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 .

Yams
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

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 look back at weather 2015

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

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

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

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

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
temperatures
March
0
57
April
23
75
May
37
84
June
41
84
July
51
91
August
51
90
September *
49
94
 
Number of days about 90 degrees
July
3
August
1
September*
2
  
Number of days temperature was above 80 degrees in New Canaan, CT
May
13
June
10
July
24
August
26
September *
14
Number of days temperature was 75 degrees or below
March
31
April
29
May
12
June
13
July
2
August
0
September *
4
 *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:

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

The Importance of soil – Our lives depend on it!

It’s the first time in a long while since I have had the opportunity to sit at my computer to do something other than check my email, pay bills and write up invoices.  It doesn’t seem like it was too long ago I felt tethered to my computer as I was preparing presentation after presentation for our Spring Gardening Series at the New Canaan Library.   I’m not complaining at all – I have been blessed with nine weeks of solid gardening after a winter of 60+ inches of snow.  Our time following the thaw started off in April amending and seeding our raised beds and those of our clients.  Amending the soil on an annual basis is what we consider one of the most important steps in the process.

“Essentially, all life depends upon the soil … There can be no life without soil and no soil without life; they have evolved together.”
Charles E. Kellogg, USDA Yearbook of Agriculture, 1938

Before becoming a full-time professional gardener and an accredited organic land care professional three years ago – I used to research food, water, and agribusiness companies for my brother’s investment company.  Over the course of a decade or more of reading about companies directly involved with our food production, my understanding of the importance soil plays in growing healthy fruits and vegetables has grown exponentially.

Today we find ourselves in a situation where the US and much of the world’s inventory of arable topsoil has been lost due to erosion, overuse of inorganic nitrogen fertilizers and other farming practices that leave the soil depleted.  Our planet is losing its usable topsoil at a considerable rate [75 to 100 GT per year].  What does that mean – basically it means   it’s estimated that there will only be about 48 years of topsoil left, if we keep up the pace.

“The soil is the great connector of our lives, the source and destination of all.”
Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America, 1977

Fact: Food grown in nutrient deficient soil lacks the nutrients necessary to keep people healthy and declines in the nutritional values in food have been attributed to mineral depletion of the soil, loss of soil microorganisms along with changes in plant varieties.

Our food system is rapidly losing the ability to produce food with nutrient levels adequate to maintain the health of families because over the extreme levels of soil degradation we experience in the US.

“The alarming fact is that food – fruits and vegetables and grains – now being raised on millions of acres of land that no longer contains enough needed nutrients, are starving no matter how much we eat from them.” US Senate Document 264 (1936)

This is not a new problem, as the quote from the US Senate Document 264 stated back in 1936! Soil degradation has been talked about and debated for decades and is a problem that is not solely in the United States but is a global issue.

FAO-Infographic-IYS2015-fs2-enDeforestation, overgrazing and over cultivation have resulted in the degradation of soils in every region of the world.  The 68th UN General Assembly considered it worthy enough to turn their attentions to soil importance by declaring 2015 the International Year of Soils.

The fact of the matter is that soils have been transformed by human activity. Whether it’s been through physical degradation by removing natural vegetation, leaving surfaces exposed to the elements or biological degradation where soil has been exhausted of nutrients.

With erosion comes desertification in some areas – I’m sure many who live in the west probably have noticed the increasing number of dust storms. National Geographic recently covered a story, American West Increasingly Dusty comparing dust emissions to be reminiscent of the Dust Bowl Days.  In other areas, we see increased flooding or mudflows.  In the end, all culminating in a loss of soil and biological diversity which directly threatens our overall food security.

Today the nutritional value of harvested food is a major issue.  Over the course of a half a century of the over use of petroleum-based synthetic fertilizers – the commercial farming industry has brought about the destruction of the natural balance of carbon reserves in our soil.

Why is carbon so important in our soil?
The role of carbon is two-fold holding valuable nutrients as well as moisture for plants.  The destruction of carbon has caused our soils to lose the ability to grow healthy food since plants get their nutrients, important minerals from the soil.

Recent studies including one by the University of Texas at Austin’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry showed that there have been substantial declines in the amount of protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, vitamin B2 and vitamin C over the last century. The study goes as far as to point the finger at the multitude of agricultural practices used to improve traits like size, growth rate and pest resistance.

“Be it deep or shallow, red or black, sand or clay, the soil is the link between the rock core of the earth and the living things on its surface.  It is the foothold for the plants we grow.  Therein lies the main reason for our interest in soils.”
Roy W. Simonson, USDA Yearbook of Agriculture, 1957

Many other studies conclude similar and startling findings considering that they say an adult woman eating two peaches in 1951 would have to eat 53 in 2002 to get the same nutritional value!  If that doesn’t make the point clear, I don’t know what will.

