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.

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.