It’s mid-January already and the seed catalogs have begun to trickle in, promising beautiful, delicious fruits and vegetables to satiate anyone’s palette. It’s been two years and three months since we moved up to New Hampshire. Since we moved up in the fall of 2016, this is our third winter though that we’re experiencing, and the learning curve has been huge! We are so much better at dealing with the snow and ice than we were the first winter. Which is comforting when facing a weather forecast which promises 3 feet of snow over a two-day period such as we are this weekend, if we are to get the high end of the forecast. As a gardener, we have always been a little bit more in tune with the weather forecasts; however, living up here on the mountain – we are so much more in tune with it than ever before. First off, to be fair when we moved up here, we also bought a weather station that works with our phones so we can see the exact conditions of things at our house at 1500ft which can be vastly different than what’s going on down at the lake at 500ft.
Our view from 1500ft up overlooking Newfound Lake
Last summer was our first full growing season in our new garden since it took basically a whole growing season to demolish, prep and rebuild the new garden space.The old garden consisted of old beds had been a combination of old rock beds that were incorrectly built that had caved or crumbled and some rotted out birch logs with old brick paths that had heaved from all the harsh New Hampshire winters. Everything had to go! We removed everything and leveled the area best we could with our tractor.
the original garden
Initially we placed flattened cardboard boxes down in the area to suppress any and all weeds until we were ready for the gravel. That was all we did that first summer other than getting the fencing up around the garden.At the time, we were still running down to Connecticut to take care of our client’s gardens – a part of the business we no longer offer – and I had no time to set up, let alone take care of our own garden.I had some spare starts from over ordering for our client gardens and planted them in some Smart Pots in the new garden area. We had a few tomato plants, some potatoes, some peppers and squash.We hadn’t run the hose from the house to the garden area yet and I had to run a hose from the garage which barely wet everything the way it needed to be. This was a far cry from my beautiful raised beds in Connecticut that were suited with soaker hoses that was on a timer. Mother Nature thankfully helped me out quite a bit and watered the garden for me quite nicely for the most part.At the end of the season we had harvested a surprising amount of squash, a smattering of tomatoes and a few pounds of potatoes. Considering our situation, we faired pretty well – we are used to so much more but were thankful for what we did manage to grow that first season.
By the summer, we managed to have the gravel put in which would be the base for our garden and two raised beds put in. It was important to me to get some of the raised beds in before winter so that we could plant our garlic, onions and shallots to overwinter.It always feels good to me to be able to stare into the garden in the dead of winter when there is snow covering everything to know that deep down there is life just waiting to spring forth during the spring thaws. Seeing the new grow in early spring as your working outside to ready the rest of the garden is also encouraging to me – a promise of things to come.
the first 4′ x 8′ to go in the new garden
Early last spring, there was still tons of snow on the ground around St. Patrick’s Day, when I am accustomed to planting my peas in my Connecticut garden, even down there by April 1st if we had a harsh winter that lingered.I was finding New Hampshire to be a different sort of experience particularly where we are located up on Peaked Hill – the snows weren’t melting, they were increasing! Three feet of snow made it impossible to even get into the garden unless I climbed the 6 ft fence which surrounds it on all side – granted all the snow would make it half as difficult but still. I had decided sometime during the winter, probably as a way of trying to keep all my seed ordering straight, that I would keep a garden journal. I’d thought about that idea for years before never doing anything about it since I journal on a daily basis every morning in my personal life. But I wanted to keep things separate so that it would be easier for me to go back and use for reference and not have to sift through my daily ramblings about my life. I find journaling to be incredibly therapeutic – a download of my thoughts to clear my mind so I can proceed with my day. In the six years of managing other people’s gardens I had notes on their gardens but not my own. Who has time for that sort of stuff when you’re taking care of 20 other people’s gardens?
Last summer was the first time in 6 years that I took care of no one else’s garden but our own. It was a treat to be able to focus on just our own garden, particularly since all those years our garden became more of an afterthought. Part of me missed going into each different space, most we had installed the raised beds in the first place. It was always fun visiting with our clients and year after year helping to start and maintain their gardens.I would sometimes get garden envy and then Mark would remind me that I shouldn’t be envious but proud of our work in our clients’ gardens. I would be proud but sometimes envious too since some just had the exact right light and of course soil since we put it there and amended and made sure it was properly watered that sometimes we’d get there and find specimen Brussel sprouts that looked like they should be photographed and splashed across the cover of Vegetable Weekly. I don’t think there really is a Vegetable Weekly but if there was those Brussel Sprouts – I remember them so well – should definitely been on the cover. We managed to install all the raised beds before it was time for spring planting. The extended winter season actually helped us out, in that it gave us the extra time need for us to put the raised beds in and fill them before planting up our tender crops. In zone 6, usually I would have been able to plant the tender vegetables like tomatoes and peppers shortly after Mother’s Day weekend – no way that was happening up here last Mother’s Day.
The first things I recorded in the garden journal were my seed orders which is helpful, so you have an idea of what your ordered three months earlier and what you still are expecting to arrive as the spring seed orders are mailed out. During the winter months I also take a look at my garden beds and figure out what is going to be planted where in the coming season – practicing good crop rotation to prevent soil borne diseases from building up.
According to my garden journal, I was able to plant seeds in our 3’ x 6’ Maine Kitchen Garden bed on April 14th.I love this garden bed with its 20 “deep beds and the side trellis area which the peas grip onto so well. The soil was cleared of snow despite snow being all over the ground around the bed still and since I was able to easily work the soil with my hands gently, I knew it was ready to be seeded.I had set the bed up in the fall but didn’t plant in it just so that I could seed immediately upon the thaw– so it was already filled with fresh compost but I’m sure I sprinkled a fresh bag of compost to help warm things along. As a result, I had a beautiful bed of three types of lettuce and four types of peas growing nicely as we continued to build and set up the other raised beds throughout the month of May. By June 1st we had installed four more raised beds giving us 126 square feet of growing space to enjoy. By mid-June the last of the raised beds were installed and planted.
