in. Trenching a 3- 4” deep moat around the bed will help geep the mulch from floating off. 

The Idaho Dept of Environmental Quality recommends that mulches that as meant to last longer than 3 months on slopes steeper than 50% – you use straw or hay held in place by netting. And they don’t recommend using wood chips if the slope is steeper than 6%, because they wash away.

Kristin, I would use pine straw and depending on your slope possibly throw some netting down and tack it down with landscape fabric stakes.

Carolyn from Connecticut asks what is the best time to prune ones rose bushes?

The trick about pruning is timing since if you do it too soon, you run the risk of having new growth stimulated during a warm spell which could be killed later by a freeze.  Prune too late and your plant misses the spring bloom.  So how do you know?

One trick is if you live in an area where there are forsythias -wait until the forsythias are in bloom. Forsythias only bloom when the soil temperature is 55° of warmer in the first 6 inches of soil depth – this is a natural indicator that it’s the perfect time to prune your roses.  If you don’t live in an area where there are forsythias – early spring after the last frost in colder climates, when they start to bud or leaf out. If you have a soil thermometer again you are looking for 55°.

Reading Nature’s Signs

Wow, it’s February already. I am always amazed at this time of year how fast time seems to slip by. It seems like it was yesterday we were celebrating Christmas; it was actually six weeks ago.  Six weeks from now we will be at spring’s doorstep.

groundhogThis weekend in Pennsylvania, hundreds awaited to see the groundhog emerge from his hole and predict what we can expect for the remaining weeks of winter. Punxsutawney Phil is only accurate 39% of the time , yet thousands have made the pilgrimage to see him since Pennsylvania’s official Groundhog Day celebration began in 1886. It makes me wonder whether we are interpreting what the groundhog is trying to tell us properly. Mother Nature does have a way of giving us hints and clues as to what to expect in the future; we just need to know what to look for.

The earliest recorded mention of the tradition of Groundhog’s Day dates back as far as 1841 in the diary of storekeeper, James Morris of Morgantown, PA wrote:

“Last Tuesday, the 2nd, was Candlemas Day, the day on which, according to the Germans, the groundhog peeps out of his winter quarters and if he sees his shadow, he pops back for another six-week nap, but if the day be cloudy he remains out, as winter is to be moderate.”

Candlemas

The origins of Candlemas are rooted in the pagan celebrations of this cross quarter day, the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.  Speculation has it that the Catholic church created Candlemas to make pure roman paganism; for in Rome, pagans celebrated the feast of Lupercalia and walked the city with candles lit honoring Ceres, the goddess of agriculture and fertility. The church, of course, could not have that. Also, pre-dating Christianity in the Neolithic areas of Ireland and Scotland, the pagan celebration of Imbolc was celebrated by burning lamps and lighting bonfires in tribute to Celtic goddess Brigid. Brigid (or Bridget) is the patron saint of Irish nuns, newborns, midwives, dairy maids and cattle. She was later adopted by the church and named a saint. According to the Gospel of Luke, it was on February 2,  forty days after the birth of Jesus Christ, once Mary’s purification had been fulfilled and in accordance with the Law of Moses that she presented her first born male child to the Temple and to Simeon who held the baby and called him “the Light of the World”. This day is known as the Presentation of Christ in the Temple.  The celebration of Candlemas includes a blessing of all the candles that will be used for the rest of the year by the clergy, the candles representing Jesus Christ, ‘the Light of the World”.

Religion aside and back to the more natural world, February 2nd is an important date on the astronomical calendar. The midway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, this day also marks the turning point of shedding the dark days of winter and gaining increasing light. Psychologically, this is a great day to make note of on the calendar if you suffer from seasonal depression, like some of my family members.  We’re halfway there and now we have a little more light each day!  The predictions on this day had mostly to do with looking at the signs of nature, the weather a particularly deciding factor: fair weather indicated the second half of winter would be cold and stormy.

Europeans who migrated to the New World brought their traditions with them, modifying things a bit where they needed – when in Europe, they had looked to the hedgehog to come out of his den, but substituted the groundhog since hedgehogs don’t exist in North America. In Ireland they used to look to bears emerging from their dens to indicate winter’s end; however, bears haven’t been in Ireland for 4000 years – so I believe the bear must have morphed into another smaller woodland creature. But regardless of whether you were Irish, English, Scottish, French, or Italian – everyone had something to say about Candlemas, February 2nd.

The English and Irish had a saying…

“If Candlemas be fair and bright
Winter has another flight
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain
Winter will not come again”

The Scottish believed….

