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.

A look back at weather 2015

The end of 2015 causes me pause to reflect on the season of 2015.  The weather more than anything else dominated my thoughts much of the season and provided us with plenty of challenges.  For Homegrown Harvest it was our third growing season as a business and as professional growers. The year began with cold but dry air with the snows holding off until mid January. I remember vividly since we picked up our riding mower/ snowthrower on January 6th from Sears. It took Mark a week of working on it to put the snow thrower attachment on it; he finished right before the first of what turned out to be thirteen snowfalls that were big enough to plow. I believe it snowed around 60″+ where we are in zone 6b; parts of New England saw much more such as Boston at 109″+ where Mark’s son lives.

The springtime came in cold and wet; the snows gave way to rain and it was a soggy season.  We were able to seed early crops of peas and greens without any problem in the raised beds by  March 6th just about the same time as our last big plowable snowfall.  The top two inches of soil at that point were workable and I started throwing in seeds I could beginning from that point on.
Summer continued to be cool but the rain stopped altogether for months. Clients who didn’t water their gardens regularly didn’t get the yields that others who had some sort of irrigation in place did. The cooler temperatures stalled and delayed the ripening of many tomatoes and other warm weather crops.  But in time and with patience we got fantastic yields overall that just took a while to ripen.  For instance, some of our hot pepper plants, we had at least 3 – had so many peppers on them – one plant per variety was plenty.  Thankfully Mother Nature finally turned up the heat for a few days with degrees of 90+ then summer and remained comfortably warm for the fall season allowing for an early winter harvest of  broccoli, peas, carrots, greens and other fall crops.  The parsley, sage, thyme and mints continued to thrive throughout autumn. Kale pops up in the path prolifically where I let last winter’s crop to go to seed.

Winter has started slowly easing in with the same temperatures we enjoyed during the fall.  No snow, but the rains returned finally. Christmas Eve and days surrounding it were warm reaching the 60s. We were able to sit comfortably around the firepit the night before Christmas sharing stories , drinking wine while opening a few gifts with our children.  The moon was full, the first time since 1977, the next will be 2035 or something – we watched it as it travelled across the night sky.
As we come to end of 2015, the temperatures have dipped to where they should be. I take solace in knowing I was given the extra nice weather to prepare everything for winter. Fall had been personally tough for my family. A personal tragedy touched our family, forcing many things to have to take a back seat.  The extra nice days served me well as I was able to tend to closing up our own garden and not freeze my hands off in the process. We had spent time in October and November closing up our clients’ gardens. – many of them pleasantly surprised at the elongated season and the growing potential they had harnessed.
Currently our 11 raised beds and 20+ containers, we are growing in 7 beds and probably about 10 containers a variety of  lettuces, radishes, carrots, garlic, onions, shallots, spinach, broccoli and last of last season’s Brussels sprouts. Some beds are covered with a variety of cold frames, cloches or low hoops; the others simply have a thick layer of hay on top.

We just pulled in our Tower Garden a few days before the new year- two broccoli plants have started, so once we put the grow lights on it, we should be able to add other seed starts to it and enjoy more fresh veggies during winter 2016. The winter of 2016 will be here and we are ready for whatever it brings. The early stages will be filled with seed catalogs and dreams.  Happy dreaming.

Kids are back in school – time to seed the garden for fall!

A recent August harvest of potatoes, cucumbers, squash and beans

It’s August and the garden is abundant with tomatoes ripening; beans dangling off their vines and peppers appearing in various shades. It’s been a summer season so far filled with cool wet days and nights followed by beautiful dry days that were so comfortable to work outside. Only in the last few weeks did the heat and humidity start setting, now finally the hot peppers are red!  But we still are experiencing the cooler nights, open your windows weather.        