Now that I’m looking back over my notes from last season, I’ve very glad that I have these dates and notes about the garden – it will help us plan for the upcoming season better and manage expectations. As I said having these specific notes with the dates help out quite a bit since one of the other things that I am still working out about the new garden is its microclimate.Understanding microclimates can be game changing particularly if your garden is subject to them like my garden. But figuring out exactly what you’re dealing with can take a little time and some observation. Again, this where taking garden notes can be helpful since again who can remember all the little detail in life sometimes – no one. First off, we may live in zone 5b but seeing how we are 1500ft above sea level, the altitude along puts us closer to actually being 5a since there is an average of 3.3º decrease in temperature as you go up every 1000ft. Each zone covers only a 10º range to begin with, so we certainly probably knocked to a 5a zone with the altitude alone.Then there are the winds which we contend with at times.The location of our house and garden is on the side of a mountain where the highest consistent winds we have recorded are 46mph with the highest gust being 58mph. That’s a lot of wind to have to contend with and it can be brutal on your garden plants, but it most definitely effects the microclimate of a garden especially when they are that dramatic.
Tower Garden before the windbreak
At first, I thought maybe the positioning of the house would protect the garden a bit more from the winds. But I quickly realized that this was unfortunately not the case and had Mark search for a solution ASAP!Early in the season it wasn’t so much of a problem with the seeds and the small plant starts but as things started to grow, I knew it would become more of an issue.The Tower Garden plants were having the roughest time of all the plants since those little plant starts are lifted into the air 3’-5’ – there was no escaping the brunt force of the winds being that high up.Luckily, Mark had found a solution and had ordered two 6′ x 15’’ panels of windscreen, similar to what you see on the side of fences at beaches and tennis courts to cut down on the wind.We put up the two panels up on the north east side to block winds where we had the two Tower Gardens set up. I discovered within a short time the effectiveness of having the windbreak and also that it helps to keep the temperature up in that area of the garden as well. This totally makes sense since wind chills can lose temperatures by an entire zone range of 10º very easily, particularly up here. Given that fact, before the garden can be considered closer to a zone 4b garden with temperatures as low as –25 °F to -20 °F. I’ve seen those temperatures on our weather station thermometer on more than one occasion in our relatively short tie here.The plan going into this season is to get more of the windbreak material to put up on the remaining north side of the garden fence.We predominantly get northwesterly winds, but southerly winds come in from time to time, but they tend to be warmer and less violent. Hopefully we will be able to have everything in place going into this season with the new windbreaks in place early on. Snow build up can always delay things and New England weather can be so unpredictable at times, giving you all four seasons in one day.
two of our 4’x 8′ raised beds, one is 16″ deep the other 11″
This fall it snowed early starting in October we had 8” of snow by the time I left for Connecticut in the middle of November. I had left for Connecticut to visit with my parents and siblings leading into the holiday, Mark had stayed up in New Hampshire to take care of a few odds and ends before he was planning on coming down to join us. In the ten days between when I left for Connecticut and Thanksgiving Day we received 18.5” of snow on top of the original 8” we had on the ground. The weather stayed cold, it was frigid with below zero temperatures, let alone wind chill. Needless to say, Mark stayed up at the New Hampshire house to keep the home fire burning and enjoyed Thanksgiving with two of the kids who were able to easily divert there to join him. They deep-fried a turkey while the sitting in the garage all bundled up watching the deep fryer which they placed in the driveway, protected from the wind on the coldest day of the year. By the time I drove home on the Saturday after Thanksgiving I drove back into full on winter. Two days later we received another storm which delivered another 14.5” on top of what we already had and by the end of the year we had 51” of snow total! Welcome to New England.
November 27, 2018
We eventually did have a thaw, a week before Christmas of course – taking away the blanket of white snow that had been covering everything for a month.Shattering peoples’ dreams of a white Christmas. For me it gave me the opportunity to do some of the things I had been planning to do in late November but never had the chance thanks to the early snowfall that stuck around. My plan had originally been to cut back my asparagus ferns when I returned from Connecticut, but that didn’t quite work out. A few days after Christmas, I went out to the garden with my garden shears and the dogs and a trug. We had received a couple of inches of fresh snow which is what probably forced me out in the first place – I didn’t want to miss the chance to trim back the asparagus before we got more snow making it impossible. It’s the first year of this asparagus bed and it seemed like it was getting off to a rough start.
We have a bed of asparagus down in Connecticut which I started 5 years ago. I love growing asparagus – it’s one of the few perennials in the vegetable garden and it teaches you patience since you have to wait 3 years before you can enjoy a full harvest. But once you do – OMG! It’s so worth the wait. It’s also a very pretty addition to the vegetable garden with its soft ferns and pretty red berries.
Asparagus ferns with one corn stalk thanks to the chipmunks
Looking out the window I see the clouds gathering over the mountains – we had enjoyed a nice sunny dry period but that’s all about to change with a big storm promising to engulf the New England states this weekend and deliver us possibly as much as 3 feet of fresh powder.I can’t help but think I should take some of the homegrown-homemade potato soup out of the freezer to enjoy this weekend. That’s another vegetable I love to grow – potatoes even if it is a little bit ore labor intensive initially than most to get started. If you have ever grown your own potatoes, you know what I mean. If you haven’t you should give a go because you are in for a real treat. First there is so much more variety to choose from, just like with other homegrown vegetables – and nothing like what you can buy at the grocery store, even Farmer’s market.Some of my favorite varieties include German Butterball and Nicolas. I swear you cut these open and it’s like it’s been pre-buttered and oh, so creamy! Perfect for the potato soup I like to make which is actually from the Pioneer Woman.
a multitude of Smart Pots for potatoes
Which reminds me I need to order my seed potatoes for this upcoming season. I tend to go nuts when I order seed potatoes since they all look and sound so good. Last season we grew 21 grow bags of potatoes of Desiree, Kennebec, Nicola, Yukon Gold, Yukon Gem, Viking Purple, Mountain Rose, and Red Gold. By the end of the summer, we harvested 20lbs of potatoes averaging almost a pound per bag.We made potato soup with a lot of the potatoes so that we can continue to enjoy our harvests throughout the cold winter months and enjoyed plenty of fresh prepared potatoes through the fall. I like to order my seed potatoes from The Maine Potato Lady, Park Seed and Territorial Seed Company.
Gardening, particularly growing some of our own food has really changed life for us.We feel better and each year that feeling is verified with what our physician sees when we have our annual check-ups. The combination of working outside in the garden and what we are actually consuming which is fresher, tastier, organically grown and highly nutritious food, has helped to make all the difference. Plus, we have not had to worry about some of the food recalls on vegetables that some.The recent scares regarding romaine lettuce have us trying to figure out where we can set up one of our Tower Gardens inside so that we can enjoy growing fresh lettuce and spinach all throughout the year. Growing your own lettuce and spinach can be so easy it makes a lot of sense to try to, particularly a food safety become more of a concern.
