MID-JUNE GARDEN

MID-JUNE GARDEN

Monday, December 12, 2011

2011 REFLECTIONS

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’S COLD ENOUGH FOR THE HOOPHOUSE AGAIN

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

FLYING SQUIRREL STORY, CONTINUED

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

HURRICANE DAMAGE

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

ZUCCHINI OVERLOAD

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!


ZUCCHINI BREAD

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. 



CHOCOLATE ZUCCHINI CAKE
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

NO ROOM, NO PROBLEM

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. 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

PLANNING FOR THE HOOPHOUSE – AGAIN

Finally, our hot spell has broken and our temperatures are normal for this area.  My garden really took a hit because of the heat and I don’t know if it will recover at this point.  Although I have lots of bean plants that are healthy and full of flowers, there have been very few beans.  I suppose that since there are flowers, there will be beans.  I pulled out the early bush beans and only have the pole variety left.  The tomatoes are still going strong, although the bamboo supports fell over in the wind storm.  They are kind of slumped all over the garden, but I am still picking, even though I have to kind of crawl under and through the vegetation.  There is nothing quite like the taste of a warm tomato, fresh picked from the garden.   Mmmmm.  Although I pop them in my mouth while browsing out there, I still have enough to make about four big batches of sauce for the winter.  Peppers are still producing slowly as are the zucchini.  I picked a bunch of acorn squash and haven’t decided just what to do with them yet.  I wish that they were butternut instead.  I guess I’ll have to stuff and bake them one of these days.  Next year I’ll be sure to plant the squash that I really want.  The sunflowers are blooming and they are beautiful waving high in the sky.  That is, before the birds eat their seed heads. 

So as you can see, the garden is pretty much on its own just now, although plans are being made for the hoophouse.  Compost is going into the bed that will hold the hoophouse, getting it ready for October.  The horse down the street has been producing lots of manure and I plan on getting a couple bags for my very own manure pile (my husband will be thrilled!).  I planted spinach, but either it hasn’t emerged yet or the rabbit ate it even before I saw it growing! 

My daughter said that her garden is doing great and she has been picking tons of beans, zucchini, cucumbers and squash.  She lives on the eastern side of the Berkshires and it is cooler there and so she never got the ‘heat stall’ that we had here.  She said that she is still picking lettuce and has picked it all summer long!  I thought that she was lucky until I realized that she will be dealing with winter a month before we do and I will still be picking vegetables when their ground is frozen.  That made me feel a little better.


Saturday, July 23, 2011

Very Early Hoophouse Tomatoes - A Great Success

The tomato plants that I started on February 1 and planted in the hoophouse on April 1 are prolifically producing fruit.  Everyone else I know, including those to whom I gave plants, still aren't harvesting any red tomatoes.  They said that they have lots of green tomatoes, but no red.  The only explanation is that mine were in the ground long before the others that had a planting date of mid-May.  So generally, my tomatoes had an extra six weeks of plant and root growth.  And considering that this year is following the same trend as 2010 with a cool, wet, long spring and then temperatures in the 90-100s in July, my plants don't seem very bothered by the extreme heat.  We have been eating tomatoes for almost every meal, and I made a big batch of tomato sauce last week and will probably have to make another in a few days.  I suspect that my plants may die back before everyone else's tomatoes though, but by that time, we will probably be sick of tomatoes, if that is possible.  Although I did try to stagger the start dates, the younger plants caught up to the older ones and they look exactly the same.  Maybe I'll have to experiment with a much later starting date and a planting date of May 15, which would be normal for this area.   But all in all, starting the tomato plants February 1 not only provides us with a great, early harvest, but chases away those winter blues when I start dreaming of my garden-to-be and lets me get my hands dirty at last. 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

I'M THE PROUD MAMA OF --- CABBAGES!!!

I cut my very first ever cabbage today.  I guess I've never grown cabbages before because I thought that the bugs and rabbits would get them before I did.  And although the leaves were gnawed on by some worm/insect/larvae, etc, the head is perfectly good for my husband's favorite food - cole slaw.  So I have one more good head and two other heads that are shaded by my runaway squash plants and therefore, rather puny.  I'm pretty surprised that I even have cabbages to pick since I didn't initially plan them for this year's garden.  I bought what I thought were broccoli plants from the nursery, but since I wasn't wearing my glasses, I picked up cabbages instead!  Then, while they were just forming heads, something was munching the leaves and I picked some dill and layed it over the cabbage.  I don't know whether or not this deterred that pest, but after that, it seemed as though the munching stopped and the heads formed very nicely.  Maybe it was just a coincidence, or maybe, when I cut into that head, I will find a big, fat, happy worm!  A little meat with the cole slaw, honey?!

The weather here, as in most of the country, is very hot and dry.  We haven't had rain for a few weeks and the temperatures are hitting 100 today.  Putting it plainly, it is stinking hot out there.  I watered the garden, but I think everything will have heat stall and stop producing until the hot weather breaks.  I've been getting tons of tomatoes and after talking  with other area gardeners, it seems that I am the exception.  Planting the tomato plants in the hoophouse in very early April seems to be the thing to do.  I started picking early and the plants were well established by the time the real heat set in.  Same as last year.  I've picked a couple peppers already and lots of beans, although I think that they have heat stall.  Now the one plant that is not doing well for me but is doing great for everybody else is cucumbers.  I haven't really looked, but I suspect that I have something boring into the stem and killing off the plants.  This is disappointing as I really wanted to make more refrigerator pickles this summer.  Maybe I can trade my tomatoes for somebody's cucumbers!  The squash are spreading over the garden and I am trying to train them onto the fence.  I think that I will have a good acorn squash harvest this year, but I don't see any butternuts.  Pumpkins are running rampant and believe it or not, the strawberries are still producing. 

