Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A New Year's Resolution

I don't usually do resolutions for the new year. For me trying to succeed in a goal can happen at anytime and the new year is not special. But for the first time in decades, I'm making a New Year's resolution and since it is on this blog, you just know it is going to be related to my garden.

I've actually been thinking about this since last July, but it was too late then. The new year is a perfect time to start it. I want to see how much I spend on my garden and how much I harvest. Last summer there was talk about the $64 tomato. Surely I don't spend that much. Surely I make more in the produce I harvest than I spend on my garden. Or do I?

I do feel like I'm cheating however. Previous years I've bought seedlings at the garden center. This year I'm not - well maybe a couple of tomato plants or random things to fill in if my seedlings die, but mostly I'm working from seed. Also last year I made a ton of compost, so this year I need to buy no bags. My style will remind me more of my early labor intensive days gardening as opposed to my more recent years when I've been lazier busier.

To keep track of this I will have to start now. I've already put my first order into Pinetree. Or tried to. I have two credit cards to my name. I use one and pay it off each month. The other is my backup card, the one I can use if the first one is canceled. Well indeed the first one had fraudulent charges on it. Chase called up Saturday morning. Our number had been taken on Friday. There were several charges that weren't ours. They are exceedingly good about picking up on fraud, however they also call us all the time thinking there is fraud where there is none. I've taken to calling them when I travel so they don't cancel it on me. Well they said they would FedEx a new one to us on Monday and we would get it on Tuesday. Monday I blithly put in an order to Pinetree with my other card. Then when we went out to eat that night, it was rejected. Oh no. I figured they though there was fraud since I was actually using it and I don't usually. I called them. They had canceled it in September. They didn't even tell us or give us any warning at all. Geez. Pinetree called wanting a real credit card, but I had none to give them. I finally got back to them today with my new card in hand. And though it was put in before the new year, it really belongs to next year's total. So $35.85 in seed, $13.95 for the oriental gardening tool that one of the blogs raved about (I forgot who, or I'd link) and $6.95 for shipping. The total: $56.75.

I am wondering how to count how much I harvest. I'll do it by weight, but how much is a pound of lettuce worth? Should I go to Whole Foods, Wilson's Farm or the Farmer's Market to find my price? My produce is organic, but hardly certified (my seed and bought seedlings usually aren't organic). Do I use the higher organic price or the lowest price I find? Do I average prices or just take the median? Do I count the food I give away or just the food I eat myself? And the most telling question: am I going to still be in this house to harvest my veggies or will I move this spring? It wouldn't be quite an appropriate count if I have to move.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

More Greens for the Garden

The plans for the next year's garden have been going along just fine. I've figured out what plants I'm not going to grow any more. I've taken stock of all the seeds I still have. The three sisters garden has all been planned out. My next problem was figuring out what new greens I wanted. I love salads and cooked greens. Last year I grew a handful of new Asian greens. I want to grow many of them again. I also missed growing regular cabbage so that is on the list. I'm getting Gonzolas since it is a mini cabbage and doesn't need as much space. I'm the only one in my family eating it so small is good.

Pinetree has so many greens. My list of new greens to try started with: Miner's Lettuce, Mache, Holland Greens Tyfon, Malabar spinach, New Zealand Spinach, Strawberry Spinach, Mustard Spinach. I don't have space for all of those. I still want to grow most of the Asian greens from last year. In addition I want two rows of chard instead of one. One really isn't enough. I love chard. Oh and lots of lettuce. I've decided to try two new lettuces - New Red Fire and Merveille de Quatre Seasons. I love red lettuce. I actually had four new lettuces on the list, but really I don't need that much. I must have control and only buy what I can actually plant. Last year I bought kale and never had room to plant it. Maybe it will make the garden this year. It is so hard to pare down the list. The garden is only so big. And the reality of it is that I can only eat so much. My eyes are bigger than my stomach.

I finally did pare it down. Just three new greens. Mustard Spinach was the first on my list. I picked it because it was described as "the most bolt resistant Asian brassica". Plus it is good cooked and raw. How can I resist. All summer long and it is versatile.

The second was Tyfon Holland Greens. You have to love the description. "If you'd like to feed an army from an area the size of a coffee table, this may be the vegetable for you." So I'm guessing it is prolific. I'm good with that. Also it does not have any mustard oil in it so it will stay mild in the summer.

The last was Strawberry Spinach. I picked it because it is a heat lover that is good in salads and when it does bolt, it produces little strawberry like fruit. So it stays productive.

So now I have three new greens to try, that will all do well in my summer heat. Last summer was very sad when all the lettuce stopped producing and the Asian greens went a little mustardy. I'm crossing my fingers for salads all the way through the summer. New Red Fire Lettuce is supposed to be slow bolting too.

Thinking about what to grow is so much fun. So many plants are dancing in my head. The hardest part is to pick the few to try this year. However I know if they don't work out that next year I can always try more. That is the fun of winter gardening. Dreaming of gardens to come.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Seeds in Need of a Good Home

So when I start planning next years garden, the first thing I do is take stock of what I currently have. Then I take out the ones I'm not growing anymore. If they interest you please send me an email with your address and what you would like. I'd be happy to mail them out to you (US only), if you want just a couple of seeds and not the whole pack let me know. Seeds are a terrible thing to throw away. All the seed is from 2008. So what am I not growing this year?

  1. Pumpkin, Early Sweet Sugar Pie (Burpee). If you read my blog, you know the angst that accompanied my pumpkin growing last year. It will be a couple of years before I challenge the vine borers again.
  2. Summer Squash, Early Prolific Straightneck (NK). I liked it well enough. It wasn't as prolific (despite its name) as a zucchini and I'm gong to try a borer resistant squash this year.
  3. Diakon Radish, Minowase (Pinetree), Turnip, Tokyo Cross F1 (Pinetree), Radish, Pinetree Radish Mix (Pinetree). These root crops don't grow well in my garden unless under a row cover. They aren't worth the effort of a row cover to me except the radish and I'm trying "Reggae" this year which has some insect resistance.
  4. Arugula, Rocket (Burpeee). I HATE arugula, though I'm sure a lot of you out there would disagree with me.
  5. Beans, Yard Long Bean (PineTree). Didn't grow well here. I might try it again some year since I love them, but not anytime soon.
  6. Carrot, Danvers (Blotanical Interests). Grew fine. Tasted fine. But Big Top was better here. I'm going to try different varieties this year. BTW this is a good section for clay soil.
  7. Mustard, Red Giant Indian Mustard (Pinetree). Didn't grow well in my garden.

In additon I still have seed collected from my garden I'm willing to ship out. Dill, flat leafed parsley, and pink mallow (yes a flower, really I do grow them, warning self seeds like lemon balm).

I don't require any trades. I'm just saving the seeds from the compost pile.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Seeds for a Three Sister's Garden

Well it is after Christmas, so it is time to start looking at what I'm going to grow next year. Some years I don't plan and just grab whatever is available at the local nursery. Since my favorite one (with the best seed selection AND plant selection) closed down, I've decided I have to start growing from my transplants from seed again. So I need a lot more seed that usual. When I really plan things out, I tend to order from a couple of seed houses. My favorite is Pinetree. It is a New England (Maine) company, so fairly local to me. Plus it has seed packets for about a dollar each, so I can get more varieties.

This year (I suppose it is really next year, but in my mind the gardening new year has already begun) I've decided to do more companion planting to try to eek out more veggies from my garden. The first step to this is a three sisters garden. This will take up one of the three main rows in the garden.

I've been wanted to do a three sisters garden for most of last year. I've never done one before, and I always love trying new things. So first off I need corn. Tall corn. Since I haven't grown corn is YEARS, I haven't a clue as to what might do well here. I read the descriptions and picked out "Bon Appetit". My husband doesn't each much from the garden, but he will eat corn and he loves the really sweet corn. I like bicolor corn because it looks pretty. This one matched both requirements. It grows to 80" or just over 6 1/2' tall so it ought to be tall enough to support the beans.