It’s no wonder that our food has scarcely any nutritional content – in today’s global food system, consumers are guaranteed to find a ripe tomato any day of the year, in most any store across our country.  The average produce travels 1500-2500 miles to reach the grocery store; being harvested well before the fruit is properly ripened.[Pirog et al 2001]  Most fruits and vegetables contain 70% – 90% water and once it is separated from its source of nutrients – the tree, the vine or the plant – they undergo higher rates of respiration, moisture loss, quality and nutrient degradation and potential microbial spoilage.

Chemical preservatives are used to make produce look better to consumers, despite the loss of nutritional value.  While full color may be achieved after harvest, nutritional quality can not.  Tomatoes harvested green have 31% less vitamin C than those allowed to ripen on the vine. (Lee and Kader, 2000)  Plus commercial produce producers selects seed varieties for transportability, shelf life, not nutrient content or flavor.

So what can you do about this global problem?
The answer is as simple as looking in your own backyard or perhaps you get better sun in the front yard.  Grow Your Own Food. It doesn’t take a lot of space and the time you put into it is so rewarding and healthy for your body, mind and soul.

Food gets their nutrients from healthy soil and healthy soil leads to higher nutrients in crops.  A growing body of research supports Sir Albert Howard and J.I. Rodale, the founders of the organic movement who first hypothesized that soils rich in organic matter produce more nutritious food higher in antioxidants, flavonoids, vitamins and minerals.

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Healthy soil is biologically alive and balanced in minerals and carbon content.  Soil organisms play an essential role in the breakdown of organic matter and other complex molecules.  These activities are also linked to processes that lead to the aggregation of soil particles into a friable soil structure that is beneficial for the growth of plants.  The inter-connected activities of soil organisms improve soil stability and underpin nutrient cycling on a global scale.

It’s a fact that healthy soils are responsible for the production of food borne antibiotics, vitamins, phyto-chemicals and amino acids – all of which are crucial the the health of humans.  The right soil will yield the most nutritious and flavorful food possible.  Old techniques which many still prescribe to today: things like roto-tilling and hoeing on soil can be very disruptive to soil organisms.  That’s just one of the reasons we like to use raised beds since they help avoid soil compaction which also effects soils organisms and the soil can be worked more easily without disrupting soil organisms too much.

Photo Credit: Daphne Sampson
Photo Credit: Daphne Sampson

Decomposition of organic matter is the organic content of soil, as decomposing organic material increase carbon content into the soil . This is also one of the many reasons people should compost.  I’d get more into composting but I can go on and on and I will leave that for a soon-to-be-coming blog post.

But composting and compost play a vital role in having healthy nutrient-rich soil year after year.  The soil we use when we install new raised garden beds is a combination of ingredients we mix together. The compost is the food, the nutrient sourse that will feed the growth of the plants coupled with peat which holds water and help keep the soil loose.  We also include some vermiculite, a rock which is mined and heated into little pieces that have nooks and crannies that hold water and nutrients in the soil.  It also helps keep the soil friable and less dense.  Vermiculite also adds a touch of potassium and magnesium but not enough to disrupt pH levels.  When we start with this mixture we have created a weed free environment that is organically balanced for growing food.  The only thing on an annual basis which is replaced each spring is the compost, since it holds the nutrients.  This is why Mark and I went around to all our clients’ gardens this spring and replenished the beds with fresh new compost.

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By growing even a small amount of vegetables you can boost your vitamin and mineral intake significantly. There is no travel time involved and you have controlled the environment in which it has grown. You save water as well, since home gardening is much more efficient than commercial farming systems.

When veggies are grown in your own garden soil enrich with compost, you pick them when you need your veggies minutes before a meal. They are ripe and ready when they are highest in nutritional content. Vine ripened red peppers have 30% more vitamin C than green peppers. (Howard et al. 1994) and vine ripened tomatoes have more vitamin C as well as more antioxidants and lycopene than those harvested prematurely, which is what happens daily in commercial agriculture. (Arias et al 2000).

Soil is a non-renewable resource; its preservation is essential for food security and our sustainable future.

“We are part of the earth and it is part of us …
What befalls the earth befalls all the sons of the earth.”

Chief Seattle, 1852

We love helping others learn the joys of edible gardening and discovering for themselves the nutritional benefits from even growing just a little of their fresh produce. If they need our guidance – we are always there to help. We have often said we consider ourselves to be gardening coaches to our clients. We love helping people discover their green thumb.

