Saturday, January 31, 2009

sports, melons and seed catalogs ....

Yes, that was me. Out in the bleachers reading my seed catalog at the high school wrestling tournament. I'd look up now and then and cheer. Then, back to the heirloom melon section. Nothing like an all day sporting event to catch up on my catalogs.

I think I can do better at growing melons this year. I'll remember that the seedlings need to stay very warm. Sand Hill Preservation Center reminds growers not to start seedlings indoors more than 2 weeks early. The seedlings should not have more than 2 or 3 sets of true leaves prior to transplanting. The roots don't like to be disturbed. And the soil must be fully warmed before transplanting out. Last year it seemed like my seedlings were stunted and never grew well. I ended up with mini watermelons.

This year I'll give my squashes and melons more compost and more fertilizer. They like rich soil. And I'll remember that my neighbor's sun chokes grow to 10 feet tall and block the sun on south side of my garden. The sun will be better for melons toward the north.

I think I'll order three varieties of melons. I'll grow two or three plants of each and see what does best for me. I circled Anne Arundel (a pre-1800 Maryland heirloom with sweet bright green flesh) Charentais (a grapefruit-sized cantaloupe variety with flavor so strong you can smell the ripened fruit in the garden hundreds of feet away) and Crane (a Crenshaw type with speckled skin and delicate mild flavor).

With another big sporting event tomorrow, I bet I can get my last seed order finished and mailed out! (Go Arizona!)

Melons (Cucumis melo)
Watermelon (Citrullus lanatus)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

organizing seed packages

seeds in a box
seeds seeds with rubber bands

Today's mail delivery brought a few more seed packages. From Burpee. A nice new marigold (Fireball), parsnips, cucumbers, parsley and Provence Blue lavender. I already received my seeds from Johnny's and Botanical Interests. My Fedco potatoes and onion sets will come in April.

With most of my seeds in, I spread out all the packages, old and new and got out my rubber band jar. I stacked the seeds by their planting date. First pile to be sown 8-10 weeks before frost. Next, 4-6 weeks. Next, 2-3 weeks. Next, direct sown flowers. Then direct sown beans. A separate pile of brassicas. Greens. Onions. A rubber band goes around each stack. Then I lined them all up in a box - and I'm ready to go!!!

I need to update my planting time line to include all of the new seeds I've ordered. But the line up of seeds in my box would do just fine without a time line at all.

Most exciting right now are the seeds that go in 10 weeks before the last frost. Lavender (Provence Blue), thyme (German Winter), celeriac (Brilliant), heliotrope (Marine) and eggplant (Orient Express). My last frost is around May 5 in my side yard, late May in my community plot. Ten weeks before May 5 is the last week of February. Only 4 weeks away!

I have one last seed order I plan to place soon. I waited to make sure I hadn't forgotten anything. I'll be adding popcorn seeds to this order. Maybe I'll place it tomorrow. Of course anything else I've forgotten can always be purchased locally.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

mid winter gardening

box and pile
garden in snow bvg in the snow

Skippy and I took a walk at through the community garden plots yesterday. A local horse owner is still kindly dropping off manure, so I went ahead and collected some for my garden. I couldn't open my garden gate because of the snow, but was able to reach over my fence and grab my plastic wheelbarrow. I gathered one load in this, but it was difficult to lift it and dump the load over my 5 foot fence. I did manage to do it once. It was somewhat of a help that my 5 ft fence is now only 4 ft (with a foot of snow on the ground). But frozen manure is heavy and 4 ft is still high to lift an awkward, if cheap and light, wheelbarrow.

For the next load, I remembered the small toy box in the trunk of my car. I had picked this up from someone's trash the other day thinking it would be a good bench and storage box in my garden. (Don't tell anyone I've been picking through the trash... but I do love to see things recycled and I have been looking for a garden bench.) It was the perfect manure carrier. The lid was a good scoop. And it was much easier to carry the load in a small box than to drag my wheelbarrow over the snow covered garden paths. So I brought another load and dumped it over the fence.

