Friday, January 28, 2011

first seeds of the season are planted!

I planted 6 6-packs of seeds today!!! My planting 2011 garden season has officially begun!

1 6-pk leeks
1 6-pk onions (Ailsa Craig)
1 6-pk onions (Frontier)
1 6-pk lettuce mix
1 6-pk endive mix
half 6-pk perennial purple broccoli
half 6-pk celeriac

I had written my plant labels a couple days ago, but didn't end up planting, so I changed all the 1-25's to 1-28. Nice to know they are now starting to come to life.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

clean trays ready for planting

cleaned seed trays

I don't think plant trays are in the stores yet so I washed a few of the trays I used last year. I scrubbed them briefly, then rinsed them in dilute bleach (about 1:9).

I am making some seed mixes now. Since I have picked out about 20 varieties of lettuce and endive that I want to plant soon, but its still early too plant too much, I think a mix will work well. I'll plant:

1 6-pack mixed endive
1 6-pack mixed lettuce
1/2 6-pack purple sprouting perennial broccoli
1/2 6-pack leeks
1/2 6-pack Ailsa Craig yellow onions
1/2 6-pack Frontier yellow onions

Sunday, January 23, 2011

plot costs

Our community garden is reviewing the rates we charge for annual plot rental. This year our fee was $25, but with water costs going up very fast, this rate does not cover much. What do you pay for your plot rental?

Please leave a message if you have more information about what your fees cover and where you are located.

Does anyone know the fees for Cambridge and Waltham Fields plots (MA, USA)?

Saturday, January 22, 2011


Tomorrow I am planning to start my planting. First I'll clean some old seed trays using a diluted bleach solution. Then select seeds - only a few pots so early for planting in my cold frame. A lettuce mix, celery, onions. Maybe herbs and flowers too. My shelves and lights are ready to go.
Bitter cold here - in single digits. 2 ft + of snow on the ground. My snow covered cold frame with remote thermometer is staying a constant 28-30*F.

winter window sill

winter window sill

Friday, January 14, 2011

winter garden birds

coopers hawk
carolina wren winter song sparrow
Rock Meadow redtail hawk with catch
Rock Meadow redtail hawk in tree coopers hawk at dusk
coopers hawk in my backyard

This winter I haven't been feeding the birds and have been seeing very different types in my yard. Many predators. At the community plots there are song sparrows and red tailed hawks. At home, Carolina wren juncos, house sparrows, chickadees, nuthatches, and Cooper's Hawks.

snow day

snow day 008
snow day 012 snow day 007

The snow is amazing! Its coated the northeast side of all the trees and many pine branches have broken off. Its piled high along roads and paths. And the sledding looks perfect.

Skippy loves to chase a sled down the big hill. I was very proud of him today, because even while he was having such fun, he watched me for directions. He chased one child, who thought it was fun. Then another who got scared. I waved for Skippy to come and he ran right over to me for his leash! Good Skippy! I like working on hand signals so I don't need to yell. Skippy always gets a good treat for being good.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

garden review: sweet potatoes to Z

SWEET POTATOES: Last year was my first try at sweet potatoes. I started from supermarket and CSA sweets, beginning rooting in mid winter. (I better get going on this year's sprouts!) I rooted in water, then potted when it got hard to keep the water fresh for the big sprouts. I planted about 25 sprouts in a 4 by 4 patch to the southeast of my popcorn. In October my teenage son dug the patch and we ended up with a BIG basket full. Very exciting and DELICIOUS. I look forward to a second crop of sweet potatoes this year. I'll have enough of my own sweets for sprouting this year. The only thing I'll do different is to plant them in a sunnier spot. I read that this will give bigger potatoes. For some reason, I had thought that sweets were OK in shade. Not true. They like lots of heat and sun.

