Saturday, February 27, 2016

more honey

honey IMG_5231
Yesterday I bottled 10 pints, 15 lbs, of honey for us to eat. It's spicy and sweet, medium amber. Really good. (more...)

Friday, February 26, 2016

ice out

The ice melted in our local ponds today. A perfect day for a swim, Skippy thought. He swam around quite a while and seemed to love it. Pretty brisk I think.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

"the best way to get real enjoyment out of a garden.."

I just love this quote that was in Dave's Garden newsletter today.
The best way to get real enjoyment out of a garden is to put on a wide straw hat, dress in thin, loose fitting clothes, hold a trowel in one hand and a cool drink in the other, and tell the man where to dig. -- Charles Barr
Ah, gardening.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

winter tunnel after -12 F cold snap

winter tunnel IMG_5129

I'm surprised how well a double tunnel insulates plants. I thought everything would be dead by now. Especially after our record breaking -12.8 F (-25 C) night. Spinach, kale, mustard, bunching onions and cilantro are perfectly happy. (My kale outside of the tunnel is dead.) Lettuce, arugula and chard in the tunnel are cold-singed but will recover fast I think. Probably turnips and daikon radish (the large dead-ish looking plants in the center) are not good choices for a winter tunnel.

We're getting some warm days, 40s and 50s, and the sun is getting stronger and daylight is longer, so I think things will start growing soon. I haven't harvested anything in just over a month (since January 12).

getting ready to plant onions and celeriac

Yeah! It's time to begin planting indoors. This weekend I'll clean some of my old planting pots and trays and get out the seed packets and potting soil. So fun to get my hands into soil again.

I used to plant onion sets instead of seeds, but onions grow bigger and are less disease prone from seed. It's a stress on the plant to hold it as a little bulb then get it growing again. its really easy to grow onions from seed. Only two tricks, get the right variety for your area - in the north, grow long day onions. I like Pontiac, White Wing and Red Wing from Johnny's Seeds, but there are many long day varieties. The other trick is to start them early, 11 weeks before your last frost. Count bhack from your frost date, or download my calendar app.

Onion seedlings like to grow fairly dense. Scatter the seeds about a half inch apart in a small tray, like a saved lettuce container. I'll use smaller pots so I can grow fewer amounts of more varieties. And I like to have some small pots to give away. you can still fit a lot of onion seedlings in a small pot.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

it's time to start planting!

The first event on my planting calendar is winter sowing. Many flowers need a cold period and winter sowing in plastic milk bottles is an easy way to start these seeds.

I used Skippy's Flower and Herb Calendar App to make my sowing calendar. I have a large new bed at the front of my vegetable garden that I want to fill with flowers for my bees (and me) this year. So, I'm looking forward to starting lots of flower and herb seeds.

Today I planted seeds in four bottles: Anise hyssop, wild NE asters, a bee mix, and a butterfly mix.

winter sowing IMG_5062winter sowing IMG_5060
winter sowing IMG_5064winter sowing IMG_5065
winter sowing IMG_5075winter sowing IMG_5076

I collected my plastic milk bottles from Starbucks. I was a bit disappointed because I asked at the counter if they had empty milk bottle they could give me and I was told "no". But I since I saw them using lots of them, I went around back to their dumpster. Lot's of empty gallon bottles there. (I wonder why they weren't recycling them?) I pulled out four, a bit smushed and scattered with coffee grounds. There was even a nice paper bag to transport them. (Other places I've found plastic bottles are my Town recycling center, and curbside bins on recycling day).

Directions for winter sowing in plastic milk bottles are in the app. Also on my previous winter sowing posts.

chickens staying warm

chickens snuggled up IMG_5051 Big Bertha, my heavily feathered white Brahma, doesn't lay as many eggs as the rest, but she's really nice to snuggle up with on a cold night. All my chickens are fine after the frigid night. -12.9F!

Saturday, February 13, 2016

frigid temperatures

At sunset: 18 F (-7.8 C)
8 pm: 0.6 F (-17 C)
10 pm: -2.5 F (-19.2 C)
midnight: -5.6 F (-20.9)
3:30 am: -10.7 F (-23.7)
7 am: -12.8 (-24.9 C)
10 am: 9.1 F (-12.7 C)

Minimum: -12.9 F (-24.9 C)

I'm a bit west of Boston, but the previous Boston record low for this date is/was -3F/-19C (1967). I'm amazed at how fast the temperatures are falling tonight.

bee hives wrapped up for a cold night

I wasn't planning to wrap my bee hives. At my bee club people usually just add insulation to the top, which I did back in November. But this is way colder than we're used to! Predictions for tonight are 5 to 15 below 0 F (-20 to -26 C) with a gusty wind to 35 mph. So I wrapped both hives in a tarp. At least this will cut down any drafts getting in the openings.

bee hives wrapped for cold IMG_1426

I also secured the chicken coop better than usual. At less than 20 F (-7C), I turn on a ceramic bulb heater in the coop. That's been on most of this week. This afternoon I lowered tarps that protect the run from wind. I'll go out after they start roosting and close the coop door - which I never do.

Brrr! Stay warm!

Monday, February 08, 2016

seed swap announcement

Seed Swap
Hosted by the Belmont Victory Gardens
At the Town of Belmont MA Public Library on Sunday, March 6, 2016, 3:00 PM - 4:00 PM

Get ready for spring planting! Seed swap is open to all gardeners – whether you are a member of a community garden, grow vegetables or flowers in your yard, or would like to try sowing seeds for the first time.

