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!