In the Zone

In 1996, I was a young mother of two toddlers and a freelance graphic designer working from my house.  There were times when I would have my 10 yr old niece, Lauren come take care of them while I worked in the den. This usually only worked when the kids thought Mommy left the house – which I would pretend to do and then sneak in the side door and hope one of the dogs didn’t give me away.  Otherwise, they would come banging on the door – MOMMY!!!  Most of the time, once they had been read to and tucked into bed, I would then “go to work” down in the den from 7pm to 2am. These were some of my most sleep deprived years of my life. 

I was fortunate enough to work on a couple of projects with my sister-in-law who had a small publishing company called High Tide Press. One in particular was the work I did on the book series The Zone Garden: A Surefire Guide to Gardening in Your Zone by Charlotte M. Frieze.  I’m credited with “keeping the hard drives spinning” since I was in charge of laying out all the books on my computer. the time, I didn’t realize how much I would learn simply by laying out and editing information about gardening. Through all my work, I was learning all about “Knowing your Site”, “Raised Beds”, “Pests and Intruders” and so much more.  My sister-in-law was insistent on making a book that would be a comprehensive resource for gardeners. Remember, this was before the internet and Google. Separating out the zones into three books, the publishers were giving gardeners a resource book that was directly related to gardening in their specific zone that wasn’t a huge over-weighted volume with more information that actually needed.  I find that many times, I will be reading a gardening article and find it’s written for a different zone than my zone. We now are getting familiar with gardening in zone 5b, a change from my CT zone 6b. 

Who knew at the time that my graphic design career working on a gardening book would one day come full circle to my career today in helping people learn about growing their own healthy nutritious food and living a more sustainable lifestyle.  All my jobs throughout my life, although very different from one another, had something to do with the other, but not in the traditional sense. My first job in radio gave me valuable design experience since our stations’ never had a budget, I was the in-house one person ad agency promotions director. I designed ads, promotions, logos, bumper stickers, bus stop signs -I even had a billboard on I95 in Norwalk, CT, a high traffic area outside NYC. I developed my portfolio and networked like crazy, eventually allowing me enough clients to leave the radio business and freelance and be a stay at home mom. My time as a freelance graphic designer eventually turned into a full-time job when the kids were in full time school. At first,I was simply designing the corporate material for my brother’s start-up company, but then I ended up working there and for him, as a research analyst for the next 15 years.  Initially I covered media stocks and the food and beverage sector which grew into researching water and agribusiness sectors.  After years of reading about the state of our country’s water and agriculture coupled with a mid-life epiphany, thanks to Dennis Hopper (a story for another time), I decided to help others learn how to grow their own food and live more sustainable lifestyles. That’s when Mark and I started Homegrown Harvest. We wanted to show people that starting your own garden and growing some of your own food could be simple and rewarding nutritionally, as well as in so many other ways including financially, physically and psychologically.

As I look back through the pages of the books that I helped come to fruition, I see where I subconsciously learned about organic gardening back in 1996. I used the book as a reference guide in my own garden as my children grew and I juggled a full time career and single parenting. Eventually I became an accredited organic land care manager through CT NOFA in 2011 when I had made the decision to help others learn how to grow their own.

I have always told my kids that they will most likely have more than one career in their lifetime. I’ve worked in sales and promotion in the radio business. I was a freelance graphic designer. I was a research analyst for a hedge fund. I am an organic land care professional. I am a woodworker who manufactures cedar raised garden bed kits. I am an entrepreneur. I am an artist and a writer. I am a creator.

Just looking at this map makes me think cold! Brrr!

We’re in zone 5b but at the top and surrounded by zone 5a!

Wish us luck!

Although The Zone Garden Series was an important part of my salad days of garden training –sorry, I couldn’t resist — the first book which I truly learned most about gardening initially was from the book, The Contained Garden: A complete illustrated guide to growing plants, flowers, fruits and vegetables outdoors in pots. This book spoke to me since back in mid-eighties when I first bought the book, I was a young twenty-something living in a small New York City apartment trying to bring as much greenery in my concrete jungle life. Growing up in the city, my mother would fill the few sunny windows we had in our apartment with tons of plants. It didn’t matter that we were only on the third floor at least we faced southwest corner-facing apartment would fill with enough light to grow plenty of greenery.  So I, too followed in her footsteps, eventually filling my own windows and patios with plants, flowers and herbs when I could.  