TOMATOES: After the terrible late blight two years ago, I planted all my Solenacea plants (tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and potatoes) in my side yard last year. Its not full sun there, but tomatoes do OK. They ripen late - I didn't get any 'til August - but they produced longer in the sheltered location - into October. I grew lots of different varieties and the plants did well, just not so many tomatoes. I ended up with maybe 30% of what I would have gotten in full sun. SO - this year I am excited to plant tomatoes once again in my community plot. I have a perfect bed reserved for them. I have room for about 20 plants and will use a post and string support system again (with the string tied to the base of the plants). I'll harden off plants in my cold frame, so I don't think I need the wall-o-waters. I am looking forward to great tomatoes this year!

WINTER SQUASH: It just wasn't a great winter squash and pumpkin year for me last year. I think I need to fertilize better. I didn't fertilize at all last year, only lots of compost and horse manure. A number of my plants just petered out very early in the season. The same happened at my parents garden, so it may have been due to weather conditions also. I grew only Waltham Butternut, which is by far my favorite winter squash. I really can't complain though, as I still have 6 or 8 nice squashes in the basement and these should last the season for me. Come to think of it, I think I'll bring one up and make pureed sweet potato and squash for dinner tomorrow. Yumm!

ZINNIAS: I think I'll grow the big purple ones again this year.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Monday, January 10, 2011

garden review: pears to sunflowers

PEARS: Three years ago I moved two espaliered dwarf pear trees from shady areas of my yard to my community plot. A Bartlett and a Parker. The Bartlett did well but the Parker died. This spring I replaced the Parker with a Kieffer. I haven't started training this new one yet, but it grew well over the summer. The Bartlett is looking very good. I'm hoping for my first pears soon - maybe this spring? I do not know yet if the trees will need to be sprayed for any pests - I'll watch and see what kind of pests find the trees.

PEAS: I had great hopes for peas last year but they were not to be. Actually, the chipmunk wouldn't say that - he ate so many peas I was really impressed. But no peas for me. I don't think there's a way to protect peas from a chipmunk other than covering them with chicken wire, which sounds too aggressive for me. So I'll grow peas in my side yard this year. They've done very well there in the past. The sugar snap variety Sugar Sprint always does super for me in my side yard. I still wish I could grow tall shell peas, so I will keep trying.

PEPPERS: It was prefect pepper weather this past year. I ended up with lots of chiles and peppers. I still have a 1 foot long ristra of cayenne and Thai hot that we are enjoying. My cayenne's are a variety that I save and grow myself year-to-year. I'm wondering what the variety will end up like in a few years. Sometimes I grow the cayennes in a corner of the garden by themselves, but sometimes I mix it in with other peppers and chiles and let them cross as they will. This year's harvest was very nice. I'm planning to do the same this year.

POPCORN: My popcorn failed this past year :( It was a lot of garden space to use for a failed crop. I think what happened is I didn't amend the soil evenly, which gave me uneven plant growth and poor cross pollination. To prepare the bed in fall and winter, I added horse manure and compost with more at one end because I still had plants growing at the other end. I tried to spread it out and turn it in evenly, but it seems this wasn't enough. Then when the corn sprouted, I went away on vacation for a couple weeks and didn't notice the uneven growth. I fertilized later, but it didn't help. The plants grew unevenly and tassels appeared at different times across the patch. Finally, I ended up with ears full of empty cobs. Kernels that did form were eaten by corn ear maggots. Great! So after one super year and one bust, I think I'll take a break from popcorn.

POTATOES: Because of problems with late blight two years ago, I planted all of my Solenacea in my side year this year. There's limited sun there - not the best location for potatoes. I got a nice but small crop of 4 varieties of potatoes. With no late blight at all last year, I'm looking forward to growing a nice bed full of potatoes this year in full sun at my plot. I like the russets and little red ones best.

Of the 4 varieties of pumpkins I started this year: Galeux D' Eysines, Long Island Cheese, Baby Pam, and Jarrahdale, I only ended up with fruits from the Long Island Cheese. I had six 4-8 lb pumpkins. I'm wishing for ones with more color this year. I've seen gardeners using a horizontal trellis to support pumpkins anout 6 inches off the ground and black plastic to block the weeds. I think I will try that this year.