I left the box next to my fence where I can reach it for the next time. In the spring, I will spread the manure and turn it in. I hope the child who owned the little toy box doesn't find out its being used to carry horse poo. Oh well. My plants will love it. And I'll hose down the box and I think it will still make a very nice bench plus storage box.

A long story about not much, but its very exciting to have done even a little garden work in the middle of winter!

Monday, January 26, 2009

happy Chinese New Year - the year of the Ox

chinese new year

The Chinese New Year's Celebration is called the "Spring Festival."

A Chinese proverb states that all creations are reborn on New Year’s day. The Chinese New Year is a celebration of change ... out with the old and in with the new!

The Ox is a Keeper of tradition, who maintains a classic and sophisticated style. Iron-willed, they remain true to their beliefs. A strong leader, their hard work and dedication are an inspiration to all. Ox people never stray from their chosen path.

(By the way, I was born in the Year of the Dog: Noble & true, the Dog will fight to mend all that is unjust. A loyal & faithful friend, Dogs make any sacrifice for the sake of another. They will never abandon their post. A genuine listener and confidant, the Dog is the keeper of all secrets.)

新年快樂 (happy new year!)

Sunday, January 25, 2009

planning for a seedling shelf system

I meant to look into a shelf system for seedlings this weekend. Best of intentions ... But my cold is still getting the better of me.

I was feeling good on Saturday and maybe over did it with a nice hike. After doing the school-sport-cheering-Mom thing, I took some kids and some dogs hiking. The local Boston trails are covered with a foot of packed powder. Fantastic for hiking. Unusual here. Usually we get melting and end up with icy slick paths, terrible to walk on. Packed powder is beautiful, the hike was lovely. But today I'm "under the weather" again....

Anyway, the plan is to buy an inexpensive metal shelf system (I'm hoping for good sale at Target or Costo). I have a wall area cleared and ready. A south facing window to make use of what sunlight there is. I'll buy lights and attach them to each shelf. (Someone left me a comment here with nice plans for a shelf and light set up. I hope I can locate this comment.)

Last year I tried to go with only window light and this was not enough. I then used my fish tank light and my tank didn't do so good. I'm looking forward to a nice seedling shelf. I enjoy watching the seedlings grow. I'm sure I'll end up with photos to post....

Saturday, January 24, 2009

garden fresh popcorn

close up
gretta's popcorn hand in the bowl

Popcorn! I've never made popcorn straight off the cob before. But its great. This ear was in my winter CSA distribution. I pushed the kernels off into a Whirly Pop. Added a bit of oil and heated it up. They popped fast. Salt and butter. Yum. A fast snack for the kids after a good hike in the snow.

whirlibird popper

I've wondered about growing corn in my small garden. There's nothing like fresh summer corn eaten right after you pick it. But it seems to take up so much space. And I can usually buy it pretty fresh here mid summer, so maybe there's no point to growing it. And now I have popcorn to consider. Nice to have a garden fresh snack for the kids. Organic and all that. And much easier to pop than I expected. If only I had unlimited space and time I'd grow everything.... Maybe I'll squeeze in a short row of popcorn to the garden plan....

Popcorn (Zea mays averta)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

it can only get better from here on in....

amaryllis bud

I have to complain today that I have a terrible cold and I don't feel good at all. I'm tired of the cold and the snow. I miss everything green. I'm tired of having to put on gloves and boots and coat and sweater and etc every time I want to go out.... Maybe I could get a winter home in Australia or Chile. We have 15 inches of snow piled up so high its hard to see around corners when driving. I don't know how many times I've slipped on the ice recently (only once actually). I'M SO TIRED OF WINTER!!

On a more positive note, my amaryllis is about to bloom. Skippy and I are keeping an eye on it as it soaks up the sun in the south facing window.

vegetable gardens doubling this year !

Well, my very unofficial poll in the post below seems to say that there will be twice as many vegetable gardens this year! Wow. It also says that EVERYONE will have a vegetable garden (i.e. nobody doesn't have a garden). Great. Right now, with a grand total of 71 votes (that must be a significant number...), 48% are starting a new garden and 52% already have a garden.

Maybe I don't have the complete picture here ;) but still it makes me happy to think about new gardens. I wonder how many home vegetable gardens there really are out there. In the US? In the world? I spend my days doing a lot of medical statistics. I wonder if any garden stats exist?