My mother has always also been into researching. It didn’t matter what she was researching — although her bible was The Merck Manual – the hardback 10 pound leather bound version of before the internet. A book only registered nurses and doctors could have at one point. My mother only had hers because of her mother, a registered nurse. Hmm…I became a research analyst – weird how things work out sometimes.

Anyway, in that vein, and since I have always loved to own books, I have amassed quite the library over the years. I’ve listed the copyright dates where I could find them, I thought it interesting that they span the years from 1979, when I was a freshman in high school to 2014, just around the time I started to switch to reading my Kindle more often and started to buy less and less physical books. Here a list of books about gardening that are physically in my library. In a future blog post I will give a list of gardening/homesteading related books that are on my Kindle or a list of books I have on canning, but that’s for another day. Until then, enjoy spring and get out there and garden!

Christine’s Gardening Library
in no particular order
links to Amazon where available
no I don’t get anything from Amazon
I wish. 
  1. Better Homes & Garden’s Complete Guide to Gardening©1979
  2. The Edible Front Yard: The mow-less, grow more plan for a beautiful, bountiful garden by Ivette Soler, photos by Ann Summa©2011
  3. Grocery Gardening: Planting, Preparing and Preserving Fresh Food by Jean Ann Van Krevelen, Amanda Thomson, & Robin Wedewer ©2009
  4. Gardening with Herbs by Emelle Tolley & Chris Mead ©1995
  5. Week By Week Vegetable Gardener’s Handbook by Ron Kujawski and Jennifer Kujawski ©2010
  6. The New England Gardener’s Year by Reeser Manley and Marjorie Peronto ©2013
  7. The Heirloom Life Gardener: The Baker Creek Way of Growing Your Own Food Easily and Naturally by Jere and Emilee Gettle ©2012
  8. The Mix & Match Guide of Companion Planting by Josie Jeffery ©2014
  9. The Naturescaping Workbook: A Step by Step guide for bringing nature to your backyard by Beth O’Donnell Young ©2011
  10. What’s Wrong With My Vegetable Garden? 100% Organic Solutions for all your Vegetables by David Deardorff and Kathryn Wadsworth ©2011
  11. The Contained Garden: A complete Illustrated Guide to Growing Plants, Flowers and Vegetables Outdoors in Pots by Kenneth Becket, David Stevens, David Carr ©1983
  12. The Encyclopedia of Herbs and Spices by Andi; Richmond, Katherine; Morris, Sallie; Mackley, Lesley Clevely ©1997
  13. Edible Landscaping by Rosalind Creasy ©2010
  14. The American Horticulture Society’s Encyclopedia of Gardening Editors Christopher Brickell & Elvin McDonald ©2003
  15. Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening ©2002
  16. American Horticultural Society’s Northeast: Smart Garden Regional Guide ©2003
  17. New England Gardener’s Handbook by Jacqueline Heriteau and Holly Hunter Stonehill ©2012
  18. Northeast including Southeast Canada: 54 Landscape designs by Roger Holmes and Rita Buchanan ©2012
  19. The Backyard Homestead edited by Carleen Madigan ©2009
  20. The Postage Stamp Kitchen Garden Book by Duane & Karen Newcomb ©1998
  21. The Zone Garden: A Surefire Guide to Gardening in Your Zone 5,6,7 by Charlotte M. Frieze ©1997
  22. The American Horticultural Society’s Great Plant Guide ©2000
  23. Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America by Eric R. Eaton and Kenn Kaufman
  24. Good Weed, Bad Weed by Nancy Gift ©2011
  25. Good Bug, Bad Bug by Jessica Walliser ©2011
  26. The Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Pest and Disease Control: A complete Guide to maintaining a healthy garden and yard the earth-friendly way by Fern Marshall Bradley, Barbara W. Ellis and Deborah L. Martin ©2009  

Time to Dream and Plan

heirloom onthe plantIt’s 5 degrees out this morning here in our neck of the woods.  It’s even colder where some of the kids are up at college like Burlington where it’s -18 right now and 4 degrees in Ithaca feeling like minus 4.  In Boston where our other one is at it’s 5 degrees but the winds up there are making it feel more like 10 below. Brrrr…it is cold out there today. It’s around this time of year that we start to jones for one of our homegrown heirloom tomatoes. Thank god weIMG_0007 made sauce at least. The garden is covered with a thick quilt of hard-packed snow about 20 inches deep burying our overwintering vegetables and Charlie the gnome.