Bring fresh vegetable or flower seeds to share and go home with new varieties to try. Heirlooms are great but purchased hybrid seeds are also welcome. Divide seeds into labelled, sharing-sized envelopes before your arrive to save time. Most store-bought seed packs can be divided into 2 or 3 "swap-sized" packets.

Please come even if you don't have seeds to share. There will be seeds and conversation to share with everyone. Belmont Victory Gardeners will be on hand to provide sowing tips and answer questions. Come visit with new and experienced gardeners and start dreaming of spring!

AmeliaGardens blog

Amelia is an avid vegetable gardener located in Cambridge MA and she's got a great blog: AmeliaGardens. She's taking and teaching vegetable gardening classes now and I'm reading up and trying to learn as much as I can from her. Also, she's a programmer and built all of Skippy's Calendar apps. (Thanks Amelia!) Here's a post she wrote about the apps: Skippy's Vegetable Planting Apps.

community garden under snow cover

David Sprogis - Rock Meadow (2)

These are clips of my community garden, the Belmont Victory Gardens, that I took from a vimeo by David Sprogis: Rock Meadow. Rock Meadow is a 70 acre piece of conservation land in Belmont that includes the Victory Gardens. It's a really beautiful vimeo of the area taken from the air.

David Sprogis - Rock Meadow (1) David Sprogis - Rock Meadow (3)

My garden plot is right in the center of the lower photo.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

game day chili with Jacob's Cattle beans

I heard that Americans go through some huge amount of nachos and chili on Super Bowl game day. We're doing our part. I bought some really nice Jacob's Cattle beans at a winter farmer's market a couple weeks ago.

I'm following a recipe I made a few years ago: Jacob's Cattle Bean Chili. (I'm using the last of my homegrown canned garden tomatoes.) We'll pile the chili onto chips with guacamole, cheese, salsa fresco and sour cream, then open the beer and turn on the game.

The Jacob's Cattle beans I got were grown by a small farm in Maine that grows only shell beans. They had a great table at a recent farmer's market. I told the farmer I wanted to grow some of the beans and eat the rest. He showed me the package with the darkest freshest beans. I love the color and size of these beans, though they do fade when cooked. The farmer also told me that Black Turtle beans are about the most productive variety to grow. Those are my other favorite shell bean to grow.

Saturday, February 06, 2016



We had about 8 inches of heavy wet snow yesterday that stuck to tree branches. It looked beautiful, but there were many power outages and sadly, a couple people died not too far south from here from being hit by falling branches. It's our first real snow of the season. What a storm.

The photo above is my backyard. Taken at 7 am, the sun is low in the east, shining across the pond onto snow-covered trees. The roof of my garden shed is visible at the right and my vegetable garden is in the middle. A cluster of birch trees by the pond is bent down to the ground.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

my vegetable garden - panorama photo

garden panorama IMG_4977

I took this photo today by running along the edge of my garden and trying to hold the camera steady on its "panorama" setting. A crazy perspective - I really don't have a curved garden. But I think this will be helpful as I draw up a plan for this year's garden. I'm working on that now. I have extra space outside the raised beds to fill up. I'm imagining it overflowing with flowers and vegetables this year.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

mid-winter garlic

garlic IMG_4964 - Copy garlic IMG_4969

I checked the garlic growing in my garden today. "Music" (pictured) is up an inch or so above the salt march hay mulch. The tops of the plants look weather burnt, but underneath they're green. "Late Italian" is up about 2 inches above the mulch. "Duganski" isn't up yet. Our forecast is now saying maybe we'll get some snow next Tuesday. The garlic would prefer that. Gardeners at my community garden have been concerned and have been adding more salt hay to cover their garlic.

I'm now eating supermarket garlic. :-( I'd normally have my own still in February but I had a problem with rot last year :-( So, I'm chopping up these big, pure white supermarket cloves. I assume it's CA garlic. Maybe from Gilroy, the garlic capital. I was surprised by its flavor. I find it very strong and sharp. Pshew! I remember someone saying homegrown New England garlic doesn't have much flavor. Now I understand. In comparison to this, it's very different. But I find that our local garlic has nice complex flavor, without the strong sharp taste.

I saw local garlic at a winter farmer's market in Wayland MA last weekend and almost stocked up. However, it was small and $1.75 a head. I'd eat 10 of them in a week I think, so I didn't get any. I'm glad they get such a good price.

Monday, February 01, 2016

chickens out for a walk

My chickens went out for a mid-winter walk today. No snow left here - they had lots of scratching to do.

chicken IMG_4917 chicken IMG_4927

In the middle of their walk, Ginger the brown Auracana all of a sudden jumped up, left the group, ran for the laying box and left me that blue egg. I'm getting 2 or 3 eggs a day now. Only Bertha, the big white Brahma isn't laying yet.

eggs IMG_4948 chicken IMG_4935

where did winter go?

It's in the 80's in the sun now! Where did winter go? A high of 57F is officially predicted this afternoon in Boston. My bees are out and about. Garlic is sprouting. I've been opening my greens tunnel to the sun the past few days. We've had a week-long stretch of very mild winter weather. I'm tempted to think spring is around the corner, but I was reminded that last year, most of our enormous snowfall came in February. Nevertheless, I think this is turning out to be a very mild Boston winter.