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.

Cold-Hardy Vegetables Can Take A Chill

I’m so excited for spring, it’s ridiculous. This morning for the first time in months, I see patches of grass finally poking through the snow cover on our front lawn. Our garden started the week buried under 3 feet of snow or more and inches of ice had to be chipped away to free one of the two ways into the garden. But once I was in, I made quick work to free to the other entrance and let the dogs come into the garden for the first time in four months. I then turned my attention to the raised beds and carefully removed the snow from the top of the cold frames, then shoveled as much snow off the raised beds as best I could, only to be thwarted by 2 inches of ice under all the snow.

The temps slowly rose throughout the week, allowing us to see 40°s more often than 20°s and teens now. The last snow fall delivered 8 inches only 8 days ago and a quick look at my notes from last spring show it snowed as late as mid-April 34 inches with an ice crust. Spring in New England, particularly central New Hampshire at 1460ft can take on its on ecosystem which after 3 winter and 2 growing seasons I am just starting to learn. It may snow up here in the next month, but after 130 inches (the amount we have received since October 2018, we can handle a few more stragglers.

our garden as of March 30, 2019

Plants can be greatly affected by the weather, particularly spring’s harsh late frosts and wide temperature swings from the lingering cold nights to a late day warm up.  It’s not unusual to start a morning in the low 40°s and end up in the low 70°s which is why it helps to know which plants thrive in this weather.  There are plenty of vegetables which can be planted in the early part of spring – even as early as mid-March depending upon what zone you live in. When I lived in zone 6b in Connecticut, I was able to usually start my cold crops around St. Patrick’s Day; however up here in zone 5a-b (our property seems to be in both zones and I’m not exactly sure where the garden is) I am discovering that the garden is on a new timetable.

Peas, carrots and lettuce are always my first seeds that I directly sow into the garden. They are simple and easy to grow – at least the peas and lettuce. Carrots can be tricky for some depending on the soil and whether your using a raised bed or in-ground. I have had fantastic success ever since I coupled them with marigolds. Marigolds are a fantastic companion plant, working on a soil level emitting an enzyme which deters root eating nematodes, as well as above the surface in attracting pollinators to the garden. Marigolds can be planted in late spring so if you are looking to add some flowers for instant color in your garden – look to pansies. Don’t be fouled by the name – pansies can take a frost. Snapdragons are also a great early bloom which doesn’t mind the cold mornings.

Here’s a list of cold-hardy crops which are great starters for your spring garden and the temperatures needed for their seed germination. The cold-hardy plants work best in the spring and the fall. Happy spring gardening!

Cold Hardy Veggies Soil Temp°
required for germination
Beets 50°-70°
Broccoli 55°-75°
Brussels sprouts 55°-75°
Cabbage 55°-75°
Cauliflower 55°-75°
Carrots 45°-85°
Chinese cabbage 45°-75°
Fava beans 45°-65°
Kale 55°-75°
Kohlrabi 55°-75°
Leeks 50°-85°
Lettuce 40°-80°
Mustards 40°-75°
Onions 50°-75°
Parsnips 55°-75°
Peas 45°-75°
Parsley 50°-75°
Radishes 45°-80°
Rutabaga 55°-75°
Spinach 45°-75°
Swiss chard 50°-75°
Turnip 55°-75°

Sunlight: An important component to a successful garden

Here Comes the Sun

In less than two weeks we will all be celebrating the first day of spring! Gardeners all over are waiting with anticipation for the first two inches of soil to be warm enough and friable to allow cold crops to be directly seeded outside.  Some, like myself will have to wait until the winter snows stop and then the three to four feet of snow blanket to melt away by the warming sun. While others who have the space and patience have begun to start seeds indoors to get an early jump on the growing season. But what if you are new to gardening and you read things like this and get overwhelmed at the thought and begin to think that the effort required is actually greater than what needs to be put in?

Before, Mark and I started up Homegrown Harvest we talked to a lot of people about gardening and quickly discovered that although many people wanted to have a garden but didn’t. When asked why they didn’t they said they honestly didn’t know where or how to start and the idea of even beginning would get so overwhelming that they just never moved forward to make it happen.

