Out Like a Lion

Yay!
Spring is here!
We made it though winter once again!
Wait, what? There’s a nor’easter threatening to dump snow on the East coast tomorrow?  What’s this? There is as much snow outside my door here in central New Hampshire as any other time this winter! Wait a minute – the calendar says today is the vernal equinox, spring is scheduled to start at 12:15pm Eastern time. Yet outside the temperature is 15 degrees and the winds have it feeling well below zero! Happy Spring.

Yes, it is a happy spring. Today, we experience an equal amount of daylight as we do darkness and the days will just get filled with even more and more sunlight, warming the earth in the northern hemisphere.

Wikipedia

March has always been a month of tremendous weather and copious amounts of snow. The beginning of this month came in like a lamb up here. Another thaw took all the snows back to bare ground, even up here on the mountainside.  I was even thinking about toying around in the garden threatening to lay down two new raised beds we still have to place and get started.  However, there is a good 2-1/2 feet of compacted snow covering everything up once again. So much for that thought.

I love winter and all it has to offer. I find that it is as beautiful in its own unique way and has it’s fair share of crystal clear blue sky days and spectacular sunsets not often written about. We tend to hear more about the grey days of winter – but I find there as many gray days in any other season. Winter’s beauty is unique and if you don’t like the cold at all – you will never see it.  I made friends with the cold a long time ago – finding it better to get outside in the cold from time to time either skiing, sledding, ice skating, snowmobiling, snow-shoeing – and you find soon enough you aren’t cold for long once you begin to have some fun in it.

Newfound Lake, New Hampshire

Once you are out there enjoying winter and take the moment to gaze around on whatever trail you may be on, it’s hard not to be overwhelmed by the unique beauty winter has to offer.  Its colors not as rich perhaps as other seasons. The trees black outlines mixed with muted browns, grays amid the dark evergreens. Shades of white with hues of blue at times depending on the cold, paint the landscape. Mother Nature takes care of painting the morning and evening sky with her full spectrum of colors never skimping on the reds, oranges and pinks.  She reminds up that the earth is alive even when it seems not to be.

Every fall I plant garlic to overwinter. It’s a reminder to me that despite the blankets of snow, insulating snow – that dormant doesn’t mean dead and that life will spring forth. The last few lines in Bette Midler song, The Rose written by Gordon Mills that illustrates this beautifully.

“Just remember in the winter, beneath the bitter snows
Lies the seed, that with the sun’s love in the spring becomes the rose.”

Now despite the official start to spring later today doesn’t mean we won’t see more snow this month or even in April. It snowed 3 inches up here last Mother’s Day. Even at my Connecticut house, we would get snow in April, you just knew it wouldn’t last the day usually. New Hampshire where we are now in the Lakes Region is a bit different, we live at 1500ft versus the CT house which is at 300ft above sea-level.  We’ve had a couple of thaws this winter, one in January another in February. An early mud season was starting since the February thaw had temperatures up into the 50s and 60s even up here. All the snow on the mountainside was basically back down to bare ground.  Then we had the third nor-easter, I think the weather station named it Quinn. Mark said that we’ve had a total of 116 inches about 9-1/2 ft of snow so far this winter season – thank god for those thaws!

Ragged Mountain, New Hampshire

To celebrate the end of the winter season, we will be out enjoying what is supposed to be another beautiful blue sky day on the ski slopes.  The trails are in fantastic condition and what better way to finish out the last hours of winter and bring in spring?! This afternoon apres-ski, I’ll start some seeds in the kitchen window to celebrate and commemorate the start of such a promising new season.

Dreams of Fresh Vegetables

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

A Bittersweet Time in the Garden

I came to love my rows, my beans, though so many more than I wanted. They attached me to the earth, and so I got strength like Antaeus.~ Henry David Thoreau

Just as the Farmer’s Almanac called it, this autumn has been on the milder side. It’s not to say we haven’t experienced our first light frost – that happened the weekend of October 17th and 18thand again the other night. Having Mother Nature remind you of the impending change of the season during a warm autumn can shock crops – depending upon what’s still in the garden and what you have done to prepare for extending the season and fighting a little frost.

