Friday, June 22, 2012


I haven’t had anything to say since I took the hoophousedown , because all that’s been going on is lots of growing!  The garden is awesome and I’m actually going out today to buy some Ball jars for canning.  I decided to can at least the spaghetti sauce so it doesn’t take up so much room in the freezer.  Gosh, I haven’t canned in about 30+ years and remember standing over a bubbling caldron one hot summer day.  Maybe that’s why I haven’t done it in such a long time! 

My tomato plants that were transplanted into the hoophouse April 1st are now 6’ tall and loaded with tomatoes.  There are 10 plants in my 4’x8’ raised bed and I top dress with compost when there is enough finished compost.  There are other tomato plants scattered throughout the garden, but these were not the early starts, but are still doing great nonetheless.  They also have lots of flowers, but only a few fruits.  The peas have been bountiful and I am enjoying fresh peas in my daily salads.  The Swiss Chard is still going strong as is the Kale, broccoli, and Brussel sprouts.  The Brussel sprouts are starting to develop little mini cabbages along the stalk.  It’s the first time I’ve ever grown them and it is interesting to watch them develop.  The red cabbage look great and I still have them under netting to protect them from Cabbage Moths.  Problem is, a moth found its way in and I am hoping that it didn’t have time to lay eggs before I squished it.  I haven’t picked any bush beans yet, but that will probably start happening next week, as there are lots of little beans just now.  The gourds and cukes are growing up the fencing and I can’t tell one from the other right now.  Hopefully, I will have lots of cukes to make into refrigerator pickles.  I only planted 2 zucchini plants this year for reasons that are obvious.  I have a few little zucchinis ripening up and will be ready to harvest very soon.  The peppers and eggplants are still small but holding their own.  I know from past years they don’t really pick up steam until July.  Some of the herbs are thriving, but others, not so much.  The chives and oregano are out of control, and the parsley is just okay, but the rosemary and sage are just sitting there in the soil.  I only have one dill plant, eventhough I planted lots.  I think I need new seeds.  I’ll put that on the list for next year.  And the asparagus….  Well, it IS coming up, slowly but surely, but I was expecting a more spectacular showing.  Maybe I have unrealistic expectations considering I just put the roots in this spring.  I keep weeding and weeding and weeding that bed. 

I checked out the raspberries along the edge of the woods and it looks like there will be lots to pick for jelly.  Only thing is, I hate climbing through those prickly bushes.  No wonder raspberries are so expensive in the store!

The front perennial garden is blooming with Stella Dora lillies, tiger lillies, spirea and bee balm and a few other plants that I don't remember what they are called or when I bought them!  Doesn't matter - they look beautiful.

For my birthday this year, my son John dumped off a big pile of fresh horse manure.  What an awesome gift.  My girlfriend says that I am the only person that she knows who is happy when she gets a present bought in Agway.  So yes, I was happy with the manure.  I haven’t used much, but am letting it mature for next year.  Should be a great garden! 

I am still keeping notes in my garden journal and following my timeline.  It is very helpful, especially keeping planting dates in line for a fall crop.  July and then especially August is when I will start seeding the lettuces, cabbages, maybe I’ll try cauliflower, and turnips.  I need to have a bed ready in October for the hoophouse and need to be sure that there is some open ground.  Not an easy thing to do when the garden looks like a jungle!  My son Michael just bought a new house and wants a hoophouse for next year’s growing season.  I think that he will be very surprised that you can grow well into the winter and enjoy fresh vegetables from your garden when the snow is on the ground! 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


Hoophouse PVC will support growing tomatoes
Yesterday, I took down the hoophouse for the rest of the summer, until its time to put it back up in October.  The tomato plants were almost hitting the top of it and it was getting a bit too warm and moist in there.  Besides, the temperatures are in the 70s in the day and 50s at night.  The tomato plants, which were started January 31 and planted in the hoophouse on March 21, are big and healthy with tons of yellow flowers and strong, thick stems.  The tomato plants that were started on March 12 and transplanted into pots on April 2 are small and spindly.  I know from experience that they will eventually catch up to their older cousins, and will produce fruit about a month later.  Whether or not they will produce longer into the fall is to be seen.  The nasturiums that were planted in the hoophouse are up and looking promising.  Hopefully they will give the tomatoes some protection from pests and also give the garden some extra color. 