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Spring – ah how we welcome thee

IMG_4663How does Connecticut greet the spring of 2015 but with 6 1/2 inches of fresh powder!  The vernal equinox ushers in promises of warmer, more colorful days ahead: a difficult thought when literally everything is freshly recovered in a blanket of 6+ inches of snow.

Yesterday parts of the world were treated to a total eclipse of the sun – a site to experience for sure. I believe it was around 1994,when I was living in Michigan when I witnessed this incredibly humbling experience.  A true reminder to us all that we are not the ones in control of our planet and space, there are much greater forces at work here. We may have a better understanding of what’s occurring but in no means are we the ones in the driver’s seat.

Since coming home from a much needed vacation the snows which had been piling up even 24 hours before our departure had melted quite a bit in a weeks time.  The snows around the patio were continuing to recede slowly but surely which each passing day this last week. I was even able to open the door to the Maine Kitchen Garden and walk in and look at the progress of what’s going on in the beds.  A few greens could be see underneath the  garden cloches.  The straw mulch remains down protecting the soil , although the stems from onions and garlic also could be seen poking through.  Yesterdays signs of spring today are again wrapped in winter’s thick blanket of freshly fallingIMG_4282 snow.

Springtime is a time for new beginnings, a fresh slate to start a new. In the garden, despite the looks of the lunar scape which continues above ground; beneath the surface – life continues to happen.  The ground is alive with microbial activity – the recent thaws have begun below the surface and once winter wraps up its finale – life will spring forth.

As I mentioned we recently were away in the lush tropical paradise of Barbados. It’s sunny and warm and gorgeous every day. If it rains, it does so overnight or early in the morning. Beautiful and sunny all IMG_0359the time…hmmm…. it makes me wonder if one could truly appreciate the beauty of those conditions day in and day out, particularly if that’s all you ever experienced.  The contrasts of colors these last few weeks for us going from brown, black, white and evergreen to an explosion of greens, blues, yellows, reds – the sea alone was at least 5 different shades of turquoise! However, even paradise has it’s gardening challenges.  The place we stayed had this great area for a garden but it wasn’t being used! We couldn’t understand how that could be that is until we met the monkeys!  Monkeys are to Barbados as deer, raccoon and squirrels are to Connecticut.

It’s been snowing for two hours this morning – not a single forecast called for snow at all today. Funny how all the weather apps and services finally changed the forecast to reflect what’s actually going on now.  I find it best to take this time and take refuge in my garden and those of our clients, albeit on paper but with planning each vegetable, herb and flower a landscape of colors appears in my head.

I always take photos along the way each year of each garden. The early pictures of promise are generally stark since capturing a planted seed is fairly boring. It’s a lot to ask the viewer to look beyond the soil and imagine the seed nestled into the earth waiting for the right combination of events to occur in order for the miracle of life to happen. Unless you are a gardener, then of course, you get it, you see the potential.

IMG_0044Knowing what has been planted in the past and where allows us to successfully plan for the future. Succession planting is the practice of rotating plants from season to season. For instance, one year you would plant members of the solanaceae family (tomatoes, peppers…) in one part of the garden or in a particular garden bed and then the next year you would move it to another part of the garden or different garden bed.  Plotting the garden out, we use an intensive planting method setting up a polyculture,  similar to square foot gardening but without the grid and a bit more free form.

Submersing myself into the symphony of delicious color, I paint the gardens with the green peas that emerge from purple and white flowers. Smatterings of Red Sail lettuce mixed with purple petunias lay beneath a canopy of emeralds touched with Sun Gold Cherry, Cherokee Purple and Lemon Boy tomatoes.  Monet’s garden couldn’t be more beautiful or colorful.  Since everything doesn’t all come up at once – the garden colors in spring differ than what emerges in the middle of summer which eventually gives way to an entirely new palette in fall.

The changes in the seasons is like watching Mother Nature flipping channels and I’m not sure I’d like to be stuck on any one given channel. Would you?

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.

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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 info@homegrownharvest.com – 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.

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The End of the 2014 Season

I wrote this blog entry back in early October in a notebook. However, life got in the way of me sitting down and entering it; a resolution is to be more diligent in keeping up with writing and actually posting.