So as the winter weather promises to deliver a one-two punch to us this weekend – it will be the perfect time to sit down with my notes, seed catalogs and dreams and plan out this year’s garden.
If you are interested in starting your own garden, please check out our Homegrown Harvest website where we sell a variety of raised bed garden kits which are very easy to put together. I do not receive any compensation for any of the other recommendations that I have provided in this blog post.
Gardeners are usually passionate people. Looking after their plants morning after morning, observing the daily changes. I like to go out early in the morning with the dogs with my coffee in hand and walk the garden, inspecting plants like a general would his troops, searching for things right or wrong with each and every individual cadet. We invest so much time, generally enjoying the work in preparing, planting and caring for our little babies. There are some plants though that we can add to our gardens which don’t require as much work as our annual vegetables and they will give back to use year after year.
The last six years we’ve been installing and planting and caring for other people’s gardens and a number of years ago we were renovating an old garden space for a client who was interested in putting in a raised bed for asparagus and strawberries. We always like to plant exactly what our clients are growing, so we can to be cognizant of how well the plantings work. We loved asparagus, so we decided to add a new raised bed to our own garden and started to grow our own.We had already been growing strawberries in whisky half-barrels but after reading that the two make for very good companion plants in the garden, we added some strawberries to the bed.
Asparagus in our CT garden
What you need to know about growing perennial vegetables
There are a bunch of perennial vegetables which can be grown in your garden. The most popular and well-known and of course include asparagus, rhubarb and globe artichokes as well as berries (strawberries, raspberries, etc.) The beautiful thing about using perennial vegetables in your garden, besides their physical appearance, is that you plant once, and you’re basically done. Perennials are overall low maintenance additions to the garden which will give your harvest, year after year. Plus, there seems like there is a perennial vegetable for every type of soil and light you might have. They also are found to be more nutritious compared to most annual vegetables, so it was a great way to introduce more nutritional food into your diet. The addition of perennial vegetables to your garden also increases your harvest season which will help to provide steadier source of food for your family throughout the year. For some people who’ve decided to take on providing for themselves either through homesteading, permaculture gardening, perennial vegetables provide a very important role for these gardeners. They not only enhance the landscape with their beauty and provide nutritious flavorful foods, they play a crucial role in maintaining a healthy soil web.
Perennial vegetables are the ecological smart choice.
Overall, perennial vegetables require less water to care for than annuals, saving on this valuable natural resource. Plus, they don’t require tilling, saving on the release of soil organic carbon (SOC) into the atmosphere, important since it’s the foundation of soil fertility. The use of tilling has been shown to be very destructive to the soil web, in particular to mycorrihizae, a beneficial fungus that shares nutrients with plants. They also make for efficient weed suppressors since their leaves come out before annuals.
Properly designed and planned out, you can create moderate microclimates within your garden with the use of certain perennials which will help improve your soil’s organic matter, porosity and its water retention abilities. Their deep roots catch and store water and nutrients that would otherwise be washed away. The use of perennials not only provides much needed habitats for some animals and fungi, but they also attract other beneficial insects into the garden. They also tend to be more past and disease resistant than annuals, which is nice since you don’t crop rotate perennials. Lastly, but equally importantly is the role perennial vegetables play in the garden to help moderate climate change by capturing atmospheric carbon dioxide and sequestering it in its long-term oil hummus and perennial plant parts.
Our new asparagus crowns arrived yesterday along with the strawberry starts. The plan is to create a new raise bed for New Hampshire Garden. These two perennials make for good companions together in the garden: the strawberry spreading out to create a nice groundcover keeping weeds away from the tall shoots of the asparagus which developed beautiful showy ferns as the season progresses. The first asparagus bed we started in Connecticut is now four years old, it is now ready to be harvested annually. Too that we don’t live there full-time anymore to be able to enjoy the delicious asparagus. Luckily one of us will be heading down there and hopefully can bring home some fresh cut homegrown asparagus for us to enjoy. One thing we learned in all of our years of gardening is that you must have patience. There is no rushing mother nature, pushing her a little- maybe, rushing her – not a chance. The same thing goes when introducing perennial vegetables into your garden, patience is a must. Many required time to be properly established, asparagus is a prime example since it takes a full three years to establish before being able to enjoy a full harvest.
Rhubarb in our CT garden
Some perennials can be so maintenance free that they can never take your garden if you’re not paying attention. I was just recently reading about a gardener who had a Little Shop of Horrors-sized rhubarb plants that removed from their grandmother’s garden as a medium-sized transplant. The plant needs little care and gives them bountiful harvest year after year. However, the plant has sprouted off into other plants all over the place which the gardener referred to as her runaway babies that she hopes to be able to give to others who want to start growing rhubarb. So low maintenance doesn’t mean no maintenance. It’s best to pay attention, harvest repeatedly and keeping control of your perennials just in case your perennials do too well.
It’s about this time of year when people in cold snowy areas begin to start to yearn for warmer winds of spring. Depending upon what zone you live in you could still have inches of snow and ice on the ground like we do here in central New Hampshire, Zone 5b. The weather here has been sort of wacky, this morning we sat out on our deck with the gas fire on since it was 42 degrees up here, whereas the other morning, here at 1500 ft where we live on the side of a mountain is 24 degrees but down in town apparently its much colder prompting a wintry mix precipitation according to Accuweather. They just sent me an alarm telling me is 4 degrees. Not according to my weather station which is mounted on our garden fence. An atmospheric inversion or temperature inversion is when there is a reversal of normal behavior of temperature in the troposphere. That’s the region of the atmosphere closest to the earth’s surface. So, when there is an inversion the cool air closer tothe earth’s surface is trapped by a layer of warmer air. Usually the air temp decreases with height. One night in the fall we were invited to our neighbor’s house for dinner. We drove over in our John Deere gator since their house is only a mile away and it was a nice evening. Upon leaving we could feel the chilly night air which got much colder upon speeding our way home in the windshield-less gator. However, once we began to ascend our very steep driveway, we were hit with a wall of warm air – at least 10 degrees difference. It was a similar sensation to when you enter a building in the city with hot air blowers blasting towards the door after coming in from the cold.
Revamp Your Garden
The groundhog has been out and told us the news of 6 more weeks of winter though – dashing some hopes of an early spring.The occasional thaws are welcomed teases. I’ve noticed the bird activity outside has picked up- hoping that is also a sign that we are getting closer. The daylight is lasting longer which always helps brighten anyone’s day. But right now, as I still stare out my kitchen window at my garden, there is still snow piled up a foot deep in most areas. This week’s promised warm temperatures should melt most if not all of the snow.
