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.

For Better or Worse – A Guide to Companion Planting

Many experienced gardeners already know that having a diverse mix of plants helps give you a beautiful and healthy garden.   Some also believe that certain plant combinations have extraordinary powers for helping each other grow.   Scientific study of companion planting has confirmed that some combinations have real benefits unique to those combinations, while experience has demonstrated to many gardeners how to combine certain plants for their mutual benefit.  

How can companion plantings help you?

  • Companion plantings brings variety into the garden by helping to break up the monoculture, this aids in 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.  

How close should the plants be to each other?

  • Take the average spacing between the two varieties.  

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Ancient Companions Over the centuries, companion planting has played a vital role in the survival of people throughout history. The Iroquois American Indians in the Northeast used the “Three Sisters” or De-o-ha-ko. De-o-ha-ko literally means “our sustainers” or “those who support us”. When companion plantings are used they help one another grow, thrive and produce higher yields efficiently and with little impact on the environment.  
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Scientific Foundations for using Companion Plantings

Trap Cropping – one plant will lure bugs and pests away from another plant and serves to distract.  
Symbiotic nitrogen fixation – legumes (peas, clover, beans) fix atmospheric nitrogen for their own use and benefit of nearby plants via symbiotic relationship with rhizobium bacteria.  
Biochemical pest suppression – certain plants give off chemicals in their roots or aerial parts that suppress or repel pests and protect neighboring plants.  
Physical spatial interactions – tall growing plants which love sun sharing space with low growing shade tolerant plants gives higher yields in less space, as well as yielding pest control.  
Beneficial Habitats – or refugia is when companion plants provide a desirable environment for beneficial insects and other arthropods, like predatory and parasitic insects which help keep the pest population in balance. Agroecologists believe this is a good way to both reduce pest damage and pesticide use.  
Security via Diversity – a mixed variety of plants, herbs and vegetables helps limit the possible destruction that can be caused to a single crop or cultivar. Simply mixing cultivars will achieve the diversity needed as the University of California demonstrated with broccoli.

As much as there are plants that are compatible together, there are some that are just as incompatible together as well.  Please refer to our Companion Planting Guide that also gives hints as to certain ways that plant may be used to deter certain critters, big and small.

Condensed Companion Planting Guide
Asparagus Plant plant with Aster family of flowers, basil, tomato, parsley, dill, coriander, comfrey, marigolds. Do not plant with garlic, onions, potatoes.    

Basil plant with tomatoes, peppers, oregano, asparagus, petunias; helps improve flavor and growth and aids in repelling thrips, flies, mosquitoes, deer. Do not plant with rue, sage   

Beans are wonderful to plant with most vegetables and herbs (carrots, cauliflower, celery, chards, corn, eggplant, radish, strawberry,
potatoes, cucumbers, cabbage)Beans help to enrich the soil with nitrogen Do not plant with (alliums) garlic, onions    

Beets plant with lettuce, cabbage, onions, kohlrabi, garlic, mint. Beets are good for adding minerals to the soil (leaves are made of up of 25% magnesium), valuable addition to the compost; beets flavor is improved by garlic and mint.
Do not plant with pole beans.  

Broccoli is great to plant with basil, bush beans, cucumber, dill, garlic, hyssop, lettuce, marigold, mint, nasturtium, onion, potato, radish, rosemary, sage, thyme, tomato.   Celery, onions and broccoli improve broccoli’s flavor; broccoli loves calcium so pairing it with plants that don’t need calcium like nasturtiums and beets – free up the calcium in the soil for broccoli.  Do not plant with grapes, strawberries, mustards, rue.  

Cabbage Family includes broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, kohlrabi, cauliflower, and cabbage are all wonderful when paired with celery, beets, onions, potato, spinach, chard, sage, thyme, mint, rosemary. Chamomile and cabbage improves flavor while celery and cabbage improves growth and health. Do not plant with tomatoes, strawberries, pole beans, peppers, eggplants, grapes, lettuce.   

Carrots plant with leaf lettuce, onions, peas, onions, leeks, chives, rosemary. Do not plant with dill, parsnips, Queen Ann’s lace     

Celery plant with potatoes, spinach, bush beans, onions, cabbage families, leeks, tomato, cosmos, daisies, snapdragons. Do not plant with corn, potatoes, aster. Carrots can be infected with yellow disease from aster flowers  

Chards plant with beans, cabbage family, tomato, onion and roses. Do not plant with cucurbits, melons, corn or herbs    

Chives plant with carrots, tomatoes, apples, brassica family, mums, sunflowers. Improves growth & flavor of carrots and tomatoes; chives keeps aphids away, drives away Japanese beetles and carrot rustfly; Do not plant with beans and peas.

