Thursday, December 31, 2015

lights for new year's eve

new years lights IMG_4532

I lit these lights in the darkness tonight
In another season, we would still have sunlight
We would have warm air and full gardens
But now it's the New Year and lights sparkle in the cold and darkness,
It's time to reflect and plan for new things.

I very much hope 2016 is a year of peace in the world
I wish 2016 would bring food and happiness for everyone.

For me - I'm beginning to plan my gardens
I have a nice stack of catalogs, circles here and there, a growing list of partially made plans
By the warm glow of candlelight,
I'm imagining a bountiful new season.
I hope 2016 is bountiful for all.

how are you planning your next vegetable garden?

We need a new poll!

I just got the MOFGA (Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association) Newsletter and their top item today is about garden planning software. They site this link for 10 Best Vegetable Garden Software of 2016. Except when you get to the link, it says it was last updated in 2011. Five years ago!!

I wrote to MOFGA, Jean wrote back immediately! and we agree, we need a new review of Planning Software. So, how do you do your garden planning?

Me: I like to use paper and tracing paper. I trace last year's garden, then move around my crop locations. I erase and rewrite. And think about it. Then I make my final draft. Which is never final, because I'll think of something to change. Software is fun to use. Sometimes I use PowerPoint, only because it's on my computer for my business. I can make lots of edits with this. But I like my hand drawings better.

So, two questions, First: Do you use Garden Planning Software? Please use this poll
Do you use Garden Planning Software?
Poll Maker

Second: Have you tried any Garden Planning Software recently? Please leave me a comment and let me know. Maybe Mother Earth News and Grow Veg? I'll put together another poll soon to see what software the readers of this blog like to use.

And, by the way, Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

our Christmas tree

There wasn't room for our tree inside this year, because of renovations we are doing, ... so... the tree is out on the patio decorated with lights and bird food.

outdoor christmas tree IMG_4339

Who came to the tree? First a couple of noisy red squirrels! Then, Suzie (my little Portuguese water dog who loves birds food), my chickens, and then lots of birds. A Carolina wren, junco's, ground sparrows, chickadees, and cardinals.

IMG_4518 - Copy outdoor christmas tree IMG_4715 outdoor christmas tree IMG_4741 outdoor christmas tree IMG_4768 outdoor christmas tree IMG_4748 outdoor christmas tree IMG_4783

Oh, and Santa came by too. On Christmas morning there was a big pile of new garden tools!! I can't wait to use them all.

outdoor christmas tree IMG_4416

biochar? carbon gardening?

Daphne brought up biochar as the most stable way to sequester unwanted atmospheric carbon. As a nice side effect, it also improves the soil. And Tony explained that my tasty lettuce gardens don't hold onto much carbon very long, but if I added more wetlands, that would. Hmm, carbon gardening - that's new to me. I had to do more research.

The main focus of recent Climate Change Conferences is to reduce emissions, but then, there's a secondary discussion: what to do with the carbon that's already in the air? Biochar is one proposal.

Solutions for the "What to do with it" problem have been divided into biological and chemical approaches. NOFA recommends tying CO2 up in plant/compost cycles. This has the advantage of using a free energy source: the sun. The disadvantage is that we have only the earth's surface for this activity.

Biochar (pyrolyzed organic products that sequester CO2) production is also considered a "biological approach". (I'm not sure why as it doesn't use the sun to do the pyrolyzing, it uses fossil fuel. It just make use of organic products.) Biochar has the advantage of great potential capacity as it can be buried, However, the scale it's used on currently is relatively minuscule.

There are also spectacularly varied chemical methods of capturing CO2 that are being proposed — "from direct air capture using resins, to the use of crushed olivine (a mineral that absorbs CO2 as it weathers) to seed beaches, to new forms of carbon-negative cement-making."

But back to the biochar, it's currently having an impact agriculturally as a soil amendment that revitalizes tired soils. It's not effective everywhere (negative issues include price, affects on soil microbes, and the large volumes that are needed), but in many places it is improving crop production. Like Daphne's garden! (Is that how she grew those beautiful sweet potatoes?)

As far as expanding biochar production to the point where it can impact atmospheric CO2, critics are concerned that land used to grow plant material could displace food crops, they sorry and about socioeconomic effects, and they worry about what eventually happens to biochar in soils - when it does breakdown. They worry that sufficient research has not yet been done.

I like the rational view of Stephen Joseph, a biochar researcher from Univ of New South Wales in Australia, "Biochar probably won’t save the world from climate change, nor is it going to be the key to increasing agricultural productivity everywhere. But used wisely, it is a tool that may help in both situations.”

Personally, I this I'll to stick with NOFA's very biological approach and traditional methods: Cover everything I can with plants (more lettuce!! more clover!!), compost everything I can on site, and use my chickens to enhance my composting. I'm also growing locally - in my backyard - and reduce driving to the grocery store. I hope my little micro-farm is at least a transient a part of reducing atmospheric CO2.