View of broccoli netting
So what did I learn this year from the hoophouse?  Well, I still think that the design of the hoophouse is the right one for me.  I like that it fits right onto the raised bed frame.  I also like having the zippers to open the hoophouse for ventilation and access.  The 12 ml plastic is still holding up, although it is starting to crack by the zippers.  Also, the stitching on the roof of the hoophouse has given way and I've duct taped it for the last two years.  But really, considering that this thing has survived 5 winters with quite a bit of snowfall and then the heat of the early fall is pretty remarkable.  I'd say that this experiment has been a big, tasty success!  If I get around to it, I'll probably make a new one this summer, although I'll still use the old one as well, until it totally disintegrates.  The hoophouse and has definitely extended my growing season and has been a valuable addition to my garden routine.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012


Slugs have been a problem in the hoophouse because of the high humidity, eventhough it is opened up everyday to air it out.  It's been pretty rainy here, compounding the problem.  I'm counting the days until I can take it off for the summer.  But those darned old slugs ate most of the basil, half the marigolds !!! and I think the pepper plants too.  It's hard to assess the damage because it is so packed full of stuff, I can hardly see the forest for the trees, if you know what I mean.  I should have kept the seedlings on the windowsill afterall or sprinkled the soil with wood ash.  A regular standing greenhouse would have been handy for the seedlings.  The seedlings resting on the dirt were fair game for those slimey pests.  They don't seem to bother the tomatoes and as you can see, the tomato plants are doing great.  There are lots of flowers on the plants.  The heirloom tomatoes have big, strange-looking flowers.  Maybe there will be big, strange-looking fruits!  Friends are coming around for their tomato plants and it seems that the cherry tomatoes are first choice.

We went to a local flea market (Rice's) in Bucks County where I bought some flowers, herbs (rosemary, sage, thyme), zucchini plants and eggplants.  I bought 4 zucchini plants, which will produce way too many vegetables for our consumption.  The only other thing that I will probably have to buy this year are the pepper plants. 

Today I couldn't resist and planted my other tomato plants out in the open garden.  Afterward, I nervously covered them with row covers just to keep them a little warmer for the next week or so.  The nights are still getting down into the 50s and might shock them a little too much.  I put in some beans the other day and the peas are climbing up the supports.  The broccoli are forming heads and it looks like we will have a bumper crop!  The Swiss Chard that was wintered over is still producing big, dark green leaves and I wonder how long they can go on.  Still no sign of the asparagus, although the weeds certainly are trying their best to take over the bed.  Some of the lettuce is getting a bit long in the tooth and I hack at it every day and give it to friends and neighbors.   Sunday, Mother's Day, is the official day to plant here as the weather has warmed sufficiently.   Maybe I'll spend the day knee deep in the garden, doing what I like to do best.

Thursday, April 26, 2012


Finally we are having the Spring that we should have had all along!  After a much needed 3" of rain and cooler temperatures, the garden is responding by producing excellent salads with herbs for our lunches and dinners.  After all these greens, we should be the healthiest people on earth!  The Mesclun (ds 3/8) was starting to bolt so I picked it all one day to be mixed in with the Black seeded Simpson lettuce.  The tomato plants that were planted in the hoophouse are doing great and starting to flower.  We'll have early tomatoes again this year.  The tomatoes that I started for friends on March 12 were moved into bigger pots and are nestled in the hoophouse waiting for their turn in the soil.  The hoophouse is very full with tomato plants, squash starts, gourd starts, herbs and flowers.  The cooler night temperatures haven't effected their growth it seems, although during the day, I open the hoophouse as much as possible to prevent condensation build-up.  On the warmer, sunny days, the flaps are all the way open, whereas on the cooler, cloudy days, I just open the roof a little bit.  I still feel like it is the best design for me.  As you can see from the picture, I already put the plastic fencing over the tomatoes to provide support and will add a second one 2-3' above that as they grow and when I remove the hoophouse.  The tomatoes grow through the fencing for protection from the wind. 

But my garden isn't all about the hoophouse!!!!  The 'open garden' is looking great and the broccoli, cabbage and Brussel Sprouts that I have under a net are the stars of the garden, so far.  The netting is working to keep out the cabbage moths, so no leaves have been chewed and no eggs have been laid, I hope.  The asparagus root (ds 3/23) hasn't yet made an appearance, although I look for it everyday.  I can't wait to see those feathery fronds!  The peas are reaching for the vertical netting, and the wintered over Swiss Chard is producing again!  Didn't think it would survive the winter, but since we had such a mild one, it did!  Hooray!  Welcome back Swiss Chard!! 

P.S.  One last thing.  Blogger changed it's format and now it is especially user unfriendly!  That is why my picture of the garden at the top of the page is so small.  I spent an hour trying to make it large like it was before all of these great changes.  Why do they do that?  And when they change something, do they actually sit down and try to make a page?  Ugh!!!