“If Candlemas Day is bright and clear
There’ll be two winters in the year.”

In Germany they have many saying….

Wenn der igel Lichtmess seinen schatten sicht,
So kreicht er weider auf sechswochen ins loch.

If the hedgehog sees his shadow at Candlemas
He will crawl back into his hole for another 6 weeks.

 

Ist’s zu Lichtmess mild und rein
Wirds ein langer Winter sein

If Candlemass is mild and pure
Winter will be long for sure

 

Wenn’s an Lichtmess
Stürmt und scheit,
Ist der Frühling nicht mehr weit,
Ist e saber Klarund hell
Kommt der Lenz wiohl nicht so schnell

If Candlemas brings
Wind and snow,
Then spring will soon show.
But if it’s clear and bright
Then spring won’t come so right.

 

The French…

À la Chandeleur, l’hiver cesse ou reprend vigeur

On Candlemas, winter ends or strengthens

 

À la Chandeleur, le jour croÎt de deux heures

On Candlemas, the day grows by two hours

 

Rosée à la Chandeleur, hiver à sa derniere heure.

Dew on Candlemas, winter at its final hour.

 

And the Italians said…

Per la Santa Candelora se nevica o se plora,
Dell’inverno siamo for a, ma se é sole o solicello,
Siamo sempre a mezzo inverno.

For the Holy Candelora, if it snows or if it rains,
We are through with winter, but if there is sunshine
Even just a little sun, we are still in the middle of winter.

Signs in Nature

Reading signs and knowing what clues in nature is always helpful, particularly in the garden.  Plants show signs of stress much the same way people show symptoms when their health is failing. Yellowing of leaves can be a nutrient deficiency but knowing which type all depends on how the plant is showing signs of stress. Yellowing at the tips and along the mid-rib could indicate a nitrogen deficiency; whereas yellowing primarily at the tips and edges is more likely a potassium deficiency. Meanwhile, vertical strips between the veins could mean there are problems with the magnesium levels. So even though, you see a sign – knowing how to read the is important.  The best thing to do is you see signs of stress in your plant is to test your soil.

Soil testing is simple and easy and you can find a kit online  – there are soil meters like the yoyomax Soil Test Kit pH Moisture Meter Plant Water Light Tester Testing Kits Garden Plants or Luster Leaf 1601 Rapidtest Soil Tester, Test Kit for pH, N, P and K – both are simple and easy to use and take the guess work out of interpreting Mother’s Nature’s clues that something is amiss.

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There’s a book called The Lost Art of Reading Nature’s Signs in which author Tristan Gooley discusses some of the weather predicting lore and law.  We all know the classic “Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight. Red sky in the morning, shepherd’s warning”  – but did you know it first appears in the Bible in the book of Matthew and attributed to Jesus? More likely you, like myself, are more familiar with the sailors taking delight or warning. Gooley points out this is a tried and true technique which is based upon two dependable truths: weather tends to come from the west, and a good red sky at sunset means good clear weather is coming . Also dramatic sunsets are a clue to the dust held in the air by high-pressure systems which also indicate prolonged good weather.  His book is fascinating and I highly recommend it.

Reading and researching nature’s folklore and laws is fun but I find the more time I spend outside, the more I learn the language of nature from nature, herself. It’s sort of like submersing yourself in a different place, learning the language and culture – except it’s right outside my on doorstep.

 

sources:

Celebrating Candlemas in Old Ireland

Ireland Calling

Groundhog Day- Stormfax Weather Almanac

History of Candlemas Day

February sayings and traditions

Spring – ah how we welcome thee

IMG_4663How does Connecticut greet the spring of 2015 but with 6 1/2 inches of fresh powder!  The vernal equinox ushers in promises of warmer, more colorful days ahead: a difficult thought when literally everything is freshly recovered in a blanket of 6+ inches of snow.

Yesterday parts of the world were treated to a total eclipse of the sun – a site to experience for sure. I believe it was around 1994,when I was living in Michigan when I witnessed this incredibly humbling experience.  A true reminder to us all that we are not the ones in control of our planet and space, there are much greater forces at work here. We may have a better understanding of what’s occurring but in no means are we the ones in the driver’s seat.

Since coming home from a much needed vacation the snows which had been piling up even 24 hours before our departure had melted quite a bit in a weeks time.  The snows around the patio were continuing to recede slowly but surely which each passing day this last week. I was even able to open the door to the Maine Kitchen Garden and walk in and look at the progress of what’s going on in the beds.  A few greens could be see underneath the  garden cloches.  The straw mulch remains down protecting the soil , although the stems from onions and garlic also could be seen poking through.  Yesterdays signs of spring today are again wrapped in winter’s thick blanket of freshly fallingIMG_4282 snow.