It was hearing this repeatedly from people that made us want to provide people with simple solutions to gardening. Building a garden doesn’t have to be the time consuming or daunting task that some people imagine it to be. That’s why all our products we offer we have installed repeatedly ourselves and can attest to their ease of use.  If it isn’t easy to use and durable, then we don’t offer it.

Understanding the sunlight and the types of sunlight your space has is very important when initially setting up a garden. Reviewing some of the terminology – there’s full sun (6+ hours), partial sun/shade (3-6 hours), and full shade (less than 3 hours). These are the terms of sunlight recommendations on seed packets or plant start tags. But the sunlight in your garden may not be so clear cut. You might have some trees that during part of the day create a dappled sun (inconsistent light) or plan to put your garden near a reflective light source such as some vinyl privacy walls which bounce light off, providing an indirect source of sunlight to your garden. 

Beside the material you select for your raised garden bed, one of the biggest considerations is location. Where is the best place to put the garden? If you want to grow food successfully, then you have to put your garden in a spot where it will receive 8 – 10 hours of sunlight, 6 hours minimum of solid unobstructed sunshine, otherwise your tomato plants will be thin and spindly. Sunlight is important to your fruits and vegetables, helping to provide the energy needed for growth. Flashback to middle school science class when we all learned about the process of photosynthesis. The diagram should shed some light on the situation – ha, ha, ha! I couldn’t help myself.

If you are trying to figure out where to put your garden, take the time to go out and spend some time in the space where you imagine it to be.  On a nice day, put on your sunscreen and hat, have with you a pad, pen and a lawn chair and sit exactly where you plan to put the garden. Draw a rough sketch – it can be circles and squares it doesn’t have to be a Monet. Sit out sometime between 10-2pm during the heat of the day. If you are doing this in the springtime, make note around of the trees whose leaves will come in and cast shade during parts of the day as the sun rises higher in the sky as spring melts into summer.

When I used to install gardens and would visit our clients’ yards of course I couldn’t just set up camp and study the light, so I would draw a quick sketch, snap a lot of photos and then would do something I learned while becoming an Accredited Organic Land Care Professional. Wherever the prospective garden was going I would stand and look directly up, my left hand would extend towards the edge of any obstruction visible (tree, shrub, building) and repeat the same with my right hand.  Ideally what you are striving for is an angle of 45º or greater or unobstructed blue sky about you. Or you can always buy a sun meter kit if you want to be sure.

Once you have your spot, the best position for your raised bed is to run north to south, lessening the chance of crops shading one another. The right light for your garden can and will make all the difference between having a garden which produces healthy, strong plants which produce bountiful harvests throughout the growing season and a garden whose plants are spindly and don’t produce as much if at all. Enjoy gardening.

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?

Time to Dream and Plan

heirloom onthe plantIt’s 5 degrees out this morning here in our neck of the woods.  It’s even colder where some of the kids are up at college like Burlington where it’s -18 right now and 4 degrees in Ithaca feeling like minus 4.  In Boston where our other one is at it’s 5 degrees but the winds up there are making it feel more like 10 below. Brrrr…it is cold out there today. It’s around this time of year that we start to jones for one of our homegrown heirloom tomatoes. Thank god weIMG_0007 made sauce at least. The garden is covered with a thick quilt of hard-packed snow about 20 inches deep burying our overwintering vegetables and Charlie the gnome.

The new year has brought us a new Sears Craftsman riding lawn tractor. We decided to get the snow blower attachment so we could us the things year round – mowing and mulching during the summer, snow blowing now.  We’ve already had the pleasure of clearing the driveway 6 times in the last month – quickly making back some money on our investment. Making me think we should have done this a long time ago.

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Right off the truck before the snow

Getting to know the ins and outs of snow blowing our own driveway has had it’s ups and downs but nothing that hasn’t been resolved quickly.  Day one, Mark threw a pin trying to clear a path to the garbage shed – not to self watch the  natural rock wall on the left hand side of the path.  Day two I’m clearing the front of the driveway by the mailbox when Ruby – yes we’ve named her – decides to stop throwing snow and emit a slight burnt rubber smell.  Thankfully, that too was fixable although not sure exactly why it happened – the belt to the auger seemed to have stretched or the cable did…regardless Mark was able to trouble shoot and we were back to throwing more snow in no time. According to the groundhog, we have 6 more weeks of winter so it will be a while before we get to take the snow thrower attachment off and put the lawn mower deck on the bottom.