Some things in the garden have run their course and I need to start cleaning out those beds to ready them for seeding; there is still so many quick crops that can be enjoyed even this late into the season. However, I plan on using more low hoops this winter to protect the overwintering vegetables. If the Farmer’s Almanac is correct and we have the snows like we had last winter, we need to prepare ahead of time. This morning at 7:30a.m., the air temp is 60 degrees and soil temperature is at 70 degrees.  When we prepare a bed for receding or replanting, we remove as much debris as we can without disturbing other plants that may still be around producing vegetables. Right before replanting or seeding we will add more compost to the bed to replenish the depleted nutrients. 
Currently I have a 10 to 12 foot-long acorn squash that needs to be removed from its garden bed. It’s late 8 foot long bed but acorn squash need to take plenty of space up in the garden. It’s leaves are gigantic in comparison to other leads in the standard garden. We only recommend growing acorn squash if you have space for this plant to spread out. Pumpkins are the same way – gorgeous giant  plants with huge huge leaves.  The family which contains squash, cucumbers and pumpkins have that some of the biggest leaves and produce, for that matter, of any vegetable family. A topic to explore further in the future. Right now I’d like to focus on the fresh start that seeding and planting can provide families this time of year.

Carrots just beginning to sprout

August is a time when families look at the new fresh slate before them, the new school year. A new start for many,  you can view your garden bed much the same way.  If you don’t have a garden yet now is a great time to start one; as a matter fact we just planted and installed a new fall garden this past week. We planted the garden with broccoli and spinach starts and some marigolds. We also seeded the garden with lettuce, carrots and peas for our client’s enjoyment through the fall.   If you already have a garden going, there is plenty of time to add to it.  If you’re not rotating the plant families in your existing garden, now is as good a time as any to start. Perhaps you’re still enjoying a delicious tomato plants and are thinking there’s no way I can add anything more to this craziness. We keep the craziness that bag this time year by pruning back the leaves that are dying or simply unproductng they don’t produce any fruit. By doing this the plants are nicely trimmed, the energy of the plant is directed to the fruit and air is able to go through allowing the plant to breathe. We use companion plantings in our garden, so there are some marigolds below and a basil plant but there is still plenty of room to seed for cooler crops like lettuce or spinach in the spaces below.

before the snow

There are plenty of different vegetables you can continue to enjoy this time of year by doing a late summer seeding.  Carrots are wonderful to seed this time of year either to enjoy as baby carrots in the fall or to overwinter. Frost helps increase the natural sugars making them even sweeter. Radishes arugula and Asian greens are all quick growing crops that can be soon this time of year. There are 25 days until the first day of autumn and 63 days until Halloween plenty of time to keep growing wonderful, delicious, fresh vegetables. In the past we have had plenty of years where we don’t get a frost until mid-November, and working and I have been able to enjoy fresh greens growing in containers around our patio until mid January when this is finally fell. Last year we used a small low hoop on one of our beds and nothing on another that we had planted. We planted brassicas which like the cooler temps in the low hoop; the other bed which we left exposed had onions and garlic carrots and some lettuce. If you remember the winter 2015 was incredibly snowy here in the Northeast; our area of Connecticut we had 60+ inches of snow. This new began to fall around the second week of January I remember clearly his we just picked up a new tractor on January 6 and it took Mark a good week and a half to put the snow-thrower on it. The snow and finally melted by the middle of March definitely most of what was gone in the raise beds were set free by the third week of March. My notes show I was seeding snap pea on March 6.

Fall is also the time to plant bulbs- most people associate this with planting tulips and daffodils hyacinths and the like; however, this is also the time to put garlic which is in the alliums family. It’s also a great time to put shallots and onions starts. Super easy to grow and it’s psychologically nice knowing that when you stare out the blanket of snow that you know some sort of tasty magic is going on underneath.  Cooking with homegrown shallots and garlic – yum.

I was reminded this week, after visiting two clients gardens the other day, of the importance of water to life. Both of these clients have had watering issues this season; the first having forgotten to hook up their hose earlier in the spring the other thinking their irrigation spray head near the garden is watering at sufficiently. It’s not. The former finally got their soaker hose hooked up and the garden is looking so much healthier, seeds germinating, plants growing stronger and healthy. The latter garden has been doing well but more seeds belts germinate and areas of the bed that I believe is not receiving sufficient enough water. We recommend the spray head be switched to a drip irrigation line for the garden. It’s a much more efficient and effective way to water your garden. I look forward to the next few months we have left of our garden. We see so many people close up their garden once the tomato plants are done producing. We close up the beds as the vegetables end their course and keep some of the beds going throughout the fall and winter months. This way we can enjoy fresh homegrown vegetables throughout the fall and even into the start of the winter season.
Why not? If you can grow your own, it’s worth it.
 

