Monday on the Mountain

It was very eggciting around here. Earlier this morning, two of our four hens started laying their eggs! We are first timers so this is so eggciting. Sorry, I can’t help myself — I’m eggstatic though! I am thrilled to walk outside and see my plants growing and ripening to produce which I can eat, particularly when I pull out carrots that would make Bugs Bunny’s eyes bulge. But this was on a whole new level of excitement, wonder and awe for me, a born and raised city kid. Finding those first eggs in the nest this morning was incredible! Wait, that sounds for familiar — it’s the incredible, edible egg. Now I get it!

Our first two eggs

Black Fly Season

Since moving up to New Hampshire over four year ago, we have become painfully aware of Black Fly Season. Thankfully this is only lasts about a 4-6 weeks long, however, it falls right during the spring planting season. Our growing season is short enough up here, so you can’t let time escape you and put things off.

First off let me tell you a little bit about these most annoying insects. In New Hampshire there are 40 species of black flies and of those 40 there are about 5 species which are the annoying biters. It’s the females who bite, the males are merely annoying and swarm around your head. They bite humans and birds and other farm animals. I read recently that they can also destroy a flock of chickens which being new to chicken farming makes me nervous. The only upside about black flies if you are to look for a silver lining is that “Large black fly populations indicate clean, healthy streams since most species will not tolerate organic pollution.”

“Only two species of black flies in New Hampshire consistently and abundantly bite humans. These are Prosimulium mixtum and Simulium venustumSimulium venustum, the so-called “white-stockinged” black fly emerges in early to mid-May in southern New Hampshire and remains a pest until the end of May. In the north, it emerges in late May to early June and can remain abundant until the end of June in some areas and even into July in higher mountain localities.”

UNH Extension

So what do you do to get things done when you are up against such an enemy? You suit up in a netted hooded jacket, wear long pants and I highly recommend socks. I had just my Crocs on the other day and they found my vulnerable spot and I have been itching both ankles for days now. Given the opportunity, they will find your skin and go for blood – the bitches!

My daughter and I spent a wonderful afternoon together at one of the local nurseries selecting starts and flowers for our gardens. It was a bit of an experience walking into the the greenhouse all masked up, following the directional arrows, maintaining social distancing which was necessary since we were not the only ones who decided to get out and get our plants. But it did feel good to be out and at the nursery among all the greenery. There was one moment when it was just the two of us in the flower greenhouse and for a second we peeked our noses out to take a giant whiff of all the fragrance that danced around us. Psychologically it was a huge boost for us. I could see the sparkle in my daughter’s eyes and tell she was smiling behind that mask as we selected our plants.

Upon returning home, we placed all the flats in the garden and sorted out hers from mine. The black flies were relentless and we didn’t have our gear on since we just arrived home and unloaded. There had been a sight breeze initially so they weren’t that bothersome as we started to sort and I had thoughts of possibly starting to plant, but then the breeze died down and within seconds they started to swarm. We ran inside, it was clear that planting would have to be done in our netting.

Early in the morning, before the sun rises over the eastern ridgeline, there is usually a light breeze and no black flies. This is when I first began to plant the garden this year, or at least place which plants were to go where. Once the sun is up, the black flies come out and it became speed planting time. Even with the netted gear, it’s just not pleasant to be out there being swarmed. I don’t think I have ever planted a garden so quickly. And dealing with planting my seed potatoes in their Smart Pots was so unpleasant thanks to the black flies. Over the course of 1-1/2 days I planted everything up with a little the help from Samantha and Mark -and just like that it was done.

It was nice walking out to the garden the last couple of days, watering the beds after letting the chicks out into their run and feeding them. They too prefer the early mornings when the black flies are less to putter around outside. I’ve noticed they hang out in the hen house during the day, I think to escape the black flies which seem not to follow them inside.

My daughter returned to her home as the states are beginning to slowly reopen. I already miss my time with her but I’m happy for her as she has FaceTimed me twice from her own garden. I talk about my hesitations in my Xine’s Pack post Adjusting to the New Norm. I take solace knowing that I have my own new norm to get used to around here. When I wake up everyday, I have dogs and chickens to feed, the garden to water and am thankful for the breath I can take, even if it is through my netted hood.

Happy gardening everybody!