Next are the beans. I will continue to grown Kentucky Wonder beans. I love the taste. They grow like crazy and best of all I still have seed left over. I may plant some left over Fortex beans, but maybe not. Even with those, I can only eat so many green beans. I will have four hills of four corn plants. Each hill will have 6-8 bean plants. One or two hills will meet my green bean needs. The other two hills I will plant dried beans. But which ones? Pinetree doesn't have any good dried pole beans. Nor does Johnnys (another of my favorite places to buy from - but expensive). Seed Saver's Exchange is perfect for dried beans. They have so many wonderful varieties. I love black beans, so Cherokee Trail of Tears seems very appropriately historical. But is my second going to be Brockton Horticultural or True Red Cranberry? Both are historically New England seeds. I've chosen True Red Cranberry because of my love of kidney beans. In a way it seems silly to me to only order two different seeds from a company. The shipping costs almost equal the cost of the seed, but I really really want Cherokee Trail of Tears, so I'm just going to have to put up with the shippng cost. Luckily beans are mostly self pollinating so in future years I can just save seed without much issue.

The third sister is squash. I'm actually going to have some cucumbers on the side, the same cucumbers that did so stellar in my garden last year - Diamant. I'm ordering it from Johnnys. I'm hoping for tons of pickles again. They will grow up and along the fence. The squash I'm growing are two zucchinis and neck pumpkin (really a butternut variety). The first zucchini "Dark Green Zucchini" is left over seed from last year. It was very prolific. The next zucchini is Costata Romanesco. It and the neck pumpkin are supposed to be resistant to the vine borers that are so problematic in my garden. The neck pumpkin I can get from Pinetree, but Costata Romanesco comes from Johnnys. So again I'm ordering just two seed packets from a company. Sigh. At least I'll have a large order from Pinetree. But I'll get to the rest of what I'm planning in a later post.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


Well Friday we got 10" of snow. Saturday just 3". Sunday we got 8" before we quit shoveling (above photo is from Sunday). When we woke up Monday we had another 5" on the ground. All in all that would be 26" of snow. Not far from us they had a lot less. I think our micro climate on the top of the hill added maybe 8" to our totals. Right now I'm grumbling about it, but I'll love the micro climate in the spring when our spring frosts end so much earlier than the rest of the area - provided of course that I can find the soil in the spring under all this snow.

Today it is all packed down on the ground to about a foot and a half except where it drifted. The worst of the "drifting" was in my garden. We decided it was prudent to shovel our roof. A lot of that ends up in my garden. So on my herb garden is a 3' pile of snow. I can't figure out if that is good for it or not. I know the snow cover is good. But throwing the snow off the roof compacts the snow terribly. I wonder if the poor plants will suffocate under there. Time will tell. Maybe this will be the year that my Hill Hardy rosemary survives.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Preparing for the Storm

I've been sitting in my family room working in front of the TV. The weatherman keeps telling me about the "wall" of snow that is just about to hit us. It so makes me want soup for lunch. And, lucky me, I have some leeks left from my harvest in November. So Potato and Leek Soup is on the menu. I can smell it simmering from here. Yummy.

That is about as close as I've been getting to the garden recently. It is the busy time for work (don't lecture me about taking vacation in the middle of the season), so I've been just glancing at my seed catalogs. But food is always important and I still have some fresh produce left. Ok I confess, now I just have carrots and a couple of sad green onions left in the fridge. They have been used recently in a Thai fish dish. Most of it was from the store, but the carrots, onions and frozen basil all came from the garden. Whoo hoo.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

On Why I Missed GBBD or Happy Anniversary Mom and Dad

SunsetWow I missed GBBD, not that there are any flowers actually blooming here. My excuse is a good one though.

Ever since my mother figured she missed out on an exciting 25th wedding anniversary, which I think passed by with just a dinner out, she has been telling me that I must do something for her 50th. She was thinking something like a party. My husband and I thought it would be fun if the family took a trip - maybe sailing together. My brother nixed that. His wife gets very seasick. But my mother found out about the idea and latched onto it. She must have read the journal of our trip to the Grenadines, because that is where she wanted to go.

TrunkfishSo Joel and I took my folks to the Grenadines to sail for a little over a week. Though there was a computer on the boat, I stayed away from it. For my entertainment I swam in the warm waters and saw all the fish. In some places schools upon schools of them glittering in the sun. I saw rays gliding over the sand and cute little trunk fish coming up to my mask to check me out. I walked the beaches and felt the sand between my toes. And every evening we sat at the back of the boat watching the sunset and drinking cocktails.

Happy Anniversary Mom and Dad.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Tea Time

It has been almost a week since I last posted. My ground is frozen solid, no more seed catalogs have come to my doorstep and I have a cold. Not the best of times. At least I'm still enjoying the fruits of my labor this summer. Since I have a cold, I've been drinking a lot of tea.

During the day it is green tea, but at night my homegrown variety comes out. If you remember way back, I put in a tea garden this year. I had three kinds of mint, lemon balm, and chamomile. I didn't use them much in the summer as I hate iced tea, but now is perfect.

My lemon balm didn't dry well. The lemon smell disappeared totally. It smelled like parsely when I opened it up. Ick. I don't want parsley tea. I want lemon flavored tea. So I tossed that. I might resort to my lemon thyme at some point since that one dried quite fragrantly.

The chamomile went bonkers this summer. I just kept picking it every week (what a tedious chore), but I got about 3-4 cups of dried flowers out of a little 18"x24" patch. I would have had more but I got really tired of picking the flowers so just quit doing it after a while. It took a me a bit to learn to dry them well. The first batch mildewed, so I dried the next batch longer. Success. I love the taste of chamomile and since I'm such an insomniac it is a perfect tea for bedtime. It a relaxant and an anti-anxiety tea.

But I rarely use the chamomile alone. I like to mix it with a little peppermint. My three varieties are chocolate mint, orange mint and candymint. These are all peppermint varieties. I learned in past years that I really hate spearmint, so I stick to peppermints. The chocolate mint is my absolute favorite of the three. I really don't think it tastes like chocolate like so many people do, but it does have a very rich flavor that is lacking in most peppermints. And it goes beautifully with chamomile.

And just so you all know, orange mint does not taste like oranges, but is called that because of the color of its leaves in the fall. I do like it a bit better than the candymint. The candymint is a slightly harsher taste. They are all good however and good as an addition to my green tea too.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Fruit Dreams

This afternoon I took a break from work. I got my tea. I got my catalog. Before I opened it up, I was thinking that a gooseberry would be nice in the garden. I've long been dreaming of gooseberries. They are such beautiful jewel like fruits. I love the translucent pinks or the pretty greens. What clinched my desire for gooseberries was a trip this fall to visit my MIL.

My MIL has a house in Missouri. There aren't many places to go out to eat there, but one nice place is a local diner. I love diners. They always have comfort food: meatloaf, chicken pot pie, biscuits and gravy. Yum. In addition, most diners specialize in pie. All sorts of pies. We decided to take out several little individual pies and try them at home. One of these pies was a gooseberry pie. It was the best of the batch. Oh how good it was. Sweet, tart, in other words, just perfect. I want to be able to make those pies.

But gooseberries cost so much at the store if you can find them at all (usually only in the farmer's market). It's kind of like my raspberries. They grow like weeds out here so are easy to grow, but don't ship well so the cost is high. It makes the perfect fruit choice for the garden.

As I picked up my catalog, I quickly flipped over to their fruit section. Pinetree doesn't sell gooseberries. Sob. But they sell cranberries. Wouldn't that be fun to grow. I just bought two bags at the store for cranberry ice, but I could grow them instead. Or how about the hardy paw paws? I think those would be so tasty. Too bad they are a tree instead of a bush. I have no room for another tree. Ditto with the persimmons. Which got me thinking about my tree situation in general.

I was told that the two Norway maples out front were put in by the town and were on their property. When they widened the road in front of my house in August they put in temporary property markers. The two trees are on my property, not the town's. If only I had known that 17 years ago when I moved in. I could have cut them down and put up some fruit trees. I've dreamt of apple and peach trees for ages, with no place to put them. Now I'm adding on paw paw dreams.