Thank god for John Deere
stone wall and bricks removed
Our garden this year is brand new for us. We spent a good portion of last year taking out the previous owner’s garden since the beds were made from rotting out birch logs that must have looked beautiful the first years but were crumbling and inviting unwanted pests. I decided to start from scratch – rip out everything and begin with a blank slate. The old garden had old brick paths that were uneven and crumbling, so we took those out. Thank goodness for our John Deere tractor which made some of the heavier work possible without breaking anyone’s back. We had to take out small rock walls here and there that had to come out for a number of reasons, one of which was they were constructed incorrectly and had plywood for the backsides. Don’t ask. I was shocked to discover this as anyone.
bricks and old beds removed
So it’s mid-February and you are yearning to get started with your garden. If you are lucky enough to live somewhere that’s not snow covered then it’s time to get outside and clean up old beds – or take them apart like I did this time last year.Look around – do any of your raised garden beds need any repair work? Is there any bowing? Late winter/early spring is a great time to do this work since weeds haven’t popped up and you really get to see the bare bones of things during this time of year. Plus you don’t sweat as much since it’s cooler out.
If you are thinking about starting a new garden – walk around the area you are thinking about – take measurements. Remember to consider the sunlight when picking an area for your garden. This is very important when planning a vegetable garden. You need an area that gets at least 6 to 8 hours of full, unobstructed sunlight to grow successful tomatoes or peppers. Take advantage of warmer days that come your way by getting outside – cleaning up and organizing the garden shed. Winter’s leaves have a way of sneaking their way into nooks and crannies in and around the shed or garden beds. Get the rake or blower out and start tidying up – add the leaves to your compost pile.
February is the time to order the seeds you may need. Don’t wait to order your seed potatoes
Seed tape and packets
or strawberries as well as a few other popular veggies, as these have a way of selling out. I have been guilty of waiting and then not getting my first choice.If you have never grown potatoes, I highly recommend it! Once you have grown your own potatoes, buying a grocery store potato is just not the same. I like to get my seeds from Territorial Seed Company and Park Seed Company. Park Seed is known for having a great germination rate!
February is also a good time to look at your seeds you may have collected from previous years. Seeds are alive, so they don’t last forever.Luckily there is an easy way to test your seeds to see if they will germinate our not. It’s simple and easy to do, just follow these steps.
Step 1: Dampen a paper towel. Soggy but not dripping wet.
Step 2: Take seeds you want to test [10 of each] and arrange separately on the damp paper towel.
Step 3: Label your seeds with a Sharpie marker so you don’t mix up your different varieties.
Step 4: Roll up the towel or place a second paper towel on top of the seeds to create a damp environment around the seed.
Step 5: Put the towel with the seeds in a plastic bag, seal and set aside in a warm place.
Germination depends on the seed variety you are testing and can range from 2 to 14 days. You should spritz the paper towel with water for seeds that take longer, keeping it damp. Drying out will stop the germination process.
Step 6: When the seeds sprout count how many sprouted from each seed variety. Compare this number to the number of seeds that did not sprout and you have the germination rate.
1 seed sprouts = 10% germination rate
5 seeds sprout = 50% germination rate
10 seeds sprout = 100% germination rate
The higher the germination rate, the better!
Once your seeds have sprouted you can either plant them in a small container to transplant later when the time is right or if it is the right time of the season to directly seed into the ground – go for it! Or you can always compost them. Seeds when properly stored can be kept viable for years. So try to always keep them in a cool, dry place.
February is a great time to start some of your seeds indoors. Back in our old home I used to have a room I could set up with a couple of grow lights and have trays and trays and trays of seeds started. The new house isn’t set up for me to do that but I can still start a few seeds on the south facing windowsill. I love seeing a seed go through the process of growth from sprout to strong fruit bearing plant that yields delicious treats such as tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers. It amazes me each and every time.
Spring will be here sooner than you think when it comes to your garden. One day it’s February, the next it’s Mother’s Day and then it’s June and the kids are out of school. I remember what it was like when the kids were younger; they are all grown adults now, so life is much different now. Now I have more time to focus on my garden; then, I was running around from practice to practice, appointment to appointment. Life revolved around them. They were in high school when we turned our backyard into a vegetable growing oasis, gone were the swing set and lacrosse nets and backboards. Soon we had over 300 sq feet of growing area and used every raised bed that Homegrown Harvest sells. We wanted to be able to say we had tested everything for ourselves. Mark and I have not only installed dozens of raised garden beds over the last 5 years but cared and maintained scores of them and other gardens. So we know what can and will go wrong in a garden over time. Involving the kids in gardening is not only helpful for you but teaches them a valuable skill that they can develop as they grow and have their own families.It can be time well spent away from the electronics that children and adults find suck up most of their time. I’m thankful for the time I spent outside with my kids in the garden. I am happy that they had a chance to learn about growing your own food and all the wonderful delicious vegetables there are in this world that can be grown right out your own back door. Lord knows how fast and precious time is spent with our children. Enjoy your garden and remember: “A little consideration, a little thought for others, makes all the difference.” A. A. Milne
For decades people have been made to think they’re eating yams, when most likely they are eating sweet potatoes. So where did all the confusion start? well to understand that, it helps to understand something about sweet potatoes. There are two basic varieties of sweet potatoes; firm and soft. Their description tell us about how the particular variety holds up to heat, for instance firm sweet potatoes remain firm when cooked; whereas soft variety get soft and moist. It’s possible the mix-up all began when the Guinean word “nyami” which means “to eat” was chosen by European shippers, since African slaves already been referring to the soft sweet potatoes that way since it resembled a similar tuber they ate in Africa .
However there is no relationship between the yam and the sweet potato. The yam is a member of the family Discorea spp. family, related to lilies and is native to Southeast Asia the Pacific Islands South America and Africa. However, 95% of true yams come from Africa and has been a historically important food staple to 100 million people in a harsh humid and subhumid tropic. True yams come in as many as 600 species and can vary in size ranging from a small potato of a few inches to 8 feet long. To recognize a true yam, it must have a thick, rough, bark-like exterior with the raw flesh that’s moist, soft and sticky. When cooked they are not as sweet as sweet potatoes, or what Americans mistake as yams. True yams have a high starch content, very little protein and is somewhat bland. They’re rich in carbohydrates various minerals and vitamins however. Raw yams contain a toxic substance dioscorine which is destroyed when cooked. Some variety of yams are so toxic they were once used to poison the tips of arrows.