HOOPHOUSE:  Roma tomatoes (si 1/31, t HH 2/22\\ si 3/12, t HH 4/20); Beefsteak Tomatoes (si 2/3, t HH 3/13\\ si 3/12, t HH 4/20); Heirloom tomatoes (si 2/7, t HH 3/13\\ si 3/12, t HH 4/20); Cherry tomatoes (si 2/16, t HH 3/13\\ si 3/12, t HH 4/20), Peppers (si 3/18, t HH 4/20); Butternut squash (si 4/10, t HH 4/20); gourds (si 4/10, t HH 4/20); Herbs - Basil, Parsley, Marjoram, Chives, Rosemary (si 3/12, t HH 4/17); Flowers - Marigolds, zinnias, coleus, pansies (si 3/12, t HH 4/17); Nasturiums (ds HH 4/18)

GARDEN:  Garlic (wo); Swiss Chard (wo, si 1/16, ds 3/8); Peas (ds 3/8, 4/18); Brussel Spts (si 2/16, ds 3/8, t HH 3/13, t garden 3/16); Parsnips (ds 3/8); lettuce (si 1/27, ds HH 2/22, ds 3/8, ds 4/18); Mesclun (ds 3/8, B 4/16; 4/2); Kale (ds 3/8); Spinach (si 1/31, si 4/2, si 4/10, ds 4/18); onion sets (ds 3/23); asparagus root (ds 3/23); Dill (ds 4/6); Broccoli (si 2/9, t HH 3/6, t garden 3/13); cabbage (si 3/5, t garden 3/16)

ds = direct sow; si = sow inside; t = transplant; HH = hoophouse; B = bolted

Friday, April 13, 2012


Watering with a sprinkler certainly helps, but nothing compares to a good old fashioned rain storm.  And that's just what we need.  We MAY get a thunderstorm tomorrow night, according to the forecast, and I'll bet I'm one of the only ones around here that is hoping for one.  That is, me and the farmers.  Although we have been pretty dry, the seeds are sprouting and the garden is greening up.  We've been eating lettuce and greens almost every night and they are so delicious.  Nothing beats fresh picked greens.  The peas are up as are the onions.  I gave them a little haircut to stimulate their root growth.  The asparagus is taking its good old time and still sleeping beneath the soil.  The hoophouse tomatoes are doing great and are looking green and bushy.  I can't wait to try the heirlooms!  The really interesting plants this year are the broccoli and cabbage plants.  They seem to be loving the cooler weather and look very healthy.  The netting is helping keep them bug free and I am anxious to feast on fresh broccoli and cole slaw.  Yum!  Just planted dill today into the herb bed, along with the oregano, chives and parsley that wintered over.   Everything is out in the garden, except for the flower sprouts and the slow growing peppers.  I even put my friends' tomato plants out into the hoophouse to free up a little windowsill space and give them a little elbow room. 

My grandsons were here for Easter and help me in the garden.  They loved digging with their new little shovel and raking with the new yellow rake.  Two and four - not too young to learn!!!  Get them in the dirt at an early age! 

Tuesday, April 3, 2012


Highs in the 50s and lows in the 30s!  That's the current temps here - perfect for the cool season crops.  The lettuce and mesclun are responding to the cooler temperatures now, whereas when it was in the 70s they stalled.  I know - it's all about the temperatures.  Not just the ambient air temperature, but also the soil temperature.  I check these often, but you know, there's not too much you can do when the weather changes, especially so drastically.  The peas have popped up and will need support before long.  The broccoli looks like it is thriving and even the red cabbage (I bought starts at the market!!!) looks happy in the garden.  The chives and oregano are up and being used in our nightly salads.  And the tomatoes -- those poor cold tomatoes shivering in the hoophouse -- seem to be surviving.  We'll see how they do over the next few weeks.  After one below freezing night, I removed the heater thinking that it was ridiculous to heat a plastic hoophouse.  So they are on their own.  The older tomato plants are fairing better than the younger ones.  When I look at last year's tomatoes at this time of year, not only did they survive, but went on to produce a bounty of fruit. 

The windowsill rack is full of vegetables starts, flowers, herbs and decorative garden plants, slowly growing, waiting for their day in the garden.  So we are in full production mode at this time.  Recently I checked out Burpee's website and found that they have a very useful garden calendar that is specific to your location.  Just enter your zip code and up pops a timeline, similar to what I already have created for myself, with information of when to start seeds inside, when to transplant and when to direct sow into the garden.  It also has information for fall crops.  Unfortunately I couldn't print the page, but I did use it to create a page of my own.  Check it out.  It has proven to be a very useful tool. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


Last night the temperature dipped below freezing and I worried that I jumped the gun and planted tomatoes in the hoophouse way too early.  But it was in the 70s last week!!!  Since the hoophouse is unheated, but full of tomato plants, my husband suggested that I put our small ceramic heater in to keep it warm.  I also made sure that there were no air leaks and then covered the entire hoophouse with a big tarp for extra protection.  I was afraid to look in the morning, but lo and behold, the tomato plants were green and healthy looking.  Tonight it's not supposed to be quite so cold and although I once again covered the hoophouse with a tarp, I didn't use the heater. 