We had company over for dinner last night and almost everything came from the garden.  I made tomato sauce with zucchini and swiss chard.  It was delicious served over whole wheat pasta.  Well, not totally whole wheat.  My husband doesn't like too much healthy stuff!  I made a salad from the Swiss Chard, tomatoes, peppers, and onions - all from the garden, with store bought radishes, cheese and my brother-in-law's awesome balsamic vinegar dressing.  It was a great meal and our guests enjoyed it thoroughly.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

NATURE OR NURTURE?

My two grandsons were visiting for the week and observing their behavior at this age has been interesting.  Nathan, the 3 year old, loves the garden and bushwacking through the jungle to pick the cherry tomatoes.  He spies them before I do and pops them right into his mouth, with the juice running down his chin.  He loves it, whereas Coleton, the 18 month old, absolutely hates being touched by the plants and cries until we rescue him.  He doesn’t want to taste the tomatoes, or snow peas.  He just wants out!  So, unless things change, I think that Nathan will be the gardener of the family.  Now you might say that it is because of the difference in age, but Nathan always loved the garden and walking through the paths to find the veggies.  At this time of year, the garden is definitely closing in and leaning over the walkways.  A earlier windstorm pushed the tomato supports over a bit and they look like they are on the verge of falling into the path.  The bamboo supports have been good, but just weren’t up to a 50 mph gust of wind.  We’ve been picking tomatoes now for about 2 weeks and there are loads  more to ripen.  I just picked the first cucumber that are trained on the fence and the first batches of beans are pretty much done, but the succeeding plants are just starting to produce.  The cabbage look great and are forming big heads despite the cabbage worm attack.  There are little peppers on the plants and the squash – well, the squash is taking over.  Earlier this spring, I found squash plants already growing in the garden and I decided to let them live in the main garden.  Big mistake.  Some are pumpkin plants and are running riot over everything else.  That’s the last time I make that mistake.  But on the other hand, many of the plants were acorn squash and they are not so pushy as the pumpkins.  I haven’t seen any butternut squash though.  Too bad as I really enjoyed making soup from them.  The sunflowers are starting to bloom and the birds and squirrels will be attacking soon.  Oh, and one last thing, there is a bunny in the garden!  He chewed a hole through the netting and now everything I step in to week or pick, I chase him like Mr. McGregor.  He is little and hasn’t really done any real damage other than eat the carrot tops, and I hope that once he gets bigger, he won’t fit through the fencing.  But what will come first – his growth spurt or the end of my veggies?  Actually I think that one will follow the other! 

The wild red raspberries are at their peak and my daughter was climbing through the thorny bushes gathering as many berries as she could.  She picked about 16 cups and made jam with half and saved the others for her husband’s cereal (he’s a berry lover).  I decided not to make wine with them this year since my co-vintner (my son) is busy with work and a new house.  Next year we’ll try again. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

GENERAL HOUSEKEEPING

On June 10th, I spread the compost that’s been cooking in the bin since the early spring.  It was rich and dark and I top dressed most of the garden, giving a little extra to the giant tomato plants.  The compost bin works well and I turn it every week.  I lift the bin and move to the next spot and fork the ingredients back into it, thereby giving it a good mixing.  The weather has been good with nice sunny hot days mixed with periods of rain, so I’ve had to do very little watering.  Once again, the stars of the garden are the tomato plants.  They are 6’ tall and require a hair cut every now and again.  They are full of blooms and green tomatoes.  I found a beefsteak today that is as big as my fist and still green.  I can already taste it in my sandwich!  No sign of hornworms, but I keep looking for the tell tale signs of eaten leaves and little black poops.  The hot weather crops are starting to take off with the cukes already climbing the fence.  The cabbage looks great and is forming heads.  Hopefully those cabbage moths will stay away (not!).  I’ve been picking the snow peas every day although I don’t have enough yet except to use in salads.  We are still enjoying salad, but I think that the lettuce will be finished very soon, just in time for Swiss Chard salads!  The bush beans and pole beans are doing very well and I think that we will have a bumper crop of beans.  It surprises me at this time of year how little work the vegetable garden requires.  Yes, there is the occasional composting and ripping out the spent vegetables, but all in all, not much work to do.  I generally plant my seeds close together and that seems to inhibit any week growth.  I checked my garden chart and realized that I could probably start seeding my fall crop already (broccoli and cabbage).  I guess I have to determine which bed is going to have the hoophouse over it this winter.  Last  year’s fall crop was planted too late since the garden was producing well into the fall and there was no room to start any plants.  It’s a dilemma with a small garden.  Maybe I’ll put a few broccoli seeds in today and see what happens, problem is, I've used up all the broccoli seeds.  At this time, it might be difficult to buy seeds at the local Agway.  I guess the alternative is to order them online.    