The new year has brought us a new Sears Craftsman riding lawn tractor. We decided to get the snow blower attachment so we could us the things year round – mowing and mulching during the summer, snow blowing now.  We’ve already had the pleasure of clearing the driveway 6 times in the last month – quickly making back some money on our investment. Making me think we should have done this a long time ago.

Right off the truck before the snow

Getting to know the ins and outs of snow blowing our own driveway has had it’s ups and downs but nothing that hasn’t been resolved quickly.  Day one, Mark threw a pin trying to clear a path to the garbage shed – not to self watch the  natural rock wall on the left hand side of the path.  Day two I’m clearing the front of the driveway by the mailbox when Ruby – yes we’ve named her – decides to stop throwing snow and emit a slight burnt rubber smell.  Thankfully, that too was fixable although not sure exactly why it happened – the belt to the auger seemed to have stretched or the cable did…regardless Mark was able to trouble shoot and we were back to throwing more snow in no time. According to the groundhog, we have 6 more weeks of winter so it will be a while before we get to take the snow thrower attachment off and put the lawn mower deck on the bottom.

On frigid cold days like these where Jack Frost is nipping more than just the nose; it’s best to stay inside and grab one of the many seed catalogs that have been pouring into the mailbox last month.  I’ve been really busy preparing for a number of lectures on the schedule for February, just finishing the first one this past Wednesday.

GardenToTableI gave a Garden to Table presentation to the members of the New Canaan Beautification League at the New Canaan Nature Center.  There is a lot of material to cover when you want to paint a picture for an audience of why and how they can grown some of their own delicious food. So much material that the next programs I have coming up is actually a 4 part spring garden series where I can go more in depth to areas like composting, setting up polycultures, and container gardening.  The spring garden series will be hosted by the New Canaan Library which I am really excited to being working with. Our library has recently set up a new Seed Bank – so I am excited at the possibilities going forward that there is an increasing interest in edible gardening locally.

I’ve lived in my town for the last twenty years, raising my kids and working for my brother most of that time, but volunteering in my community is ways like coaching girls lacrosse. My fiance and business partner, Mark has been an EMT at our volunteer ambulance corp – NCVAC for past two years. The members of the Beautification League volunteer to their time to helping keep our pretty little village looking it’s best via working with nature. Volunteering has always been a big part of my life. When I was a teenager. my mother was at one point the President of the YWCA of New York City. She had started at the Y as a volunteer coordinator and her work ethic and passion for the place propelled her to president at lightening speed. The woman knew how to make things happen.

Volunteering is a wonderful way to give back to a community or organization you feel passionate about. It’s a great way to get out and meet like minded people who enjoy similar passions. I purposely use the word ‘volunteering’ as opposed to ‘community service’ because at some point in today’s world, the legal system has dished out ‘community service’ to many making it sound more like a penalty than something that can be very rewarding for the volunteer, them-self. It’s a shame that to a generation of children the words ‘community service’ doesn’t sound like something you would want to do but have to do.

In the gardening world, ‘volunteers’ means something different than people giving of their time to do something for free. Instead when you hear a gardener refer to a ‘volunteer’ they are referring to a specific plant that wasn’t purposely seeded but successfully growing where ever its seed lay.  Last summer we had a number of ‘volunteers’ come up in our backyard and not all in our raised beds.  We had a couple tomato plants come up over in wood chipped area and two more in the raised beds – one in my designated 3 Sister beds and the other in my cabbage bed.  The ones in the raised beds fared better than the wood chipped areas – most likely since we had composted the beds and perhaps the wood chips reduced the ph too much for the tomato plants to fruit. The two plants in the wood chip grew pretty big – one just flowered but didn’t fruit, the other fruited but very late in the season and we only were able to take some of the cherry tomatoes off before they had a chance to ripen on the vine.  Conversely, the volunteers in the raised beds gave off a lot of fruit – both of those were also cherry tomato plants.