I read a few sources saying that vegetable gardens exploded last year. We saw it at the Belmont Victory Gardens. For the first time all of our 100+ plots were leased. I especially like this recent article that says: "Although no one tracks the exact number of vegetable gardeners in the United States, gardening organizations and stores have consistently reported an increase in activity in the past couple of years." According to the article, the main reason for the increase is the economy. It certainly is hard to beat the cost of a package of seeds for 60 lbs of sun ripened heirloom tomato (4 plants worth they say). Its even harder to beat if you factor in the pleasure of gardening.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

new gardens - new beginnings

I always love to hear from people starting a new vegetable garden. What a wonderful thing. And on this Inauguration Day, a day of such hopeful new beginnings, it seems a particularly appropriate topic.

I was asked to post information on starting a garden. How-to information. But it also gives me a chance to reminisce. And to follow my newly expanded community garden space this season.

I'll put a new link on my sidebar "For New Vegetable Gardeners".

To reminisce a bit, I started helping my Dad in his gardens more than 30 years ago. I remember the vegetable gardens he started back in 1972. He marked out plots with string and then turned the lawn over. I remember strawberries and awesome tomatoes. I wish I had photos.

I grew my own first garden outside our first apartment in a small plot our landlord let us use. There were three nice gardens in back yards very close together and I'd look across the fences to see what was growing. One of the gardeners was an older Italian man who knew what he was doing. I'd admire his tomato supports, tall tomato plants and heavy bearing peppers.

17 years ago we turned over our side lawn within a week or two of buying our first house. For many years, the vegetable garden doubled as a children's play area (mud puddle) in spring. Later we put in raised beds. (Someday I'll write down more of my garden memories..... Maybe I'll even find those old photos I know are around here somewhere....)

Last year I got my first community garden plot and this year I have a large area of newly claimed garden area to fill with vegetables.

One of my favorite video clips is this one showing a new vegetable garden: from turning the lawn to harvesting the tomatoes. Its fantastic. Its part of the proposal for an edible garden on the White House lawn. We'll see if the new President joins the ranks of new gardeners.

Many Presidents have been gardeners. I just read a nice article at Dave's Garden about Presidential Gardens. The article has a photo of one of my favorite gardens - a fantastic garden kitchen at Jefferson's home in Monticello. Talk about inspirational!

One of the gardens that has been a big inspiration for me is the WGBH Victory Gardens. Especially the photos in the Victory Garden Cookbook by Marion Morash. Here's the photo from the back cover of the book:
I always imagine I would have so much space, and such a neat and organized garden. And so much color!

Steps for starting a new vegetable garden

1- Identify where your garden will be. The main thing needed is sunlight. The more the better. Also a flat spot and a way to get water to the plants. Lots of different types of spaces work for edible gardens, including balconies, patios, front yards, back yards, containers, raised beds, etc. I love to see vegetable plants scattered among shrubs and flowers in a perennial area. And don't forget to consider a community garden. Here's a link to find the community garden closest to you.

2- Check the soil. If there's any chance of lead or other contaminants, do a soil test. Here's where I send my soil for testing. Even aside from lead, the soil test will tell you exactly how much organic matter, nutrients and lime you should add to the soil.

3- Make a list of the vegetables you'd like to grow. As a suggestion, start with five vegetables: e.g. peas, green beans, tomatoes, cucumbers and zucchini squash. Potatoes also work well for getting the soil mixed in a new garden. Learn about culture of these vegetables. Pea seeds should be planted outside as soon as the soil thaws (March or April), beans seeds also should be planted directly in the garden but after all danger of frost is past (May or June). You can buy young seedlings of tomatoes, cucumbers and zucchinis and transplant these into your garden.

4- Make a plan. You can do this with pencil and paper, on the computer
(try: Google SketchUp, Gliffy, I use MS Office PowerPoint)
or in your head, but its good to have a sense of what you plan to plant, how many plants and where they will be. Here are some of my plans.