On frigid cold days like these where Jack Frost is nipping more than just the nose; it’s best to stay inside and grab one of the many seed catalogs that have been pouring into the mailbox last month.  I’ve been really busy preparing for a number of lectures on the schedule for February, just finishing the first one this past Wednesday.

GardenToTableI gave a Garden to Table presentation to the members of the New Canaan Beautification League at the New Canaan Nature Center.  There is a lot of material to cover when you want to paint a picture for an audience of why and how they can grown some of their own delicious food. So much material that the next programs I have coming up is actually a 4 part spring garden series where I can go more in depth to areas like composting, setting up polycultures, and container gardening.  The spring garden series will be hosted by the New Canaan Library which I am really excited to being working with. Our library has recently set up a new Seed Bank – so I am excited at the possibilities going forward that there is an increasing interest in edible gardening locally.

I’ve lived in my town for the last twenty years, raising my kids and working for my brother most of that time, but volunteering in my community is ways like coaching girls lacrosse. My fiance and business partner, Mark has been an EMT at our volunteer ambulance corp – NCVAC for past two years. The members of the Beautification League volunteer to their time to helping keep our pretty little village looking it’s best via working with nature. Volunteering has always been a big part of my life. When I was a teenager. my mother was at one point the President of the YWCA of New York City. She had started at the Y as a volunteer coordinator and her work ethic and passion for the place propelled her to president at lightening speed. The woman knew how to make things happen.

Volunteering is a wonderful way to give back to a community or organization you feel passionate about. It’s a great way to get out and meet like minded people who enjoy similar passions. I purposely use the word ‘volunteering’ as opposed to ‘community service’ because at some point in today’s world, the legal system has dished out ‘community service’ to many making it sound more like a penalty than something that can be very rewarding for the volunteer, them-self. It’s a shame that to a generation of children the words ‘community service’ doesn’t sound like something you would want to do but have to do.

In the gardening world, ‘volunteers’ means something different than people giving of their time to do something for free. Instead when you hear a gardener refer to a ‘volunteer’ they are referring to a specific plant that wasn’t purposely seeded but successfully growing where ever its seed lay.  Last summer we had a number of ‘volunteers’ come up in our backyard and not all in our raised beds.  We had a couple tomato plants come up over in wood chipped area and two more in the raised beds – one in my designated 3 Sister beds and the other in my cabbage bed.  The ones in the raised beds fared better than the wood chipped areas – most likely since we had composted the beds and perhaps the wood chips reduced the ph too much for the tomato plants to fruit. The two plants in the wood chip grew pretty big – one just flowered but didn’t fruit, the other fruited but very late in the season and we only were able to take some of the cherry tomatoes off before they had a chance to ripen on the vine.  Conversely, the volunteers in the raised beds gave off a lot of fruit – both of those were also cherry tomato plants.

From our garden a beautiful snap pea begins to bloom.
A beautiful snap pea begins to bloom

I’m reminded of all this when I was preparing my presentation and was scanning my hundreds of photos of our garden and our client’s gardens.  The pictures get me thinking about the possibilities for this season.  What varieties should we plant this year?  Peas for certain will be among the first things, along with a variety of lettuce…The seed catalogs have sat untouched by me until just the other day.  I was afraid if I opened even one I would be too distracted to work on my Garden To Table presentation.  Later in the night, the day of the presentation, I finally cracked open my first bit of what we fondly refer to as garden porn.  Beautiful photographs of the most delicious looking fruits and vegetables are coupled with mouth-watering descriptions which causes you to have eyes bigger than your garden beds.

I was proud of myself, I didn’t go seed crazy and deliberately focused on edible flowers in as I checked out Annie’s Heirloom Seeds catalog and then also the strawberry starts – had to get those before they sell out like last year. Oh, then there is the potatoes – had to get some of Binje potatoes to try this year…Luckily I was exhausted form my day and that was all my tired eyes could handle at the time.