Springtime is a time for new beginnings, a fresh slate to start a new. In the garden, despite the looks of the lunar scape which continues above ground; beneath the surface – life continues to happen.  The ground is alive with microbial activity – the recent thaws have begun below the surface and once winter wraps up its finale – life will spring forth.

As I mentioned we recently were away in the lush tropical paradise of Barbados. It’s sunny and warm and gorgeous every day. If it rains, it does so overnight or early in the morning. Beautiful and sunny all IMG_0359the time…hmmm…. it makes me wonder if one could truly appreciate the beauty of those conditions day in and day out, particularly if that’s all you ever experienced.  The contrasts of colors these last few weeks for us going from brown, black, white and evergreen to an explosion of greens, blues, yellows, reds – the sea alone was at least 5 different shades of turquoise! However, even paradise has it’s gardening challenges.  The place we stayed had this great area for a garden but it wasn’t being used! We couldn’t understand how that could be that is until we met the monkeys!  Monkeys are to Barbados as deer, raccoon and squirrels are to Connecticut.

It’s been snowing for two hours this morning – not a single forecast called for snow at all today. Funny how all the weather apps and services finally changed the forecast to reflect what’s actually going on now.  I find it best to take this time and take refuge in my garden and those of our clients, albeit on paper but with planning each vegetable, herb and flower a landscape of colors appears in my head.

I always take photos along the way each year of each garden. The early pictures of promise are generally stark since capturing a planted seed is fairly boring. It’s a lot to ask the viewer to look beyond the soil and imagine the seed nestled into the earth waiting for the right combination of events to occur in order for the miracle of life to happen. Unless you are a gardener, then of course, you get it, you see the potential.

IMG_0044Knowing what has been planted in the past and where allows us to successfully plan for the future. Succession planting is the practice of rotating plants from season to season. For instance, one year you would plant members of the solanaceae family (tomatoes, peppers…) in one part of the garden or in a particular garden bed and then the next year you would move it to another part of the garden or different garden bed.  Plotting the garden out, we use an intensive planting method setting up a polyculture,  similar to square foot gardening but without the grid and a bit more free form.

Submersing myself into the symphony of delicious color, I paint the gardens with the green peas that emerge from purple and white flowers. Smatterings of Red Sail lettuce mixed with purple petunias lay beneath a canopy of emeralds touched with Sun Gold Cherry, Cherokee Purple and Lemon Boy tomatoes.  Monet’s garden couldn’t be more beautiful or colorful.  Since everything doesn’t all come up at once – the garden colors in spring differ than what emerges in the middle of summer which eventually gives way to an entirely new palette in fall.

The changes in the seasons is like watching Mother Nature flipping channels and I’m not sure I’d like to be stuck on any one given channel. Would you?

The End of the 2014 Season

I wrote this blog entry back in early October in a notebook. However, life got in the way of me sitting down and entering it; a resolution is to be more diligent in keeping up with writing and actually posting.

Garlic Planting Season

September has been cool and wet in our neck of the woods of SWCT, much like the summer was.  The first six days of October has proven to be both wet and cold; two inches of rain fell over the weekend and I woke to chilly 48 degrees. The marigolds don’t seem to mind the frigid temperatures and they continue to brighten our garden with reds, oranges and yellows.  Many people this time of year find themselves turning to chrysanthemums, but our marigolds have minimized our need to buy mums. The pink petunias as well have continued to thrive nicely into October.  In New England this is the time of year (October/November) to plant garlic. We decided to experiment with a few different varieties this season, after learning that there is a whole world of garlic of varying tastes and spiciness to them that I had never heard of or seen. I thought garlic was garlic but just in the way you can’t say if you’ve tasted one tomato, you’ve tasted them all; the same goes for garlic.

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Charley our gnome

Allicin: Mother Nature’s Insecticide

When I select seeds and starts for our gardens, I always look for varieties that are easy to grow in our zone (6), that will be prolific and delicious of course. Siberian garlic is an example of a wonderful cold weather prolific producer we planted this fall. It has a warm medium to strong flavor delicious in any dish. It is high in allicin content, the highest of any garlic. Allicin is an organosulfur compounds that enhances circulation; normal cholesterol levels; and boosts the immune system. Plus has a variety of antimicrobial properties.  Garlic is natural defense system from insects and fungi; enzymatic-ally producing allicin when it’s chushed.   It is Mother Nature’s insecticide. However, allicin is not found in all forms of garlic – it is primarily found in the raw state.