Cilantro(Chinese parsley, the seeds are coriander)   Anise, caraway, potatoes, dill. Cilantro repels harmful insects(aphids, spidermites & potato beetle) 

Corn  Amaranth, white geraniums, lamb’s quarters, melons, morning glory, parsley, peanuts, pumpkin, soybeans, sunflower, potatoes, peas, beans, squash, cucumbers. Corn feeds off of the nitrogen left behind by the beans when interplanted together. Do not plant with tomatoes

Cucumber plant with beans, corn, radishes, peas, sunflower, dill, beets, nasturtiums.When planted with nasturtiums growth & flavor improve and when planted with dill it attracts predatory beneficials. Do not plant with cauliflower, potatoes, basil, sage, rue.  

Eggplant plant with amaranth, beans, spinach, tarragon, thyme, marigolds, peppers         

Garlic plant with most herbs, roses, raspberries, apple trees, pear trees, celery
cucumbers, peas, and lettuce. Garlic accumulates sulfur, a natural fungicide which prevents disease. it helps in offending codling moths, Japanese beetles, root maggots, snails and carrot rootfly; time release capsules planted at the base of trees deters deer.

Lettuce plant with beets, broccoli, bush beans, pole beans, carrot, onion, strawberries,  sunflowers radishes, cucumbers, dill. Do not plant with cabbage, parsley    

Marigolds, French plant with most plants but do not plant with beans, cabbage French marigolds keeps soil free of bad nematodes and discourages many garden pests/insects.

Mint plant with cabbage, tomatoes. It improves the health of cabbage & tomatoes. While it also deters white cabbage moths, ants, rodents, flea beetles, fleas, aphids by attracting beneficials like hoverflies & predatory wasps.

Onion plant with beets, carrots, leeks, kohlrabi, brassicas, tomatoes, lettuce, strawberries, dill, chamomile, summer savory. Onions & strawberries help the berries fight disease; intercropping with leeks and onions with carrots confuses carrot & onion flies. Do not plant with peas or asparagus.   

Peas plant with corn, cucumber, celery, eggplants, bush/pole beans, radishes,
spinach, strawberries, tomatoes, turnips . Do not plant with chives, potatoes, onions, gladiolus, grapes.     

Pepper, sweet bell plant with tomatoes, okra, parsley, basil, carrots, marjoram, petunia, onions. Do not plant with fennel, kohlrabi, apricot trees    

Pepper, hot plant with cucumbers, eggplant, escarole, tomato, okra, swiss chard, squash, basil, oregano, parsley & rosemary.  Chili peppers roots exude a substance which prevents root rot and other fusarium diseases; teas made from hot peppers can be used as insect sprays   

Potato plant with bush beans, celery, carrots, corn, cabbage, horseradish, marigolds, peas, petunias, onions, French marigolds. Do not plant with asparagus, kohlrabi, rutabaga, fennel, turnip, pumpkin, squash, tomatoes, sunflowers, cucumbers     

Pumpkin plant with corn, beans, radishes, peas, oregano, marigolds, squash, melon, nasturtiums. When planted with marigolds deters beetles, planted with nasturtiums deters bugs & beetles, with oregano for the pest pest protection   

Radish plant with beets, bush beans, pole beans carrots, cucumbers, lettuce, parsnips, peas, spinach, members of squash family, nasturtium. Planted with squash helps deter squash borers; deter cucumber beetles & rust flies, chervil and nasturtiums improve radishes growth & flavor; lure leafminers away from spinach. Do not plant with hyssop, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, turnips.

Spinach plant with peas, beans, cauliflower, eggplant, onions, strawberries, squash, fava bean.

Squash plant with beans, pumpkins, corn, cucumbers, onions, melon, mint, borage, marigolds, oregano. When planted with borage deters worms and improves growth & flavor; marigolds deter beetles, oregano best pest protection. Do not plant with potatoes.

Strawberry plant with beans, borage, lettuce, onions, spinach, thyme. Borage strengthens resistance to insects and disease.  Do not plant with cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kohlrabi.