As an experiment, when we were expecting the freezing temperatures, I planted a few small tomato plants on the south side of my house and covered them with a storage box.  The plants were fine when I looked the next morning.  I've been thinking about putting a small hoophouse or lean-to there as I think that is the warmest side of the house and protected from the west wind.  I think that it would be the ideal site for cold weather crops.  And if I made a lean-to against the house, the wall would be a thermal mass.  I need to think about it and decide whether or not I need even more garden to take care of. 

So the conclusion is that unless the temperature dips down below freezing, my unheated hoophouse does the job and protects my plants.  The tomatoes appear happy and green and like being out of the restraints of their pots. 

As an extra precaution, I threw an old sheet over the early lettuce to keep the frost off of it.  That seemed to work.  Although I did notice that the primrose planted in the windowboxes were a bit frost nipped, but perked up the next day.  The extended forecast predicts cooler temperatures, but no nights below freezing.  So I think that we are 'home free' from here on out!

Friday, March 23, 2012


Hoophouse tomatoes
Against my better judgment I planted my tomatoes in the hoophouse on March 19th.  The warm, sunny weather was like a siren's song luring me out to the garden, shovel in hand.  So I moved the hoophouse off the greens pretty confident that they will do just fine without any protection, probably better because it was getting a bit too warm in there.  I deeply planted the heirlooms, romas, beefsteaks and cherries in the warm soil, with a handful of oatmeal and eggshells, for good measure.  The extended forecast is for temps in the 70s for the next week.  Even if it does cool off a bit, which I'm sure it will, the hoophouse will keep the tomatoes nice and warm.  And if I am making a huge mistake and the plants die or languish, I have more starts on the windowsill, just in case.  Some of the tomato plants are getting pretty big and I'd rather have them outside, than inside leaning over the freshly started herbs and flowers.  So we shall see!  While I was out in the garden I noticed that the lettuce that I seeded in the open bed is sprouting and the broccoli and cabbage starts that I planted last week are doing OK out in the open.  I bought netting at Joann Fabrics, sewed it together lengthwise and made a cover for the broccoli and cabbage.  And just in the nick of time!  Cabbage moths were out flittering around the garden today. 
Netting tent
Today, the 23rd, I planted onion sets and asparagus.  Hooray!  I've always wanted to grow asparagus!  And although we won't be able to start eating even a little bit of it until next spring, it is worth it.  It has it's own little dedicated raised bed filled with compost and year old manure. 

This year I've learned that it is easier to start vegetables inside on the windowsill than to direct seed into the garden.  This may be because of the very warm weather that we've been having and the timing of everything is off.  But the spinach, broccoli and Swiss chard that I sowed directly into the garden hasn't come up yet.  I'm not counting it out just yet, but it's been a month and -- nada.  On the other hand, the lettuce, mesclun, turnips, peas and kale are up.  The tomato plants in the hoophouse look very green and happy and unless we get an Alberta Clipper, I think that they are home free.  My windowsill starts are doing well.  All the flowers up are (marigold, coleus, zinnias) as are the tomatoes for friends and family, herbs (parsley, marjoran, chives, basil and rosemary).  I'm waiting for the peppers to pop any day now. 

The front flower garden is in bloom with daffodils, and forsythia.  It's very yellow out there.  It must be spring!

It's weird though. I was looking at old pictures of last year's garden at this time and notice that I was picking a ton of greens (I'm starting to cut lettuce, but not the bushels like last year) from the garden because so much had wintered over. Not so this year. My timing was totally off for a fall crop of anything.  So I marked my garden chart and hopefully will get the timing right for this year's fall crop.  Live and learn! 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


The hoophouse is in full swing with all kinds of things sprouting.  It's been warmer here so I've been opening it up every day once the sun hits the plastic.  I've been watering it every other day, just to keep the soil moist for any unsprouted seeds.  March gardening in the hoophouse is just like gardening in April --- just earlier.  Of course, the weather has been very weird and I haven't had to contend with any snow blocking my way out to the garden.  It seems as though most of the hoophouse seeds have sprouted except for the Swiss Chard, and peas.  I think they need just a little more time. 