Garlic Planting Season

September has been cool and wet in our neck of the woods of SWCT, much like the summer was.  The first six days of October has proven to be both wet and cold; two inches of rain fell over the weekend and I woke to chilly 48 degrees. The marigolds don’t seem to mind the frigid temperatures and they continue to brighten our garden with reds, oranges and yellows.  Many people this time of year find themselves turning to chrysanthemums, but our marigolds have minimized our need to buy mums. The pink petunias as well have continued to thrive nicely into October.  In New England this is the time of year (October/November) to plant garlic. We decided to experiment with a few different varieties this season, after learning that there is a whole world of garlic of varying tastes and spiciness to them that I had never heard of or seen. I thought garlic was garlic but just in the way you can’t say if you’ve tasted one tomato, you’ve tasted them all; the same goes for garlic.

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Charley our gnome

Allicin: Mother Nature’s Insecticide

When I select seeds and starts for our gardens, I always look for varieties that are easy to grow in our zone (6), that will be prolific and delicious of course. Siberian garlic is an example of a wonderful cold weather prolific producer we planted this fall. It has a warm medium to strong flavor delicious in any dish. It is high in allicin content, the highest of any garlic. Allicin is an organosulfur compounds that enhances circulation; normal cholesterol levels; and boosts the immune system. Plus has a variety of antimicrobial properties.  Garlic is natural defense system from insects and fungi; enzymatic-ally producing allicin when it’s chushed.   It is Mother Nature’s insecticide. However, allicin is not found in all forms of garlic – it is primarily found in the raw state.

When roasted Siberian garlic deliciously caramelizes, its delicate mild flavor compliments without overwhelming.  A perfect addition to stir-fries, dips, sauces, soups where you are looking to add a subtle hint of garlic.  Originally from Europe and used in traditional European and Russian cooking, Siberian garlic made its way to Alaska in the 19th century. Legend says it was traded off the docks for fresh veggies, probably making its way across the Bering Strait. It’s an easy to grow hard neck garlic in the maple purple stripe family. A medium-tall plant, it produces large bulbs and beautiful purple flowers making a lovely addition to any garden.  Bogatyr is also in this family. This rich flavored garlic is extremely robust and great in Italian dishes. I look forward to having this in our sauces!  Chesnok Red is one of the best baking garlic around; mouthwatering sweet when baked. Rounding out the garlic bed we also included Elephant, Music, California Early and Late Italian. All milder than the easier mentioned varieties but add just as much to the culinary cues of the kitchen.

When planting garlic cool temperatures are the best conditions for planting.  Look for a sunny site, preferably in a raised bed rich with compost.  Break bulbs into separate cloves, the plump ones are best for the garden – save the smaller ones for containers or to force chivelike foliage.  Set and space cloves two to three inches apart in all directions.  Along with the garlic, we planted other alliums like onions and shallots that like other bulbs do best when planted in the fall.

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Our garden.

December Entry- Getting up to date and ready for the snow

It’s difficult to believe that despite the calendar and the fact that many parts of the country have been buried under snow; 6’+ in Buffalo a week before Thanksgiving – it’s still fall. Autumn, that beautiful time of years where Mother Nature truly can put on a spectacular finale before closing the final curtain on the season.  The winter solstice doesn’t begin until December 21 – over two weeks away. We put a straw/hay blended mulch down on top of the bed that are seeded or perennials to protect from the expected harsh winter snows.

Just as the leaves were turning dazzling shades of orange, yellow and red, the trees and shrubs begin to shed their glory; there is a part of the garden that is just getting started. As I have discussed above, early fall is the perfect time for planting garlic bulbs, onion and shallot starts. They start to grow just a little in the ground before going dormant for the winter months.  It’s like they hit the pause button until the spring thaw warms the ground once more, kick starting their growth in to overdrive.  Many vegetables benefit greatly from spending some time in the frosted ground – it tends to bring out the natural sugars and makes things like peas and carrots sweeter.

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Winter Brown Lettuce under the glass bell cloches.

The other day I walked out in to the garden and checked on the things that we had seeded in late summer that we have been able to enjoy for a few weeks now.  First there is the dwarf bok choy that we look forward to throwing into some stir-fry this weekend. We would have already had some but our 11-month-old puppy, Marley Sage Mulch can add bok choy to her list of last names. On numerous occasions she got into the raised bed and munched away at the crispy ends of the vegetable managing to eat up three plants.  We were able to save a few others but have had to wait to make sure the plants would survive.

Today another walk through the garden I see in one raised bed that there is plenty of kale that is ready to enjoy. The arugula should be cut so we can make some pesto and the Golden Acre cabbage looks delicious.  I check the progress under the stray/hay we put down as mulch to protect from the expected harsh winter.  Underneath the yellow multiplier onions is nestled next to Italian late garlic with Artic butterhead lettuce on the other side. Music and Elephant garlic sit next to the Giants of Colamar carrots at the garden party. The exotic Sante shallots and French red shallots mix with California Early and Siberian garlic. Finishing the bed up with Bogatyr and Russian red garlic coupled with Russian Red torpedo and Walla Wallas onions.