Tomato plant with asparagus, carrots, head lettuce, mint, nasturtium, onions, beans, basil, lettuce, garlic, cucumber,celery, chives, peas, peppers, parsley, marigolds. Basil helps repel flies, mosquitoes, deer and improves growth & flavor; bee balm, chives & mint improves flavor & health of tomatoes. Do not plant with dill, fennel, apricot trees, potatoes, kohlrabi, corn.

Turnips plant with peas and cabbage. Do not plant with potatoes, radishes or other root vegetables, delphinium, larkspur, mustard.

Zucchini plant with nasturtium and flowering herbs.

It’s a lot in information and I have plenty more which is why this only a consolidated companion growing guide.  We love to work with companions in our raised beds and there a wonderful way to help guide you while putting together containers.  Happy Gardening!    

The First Steps of Marching Right Along

Starting a new business is equally as exciting as it is nerve-wracking. You never know if what you think is a fabulous idea is as fabulous an idea to the public. Homegrown Harvest is more than just about selling containers and raised beds to people; its about making gardening easier so more people can enjoy the benefits of fresh food. We hope to be able to show people that you don’t need big row gardens of the past to grow some of the food you love to eat and need to live a healthy life.

Greenwch Time PixThis past month for us has been a whirlwind of activity. We had our first home show, The Fairfield County Home & Better Living Show in Greenwich. The show had a rough start since Blizzard Nemo caused it to be delayed by a weekend pushing the show to the long weekend. The attendance levels seemed thin and many of the other vendors who had done the show in the past said that as well. For us it – we came out of the show with 30 new potential customers and landed us on the front page of the Greenwich Time newspaper in the article Generators, green products trending at home show! That alone made going to that show worth it. Since the show, we’ve seem an increase in the potential customers inquisitions from our website leading to hopefully the beginning of Mark and I going out on numerous estimate visits.

Last month, I also went off to Norwich, CT and earned my Accreditation in the Organic Land Care Profession – earning me the acronym AOLCP following my name. The course is taught by NOFA, the Northeast Farmers Association whose mission it is to protect and encourage a healthy relationship between humans and the land.

“CT NOFA is a growing community of farmers, gardeners, land care professionals, and consumers that encourages a healthy relationship to the natural world. CT NOFA:

Promotes methods of farming,ctnofa_logo gardening, and land care that respect biodiversity, soil, water, air, and the needs of future generations through education, support, and advocacy.
Encourages the growth of a sustainable, regional food system that is ecologically sound, economically viable and socially just.
Educates consumers about their power to effect positive changes through their food and land care choices.
Increases the local and organic food supply and maintains productive agricultural land by creating opportunities for new and veteran farmers.

CT NOFA is working toward:

The growth of organic food production in Connecticut, resulting in local, sustainable agricultural systems.
A clean, safe, healthy environment to pass on to future generations.
Preservation of existing farmland in the state.
An abundant supply of organically grown food for Connecticut citizens.”

~About CT NOFA

Since coming back from my class, I was teased that I drank too much of the Kool-aid as I was heard going on and on about Connecticut is a forest and wants to be a forest; how we should leave the leaves in our garden beds as they give good nutrients to the soil and my other new mantra lawns are evil – grow food, not lawns! Prompting Mark to cue up the Grateful Dead channel on the XM radio.

February also was the month we got our online store up and running on our website which we are very excited about since many gardeners may simply be looking for some tools or gardening accessories and prefer to do their shopping online and now we can accommodate that. If you haven’t had a chance to check out online store simply click on the “Shop” tab on our website www.homegrownharvest.com or follow this link to our Shop Homegrown Harvest.

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As busy as February was, March is going to busier for us as we are excited about this. The last two weeks I have started a number of seed starts in what used to be our dining room. It’s a south-facing room with big windows and now three tables with grow lights and a small heater. I am always amazed at the miracle of creation – to watch a seed that I planted spring forth to this little green sprout at first then develop into a plant – its just amazing! I’m always in a little disbelieve when it works. Currently, we have some varieties of lettuce, peppers and basil started, as well as some other herbs. I plan on starting a bunch more in the coming weeks too like the beans and peas. I’m so excited about the different varieties of seeds I have chosen to plant this season. Beautiful runner beans and delicious garden peas and snap peas! I can’t wait until its warm enough to plant outside.