The sweet potato on the other hand is from the Ipomena batatas family which is related to morning glory flower. To recognize a sweet potato look for an exterior skin color of red purple yellow brown or white and is then an edible. The interior raw flesh comes in range of colors from white, yellow, orange or purple!
Nutritionally, the two are pretty on par with one another:
So why are we still confused about what were eating here in the US?! The USDA continues to label the orange flash sweet potatoes as yams to distinguish between their brown counterparts. Yet the Department of Agriculture requires any potatoes labeled as yams be accompanied by the word sweet potato. So unless you shop at an international grocer, those yams you think you’re buying may actually be sweet potatoes. Be aware that even if you local grocer uses the label “yam”, there are probably mislabeling it. It helps to know exactly what you are looking for.
Okinawan Purple New Jersey Yellow Sweet Potatoes
To know for certain what you’re eating, they always recommend grow your own particularly since it gives you more options. We were so successful last summer going sweet potatoes we have already does. We definitely plan to grow the delicious New Jersey Yellow again. These made for a scrumptious whipped sweet potatoes at our Thanksgiving dinner. This year will add varieties like Centennial, Georgia Jets and White Yam.
Sweet potatoes are easy to grow, particularly in a warmer climate. However, last summer we were able to enjoy a nice healthy harvest despite a relatively cool summer where temperature is reached over 90 for only a handful of days. We grew two varieties of sweet potatoes in one 3X6 bed and part of another 3 x 6 bed, here in our Connecticut backyard (Zone 6). The nice things about sweet potatoes to is that they will continue to grow until you have a frost. We dug ours up last season sometime after we had our first light frost. This year we will plant them in two different larger beds than last year, employing crop rotation, so that soil borne illnesses don’t build up.
If you want to add sweet potatoes into the garden, we highly recommend starting with slips otherwise known as little plants in a raised bed. Look for slips from reliable plant source such as your local garden center or a seed catalog, such as Park Seed. Be sure the raised bed is a good 8 inches deep and is well drained. The drought tolerant plants only need consistent watering while establishing young plants. Sweet potatoes need full sun and prefers a lot of warmth. A good way to preheat the soil, we recommend placing some black plastic mulch down a few weeks previous just planting to help warm up the raised bed. Sweet potatoes don’t have any pest problems with the exception of deer who will devour the foliage.
Okinawan Purple Sweet Potatoes
So now you don’t have to be a victim of yam mistaken identity. Know what to look for when your in the market or as we always recommend grow your own.
*Source material includes:
Northeast: fruit and vegetable gardening plant, grow up and eat the best edibles for north east gardens by Charles Nardozzi
50 Plants that Changed the Course of History by Bill laws
Happy New Year! The New year always brings with it the thoughts of fresh starts and new beginnings, dreams of fresh vegetables…
It’s January 26th and we just had our first snowstorm of the 2016 season over the weekend The National Weather Service had been touting it a ‘historic’ storm making me skeptical that we would even get any snow.As it turns out, we had about 16 inches dumped in our backyard and NYC broke historic records but Snowstorm Jonas only ranked #2 in that area overall.Officials were worried about the potential for flooding as Saturday was also a full moon event and thankfully the winds switched from coming from the northeast to north alleviating much of the well-founded concerns. They predicted the worse of the storm would by in the Washington, DC area, which certain did get hit but the storm cruised up the coast and targeted New York City before heading out to sea.Queens hit the hardest had upwards of 30”+.As it turns out Snowstorm Jonas took 30 lives from start to finish, putting states as far south as Georgia and Tennessee on state of emergency. As of last night news, many people in the outer boroughs of New York were still trapped in because of snow-clogged streets.
Marley checking out the garden
Everything looks okay here
Looks like it could use more hay
The aftermath of #snowstormjonas
A thick blanket of snow
The day before the storm I took a walk in our backyard to survey everything before the fresh white blanket would cover everything.I put some hay down on a few beds and containers I had neglected earlier this winter or looked a little thin, particularly for what was heading out way. I enjoyed the quiet before the storm and started to think about last year’s garden as it pertains to this year’s garden.Remembering the beds filled with vines of cucumbers, squashes and cherry tomatoes, sweet potatoes, peppers and heirloom tomatoes. Right now it’s a blank canvas.
Since Christmas there as been an influx of seed catalogs being delivered to our mailbox. I love sitting with a stack of these catalogs on dreary winter days and dream about the delicious and beautiful possibilities we can have in our garden.It’s difficult not to want to fill up the garden with delectable varieties of heirloom tomatoes. My eyes widen as I glance through the beautiful and enticing photos, wanting to plant more and more every year.We had a client this year who bought so many plants for her garden that we had to make the garden grow space bigger with grow bags since she didn’t have enough room in the raised beds.This year I purposely didn’t open any catalogs up until I drew out my detailed plan for year’s garden first.We use crop rotation as a method of organic gardening. Crop rotations lessen the chances of soil borne diseases from building up.We always amend our soil before growing but planting things in the same place year in and year out leads to trouble.Things may continue to grow but not as prolifically and may even die off once they have started depending upon how severe the soil situation has gotten.Same place year in year out leads to nothing but trouble and more work for the home gardener, which can be easily avoided by implementing a simple crop rotation.
I printed out a copy of last year’s garden to remind myself of things – it’s difficult keeping 20+ clients gardens straight and I tend to forget about my own record keeping at times. There is a fabulous garden planner online called Mother Earth News Vegetable Garden Planner – we highly recommend it!
We love growing things that we can preserve and can– allowing us to enjoy our harvests well after the season has passed.Last year we made a lot soups, as well as our traditional sauces.Some of the new things we tried were huge hits with the family and will be added to this year’s roster of things to grow.I highly recommend growing something new and different each season – even if you think you are not fond of something try growing it first before you make up your mind completely.I say this because for most of my adult life I thought I hated summer squash that is until I grew it myself.Perhaps its because I was a city-kid and didn’t always get the freshest of vegetables or perhaps the variety of squash available to me in the mass market of grocery stores offered a bland variety which traveled well and looked good but had little flavor. I tend to think it is more the latter since studies show that the produce we purchase at the grocery store has traveled on average 1500 miles before reaching our hands!