GROWING TIMELINE AS OF JUNE 15, 2011

GARDEN: Swiss Chard (wo hh, ds 5/3, 6/8), Spinach (wo hh H 5/10, ds 4/11 & 4/14, B H 6/1), Lettuce (wo hh, ds hh 2/17 & 2/6, ds 5/25), Mesclun (wo hh, ds hh 2/6 & 2/17), Broccoli (T hh 3/1, ds fc 6/15), Swiss Chard (T hh 3/1), Peas (ds hh 3/14, ds 4/11 & 4/14 & 5/3, 5/25), turnips (ds 5/10), garlic (wo), kale (ds 3/16, H 6/9), onions (ds bulbs 4/7), Bush Beans (ds 5/3, 5/10, 5/11, 5/25, 6/13), Pole Beans (ds 5/25, 6/8, 6/15), Carrots (ds 5/3), Parsnips (ds 5/3), Herbs (ds 5/3), Cherry tomatoes (si 3/1, T hh 4/4 & 4/18, dt 5/11), Roma tomatoes (si 3/1, T hh 4/4 & 4/18, tg 5/11), Beefsteak tomatoes (si 3/1, T hh 4/4 & 4/18, tg 5/11), Peppers (si 2/8, T hh 4/11 & 4/18, tg 5/11 & 5/23), Zucchini (ds in pot hh 4/28, tg 5/11), Acorn Squash (ds in pots hh 4/28, tg 5/11), Cukes (ds in pots hh 4/28, tg 5/11, ds 6/8), Marigolds (si 3/1, T hh 4/4), Nasturiums ds 5/25), Zinnias ds 5/6, Sunflowers ds 5/6

si = sown inside
ds = directly sown
wo = wintered over
hh = hoophouse
fc = fall crop
H = harvested
T = transplanted
B = bolted
tg = transplant into open garden

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A VACATION FROM GARDENING

Lake Placid Lupine
Lobster boats in Stonington, Maine

Or is that a vacation FOR the garden? It seems that whenever we go away and I am not hovering over the garden, it does better. Maybe I have a tendency to smother it with love. But after a week on the road driving through New England, we drive down the driveway and I instantly see how much the tomato plants have grown and what seeds are now popping out of the ground. We had a great road trip up through Massachusetts on up to the Maine coast. We went to Stonington, Maine, which is definitely not a tourist mecca like Bar Harbor, but it definitely is lobster country. Lots of lobster boats out in the harbor and the locals are all lobstermen. Everybody seemed like very hard workers who loved what they are doing. And boy did we eat some great lobster!! While traveling west across Maine, I noticed that lots of people had put in their gardens, but looked like nothing more than flat patches of rich soil. Only thing that seemed to be growing so far was the rhubarb. I did see some greenhouses and hoophouses, but not as many as I thought I'd see considering that Maine is the home of Eliot Coleman who literally wrote the book on hoophouse gardening. I thought that everybody would have a hoophouse. The hoophouses and greenhouses that I did see were nice and green and waiting for the warmer weather. It is such a beautiful part of the country and so diverse with its rugged coast line and mountains in the west. A great area for a road trip. Then we headed further west and on to Lake Placid to check out the Olympic Village. It still honors its Olympic roots and thrives on tourism. Oddly the food served here is heavy on meat and very little vegetables. I guess they haven't seen the new food pyramid (or should I say circle?). Maybe they should think about hoophouses too.  New England is a few weeks behind us weather-wise and so their tulips were in bloom and their lupine were in full bloom.  I've tried to grow lupine with very limited success. 

My garden did survive very well without me and the tomato plants are taller than I am and full of flowers and green tomatoes.  The snow peas are producing and the kale is ready to be cut.  The new Swiss Chard is ready for salads, which is a very good thing since the lettuces are starting to bolt.  It is supposed to be in the 90s tomorrow and it will bolt for sure in the heat.  Some critter or insect ate the strawberries and I really have to wonder why I try at all since so many of the farmers nearby have fields of strawberries ready to be picked.  Maybe I shouldn't devote a bed to something that is so easy to get here.  I'll have to rethink that part of the garden.  The peppers are taking their good old time and look puny compared to everything else.  The squashes are doing well and are starting to really take off and grow up the fence.  We haven't had any rain for about a week and a half, so I watered from the rain barrel today and hopefully that will do until we do get rain, possibly this weekend.  So all in all, the garden survived my vacation and the lack of 'mothering'. 

Monday, May 23, 2011

GROWING TIMELINE AS OF MAY 23, 2011

HOOPHOUSE TAKEN DOWN MAY 22

GARDEN: Swiss Chard (wo hh, ds 5/3), Spinach (wo hh H 5/10, ds 4/11 & 4/14), Lettuce (wo hh, ds hh 2/17 & 2/6), Mesclun (wo hh), Mesclun (ds hh 2/6 & 2/17), Broccoli (T hh 3/1), Swiss Chard (T hh 3/1), Peas (ds hh 3/14, ds 4/11 & 4/14 & 5/3), turnips (ds 5/10), garlic (wo), kale (ds 3/16), onions (ds bulbs 4/7), Bush Beans (ds 5/3, 5/11), Carrots (ds 5/3), Parsnips (ds 5/3), Herbs (ds 5/3), Cherry tomatoes (si 3/1, T hh 4/4 & 4/18, dt 5/11), Roma tomatoes (si 3/1, T hh 4/4 & 4/18, tg 5/11), Beefsteak tomatoes (si 3/1, T hh 4/4 & 4/18, tg 5/11), Peppers (si 2/8, T hh 4/11 & 4/18, tg 5/11 & 5/23), Zucchini (ds in pot hh 4/28, tg 5/11), Acorn Squash (ds in pots hh 4/28, tg 5/11), Cukes (ds in pots hh 4/28, tg 5/11), Marigolds (si 3/1, T hh 4/4),

si = sown inside
ds = directly sown
wo = wintered over
hh = hoophouse
fc = fall crop
H = harvested
T = transplanted
B = bolted
tg = transplant into open garden

THE HOOPHOUSES ARE DOWN!