Nothing in the uncovered garden is coming up, but I think that after a few warm days that we are expecting, things should start popping.  So instead of sitting there in anticipation, I've been sowing seeds inside and putting them on the heat mat.  I just sowed the tomatoes (heirlooms, Better Boys, cherry and Roma) for my friends and also sowed a tray of flowers, such as zinnias, marigolds and coleus, for the garden and window boxes.  Last year it was so nice not to have to buy trays of flowers at $25 a shot!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


My garden chart is an indispensable tool for knowing when to seed and transplant.  With just a glance, I can see what needs to be done in the coming month.  When the task is complete, I mark the numeral date under the month and use colors to denote whether it is in the hoophouse (orange), sown inside (pink), or directly sown into the garden without covering (green).  Although I use a calendar for more descriptive notes, the chart also notes germination temps, growing temps, days to harvest, succession planting, fall crop and whether it is a candidate for the hoophouse.  There is also a small area for notes such as a reminder to 'ruffle the tomato seedlings'!  March, April and May are the busiest months since by June, the garden is pretty much running on it's own.  But then there are reminders to seed at the end of September for the fall crops.  I can't imagine vegetable gardening without the garden chart. 


Mar. 6 Hoophouse - 75 degrees
Broccoli starts in hoophouse box
Well, it happened.  I ran out of room in my one and only hoophouse!  Last year, I had two hoophouses, but the flat-topped hoophouse ripped and I had decided not to replace it.  Over the last two weeks I have been seeding and transplanting seedlings into the hoophouse and now it is finally full.  So what to do?  Well, in the past, I have used clear storage boxes turned upside-down over the soil to protect the delicate seedlings until the weather is warmer and they can go 'free range'.  And that's exactly what I did.  I planted the broccoli sprouts today and they are looking cozy in the box.  The temperature in the hoophouse hit 75 degrees today and they are calling for temps in the 60s tomorrow, so I'll be unzipping the sides so it doesn't cook in there.  The seeds are germinating in the hoophouse and the lettuce that I transplanted on Feb. 17 is growing and looking promising.  I seeded some kale today but probably will have to cover it for the night.  It's still a little too nippy out there for that!  The tomato plants on the window sill are about 8" tall and will be transferred into the hoophouse in early April.  There will be a ton of them and I just might regret not having another hoophouse.  Maybe I'll get a clear painters tarp, drape it over some PVC hoops and see how that works.  
Storage box hoophouse

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


Grow rack
Romas - mmmmm
FEBRUARY 22 and it’s warm and sunny!  The daffodils are 4” high and robins are all over the place!  No snow for us this year!  I’ve been starting seeds in the house on the warming mat and just the other day transplanted the lettuce starts into the hoophouse.  Problem is, it’s so warm that I’ve got to carefully monitor the temps in there.  I don’t want to fry the lettuce!  These past two weeks I’ve started a few different kinds of tomatoes, some Brussel sprouts, Swiss Chard, spinach, and broccoli.  I also planted some seeds into the warm soil in the hoophouse to see just what will come up.  Today I put in the Brussel sprouts, broccoli, Swiss Chard, lettuce and even some peas along where the fence is.  So at this point the hoophouse is fully planted with no room for anything else.  I noticed that the mesclun that I planted in there the other week is sprouting now.  Since I’m down to one hoophouse now, I guess that will be it until I move the hoophouse off of the bed for the cold weather crops and put it on the next bed for the tomatoes.  That will probably happen the end of March, as per last year.  I replanted the Roma tomatoes into larger pots since they had their true leaves and will be doing the other tomatoes in the next week or so once they are large enough.   The tomatoes, brussel sprouts, broccoli and spinach starts are all on the sunny windowsill rack with the grow lights on during half the night.  The seeds that I have been using are from previous years and are all germinating at probably close to 100%.  So, the garden is up and running and I am looking forward to a great gardening year. 

Lettuce transplanted in hoophouse
Since we had such a mild winter, the hoophouse looks good and will most likely be usable for next year.  The plastic and zippers are still in working order and I am amazed that the hoophouse has survived for as many years as it has considering that I used plastic and zippers from Joann Fabrics.  Not bad for a $70 initial investment! 

Tuesday, January 31, 2012


Basement window garden Jan. 31
It's 62 degrees today and it was hard not to go out into the garden.  It actually SMELLS like spring!  So I watched the 5 day forecast and decided to take a chance and plant some mesclun in the hoophouse.  It was 70 degrees in there, so I unzipped the plastic and got my hands dirty.  I covered everything in the hoophouse with a row cover hoping that it will keep the soil a little warmer at night.  After I planted the mesclun, I took some time to turn the soil in the outside garden to get the fall leaves worked into the soil.  Hopefully it will be nice and composted by the time planting time gets here. 