I grew a little spinach for the first time last fall and it did quite well. I will plant it again in my cold frame early this spring.

One of my favorites! I love fresh edamame. So much better than frozen store bought edamame. I had a great crop 3 years ago in my side yard, but 2 years ago the chipmunks ate all the soybean seeds I planted at my community plot. Last year, I tried to get my favorite variety, Butterbeans, and never could get any. I now have several packages of Envy and will plant these in my side yard this year.

SUMMER SQUASH: I had tons of patty pan this year. Summer squash must be one of the most reliable crops. I think I will try some different varieties this year: a nice striped zucchini and some yellow squash. I haven't picked out varieties yet.

SUNFLOWERS: I love tall sunflowers and am planning to plant a row along the west side of my garden this year. Maybe a mix of different varieties, one plant of each. It worked best to start them inside and transplant them carefully last year as the chipmunks eat the seeds and small sprouts. I also like to include a row of dwarf sunflowers.

empty chairs

chair 032bw chair 035
chair 021 chair 017

There's not much to photograph in the garden right now ..... and with 12-18 inches of snow coming in tomorrow night there will likely be even less soon.

chair 034

Sunday, January 09, 2011

garden review: G to parsnips

GARLIC: My garlic was a super crop this year. I cringed to mail order 4 types of high quality garlic seed bulbs that cost about $12 each as I remember. With shipping costs, it added up to a lot. I ended up planting about 100 cloves in my garden and a similar number in my parents' garden. In July, I harvested 100 big beautiful heads of garlic. In October, I replanted about 1/10 of these - 100 cloves in my garden (and the same at my parents'). So the garlic expense was apparently a one time expense to get started. Not bad. Right now I still have a good basketful of garlic in my larder. Its keeping very well and seems like a perfect size crop for the amount we eat. I may never need to buy supermarket garlic again!

LETTUCE: I grew a cold frame full of great lettuce in the spring. I look forward to this again this year. But then last year the summer was very hot and dry and, as I often do, I forgot to keep planting lettuce every couple weeks. I went for at least 2 months with no lettuce in my garden. I will try again this year to avoid the lettuce lull. Our local CSA farmers produced lettuce all summer, so it can be done. And then in the fall, I planted lettuce for my cold frame too late. The lettuce in my cold frame is still harvestable now in mid-winter, but its too small. I have learned that it doesn't grow after early November. Lettuce is one of those crops where I probably couldn't grow too much. My favorite varieties last year were Big Boston and Oak Leaf.

I didn't get any melons last year :( Oh well. I grew 4 varieties and planted them in my cold frame. With the covers off during the summer, I thought this would be a perfect warm and sheltered spot. But the cucumbers in front of them grew so tall and thick they shaded the melon vines and blocked the sprinklers. I have a perfect spot marked for the melons this year (I hope). They will get the south west corner of my community plot next to the garlic, which won't shade them! I will give them lots of manure and compost when I plant and then hope for a hot sunny summer. I am also going to devise a support rack so they aren't on the ground.

ONIONS: I loved those onions! They did great last year. I liked the big yellow storage onions, Frontier and Ailsa Craig. I thought I was starting too many seeds, but it was a good number. I wouldn't mind more this year. And they could even be started earlier and transplanted out to the garden earlier. The ones I grew lasted me from harvest in August until just a couple weeks ago. But we preferred the yellow ones and ate these first even though these were the better storage ones. So the purple ones that we ate second we starting to go bad as we finished them off. Lesson: I'll eat the poorer keepers first,and maybe I won't grow purple ones.

I only planted one pot of parsley seeds. But I ended up with 20 times more than anyone would need. Since parsley does well in the shady parts of my garden, I will continue plant the same amount again this year. One 5 foot row of about 20 plants.