A few days have past since my seed binge and now we have these wicked cold temperatures outside, I think it’s the perfect time to start breaking out the paper and pen and start listing what we want grow this season.  I’ll need to check the cupboard where I keep our seed supply in neatly labeled plastic containers with pop-tops for one handed handling when out in the garden.  It took me a while to figure out the best way to save and keep seeds organized.  I like the plastic containers because they keep seeds dry and safe, whereas envelopes don’t reseal always and get wet and then compromise the seeds. Or land up at the bottom of your pockets, purse, garden bag, truck…

February is the best time to plan your garden – remember to consider crop rotations into your plan. Crop rotation is the practice of growing related vegetable families in different areas in consecutive years.  There are four plant families that benefit from crop rotation: the cabbage family, the carrot family, the cucumber & squash family and lastly, the tomato & eggplant family. Rotating these vegetable families will help prevent soil borne disease from building up and help keep and provides a principle mechanism for building healthy soils and organically controls pests.

When you plan things out on paper first it makes it a lot easier for to take into account things like crop rotations and companion planting. This way you can also makes sure that the proper companion plants are not only coupled together but the plants which should be kept away from one another will always stay away from one another.

One of many harvestsSo grab your hot beverage of choice and that stack of seed catalogs and enjoy dreaming about what can be. Fresh delicious harvests that will inspire most every meal!

If you are just starting a new garden and would like some ideas, I highly suggest looking at organic seed websites perhaps with your laptop or iPad or other mobile device to see the different types of delicious food you possibly could be growing in your backyard, porch or balcony. If you are in the Fairfield County, Connecticut area and need help you getting your garden started, please reach out for us to help at info@homegrownharvest.com – that’s what we do. Elsewhere, check your local listing for organic land care professionals that may help get you started. Here is the northeast we have NOFA – the Northeast Organic Farming Association but I am sure there are many regional organizations like NOFA which are committed to promoting and supporting organic land care practices.

ctnofa_logo

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!

The Early April Garden

A tuckered out pup.
A tuckered out pup.

Spring has finally come to southwestern CT. It’s wet, cold and snowing one minute and sunny and warm the next!  We’ve been working in our garden as well as going to clients’ gardens these last couple of weeks – not letting the temperatures deter us too much. The telephone has been ringing with potential customers, internet inquiries have been coming in and our installation calendar is starting to get filled up. The gardening season is officially underway since the other day, we shoveled our first load of compost off the back of the truck.  My arms hurt so much that I am actually dictating this to Siri – thank you Siri, I will be sure not too mumble too much. My red-neck work-outs have begun. Just to give you a small hint of how hard we have been working, we managed to tire out our three month old puppy, Marley Sage.  Who know I had more energy than a puppy?

April is the time of year, if you haven’t done it already, to make a planning chart of your garden. The planning chart is basically a map of where you plan to put things in the garden.  It’s helpful to have a map so that you can couple things together that benefit one another, like tomato and basil; as well as keep away incompatibles such as beans and onions.  Seeing it all on paper will also help you to create a planting schedule telling you when you should plant certain crops. This is particularly helpful if you plan on using succession plantings throughout the season. Succession planting is simply following one crop with another crop maximizing your overall yield and elongating your season. I’ve been slowly making a plan in my head about what I want to grow but now is the time to start sitting down and writing out the plan. Once I’ve done ours I will be sure to post it – it’s still a work in progress at this point, which could be committed to paper over the weekend since I have to start planning out my clients’ gardens as well.  It’s important to keep in mind crop rotation, which is another good reason to write down a plan you can refer to the next season because life gives you enough to remember.

This month is also the time of year that you should be getting your raised beds prepared for the new season by amending the nutrient depleted soil with a variety of composts and fertilizer to put back the nutrients that your vegetables will need to grow.  Vegetables get their nutrients from the soil – think feed the soil – that’s how you feed the plant. Not by spraying chemical fertilizers on it.  Organic gardening revolves around the concept of soil life and soil biology. Organic practices such as crop rotation, use of cover crops, and companion planting are employed to enhance soil life and biology.  By using a plan, you ensure that you are not at risk of building up soil-borne diseases or mismanage the soil nutrients.