And no I won't cut the maples down now. We are looking to move sometime in the next year, so I don't want to start cutting down trees and doing a major remodel. I'll save that for the new house. For now I'll leave the paw paws and apples to the dreams. The gooseberry might make it out of my dreams and into the garden. Time will tell.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Bane of Too Many Catalogs

Today my daughter caught me reading a catalog. She knows that I've been frustrated because I get a plethora of them right now. Tis the season for wasted paper. I never order from them - OK I order from about 5 of them, but not from the over 100 that I get every year at this season. They have to stop.

Then my daughter asked me why I would be so enthralled with reading one if I wanted them to stop. Well this one was special. It was the first seed catalog of the year - from Pinetree. And to think just yesterday I was saying my excitement in the garden was over until the seed catalogs started to come. Time for a cup of tea and some excitement (of a kind only another gardener can appreciate).

I'm not stopping my seed catalogs. I usually order from 2 or 3 of them each year. Pinetree is one of my favorites since it has such low priced seed packets. I can try out so many kinds and not spend a fortune. Hmm . . . well spend less of a fortune.

I've already started marking it up. I'm thinking that the red carrot looks really good. And maybe the mini cabbages. Will the Neck Pumpkins that look like butternuts be resistant to vine borers like butternuts are? I really hope so. Should I grow New Zealand spinach for a summer green? My mother used to when I was growing up. I don't remember if I liked it or hated it.

What will I grow next year?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Last Harvests?

The weatherman was not my friend over the weekend. Our average low for this time of year is about 29F. Enough for the nights to freeze, but to have everything defrost in the sunlight. Fall crops grow well if protected from the freeze-thaw cycle with row covers. However we had been experiencing lows that were about 10F above that. We even had one day where the low was 50F. Things grow fabulously in this weather.

I was thinking I would have fresh lettuce on Thanksgiving. Then the weatherman said the weather pattern was changing. Cold was coming in. We might even have a low in the teens this week. Ack! This is 10F below average and too cold to keep things alive even with the row covers. I'd need a good cold frame to keep my plants growing in this weather. The ground could freeze solid for the year if the weather pattern doesn't break.

So Sunday I went out and harvested the root vegetables: carrots and leeks. I wanted them out of the soil before a total freeze over. Some of the carrots were huge, 1 1/2" in diameter at the top. There were also a lot of deformed ones. I'm guessing nementodes. I perpared the bed exceedly well. I didn't even need a shovel to dig them out. Just pull the tops and out they come. The leeks had both the small and the large. The largest was about 1" in diameter; the smallest was about pencil sized.

Today at noon I decided to go out and pick whatever elese might be ready. The sun doesn't hit the garden until about 1pm so nothing was defrosted. Moisture had condensed on the underside fo the plastic row cover during the previous day. Overnight it had frozen. So as I pulled the cover off, shards of ice flaked off.

The bunching onions were half frozen as was the bok choi. I picked them anyway. I hope they weren't frozen too much to defrost well. The lettuce seemed remarkable unfrozen. I picked most of it. I don't need it yet. I still haven't finished what I picked last week, but with lows in the mid to low 20s and highs in the mid 30s, they won't last very long. I left five plants just in case they survive the cold snap.

Everything else I left. Unless the weather changes back to warm weather, this was probably my last harvest in the garden. No more excitement until the seed catalogs arrive. I can't wait. And speaking of seeds, I have way too many parsly and dill seeds. More than I'll need for next year. If anyone wants some, email me. I'd be happy to ship some out.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A Dream of Future Garden Bloggers Bloom Days

Well it is Garden Bloggers Bloom Day today, hosted by Carol of May Dreams Gardens. Since I started doing these posts last spring, I haven't missed one. It was fun to show off all my pretty flowers. But it is November now. The sun no longer shines here. Fall weather means drizzle, rain and gray skies. It also means my flowers are no longer in bloom.

Ok I do have two plants that are sort of still flowering - my feverfew and my chamomile. But their blooms are ragged and ugly. I have one creeping phlox that thinks it might be spring so has a couple of blossoms on one branch. Obviously it is testing the waters and seeing if it is OK to bloom. But it is not. It is cold. It is drizzly. Snow is just around the corner.

My dreams however are taunting me with a promise of blooms. Last night I dreamt about flowers. I was planting some species tulips and some crocus. I had found the perfect spot in the garden in my dream, a spot in the front border. In my mind's eye I could see them blooming there. I felt the joy of seeing their beauty.

However in reality that spot would be terrible for tulips. And no spot in my garden is safe for tulips or crocus. I've tried again and again to put them in. The squirrels appreciate my endeavores and dig them up again and again. I have no tulips in my yard. I have no crocus in my yard. So my dreams are taunting me, telling me I didn't try this year as I should have. Gardening is nothing if not perserverance in the face of adversity, foolish optimism over a known reality. I wasn't a true gardener this fall as pessimism took hold. I should hand my hoes back in to Carol. Or maybe my lack of tulips this spring will be punishment enough.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Fall Harvest and Leaves

This week I had a nice little harvest of fall veggies. I chopped off the big chard leaves, for a great stir fry. I'm guessing this is the last of big leaves for me. Monday the cold weather is supposed to hit in force. By midweek we are supposed to have lows in the mid 20s. Brrr. This is below normal for us and my trusty weatherman was saying we will probably have below normal temps for the rest of the month.

The cold temps will probably take out most of my lettuce. This week I picked just a few small bunches, but early next week I'll probably pick most of what is left before the freeze.

The tatsoi (the huge green rosette in the top photo) has really come into its own this fall. It grew well in the spring and the fall, but it was small. Now the plants are getting twice as large as they used to. They love this weather. Their taste has really improved too. They are more mustardy without being sharp. I made Asian chicken soup with them yesterday. I chop up the stems and let them simmer for a while. The leaf part I cut in two and put in the bottom of the bowl, then pour the hot soup over them. That cooks them perfectly. They still have structure, but are slightly wilted. Yummy. In the summer I would always eat them in salads, but now that it is cold soup seem so much more appropriate.

This week I also hauled some leaves back to my leaf bin. As I come home from the store I pick up leaves that others have so nicely packed up for trash removal. The towns around here all do composting, so the leaves are packed in nice compostable brown bags. I look for places with mostly oak leaves.

On my way home I usually have a choice of oak, maple and pine needles as those are the most prevelent kinds of trees in the area. Pine needles take forever to compost and are highly acidic. Maple leaves have chemicals in them that prevent seeds from germinating well. I don't mind some of these, but I don't want most of the leaves to be maple. Especially since my own maples tree leaves end up in the pile. So I pick oak. Oak isn't too bad. It is a bit too acidic and takes a lot longer than maple to decay, but I'm going to use my leaves for composting the grass clippings next year not for leaf mold. So that will speed up the break down a lot.

When I get home I dump the contents into my bin and shred the bags too. Even if oak leaves were on top sometimes I find other things on the bottom (including maples leaves and pine needles). Once the whole bottom half was filled with pulled out plants. So I dumped those on the compost pile instead. More green stuff is always good. The empty pack of Marlboros however was not appreciated and I fished that out for the trash.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

What Local Means to Me

This month's APLS carnival is about buying local. Now as a gardening blog, I ought to write about local eating and growing of my veggies. I'm not - though I have a post in mind that some year I'll get to on that subject. Nor am I going to write about personally buying local. This time of the year for me is about selling local. I'm a crafter. More specifically I'm a beadweaver. I take tiny little seed beads and turn them into jewelry and ornaments and sell them in the Boston area where I live.

I belong to the Sign of the Dove, which is an artists' cooperative. We have a year round store that is located in Porter Square, Cambridge, MA. It is a small store. Currently we have 22 artists. We all work the shifts and all pitch in to do the jobs that keep a store running. I love being in this store. It is a treat to meet the people buying your work and it is nice belonging to a community of other artists and crafters.

But this season is all about our holiday store which has about 60 artists. Every year we find an empty store front in the Cambridge area. This year it is in Harvard Square. We work hard to get a new store up and together by our opening day (this year it was November 7th). Our space was not very good to start with. It used to be a theater in the basement. They had painted the walls dark and taken the lighting out. But we all pitch in for all the chores that needed doing and after our Up and Down committee and our Display committee do their work the store is always beautiful.