5- Prepare the soil. Patrick has a great post on turning a lawn into a garden.
This can be a big topic. For a first year, I'd say to turn the soil (with a shovel) to loosen it. Optimally, you want to spread 2 inches of compost, along with lime and fertilizer, and then turn it again to mix. If you've done a soil test, the results will tell you exactly what and how much you need to add. And it will list organic and conventional sources.

6- Then plant!
7- Tend.
8- Harvest.
9- And repeat. (The following year you may want to try more vegetables, no-till soil preparation, raised beds, or lots of other fun stuff.)

There are innumerable details to fill in. Let me know what topics are most useful for new gardeners. Or leave a comment on your new garden plans.

There are many good sites on line about starting a vegetable garden. Most University Extension schools have very informative sites. Here are some:
Iowa State Extension
Univ of Minnesota Extention
Cornell University Vegetable Gardening Basics

But one of my favorite sources is Bifurcated Carrots. Check out this post for more information.

Here's how my new community garden plot looked early last spring and, at the right, how my newly expanded space looked this fall. I feel such hope, promise and joy in a fresh plot of dirt. Big dreams. Newness.
plot aerial cleared plot

Sunday, January 18, 2009

more snow photos

shoveled garden path snow and fence

I'm posting all these snow photos with hopes it will all melt and go away fast. It's starting to get in the way - pretty as it is. About 2 hours of shoveling today. I even shoveled a path for Skippy to use to get out in the yard. My arm is sore, well that's good for me. But as I look out tonight there's another 3 inches on top of my clear paths....

snow on Skippy

snow on skip snowy skippy
Skippy came out with me to check on the kale. I love the way the snow collects on his thick fluffy fur and doesn't melt.

posts about Skippy

checking on the mid winter kale

digging for kale kale 2
kale 3 red russian kale
I went out to the garden this morning to check on the kale. I haven't been out there in a few days. I didn't realize we had more snow coming in, but there is another fresh layer coming down. I had to dig down to find the kale.

The more tender Red Russian kale has frost damage. Little round spots on the leaves. Last year, once it got these it looked terrible after bringing it inside and thawing. This happened at 10*F last year. Our temps got down to about 8* over the past few nights.

But the curly Winterbor looks good. This is the first year I've grown this variety. I've read it can survive the winter. We just finished up a big pot of kale soup I made a few days ago. Yummy. Maybe I'll pick some to saute tonight.

Kale (Brassica oleracea, Acephala Group)

fresh snow flakes on kale

snow close up
I got out my macro lens to see if I could photograph the snow flakes. They seem to be giant flakes and many have broken their rays.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

I put a link to the Belmont Victory Garden message board on my side bar.

Friday, January 16, 2009



Bitter cold and snow covered, but the kale is very good. Those are my footprints from picking kale. And the paw prints of my buddy.
aerial views of my home vegetable garden


potato vodka

Ahh, the best use yet for potatoes. Cold River vodka. And its made in southern Maine, which is almost local for me (120 mi away).

Today's high temp will be 10*F. A good reason to stay inside, thumb through seed catalogs and enjoy a little sip of a potato beverage. I like it on ice. Ahhh.

potatoes (Solanum tuberosum)

Thursday, January 15, 2009


I got out all my left over seeds tonight and checked through them. I threw out the umbellifers (carrots, parsnips, dill, parsley etc) as these seeds don't store well. I threw out the empty packages. And I threw some packages that didn't sprout for me for the past 2 years (a zucchini and some parsnips). Still close to 50 packs left! It would be a nice garden even if I didn't buy any more this year.

Nevertheless, I placed orders for some new varieties. I ordered from Burpee, Johnny's and Botanical Interests. Tomorrow I'll order my potatoes and onion sets from Fedco and a bunch of nice heirloom seed varieties from Sand Hill. Then I'll wait for the mail....

Here's my completed seed list for 2009.

garden blogger's bloom day

On the 15th of each month (GBBD) many gardeners post photos of what's blooming in their garden. I usually forget but remembered this month. - of all times(!) Temps are single digits, newscasters are warning not to go out. And nothing's blooming out there anyway. The only thing left in my vegetable garden is a patch of kale. Everything's under a foot of snow.

So I'm posting flowers I photographed from last year's garden. This, as I stay warm and order next year's flower seeds.