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

I’m reminded of all this when I was preparing my presentation and was scanning my hundreds of photos of our garden and our client’s gardens.  The pictures get me thinking about the possibilities for this season.  What varieties should we plant this year?  Peas for certain will be among the first things, along with a variety of lettuce…The seed catalogs have sat untouched by me until just the other day.  I was afraid if I opened even one I would be too distracted to work on my Garden To Table presentation.  Later in the night, the day of the presentation, I finally cracked open my first bit of what we fondly refer to as garden porn.  Beautiful photographs of the most delicious looking fruits and vegetables are coupled with mouth-watering descriptions which causes you to have eyes bigger than your garden beds.

I was proud of myself, I didn’t go seed crazy and deliberately focused on edible flowers in as I checked out Annie’s Heirloom Seeds catalog and then also the strawberry starts – had to get those before they sell out like last year. Oh, then there is the potatoes – had to get some of Binje potatoes to try this year…Luckily I was exhausted form my day and that was all my tired eyes could handle at the time.

A few days have past since my seed binge and now we have these wicked cold temperatures outside, I think it’s the perfect time to start breaking out the paper and pen and start listing what we want grow this season.  I’ll need to check the cupboard where I keep our seed supply in neatly labeled plastic containers with pop-tops for one handed handling when out in the garden.  It took me a while to figure out the best way to save and keep seeds organized.  I like the plastic containers because they keep seeds dry and safe, whereas envelopes don’t reseal always and get wet and then compromise the seeds. Or land up at the bottom of your pockets, purse, garden bag, truck…

February is the best time to plan your garden – remember to consider crop rotations into your plan. Crop rotation is the practice of growing related vegetable families in different areas in consecutive years.  There are four plant families that benefit from crop rotation: the cabbage family, the carrot family, the cucumber & squash family and lastly, the tomato & eggplant family. Rotating these vegetable families will help prevent soil borne disease from building up and help keep and provides a principle mechanism for building healthy soils and organically controls pests.

When you plan things out on paper first it makes it a lot easier for to take into account things like crop rotations and companion planting. This way you can also makes sure that the proper companion plants are not only coupled together but the plants which should be kept away from one another will always stay away from one another.

One of many harvestsSo grab your hot beverage of choice and that stack of seed catalogs and enjoy dreaming about what can be. Fresh delicious harvests that will inspire most every meal!

If you are just starting a new garden and would like some ideas, I highly suggest looking at organic seed websites perhaps with your laptop or iPad or other mobile device to see the different types of delicious food you possibly could be growing in your backyard, porch or balcony. If you are in the Fairfield County, Connecticut area and need help you getting your garden started, please reach out for us to help at – that’s what we do. Elsewhere, check your local listing for organic land care professionals that may help get you started. Here is the northeast we have NOFA – the Northeast Organic Farming Association but I am sure there are many regional organizations like NOFA which are committed to promoting and supporting organic land care practices.


The First Steps of Marching Right Along

Starting a new business is equally as exciting as it is nerve-wracking. You never know if what you think is a fabulous idea is as fabulous an idea to the public. Homegrown Harvest is more than just about selling containers and raised beds to people; its about making gardening easier so more people can enjoy the benefits of fresh food. We hope to be able to show people that you don’t need big row gardens of the past to grow some of the food you love to eat and need to live a healthy life.

Greenwch Time PixThis past month for us has been a whirlwind of activity. We had our first home show, The Fairfield County Home & Better Living Show in Greenwich. The show had a rough start since Blizzard Nemo caused it to be delayed by a weekend pushing the show to the long weekend. The attendance levels seemed thin and many of the other vendors who had done the show in the past said that as well. For us it – we came out of the show with 30 new potential customers and landed us on the front page of the Greenwich Time newspaper in the article Generators, green products trending at home show! That alone made going to that show worth it. Since the show, we’ve seem an increase in the potential customers inquisitions from our website leading to hopefully the beginning of Mark and I going out on numerous estimate visits.

Last month, I also went off to Norwich, CT and earned my Accreditation in the Organic Land Care Profession – earning me the acronym AOLCP following my name. The course is taught by NOFA, the Northeast Farmers Association whose mission it is to protect and encourage a healthy relationship between humans and the land.