My job in the coop is sales scheduling. There are day managers and cashiers too, but I only schedule the sales crew. 38 of our members are on sales this year. I hand out a form to all the group and get their schedules. Then I work to make sure we have the correct number of people working each shift. It is a very time consuming puzzle, but I get it done every year.

Being a local crafter is a very low paid job. We do it because we love it, not because we will get rich doing it. We love working with our hands; we love beauty; we love being with our fellow artists; we love seeing the smile on our customers faces when they find the perfect necklace. Above all we love the connection or we wouldn't be part of a cooperative.

And if I haven't been around commenting on your blog recently, now you know why I've been so busy. Life gets kind of crazy for me this time of year.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Fall Garden Update

This weekend I was busy cleaning up the garden. The dead tomato and pepper plants were pulled out. I chopped up the tomatoes and buried them under the soil. Tomatoes are so disease ridden here. I don't like to put the vines in the compost and spread it around the garden. I leave it in the place they grew. By spring everything will have disappeared into the soil and next year the tomatoes will grow in another spot. I keep a strict 3 year rotation for all my solanaceae crops. I wish I could do a four year rotation, but I like to grow too many of them. And next year I want potatoes too.

While the weather was nice I pulled off the row cover for a few days. The nights were in the 50s all weekend and the days were in the 60s, perfect for my fall crops. They are growing well, but the slugs are competing just as well. One Chinese cabbage (4 plants on the right) has just started to form a head, but the rest won't make it. In fact that one probably won't make it either, but I can always hope. My tatsoi (the large really dark green plants in the front) is doing fabulous. The slugs don't like it as much as my Fun Jen (light green shredded plants) so it is growing huge. I think a stir fry is in order later this week. And as always my mizuna (back left) is doing fabulous, which is par for the course this year. It grew well in the spring, in the summer and now in the fall. I've definitely found a keeper with this plant. It goes in my garden every year from now on.

My first broccoli plant was ready to pick. The head is not huge, but it is obviously at that state where if I don't pick it the flowers will open. There are lots of little florets all along the stem. I hope they have time to grow before everything freezes over. Next year I have to plant earlier. These are just like my Chinese cabbage, planted too late in the season to produce well.

My peas were still growing, but not really producing anymore. The plant handles the freezes just fine, but the flowers don't set well. Powdery mildew has set in and taken over, so it seemed a good time to pull the plants up. I cut them off at ground level and tossed the dying foliage into the compost bin. Spring is really the better season for peas, but fall is such good stir fry weather, I couldn't resist the snowpeas.

Now I have no trellises left in the garden. It looks rather sad and lonely out there. But there are still plants to pick: leeks, carrots, lettuce, broccoli, onions, and all my Asian greens. I probably only have 2-3 weeks left of growing season before everything freezes hard. I'll have to time digging my last carrots up. It would be sad to have them permenently frozen into the ground.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Fruit Garden

The colors of autumn have very much faded in the last couple of days. Yesterday we had a big wind storm that blew most of the leaves off of the trees. But a couple of days ago my fruit garden was beautiful.

My dogwood, which I've raved about for other reasons was afire. The bright red fruit have long since been eaten by my squirrels. Now its show is all about the leaves. It might not rival a swamp maple for color, but still it has a lot of beauty.

The brightest of all in my fruit garden are my blueberries. I planted six of them along the driveway in the spring. They haven't grown to their full size yet, but they are certainly putting on a beautiful show with their bright reds. They are as showy as any ornamental. I can't wait to taste them next year.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Special Voter Turnout for Me

Yesterday my husband went to the polls. He could see all our families names on the voter registration list. Next to my daughter's name was the little letters saying she got her absentee ballot. Next to my son's name was nothing. He had asked for info on how to get his ballot, but he never followed through. Needless to say my husband and I were disappointed in him. So my husband called him and told him he needed to come home and vote.

He goes to school at Brown in RI and we live in Massachusetts. So for him it was just a half hour walk to the train station then an hour long commuter rail ride to Boston, then a half hour subway ride to get home. Oh yeah and I had to drop everything to pick him up at the subway stop. So once again. I was playing the mom again and driving him all over. But he voted in his first election. Yea!

I'm hoping that my daughter filled in her ballot and sent it in. I know she took the time to educate herself on the candidates and questions. I know because she came home a couple of weeks ago and made me teach her how. But if she did than the family had 100% voter turnout.

In fact Winchester as a whole did pretty well. We had 88% turnout. But then again there were no lines at the polls. It was easy to get in (at least in Precincts 5 and 6). Go Winchester for making it easy.

My son said he didn't come home just for the election. He wanted to take some things to school. He and his suitemates have been making Sunday morning breakfasts. He wanted a fry pan. I actually did have one I was willing to part with. He wanted measuring cups and spoons. I gave him one of my sets. I couldn't help him with the mixing bowl. I use them all the time.

Then I asked him if he wanted his Corelleware. I replaced mine a couple of years ago. My old stuff was chipped on the edges, but I split the set in two and saved them for the kids since it is perfect for college use. My son was saying they were using paper plates and plastic cups. I ribbed him about destroying the planet. So he finally took some of it back. I got to see him for about an hour before he left on the train again. But it was a fun visit.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Raspberry Heaven

We had a heavy frost last night, but once things were defrosted, I went out to pick the raspberries. They don't seem to mind the cold at all. The flowers are gone, but the fruit that has set is still ripening. Very slowly. I only pick them about twice a week right now and I only get about half a cup at a time.

This has been one of the best years of all time for raspberries. The fall harvest started on August 28th and is still going. During this time I picked 1/4c - 1c of raspberries every day. Plus these are everbearers, so they also produced for a few weeks in July. I'm guessing I got over 8 quarts of raspberries on my little 5'x6' plot along the driveway.

I attribute this to the early summer rains. We had about twice as much rain as usual. I suppose I could start watering my raspberries so they produce like this every year, but I know I won't. The fruit garden is one of those places in my garden that I never water. I rarely fertilize it either. Just the occasional compost or wood chips every few years.

So where are the raspberries now? I froze some when I was getting a cup a day. I made some into raspberry crisp, but mostly I ate them on my cereal. I love raspberries on cereal and this year, for about three months, I got this treat. Yum.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


Today had two momentous things happen in the garden. The garden has officially been frosted and I picked my first leeks.

I wasn't sure about the frost until I went out for the leeks. But yup the peppers are officially dead. The Sungold tomatoes have been looking pretty bad recently but they still have been producing about 5 tomatoes every day. No more. I need to find a warmish day to go out and pull them.

The poor garlic bed, with one garlic leaf popping up out of the soil, was actually frozen over. The ground was hard as a rock. Yes I did say the ground. I hadn't mulched the garlic yet. I've been avoiding the garden because its been so cold and windy. I confess. I've been a slacker in the garden recently. There just isn't much to do, so I've been doing nothing. I have rectified the situation and gave the garlic a nice hay mulch.

The bed the leeks were in - just two feet over - hadn't frozen, so they were easy to dig out. I didn't pick many, only three. The recipe I was making only called for one, but the leeks were so small. The largest was only 1" in diameter. While I was out I picked some green onions. I've been wanting them while cooking for the last couple of days, but I just couldn't bring myself to go out and pick them. Too cold.

I used the leeks to make Cheesy Delicata Squash and Potato Soup. I hadn't planned to make it, but I had just pulled a tray of Delicata squash out of the oven and was reading Jennifer's blog while I was waiting for them to cool. She had a new recipe for cooking my favorite squash. Of course I had to try it. I made it with real cheese however and soy milk since I've never even heard of hempmilk before. It was good, but it still doesn't trump plain leek and potato soup.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Creative Commons

I've noticed in the gardening blog world that people are so afraid of having their work copied. Over the last year that I've been reading gardening blogs I've found outraged posts about finding one of their photos elsewhere on the web. Or someone has copied some of the text.

My question is "Does it matter?". Is it hurting you? Most of us gardening bloggers don't make money on our work, so it isn't taking money out of our pockets. We do it for the joy of it. We do it to connect with the other gardeners out in the world.