Yesterday we took down both hoophouses and put up bamboo tomato supports.  The tomato plants are large, flowering and even have some tomatoes already.  These are the tomato plants that I started indoors on February 1 and then transplanted into the hoophouses on April 4 and 11th.  The peppers have survived, but they are not as impressive as the tomato plants.  They are small, and have a lot of growing to do.  The marigolds that I started indoors on March 1 and transplanted into the hoophouses are bushy plants with lots of flowers.  They stand guard around the tomatoes hoping to ward off pests.  The Swiss Chard, basil, and nasturtium that were directly seeded into the hoophouses on March 7 are coming here and there and promise to do well with the tomato plants.  Overall, the winter/spring hoophouse growth has been a success, except for the broccoli.  Starting the tomatoes in the beginning of February gave them a great start, although those plants almost outgrew the window sill.  So now that the hoophouses are down for the summer, the garden will progress as any other Eastern Pennsylvania garden, except that I will be harvesting much earlier.  The hoophouse will go back up in early October.

I finally finished mulching the front perennial garden and it looks beautiful.  The mulch definitely defines the plants and showcases each one.  But what a job it is!  It took me 7 hours to mulch the whole garden and I am glad that it is finally done.   And although the constant rain has been depressing, it made weeding so much easier and mulching not such a hot, buggy chore. 

While walking through the garden this morning I noticed an odd green shape on my sedums.  Upon closer inspection, I found two Luna Moths having an interlude.  This year is the first time I’ve ever seen these beautiful large green insects other than in a museum.  Maybe I just never noticed as they are very well camouflaged.   

Friday, May 20, 2011

HERE’S A FORK IN YOUR EYE!

No, I’m not getting mean or sadistic.  I’m just trying to keep the squirrels out of my flower pots.  Inevitably, the day after planting my porch pots, the squirrels dig like crazy in the soft soil.  Why?  I don’t know why, but maybe because they want to hide seeds (although I haven’t found any) or are looking for something that they planted last year.  Or maybe they too like to garden.  Anyway, I put plastic forks, prongs up,  in any bare spaces and it deters those pests from digging my flowers up.  If I don’t, every morning I find my plants torn from the soil and thrown to the porch floor.  And a big mess of soil everywhere.  It looks kind of weird in the beginning of the growing season, and my visitors always ask what’s with the forks in the pots, but once the plants fill in, you don’t even see the forks.   This year I decided to use a lot of my house plants to fill the porch and deck pots.  I divided the Asparagus fern and although they are small now, I know that they will quickly fill out and provide interest.  The Wandering Jew also looks a little sparse but I added some impatiens to fill in the holes, along with the forks!

We finally got the fish pond clean with a new filter and pump.  Actually, it wasn’t new, but was from a house that my son just bought.  But it was new to me and much stronger than my old pump.  I was afraid that a stronger pump would make the pond into a vortex and the fish would go spinning around as though they were in a toilet or a whirlpool.  But that’s not happening and they are swimming around happily and love going under the small waterfall.  I have 2 koi, 3 goldfish and a new little baby that is still too shy to come out in the open.  I see him every once in a while hiding in the plant roots.  The new frog seems pretty friendly and maybe we can train him to eat worms out of our hands like we did 3 summers ago.    He was the hit of the Silver Lake Pond Tour and the kids eagerly dug worms out of the garden to feed him. 

The hoophouses are still up, but if it EVER stops raining, I’ll take them down for the summer.  Actually, I’ve been using them as a bit of an umbrella so that the soil doesn’t become so saturated.  It appears that the flat-topped hoophouse is pretty much ripped from the winter winds, but since it lasted 3 years, I can’t complain.  The rounded hoophouse is still OK and should last at least another year.  I’m not sure if I’ll make a new one to replace the flat-top though.  One hoophouse of greens seems to be more than enough.   The tomato plants in the rounded hoophouse are touching the ceiling and need to be free.  I think that they are as anxious as I am for the warmer, sunnier weather.  No more rain!  No more rain!  No more rain! 

Monday, May 16, 2011

TREE SWEATERS

Are you ever surprised and amused by what odd things people do?  I am all the time and I love to see humor used in the weirdest ways.   On Sunday we drove into Philly to just walk around the city and enjoy ‘town’.  We discovered that the Italian Market Festival was being held that day and strolled through the large crowd and smelled the smells of Little Italy.  Every vendor that lined the street offered Italian dishes, cheeses, spices, oils and fresh produce.  Beautiful cut flowers and potted tomato plants  were being sold on the warm and mucky day.  The weather forecast threatened scattered showers, but luckily, the rain held off and our umbrellas went unused.  After walking down Fabric Row and Society Hills, we had a great dinner and then headed back to the car.  That’s when I saw one of the oddest things ever.  Somebody had hand crocheted sweaters for their two trees out in front of their townhouse.  I never thought that trees would need to stay warm around here and if that were the case, I’d have a lifetime of knitting for our three acres of poplar trees.  At 80+ feet, a tree sweater would look like leg warmers! 


Nearby there was a great community garden filled with blooming irises and vegetables of every description.  It was well tended and looked to be a popular neighborhood meeting place.  I think that if I lived in the city, I would have to find a community garden to join.  I couldn’t live without getting my hands dirty somewhere.  A Topsy-turvy balcony garden just wouldn’t cut it. 