But spring is still weeks away and we have our last frost period to endure. Mark and I have started to prepare for our second home show coming up next weekend, The Fairfield County Home & Outdoor Expo at the Stamford Plaza Hotel. We have a smaller space this time so we will have to get creative, plus I will be at the first day of the show myself since Mark has EMT training all day that day. (My partner, Mark has been pulling double duty since January when he began his EMT training at the New Canaan Ambulance Corp.) If you are interested in attending contact us at info@homegrownharvest.com and we will email you a free pass to the expo.

This month, we already have on the calendar some estimate visitations set up with potential customers. We will continue to work hard to get the word out to the community about what we do and how we can help them grow their own food. As I said in the beginning – its an exciting time but a nerve-wracking time as well. We believe in our business and want to help people discover that gardening doesn’t have to be complicated, back-breaking or overly time consuming. We want to help people discover you don’t need a ton of space to grow your own food – there are simple and efficient ways to garden, like square foot gardening which uses about 20% of the space than a IMG_6950traditional row garden uses. We also know that even the best business ideas can fail if not executed properly. That’s why we are talking to as many people who have started their own businesses and learning from them; networking with people who are currently in the business and learning from them and continuing our own education in the industry so that we can continue to share our expanding knowledge with our customers. It’s an ever changing world and you have learn to grow and adapt with it.

Today, food prices continue to escalate and the amount of energy used to get certain foods from the ground to your table is exorbitant. Some foods travel 2500 miles! The amount of nutrients lost in transit are enormous. We can’t be certain of what it was grown in, what was sprayed on it and what exactly that is went through before landing up in the produce aisle. Technology coupled with Americans desires for a fast and convenient lifestyle has removed people from nature. Children are attached to cell phones, computers and video games instead of the climbing trees, playing in the woods and digging in the dirt.

When gardening you need to think about right plant, right place, right time; the same thing can be said about business as well – right business, right place, right time. Mark and I believe that Homegrown Harvest is a good business idea in the right place at the right time. We look forward to sharing our expertise and knowledge in helping people get back to nature a little and grow their own homegrown harvests.

Bein’ Green – Living Green

Kermit used to struggle with “Bein’ Green” and many Americans, as well as others around the world today struggle with ‘living green’.  Our society has been accustomed to throwing things away – after all it sometimes feels like takes more effort to recycle.

Three years ago I bought a Toyota Highlander Hybrid in an effort to try to be more ‘green’ and not use so much gas etc… Gas prices were rising and I felt I had to do something. What I didn’t know was that I have to make sure the car is started at least every 3-4 days, otherwise the battery will die. WHAT????!!! Unfortunately I learned this the hard way, after buying the car and upon returning home from a 7 day vacation to discover that my car which was only 10 days old was dead.  It was later explained to me by the guys in the parts department that if I leave on vacation I need to hook the car up to a trickle charger. WHAT???!!!! Back up the truck – I have to do what?? My car is a 2009 and back then – three long years ago which in technology terms might as well be decades – they didn’t just plug right in like a golf cart does and some cars now like the Chevy Volt. I have to lift the hood and attached jumper cables directly to the battery and then plug into an outlet.  I hate having to deal with my car, especially the battery.  I accidentally touched the two cables together once and received quite a jolt. Thus my very warranted fear.

Anyway what does this have to do with gardening? Nothing accept to demonstrate that in order to be green – I had to do things differently and start thinking differently. Some consider this extra work and are so accustomed to instant gratification that the change needed isn’t worth their added time.  Gardening teaches patience, there is no rushing Mother Nature – after all, my generation was taught not to fool with Mother Nature.

I am a child of the ’70’s and I remember when the country renewed it’s efforts during the tough economic times of oil crisis to “reduce, reuse & recycle”. That’s initially when my mother introduced me to vegetable gardening.  Recycling wasn’t a new concept however in our country’s short history, as there were many efforts to reuse and recycle things throughout time particularly during war time.  Mankind for centuries has been collecting and melting down scrap metals for re-purposing. Yet in 2013 we still seem to struggle with “reducing, reusing & recycling” in our daily lives.  Sure more cities and municipalities have made great efforts providing recycling bins in subways and on city streets. But the laws regarding recycling vary from state to state and make things complicated for households.

I have and continue to try to recycle over the years but it can be very challenging to keep up with at times. I have a wonderful area for our household trash – it’s in a corner cabinet – which helps out at least in setting up an organizational system. Growing up my mother had a similar cabinet but her cabinet has a two-tiered lazy-Susan where she would store canned goods. However, when I was picking out my kitchen accessories I opted for a three trash bin system which hides nicely in the corner cabinet.  I see from the my cabinet’s manufacturer website their newer system has four- bins.