If someone uses one of our photos, it should not be an issue to us. In fact we ought to want them to use our photo and link back to us. We ought to want them to quote our blog and link back to us. The attribution to us is what we really want. We want to be noticed. What we don't want is to languish in some strange circle of hell where you write and no one listens, where we scream to be heard, but we are surrounded by an empty wasteland.

Luckily there is a middle ground between copyright and public domain. It is Creative Commons. Creative Commons even has degrees of rights that you can keep. Personally I'm going for the Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license. What does that mean? Well if you use my work you must attribute it to me. You can't use it commercially, or put another way, if you make money on it, I had better be making money on it too. You can build upon it if you like and change it, but you have to pass it along with the same license.

I love the idea of Creative Commons. I first found out about it years ago from Cory Doctorow. He is a science fiction author who publishes all his books online with a Creative Commons license. He writes why he does this. Just scroll down past the "What's Little Brother About" section to find it. Or read that section too. It is about his latest book which is fabulous and very scary. He claims it is a young adult book, but I'd recommend it for adults too.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Artic Dinosaurs and Other Chilly Musings

I love the micro climate of my vegetable garden. The weathermen were saying that we had a nice hard freeze last night. The worst hit was the NW suburbs (that's me). The temps were in the 20s. Hmmm. I did have a light frost on the top of my car, but my peppers and tomatoes are still alive. There is no frost in the garden.

Tonight the temperature is supposed to get into the 20s again. Will my fabulous little micro climate save the warm weather vegetables again? I'm actually of two minds. This is the worst time of the year for my allergies. The ragweed is bad enough, but I'm also very allergic to mold and half the fallen leaves in the yard are covered in powdery mildew. If we get a good freeze everything dies and I can breath again. To me that is probably more important than the last couple of tomatoes or chilies from the garden.

Last night I learned a fun garden trivia fact. So I'll tell you the story. I had just gotten back from my dance class. It was late; I was tired; I plopped myself down in front of the TV that was half way through a program already. NOVA was playing. Our family is such a bunch of nerds that any science programming is fun to watch, but NOVA is always fascinating.

It was another program on dinosaurs, but not just any dinosaurs. They found dinosaur fossils in the artic. When the bones were laid down the area was around 300+ miles from the north pole. Brrr. Or so I thought.

The scientists were trying to figure out how cold it was at the time from the plant life growing there. It turns out leaves that are smooth along the edges are tropical plants for the most part. In tropical climates evaporation drives the water from the roots up to the leaves, but in temperate climates evaporation isn't good enough for most plants to survive. Toothed leaves have little glands at each tooth that can secrete liquid and drive water up, so it is a modification so plants can survive here. Cool huh?

Ok so I get excited about the nerdiest things. And if you are like me you want to know the answer to the dinosaurs habitat. They looked at the proportion of toothed leaves to smooth leaves to make their calculation. It turns out they think the areas averaged a high in the 40s. In the summer it got into the 70s. So it was pretty warm up there above the artic circle. Of course now I also want to know how my rhododendron and azaleas have survived here in my temperate garden. Really anyone know? I'm just dying here.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Saving Tomato Seeds

About a week ago I decided to eat the last Aussi tomato from my garden. This is a large beefsteak heirloom tomato. Yum. But I didn't want to eat it all. I wanted to save the seeds. Saving seed from heirloom tomatoes is relatively easy. Tomatoes are mostly self pollinating. The anther is hidden in the flower where the bees can't get to it (though I think there are a few weird ones out there). The pollen naturally falls to the stigma when the tomato plant is shaken by the wind or vibrated by the bees. So usually heirloom tomatoes breed true even if you have many other kinds growing right next to each other. The one caveat you must remember is that I say "mostly". They can occasionally surprise you.

Once you have the tomato, you take out the gel part that contains the seed. You put it in a small container, cover it and let it ferment in a warm spot for a couple of days, until a white disgusting slime grows on top. Did I do this? Not really. I did remove the gel. I put it in a small container and covered with saran wrap. I left it on my kitchen counter which I might point out is not very warm. In fact the thermostat in that part of the house is set at 62F degrees. Brrr. I let the containers be forgotten. Oops. A week later I remembered that they were shoved behind the squash. Yup one had that 'good' white mold on top, the other I think did at one point, but had dried out and a green mold had taken hold. Now if you let them sit wet for too long they can sprout on you. I didn't see any sprouting seeds. Hopefully they will be fine.

Then I filled the containers up with water and floated out all the icky mold. Most of the seeds stayed on the bottom. Once the seeds were clean, I put them out on some plates to dry. They need to dry for about a week or so. I think we are getting rain (I'm hoping since we have had no rain in three weeks), so it may take quite a while for them to dry. But at least I don't have an elementary school science project growing on my kitchen counter any more.

BTW I had two containers. The other one is from my Sungold tomato. This is an F1 hybrid. Seedman was saying that even if it is labeled F1 it might actually be a stabilized open pollinated plant. Or it might still be an F1 hybrid. If I have room next year I can play around and see what I end up with.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

For the Lack of Salt Marsh Hay

This year has been a little strange. My favorite little gardening center is going out of business. In the spring they didn't have as much variety as usual. The worst part was that they didn't have the salt marsh hay that I usually use as a mulch. They had something silly called Mainely Mulch - which I might point out is not from Maine despite the name. It is from Connecticut.

It is chopped hay that has been heated to get rid of the weed seeds. Sigh. I did unhappily buy it since I was lacking another choice at the time. I spread it on my garden paths. The seeds in it did sprout, but I have to say I was happy about it. They were clover and grass - basically cover crops. My dog loved the grass seed (oats or rye maybe), so she ate it all down. And the clover grew. And it grew some more. Right now it covers the edge of my paths making my garden look lusher than it otherwise would. It is trying to go to seed, but I'm resisting it, snipping the pretty purple flowers off as they grow.

I actually wouldn't mind my paths going into clover permanently, but I think dutch clover would be better. It is so much shorter. I need a new source of salt marsh hay. I'll have to keep my eye open.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Row Covers

Our warm spell is over. I was out picking raspberries for my cereal this morning and needed a jacket. Brrrr. Boston is predicted to get to freezing on Sunday night, but Saturday night will also be in the 30Fs. I decided it was time to get all of my greens under cover before the possible frost. I have a very unfrosty micro climate here since I'm near the top of a hill, so I might not get one.

I didn't want to use the row covers that were on my broccoli and Asian greens because remay really blocks the light and we no longer have much of that. It is dark by 6:30. So it is time for plastic.

The above photo is what was out previously. Between the two beds covered by remay are my lettuce Swiss chard and bunching onions. At the left are my snowpeas that will be fine without a cover. In front of them, where you can't quite see are my carrots, also not being covered. They get sweeter with the cold, so I want to keep them out. In the right hand bed it is mostly cover cropped, though I do have some basil left which I will let die and behind the basil are my leeks.

This is the after photo. Now my whole greens and broccoli section is covered by plastic. The days will be in the mid 50Fs for a while, which can be a problem because it can easily warm over 20F degrees in the sun under plastic. I'll have to uncover the plot for the few hours the sun hits the bed, but the rest of the time I'll leave it covered. Which reminds me. I have to get myself out there right now to cover it back up.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day October 2008

Well today is the 15th of the month and that means it is Garden Bloggers Bloom Day hosted by Carol of May Dream Gardens. It is October and that means the blooms are fading fast from the garden. By the middle of next month there will be only a few left if any at all. We haven't yet had a frost, but are due for one around the end of the month. That ought to kill all of the annuals that are blooming. But currently in the annual category we still have marigolds, dahlias, impatiens and sweet allysums blooming.

There are so few blooms in the vegetable and herb garden. The peas are going like gang busters. The Sungold tomatoes (the only ones left in my garden) are still blooming and my chili peppers are still blooming, though they really don't have time to set peppers anymore. As for herbs my Thai basil is blooming. The chamomile just won't stop and I've gotten tired of picking all the blooms, so I'm just letting them go to seed. The coriander is blooming though I don't think I'll get seed. I'm still hopeful. The prettiest of my herbs are the borage (at the top) and the feverfew (above).