Homegrown Harvest Photo Share: Oregano

Welcome to this week’s Homegrown Harvest Photo Share! The focus is on oregano, so if you have any photos of your own of this delicious herb, write your own post and be sure to include a ping back or share a link in the comments. Tag your posts and for most info about the Homegrown Harvest Photo Share check out this link to discover future themes.

Happy gardening everyone!

When planting your garden don’t forget about 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 (some even believe mysterious) powers for helping each other grow.   Scientific study of companion planting has confirmed that some combinations have real benefits unique to those combinations. And practical experience has demonstrated to many gardeners how to combine certain plants for their mutual benefit.

How can companion plantings help you?

  • Companion plantings bring a 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?

This can be confusing to some people. The best way is to take the average spacing between the two varieties.

Ancient Companions

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

The Scientific Foundations Behind Companion Planting

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. Agro-ecologists 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.

Carrots and marigolds

Condensed Companion Planting Guide

Basil

  • Improves flavor and growth of tomatoes.
  • Aromatic foliage helps repel aphids, flies, mosquitoes and tomato hornworms while attracting beneficial insects and bees.
  • Vast variety of basils to choose from Sweet Italian, African Blue Basil, Thai Basil. Greek Columnar Basil…
Basil
Borage

Borage

  • Edible flowers add a mild cucumber flavor to salads
  • Attracts beneficials
  • Great with strawberry plants
  • Deters tomato hornworms
  • Improves growth and flavor of squash

Dill

  • Good companion to cabbage family but not with carrots
  • Good with Brassicas
  • Improves health & growth of cabbage
  • Attracts beneficial wasps that control cabbage pests
  • Good with lettuce and onion
  • Trap crop for tomato hornworms

Marigolds (Tagetes species)

  • Plant all over
  • Deter root eating nematodes, Mexican Bean Beetles and many more insects
  • Good companions to bush beans, lettuce potatoes, kale, Chinese cabbage, tomatoes and root vegetables
  • The cultivar T. Erecta is an African marigold and T. Patula is the French marigold

Mint

  • Invasive so bury in a pot in the ground halfway up
  • Improves the health and flavor of broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and tomatoes
  • The flowers attract beneficials
  • Spearmint and peppermint repel aphids, flea beetles, and white cabbage moths

Nasturtiums

  • Edible flowers
  • Deters striped pumpkin beetles and other cabbage pests
  • Repels squash bugs
  • Trap crop for aphids
  • Companions to Brassicas and Cucurbits
  • Improving their growth and flavor
Nasturtium

Onion Family

  • Excellent companions
  • Promote the health of other plants
  • Chives have edible flowers and leaves – great with carrots and tomatoes
  • Onions companions to the carrot family, brassicas, gooseneck family, and nightshade family
  • Deter Japanese beetles, aphids, weevils, fruit tree borers and spider mites
  • Good insectary plants that attracts predatory insects that feed on pest insects

Oregano

  • Natural pesticide for a variety of vegetable invaders
  • Perfect to pair up with any vegetable
  • Deters many insects, especially squash borer flea beetles
  • Especially good companion to Brassicas and Cucurbits
  • Its flowers attracts butterflies, bumble bees and mud dauber wasps that feed on caterpillars
Oregano

Radish

  • Good with Brassicas, cabbage family, carrot family, legumes, goosefoot family
  • They repel cucumber beetles and squash bugs
  • Deters flea beetles
  • Many varieties

Sunflowers

  • Companion to many vegetables especially shorter, shade-loving varieties;
  • Sunflowers help support vines
  • Attract birds and beneficial pollinators to the garden
  • Good companion to cucumbers and deters armyworm when planted with corn
  • Many varieties

Not Everyone Plays Well Together in the Garden

As much as there are plants that are compatible together, there are some that are just as incompatible together as well. It’s equally important to understand which plants don’t work well together in the garden. Sometimes when these vegetables are couples together you may find that growth was stunted or harvests just generally less prolific.