PARSNIPS: Two years ago I grew a nice plot of parsnips, then forgot to store them properly (in plastic in the refrigerator) and I ended up composting them. Last year I never got around to planting parsnips. Then in the late fall, a fellow gardener asked if I wanted some of their bumper crop. (Yes!) We just ate the last of them tonight, oven roasted. Yummy. Parsnips are even harder to grow than carrots, because they take several weeks to germinate and need to be kept moist and not mistaken for weeds. I will try to plant a row this year.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

garden review: A to F

APPLES: My dwarf Fugi apple tree is near a maple in my backyard. This year we only had one apple set. I bagged it, but a squirrel picked and ate it. This fall, we had a giant branch trimmed from the maple and I'm hoping more light will increase fruit set this summer. Bagging has worked well to protect from apple maggots, the only pest we've had so far (except for the squirrel). I'm hoping for a good crop this year!

ASPARAGUS: I am looking forward to harvesting my first asparagus this year!! Very exciting! I planted 25 crowns 2 years ago. It has grown well, it seems to me. I'll have to look up how much I can harvest. This year I have plans to make more room for the asparagus plants by moving the compost bin that is next to it. At some point, I will move some of the plants over and give all of the plants more space.

I grew two varieties of basil last year, Nufar and Genovese. I usually grow Nufar and thought I'd try Genovese. I guess I didn't really like its spicier flavor or the smaller leaves. This year I will go back to only Nufar. Also, I grew too much. I had a patch about 4 by 4 feet, probably 4 rows of 10 plants per row. This was more than we used. We made pesto from a first harvest in early August, then did not use the big September harvest. Two 4 ft rows of Nufar sound good for this year.

BEANS: A disastrous crop last year!!! And I allocated 2 full beds for beans. I planted them, got one harvest from beautiful plants - and then the Mexican bean beetles showed up. They devastated the plants fast. I learned what this bug looks like and how to squish them. I tried Captain Jacks Dead Bug Spray, which slowed then down a little, but there were so many it really was hopeless. I think this is one of the problems with gardening in a large community garden. Many plots had beans and the beetles were out of control. I am thinking of asking this year if anyone want to share an order of parasitic wasps, which are supposed to be a good organic control, but a bit expensive. Maybe a good group project. However, I am planning grow all of my beans at home in my side yard garden this year. Not only am I hoping this will avoid the bean beetles, but in the past beans have done well in the partial sun of my side yard. One of the things I am worrying about is the very tiny batch of Chinese pole bean seeds I was able to save. This is a crop I was given by a friend and it is not available commercially (or anywhere else). I have been saving my seeds a couple years. This years I eat the first harvest, and was sure I'd have plenty more, but then the beetles came. I have a few seeds in tiny pods to plant this year. In the future, I'll save the first seeds for growing the next year. One more thing about beans next year, I'm going to skip the shell beans - we don't end up eating them.

BEETS: It was another great year for beets in my garden. I love how big and fast they grow in bright full sun! And I like the 3 varieties I have: Lutz, Chiogga and Detroit White. I had a few too many last year. I'll scale back a bit this year.

BROCCOLI: We eat a lot of broccoli and I don't think I could grow too much of this crop, but I can try. I grew Blue Wind and Marathon last year, both of which are very nice. Two years ago, my spring planted crop produced side shoots all year, but not so this past year, which was very hot and dry. I got nice big heads in early summer, but not much for side shoots. Then I planted my fall crop too late. The fall crop is still in my cold frame and I think it has a good chance to start growing again in late winter and give an early spring crop. I will try this year to succession plant a couple plants of broccoli every few weeks. Also, I was given seeds for a perennial purple broccoli that I look forward to trying this year.

CABBAGE: I love how nice heads of cabbage look in the garden, but I rarely eat it. Oh well. I did well with savoy, red, green, and bok choy the past two years, but don't eat much of it. I will limit myself to one ornamental row this year. Except for radicchio - does this count as cabbage? and baby bok choy, which is fantastic grilled.