Some of the repeated favorites that had a second or third go round in our garden included growing our own potatoes.After a few years of growing potatoes and last year doing it both in grow sacks and in the raised bed – I will always grow our potatoes in grow sacks – we harvested many more in the sacks than we did in the garden. Plus it was a royal pain in the ass to harvest the potatoes from the raised beds – having to carefully hand dig them up so as not to harm the potato.The grow bags I simply dump the bags out over our sifter we made for sifting compost and collect the used soil to spread somewhere else for reuse.Again the flavors from the different varieties are unmatched by anything available in the grocery store – plus growing potatoes has got to be one of the easiest vegetables to grow, particularly in grow bags where you can eliminate some of the pest problems that can plague in ground grown potatoes.We also grew corn last year – our third year growing corn. Last year’s harvest was pretty good but I think this summer I will go back to the Three Sisters bed and couple corn up with beans and squashes.The 3 Sisters is an ancient Indian organic farming method that employs the usage of companion plants to benefit one another. The beads provide nitrogen for the squash and corn while the corn provides support for the beans to grow and the squash protects the soil from weeds and protects the crops from critters with their thorny vines.
Last summer we tried a whole bunch of new things including spaghetti squash and sweet potatoes. Loved, loved, Loved – the sweet potatoes! Yes we grew our own sweet potatoes – two different varieties New Jersey Yellow and Okinawan Purple. Many people confuse sweet potatoes with yams and I will address the differences and confusion in another blog post very soon. We also grew Brussels sprouts – these delicious treats took a while to mature but it was well worth the wait.I even cut down the last of the stalks right before the storm and harvest a number of baby sized Brussels sprouts; what they lack in size, I am sure they will make up in flavor.I have definitely noticed that the flavor in homegrown food is so much tastier than anything bought at the store.When I first started growing carrots and these little things came out of the ground as opposed to a 6 inch long carrot – it didn’t make much of a difference when it came to taste – it was like concentrated carrot!
New things this season I would like to include would be melon – although we’ve grown watermelon before, the sugar box small ones in containers in the past quite successfully – I would like to try growing a cantaloupe.Varieties like a Golden Jenny catch my eye; described by the Rare Seeds catalogas “an outstanding golden meated version …short vines go wild with succulent sweet 2 lbs beauties… Early and productive.” Who wouldn’t want to grow those?! Or another variety called “Collective Farm Woman” described as an heirloom from the Ukraine that the “melons ripens to a yellowish gold and the white flesh has a very high sugar content. Ripens early even in Russia and tolerates comparatively cool summers.” We had cool summers for the last two seasons, so this perks my interest.I get lost in descriptions of some of the possibilities – words like succulent, sweet and prolific pull me in.I love the stories associated with some of the varieties and the names like Drunken Woman Frizzy Headed Lettuce, Paul Robeson and Mortgage Lifter catch my eye as I peruse the pages of food porn.Learning the history behind the fruits and vegetables adds to my enjoyment of planning out the gardens.
One thing I plan on including in the garden this summer is a sunflower garden. I love to include sunflowers since they add a certain majestic beauty to the garden. I’m looking to include many varieties with colors ranging from the pale yellows of a Giant Primrose to the bold reds seen in a Red Sun.Along with the sunflowers we’ll include pole beans that will happily run up the strong stalks and help them stand tall throughout the season.
Flowers are an important part of the garden and including edible flowers such as sunflowers, nasturtiums, pansies and many other varieties can do double duty in the garden providing nectar for pollinating bees and color to the garden as well as delicious treats to add to your own meals.
There are 6 weeks until spring officially starts, I know they will whizz by in the blink of an eye despite being cold and snowy.Time waits for no one and it’s the perfect time to dream and plan.
“A flower does not think of competing with the flower next to it. It just blooms. – Zen Shin
It’s the first time in a long while since I have had the opportunity to sit at my computer to do something other than check my email, pay bills and write up invoices. It doesn’t seem like it was too long ago I felt tethered to my computer as I was preparing presentation after presentation for our Spring Gardening Series at the New Canaan Library. I’m not complaining at all – I have been blessed with nine weeks of solid gardening after a winter of 60+ inches of snow. Our time following the thaw started off in April amending and seeding our raised beds and those of our clients. Amending the soil on an annual basis is what we consider one of the most important steps in the process.
“Essentially, all life depends upon the soil … There can be no life without soil and no soil without life; they have evolved together.” Charles E. Kellogg, USDA Yearbook of Agriculture, 1938
Before becoming a full-time professional gardener and an accredited organic land care professional three years ago – I used to research food, water, and agribusiness companies for my brother’s investment company. Over the course of a decade or more of reading about companies directly involved with our food production, my understanding of the importance soil plays in growing healthy fruits and vegetables has grown exponentially.
Today we find ourselves in a situation where the US and much of the world’s inventory of arable topsoil has been lost due to erosion, overuse of inorganic nitrogen fertilizers and other farming practices that leave the soil depleted. Our planet is losing its usable topsoil at a considerable rate [75 to 100 GT per year]. What does that mean – basically it means it’s estimated that there will only be about 48 years of topsoil left, if we keep up the pace.
“The soil is the great connector of our lives, the source and destination of all.” Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America, 1977
Fact: Food grown in nutrient deficient soil lacks the nutrients necessary to keep people healthy and declines in the nutritional values in food have been attributed to mineral depletion of the soil, loss of soil microorganisms along with changes in plant varieties.
Our food system is rapidly losing the ability to produce food with nutrient levels adequate to maintain the health of families because over the extreme levels of soil degradation we experience in the US.
“The alarming fact is that food – fruits and vegetables and grains – now being raised on millions of acres of land that no longer contains enough needed nutrients, are starving no matter how much we eat from them.” US Senate Document 264 (1936)
This is not a new problem, as the quote from the US Senate Document 264 stated back in 1936! Soil degradation has been talked about and debated for decades and is a problem that is not solely in the United States but is a global issue.
Deforestation, overgrazing and over cultivation have resulted in the degradation of soils in every region of the world. The 68th UN General Assembly considered it worthy enough to turn their attentions to soil importance by declaring 2015 the International Year of Soils.
The fact of the matter is that soils have been transformed by human activity. Whether it’s been through physical degradation by removing natural vegetation, leaving surfaces exposed to the elements or biological degradation where soil has been exhausted of nutrients.
With erosion comes desertification in some areas – I’m sure many who live in the west probably have noticed the increasing number of dust storms. National Geographic recently covered a story, American West Increasingly Dusty comparing dust emissions to be reminiscent of the Dust Bowl Days. In other areas, we see increased flooding or mudflows. In the end, all culminating in a loss of soil and biological diversity which directly threatens our overall food security.