CropFoes/Incompatibles
 Asparagus garlic, onions, potatoes
Basil rue, sage
 Beans (alliums) garlic, onions
 Beets pole beans
Cabbage Family (broccoli, Brussels sprouts,
kale, kohlrabi, cauliflower, cabbage)
 tomatoes, strawberries, pole beans, peppers, eggplants, grapes, lettuce
 Carrots dill, parsnips, Queen Ann’s lace
 Celery corn, potatoes, aster
Chards cucurbits, melons, corn or herbs
Chives beans and peas
 Corn tomatoes
Cucumber cauliflower, potatoes, basil, sage, rue
 Lettuce cabbage, parsley
Marigolds, French Beans, cabbage
 Onion peas, asparagus
 Peas chives, potatoes, onions, gladiolus, grapes
 Pepper, sweet bell fennel, kohlrabi, apricot trees
 Potato Asparus, kohlrabi, rutabage, fennel, turnip, pumpkin, squash, tomatoes, sunflowers, cucumbers
 Radish hyssop, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, turnips
 Squash potatoes
Strawberry Cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kohlrabi
 Tomato dill, fennel, apricot trees, potatoes, kohlrabi, corn
 Turnip potatoes, radishes or other root vegetables, delphinium, larkspur, mustard

Six on Saturday: This week in the garden

The weather is finally a little warmer, although the winds haven’t died down much, except for a day or two. That’s when the Black Flies started to descend upon me, enough so that Mark broke out our mosquito netted hoods and shirts. Mosquito netting is a necessary part of the gardening outfit this time of year, especially if you want to get anything done. Of course I was bitten a number of times before the netting came out. My right pinkie feels like a sausage right now due to a bite and I have two on my stomach.

I was determined to get things started in the garden this week. Our season is short up here, so I’m anxious to get things started. However I am always prepared to run out there and cover the beds up if there is a frost warning or god forbid snow.

1. Start the seed potato bags

My seed potatoes arrived a couple of weeks ago and I have been waiting to get the potato sacks started. I noticed a couple of weeks go that dandelions had cropped up in our lawn which to me is a clear sign that it was okay to start my potatoes.

2. Deal with Cold Frames

After loading up all the grow bags, I needed to turn my attention towards checking the progress of the plants that are under the cold frames. I felt that I could take off one of the frames since the plants were getting so big their leaves were hitting up against the frames. I was going to simply keep the door lifted but wanted to also throw in some compost and it’s easier if the frame is not in the way.

The spinach and lettuce has grown nicely. My daughter has been harvesting from that bed daily this week in making her spinach omelette breakfast and having fresh salads for lunch and dinner. Two broccoli starts – although it could be cauliflower starts that I threw in there a few weeks ago are beginning to take shape, as are the peas. I started them all from seed inside and put some in our indoor Tower Garden and the rest under the cold frames. We have been able to eat peas off the Tower Garden already and have been enjoying fresh salads for a a few weeks now. Which brings me to the third thing on this week’s garden list:

3. Start more Seeds

4.Plant Strawberry Starts

We love strawberries and I can’t have enough of them planted. Every year I have been adding in the ground in a tiered portion of our garden, this year I decided to plant some into a few grow back and planters that we have around the garden. That way when the groundhog does find his way in, he can have some and so can we.

5. Amend the Raised Beds

I plan on planting next week, weather permitting, so I decided it was a good time to start adding some compost to the raised garden beds. The 3′ x 6′ needed more compost for a number of reasons, one of which is my son’s goldendoodle, Kona kept breaking in to the garden and eating some of the compost I had put down a few weeks earlier. Thankfully the garlic I planted last fall hadn’t come up yet when she was doing all this, but I noticed it had sprung up this week.

6. Chickens

The latest news and addition to our homesteading is the arrival of our new chickens. Four Rhode Island Red pullets arrived on Mother’s Day and it’s been a week of new changes for all of us. Luckily I was already waking as early as 4:30 am thanks to our dogs who begin to whine around that time. Marley has done this since she was a puppy and is solely responsible for my waking up these last 6 years before the sun. Going to bed on the other hand, I have had to stay up a little later than my normal 7:300/8pm I am used to since they prefer to head into the hen house close to 8:00-8:30pm right now. They aren’t laying eggs yet as they are only about 18 weeks old but I am told that should start to happen in the next couple of weeks. We are new to chicken farming, so it’s an exciting new chapter for us.

I cleaned their roost area and reminded myself of how their poop would be a rich additive to our compost pile. I had build a dropping board which I saw was widely recommended by others and found it easy to clean, very similar to dealing with scooping out poop from the kitty litter box. I cut off some thyme from the garden and threw it into their food as well in their dust bath area since the herbs are good for repelling insects.