Jan. 27 lettuce starts
It's hard to know just how this weather is going to go and we just might be in for a very cold blast before spring.  After reviewing my notes from the last few years though, I decided to sow some lettuce, spinach and even tomatoes inside.  I put in the lettuce on January 27 and it only took 3 days for it to sprout.  The spinach and tomatoes were seeded today (January 31) and are sitting on the heating mat.  They should be popping up within a week or so.  Last year's tomatoes were started on February 1 and in the end, I had a great harvest.   Way better than anyone else's garden.  These early tomato starts are just for me because they will be moved into the hoophouse in April.  My friends' tomatoes won't be started until the end of February otherwise I only have ungainly, redwood-sized plants to hand out.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012


After the excess of the holidays, I always feel a need to downsize.  What I mean by that is that we like to eat down our stores of food in the pantry and frig and then clean it out and start anew.  Of course, doing that means that we eat some very interesting combinations.  Everything from the garden has been consumed and we are ready for the hoophouse to defrost and start producing our very early greens.  But that won't happen for another 5 weeks, so we will be buying our produce from Tanner's, our local market.  Well, I looked into the frig this morning and laughed when I saw what a sad sight it presented.  Pretty much, the freezer only had ice cream and the refrigerator had a stale, half finished chocolate cake and a mega bottle of Diet Coke.  Well now, that's an interesting diet!  Not sure if that's really part of my New Year's resolution.  And it will get worse before it gets better.  It's hard to believe that when we were getting ready for the Christmas party, that appliance was packed and I worried whether I could fit more food in!  But the party guests must not have eaten for a week before coming and the frig was starting to look a little lean by the end of the week. 

It's cold here in Eastern Pennsylvania and the ground is finally frozen, including the soil in the hoophouse.  No snow is in the forecast, but we've still got a long way to go before Spring.  Maybe by that time we'll have restocked the refrigerator!

Monday, December 12, 2011


Mid December is normally a very slow garden month, even though I am still cutting that amazing Swiss Chard.   We’ve had numerous frosts, but the plants keep producing and I keep picking.  It has to be one of the best crops that I’ve planted in the garden and has consistently great results, year after year.  Looking back at the growing year, tomatoes were also outstanding and we are still enjoying the sauce.  In fact, I am using lots of the frozen tomato sauce for the 20 lb. of meatballs which will be served at our annual holiday party.  Every time I taste that sauce, I am transported back to July when I was picking baskets of tomatoes daily.  Mmmmm – smells like summer.  The greens did very well especially the winter greens that were started in February in the hoophouse.  We had salads every day until mid June.  The peppers were slow in starting, but I picked them well into the fall.  We had tons of beans, some peas and a little bit of broccoli.  That being said, we had more garden failures than any previous year.   I harvested one eggplant, the size of a marble!  No eggplant parmesan this year!  The herbs came up but were disappointing.  I like to freeze dill and parsley, but didn’t have enough of a crop to do it this year.  Only got a couple broccoli plants, although there is still broccoli growing in the garden.   Maybe I need to rethink the planting schedule.  The strawberries were a total failure due to the wet spring, but the wild raspberries had a very hearty harvest.  My daughter made jars and jars of raspberry jam for Christmas presents this year.  The cucumbers were a total failure and a huge disappointment.  I love cucumber salad, but it was not meant to be.  And even the winter rye that I planted as a fall cover crop failed to germinate.   I’ll probably follow the same timeline for 2012.  Funny thing is, what works out well one year, fails in the next.  And we certainly did have odd weather this year.   We had snow on Halloween, for gosh sakes!

So, in the spirit of the closing of the year and reflecting on this year’s garden, I have a list of suggestions to improve next year’s garden. 

1)  The bamboo supports that I made for the tomatoes looked great until Hurricane Irene came along, broke and knocked them all over.  The tomatoes spent the rest of their days lying on the ground.  It made harvesting  more difficult and looked terrible. 

2)  It is not possible to grow springtime cabbage and broccoli without some kind of insect netting.  Although I did get to pick quite a few cabbage, the moths enjoyed them more than I did.

3)  DO  NOT USE FRESH MANURE IN THE GARDEN!!!  I read this, but did I listen – NOOOOO!  The horse manure was full of weed seeds and of course weeds came up before the vegetable seeds had a chance to germinate.  I was fighting weeds all summer long (and into the winter too!).  I have my very own manure pile now and it will be composted by the spring.

4)  Stagger the tomato starts by at least 1 month.  Since I plant my early tomato plants in the hoophouse, it works for me very well and I have an early crop.  But I give plants away to friends who have a normal growing schedule and the plants are too big and root bound by the time they get them in mid May. 

5)  Replace the strawberry bed with asparagus.  Truth is, I’d rather have asparagus and since both are long-time commitments, I choose asparagus. 

6)  Repair the garden fence and gate so rabbits can’t get in.  Duh!

7)  Globe zucchinis are very confusing.  I forget what is planted there and then when I have these round objects growing in the garden, I don’t know what they are.  Plus, they just look wrong.  I’ll go back to the old tried and true shape.