NY Times (July 24, 2015) A Third Way To Fight Climate Change
BloombergBusiness (June 8, 2015) Scientists Are Coming Up With 'Last Ditch' Remedies for Climate Change
PBS (July 3, 2015) The Coal That’s Good for the Climate

Monday, December 28, 2015

Since I'm a new NOFA member I was reading through their literature. I like this one about Soil Carbon Restoration.
"Much discussion has focused on how to deal with greenhouse gas emissions and resulting weather extremes. Most analysts believe we must stop burning fossil fuels to prevent further increases in atmospheric carbon. [But we} must also find ways to remove carbon already in the air....

"...where can we put carbon once it is removed from the air? There is only one practical approach -- to put it back where it belongs, in the soil.
So here's a list of things vegetable gardeners can do to put carbon back in the soil:
- Plant nitrogen fixing cover crops and living row paths
- Heavily mulch weeds instead of pulling
- Incorporate no-till or shallow till practices
- Replace pesticides and fungicides with diverse beneficial organisms
- Incorporate perennials in our garden
- Compost your garden and kitchen waste
- Recycle biomass with livestock (grazers, browsers, compost to poultry)

And things yard-owners can do:
- Plant lawns with diverse species: deep rooted grasses and nitrogen fixing species like clover
- Incorporate multi-layer, perennial, diverse plantings
- Compost, rather than burn, yard waste
- Minimize pavement and unproductive mulch
- Grow nitrogen fixing trees and perennials
- Maintain diverse forested buffers and perimeters

I think we've all heard about the importance of doing most of these things since we know good soil health is important for our crops. Soil health is also important for the earth. More info is at the NOFA site (NOFA Carbon Soil Restoration).

Sunday, December 27, 2015


I just signed up for NOFA's winter one-day conference Saturday, Jan 16 in Worcester MA. Anyone else going? Has any been to these before? I just signed up as a new member. It looks fun. NOFA is the Northeast Organic Farming Association. I met a board member the other day and he told me they had lots of programs and resources for organic home gardeners.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas day harvest

christmas harvest IMG_4478

christmas day bees on hellebores

dec 2015 bee on hellebores

Last week the hellebore has been blooming gloriously in the misty unusually warm New England weather. Today the sun broke out. I saw my bees were out foraging. Hard to believe on the last week of the year! I found some, collecting hellebore nectar (....more)

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

gifts under the tree


I was hoping it would look like I painted this picture. It's a few jars of garden pickles and some honey decked out with fabric caps. We don't have room for a tree in the house this year, just this little USB one. A very cheery little plastic fir.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

potting up a sprouted sweet potato

IMG_4276c IMG_4310c

My mom gave me this nice sweet potato. From the super market. I find it really hard to get these to sprout. I love to grab one that is sprouted. I put it in a pot. It'll go on the kitchen window sill. They grow slow, then fast.

I've heard of gardeners who start their own sweets having the kitchen window covered with vines by planting season. Well, that would be fun. Last year I bought 12 slips and they weren't cheap (though I forget how much they were - $25 maybe). Maybe some of mine will sprout, at least they weren't treated with sprout inhibitor like the supermarket ones are. I'll watch them.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

app reviews please :-)

We could really use some reviews of our seed planting app. For any one who used it last year, could you give it a brief review? Here's the preview link: Click "Open in iTunes" and then click "Reviews". Thanks!

Here are reviews a few gardeners left for us last year, but they didn't post them to the Apple Store.

"Thanks for the nifty app! " - MIchaeldg
"Love the simplicity... Very easy to use... very useful" - Mayhew
"It is a wonderful app....I will be able to carry it with me to the garden without printing out my garden plan. I especially love the transplanting calendar because most books and seed packet instructions do not tell you when to transplant. - Nancy

BTW - We are making a bunch of upgrades this month for release in January - just in time for 2016 seed planting! Let us know what upgrades you would like.

Monday, December 14, 2015

inside my winter tunnel


My winter tunnel is full of greens. Spinach, several types of lettuce, arugula, radicchio, kale, chard, collards, salad turnips, daikon and salad radish, cilantro, some frilly red mustard, escarole, bok choi. Can't beat this balmy December weather for cool weather crops! I have parsley, escarole, broccoli, beets and kale outside with no protection.


Plants in my tunnel are from my winter seed sowing calendar, which is part of Skippy's full-season planting calendar app. I planted everything to test the planting dates in the app.

The app is $1.99 (iOS or Android). I think the price will go up for the next season (probably to $2.99), so it makes sense to get it now. All pf the app updates will apply whether your buy before or after the price increase. The calendar has spring and fall planting schedules too.

I'm counting down the days til my spring planting begins - end of February!


My only complaint with my tunnel is that I wish I had planted more of them! Next year...