Despite the earlier snows this week, there is exciting news in the garden as the soil temperatures have finally reached into the mid 40s in the raised beds.  I couldn’t help but plant some peas on the last day of March in the new 8′ x 12′ Maine Kitchen Garden we put in this fall.  April in New England can be unpredicable. Temperatures can still be wintery cold – it was 42º but the dampness from the night’s rain made it feel closer to 35º. The soil temperatures have maintained 40º and above status all week and that tells me its the perfect time to start getting some cold crops into the ground.  Cold crops can tolerate colder temperatures and late frost.  Germination can happen for lettuce, arugula and peas

From our garden a beautiful snap pea begins to bloom.
From our garden a beautiful snap pea begins to bloom.

in 40º soil temperatures. If you are as excited about spring as I am, you will want to start some peas. They prefer the cool weather anyway since it tends to make them sweeter. I always look to around or after St. Patrick’s day as the time of year to start directly sowing them into the ground. Try planting rows on two side of a trellis in a sunny location that has fertile soil for double the yield in very little place. Peas are a great addition to the garden – they put nitrogen back into the soil and they are vertical growers not taking up a lot of garden space. They are an early season vegetable, but you can seed again in the late summer for an early fall harvest. Fall harvests fall short of the spring harvest when the soil temperatures start off cooler.  Peas get along great in the garden with just about everybody but chives, late potatoes, onions, gladiolus and grapes. Peas do particularly well with corn, cucumbers, celery, eggplants, bush/pole beans, early potatoes, radishes, spinach, strawberries, tomatoes and turnips. I always plant a wide variety, this year so far it I put in some Half Pints, Sugar Pod2, Oregon Sugar Pod II, Sugar Snap.I will keep sowing seeds every few weeks to try to get a long harvest before the warm weather sets in.

When you see daffodils and dandelions start to bloom, you should plant your potatoes -soil temperatures are hovering around 45º at that point – a good time to start potatoes.  We prefer to grow our potatoes in smart pots. It’s easy to do, takes very little space and fun to harvest by just dumping out the sacks.  You can couple potatoes with marigolds in a pot or if you choose to put them in the garden be sure to hill them and couple with bush beans, celery, carrots, corn, cabbage, horseradish,peas, petunias, onions, marigolds and french marigolds.  Just keep them away from asparagus, kohlrabi, rutabaga, fennel, turnips, pumpkin, squash, tomatoes, sunflowers and cucumbers.

At 50º, germination starts to happen for spinach, Swiss chard and carrots. A whole bunch of delicious crops you can begin to grow in the the early season that are easy to grow, delicious and beautiful in the garden!  Carrots are one of my favorite seeds to sow – be sure to keep the soil moist until you see the first leaves appear. Before sowing be sure you have cultivated the bed deeply and thoroughly to promote good root growth. I found last year I did very well when I coupled my carrots with french marigolds. Marigolds roots emit an enzyme that help fights against root-eating nematodes. Bugs Bunny would have loved my carrots! Carrots also go well with leaf lettuce, onions, peas, leeks, chives and rosemary; be sure to keep it away from dill, parsnip and Queen Ann’s Lace.

Daikon radishes, radishes and beets are others also don’t mind the chilly temperatures spring has to offer. They are all easy to grow and do so quite rapidly in cool weather.  Beet seeds can be directly sown once the soil is workable and for successive crops, simply plant in two-week intervals and you will get a continuous harvest.  Remember all the parts of the radish are edible – so enjoy!  Radishes prefer the company of beets, bush/pole beans, carrots, cucumbers, lettuce, parsnips, peas, spinach, nasturtiums and members of the squash family.  They should not be grown near hyssop, cabbage, cauliflower, brussels sprouts or turnips however. Beets do well with lettuce, cabbage, onions, kohlrabi, garlic and mint but not pole beans.