CARROTS: My carrot germination was TERRIBLE. I must have killed ten packets of seeds! Here's a link to Tiny Farm Blog, where they had success with a heavy landscape fabric. I will definitely put this on my to-do list! I want more carrots. My favorite varieties are Mokum, a great fast growing variety from Johnny's, and Bolero. I grew Oxhart a few years ago, which is also nice - a big fat short carrot. But my goal this year is to somehow grow LOTS of carrots. I may experiment with seeds started in pots if I need to.

CELERIAC: This year I got 9 sprouts from my celeriac seeds and lost most to a watering mishap (oops). Only one seedling survived to harvest. But this was a good number for me. I will plan to grow 1-5 roots this year. A tiny crop goes a long way.

CELERY: I plant to try this for the first time this year.

CUCUMBERS: A bumper crop last year! 3 cheers for the cukes! I grew Diva, Sweet Success, North Carolina Pickling, Boston Pickling, and Takewa. The Boston Pickling's didn't do anything. Diva is the best cuke there is in my opinion. And North Carolina Picking runs a close second with enormous yields, very reliable and an unusual block white fruit. Takawa is also very nice. I think I will repeat the same combination again this year. I grew the cukes in my cold frame with the tops removed, which they seemed to really enjoy. However, they take up the whole thing and vines run all over. I plan to run one row along the back of the frame this year and a few more rows in the sunniest areas of my side yard beds (with the big maple tree branch removed, I hope it will be sunnier this year). I don't know why cukes didn't grow well at my community plot the one year I tried then there. My guess it they like more shelter. In any case, I will grow then at home again this year.

DILL: I planted lots of dill this year and it was great! I will do this again. Any free spaces should be planted with dill. I probably won't even need to plant it next year, since it self seeds so well.

EGGPLANT: Last year was the first year I tried to grow eggplant from seed. It did not do well. Probably because I did not plant them in full sun. The spot I have allocated for this year is in full sun. I will hope for better luck.

FENNEL: I will try this for the first time this year.

Friday, January 07, 2011

whats in the cold frame

cold frame 015

A couple weeks ago, I covered my cold frame with a tarp to protect against the snow of its first winter. Today I peeked under. Everything looks good. Spinach, lettuce, escarole, and broccoli. Temperatures have been about 32-35 inside (on a remote thermometer) even when its very cold outside. The plants are still small and aren't growing any more. I'm hoping they'll survive the winter and grow again when sun and temp's increase. We'll see. I have to remember to bring a bucket of water out - they tend to dry out.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

2011 garden plan

Microsoft PowerPoint - Garden plan 2011

I think this will be a good plan for my two vegetable garden plots for the coming year.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

garden summary

I added up the costs of my gardens for the past three years and tried to estimate the value of the produce. My costs have been high because of fencing my plot 3 years ago, adding the cold frame this year, and the shelves/lights last year. These will each last many years. And its hard to estimate the value of produce, because I think its worth more when its homegrown. In any case, my produce is probably valued about $500- $700/year (which is also about the cost of a yearly CSA share these days). And the garden has been costing me about half of that, even with the recent improvements: $300- $400/ year.

Of course, this summary doesn't add in my time - that would way more than double the yearly value of my garden!

Garden costs

Garden produce

I had fun reading "The 64 Dollar Tomato" recently. Its an old book by now, but I just got around to reading it. Using Mr Alexander's way of calculating, my tomatoes cost me -12 dollars this year! Does that mean I could have sold them for 12 dollars each? Hmmm. Well, that's just because I didn't pay $8,000 to have someone design and install my garden on my estate for me. I wish he had added photos to his book. I bet his garden was beautiful!

Saturday, January 01, 2011

new martini glasses

These are our new martini glasses. Hand blown depression glass in two shades of green. The perfect accessory for planning a new garden. I'm working on a review of last year's garden. It requires a lot of reflection.

Cheers! And Happy New Year!

happy new year!