Most of the perennials are over. I did have a crazy creeping phlox try to rebloom last week, but it's gone now. The one fall perennial I have is my sedum 'Autumn Joy'. I used to have a beautiful Sweet Autumn clematis, but it died a few years ago. Its spot was usurped, so I haven't replanted it. I need to find a place for one. It was my favorite fall blooming plant. The fragrant ones are always my favorite.

And though they aren't in flower anymore, it has become the prettiest of all in my garden - my holly bushes. This year they are just covered in beautiful red berries. Sadly my camera doesn't like focusing on the red.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Garlic Prep

As you can probably tell from my lack of posting yesterday, the garden is slowing down. As time goes on I'll have less and less to talk about - well until those seed catalogs arrive. Today I actually had something to do for the garden. It is garlic planting time. Now tomorrow I'll do the planting, but today I was preparing the garlic.

In past years, garlic hasn't done well. I just take the cloves apart and put them in the ground. But the internet is a wonderful thing - either that or it is a great way to waste time. So I researched. Some people tell you to peel your garlic to get rid of all the insect eggs and diseases lurking. Some people say to not remove the skin. In the past I haven't removed the skin, so this time I'm going to try. The skin peeled easily off of three varieties and not from one. So that one stays for now since I don't want to damage the cloves.

Two varieties, German Extra Hardy and Georgian Crystal, were from Seed Savers Exchange. They seemed like very healthy large cloves of garlic. One variety is from Nichols, Bogatyr. These cloves were much smaller (could be the garlic variety or could be quality), and one of them was diseased, so I tossed it. In fact I had to throw a lot of these cloves out since they were either tiny or damaged. The last variety is an unknown. It is a garlic I bought at the store and loved. It is the only softneck garlic that I'm going to plant. All the others are hardnecks.

Then I read that I should soak the cloves in either vinegar or baking soda overnight. Now vinegar is an acid and baking soda is an alkaline. They both are good for killing fungal diseases (but not together mind you since they would neutralize each other). Baking soda seems to be the most commonly recommended one, so I'll go with that tonight. Often people also recommend adding either fish or seaweed emulsion to the soaking water, but I don't have either, so it just isn't going to happen.

Tomorrow morning I'll do a 3-5 minute soak in vodka then plant them. I'm guessing it kills diseases, but I'm also guessing the garlic doesn't like it much since you're not supposed to leave them in there very long.

So there you have it. I've stripped my garlic naked. Tomorrow I'm going to get them drunk and put them to bed. Who says gardeners don't have fun?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Collecting Seeds

I don't save many seeds in my garden, but I do save some. Usually in the summer I save my coriander, not just to use in the kitchen but for succession seeding during the summer. This year it was raining constantly during the harvest time. I saved very little seed as it had all mildewed. I sowed some more in mid summer so I could save the seed, but right now the seed is still green. The odds of me getting any are slim. I may actually have to buy seed for next year, something I haven't done in a decade.

My parsley is faring much better. It sets seed later and by August the rains had become less constant, so things could dry out. It sets seed slowly over months. I've been collecting seed heads to put in a paper bag to dry since August. I'm still collecting seed from them and will until frost. Usually I don't collect seed from parsley at all. If I just let the seed fall in the garden, I often get good plants each year, self-seeded with no work from me, but this year it didn't work out that way. I have about five self seeded plants, which is plenty, but they didn't grow well. There has not been enough to harvest for my meals, much less for drying for the winter. I think all the wet weather was bad for the plants and the early plants died. The plants that I have now germinated later in the summer. So this coming year I may decide to grow a couple of plants indoors for transplanting just to make sure I have a good harvest.

My dill outproduced everything this year. Besides the massive quantity of dill weed and dill heads I harvested for pickles and salads, I have a cup of nice dill seed saved. It is one seed harvest that I can't complain about - unlike my Thai basil. I had been clipping off the flowers to keep the basil producing leaves, but finally let them flower. I'm trying to get them to set seed, but I started too late. I think the plants will die before I get seed. The flowers are very pretty though, a very dark purple.

I've saved a little other seed this year. Some pink mallow, some cosmos, some delicata squash (from the farmer's market, hopefully it will grow true). And I've got my last Aussie tomato which I will save the seed from when I eat it. I'm not sure I will actually grow it next year, but I will have the seed.

I'll probably let a couple of my bunching onions over winter to produce seed next year. I've done this before. They take a long time to make seed since they are biannuals, like the parsley, but I like to save seed where I easily can. I can't always. I grow some F1 hybrids because I love the plants (Super Chilis, Diamont cucumbers, Sungold tomatoes), but they don't produce seed that is true to the parent. Some seed takes too much prime space for me to collect the seed. Collecting some seed (like eggplant and beans) would slow down my production. Some would cross pollinate because I'm growing more than one kind of the plant (jalapenos). But I collect where I can.

Friday, October 10, 2008

My Obsession with Pests

Every blog post I write is categorized (well most, some don't have appropriate categories due to some lack of imagination). They are put in a list on the right hand side of my blog. I was noticing that you can really tell what I obsess over by reading the labels.

Of the 170 post written to date, a whopping 38 of them have been about garden pests. This is number two of what I've obsessed over on my blog - second only to the joy of herbs. From reading about it so much my husband thought I was having a particularly hard year with garden pests, but he was wrong. It is really just about my obsession with them.

When I planted pumpkins, I knew, barring some miracle from above, that I would be hit by vine borers. I knew my Asian greens would be pestered to death so covered them with row covers. The few radishes I left out were measly little things that often didn't set a root. The ones under the row covers fared well. It is not that this is abnormal bug behavior here. In fact my bugs have been much less this year.

I only saw two cucumber beetles. Usually they swarm. Usually I have a container of soapy water by the cucumbers just for them. This year they passed me by. I only saw stink bugs nymphs. When I saw them I killed them. There were just a handful. Usually they suck the juice out of my tomatoes and leave little spots. Lots and lots of little spots, so I don't want to eat my tomatoes anymore. Not this year.

One pest that was really worse than expected were the chipmunks, which could be controlled with minimal trapping and some bird netting (they hate the stuff because they can get tangled in it). But if I take all mammal pests into account, I've been fairly pest free. I've had no rabbits, groundhogs or deer visit my garden this year. My bean plants grew without getting eaten to the ground every week. My carrots had tops to them. I got to eat my lettuce. So life was pretty good.

Ok I did have one bad problem, but I refuse to talk about the slugs this year. I'm just going to be thankful that all the rain made my plants grow tall. I'm sure the nightmares of being attacked by slime will eventually go away. And if for some reason they get worse, I can always find a good therapist.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

My Education in Gardening

I love to garden and though I love to see foxgloves bloom and my rudebeckia smiling in the sun, my heart really belongs to the vegetable garden, not the perennial garden. The perennial garden is mostly ignored. I'll weed it. I'll put in new plants when there is space, but it doesn't get a lot of my caring attention.

My main energy goes to my vegetables and a few fruits that I have. Most gardeners are the other way around. They may have a pot or two of tomatoes, but their flowers are their love. Why? It might be in my blood since for generations my family farmed, but it might be how I was brought up.

I grew up in the mountains of Colorado. We had lots of flowers there, but none of them were planted by my mother (the gardener in the family). There was no landscaping of the yard, no mown grass or carefully arranged perennials. It was a natural pine forest with a few meadows. Past the handful of acres that my parents owned was a national forest. In the spring the meadows would be covered in flowers: Indian paintbrush, phlox, bluebells, and so many more. Often the ground was painted in blues, fushias, reds and yellows, depending on the season and the level of rainfall. That kind of beauty to me was always painted by nature.

My dad was a bit of a survivalist. One of my chores was learning what was edible in our backyard. As a child this was great fun. One year I picked choke cherries and my mother made wine out of them. Another year I found the nodding onions. I made my mother cook them up in something. I don't remember what it was, but it wasn't very good. There is a look-a-like plant to the wild onion that isn't very good for you. So the only way to tell the difference was when the onion was in bloom. Onions get a little bitter and tough when they bloom. So nature also provided some of our food, if it wasn't the best tasting.

But nature certainly didn't provide it all. My mother had a large vegetable garden. I joked with my friends that it was a small farm. I hated the garden when I had to weed and loved it when I got to pick the strawberries. The geese were mean, but it was fun hunting for eggs in their run that they shared with the ducks.