Lettuce from our spring garden
Lettuce from our spring garden

Lettuce is another one that quickly thrives in the chilly spring air. There are so many different varieties to choose from – look for ones that are slow to bolt. Lettuce doesn’t do well with cabbage or parsley – so be sure to separate those in the garden. But pair it up with some beets, broccoli, bush/pole beans, carrots, onions, strawberries, sunflowers, radishes, cucumbers and dill and it should do very well.  I also planted two types of lettuce the other day, one called Frizzy-Headed Drunken Woman Lettuce, the name alone is why I purchased the seeds. It’s a butter-head variety which forms a single savoyed 8 inch head with mint green leaves tinged in mahogany red. Very slow to bolt. I also planted a red iceberg since I love me an iceberg wedge salad with blue cheese.  Mache also known as lam’s lettuce or corn salad is a mild tasting green that’s an easy spring-time grower to consider which can be harvested through early winter or longer in milder climates.  Arugula can also be sown in early April. Sow ever 2 weeks and you’ll enjoy a succession of harvests of delicious greens through the fall.

Kale and onions are two more that you can start in April.  You can plant onion sets, not seeds which should be started indoors. Shallot seeds and starts can be planted in early spring. Onions work well with beets, carrots, leeks, kohlrabi, brassicas, tomatoes, lettuce, strawberries, dill, chamomile and summer savory. Just keep it away from your peas and asparagus.

Softneck garlic can be planted in the spring and fall whereas hardneck garlic should be planted in the fall for overwintering.  Garlic will work with most herbs in the garden and helps keep deer and aphids away from roses, raspberries, apple and pear trees. In the garden it also does well with celery, cucumbers, peas and lettuce. It’s a great companion plant since it helps in repelling codling moths, Japanese beetles, root maggots, snails and carrot root-fly.  I love garlic and we use it a lot when we cook – so having a supply of fresh garlic around is important to us and the flavors can’t be beat when you row your own!

So with the cold, rainy days of April ahead – take solace knowing that the blooms of May are not far away.  Happy gardening!

 

 

Chase away the Winter Blues and Plan Your Garden

groundhog_001Right now it’s raining on top of the three or more feet of snow that has accumulated this winter.  The groundhog cursed us by seeing his shadow and foretold of six more weeks of winter. It is historically now the 7th snowiest winter on record in this southwestern CT area. SWCT is lost between being the part of CT and NY. The rest of the state ignores us and roots for the Sox and Pats while most of us down here are either Yankees, Mets, Jets and Giant fans. We are the New York country cousin dare I say we should be dubbed East New York. That’s an inside joke between myself and my other half, Mark that I will let you in on. If you are ever perusing the real estate section of the New York Times and such you may stumble upon a place named “West New York”. At first I thought they were talking about the Westside of New York, beautiful place with some captivating views of the Hudson River and GW Bridge and apparently of West New York too. You see West New York is actually in New Jersey! So since the towns and villages of SWCT are filled to the brim with NYC commuters and people like myself who are just trying to make a living right here and we follow NY teams over the New England teams, we may as well be “East New York”.

So what does this have to do with gardening – absolutely nothing, other than the fact that if you live in the North, city or suburbs, chances are you have been dealing with a lot of snow. Spring seems months away not around the corner. How can anyone think about planning a garden right now? Actually now is the perfect time to plan a garden. The fresh blanket of snow gives your mind a blank canvas to work with, eliminating the distractions around you.

If you live in an apartment and have plenty of sun, you have many options available to you for growing some food in your home and you explore them all without putting your boots on.  Simply go online and check out the Tower Garden, our aeroponic system that we offer.  If you have a yard put on your snow boots and take a walk in your own back yard, you will be amazed at what it can do to help you start thinking more about spring.  Be careful if you haven’t walked out there for a while – I know I have broken through a few ice chunks in certain areas making walking tricky depending on which part of the yard I’m navigating.  The dogs have done a great job making a few runs – so I can stick to those in most places.  Our garden is in the sunniest part of our yard so the snow should melt quicker there once the temps start to rise.  Since we already added our new garden beds for the season and have everything all set, I have been playing around on paper some ideas for how I plan on incorporating more crop rotation into our garden.  It will be nice having another bed to use that will allow for easy rotations when the time comes. Crop rotating is an important part of gardening that benefits your crops and garden in the long term. Many gardeners don’t realize that the constantly planting the same things year after year in the same space increases the chances of soil borne disease occurrences. Even with proper soil amending to prep the beds, soil borne diseases won’t always go away.