It’s neat and tidy and also keeps the dogs out the trash for the most part and worked wonderfully as long as I was the only one throwing out the garbage.  But as the children grew older and started to throw things away for themselves, although they knew the system didn’t always adhere by it and their friends, well, let’s just say no one seems to bother to look before they throw something away.  This would lead to everything being tossed with the non-recyclable trash that and impossible to sort out at times.  Then I even purchased a fourth bin which sits out in the kitchen which was marked 5¢ Refund Only on the lid hoping that everyone would get a clue if at least the cans were no where near the other trash.  This has been more effective recently with about a 10% error ratio when my son’s friends are over.

Recently we have been composting and I found that again – in order to be successful – I needed to figure out a system.  We had already set up our composter outside which I discuss in my November 10, 2012 post Homegrown Harvest: Composting: The Making of Black Gold: Mix, Mash, Moisture, Move: The Four M’s of Composting but I found initially I had to think first before I threw things away, also how or where was I going to collect the scraps for the composter while in the kitchen.  What was I going to do – run clear across the house and out the side door to our composter every time I had a contribution? I don’t think so. I knew I needed a containment system for the kitchen and took to reading a number of people’s recommendations on blogs and websites etc…I  was at the pet store when I stumbled upon the perfect bin. It’s not too big, but not too little measuring 15″ tall and holds 16 quarts and has a secure lid. This is important in my house with four dogs roaming around plus it helps contain the smell and start the composting process.

After a few weeks I added a small cup by the coffee maker so we can easily dump out coffee grounds and tea leaves and simply dump it into the mini composter bin when it’s full. That reduces the number of times we have to open the lid because once you have a few wonderful compost-able scraps like orange peels, egg shells, some dryer lint, edamame shells and more you have quite the odoriferous brew going in there.  I like the size of this bin since it’s not too big, it doesn’t get to heavy and makes shaking the contents around easy and can be walked to the compost just as easily without breaking your back.  The kids are adapting to the idea of composting and although my daughter doesn’t want to smell what’s in there she will leave her clementine peels in a bowl on the counter near-by for me to throw it out. Baby-steps – it beats her simply throwing them out and having me fish them out of the trash.

Everyday, I work on new ways to continue to make recycling an easier part of our lives. As long as it takes to break a habit – it takes just as long to form a new one, at least the good ones.  I look forward to the seeing our compost supply build and will be equally excited to use the beautiful Black Gold in our garden this summer!

If you have had any experiences with recycling or composting, please leave a comment. I love to collect new and different ideas on how to “Reduce, Reuse & Recycle”.

 

The Year End Means a New Beginning

It’s hard to believe that Christmas is less than a week away.  In our area of southwestern Connecticut, the late fall has been filled with a multitude of weather events. A late-season hurricane named Sandy followed by her chilly friend, Athena, became the first winter storm of the season.  I believe Draco is in the mid-west right now.  Yes, folks, the Weather Channel is naming winter storms now, not the National Weather Service who is responsible for naming our hurricanes.  They think it will be easier for people to follow – after all who wouldn’t want to follow a big hulking blizzard named Brutus or a savage nor’easter named Kahn or Triton. 

More recently the weather has been milder than the way we started the month, albeit rainy.  In spite of the tough New England conditions, we still have five containers of a variety of lettuces growing strong and have been providing us with wonderful fresh leaves for our tacos and salads. We’ve covered them at night when I know the temperatures will frost, but one container which has never been covered continues to thrive despite a few overnight frosts. I believe it’s the Tyee spinach which I have in a small container that sits at the bottom of our stairs somewhat protected from the winds.  Tyee is a variety of spinach that has rich, dark green thick leaves.  We also have growing Parris Island Cos which is a romaine lettuce.  It’s crisp, sweet and delicous!  The Red Sails is a buttery lettuce with ruffled burgundy tinged leaves.  It was growing very nicely but the frost got to a few of the plants when we forgot to go out and cover the crops.  The Winter Density is a Buttercos lettuce which combines the characteristics of butterhead and romaine.  We have really enjoyed this lettuce in our tacos! It’s very cold tolerant since as I stated a few times we didn’t cover the crops and it shares a container with the Red Sail and despite the Red Sail looking a little frosty the Winter Density continues to thrive nicely. Lastly of the lettuces we have currently growing on the patio is the Buttercrunch. This Bibb-type lettuce forms a rosette, is bolt resistant and does well under stress.