These are vegetable flowers, companions, or flowers I grow to attract bees.

The big sunflower was 15 inches across. Its a variety called Lyng's Greystripe from Johnny's. Its the biggest variety I can find and I'll grow this one again this year. I grew anise hyssop from seed last year for the bees. This perennial did well and I think I'll grow some lavender and hollyhocks this year.

And I'll grow the basic vegetable companions, nasturtiums, marigolds and zinnias again. I'll order several varieties of marigolds. Big ones to mix with my potatoes and small ones with the root vegetables. I'd like to grow Tiger Eyes and Burpee's new giant French marigold, FireBall. Nasturtiums go with my squashes. I like the dark orange I had this year, but will add other colors this year. Probably Johnny's Night and Day mix and Peach Melba. The zinnias attract the bees and add color. I can't decide whether to get only bright purple or the mix. Decisions, decisions....

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

bvg plot assignment day

News for Belmont Victory Gardeners: A date has been set for the Plot Assignments and Garden Clean Up. Saturday, APRIL 4. Mark your calenders. (so exciting!!!)

Its a little earlier than usual this year. New gardeners will be able to get an early start on their spring plating.

reading more seed catalogs

I'm still looking through seed catalogs. So much to read and circle.

Here are some quotes from Sand Hill Preservation Center that I was amused by

"Sorry, but the rabbits continue to destroy the seed crop. This is ironic since we are surrounded by fields of genetically engineered Soybeans. Do you suppose the rabbits know something that we don't know?

"Butterbean: 85 days. A deep green soybean, used best as a green shell bean. (Unavailable for 2009)"

I'll have to find Buttterbean seed somewhere else. And here's another quote on their 2008 Tomato Problems:

"We are very sorry for the many unavailable varieties in the 2009 catalog. We had a few unexpected problems that hurt the seed crops. We had planned on three staggered greenhouse startings and field transplantings of our collection. We were successful with the three staggered greenhouse starting dates, but when our first set of 200 varieties were ready to transplant at Memorial Day, we had non-stop rain and were unable to get any set out until June 23. We then had to rush to try to get all of them set out by July 11. Oddly enough, the latest plants that were set out had no problems and yielded the best. We will try to get every one back in stock for 2010."

I was interested to hear they do staggered tomato plantings and that the last planting did the best. This is what Gretta (my local CSA farmer) also said. Sounds like a good idea. I'll try two plantings of tomatoes this year - just in case the weather is poor again.

I like to count the fantastic number of tomato varieties San Hill offers every year. (I copy into excel instead of hand counting.) 567 listed this year, though 77 are unavailable for 2009. I think I'll order a few: Box Car Willie, Big Boy (an OP version of the hybrid) and Opalka.

Also, it crossed my mind that I could save my own tomato seed. I still have lots left over in last year's seed packets that I'll use again this year. Tomato seed stays viable an average of four years. (seed viability link) But I think it would be nice to save some fresh seed from my favorite varieties.

Monday, January 12, 2009

garden gifts

garden gifts

I received some cool gifts for Christmas. Buzz-Off items: gardening gloves, an apron with lots of pockets for garden tools and a great cap. Also vegetable note cards. (I suppose those plastic wine glasses aren't really garden items...)

garden gifts

Sunday, January 11, 2009

robin in the snow

lost robin3

The North wind doth blow and we shall have snow,
And what will poor robin do then, poor thing?
He'll sit in a barn and keep himself warm
and hide his head under his wing, poor thing.

The North Wind doth blow and we shall have snow,
And what will the dormouse do then? Poor thing!
Roll'd up like a ball, in his nest snug & small,
He'll sleep till warm weather comes in. Poor thing!
-author unknown, traditional nursery rhyme

This robin was eating berries from the snow covered holly bush in my back yard this morning. We have many robins that over winter here. They seem out of place, but are nice and fat. I noticed my holly has more berries than usual this year. With all the summer rains we had, I bet there is an abundant supply of berries for the winter birds.

Today have about 5 inches of fresh powder snow. This on top of about 5 inches of old snow. Boston has had a season to date total of 27 inches of snow. Well above our normal amount. Fortunately much of it melts before the next storm.