I have a client who lost a whole bed of tomatoes that she had been using for over three years – 13 plants! A shame too since she claimed the same thing had happened the summer before but not to the degree it was happening when she showed us where most of the plants were drying up and dying on the vine. That should have been the first clue that something in the garden was amiss.  Luckily for our client, we were able to plant some new starts in other beds she had that were not filled and she had fresh tomatoes throughout the summer. We recommend that she incorporate a crop rotation plan for the following seasons.

Benefits of Crop- Rotation

  • Simplest way to reduce occurrence of soil-borne diseases
  • Provides principle mechanism for building healthy soils
  • Major way to organically control pests

ImageWhen we planted the new beds we incorporated companion plantings to enhance the health and flavors of the plants as well as attracting beneficials to the garden.  Companion planting is the practice of closely planting herbs and flowers with the vegetable plants.

  • It brings variety into the garden helping to break up the monoculture, in turn deterring disease and bad bug infestation.
  • It’s a holistic approach to working with the intricate layers of the ecology of your garden.
  • Reduces the need for fertilizers and pesticides. Many vegetables and herbs store natural substances in their roots, flowers and leaves that repel unwanted pests and attract beneficial insects.
  • Enhances the beauty as well as the flavor and overall health of your garden by working in harmony with nature.

If it tastes good on the plate – it will work in the garden together too – like tomatoes and basil, strawberries and lettuce, peas and carrots.

Speaking of peas, I can’t wait to start planting some peas in the garden. As soon as the top layer is workable I will be seeded peas, carrots and few other cold crops week after week.  What are cold crops you may ask – well that a topic for another time. Until then, I will hold on the fact that spring is less than a month away and enjoy the return of the birds who recently I have been awaken by as they chirp outside my bedroom window.

January Gardeners Dream & Scheme

ImageJanuary can be a tough month for some people. Here in New England it’s cold, snowy, and icy one day and the next its in the 50s, rainy and grey. The sun shows up once in a while, faking us out from time to time making us feel it should be warmer than it actually is.

In order to help beat the winter doldrums, on crummy you-want-to-stay-in-bed-days, I love pouring over the seed & plant catalogs, dreaming and planning what this year’s garden should contain.  We will be sure to get our orders in by the months end as the general rule of thumb, “You snooze, you lose” applies to ordering seeds and starts. On the nicer days, I take the time to get outside, walk the backyard and scope the areas where bushes, trees and shrubs may need some pruning; check the garden beds for the crops that were planted in the fall and have been overwintering like garlic and carrots.

Last fall we installed one of our new products to our backyard garden, the lawn slowly giving way to more and more raised beds. It’s an 8’ x 12’ deer-fenced Maine Kitchen Gardens, 65 square feet of new growing space to plant this spring! The new growing space will make crop rotating much easier for us going forward. I’m so glad we installed it when we did so there will be no reason to get it all planted up once the time comes.

Outdoor thermometerJanuary is the perfect time to plan and install a new garden. After all, spring is only 61 days away. Many people make the classic mistake of waiting until April or May and by the time they get everything all said and done (if they do it at all) they have missed an important part of the growing season – early spring.  Cold crops love just that – the cool temperatures of early spring when it’s between 40º F and 70º F.  If it gets too warm, the cold crops bolt and go to seed.

There are a few cold crops in particular which you can directly sow outdoors since their seeds germinate in soil temps as low as 40º F. Peas germination and growing temp ranges between 40ºF-70ºF. Arugula & Lettuce enjoy germination and growing temps between 40ºF-60ºF and potatoes germinate at 45ºF. If you see your daffodils in bloom, start planting your potatoes in the garden! At the end of this January, early February we will start a few seedlings indoor, for the other cold crops that need higher temperatures to germinate, like strawberries, spinach, Swiss chard and onions.

In New England, regardless if there is snow on the ground St. Patty’s day is the time to plant our peas outside and it will be here in the blink of an eye.   That’s why the planning stage in January is so important despite the possible snow that could be in your yard right now.  It can be hard for some to envision which is why we try to help people as much as possible in getting their gardens up and running; so people can enjoy growing their own.