So, between helping my son rehab his house on Saturday and enjoying Philadelphia on Sunday, I didn't have time to get out into my own garden.  In the spring, there is always so much to do and I now have a huge pile of wood chip mulch waiting for me.  It appears from looking at the 10 day forecast that I will have to wait until next week to do anything serious out there.  Last night I left the hoophouses open in hopes that the rain would water the tomatoes and peppers.  I think that it is warm enough, although I worried over them like a mother hen.  But this morning, the plants seemed none the worse for wear and I think that by next week, I'll be able to take down the hoophouses for the summer.  We'll see, as this has been a cool, late spring.  The Swiss Chard is ready to bolt and I'll cut it all down today, between the raindrops.  I hate to do that because that will be the end of it until the newly planted chard gets large enough to eat.  This spring I also planted head lettuces and I am surprisingly pleased by it. I like its neat, compact way of growing and makes my garden more organized than it really is. The Oakleaf Lettuce is especially beautiful.  The other bed of loose greens is totally overgrown and we are getting tired of our constant diet of salad, if that is possible.  I'll be cutting all that down too, feeding the neighborhood, and getting the bed ready for the pole beans.  The slugs are grazing on the lettuce so I'll treat them to a pan of Bud.  They can drown their slimey little worries in beer.  What a way to go! 

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

GROWING TIMELINE AS OF MAY 11, 2011

HOOPHOUSE: Cherry tomatoes (si 2/1 & 3/1, T hh 4/4 & 4/18), Roma tomatoes (si 2/1 & 3/1, T hh 4/4 & 4/18), Beefsteak tomatoes (si 2/1 & 3/1, T hh 4/4 & 4/18), Peppers (si 2/8, T hh 4/11 & 4/18), more tomatoes (si 2/14, T hh 4/18), Marigolds (si 3/1, T hh 4/4), Impatience (si 3/25 dropped flat DOA), Zucchini (ds in pot hh 4/28), Acorn Squash (ds in pots hh 4/28), Cukes (ds in pots hh 4/28)
 
GARDEN: Swiss Chard (wo hh, ds 5/3), Spinach (wo hh H 5/10, ds 4/11 & 4/14), Lettuce (wo hh, ds hh 2/17 & 2/6), Mesclun (wo hh), Mesclun (ds hh 2/6 & 2/17), Broccoli (T hh 3/1), Swiss Chard (T hh 3/1), Peas (ds hh 3/14, ds 4/11 & 4/14 & 5/3), turnips (ds 5/10), garlic (wo), kale (ds 3/16), onions (ds bulbs 4/7), Bush Beans (ds 5/3, 5/11), Carrots (ds 5/3), Parsnips (ds 5/3), Herbs (ds 5/3), Cherry tomatoes (si 3/1, T hh 4/4 & 4/18, dt 5/11), Roma tomatoes (si 3/1, T hh 4/4 & 4/18, tg 5/11), Beefsteak tomatoes (si 3/1, T hh 4/4 & 4/18, tg 5/11), Peppers (si 2/8, T hh 4/11 & 4/18, tg 5/11), Zucchini (ds in pot hh 4/28, tg 5/11), Acorn Squash (ds in pots hh 4/28, tg 5/11), Cukes (ds in pots hh 4/28, tg 5/11)


si = sown inside
ds = directly sown
wo = wintered over
hh = hoophouse
fc = fall crop
H = harvested
T = transplanted
B = bolted
tg = transplant into open garden


WEEDING - UGH!

I often start weeding my perennial beds as soon as the weather breaks.  The onion grass is popping up waving, taunting me to dig it out.  It is impossible to eradicate this pest, and I've learned to pull it out when I do a general spring clean-up a little later on.  Nevertheless, it always returns the next year.  But because I've learned to be somewhat patient, the soil remains undisturbed so that the Woodland Phylox gets tall enough for me to recognize it from the weeds.  Every year I look at it, get ready to pull and then it dawns on me just what it is.  It comes up everywhere and then scatters its seeds for the following spring.  I don't mind that those white or purple flowers have a mind of their own and seed themselves in the darnedest places.  It doesn't matter since my perennial garden is supposed to be a free spirit made up of many wild flowers.  Today I noticed the Jack-in-the-Pulpits rising up out of the soil and unfurling their leaves.  Along with many other wildflowers, I have included hostas (which the deer think is their personal salad bar), azaleas, wild geraniums, ajuga, tiger lilies, bee balm, ferns, forsythia, burning bush, hydrangea, pachysandra, candytuft, spring bulbs and a bunch of other things that I can't even think of right now.  Some things do well, while other things languish and die.  I divide my perennials often and plant them in other parts of the garden - to share the wealth.  I've been working on this shade garden for 20 years and even now, it is in a state of change.  But I guess that is what gardening is all about.

The vegetable garden is doing great and I water it with my fish pond water as much as possible.  The wintered-over spinach just bolted and I think that the lettuces will soon follow.  But for now, we continue to enjoy fresh salad every night.  The strawberry plants have started to get little fruits and promises to be a good year.  The tomato plants that are in the hoophouses are looking very strong and have lots of flowers.  I planted a ton of tomatoes and I know that we are going to be making lots of sauce.  Since I transplanted the tomato and pepper plants (si 2/1) in the hoophouse the first of April, they got a great head start.  At night I zip them up as the nights are still in the 50s, but then I uncover them during the day so they don't bake.  On cooler days I unzip the top so that they are protected but ventilated.  Today in the open garden, I planted some of the tomato and pepper plants that were started March 1 (si).  It might be a little early for them, but we'll see.  Surely I can sacrifice a few plants for my experiment.  I could always cover them at night with a row cover.  The peas (ds 3/15) are starting to climb up the lattice and the bush beans (ds 5/3) are just coming up.  The kale and Swiss chard look good.  The only disappointment is the broccoli that I started Feb. 1 and transplanted into the hoophouse on March 1.  Only 2 broccoli starts survived and they look lost surrounded by all of the greens.  I noticed today that the Chinese cabbage is coming up and actually, I forgot that I even planted it.  One 4' x 4' bed is dedicated to flowers, which is kind of frivolous considering the size of my vegetable garden.  I just couldn't resist those beautiful seed packets.  This week, friends have been stopping by to pick up their tomato plants.  Hopefully they'll have another successful year too.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