(By the way - its an American robin. And here's some information of winter robin habits.)

garden birds (Hortus Aves)

a first Portie??

The big news today..... The first dog choice has been narrowed down. This from an interview by ABC News' George Stephanopoulos this morning (link). (Also NYT article.)

Stephanopoulos: "What kind of a dog are we getting and when are we getting it?"

President-elect Barack Obama: "The -- they seem to have narrowed it down to a Labradoodle or a Portuguese water hound."

Stephanopoulos: "A medium-sized."

Obama: "Medium-sized dog, and so, we're now going to start looking at shelters to see when one of those dogs might come up."

Stephanopoulos: "So, you're closing in on it?"

Obama: "We're closing in on it. This has been tougher than finding a Commerce secretary."

I thought they had it narrowed down to this choice several months ago though. I suspect they're busy with other things and are letting this one slide a bit.... Also spring is a better time for a new dog.

first Portuguese water dog
posts about Skippy

Saturday, January 10, 2009

wheelbarrows in the snow

wheelbarrows in the snow

Another set of photos I took Thursday at the community garden plots. The wheelbarrows look forlorn. Our weather has been miserable. 22*F and windy. Ice on everything.

Friday, January 09, 2009

winter skies

winter sky 1 winter sky 3
winter sky 5
winter branches  5 winter branches 1

Yesterday Skippy and I went to check out my community garden plot. I would have loved to do some gardening, weed a bit or take photos of vegetables. But the gardens are like frozen tundra :( So Skippy ran around and I took photos of the sky - which is spectacular at this time of year.

I'd rather be gardening....

Thursday, January 08, 2009

garden catalogs

gardening catalogs
stacked gardening catologs numex jim circled lavender pink catolog rose
bee home bird house

I wasn't going to look at all these catalogs. (Nine so far this year.)

Its quicker to do plant orders on-line. But the colors are so nice this year. And the plants look so pretty. So I've been circling items. Wildly. Don't know if I'll be able to find all my circles and narrow down a sensible list to buy. But its fun to rummage through seed catalogs.

I suppose what caught my eye first was the seedless tomato on the Burpee catalog. I had to do a double take and read about it. But, its not for me. It looks like its missing something.

One of my circles is Numex Big Jim chile. I have been looking for a source for this one, recommended to me last year. Seeds of Change has it. And I just love the photo of the lavender sampler at High Country Gardens. Beautiful, but pricey. White Flower Farm has a pink David Austin rose I think I'll order, called Strawberry Hill. I was interested to see the Mason bee home offered by High Country Gardens. I always wondered where wild bees live in a residential area (I wonder if I can improvise to make one of these?). Finally, the copper roofed bird house (WFF) is just spectacular.

I'm always impressed by the number and variety of tomatoes offered by Sand Hill Preservation center. 567 this year, by my count (up from 517 last year). Included is Opalka, a fat paste variety I'm looking forward to trying.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Chinese bean seeds

chinese bean seeds

I was given some beautiful hand collected Chinese pole bean seeds a couple of days ago. These were collected by a local gardener/colleague, who also shared some fresh beans with me last summer. The fresh beans were long, very crisp and a bit lemony in flavor (my photo). I was hoping I could grow some myself this year and am extremely pleased he shared his seed crop with me. Thank you Shunguang! There's nothing better than hand collected, heirloom seeds. Shunguang says the seeds store best in their shells, but I opened pod one just to see what the seeds look like.

Last summer Shunguang also shared with me some photos of his vegetable garden, which I post here below. I love to look at garden photos, especially in the middle of winter. It looks like a big plot with fantastic rows of produce. Corn, beans, cukes, radish, etc. Thanks also to Shunguang for sharing these photos.

Garden Plot Shunguang - freshly planted daikon radish plot
Garden Plot Shunguang Kentucky Wonder pole beans Garden Plot Shunguang Chinese pole beans
Garden Plot Shunguang Chinese beans on plates Garden Plot Shunguang Chinese pole beans

My garden is nowhere near as big as Shunguang's, but I look forward to having a couple tepees of Chinese pole beans this year.

Chinese pole beans