Winter Density and red sail lettuce
Spinach Tyee

Inside the herbs are cozy and warm – loving when the sun does shine. I brought in the rosemary, mint, spearmint, and two oregano plants.  I brought in a container with the thought of possibly transplanting a plant when I noticed some seedling growth.  We decided to see what was popping up on its own and give it some time to discover who was the volunteer.  “Volunteers” are the seedlings which come up on their own from being dropped by the plant itself or bird etc… We put the grow light on it and last week discovered it appears to be a tomato plant!  Makes sense since we were growing a tomato in it over the summer. 

Hard-sided Cold Frame

The end of this week, Friday December 21st brings us the winter solstice . The winter solstice marks the start in the northern hemisphere for when our days begin to get longer and the nights shorter, as the sun rises farther to the north. Winter doesn’t mean that the growing season has to end though. Homegrown Harvest supplies both soft and hard-sided cold-frames, which are a great way to extend the growing season for many greens like mesclun, spinach, arugula and more. 

http://www.homegrownharvest.com

It’s an exciting time for us at Homegrown Harvest LLC.. Mark and I are just getting the company started up and finally made our first sale this week. Some one lucky is getting a vegetable garden for Christmas! We have been working hard on getting all our marketing materials together for the home shows and farmer’s markets we plan on being at in 2013. We bought a new beautiful red Silverado 2500 that Mark has already dubbed “The Flying Tomato”.  “The Flying Tomato” will be put to work helping us haul our growing medium, flats of plantings and other materials to deliver and set up for our clients.  She made her first delivery today as a matter of fact. The first of hopefully many.

Composting: The Making of Black Gold

Mix, Mash, Moisture, Move: The Four M’s of Composting

Compost is an important ingredient in every garden. They call it Black Gold because what it can do for your plants is priceless.  People think that composting has to be difficult – but it doesn’t. People have a way of over-complicating things.  First off to make things clear let’s define the word compost. According to Merriam-Webster, the noun compost is a mixture that consists largely of decayed organic matter and is used for fertilizing and conditioning land. But it’s also a transitive verb meaning to convert (as plant debris) to compost. So composting makes compost and compost is again? Oh yeah, decayed organic matter -well that explains that!
Let’s see what else we can find from the Concise Encyclopedia on compost: 

“Mass of rotted organic matter made from decomposed plant material. It is used in agriculture and gardening generally to improve soil structure rather than as a fertilizer, because it is low in plant nutrients. When properly prepared, it is free of obnoxious odors.”

Well that is concise mouthful so let’s break it down.  

The mass of rotted organic matter

Green matter for composting

In order to make your compost balanced you want to remember not to use just one or two items but many different items so you can have a balanced compost.   The “rotted organic matter” you want to collect are easy to remember if you break it down into two groups: brown matter and green matter.  Brown matter consist of things are hard and dry and provide carbon into the mix. Green matter consists of things are moist and wet and provide nitrogen.  
Brown Materials include: shredded newspaper, cardboard (non-waxed), dried leaves, brown bags, small amounts of sawdust, eggshells, pine needles, tea bags, corn cobs, straw and wood prunings. No single brown item should make up more than 10% of your entire mixture.  You can also use fresh manures from rabbits, horses, goats and chicken unless you want to have a vegan compost.   Green items include: vegetables, fruit, seaweed, kelp, plant cuttings, garden weeds and trimmings, and apple cores, etc.
No single green item should make up more than 20% of your entire mixture.  If you plan on using grass clipping, you have to dry them out first, otherwise you will have a stinky, icky mess on your hands.
No-no items include meat scraps, bakery products, seeds and fruit pits, dairy products, grease, whole eggs, cheese and oily things like peanut butter, mayonnaise and lettuce leaves with salad dressing on them nor can you use table scraps from dinner.  No pet food or pet litter and keep the large branches out as well, unless you can chop it up.
Some other things which you may not realize you can use include things like hair and pet fur, feathers, dryer lint, wood ashes, paper towel, the tubes from toilet paper and paper towels.
Ultimately while collecting these materials and composting them you want to strive for a 3:1 ratio of Brown:Green aka Carbon:Nitrogen ratio.