8) Grow butternut squash, NOT acorn squash.  Butternut squash soup is the best!

9)  And lastly, I plan to start more flowers.  I enjoyed having a few flats of marigolds to scatter around the house.  And a packet of seeds is a heck of a lot cheaper than buying a flat at the garden store. 

So here we are in mid December and plans are already in the works for Garden 2012.  I miss not getting my hands dirty and spending the day in the garden.  But before you  know it, mid February will be here and it will be time to plant the mesclun in the hoophouse and start the tomatoes.  I can’t wait!   

Saturday, October 15, 2011


It seems as though the weather changes so fast in October here in eastern Pennsylvania.  Early October has warm temperatures and thunderstorms.  But come October 15 and it’s time to put the hoophouse up.  Just a week ago we had temperatures in the 70s and even in the 80s and today, October 15, it is windy and a high in the 60s.  A windy day would not have been a good day to wrestle plastic for the hoophouse, but luckily I put it up last week and kept the zippers open so it wouldn’t bake in there.  Well, today I planted lettuce and mesclun – my first hoophouse crop!  Yay!!!  I’ll have to monitor the temperature in there and unzip it when need be.  When the sun hits that plastic, it can reach into the 90s, although with the slanting sun, the garden is mostly in the shade.  I put up only one structure this fall – the hoophouse – since the flat topped one ripped and got thrown out in the spring.  On closer inspection, the hoophouse was actually in pretty good shape and only needed a little duct tape repair on the top seam.  Zippers still look good.   I am shocked that the plastic is holding up this well. 
The lettuce and spinach that I planted a month ago looked like it was going to be a great fall crop until some critter munched it down to the roots.  Generally, animals stay out of the hoophouse and I think that we are good to go for our fall/winter crop.  I also planted some lettuce on the south side of the house as an experiment to see if the warmer side of the house will be conducive to growing.  That is, as long as animals don’t find it first. 

The garden is still producing a few things.  I am still picking beans, although the plants are starting to look a little freezer burned at this point in the season.  The ‘Bright Lights’ Swiss Chard is beautiful and I made a delicious salad for lunch today, topped with some fresh picked peppers.  I even cut up some of the colorful stems of the chard to add some interest.  The marigolds are still blooming but I am starting to dump leaves into the garden and get it ready for the winter. 

Monday, September 12, 2011


Well, so the thing went out the window, or so we thought.  The next morning, Hubby woke me up and asked me if there was any particular reason why there was a dead flying squirrel in our first floor toilet.  What?  Sure enough, the poor thing was drown, face down in the toilet bowl.  So the mystery continues.  How did it get in?  And why did it end up in the toilet?  Was there one or two squirrels?  I’m afraid that we will never know.  Poor thing.  I actually felt sorry for it.  At least it’s not like the grey squirrels that cause an enormous amount of damage when trapped in a house.  

Wednesday, August 31, 2011


Well, Hurricane Irene blew threw here leaving us only with a truckload of downed branches and toppled sunflowers.  Not bad considering the high winds and deluge of rain.  We slept in the basement on Saturday night as a result of tornado warnings and the fear of falling trees.  But thankfully, nothing bad happened to us or anybody we know, other than power outages.  We spent Sunday helping our friends who live along the Delaware River   pack up their first floor because the Delaware was expected to flood. Fortunately, it is rising, but the predicted 'crest stage' is lower than expected and they shouldn't have a problem. It was touch and go all day yesterday and we just decided that since they had a lot of help, to just pack it up anyway. They own a big trailer and we put everything that wasn't going onto the second floor into it. Since they've been flooded 3 times before, they really don’t have that much on the first floor, but you know, you still need stuff to live your life. The stuff in the garage had to be moved too but they have a loft and lots of stuff went up there.  Various vehicles were taken to friend's houses on higher ground.  They said that they feel like just buying plastic porch furniture for the downstairs so they never have to move furniture again!

We lost power for about 9 hours, but I had frozen Tupperware containers (a fraction of the stash from my mother-in-law :) ) and kept the frozen blocks of ice in the freezer and it kept everything cold. Everything was still frozen solid even after 9 hours. We have lots of branches down (but only 1 big limb), but that is it. No trees on top of the house.  Dodged the bullet once again. The only event that we had was last night. We were tired from working and went to bed. I kept hearing noise in our bathroom - the plastic cup was knocked over, and it sounded like someone was rummaging through stuff in there. I thought it was hubby roaming through the house and he thought it was me. But I went into the bathroom and quickly turned on the lights and there was a mouse or rat or something that ran across the tub and sat under the toilet. But it was weird because it was pretty big and it looked at me rather than scramble and hide. I closed the door and waited to hear it again. It sounded like it was pushing on the screen and I quickly opened the door and there it was sitting on the window sill. We saw that it was one of those little flying squirrels that we have around here (I've only seen one once before) and it was trying to get out of the screen. It jumped down and hid in my plastic plant (it probably was the only thing recognizable to a squirrel. Probably thought it was a tree!). Hubby took out the screen and we closed the door and put a blanket under it to be sure that it didn't squeeze under the door and get into our room. Then I said to Hubby that I wasn't sure that it would go out the second story window and he said "It's a f--- flying squirrel!". And he was right. It was glad to get out and so that was the extent of our storm excitement!  Maybe I should send the story to the weather channel so that they have something to report from this area!