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Golden Acre Cabbage

Finally I walk through the gate of our Maine Kitchen Garden where under a cloche Marvel of Four Season lettuce and Paris Market carrots are growing.  Under the glass bell cloches it’s easy to see the leaves of the Winter Brown lettuce. We also seeded a number of overwintering carrot varieties like Meridia Hybrid and Giants of Colamar; a few varieties of greens such as Giant Winter spinach and Winterwunder looseleaf lettuce that we will be able to enjoy in early spring.

As the holiday catalogs continue to fill our mailboxes with cards and catalogs, the first of the seed catalogs have also started to come in sparking the beginning thoughts, dreams and discussions for next season.  We wish all our readers and followers and very joyous holiday season and a bountiful New Year!

August/September – Where did the summer go?

It’s difficult to imagine that Labor Day weekend has already come and gone.  I have been negligent in writing a monthly blog entry this summer.  Once again the busy season whirled by us – selling gardens; installing gardens; going to events; talking to people about their gardens; helping people maintain their gardens.  The company’s second growing season has kept us on our toes from March all the way through until the last days of August. September’s arrival has us preparing for our next event at Live Green CT coming up September 13-14th. and we are working on a presentation about the health benefits of having a small vegetable garden which we will present at the season opening meeting of the National Charity League.

Most of August I spent time in our clients’ and our own garden pruning back the tomato plants – particularly the wildly big cherry tomatoes we planted this year. There are many gardeners oIMG_1129ut there who don’t prune their tomato plants at all. There is an old gardener’s adage: if you do prune you will have less but larger fruit, than if you don’t prune your plants. Towards the end of the summer, I like to prune our indeterminate plants because I believe that by pruning the unnecessary leaves the plants energy is diverted into the fruit and flowers instead of the foliage.  I also like to make sure the plant has plenty of airflow circulation to prevent disease from building up by clipping back the branches filled with leaves, which tend to catch the wind.  I have some plants in containers which if I don’t trim them the leaves get so clustered together that it catches the wind and on a gusty day I have found my container on it’s side!  A clear sign I needed to prune back the foliage so the air could cut through the branches giving plant healthy airflow.

Many times, early in the morning, as I am watching the dogs trot through the backyard I have considered that I should go over to my computer and write an entry about all the things we have been doing. But instead, I would head out to our garden with my camera and coffee in hand and try to capture beauty of the garden in the morning.  The cooler temperatures this season more often than not have forced me to put a robe on which did nothing for my bare feet on the cold grass from the wet morning dew.  I think we only had 3 or 4 days where the mercury rose to 90 degrees of above this summer. We have had to be patient waiting for the peppers to fully ripen to the various shades of red, orange and purple; I believe it takes a little more heat in order for them to fully flourish.  This Labor Day weekend was hot and steamy and it has continued to remain humid.  Hopefully the peppers will appreciate this little spell of hot weather.

Last week I felt the urgency to get my fall/winter garden seeded. With the way time flies the frosts of winter could be here before we know what hit us.  Particularly if the threat of the polar vortex making a possible early appearance in September topped with El Nino winter not too far behind.  About a month ago we put in another new raised bed, a beautiful cedar 4′ x 8′ raised bed from our friends down in North Carolina.  I had to drag out the dog fence so the pack wouldn’t run around and mess it up like they had after the fresh compost was added days earlier.  I seeded a bunch of cole crops: arugula, kale, broccoli, cauliflower along with some carrots and onions. The carrots I selected for this garden were Autumn King, Giants of Colmar, Paris Market and Meridia. In our Maine Kitchen Garden bed between the tomato and pepper plants there was a bunch of space so I seeded Harris Model Parsnips, a few varieties of lettuce: Winter Density, Winter Brown and Marvel of 4 Seasons; as well as a couple of varieties of spinach: Palco and Winter Giant.  I look forward to the promise of what this autumn/winter garden could possibly provide my family. Just think of the salads, soups, sauces and sides we could enjoy!

IMG_1627So far we have managed to can 9 quarts of tomato sauce for the winter and with the looks of things in the garden we will be able to do a lot more canning before the season is through.  We filmed a video about canning which I need to edit first but once it’s ready to go I will do a whole blog entry dedicated to canning. Smells trigger memories and standing over a simmering pot of tomato sauce can transport me back in to the garden with all its colors and fragrance even on the bleakest of winter days.  Every time we crack open a jar of our homegrown homemade sauce that we canned, we recapture tiny moments of summer which flew by all too fast at the time.