Peppers ripening on the counter

The beautiful autumnal colors of reds, oranges and yellows sprinkled through the beds in the form of tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and marigolds up until mid-October. At that point we decided to harvest the tomatoes and let them ripen indoors. We always choose to do this at the end of the season for 2 reasons: 1. Tomatoes will continue to ripen off the vine and 2. Too many people, including us have left them out too long and Jack Frost has nipped them and that’s that.  This year due to the cool temperatures throughout the summer we still had tons of hot peppers fully developed but had not yet changed from their green color.  It’s not as well known, as there is some debate depending on what you read, as to whether you can finish ripening green peppers to their colorful counterparts once it has been picked. I had always thought that you could not do this; however, I have discovered that peppers that have started to change colors can be picked and they will continue to ripen of  But I have also read that as long as they are mature in size, given time, green peppers will finish ripening off the plant, according to Big Stone Bounty.
f the plant.

tomatoes ripening in bins


We’ve known this about tomatoes but not peppers – this good info. Of course, pulling any fruit off the plant before fully ripened results in lower nutritional content and they aren’t as sweet as their fully ripened counterparts, but I think anything from your own garden is way better than from anywhere else. Plus I usually only do this at the end of the season when I am worried about impending frost.

Peppers ripening in a bag with tomatoes

I’ve also read a lot of conflicting data about whether or not peppers react to ethylene gas or not. Ethylene gas helps stimulate the ripening process in many fruits including tomatoes. I’m currently conducting my own experiment to see if the peppers I put in the paper bag with the ripe tomato and ripening tomatoes accelerates the process of ripening the green peppers vs the ones one the counter on a dish. We have so many green tomatoes that I have been using unused earthworm bins that have holes on the bottom to layer the green tomatoes so they can ripen. The aeration helps the process. All the cherry tomatoes are in three bins and then I have a platter full of standard-sized heirloom tomatoes stacked up.


Cold frame is up

There can be so much to do to get ready for winter, particularly if we get a winter as snowy as last year. Once again the Farmer’s Almanac Winter Forecast confirms our fears that we could be in for a doozy. To finish readying the garden beds for winter, we need to be sure any remaining tender crops have all been weeded out and pull any weeds that may have crept in over the summer.  By doing so we remove any possibility of leaving behind vegetation which may add to the promotion of disease. We put a cold frame over part of one bed where we are currently growing some broccoli – our broccoli in the past has been attached so I tend to cover it up to provide a little added TLC to give it more of a chance. We put another cold frame upon a bed of lettuce, carrots and arugula.  The hay/straw mulch still needs to be put down and I need to gather some pine needles for the asparagus bed.  


Yesterday during a break from the computer, I went out and pulled the entire bed of remaining bean, cucumber and morning glory vines.  All of which will be dumped in the woods since I worry about the morning glory seeds taking over.  In a few days I’ll harvest some more herbs – the mint, rosemary, sage and thyme should be trimmed back – as should the oregano.  I will leave some long and wild for the birds and bees to continue to enjoy. There won’t be too many days left where the weather will allow me to be outside and to me there is nothing better than working out in the garden.

3.5 inches of much needed rain
Asparagus ferns

It rained 3.5 inches yesterday and last night – we desperately need it. It’s why I ran outside the day before to deal with the vines since I knew I’d be stuck inside to deal with computer work and filing if the weather reports were right.  There is nothing I rather do less than file, which is apparent since I am finding statements from 2011 in the pile.  The spare garlic, shallots and onions I managed to plant in some containers and the remainder of the two beds I had planted some in last week. We use a ton of all three when we cook and buying them – particularly shallots – can be expensive; so there is nothing better than growing your own.  At this point the garden is ready for it hay/straw mulch in some beds.  I’m still waiting a little while longer before cutting the asparagus shoots down to 2- 3″ and mulching; their ferns are just turning a yellowish brown but most remain green still.  Once we cut them down we’ll mulch with as many pine needles as we can rake up from under our own trees and top off with the hay/straw mulch we use to protect the freshly cut tops from the wind and frost.


