Q&A Thursday Live – July 11th, 2019

We get a lot of questions from clients about growing garlic – so we are going to discuss that today. The number one question we are asked about growing garlic is when can I harvest my garlic?  

Garlic is great to grow – easy, low maintenance Garlic is planted in the fall – beginning it’s growth in late fall and goes dormant in the winter to spring to life and continue its growth cycle in the early spring as the ground thaws.  Garlic continues to grow throughout the summer, sprouting leaves and a long flower bud that shoots up from the center of the bulb. This is the scape which is at the end produces a seed bulb and can usually be seen developing on the garlic plants around the end of June or early July depending on the zone you are in (even as early as May in some warmer zones!) Up here on the mountain in zone 5b we saw our scapes develop the first week of July. By cutting the scape from the plant, you signal to the plant that the energy gets sent down to the bulb, so it grows larger and more full.

Garlic scapes
Garlic scapes in the garden

Scapes are wonderful to use while cooking, as they give off a milder garlic flavor than the bulb. Scapes are healthy filled with essential nutrients and minerals; they are low in calories, high in fiber, vitamin C and provitamin A.

Scapes can be used in soups and salads; are good roasted or fried; and they make a wonderful pesto. Check out of our Recipes page of our blog for more info on roasting scapes and making pesto with them.

Another question we are asked quite often is when is it time to harvest my garlic?

Garlic is easy to grow and relatively low maintenance compared to other vegetables and harvest time is no different. Shortly after you have harvested your scapes – about a month later – the leaves of the garlic plants will turn brown and yellow. The you begin to notice the change stop watering, this is about 2- 3 weeks before harvest. On the calendar, in zones 5-6, this is around mid July through August, warmer zones this will be earlier in the summer. When 75% of the plant has changed to yellow and brown, it’s time to harvest your garlic. If you wait until the entire plant has turned you run the risk of the outer skin of the bulbs will shed too.

July 11, 2019 Homegrown Harvest Live Q&A Thursday

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.

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°

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.

082718-1

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?

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.

IMG_0080
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.

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August/September – Where did the summer go?

It’s difficult to imagine that Labor Day weekend has already come and gone.  I have been negligent in writing a monthly blog entry this summer.  Once again the busy season whirled by us – selling gardens; installing gardens; going to events; talking to people about their gardens; helping people maintain their gardens.  The company’s second growing season has kept us on our toes from March all the way through until the last days of August. September’s arrival has us preparing for our next event at Live Green CT coming up September 13-14th. and we are working on a presentation about the health benefits of having a small vegetable garden which we will present at the season opening meeting of the National Charity League.

Most of August I spent time in our clients’ and our own garden pruning back the tomato plants – particularly the wildly big cherry tomatoes we planted this year. There are many gardeners oIMG_1129ut there who don’t prune their tomato plants at all. There is an old gardener’s adage: if you do prune you will have less but larger fruit, than if you don’t prune your plants. Towards the end of the summer, I like to prune our indeterminate plants because I believe that by pruning the unnecessary leaves the plants energy is diverted into the fruit and flowers instead of the foliage.  I also like to make sure the plant has plenty of airflow circulation to prevent disease from building up by clipping back the branches filled with leaves, which tend to catch the wind.  I have some plants in containers which if I don’t trim them the leaves get so clustered together that it catches the wind and on a gusty day I have found my container on it’s side!  A clear sign I needed to prune back the foliage so the air could cut through the branches giving plant healthy airflow.

Many times, early in the morning, as I am watching the dogs trot through the backyard I have considered that I should go over to my computer and write an entry about all the things we have been doing. But instead, I would head out to our garden with my camera and coffee in hand and try to capture beauty of the garden in the morning.  The cooler temperatures this season more often than not have forced me to put a robe on which did nothing for my bare feet on the cold grass from the wet morning dew.  I think we only had 3 or 4 days where the mercury rose to 90 degrees of above this summer. We have had to be patient waiting for the peppers to fully ripen to the various shades of red, orange and purple; I believe it takes a little more heat in order for them to fully flourish.  This Labor Day weekend was hot and steamy and it has continued to remain humid.  Hopefully the peppers will appreciate this little spell of hot weather.

Last week I felt the urgency to get my fall/winter garden seeded. With the way time flies the frosts of winter could be here before we know what hit us.  Particularly if the threat of the polar vortex making a possible early appearance in September topped with El Nino winter not too far behind.  About a month ago we put in another new raised bed, a beautiful cedar 4′ x 8′ raised bed from our friends down in North Carolina.  I had to drag out the dog fence so the pack wouldn’t run around and mess it up like they had after the fresh compost was added days earlier.  I seeded a bunch of cole crops: arugula, kale, broccoli, cauliflower along with some carrots and onions. The carrots I selected for this garden were Autumn King, Giants of Colmar, Paris Market and Meridia. In our Maine Kitchen Garden bed between the tomato and pepper plants there was a bunch of space so I seeded Harris Model Parsnips, a few varieties of lettuce: Winter Density, Winter Brown and Marvel of 4 Seasons; as well as a couple of varieties of spinach: Palco and Winter Giant.  I look forward to the promise of what this autumn/winter garden could possibly provide my family. Just think of the salads, soups, sauces and sides we could enjoy!

IMG_1627So far we have managed to can 9 quarts of tomato sauce for the winter and with the looks of things in the garden we will be able to do a lot more canning before the season is through.  We filmed a video about canning which I need to edit first but once it’s ready to go I will do a whole blog entry dedicated to canning. Smells trigger memories and standing over a simmering pot of tomato sauce can transport me back in to the garden with all its colors and fragrance even on the bleakest of winter days.  Every time we crack open a jar of our homegrown homemade sauce that we canned, we recapture tiny moments of summer which flew by all too fast at the time.

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!