 
Brown Matter like wood chips and bark

Properly Prepared

An important thing in composting is mashing your ingredients into small bits. The smaller the better as it will help speed up the decomposition process.  Things like dried leaves can be run over with a lawn mower to make them smaller.  Moisture is very important as well. You are striving for a damp mixture not too wet or too dry either. Finally you must keep turning your pile, always towards the center of the pile where its the hottest and moistest part of the mixture. That’s where all the good stuff happens in the decomposition process.

What else?

Composting can take some time , but the more you mix and mash, the quicker the process can be. Also having a certain amount of mass will help to expedite the process as well.  When you add new things to the mix be sure to mix it in well.  Think of it was making a meatloaf or a cake.  You need to be sure all the ingredients get mixed well together each time you add something new.

Composting pit

Where and how you choose to compost is a personal choice.  There are a lot of different methods, like barrels which can be rolled or containers with handles which can be turned. But a simple 3 x 3 or 4 x 4 area is all you need – anything bigger would be ineffective and actually hinder the process.  You can build your own compost pit easily with some wood or brick. You can even use the black garbage bag method, but that can be a rather stinky process and tends to use only one ingredient.  If you do this just be sure to add other composted blends to your compost mixture before you add it to the garden so it is well balanced.

Is there anything else?

One of the most challenging parts about composting can be collecting the materials.  Separating things out doesn’t always come naturally to folks.   Especially if you have teenagers or children running about who find using a garbage can challenging. That may be just my kids.  Anyway, I find that having a can especially designated for the compost heap helpful.  Clearly mark it, maybe select a different color bin altogether.  If you have any ideas in this area, I would love to hear about them. If you’re on Twitter send me a message @HomeharvestCT or simply leave a comment on this blog.  

Composting is a fabulous way of helping to reduce our waste and is such a valuable ingredient for our gardens.  Happy composting everyone! 


 

End of Summer Doesn’t Mean End of the Growing Season – Yet

August 31st, the end of summer, not officially of course.  That doesn’t happen until September 22nd 10:48am to be precise, autumn officially starting a minute later.  Some kids in our area have already started back to school; my son started his freshman classes at Ithaca College and my daughter starts her Junior year of high school next week. The last days of summer come far too rapidly for most of us.
The garden has been producing delicious lemon boys, succulent supper 100s and other gorgeous and scrumptious heirlooms for months now.  We have canned various sauces, frozen a few and instantly enjoyed many others. The eggplants keep coming in; they did very well this season in the two containers we grew them in.
The cucumbers have been plentiful, inspiring new ways to enjoy them. Mark made a delicious cold cucumber soup for me last week since I had had one earlier in the summer and had raved about it.  The kids love the cucumbers and will eat them sliced up anytime I put one down in front of them. The leaves on our vines got dried up and yellow though — thankfully after the family had been over for a family luncheon to send my son off to college — I trimmed back the leaves and dead stuff and discovered we have at least another 10 cucumbers growing healthily on the vine.  I am amazed at how plentiful the cucumbers have been, so far this season we already have taken in from the garden close to 30 cukes and as I stated there at least another 10 out there still growing!

The beans continue to come in as well, next year I want to plant more of those since the kids devour them.  The also loved the snap peas which I also would like to plant more of those as well.  Those were so good they hardly ever made it the 65 steps back into the kitchen from the garden being enjoyed immediately by who ever was around.
The cooler temperatures of September will bring new crops which I recently planted from seed — lettuce. About a week ago I planted a few containers with a variety of lettuce seed. Winter Density lettuce and Red Sails lettuce are two varieties of Lactuca sativa which should compliment each other not only in the containers but in the salad bowl as well.  Winter Density is a mix between romaine and a butterhead lettuce; whereas Red Sails is a red- bronze tipped leafy green with a buttery flavor. Yum!  Too bad I have to wait a little while longer.
Gardening vegetables teaches you patience, particularly when starting from seed. But the rewards you get are many and in the grand scheme of things you don’t have to wait too long to enjoy your harvests.  We forget in these days of instant gratification and high speed this, that and the other thing that you should slow down now and again and stop and smell the flowers. In this case the beautiful flowers which eventually become tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, eggplants etc…
Taking care of the garden this summer, we shared the experience with the kids and theri friends. They watched us as we built and planted the garden and became active recipients of many of our homegrown harvests as we headed back to the kitchen.  Initially they were casual observers, but as the fruits came in their interests increased. Not surprising since we are talking about a bunch of teenagers. They enjoyed the beans and snap peas – some had their first bites into cherry tomatoes. They munch on banana peppers and of course the cukes!
I hope they got a taste of how rewarding having a vegetable garden can be and hopefully will one day remember their time sitting in our yard enjoying the fresh produce and try to do it themselves.  As the dog days of summer end, I look forward to the fall harvests and the beautiful autumn colors.

