Q&A Thursday Live – July 11th, 2019

We get a lot of questions from clients about growing garlic – so we are going to discuss that today. The number one question we are asked about growing garlic is when can I harvest my garlic?  

Garlic is great to grow – easy, low maintenance Garlic is planted in the fall – beginning it’s growth in late fall and goes dormant in the winter to spring to life and continue its growth cycle in the early spring as the ground thaws.  Garlic continues to grow throughout the summer, sprouting leaves and a long flower bud that shoots up from the center of the bulb. This is the scape which is at the end produces a seed bulb and can usually be seen developing on the garlic plants around the end of June or early July depending on the zone you are in (even as early as May in some warmer zones!) Up here on the mountain in zone 5b we saw our scapes develop the first week of July. By cutting the scape from the plant, you signal to the plant that the energy gets sent down to the bulb, so it grows larger and more full.

Garlic scapes
Garlic scapes in the garden

Scapes are wonderful to use while cooking, as they give off a milder garlic flavor than the bulb. Scapes are healthy filled with essential nutrients and minerals; they are low in calories, high in fiber, vitamin C and provitamin A.

Scapes can be used in soups and salads; are good roasted or fried; and they make a wonderful pesto. Check out of our Recipes page of our blog for more info on roasting scapes and making pesto with them.

Another question we are asked quite often is when is it time to harvest my garlic?

Garlic is easy to grow and relatively low maintenance compared to other vegetables and harvest time is no different. Shortly after you have harvested your scapes – about a month later – the leaves of the garlic plants will turn brown and yellow. The you begin to notice the change stop watering, this is about 2- 3 weeks before harvest. On the calendar, in zones 5-6, this is around mid July through August, warmer zones this will be earlier in the summer. When 75% of the plant has changed to yellow and brown, it’s time to harvest your garlic. If you wait until the entire plant has turned you run the risk of the outer skin of the bulbs will shed too.

July 11, 2019 Homegrown Harvest Live Q&A Thursday

January is the time to plan and dream

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.
Happy gardening!

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.

Healthy Soil and It’s Importance in the Garden

What Makes Food Nutritious?

Did you ever stop and wonder what exactly makes our food nutritious?  Not delicious, but nutrient-rich.  Some people may believe that what makes food nutritious comes from the seed when in fact it comes from the soil.

There are 17 elements that all plants need in order to go through to have a successful life cycle. Hydrogen (H), carbon (C) and oxygen (O), plants get through the air and water; leaving 14 elements that are critical for plants to obtain through soil1. However, soil alone may not be enough and there is usually a need for added fertilizers, manures and other amendments to make sure plants receive the right nutritional elements.

Since soil is a key element when growing plants and particularly vegetables, building a raised garden bed can help gardeners start off right by beginning with a pristine soil mixture. Starting a raised garden bed allows gardeners the ability to establish a foundation with a well-balanced, nutrient-rich, weed-seed free growing medium without having to go through the backbreaking work involved with starting and maintained an in-ground garden.  In-ground gardening requires plenty of soil testing, tilling and hoeing – all very laborious and time-consuming work.  Versus starting a raised bed garden where you are able to control the growing environment from the very beginning by creating a blend of composts, fertilizers, manures and amendments.

For many years, when Mark and I first began Homegrown Harvest, we started many raised

garden beds for our clients with a mixture of composts, peat moss and vermiculite. The composts are the key ingredient, delivering the nutrients to your plants. Some composts can be nitrogen rich having come solely from dried grass clippings and leaves from the yard. Compost ideally should be a well-balanced.  Some local towns and municipalities offer their residents free compost, or there are services in certain areas where they will come pick up your compostables and in exchange will give you bags of compost for your garden or to donate to others.  Compost pick up services make it so easy for people to compost by taking all the messy and time-consuming work out of the equation. All the client needs to do is sort their garbage properly.  A quick Google search should help you locate one in your area. Consider yourself lucky if you do live in an area that has pick up compost service; thankfully there is more and more demand out with more people understanding we need to live more sustainable lifestyles.  What I love about compost pick up services is that it makes it possible for many people who may not have the space to compost to be able to cut down their carbon footprint and live more sustainable lifestyles.

Ingredients needed to Compost

If you don’t have a source for local compost there are plenty of options at either the big retail stores like Home Depot or Lowe, as well as your local garden center. One of our favorites products to use along with bagged composts or our homemade compost is Master’s Choice Bumper Crop:

“Bumper Crop Organic Soil Amendment is a soil building blend of manure and high organic nutrient content of shellfish compost, dark, rich earthworm castings (adds minerals and biology), kelp, peat, aged bark, and lobster – inoculated with endo and ecto michorrizal fungi to improve root function. The lobster body provides a lot of Nitrogen, and the shells breakdown to release a lot of Calcium, the #1 ingredients that plants need. Bumper Crop Organic Soil Amendment is an all-purpose, pre-fertilized planting and garden soil amendment. This product excels as a nutrient rich top dressing and mulch.”

Each time a plant grows, blossoms and fruits, the nutrients from the compost is delivered to the plant and the subsequent fruit.  Plenty of times we will do succession planting where we will plant something else into a space that had been used previously. For instance, once early crops of lettuces, broccoli and the like have been harvested an empty space will be left.  Usually we will plant in that same space something else to follow it up but before we do so we always add back in some fresh compost. Remember the used area has been depleted of its nutrients from the harvest plants, so it must be replaced in order to deliver the needed elements for the next plants to complete their life cycle.