Sunday, November 29, 2015

the plastic is on my winter tunnel

IMG_4110 - double covered low hoops IMG_4111 - double covered low hoops

I put greenhouse plastic over my garden hoops today. The hoops have two layers now: fabric row cover close to the plants and the plastic outside. The weather is slowly cooling off. Looks like I'll be taking these covers off and on for the rest of the month. I'll take it off when the plants can catch rain and sun on warmer days. Our weather seems about 10 degrees F above normal this year.

post Thanksgiving

I'm finally able to think about something other than making food and entertaining guests! Thanksgiving is past. We enjoyed having many family members at my house: my husband, son and myself, my parents, my sister and her two daughters, and my brother, his wife, two sons and their dog. A dozen in all. 15 with the dogs!

Our preparations started the weekend before when my son and I turned our dining room into a giant table (6x8 ft!) that held us all. It was feat for me to locate seasonal items: my little salad plates with turkeys on them and my orange napkin rings. And the stores were long past stocking Thanksgiving items when I finally shopped for seasonal linens that fit the giant table. But we managed.

I forgot to take pictures of most things, so there are only a few odds and ends here. I put together a menu that included all of our families traditional Thanksgiving items, pulled out and copied all of the recipes, then planned out who need to do what task and when. Everyone did their job to perfection! Dinner was delicious and we had a great time being together.

I'm always pleased to be able to serve things that I grew in my garden. Here's my list: homemade pickles, homemade tomato salsa, my mashed potatoes, my sweet potatoes and butternut squash, celeriac and beets that I mixed with other roasted root vegetables, my garlic and canned tomato sauce in the eggplant parmigiana, fresh parsley, sage and rosemary generously added to various items, sliced salad radish, a really big bowl of freshly picked salad greens (lettuce, escarole frisée, baby beet greens and parsley), and a nice winter squash ("Blue Ballet" and small version of Hubbard) that made the perfect pumpkin pie. Almost everything else was homemade if not homegrown. Amazing. It's a good thing we don't eat all this every day!

IMG_4083 IMG_4085IMG_4089
Microsoft PowerPoint - Thanksgivingmenudressy.pptx

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

my Thanksgiving lettuce (variety Sandy) survived the cold

IMG_3976 - thanksgiving lettuce

Yes! It still looks great. This is a little area that's not under my plastic tunnel, so I want to pick it all for Thanksgiving. Its a great variety. Sandy. A 2015 AAAS Winner that I love. Sweet frilly green leaves. And - very cold tolerant!!

I have some escaroles, Frissee and Natacha, to mix with it. Also curly kale and baby beet greens. Maybe some mustard, Purple Streaks, and some tiny radicchio, Perseo, too. I see what kind of mix I end up with. The rest of the nights before Thursday will be warmer, so I'll stop worrying.

Soon I plant to go through all of the 2015 AAAS Winners that I grew this year and post their photos. Most did great for me. I think of December as sort of a "garden review" month.

a cold night - did lettuce survive?

The temperature dipped to 19F in some areas of my yard last night. I have a bunch of salad greens out there marked for the Thanksgiving Day salad bowl. They're under a double layer of row cover. I'm worried about what I'll find when I check them. I may be buying lettuce ...

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

new old garden shed


My husband moved this old shed for me. It was up in the front of our new house. He disassembled it, made it a couple feet smaller, and reassembled it next to my garden.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

today's harvest

lettuce harvest IMG_3927

plastic tunnel is getting ready to assemble

IMG_3857 IMG_3859

Right now, the skeleton of a tunnel is standing. Bare white PVC arches over thin metal hoops. When night time temperatures dip to freezing (32F), I pull cloth over the metal hoops and then remove it in the morning.

I'm hoping to get some use out of the tunnel this year. Last year, voles or chipmunks ate everything inside once I closed the plastic up.

This year's attempt to keep critters out:
- 6 inches of hardware cloth dug in around the edges of bed
- castor oil/soap mix soaked into soil at edges of bed
- I'll secure the plastic to edges of bed when I close it up
- Watch carefully for holes the past weeks so I don't close it up with a critter inside

It would be nice to have salad greens all winter. We'll see.

I'm still not sure about the plastic tunnel concept. I've read that it works, but still haven't done it successfully myself. Mine is so far from any heat source (except the sun and soil). I suspect it's success depends on the winter weather - snow cover, sunny days, temperatures. Interesting to read:
- excerpt from Eliot Coleman's Winter Harvest Handbook, overwintering in a tunnel
- Johnny's Winter Growing Guide

My tunnel will have two layers: (1) a layer of winter cold protection Agribon fabric on the low metal hoops (I actually doubled this layer because the roll's width was twice my bed's width - it made it easy to double it), and (2) an outer layer of greenhouse plastic that will go on the PVC hoops. Today, my husband and I used duct tape to attach long 1x2 straps of wood to the apex of the PVC arches to keep snow from collapsing the hoops.

At my old house, my cold frame was right up against the south wall of our house. My baby spinach would survive the winter and start growing in February. By March and April I'd have a frame full of spinach.

I wish the plants in the bed were a bit bigger. Next year, I start them a couple weeks earlier. (I followed my winter planting app dates - I'll adjust them earlier too.)

It's a nice warm November. Maybe I won't need to close it up for a few more weeks. The hawks do a good job keeping the critters out.