“CT NOFA is a growing community of farmers, gardeners, land care professionals, and consumers that encourages a healthy relationship to the natural world. CT NOFA:

Promotes methods of farming,ctnofa_logo gardening, and land care that respect biodiversity, soil, water, air, and the needs of future generations through education, support, and advocacy.
Encourages the growth of a sustainable, regional food system that is ecologically sound, economically viable and socially just.
Educates consumers about their power to effect positive changes through their food and land care choices.
Increases the local and organic food supply and maintains productive agricultural land by creating opportunities for new and veteran farmers.

CT NOFA is working toward:

The growth of organic food production in Connecticut, resulting in local, sustainable agricultural systems.
A clean, safe, healthy environment to pass on to future generations.
Preservation of existing farmland in the state.
An abundant supply of organically grown food for Connecticut citizens.”

~About CT NOFA

Since coming back from my class, I was teased that I drank too much of the Kool-aid as I was heard going on and on about Connecticut is a forest and wants to be a forest; how we should leave the leaves in our garden beds as they give good nutrients to the soil and my other new mantra lawns are evil – grow food, not lawns! Prompting Mark to cue up the Grateful Dead channel on the XM radio.

February also was the month we got our online store up and running on our website which we are very excited about since many gardeners may simply be looking for some tools or gardening accessories and prefer to do their shopping online and now we can accommodate that. If you haven’t had a chance to check out online store simply click on the “Shop” tab on our website or follow this link to our Shop Homegrown Harvest.


As busy as February was, March is going to busier for us as we are excited about this. The last two weeks I have started a number of seed starts in what used to be our dining room. It’s a south-facing room with big windows and now three tables with grow lights and a small heater. I am always amazed at the miracle of creation – to watch a seed that I planted spring forth to this little green sprout at first then develop into a plant – its just amazing! I’m always in a little disbelieve when it works. Currently, we have some varieties of lettuce, peppers and basil started, as well as some other herbs. I plan on starting a bunch more in the coming weeks too like the beans and peas. I’m so excited about the different varieties of seeds I have chosen to plant this season. Beautiful runner beans and delicious garden peas and snap peas! I can’t wait until its warm enough to plant outside.

But spring is still weeks away and we have our last frost period to endure. Mark and I have started to prepare for our second home show coming up next weekend, The Fairfield County Home & Outdoor Expo at the Stamford Plaza Hotel. We have a smaller space this time so we will have to get creative, plus I will be at the first day of the show myself since Mark has EMT training all day that day. (My partner, Mark has been pulling double duty since January when he began his EMT training at the New Canaan Ambulance Corp.) If you are interested in attending contact us at and we will email you a free pass to the expo.

This month, we already have on the calendar some estimate visitations set up with potential customers. We will continue to work hard to get the word out to the community about what we do and how we can help them grow their own food. As I said in the beginning – its an exciting time but a nerve-wracking time as well. We believe in our business and want to help people discover that gardening doesn’t have to be complicated, back-breaking or overly time consuming. We want to help people discover you don’t need a ton of space to grow your own food – there are simple and efficient ways to garden, like square foot gardening which uses about 20% of the space than a IMG_6950traditional row garden uses. We also know that even the best business ideas can fail if not executed properly. That’s why we are talking to as many people who have started their own businesses and learning from them; networking with people who are currently in the business and learning from them and continuing our own education in the industry so that we can continue to share our expanding knowledge with our customers. It’s an ever changing world and you have learn to grow and adapt with it.

Today, food prices continue to escalate and the amount of energy used to get certain foods from the ground to your table is exorbitant. Some foods travel 2500 miles! The amount of nutrients lost in transit are enormous. We can’t be certain of what it was grown in, what was sprayed on it and what exactly that is went through before landing up in the produce aisle. Technology coupled with Americans desires for a fast and convenient lifestyle has removed people from nature. Children are attached to cell phones, computers and video games instead of the climbing trees, playing in the woods and digging in the dirt.

When gardening you need to think about right plant, right place, right time; the same thing can be said about business as well – right business, right place, right time. Mark and I believe that Homegrown Harvest is a good business idea in the right place at the right time. We look forward to sharing our expertise and knowledge in helping people get back to nature a little and grow their own homegrown harvests.