SWISS CHARD EXPLOSION

The wintered-over Swiss Chard is starting to take over the bed of greens, but I don’t mind.  I plant all the chard that I can, sowing every two weeks starting in the warmth of the hoophouse and then free range in the spring.  I tuck a few seeds here and there among the other vegetables so I have Swiss Chard in every nook and cranny of the garden.  And best of all, it is so versatile and delicious in almost everything.  I love to chop it up and add it to my breakfast scrambled eggs or my chicken noodle soup for dinner.  Sometimes I sauté a big bunch in olive oil and garlic until it cooks down into two small servings as a side to grilled fish.  But my very favorite way to eat it is in a salad, without any dressing – just naked.  It tastes delicious and green! 

GROWING TIMELINE AS OF MAY 3, 2011

HOOPHOUSE: Cherry tomatoes (si 2/1, T hh 4/4 & 4/18), Roma tomatoes (si 2/1, T hh 4/4 & 4/18), Beefsteak tomatoes (si 2/1, T hh 4/4 & 4/18), Peppers (si 2/8, T hh 4/11 & 4/18), more tomatoes (si 2/14, T hh 4/18), Marigolds (si 3/1, T hh 4/4), Impatience (si 3/25 dropped flat DOA), Zucchini (ds in pot hh 4/28), Acorn Squash (ds in pots hh 4/28), Cukes (ds in pots hh 4/28)

GARDEN: Swiss Chard (wo hh, ds 5/3), Spinach (wo hh), Lettuce (wo hh, ds hh 2/17 & 2/6), Mesclun (wo hh), Mesclun (ds hh 2/6 & 2/17), Broccoli (T hh 3/1), Swiss Chard (T hh 3/1), Peas (ds hh 3/14, ds 4/11 & 4/14 & 5/3), garlic (wo), kale (ds 3/16), onions (ds bulbs 4/7), Bush Beans (ds 5/3), Carrots (ds 5/3), Parsnips (ds 5/3), Herbs (ds 5/3)

si = sown inside
ds = directly sown
wo = wintered over
hh = hoophouse
fc = fall crop
H = harvested
T = transplanted
B = bolted

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

WE’RE HOME FREE, I THINK

Well, thankfully the weather has gotten warmer and the tomato plants have survived, although a few have yellow leaves and look a little nipped.  This week is supposed to be in the 70s, but I noticed in the 10 day forecast that temperatures are going to cool down next week.  I don’t plan on taking down the hoophouse until mid May, just in case.  Every morning I open it up so that it doesn’t get too moist under the plastic and the plants get the full benefit of the sun.  It smells so good when I unzip the plastic – just like a tomato salad!  The peppers and marigolds are also thriving.  Today, I’m going to fill a couple pots with seed starter mix and plant my squash.  I’ll bury the pots in the soil of the hoophouse wherever I can find a little room since it is chock full of tomatoes.  The front perennial garden is blooming and every year I am amazed at how the plants rise from a barren winter soil.  They burst out and fill the front of the house with beautiful yellows, pink s and blues.  The bleeding hearts are at their peak now and are just so magnificent with their arching branches of pink flowers.  Their beauty makes up for the fact that in July the plants will totally die back and will leave big empty spots in the garden.  Same with the Virginia Bluebells.  The hostas are unfurling and the deer are dining.  Last year I sprayed everything with a garlic concoction and the garden smelled like hoagies.  Not a bad smell and the deer did stay away for the most part.  This week I really need to get out there and weed since we now have this very invasive weed that seems to be growing in all the nearby fields.  Don’t know what it is, but I don’t need a name to know that it is a ‘take over’ weed.  Usually if I give the garden a good weeding in the spring, there isn’t too much maintenance during the dry summer months.  Nothing grows, not even weeds.  I haven’t had any problem with animals in the vegetable garden.  I think that the fox family has taken care of the rabbits and the squirrels haven’t climbed over the fence for some reason.  The deer have never jumped the 4’ fence, even though it would be an easy hop for them.  If they ever did, boy would they enjoy the greens that are filling two beds. 

Monday, April 18, 2011

ALL MY EGGS IN ONE BASKET

Well, once again I am the optimist, but hopefully, I won’t suffer from it.  We’ve had a couple pretty cold nights and my tomatoes are sitting in the unheated hoophouse looking a little chilly.  Not only did I plant my tomato plants, but put in every single one that I’ve grown, including the plants for my friends.  It certainly has been a roll of the dice and if I lose one, I’ll probably lose them all.  But so far, they are alive and I noticed that one of the plants even has a flower on it.  Could be a ‘stress flower’ - the plants sense that their days are numbered and try to save the species before the end comes.  The weather forecast looks like it will continue to get warmer and we may even have a day in the 80s by Wednesday, so that should warm the tomatoes up.  This has been a long, cold, wet,  windy Spring.  Patches of grass are starting to come up, but honestly, it looks very sparse.  I think that most of it was washed away in one of the downpours.  My husband is distraught and says that he can’t even grow grass.  My rain barrel is hooked up to the downspout now that the threat of ice is gone and I’ve been watering with rain water.  Even my indoor plants respond to the rain water.  The peas and kale are poking up and I just put in some spinach the other day.  Other than that, the garden is moving along all so slowly.  I think that I am just anxious to see it turn into a jungle.   I am an impatient optimist. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