Our Brussels sprouts are still coming along – its our first year growing them so there is a learning curve. We had some pests eat away at the leaves at one point during the summer but we planted enough that we only really only lost one to the pests – the rest now have started to sprout their little sprouts which it fun to see. The end of the season list continues with dumping the new compost into the the 12 foot bed we had to empty thanks to the morning glory infestation.  We need to throw down some new compost in a few containers as well before putting the straw/hay mulch down. 

It’s a bittersweet time of year for us. We have worked in our garden as well as in our clients’ gardens all season. Preparing soil, seeding, planting, staking and supporting, watering, feeding, weeding, waiting, watching nature do what she does so well – grow, thrive, produce, feed.  It’s the most satisfying feeling in the world, helping people grow their own food.  But alas, all seasons must come to an end and our business, Homegrown Harvest is coming to the end of our third growing season.  We were thrilled the other day to receive photos from one of client’s boasting about their garden.  It’s the best feeling in the world when you have one of your clients send you pictures of her garden thriving or her standing there with a Cheshire cat grin holding a huge platter of homegrown vegetables. We are truly blessed!

As the season winds down we can take solace knowing that the garden may be still but underneath the soil, wonderful things are taking shape to fill our palates next season. 

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


If the day and the night are such that you greet them with joy, and life emits a fragrance like flowers and sweet-scented herbs, is more elastic, more starry, more immortal – that is your success. All nature is your congratulations, and you have cause momentarily to bless yourself. ~ Henry David Thoreau

Speaking about Organic Gardening

It’s been a whirlwind of new year for us at Homegrown Harvest. You wouldn’t think the dead of winter would be a busy time of year for a couple of gardeners, but it has been.

We’ve been putting together a new lecture series on organic gardening. A few months ago, I was asked by a friend to come speak at her volunteer organizations’ opening meeting.  I’d never been asked to speak – although Mark and I had talked about the idea earlier in our IMG_1039organizational days of beginning Homegrown Harvest- so I agreed.  I decided to do a talk on the whys and hows of healthy eating – why you should grow food and not lawns.  It was going to be the first time I was ever in front of an audience of people who wouldn’t fail the class for being absent. I had never ever given given a talk or lead a discussion like this before. High school, in front of a few Trinity classmates perhaps was the last time I did anything remotely close to this. In college at BU,  I made sure to stay away from speaking opportunities, the exception being in my photography class where they made you get up and present your photo before a firing squad as your “peers”.  Okay perhaps they didn’t riddle my work with bullet holes but each comment felt like a slap in the face of humiliation at at the time.

My years working for my brother in the hedge fund industry taught me how to put together presentations, so sitting down and writing out the discussions has proven to be a cathartic activity for me, reinforcing my beliefs in organic land care management.   It was a moment of clarity brought on my Dennis Hopper and an Ameritrade ad that helped me diverge from following my brother’s path any further and create my own.  My work on the Hows and Why of Healthy Eating turned into 52 slides filled with vegetable facts, flowers and photography with given some animation. Hours and days of numerous edits , dry runs with more edits and more dry runs in my living room with my laptop, projector, screen and audience of five four footed friends of mine.

Finally, the day arrived. with about 40 women attended the September meeting of the National Charity League that morning and my despite the fact it was to be my virgin takeoff into the world of public speaking – I was relatively calm and not afraid to stand up in front of a bunch of strangers.  Instead I found myself to be excited by the possible opportunity public speaking could lead to for Homegrown Harvest.  Afterwards many people came up to me to tell me how much they learned and enjoyed my talk. One used the word ‘inspired’ to describe how they felt afterwards – the best compliment I could ever hope to ever receive and it has given me more confidence to go forward.