Today the nutritional value of harvested food is a major issue. Over the course of a half a century of the over use of petroleum-based synthetic fertilizers – the commercial farming industry has brought about the destruction of the natural balance of carbon reserves in our soil.
Why is carbon so important in our soil?
The role of carbon is two-fold holding valuable nutrients as well as moisture for plants. The destruction of carbon has caused our soils to lose the ability to grow healthy food since plants get their nutrients, important minerals from the soil.
Recent studies including one by the University of Texas at Austin’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry showed that there have been substantial declines in the amount of protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, vitamin B2 and vitamin C over the last century. The study goes as far as to point the finger at the multitude of agricultural practices used to improve traits like size, growth rate and pest resistance.
“Be it deep or shallow, red or black, sand or clay, the soil is the link between the rock core of the earth and the living things on its surface. It is the foothold for the plants we grow. Therein lies the main reason for our interest in soils.” Roy W. Simonson, USDA Yearbook of Agriculture, 1957
Many other studies conclude similar and startling findings considering that they say an adult woman eating two peaches in 1951 would have to eat 53 in 2002 to get the same nutritional value! If that doesn’t make the point clear, I don’t know what will.
It’s no wonder that our food has scarcely any nutritional content – in today’s global food system, consumers are guaranteed to find a ripe tomato any day of the year, in most any store across our country. The average produce travels 1500-2500 miles to reach the grocery store; being harvested well before the fruit is properly ripened.[Pirog et al 2001] Most fruits and vegetables contain 70% – 90% water and once it is separated from its source of nutrients – the tree, the vine or the plant – they undergo higher rates of respiration, moisture loss, quality and nutrient degradation and potential microbial spoilage.
Chemical preservatives are used to make produce look better to consumers, despite the loss of nutritional value. While full color may be achieved after harvest, nutritional quality can not. Tomatoes harvested green have 31% less vitamin C than those allowed to ripen on the vine. (Lee and Kader, 2000) Plus commercial produce producers selects seed varieties for transportability, shelf life, not nutrient content or flavor.
So what can you do about this global problem?
The answer is as simple as looking in your own backyard or perhaps you get better sun in the front yard. Grow Your Own Food. It doesn’t take a lot of space and the time you put into it is so rewarding and healthy for your body, mind and soul.
Food gets their nutrients from healthy soil and healthy soil leads to higher nutrients in crops. A growing body of research supports Sir Albert Howard and J.I. Rodale, the founders of the organic movement who first hypothesized that soils rich in organic matter produce more nutritious food higher in antioxidants, flavonoids, vitamins and minerals.
Healthy soil is biologically alive and balanced in minerals and carbon content. Soil organisms play an essential role in the breakdown of organic matter and other complex molecules. These activities are also linked to processes that lead to the aggregation of soil particles into a friable soil structure that is beneficial for the growth of plants. The inter-connected activities of soil organisms improve soil stability and underpin nutrient cycling on a global scale.
It’s a fact that healthy soils are responsible for the production of food borne antibiotics, vitamins, phyto-chemicals and amino acids – all of which are crucial the the health of humans. The right soil will yield the most nutritious and flavorful food possible. Old techniques which many still prescribe to today: things like roto-tilling and hoeing on soil can be very disruptive to soil organisms. That’s just one of the reasons we like to use raised beds since they help avoid soil compaction which also effects soils organisms and the soil can be worked more easily without disrupting soil organisms too much.
Decomposition of organic matter is the organic content of soil, as decomposing organic material increase carbon content into the soil . This is also one of the many reasons people should compost. I’d get more into composting but I can go on and on and I will leave that for a soon-to-be-coming blog post.
But composting and compost play a vital role in having healthy nutrient-rich soil year after year. The soil we use when we install new raised garden beds is a combination of ingredients we mix together. The compost is the food, the nutrient sourse that will feed the growth of the plants coupled with peat which holds water and help keep the soil loose. We also include some vermiculite, a rock which is mined and heated into little pieces that have nooks and crannies that hold water and nutrients in the soil. It also helps keep the soil friable and less dense. Vermiculite also adds a touch of potassium and magnesium but not enough to disrupt pH levels. When we start with this mixture we have created a weed free environment that is organically balanced for growing food. The only thing on an annual basis which is replaced each spring is the compost, since it holds the nutrients. This is why Mark and I went around to all our clients’ gardens this spring and replenished the beds with fresh new compost.
By growing even a small amount of vegetables you can boost your vitamin and mineral intake significantly. There is no travel time involved and you have controlled the environment in which it has grown. You save water as well, since home gardening is much more efficient than commercial farming systems.
When veggies are grown in your own garden soil enrich with compost, you pick them when you need your veggies minutes before a meal. They are ripe and ready when they are highest in nutritional content. Vine ripened red peppers have 30% more vitamin C than green peppers. (Howard et al. 1994) and vine ripened tomatoes have more vitamin C as well as more antioxidants and lycopene than those harvested prematurely, which is what happens daily in commercial agriculture. (Arias et al 2000).
Soil is a non-renewable resource; its preservation is essential for food security and our sustainable future.
“We are part of the earth and it is part of us …
What befalls the earth befalls all the sons of the earth.”
Chief Seattle, 1852
We love helping others learn the joys of edible gardening and discovering for themselves the nutritional benefits from even growing just a little of their fresh produce. If they need our guidance – we are always there to help. We have often said we consider ourselves to be gardening coaches to our clients. We love helping people discover their green thumb.
How does Connecticut greet the spring of 2015 but with 6 1/2 inches of fresh powder! The vernal equinox ushers in promises of warmer, more colorful days ahead: a difficult thought when literally everything is freshly recovered in a blanket of 6+ inches of snow.
Yesterday parts of the world were treated to a total eclipse of the sun – a site to experience for sure. I believe it was around 1994,when I was living in Michigan when I witnessed this incredibly humbling experience. A true reminder to us all that we are not the ones in control of our planet and space, there are much greater forces at work here. We may have a better understanding of what’s occurring but in no means are we the ones in the driver’s seat.
Since coming home from a much needed vacation the snows which had been piling up even 24 hours before our departure had melted quite a bit in a weeks time. The snows around the patio were continuing to recede slowly but surely which each passing day this last week. I was even able to open the door to the Maine Kitchen Garden and walk in and look at the progress of what’s going on in the beds. A few greens could be see underneath the garden cloches. The straw mulch remains down protecting the soil , although the stems from onions and garlic also could be seen poking through. Yesterdays signs of spring today are again wrapped in winter’s thick blanket of freshly falling snow.