When roasted Siberian garlic deliciously caramelizes, its delicate mild flavor compliments without overwhelming.  A perfect addition to stir-fries, dips, sauces, soups where you are looking to add a subtle hint of garlic.  Originally from Europe and used in traditional European and Russian cooking, Siberian garlic made its way to Alaska in the 19th century. Legend says it was traded off the docks for fresh veggies, probably making its way across the Bering Strait. It’s an easy to grow hard neck garlic in the maple purple stripe family. A medium-tall plant, it produces large bulbs and beautiful purple flowers making a lovely addition to any garden.  Bogatyr is also in this family. This rich flavored garlic is extremely robust and great in Italian dishes. I look forward to having this in our sauces!  Chesnok Red is one of the best baking garlic around; mouthwatering sweet when baked. Rounding out the garlic bed we also included Elephant, Music, California Early and Late Italian. All milder than the easier mentioned varieties but add just as much to the culinary cues of the kitchen.

When planting garlic cool temperatures are the best conditions for planting.  Look for a sunny site, preferably in a raised bed rich with compost.  Break bulbs into separate cloves, the plump ones are best for the garden – save the smaller ones for containers or to force chivelike foliage.  Set and space cloves two to three inches apart in all directions.  Along with the garlic, we planted other alliums like onions and shallots that like other bulbs do best when planted in the fall.

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Our garden.

December Entry- Getting up to date and ready for the snow

It’s difficult to believe that despite the calendar and the fact that many parts of the country have been buried under snow; 6’+ in Buffalo a week before Thanksgiving – it’s still fall. Autumn, that beautiful time of years where Mother Nature truly can put on a spectacular finale before closing the final curtain on the season.  The winter solstice doesn’t begin until December 21 – over two weeks away. We put a straw/hay blended mulch down on top of the bed that are seeded or perennials to protect from the expected harsh winter snows.

Just as the leaves were turning dazzling shades of orange, yellow and red, the trees and shrubs begin to shed their glory; there is a part of the garden that is just getting started. As I have discussed above, early fall is the perfect time for planting garlic bulbs, onion and shallot starts. They start to grow just a little in the ground before going dormant for the winter months.  It’s like they hit the pause button until the spring thaw warms the ground once more, kick starting their growth in to overdrive.  Many vegetables benefit greatly from spending some time in the frosted ground – it tends to bring out the natural sugars and makes things like peas and carrots sweeter.

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Winter Brown Lettuce under the glass bell cloches.

The other day I walked out in to the garden and checked on the things that we had seeded in late summer that we have been able to enjoy for a few weeks now.  First there is the dwarf bok choy that we look forward to throwing into some stir-fry this weekend. We would have already had some but our 11-month-old puppy, Marley Sage Mulch can add bok choy to her list of last names. On numerous occasions she got into the raised bed and munched away at the crispy ends of the vegetable managing to eat up three plants.  We were able to save a few others but have had to wait to make sure the plants would survive.

Today another walk through the garden I see in one raised bed that there is plenty of kale that is ready to enjoy. The arugula should be cut so we can make some pesto and the Golden Acre cabbage looks delicious.  I check the progress under the stray/hay we put down as mulch to protect from the expected harsh winter.  Underneath the yellow multiplier onions is nestled next to Italian late garlic with Artic butterhead lettuce on the other side. Music and Elephant garlic sit next to the Giants of Colamar carrots at the garden party. The exotic Sante shallots and French red shallots mix with California Early and Siberian garlic. Finishing the bed up with Bogatyr and Russian red garlic coupled with Russian Red torpedo and Walla Wallas onions.

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Golden Acre Cabbage

Finally I walk through the gate of our Maine Kitchen Garden where under a cloche Marvel of Four Season lettuce and Paris Market carrots are growing.  Under the glass bell cloches it’s easy to see the leaves of the Winter Brown lettuce. We also seeded a number of overwintering carrot varieties like Meridia Hybrid and Giants of Colamar; a few varieties of greens such as Giant Winter spinach and Winterwunder looseleaf lettuce that we will be able to enjoy in early spring.

As the holiday catalogs continue to fill our mailboxes with cards and catalogs, the first of the seed catalogs have also started to come in sparking the beginning thoughts, dreams and discussions for next season.  We wish all our readers and followers and very joyous holiday season and a bountiful New Year!