So from my dad I got the importance of being able to feed yourself. From my mother I got the love of vegetable gardening. No one taught me that flowers were a worthwhile endevor. I do love flowers mind you, but we are products of our history and my family is filled with practical people. And there is something ineffable about preparing a meal for your family with food that you have grown yourself.

Apple Salsa

I never made it out to the garden yesterday except for the shortest time. I woke up in the morning out of sorts. I had had vertigo on and off all night long. I was scheduled to work at the co-op and was a little worried if it came back while I was there, but I went to work anyway. Luckily it was a very slow day. I didn't have the room spinning around me at all, but moving around made me nauseous. I felt like I had just gotten off the Mission Space ride at Disney World.

So I all I really did was to go out and pick what I needed for dinner. And Raspberries - they have been producing for over a month now. I picked just one thing in the veggie garden, a huge bunching onion. It was for an apple salsa recipe. Not that I followed the recipe well, but it was yummy. My version was: 3/4 c of a Honeycrisp apple diced, 1/2 c orange pepper diced, 1/2 c Vermont cranberry beans, one huge bunching onion sliced, 2T wine vinegar, 2 T apple juice, a dash of chipolte pepper. The original came from my Canyon Ranch Cooks cookbook and is slightly different.

But I love their fresh salsa recipes. They are always putting weird things together that I wouldn't think of. I never would have thought of apple salsa, but it is apple season, so a good choice. It went perfectly with the spicy chicken and mexican rice. Yum.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Indoor Growing

Jennifer from Veg*n Cooking and Other Random Musings made a comment that she is trying to grow things indoors and it is staving off the sadness of the gardens outside winding down. I wish her all the luck, but from me I've grown things indoors before. I have two long shelves that I built along the large SW and large SE windows of my house just for this. Sadly one of the shelves is defunct. Someone thought it would hold up their weight and sat on it (I think my daughter). It didn't. It hasn't been replaced.

I've found over the years that the sunlight I get through these windows in the winter isn't strong enough to grow plants well. We are above 42 degrees latitude here. Our days will be as short nine hours and a few minutes at the time of the solstice. And the sunlight that does hit is very low in the sky. This is not conducive to good plant growth - unless you supplement the light.

Though I'm up to trying to wheedle more growing time out of mother nature in the spring, for the winter it is too much work for me. The few Tiny Tom tomatoes I used to get from my window sill, will not be repeated. Though they were cute.

I was however trying to save my rosemary by taking cuttings, as well as my Thai basil. So far no success. The rosmary cuttings are all brown and dead. The 'Hill Hardy' rosemary will have to try its luck outside. If we have a mild winter it might survive. I'll mulch well and cross my fingers. The Thai basil did put out roots, but only after the folliage had basically died. Maybe I should have planted it anyway, but instead I took some more cuttings of the basil. I'm trying again. If it fails, once again the only plant in my house this winter will be my trusty aloe plant. It never needs watering and fixes me up after I burn myself in the kitchen. It pays me well for the time I put into it, unlike my other indoor growing forays.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Autumn Chill

Brrr. The weather has changed how I garden. It is so cold in the morning. I just can't make myself get out the door. I've been waiting for the warmest part of the day - mid afternoon, and still I wonder why I didn't wear my coat outside.

We finally turned the heat on this weekend. It was getting below 60F inside in the mornings so I was ready. The down throws are on the couch so we can keep warm at night. Now I just need to find my warm slippers. I'm sure they are somewhere in the house.

Anyway I went out this afternoon and shivered as I looked around the garden. It is in a lull. Nothing much is going on. The blooms are slowly fading off the plants. Leaves are turning yellow and brown. Though there was beauty to be found, it was depressing to think that everything was dying.

The broccoli saved me from despondency. I was checking under its row cover for caterpillars and I found a little florette had formed. You probably can't see it in the photo, but it is there. The other four plants don't show signs of flowering yet, but it was enough to put a smile back on my face.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Getting Ready for Fall

The wind had finally calmed down today so I could lime the garlic bed. It also got some green sand and bonemeal. Now I just need about one more week and I'll plant the garlic. Often people plant garlic after the first frost. For me that is usually around Halloween. I think November is a bit late, so I'm shooting for mid October.

The rest of the chores were fall clean up chores. I ripped out the cucumbers. I had just one cucumber hanging off the plant. It hadn't gotten any bigger for about a week. Obviously it wasn't ever going to, so I picked it and ripped out the plants.

The tomatoes were the next to go. I left in the Sungolds since they are still producing, but the others I tore down and turned the plants into the soil. Then I sowed a cover crop of oats over them. The bed will have lettuce, brassicas and peas in it next year, so I didn't want a cover crop that would be alive in the spring. I'm not sure they actually have time enough to grow, but I figured I'd try.

Then the cosmos came down. There were a few blossoms, but mostly they were looking ratty. I collected a little seed to plant next year, but the rest of it went into the compost bin. They produced an amazing amount of woody stems. I figured at the bottom of the compost pile they will act just like branches and keep it aerated.

Now with the cucumber trellis gone, only two tomato cages left and the 6' cosmos down, the garden looks short. I still have my tall pea trellis to give it height, but not much else is left. When I look at the garden from the dining room window it just seems wrong. I'll get used to it. It seemed that way when the bean tepee came down too. But for now keep having that feeling like something is missing in the garden.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

A Harvest of Asian Greens

I had a pretty harvest today. I picked a lot of greens that seemed to be ready. These are all my Asian greens. The two tall light colored plants are Fun Jen. I've been calling it my frilly boc choi, because that is what it reminds me of. It is a very mild plant and perfect for Asian salads. Sadly today it was a little frillier than usual. Often it is the slugs fault, and though I have some slug damage too, the big culprit was cabbage worms, both kinds. I had brown ones and green ones.

Despite growing the crops under a row cover, I'm not surprised to see the cabbage worms. When I was out hunting slugs under the cover the other day, I saw two pink eyes staring back at me. It was a cabbage moth. Insect eyes reflect light just like animal eyes. Who would have thunk it? They got under because the row covers degrade in the sunlight and this particular row cover has seen a couple of years in the sun. Holes now easily rip in the side if I'm not gentle enough.

So the moths have found the holes and once they are under they get stuck. Though I haven't found any butterflies under there yet, I have seen the green worms. These nasty creatures must find the cabbage plants from their smell since they certainly can't see them under there.

Between my Fun Jen are two green bunches. The one on the left is a perfect little mini boc choi. The mini ones are so cute, but in the past their flavor has been greatly lacking. I've had some that were very strongly mustard flavor and one that tasted like salt. Ick. I really like the sweeter boc chois. This one was much better than the previous ones. It still had a little of the mustard flavor, but it wasn't horribly bitter. The bitterness does keep the insects away. Fun Jen which doesn't have a bit of bitterness is a great trap crop for insects of all kinds. They love that plant over all the others - both the slugs and the caterpillars.

The next little green bunch over is my tatsoi. These little plants are very pretty, but not very productive compared to the other greens. I think I should plant them much closer together. I love their taste and tend to eat them in salads with lettuce and mizuna. The mizuna is the pretty plant with the purple stems. I usually don't pick a whole plant like this, but I can't keep up with the three plants I have. They are pretty good producers. I have one that is 18" wide and just keeps throwing out yummy leaves. So I took out the oldest plant that wasn't producing as well.

The last set of greens on the table is my cilantro. I don't have nearly as much of this as I did in the spring, but I have some at least. I love this in my salads and sprinkled on top of stir fries.

I picked so much because they were too close to my Chinese cabbage. This was planned. I didn't have a lot of room when I planted the cabbage. So I put them too close to some other greens I knew I could harvest before the cabbage got too big. Well their leaves started touching so it was time to give the cabbage more room to grow.

I really think I've planted the Chinese cabbage too late. It is growing so slowly. Planting guides are wrong when they tell you to plant x number of weeks before your last frost. Here in the north, we don't get much light from the sun in the fall. And this year it has been so cloudy in September, so no direct sun. The plants will hold well this time of year, but they won't grow well. I know this but still only planted them on July 31st. I need to get them in earlier next year. Maybe two sets, one on July 1st and one on July 15th.