Right now I hear the wind hitting my windows and see the temperature is reading 50ºF, although somewhere in town, 1000 feet lower it’s 57ºF. Last night we had tornado warnings here in New Hampshire, not your usual weather warning for this area, but nothing has been usual this year.

Boomer checking out the chickens outdoor run

I find that I am anxious to get plants started and pray that we have a good season this summer. The last few months with the family together under quarantine, we have gone through much more of the canned tomato sauce and salsas I have made over the last two years much more so than I would have thought we would. I am thankful that I have been canning all these years as it has helped a great deal in these first few month of quarantine, I never considered ourselves preppers but now that I have less in inventory I am feeling slightly anxious. I will feel better when things have started in the garden and you can be sure I will be canning away as soon as I can. Happy Gardening Everyone!

Homegrown Harvest Photo Share: Kale

Kale is one of those easy to grow geens that is super good for you, a real nutritional powerhouse. Too bad, we don’t really like it especially since I have had such great success growing it. I let some kale go to seed so that I could collect the seeds once and I had kale coming up on its own for years afterwards in the pathways between my raised beds.

This week’s Homegrown Harvest Photo Share is kale! We love seeing other people’s gardens and their plants, so make your own post about kale, make a pingback and leave a link in the comments so we can see what’s in your garden. Remember to tag your posts – see more information and upcoming themes here.

Dwarf Siberian Kale

It’s May on the Mountain

Welcome to New England where if you don’t like the weather, just wait 10 minutes. This morning I saw a meme that said “Now I know what it’s called May, because it may rain, it may snow, it may be 20ºF, it may be 70ºF.

We spent the day yesterday preparing for the four chickens we are receiving later today. It was a beautiful day to be outside and we are very happy that we took advantage of the good weather. I wrote a post for my Xine’s Pack blog about the day and all the work we did. It’s definitely a new chapter in our lives up here on the mountain.

We picked up 3 more inches of snow in the last 24 hours, making our snow total for the 2019/20 season 102 inches. Thirty inches less than last season. The winds are howling outside and it’s keeping me from going out and working on the chicken coop, aka the Poultry Palace. The sun is shining on my lawn but the skies over the lake look dark and nasty, like they aren’t done dumping something – snow? rain? I can’t make out Cardigan Mountain right now which faces my house, it’s so obscured by the clouds, and that view has changed a few times depending on when I look up. Same for the lake for that matter, sometimes it’s there and then it’s not! The constantly changing views is one of the thing I enjoy most about where I live.

I haven’t really started the outdoor garden, I know that as soon as I do, it will snow or frost – even if it’s the end of May. I always have had to go out and cover the tender crops at least once a season because some weird late frost or snow happens. We’ve been growing food indoors with our Tower Garden FLEX which I am an independent distributor and I have a few things already growing under our three cold frames in the outdoor garden. If it weren’t for the chickens coming I may have started to plant my potatoes but thankfully simply didn’t have the time yet to do it.

As I look up again from my computer and look out the window – Cardigan Mountain and Newfound Lake have reappeared. I even see a large patch of sky, what I refer to as The Simpson’s Blue since it reminds my of the blue sky and clouds in the opening of the Simpsons cartoon credits. Now that’s more inviting to go out into, not the wind needs to die down since it’s making already unseasonably cold temperatures, down right ridiculous for May. My weather station says it’s 32ºF but feels like 24ºF with the wind.

The funny thing is I don’t think twice about going out in this type of weather in the winter time. It’s just psychologically tough to go back to dealing with it when we were just getting the enjoy some nice, warm days after being cooped up in the house. The weather has been such that there have only been a handful of days where you could get outside and be comfortable for any given period of time.

It’s snowing again, I just looking up because the wind is hitting the windows so hard and it sounds like a freight train is roaring towards the house. Maybe I’ll wait a little while longer before venturing out there.

Homegrown Harvest Photo Share – Broccoli

We’ve been craving fresh delicious broccoli around here lately. We have plenty of broccoli plants started in our indoor Tower Garden FLEX, but it will be a while before we can harvest it. So in the meantime, let’s enjoy sharing some of our broccoli shots.

Container broccoli
Broccoli growing in the outdoor Tower Garden

We’d love to your photos of your broccoli plants and harvests! Join our Homegrown Harvest Photo Share. Create a HGHPC post and tag HGHPC or Homegrown Harvest Photo Challenge so it’s easy for people to find! Add a link to your blog in my comment box or Pingback and please follow our blog.