Springtime is a time for new beginnings, a fresh slate to start a new. In the garden, despite the looks of the lunar scape which continues above ground; beneath the surface – life continues to happen. The ground is alive with microbial activity – the recent thaws have begun below the surface and once winter wraps up its finale – life will spring forth.
As I mentioned we recently were away in the lush tropical paradise of Barbados. It’s sunny and warm and gorgeous every day. If it rains, it does so overnight or early in the morning. Beautiful and sunny all the time…hmmm…. it makes me wonder if one could truly appreciate the beauty of those conditions day in and day out, particularly if that’s all you ever experienced. The contrasts of colors these last few weeks for us going from brown, black, white and evergreen to an explosion of greens, blues, yellows, reds – the sea alone was at least 5 different shades of turquoise! However, even paradise has it’s gardening challenges. The place we stayed had this great area for a garden but it wasn’t being used! We couldn’t understand how that could be that is until we met the monkeys! Monkeys are to Barbados as deer, raccoon and squirrels are to Connecticut.
It’s been snowing for two hours this morning – not a single forecast called for snow at all today. Funny how all the weather apps and services finally changed the forecast to reflect what’s actually going on now. I find it best to take this time and take refuge in my garden and those of our clients, albeit on paper but with planning each vegetable, herb and flower a landscape of colors appears in my head.
I always take photos along the way each year of each garden. The early pictures of promise are generally stark since capturing a planted seed is fairly boring. It’s a lot to ask the viewer to look beyond the soil and imagine the seed nestled into the earth waiting for the right combination of events to occur in order for the miracle of life to happen. Unless you are a gardener, then of course, you get it, you see the potential.
Knowing what has been planted in the past and where allows us to successfully plan for the future. Succession planting is the practice of rotating plants from season to season. For instance, one year you would plant members of the solanaceae family (tomatoes, peppers…) in one part of the garden or in a particular garden bed and then the next year you would move it to another part of the garden or different garden bed. Plotting the garden out, we use an intensive planting method setting up a polyculture, similar to square foot gardening but without the grid and a bit more free form.
Submersing myself into the symphony of delicious color, I paint the gardens with the green peas that emerge from purple and white flowers. Smatterings of Red Sail lettuce mixed with purple petunias lay beneath a canopy of emeralds touched with Sun Gold Cherry, Cherokee Purple and Lemon Boy tomatoes. Monet’s garden couldn’t be more beautiful or colorful. Since everything doesn’t all come up at once – the garden colors in spring differ than what emerges in the middle of summer which eventually gives way to an entirely new palette in fall.
The changes in the seasons is like watching Mother Nature flipping channels and I’m not sure I’d like to be stuck on any one given channel. Would you?
It’s difficult to imagine that Labor Day weekend has already come and gone. I have been negligent in writing a monthly blog entry this summer. Once again the busy season whirled by us – selling gardens; installing gardens; going to events; talking to people about their gardens; helping people maintain their gardens. The company’s second growing season has kept us on our toes from March all the way through until the last days of August. September’s arrival has us preparing for our next event at Live Green CT coming up September 13-14th. and we are working on a presentation about the health benefits of having a small vegetable garden which we will present at the season opening meeting of the National Charity League.
Most of August I spent time in our clients’ and our own garden pruning back the tomato plants – particularly the wildly big cherry tomatoes we planted this year. There are many gardeners out there who don’t prune their tomato plants at all. There is an old gardener’s adage: if you do prune you will have less but larger fruit, than if you don’t prune your plants. Towards the end of the summer, I like to prune our indeterminate plants because I believe that by pruning the unnecessary leaves the plants energy is diverted into the fruit and flowers instead of the foliage. I also like to make sure the plant has plenty of airflow circulation to prevent disease from building up by clipping back the branches filled with leaves, which tend to catch the wind. I have some plants in containers which if I don’t trim them the leaves get so clustered together that it catches the wind and on a gusty day I have found my container on it’s side! A clear sign I needed to prune back the foliage so the air could cut through the branches giving plant healthy airflow.
Many times, early in the morning, as I am watching the dogs trot through the backyard I have considered that I should go over to my computer and write an entry about all the things we have been doing. But instead, I would head out to our garden with my camera and coffee in hand and try to capture beauty of the garden in the morning. The cooler temperatures this season more often than not have forced me to put a robe on which did nothing for my bare feet on the cold grass from the wet morning dew. I think we only had 3 or 4 days where the mercury rose to 90 degrees of above this summer. We have had to be patient waiting for the peppers to fully ripen to the various shades of red, orange and purple; I believe it takes a little more heat in order for them to fully flourish. This Labor Day weekend was hot and steamy and it has continued to remain humid. Hopefully the peppers will appreciate this little spell of hot weather.
Last week I felt the urgency to get my fall/winter garden seeded. With the way time flies the frosts of winter could be here before we know what hit us. Particularly if the threat of the polar vortex making a possible early appearance in September topped with El Nino winter not too far behind. About a month ago we put in another new raised bed, a beautiful cedar 4′ x 8′ raised bed from our friends down in North Carolina. I had to drag out the dog fence so the pack wouldn’t run around and mess it up like they had after the fresh compost was added days earlier. I seeded a bunch of cole crops: arugula, kale, broccoli, cauliflower along with some carrots and onions. The carrots I selected for this garden were Autumn King, Giants of Colmar, Paris Market and Meridia. In our Maine Kitchen Garden bed between the tomato and pepper plants there was a bunch of space so I seeded Harris Model Parsnips, a few varieties of lettuce: Winter Density,Winter Brown and Marvel of 4 Seasons; as well as a couple of varieties of spinach: Palco and Winter Giant. I look forward to the promise of what this autumn/winter garden could possibly provide my family. Just think of the salads, soups, sauces and sides we could enjoy!
So far we have managed to can 9 quarts of tomato sauce for the winter and with the looks of things in the garden we will be able to do a lot more canning before the season is through. We filmed a video about canning which I need to edit first but once it’s ready to go I will do a whole blog entry dedicated to canning. Smells trigger memories and standing over a simmering pot of tomato sauce can transport me back in to the garden with all its colors and fragrance even on the bleakest of winter days. Every time we crack open a jar of our homegrown homemade sauce that we canned, we recapture tiny moments of summer which flew by all too fast at the time.
Right 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
When 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 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.
January 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.