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Old Farm

I've been talking to my mother a lot this week. My dad has pneumonia, and I want to check up. But I can't seem to get on the phone with her without gabbing for an hour. So what did we talk about last time? It was about her growing up on the farm.

We were talking about how we need to get over to green energy; how our country needs to make a concerted effort and sacrifice to do this. I said the country hadn't done that since the effort in WWII. That started her reminiscing about that time. She was a child then. She said they loaned out sections of the farm so people would have a place to grow victory gardens. She would sell the extra cottage cheese they made from their cow door to door. The only money coming in was from her mom who worked in the library (our family LOVES books). That shocked me. I thought the farm was so much bigger. I thought it was what brought in the money.

I had visited it when I was little. I don't remember much: sitting on the tractor, running through the orchard, the grape arbor, all the little things a three (?) year old might vaguely remember. As a child I thought the farm was huge. But my mom said it was just to feed the family.

I figured it was the farm that had been in our family for generations. I know our family had farmed in the Ohio area for generations (seven I think, but I'd have to look it up to be exact). I know one of my ancestors was swindled out of his farm at one point. He went to the city and made enough money to come home and buy another farm. But after that I figured they stayed on the same farm and it would be big, or at least big enough to make some of their money from. Maybe it had been divided over the years? Or maybe it had just been let to go fallow when they weren't farming for a living. (Update from months in the future: My mother said the farm was very recent. Her grandmother or was it great grandmother, was a nurse and took care of a rich old man before he died. As a gift in his will my great grandmother and great grandfather were bequeathed the farm.)

Sadly the farm was sold about forty years ago. The farmhouse was torn down for a road into the new development. The farm was turned into apartments. The last time I was there was for my grandmother's funeral. My brother and I went to visit the spot. The only sign of it was a small forest of huge evergreen trees. They were all planted close together in rows. They towered over the path that goes through them. The trees were planted by my uncle. They were meant to be sold as Christmas trees and used for his college education. Obviously these got a reprieve.

None of our family farm anymore. The kids have all flown the coop and are scattared across the US. No one even lives in Ohio anymore. All of the rest of them moved out west. My cousin and I are the only outliers. She lives in Paris. I live in Boston. I still garden though and dream of chickens. Years ago I dreamed of chickens and goats, now I only dream of chickens. Ok and maybe some apple trees and gooseberries and strawberries that are miraculously not eaten by chipmunks and . . . .

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Leaf Bin and Double Digging

I didn't sleep well last night, and woke up tired this morning. So what did I do? I spent a couple hours in the garden doing chores that I had been putting off all week. You'd think I'd pick a day when I had energy, but nope. At least it was a pretty morning out - finally.

First the compost piles needed some work and the hose there needed to be put away for the winter. But the big part there was setting up for the fall leaves. My landscaping service is very nice about saving my own grass clippings, but recently a lot of the mowing has been just mowing up the leaves. I don't need them in the compost pile yet. I want to save them for next year when I get more grass, aka nitrogen.

So I rescued my old huge wire bin out in the back which is maybe 10' in diameter. A small tree was growing up between a mesh square. In fact some of the trunk had grown around the mesh. So I got out my clippers and took out that portion of mesh. It still seemed quite serviceable. I attached one end to a short sapling that had been cut off, and on the other side I wrapped the mesh around another sapling. This left a wide gap that they can blow the leaves into. Then I made a sign so they would know where things went.

Then I had the big chore - finish double digging the garlic and onion bed. Everyone has their own way of double digging. But here is how I do it. I take one shovel's width of the top layer of soil out of the bed, saved to the side for later. Some people go down 6" (15cm), some go down a foot (30cm), but I go down the depth of the top soil. Usually there is a pretty distinct dividing line between the topsoil (nice dark dirt full of humus) and the sub soil (light brown and tending to rocky), at least in my area. This part of the garden hasn't had compost added in years, so the topsoil is thinner than the rest of my garden, maybe 6" (15cm) deep.

After the topsoil has been removed, I fork the subsoil up all the way to the top of the fork. I don't turn it over but keep the soil structure intact. I'm just letting air into the soil and getting out the bigger rocks. And since this area was covered in hostas for a while and not amended, I added 3" (7cm) of compost right above the subsoil.

Then I do the next shovel width of bed by taking the top soil and putting it on top of the compost from the last row. Some people say to try to keep the top of the soil on top and the bottom on the bottom, ie when moving the soil over, don't turn it over. But I don't worry. Since I'm not actually turn over subsoil (usually a little always gets in), I just don't worry about that.Continue in this fashion until the end of the bed. Then take the top soil from the first row and put it in the last row. Then I rake it all down.

My bed had a lot of roots in it. The maple tree is close and the perennial border is just on the other side of the fence. So I tried to rake out most of the roots that I dug up. I wanted to amend the soil with lime, greensand and bonemeal, but it was so windy today. I'll have to wait for a nice calm day, so it doesn't blow away.

The bed looks a little funky. I lined the path side with bricks on edge to keep in the soil. It is 32" wide at one end and about 24" wide at the other. So the brick path is not straight like the back of the bed. I did this because the path there was a little bit wavy and I wanted at least 18" to walk and still have the largest growing area possible. If I ever make the other side straight I'll straighten this side out too.

And wow double digging is a lot of work. I remember the first year I had this garden. I had the fence put in the fall. Then I collected bags of leaves found along the roadside. I filled the fence area in with about a foot of leaves. I figured this would smoother the grass over the winter. It did a pretty good job. Then that next spring I set up the paths and beds, and double dug all of the beds. After 16 years I'd forgotten all the pain of double digging. Or maybe it is just my age catching up with me.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Sex in the Garden

I was minding my own business, just picking my raspberries, when I noticed a couple doing it in the raspberry canes (just saying that makes me think "ouch"). The couple of note was a pair of walking sticks. Now a lot of walking sticks reproduce asexually, but obviously mine believe in genetic diversity.

I put walking sticks into the same category as my swallowtail caterpillars. Yes they eat my plants, but I don't care. And brambles are a favorite food of many walking sticks. I can spare some for this amusing insect.

As for harvests today (besides the yummy raspberries) I picked a lot of mint. There was a lot of Chocolate Mint and Candymint and a little bit of Orange Mint. So I have another day where my house smells like heaven. I do confess though, the basil smell is better. All of these mints are varieties of peppermint and that smell can get a little overwhelming especially when you are stripping the leaves off the stems.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

And Yet More Basil

So back to your regularly scheduled program in the vegetable garden today. When I was out picking I noticed my poor cucumbers were very much dying. I will spare you the ugly photo. I still picked a few cukes off of them, but the foliage is mostly gone. Just a handful of leaves on each plant. I may eek out a couple more, but I think I've made my last container of dill pickles. The big dill is gone too. I have lots of little seedlings that growing everywhere, but not big enough to harvest. They self seeded from this years dill flowers.

More carrots are getting to harvestable size. I picked three more today. The ones that were at least 4" from the others are doing fine, but if they were closer they are still small. There were a couple of strong seedlings that were a couple inches apart that I left. I'd harvest one small, but I know it would disturb its neighbor. I'll just have to hope they get bigger. This time I didn't have those ugly forked roots. One was pretty short though. I assume they are ready when their width gets large. I have no way of telling if they have filled out all the way underneath.

My biggest harvest was my basil. It had once again filled in with new leaves. Next year I have to remember not to put in so many basil plants. I have three Thai basils (which I'm trying to collect seed from, but I think I let it flower too late) and I really only need one. One lemon basil, just the right amount. And had seven Italian basils which is way too many. I pulled three of them up a while ago, but kept four. Four is still too many.

I picked tons of Italian basil to fill my skirt. I have plenty of frozen basil already. So I decided to dry this batch. There is nothing better than turning on the dehydrator and smelling basil all day long. Yumm. There was a lot. It filled all but one shelf. I didn't take each leaf off one by one. I just threw the branches in and dried them that way. Crumbling them into the spice jar was a real treat. The clovelike scent was very strong. I hope it keeps, but that wonderful scent doesn't tend to last long. I never get it from store bought basil.