Suggested varieties for fall quick growing cooler crop:

Carrots 
Yaya, 60 day
Mokum, 56 day
Paris market – 50 today
Sugarsnax 68 day
Peas
Dwarf gray sugar snow
Oregon sugar pod two
Mammoth melting snow 
Spinach
Palco 38 day – reliable quick crops seed to plate
Regiment 37 Day – speedy crops of flavorful greens
Tyee 45 day – great Four seasons spinach
Arugula 30 day
Lettuce
Sylvesta 50 day
Bibb 43 day
Merlot 55 day
Radish
Sora 26 day
Cherry bell – 20 day top-quality
Onion
Ramrod 55 day
Evergreen hearty white bunching
Beets
Golden Burpee 56 day
Boldor 51 day
Albino 50 day      

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.

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

Our Garden

[The following is a blog entry from May 7, 2012 in my other blog, It’s a 4 Dog Life, http://itsa4doglife.blogspot.com/. Since I recently decided to dedicate a blog specifically to our vegetable/herb gardening – I felt it was important to include and needless to rewrite.]

This spring I have done something I have wanted to do for a very long time – start my own vegetable garden. I have fond childhood memories of working with my mother in our garden in Sherman, Connecticut.  During my adult life, I have had my fair share of small container gardens for herbs primarily.  My boyfriend (a stupid term for the man who I live with but I am not married to) has always had a small garden as well where he would plant tomatoes, basil, peppers and corn.  

About a month ago, we started on building the form for the raised bed after we had scoped out the best and easiest place for the garden to go. We did our research on how to build the form and not to use chemically treated wood which could leach contaminants into your garden effecting your produce.
We made multiple trips to the town mulch pile to get what we needed. A mixture of that, cow manure and some top soil filled the bed.  I had tilled up three bucket fulls of rocks from the bed before laying the form and the mulch mixture since I planned on planting carrots I wanted to make sure that the pathway was clear of rocks. An impossible task in Connecticut which is why we opted for the raised bed method, plus we can control the soil mixture more that way.
April 17, 2012
April provided us with a few days of warm weather which had us planting a few starter plants but not everything.  There were a few days which frost warning had us putting plastic containers on top of the crops over night to protect them.  We escaped without any casualties.  We started off in the bed with about 8 corn plants, 3 tomato plants, 3 green bean plants, a couple of peppers. I was concerned right off the bat of one of the corn plants since I had been drinking a beer while planting and I spilled the beer on the soil right where one plant went in.  
Deer aren’t as much a problem for us with the four dogs around.  To keep the four dogs from trampling through the garden bed, we put posts in each corner and wrapped a plastic fencing around it.  We stapled the fencing into the posts leaving one side that we could open to get into the garden and use a bungee cord to secure it.
May 5, 2012
At the same time we also used our patio containers to plant cauliflower, red lettuce, Boston lettuce, iceberg lettuce, romaine lettuce and spinach, broccoli and strawberries. Last week, we were able to pick off a leaf from every plant and used it for our Greek Steak Sandwich Wraps. It was delicious and so rewarding to walk in the backyard and get out lettuce from our very own garden!
After this weekend planting the raised bed is now full.
We have quite a bit of rain in the area and now are needing some sun. Over the weekend we added more tomato plants – a few heirloom, super 100s and Lemon Boys. I also planted some snow peas, and the carrots that I had started form seed a few weeks ago.  The “beer corn” plant looks to be doing well and has I think gotten over the drunken phase it may have been in.  Who knows maybe I stumbled upon something 🙂  The strawberry plants have buds and flowers and a real strawberry in progress. 
Strawberry plant May 7, 2012

I am excited about the prospects for the garden this summer. Sharing this experience with my family is a big part of starting this garden. I look forward to adding our crops to the dinner table as the months tick on.
“Gardening is cheaper than therapy and you get tomatoes.”  ~Author Unknown
Peace – Xine S.