I decided shortly after that lecture that perhaps I would approach the New Canaan Library with the idea for a Spring Garden Series.  They recently started up a seed bank so I though it would be a natural tie in for us as a local vegetable gardening business.  It seemed a much better way for us to get out message out to people that healthy home vegetable gardening doesn’t have to be difficult and the healthy rewards you reap are beyond comparison.

Mark and I consider ourselves to be garden coaches – why not? People have life coaches, sports coaches, spiritual coaches. We don’t just sell you a product and walk away. We help you as much or as little as you want. Many people are too busy to get things up and started or don’t know how or where to begin.  We help teach and guide people in the process – making it easier for them to enjoy all the healthy benefits that go along with growing their own harvests.

Before the end of 2014, I had the privilege again to be asked by another volunteer organization, the New Canaan Beautification League to wanted me to come talk to them at their February meeting. They asked me to do a Garden to Table talk – oh and by the way – we’d like to video tape it if you don’t mind and put in on our public access channel CH79 New Canaan! Videotape? Um? Okay…

What had I agreed to?  I’ve never been videotaped except in home movies and those are not anything to be shared! So now I am going to be on TV? Um, that heightened the nerves a bit. So now I had to come up with a cohesive presentation that made sense talking to fellow gardeners about setting up a vegetable garden and the inspiration it en-vibes on your meals.

At the recommendation of a good friend of mine, I decided to take an online Dale Carnegie class on public speaking.  I’ve been to a number of lectures and presentations in my professional career, where the speaker went off on tangents, jumped around in their thoughts and slides – leaving my confused just wanting to take the handouts to figure everything out for myself later.  I certainly don’t want to be one of those types of speakers.

There is tons of information you hope to share with your audience but its crucial to not give too much which could overload and just confuse matters.  I find when I sit down to start one of these presentations that I want to tell a story. The overall point being that we can all enjoy growing some of our own food and by doing so reap the multiple rewards that vegetable gardening brings to our bodies and our souls.

Our local library loved the idea of doing a spring gardening series and we set up two dates in February and two more in April. March was off limits as the town does a one book, one town sort of things and everything revolves around that in March.  So our first two discussions in February I decided to focus on organic small space gardening dividing the discussions into two; focusing the first on container gardening. February can be a brutal month, and this year has been a doozy! This morning temperature was 14 degrees which has warmed up from the at zero and below zero days we’ve been experiencing here in Connecticut.

IMG_1640The first program 28 registrants signed up for the free lecture – 12 brave soles showed up. The weather had been snowy earlier and bitter cold, proving too challenging even those with cabin fever to start thinking about spring gardening.  Tomorrow we have our second installment in the Spring Series – we have put together a discussion on the organic benefits of building a polyculture garden. A polyculture is an organic method that brings in variety to the garden, breaking up the monoculture, in turn helping to deter disease and bad bug infestation simultaneously adding health, beauty and color to the garden.  The weather is still frigid but clear and bright with a newly developed threat of snow later in the afternoon that hopefully will not keep people from coming out to enjoy learning about the vast benefits of growing your food efficiently and effectively through intensive planting.

The Early April Garden

A tuckered out pup.
A tuckered out pup.

Spring has finally come to southwestern CT. It’s wet, cold and snowing one minute and sunny and warm the next!  We’ve been working in our garden as well as going to clients’ gardens these last couple of weeks – not letting the temperatures deter us too much. The telephone has been ringing with potential customers, internet inquiries have been coming in and our installation calendar is starting to get filled up. The gardening season is officially underway since the other day, we shoveled our first load of compost off the back of the truck.  My arms hurt so much that I am actually dictating this to Siri – thank you Siri, I will be sure not too mumble too much. My red-neck work-outs have begun. Just to give you a small hint of how hard we have been working, we managed to tire out our three month old puppy, Marley Sage.  Who know I had more energy than a puppy?