 

Garden of 2012

[Update 8-16-12] I pulled another 8+ pounds of tomatoes out of the garden last night and decided since the tomatoes were too big now for the vegetable bin in the fridge that I should make a sauce.  I made a mix sauce this time, combining the lemonboys with the celebrity tomatoes. Here’s how it came out.

A combination of Lemon Boys and Celebrity tomatoes make up this sauce.  That and some basil, oregano, onions and garlic – YUM!

Most of our country is experiencing one of the worst drought since the 1990’s, yet our portion of the country has been wet. I don’t know how wet exactly compared to the norm but I will look that up later for both our curiosities’ sakes.   I have been writing about my garden this year on my other blog – I hadn’t yet decided to dedicate a blog purely to vegetable and herb gardening until recently, like ten minutes ago. No it’s really like two weeks ago but I procrastinated about it and was busy with all my other blogs (none of which I have been working on other than in my head). It’s been a busy month – both in the garden and out.
You see my first born, my only son is going to college soon. The last minute realization of – oh shit! we need to get our crap together has started to hit us as I find myself placing last minute orders from Amazon for things I think he might need/want in his dorm.  The past few weeks as the summer days have been ticking away ever closer to the first of his groups departure – the boys would hang out on the patio by the pool and admire all fruits and veggies in the garden.  Earlier in the summer one of them had actually said they had never thought about growing his own food – ironically, it was the kid who is most outdoorsy. Recently, I witness a priceless expression on his face in relation to the garden but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Keep in mind the boys I am talking about are all 18, 19 years old from the Connecticut suburbs of New York City. 41 miles to be exact. [I’m a City kid, so my point of reference is my old apartment building to where I live now in Connecticut.]  Anyway, not to distract you from my main point which is that these boys hadn’t thought about where their food really came from or could come from and they have been amazed* at what went on here this summer. *I’m only assuming this since I haven’t really asked them but I base my statement on what I saw them eat from the garden and their reactions to it that I actually witnessed.  When your child is that old and about to embark on the next stage of their life, you rarely get to see firsts any more. It’s like witnessing Hailey’s Comet; you’re either not there to see it and if you are lucky enough to be there, blink and you could miss it altogether. My most recent “sighting” was when one of my son’s friend – the outdoorsy one- bit into a cherry tomato for the first time.  The expression on his face when the small tomato has gushed with and splattered juice all over his chin was priceless.  His eyes popped from surprise. He had never had a tomato before.
As I started to say before the boys distracted me as they usually do, our weather this summer has been perfect for our gardening needs. We’ve had a mix of rain and sun which has produced tomato plants which tower to heights of 8 feet or more – if we had stakes that went higher the plants wouldn’t have any problem reaching eights of 10 feet I’m sure.  The eggplant harvest so far is 8 pounds and counting. The tomatoes are close to 12 pounds, maybe 15 pounds and certainly we have another 15 pounds still growing on the vine!  The cucumbers have gone crazy and I haven’t weighed those but we have taken off 5 or 6 nice sized cukes and have plenty more growing on those vines.

A collage of some of the produce we have harvested this season so far!

Yummy delicious cherry tomatoes. The kids love these and are constantly eating them while hanging out by the pool.

Some of our many lemon boys I have come to love so much.

We have already harvested 8 pounds and there is probably another 10 on the vine. So I am actively looking for eggplant recipes.  I made a killer eggplant parmigiana the other day.

Another collage of the veggies!

Are they beautiful?! Every day practically I am hauling in colanders of vegetables.

I love looking at the beautiful fruits hanging from the plants in the raised bed garden we put in.

The first of many canned sauces.  Two red and one lemon-boy sauce.

I have been really pleased with the lemon boys. I hadn’t been familiar with them and I adore the way they taste!  We made a sauce from a batch which taste really good once you get passed the fact that its yellow and not red.
I brought in another 7 plus pounds of tomatoes tonight in from the garden.  Last this week we will have to get some more fresh mozzarella to enjoy with the tomatoes and I guess I will be making some more sauce.

The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just on the body, but the soul.  ~Alfred Austin

 

Peace ~ Xine