TOO BUSY TO BLOG

Well, it’s that time of year when the weather is finally cooperating (kind of) and you can get out and garden for hours.  Yesterday, I potted up the rest of my tomato plants that I am growing for friends and then buried them, pots and all, into the soil in the hoophouse.  So now all of the tomatoes are in one place and will be easier to keep happy.  I’ll distribute them to their new homes in about four weeks or so.  The temperatures in the hoophouses are warm – perfect for tomatoes.  I open it up when it gets a little too warm – as high as 120 degrees on sunny days - yikes!).  I buried the pepper plants in there too, along with the marigolds.  So it is a very crowded 4’ x 8’ area and will be bursting at the seams in another month.  So I guess that is what took up most of my time.  I continue to pull out the greens that are bolting, such as the arugula, and replace that crop with Swiss Chard, peas, turnips or spinach.  I noticed yesterday that the greens in the one bed are doing so much better than another.  I suspect that it is because the one bed has been used for three years and needs some amendments, whereas the other one is just new.  And, the older bed hasn’t had winter rye planted in it and that seems to make a huge difference.  The strawberry plants are starting to wake up and I need to compost that little bed if I want enough strawberries for desserts.  

We took the grow rack down from the living room and it finally doesn’t look like a nursery in there.  The impatiens starts were on the rack when I accidently knocked the whole tray off onto the living room floor.  Ugh, what a mess!  Damp soil and broken plants everywhere.  So I guess I’ll be buying my flowers at the local nursery again.   I was going to keep the rack up longer to start the squash and cukes, but you know, why don’t I just start them in the hoophouse too?  I’ll give it a try this year and see how it works out.  The hoophouses survived their third winter and only have a few cracks in the plastic.  A little duct tape will probably keep them going for a fourth winter.  Not bad for a mere $70 investment!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

GROWING TIMELINE AS OF APR. 7, 2011

WINDOWSILL: Cherry tomatoes (si 2/1), Roma tomatoes (si 2/1), Beefsteak tomatoes (si 2/1),  Peppers (si 2/8), more tomatoes (si 2/14), Marigolds (si 3/1), Impatience (si 3/25)

HOOPHOUSE: Cherry tomatoes (si 2/1 hh 4/4), Roma tomatoes (si 2/1 hh 4/4), Beefsteak tomatoes (si 2/1 hh 4/4)

GARDEN:  Swiss Chard (wo hh), Spinach (wo hh), Lettuce (wo hh), Mesclun (wo hh), Lettuce (ds hh 2/6), Mesclun (ds hh 2/6), Lettuce (ds hh 2/17), Mesclun (ds hh 2/17), Broccoli (T hh 3/1), Swiss Chard (T hh 3/1), Peas (ds hh 3/16), garlic (wo), peas (ds 3/16), kale (ds 3/16), onions (ds bulbs 4/7)

si = sown inside
ds = directly sown
wo = wintered over
hh = hoophouse
fc = fall crop
H = harvested
T = transplanted
B = bolted

CHARTING THE GARDEN


Little by little, the garden is coming to life.  The beds of greens aren’t protected by the hoophouses and are thriving in the cooler temps of spring.  I noticed that the kale and peas are poking up and I just put in my onions today.  I refer to my garden plans from previous years in an effort to rotate the ‘crops’ (and I use that term loosely) and mix it up a bit.  The tomato plants in the hoophouse are doing well, even though the temps have been in the 40-50s.  We haven’t had much sun so the temperature in the hoophouse is on the cool side of things.  But according to the forecast, things will be warming up this weekend, and it’s about time.  I’ll probably move the flat-top hoophouse this weekend and get another bed warmed for the rest of the 2/1 tomato plants.  It would be a good time to sow the nasturtium seeds with the tomato plants as well. 


I refer to my chart (see picture above) often and try to keep it up-to-date with the new info from 2011.  The orange highlights denote hoophouse growth, the pink is for the plants sown inside and growing on the windowsill and the green is for the plants grown in the open garden.  I also note when the vegetables are transplanted (T), harvested (H) and bolted ( B).  I have marked on the chart when things were done the last few years and what the recommended date would be.  Even though this is a little extreme, I feel that this makes me more relaxed as I only have to check the chart for my next gardening job.  This system works really well for me, so why change?  According to my chart, I should be sowing my cucumbers and squashes, but am holding out for a week or two because of the cooler temperatures we’ve been having.  Plus I need to move the rest of the tomato plants off the windowsill to free up space for the any new starts.  With my limited space, it turns out to be a juggling act, but keeps me on my toes.  I am also posting my current Growing Timeline and you’ll notice that only the tomatoes are in the hoophouse and the greens are ‘free range.’ 

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

HOOPHOUSE MOVING DAY

What is it with warm, sunny days in the early Spring?  Those 70 degree temperatures force you out into the garden to expose your winter-white skin to the burning rays of the sun.  After a day outside, your exhausted, sunburned body feels great.  It’s gardening time again!  Yesterday was one of those beautiful days and I got a lot done.  We moved the hoophouse off the greens as they are not only ready to be free, but are starting to bolt from the heat!  There are so many greens that I am going to turn into a rabbit soon, I think.  The hoophouse warmed up the soil in the new bed and I transplanted my very unruly tomato plants into it.  I didn’t harden them off, but instead draped an old sheer curtain over the hoophouse to filter the light.  I planted the tomatoes deeply so that they would develop new roots further up the stem.  I also threw in a whole egg and a handful of oatmeal for good measure.  That should get them off to a good start.  So, other than monitoring the temps in the hoophouse and unzipping the top for ventilation, I’ll water and that should do it for a while.  I’ll give the tomato plants a few days and if there are no problems and they seem to do well, I’ll put my potted tomato plants (that I am growing for friends) into the hoophouse too.  That will free up some space on the windowsill for cukes and squash starts.  It’s a bit of a juggling act with such limited space on the windowsill, but it forces me to keep on top of things and get them into the garden ASAP!  According to the National Weather Map, we are expecting 10 days of rain.  Ugh!  That’s probably worse than snow, but you know, I’ll just put on my slickers and get my feet wet.  Well, on the brighter side, the rainy weather will be great for the newly planted grass seed. 