April is the time of year, if you haven’t done it already, to make a planning chart of your garden. The planning chart is basically a map of where you plan to put things in the garden.  It’s helpful to have a map so that you can couple things together that benefit one another, like tomato and basil; as well as keep away incompatibles such as beans and onions.  Seeing it all on paper will also help you to create a planting schedule telling you when you should plant certain crops. This is particularly helpful if you plan on using succession plantings throughout the season. Succession planting is simply following one crop with another crop maximizing your overall yield and elongating your season. I’ve been slowly making a plan in my head about what I want to grow but now is the time to start sitting down and writing out the plan. Once I’ve done ours I will be sure to post it – it’s still a work in progress at this point, which could be committed to paper over the weekend since I have to start planning out my clients’ gardens as well.  It’s important to keep in mind crop rotation, which is another good reason to write down a plan you can refer to the next season because life gives you enough to remember.

This month is also the time of year that you should be getting your raised beds prepared for the new season by amending the nutrient depleted soil with a variety of composts and fertilizer to put back the nutrients that your vegetables will need to grow.  Vegetables get their nutrients from the soil – think feed the soil – that’s how you feed the plant. Not by spraying chemical fertilizers on it.  Organic gardening revolves around the concept of soil life and soil biology. Organic practices such as crop rotation, use of cover crops, and companion planting are employed to enhance soil life and biology.  By using a plan, you ensure that you are not at risk of building up soil-borne diseases or mismanage the soil nutrients.

Despite the earlier snows this week, there is exciting news in the garden as the soil temperatures have finally reached into the mid 40s in the raised beds.  I couldn’t help but plant some peas on the last day of March in the new 8′ x 12′ Maine Kitchen Garden we put in this fall.  April in New England can be unpredicable. Temperatures can still be wintery cold – it was 42º but the dampness from the night’s rain made it feel closer to 35º. The soil temperatures have maintained 40º and above status all week and that tells me its the perfect time to start getting some cold crops into the ground.  Cold crops can tolerate colder temperatures and late frost.  Germination can happen for lettuce, arugula and peas

From our garden a beautiful snap pea begins to bloom.
From our garden a beautiful snap pea begins to bloom.

in 40º soil temperatures. If you are as excited about spring as I am, you will want to start some peas. They prefer the cool weather anyway since it tends to make them sweeter. I always look to around or after St. Patrick’s day as the time of year to start directly sowing them into the ground. Try planting rows on two side of a trellis in a sunny location that has fertile soil for double the yield in very little place. Peas are a great addition to the garden – they put nitrogen back into the soil and they are vertical growers not taking up a lot of garden space. They are an early season vegetable, but you can seed again in the late summer for an early fall harvest. Fall harvests fall short of the spring harvest when the soil temperatures start off cooler.  Peas get along great in the garden with just about everybody but chives, late potatoes, onions, gladiolus and grapes. Peas do particularly well with corn, cucumbers, celery, eggplants, bush/pole beans, early potatoes, radishes, spinach, strawberries, tomatoes and turnips. I always plant a wide variety, this year so far it I put in some Half Pints, Sugar Pod2, Oregon Sugar Pod II, Sugar Snap.I will keep sowing seeds every few weeks to try to get a long harvest before the warm weather sets in.

When you see daffodils and dandelions start to bloom, you should plant your potatoes -soil temperatures are hovering around 45º at that point – a good time to start potatoes.  We prefer to grow our potatoes in smart pots. It’s easy to do, takes very little space and fun to harvest by just dumping out the sacks.  You can couple potatoes with marigolds in a pot or if you choose to put them in the garden be sure to hill them and couple with bush beans, celery, carrots, corn, cabbage, horseradish,peas, petunias, onions, marigolds and french marigolds.  Just keep them away from asparagus, kohlrabi, rutabaga, fennel, turnips, pumpkin, squash, tomatoes, sunflowers and cucumbers.