Step by step guide to Gardening

Understanding soil is important not only for being able to grow your own fresh, nutrient rich fruits and vegetables but also vital to understanding more about the fruits and vegetables we buy in our grocery stores from mass-produced farms. I have written about soil before many years ago on this blog in a post called The Importance of soil – our lives depend on it! where I go into more in depth detail about soil. Our country has been in a crisis of ongoing soil degradation for decades.  Perhaps the words “dust bowl” conjures up images from a John Steinbeck novel; however, in present day America, our farmlands have taken a beating from mono-cropping and the addition of synthetic fertilizers in efforts to replace the depleted nutrients.  Unfortunately, these synthetic additives have made more of a problem for farmers. Fortunately, there are things that farmers can and have started to do to help rebuild our soil. Check out the PSA from Astronomer Laura Danly


Mistaken identity: Sweet Potatoes and Yams

Sweet potato vines trailing out of the raised bed
Is it a Yam or a Sweet Potato?

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.
Sweet Potatoes
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 
Library of Congress.gov

A Bountiful Summer leads to Several Seeds to Save

I have often thought that if heaven had given me choice of my position and calling, it should have been on a rich spot of earth, well watered and near a good market for the production of the garden. No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden. Such a variety of subjects someone always coming to perfection. The failure of one thing repaired by the success of another, and instead of one harvest a continued one throughout the year. Under a total want of demand except for our family table, I am still devoted to the garden. But though an old man, I am but a young gardener.”
~Thomas Jefferson to Charles William peel Poplar Forest, August 20, 1811.         
It’s hard to believe that we ushered in the fall of 2015 this week. Our business celebrated its third growing season and the busy season of that!
Mark working at a client’s garden we revamped this season
One of the best things that I love about gardening is that each season brings something new and different. We began seeding early in March as the snow ebbed and as soon as we were able to work the top few inches of soil. The peas are always the first things we get into the raised beds. Temperatures remained cool throughout spring and into early summer. It took a while for things to finally heat up which is why I still have plenty of tomatoes, beans and peppers ripening in the garden right now.
I reviewed the data on AccuWeather the actual temperatures that we experience this growing season I wasn’t too surprised to confirm what I thought was a cooler than normal season here in zone 6. This may seem contrary to report this being the “warmest summer on record” or the “summer of 2015 was earth hottest on record “. But explains why we still have plenty of green tomatoes and peppers growing in our garden right now couple that with less than average rainfall and you have a recipe for a slower than average season.
Highs and lows
September *
Number of days about 90 degrees
Number of days temperature was above 80 degrees in New Canaan, CT
September *
Number of days temperature was 75 degrees or below
September *
 *up until the 24th
The slower season doesn’t necessarily mean less productive however. We have had a tremendously productive season bringing pounds of tomatoes, eggplants, peppers and beans. 
The cucumbers keep coming in, we have had such a good season I was able to put a platter full to share with our neighbors. 

The Barnside sweet runner beans and Blauhilde beans, a beautiful purple being that turns green when cooked coming in so fast I have to freeze them since we can eat them fast enough.
September 23rd harvest
As the growing season winds down it’s the time of year to start collecting seeds for next year. Ultimately one of the best seeds to use in our garden are the seeds harvested from your own plants.  It’s an age-old tradition that’s extremely rewarding on many levels.  Preserving your heirloom, open-pollinated varieties, you help plants adapt to your local conditions thus increasing yields
Heirloom tomatoes
Understanding the difference between Heirloom and F1 Hybrid seeds 
“ Heirlooms have naturally evolved over the years and have been passed down over the generations from gardener to gardener.
F1 hybrid plants are not genetically modified but have been developed by gardeners and farmers for centuries. By cross pollinating two related varieties, breeders strive to take the best of both worlds from most plants characteristics such as disease and pest resistance, high-yielding and greater taste.
For the seed collector, the drawback to F1 seeds is that they don’t reproduce a true second generation. What this means is that the second-generation may not have the same characteristics as the first generation. 
It is for that reason that we do not collect seeds from F1 hybrid plants. F1 seeds have their place in the garden but when it comes to collecting seeds turn to your heirlooms. 
By collecting and preserving heirloom varieties, we help pass along to future generations delicious varieties that gardeners of shared with one another for over 50 years. Heirloom vegetables are open pollinated and remain stable in their characteristics from year-to-year.

A few do’s and don’t to remember when seed-saving
  • “ Don’t save seeds from f1 hybrid plants.

    • “ These seeds can be infertile or produce different traits from the original parent, which are less favorable

  • “ Don’t save seeds from the squash family and sweet corn

    • “ They can cross pollinate and hybridize, difficult to keep variety pure

  • Tomatoes, peppers, beans and peas are the best seeds to start with

    • They are easiest to harvest and require little attention before storage.

  • Save your seeds from your strongest plants with the most delicious fruit
    • To collect seeds from the vegetables simply look to take the seeds from a beautifully developed plant that is fully mature. Look for plants that have grown vigorously and have shown resistance to pests and diseases. 

  • Store seeds in airtight containers or individual envelopes kept in a dry place

  • Label clearly with name, variety, date collected

I prefer the airtight container since envelopes get wet and dirty in practice ultimately – hard to reseal – seeds fall out end up at the bottom of my purse…
When we save our seeds, it helps to preserve and promote genetic diversity. In turn this helps to strengthen and make more pest-resistant future generations that will thrive.

How-to collect seeds
1.    Slice open your vegetable to carefully remove the seeds with a spoon or a knife.
2.    Then place the seeds on cardboard or a piece of paper towel to dry out
a.    Tomato seeds are covered in the mucous membrane and it can be easier to use a cheesecloth
b.    Rinse the seeds out with water to release the membrane
c.     spread seeds out on a piece of cardboard to dry.
3.    place seeds in dry place
Have fun saving your seeds!

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

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

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

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

Carrots just beginning to sprout

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

before the snow

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

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

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

Suggested varieties for fall quick growing cooler crop:

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

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.