Friday, April 1, 2011

GROWING TIMELINE AS OF APR. 1, 2011

WINDOWSILL:  Cherry tomatoes (si 2/1), Roma tomatoes (si 2/1), Beefsteak tomatoes (si 2/1), Broccoli (si 2/1), Swiss Chard (si 2/6), Peppers (si 2/8), more tomatoes (si 2/14), spinach (si 2/14), Marigolds (si 3/1), Impatience (si 3/25)

HOOPHOUSE:  Swiss Chard (wo hh), Chinese Cabbage (wo hh), Spinach (wo hh), Lettuce (wo hh), Mesclun (wo hh), Lettuce ds hh 2/6), Mesclun (ds hh 2/6), Lettuce (ds hh 2/17), Mesclun (ds hh 2/17), Broccoli (T hh 3/1), Swiss Chard (T hh 3/1), Peas (ds hh 3/16), Chinese Cabbage (hh H 3/16)

GARDEN:  garlic (wo), parsnips (H 3/1), peas (ds 3/16), kale (ds 3/16)

si = sown inside
ds = directly sown
wo = wintered over
hh = hoophouse
fc = fall crop
H = harvested
T = transplanted
B = bolted

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

TWO COOKS IN THE KITCHEN

You’d think that after 40 years of marriage we could agree on lawn care.  But there we were at the rental center arguing over which machine to use to repair our damaged lawn.  The lawn took quite a hit in last year’s heat wave, so we agreed that we needed to put some time into reseeding.  So as we stood there with teeth gnashing and raised voices, the poor clerk ran to the back for some help.  Help came in the form of a diminutive woman who knew her machines and knew how to use them.  She explained the purpose of the thatcher, the aerator and another machine that cuts grooves into the soil and then drops seed into the groove.  I suspected that she might also have been a marriage counselor!  So we drove home with the thatcher and spent the day thatching, raking, fertilizing and finally seeding.  The front and the back of the house are done, but the area along the driveway will have to wait for another day.  It is supposed to rain tonight and for three days thereafter, which is why we worked so hard to finish the job.  Some of the thatch that I raked up was mixed into the compost pile.  That should get it cooking!  So when all was said and done, we work pretty well together, in spite of 40 years of marriage!

Friday, March 25, 2011

SALAD FROM MEXICO?!!

Something weird just happened last night when we went out to dinner.  Actually, we were on our way home from the airport, having just gotten in from sunny, WARM Nassau (more on that later).  It was late and we decided to have dinner at the Macaroni Grill on Route 1 in New Jersey (the Garden State).  So, in an effort to eat healthy, I ordered a salad and was told that they didn’t have salad because there had been a cold front in Mexico.   Mexico???!!!  Does this sound weird to anybody? I mean, really, why do we have to buy our greens from another country?  Why doesn’t the Macaroni Grill buy its greens from local suppliers?  My hoophouses are filled with greens, and you know, if I can do it, so can the area farmers.   With fuel prices rising, wouldn’t it make sense to buy local produce?  Maybe it’s because the Macaroni Grill is a chain (which is why we usually don’t eat at chains) or maybe because the goods from Mexico are cheaper even when you factor in the rising fuel prices.  Could be all of the above.  Anyway, I had to eat pasta instead of a nice leafy salad.  A salad would have been better.


So, about our vacation in Nassau.  We honeymooned in Nassau 40 years ago, and decided to go back to the scene of the crime for our anniversary.  Of course, so much had changed since 1971, but the beautiful azure blue water was still as clear and brilliant as ever.   The blooming flowers fell over walls and climbed up to the housetops.  I didn’t see any agriculture but was told that indeed there are farms, which provide produce to the natives and the tourists.  We gambled a little on Paradise Island, hung out on the beach and tried not to get sunburned, ate lots of seafood, walked for miles trying to see the ‘real’ Nassau, swam with the dolphins and was happy not to be in Pennsylvania where they were getting ice and snow.  Actually, it was hard to come back to the colder weather, but when we got home I noticed that the daffodils were actually blooming and the irises in the fish pond were starting to grow, which is a sure sign of the approaching spring.  The forsythia is on the verge of blooming and I think that after we get through this cold week, spring will be here.  I hope so, otherwise, I might just head back to the Caribbean!   While we were away, my son John took care of my vegetables on the windowsill, making sure to water them and turn them toward the sun.  He did a good job and not only did they survive, but they thrived.  The tomato plants are quickly outgrowing their space, and hopefully will be transplanted into the hoophouse in a week or two, weather permitting.  I put the tomato and pepper plants into bigger pots and even sowed some impatience seeds and put them on the heat mat to germinate.  Everything that is inside is doing well, and I am pleased with the success of my new growing rack that Ron made for me.  It's a good design as it is very flexible.  The hoophouses are bursting with greens, some newly seeded and some wintered over.  We'll be eating salad from here on out - and NOT from Mexico!