The garden was blown around, but seems OK except for the sunflowers that were knocked over.  They were almost done their bloom anyway.  The tomato plants continue to be battered from the many storms that we’ve had this summer, but are still producing a few pathetic looking tomatoes.  I sowed some spinach and lettuce seeds last week and they are starting to poke up from the soil, that is, if they weren’t washed away by the storm!  I continue to pull out the spent bean plants and squash, put in some compost from the bin and seed with my fall plantings.  The pole beans oddly weren’t damaged by the storm and I continue to pick beans for our dinners.  I’ve designated one bed for my hoophouse and am working on having greens well established by the time it gets cold here.  I really think that this winter will be the last winter for my hoophouse since it has some tears, but four winters is darned good for 12 ml plastic I think.  I have some ideas for a new design although the PVC hoophouse has been pretty successful.   At this point, I am getting tired of tomatoes (never thought that that would be possible!), and beans.  I am looking forward to great fall salads from the garden.  Believe it or not, I think that I enjoy the winter garden more than the summer garden.  There is just something so cool about shoveling a path out to the garden and picking fresh, delicious greens when everything else is frozen.  Remind me of this when I am complaining about the bitter winter!!!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


It's zucchini time and I'm sure that everybody is knee deep in summer squash.  What's better than hiding zucchini in dessert?!!!  I made the chocolate cake yesterday and everybody loves it.  I added a little expresso powder to it to liven it up.  Enjoy!


2 cups sifted flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp. salt
¼ tsp. baking powder
3 tsp. cinnamon
3 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
1 ½ cup sugar
2 cups grated zucchini
2 tsp. vanilla
1 cup raisins
1 cup chopped walnuts

 Sift flour, baking soda, salt, baking powder and cinnamon onto waxed paper.  Combine eggs, oil, sugar, zucchini and vanilla in a large mixing bowl; beat until well mixed.  Stir in the flour mixture until smooth.  Stir in raisins into a greased 13x9x2” pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes or until center springs back when lightly pressed with fingertip.  Cool in pan on wire rack. 

2 1/2 cups regular all purpose flour, unsifted
1/2 cup cocoa
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
3/4 cup soft butter
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
2 tsp. grated orange peel
2 cups coarsely shredded zucchini
1/2 cup milk
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
glaze (direction follow)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon; set aside. with a mixer, beat together the butter and the sugar until they are smoothly blended. add the eggs to the butter and sugar mixture one at a time, beating well after each addition. with a spoon, stir in the vanilla, orange peel, and zucchini. alternatively stir the dry ingredients and the milk into the zucchini mixture, including the nuts with the last addition. pour the batter into a greased and floured 10" tube pan or bundt pan. bake in the oven for about 50 minutes (test at 45 minutes) or until wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. cool in pan 15 minutes; turn out on wire rack to cool thoroughly. drizzle glaze over cake. glaze: mix together 2 cups powdered sugar, 3 tbsp. milk and 1 tsp. vanilla. beat until smooth. cut in thin slices to serve. Makes 10-12 servings.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


As I’ve noted in other blogs, my kids have inherited the gardening bug and have gardens in one form or another.  While visiting my son Michael and his wife Elly at their Columbus, Ohio apartment, I was treated to their amazing mini garden in their teeny tiny 10’ by 1’ (yes, you read right) slice of dirt.  Their back patio is almost entirely concrete, except for a very small amount of ground that holds their stockade fence.  So, not only is it incredibly small but it is also shaded for a good part of the day.  But that didn’t deter these two urbanites.  With some good old fashioned manure and a bag or two of new soil, they made that impossible space into a garden that supports cherry tomatoes and some very, very tall sunflowers.  Elly said that they have been enjoying their crop  of tomatoes while their neighbors are amazed at the towering sunflowers.  Herbs are planted in a window box and are used almost daily in their vegetarian dishes.  It is delightful to peer out of the sliders at this very tiny, amazing garden.  It makes it feel as though you really aren’t in the city, but in your own secret garden.