At 50º, germination starts to happen for spinach, Swiss chard and carrots. A whole bunch of delicious crops you can begin to grow in the the early season that are easy to grow, delicious and beautiful in the garden!  Carrots are one of my favorite seeds to sow – be sure to keep the soil moist until you see the first leaves appear. Before sowing be sure you have cultivated the bed deeply and thoroughly to promote good root growth. I found last year I did very well when I coupled my carrots with french marigolds. Marigolds roots emit an enzyme that help fights against root-eating nematodes. Bugs Bunny would have loved my carrots! Carrots also go well with leaf lettuce, onions, peas, leeks, chives and rosemary; be sure to keep it away from dill, parsnip and Queen Ann’s Lace.

Daikon radishes, radishes and beets are others also don’t mind the chilly temperatures spring has to offer. They are all easy to grow and do so quite rapidly in cool weather.  Beet seeds can be directly sown once the soil is workable and for successive crops, simply plant in two-week intervals and you will get a continuous harvest.  Remember all the parts of the radish are edible – so enjoy!  Radishes prefer the company of beets, bush/pole beans, carrots, cucumbers, lettuce, parsnips, peas, spinach, nasturtiums and members of the squash family.  They should not be grown near hyssop, cabbage, cauliflower, brussels sprouts or turnips however. Beets do well with lettuce, cabbage, onions, kohlrabi, garlic and mint but not pole beans.

Lettuce from our spring garden
Lettuce from our spring garden

Lettuce is another one that quickly thrives in the chilly spring air. There are so many different varieties to choose from – look for ones that are slow to bolt. Lettuce doesn’t do well with cabbage or parsley – so be sure to separate those in the garden. But pair it up with some beets, broccoli, bush/pole beans, carrots, onions, strawberries, sunflowers, radishes, cucumbers and dill and it should do very well.  I also planted two types of lettuce the other day, one called Frizzy-Headed Drunken Woman Lettuce, the name alone is why I purchased the seeds. It’s a butter-head variety which forms a single savoyed 8 inch head with mint green leaves tinged in mahogany red. Very slow to bolt. I also planted a red iceberg since I love me an iceberg wedge salad with blue cheese.  Mache also known as lam’s lettuce or corn salad is a mild tasting green that’s an easy spring-time grower to consider which can be harvested through early winter or longer in milder climates.  Arugula can also be sown in early April. Sow ever 2 weeks and you’ll enjoy a succession of harvests of delicious greens through the fall.

Kale and onions are two more that you can start in April.  You can plant onion sets, not seeds which should be started indoors. Shallot seeds and starts can be planted in early spring. Onions work well with beets, carrots, leeks, kohlrabi, brassicas, tomatoes, lettuce, strawberries, dill, chamomile and summer savory. Just keep it away from your peas and asparagus.

Softneck garlic can be planted in the spring and fall whereas hardneck garlic should be planted in the fall for overwintering.  Garlic will work with most herbs in the garden and helps keep deer and aphids away from roses, raspberries, apple and pear trees. In the garden it also does well with celery, cucumbers, peas and lettuce. It’s a great companion plant since it helps in repelling codling moths, Japanese beetles, root maggots, snails and carrot root-fly.  I love garlic and we use it a lot when we cook – so having a supply of fresh garlic around is important to us and the flavors can’t be beat when you row your own!

So with the cold, rainy days of April ahead – take solace knowing that the blooms of May are not far away.  Happy gardening!

 

 

Bein’ Green – Living Green

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Year End Means a New Beginning

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

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

Winter Density and red sail lettuce
Spinach Tyee

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

Hard-sided Cold Frame

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

http://www.homegrownharvest.com

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

Composting: The Making of Black Gold

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

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

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

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

The mass of rotted organic matter

Green matter for composting

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

 
Brown Matter like wood chips and bark

Properly Prepared

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

What else?

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

Composting pit

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

Is there anything else?

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

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


 

 

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

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

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

 

Garden of 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another collage of the veggies!

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

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

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

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

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

 

Peace ~ Xine