And then the rains came…

It was a case of be careful of what you wish for.  I wanted rain.  Just enough to fill the rain barrel.  We only have one.  Mother Nature thought we had a 100.

The spring started off wonderfully.  Some days was like an English summer.  We had some rainy days then some wonderful gorgeous spring days.  Then it got dry very quickly.  The plants were doing well but the soil got so dusty!  The wind blew and you got dirt in your eyes.  Ugh.  So I wished for rain.

And it came!  It seems we were on the thunderstorm path with showers and bucketing rain.  When it wasn’t raining it was unbelievably muggy and humid.  Ick.

The benefactor of all this?  Our garden.  It is doing amazing.  So are the weeds but that’s another story.  🙂

I love our peas.  Once they start growing it’s my favourite snack as I walk by.  We’re almost to the point where I can start harvesting and freeze the peas for our risotto.

Garden progress 1 2013

I am debating whether or not to plant broccoli next year.  We don’t eat it much but on the flip side the flowers are so pretty.  Tiny little yellow flowers just pop in the garden of a ton of green.

Garden progress 3 2013

I plant kale because you can get a ton out of a very small space.  My husband calls it rabbit food.  🙂  It’s become a little family joke “You’re feeding Daddy rabbit food!” LOL  But he’s a good sport and if I come up with dishes that incorporate it he’ll eat it.  And because so much grows I get to give a nutritious food to the community kitchen.  We plant about a 4 x 2 foot spot and the number of meals we get is huge.

Garden progress 4 2013

I’m looking forward to harvesting the leeks.  We usually get 5 foot long leeks and I hope that happens this year.  We do all organic gardening.  Miracle Grow and other chemicals have nothing on us!  I brought one to the community kitchen last year and they looked confused for a couple of minutes when I tried to hand them a 5 foot leek.  Wish I had a camera.  🙂  But it’s a great place right round the corner from our house.  They do such good work and I really hope there comes a time when what we grow might go to waste because no one is hungry.

Garden progress 5 2013

Zucchini.  Here’s the thing.  I am a supertaster.  About 25% of the population has some level of this.  What that means is we don’t like mushy food, overcooked veg, or some veg like zucchini, squash, or Brussels sprouts.  These types of veg taste extremely bitter to supertasters.  I keep reading about descriptions of Brussels sprouts being nutty and sweet.  They are one of the most bitter things I’ve ever tasted.  Most veg that I can’t handle cooked I enjoy raw so something in the cooking process really changes things.  Except zucchini.  I can not handle that raw!  But here’s the thing.  I also have to be a good sport.  Each year we ask the kids what they want planted and our daughter chose zucchini.  I don’t want to discourage them in anyway when it comes to gardening or healthy eating so we planted a bunch and I’ve been pinning recipes for when they are ready.  I’m wondering how much cheese is needed to cover the taste!

Garden progress 6 2013

I can’t wait for harvest time for the peppers.  We love to make hot pepper jelly.  It is so good on cheddar cheese.  I think we have about 6 varieties and 35 plants total in the raised bed.  We’ll freeze more when it’s time.  They work really well in sauces and chili.

Garden progress 7 2013

We went a bit crazy with the tomatoes.  We planted about 50 plants of 4 varieties.  I can not wait for harvest!  I love picking them fresh and eating them as I go by just like the peas.  And oh the sauce we’ll make!  Yum.  We do pick a few and make fried green tomatoes.  Such a treat.

Garden progress 9 2013

Last year we did one potato tower and this year we did four.  So far they are doing well and once the pile of dirt dries out a bit I need to add more to the towers.  You only want 1/3 of the greens sticking out so you add as you go.  Of course we’ll have to now figure out a root cellar system because I plan on having a lot of potatoes and I don’t want them going to waste.  But there is nothing like a fresh harvested potato.

Garden progress 10 2013

My son has a neat program as school where they give out cabbages to plant in third grade.  He is getting such a kick out of watching it grow.  Can’t wait to see how big it gets.  🙂

Garden progess 2 2013


Growing Alfalfa Sprouts

We came across alfalfa sprout seeds at our local gardening store and thought they would be fun to grow.  Thought this would be cool and plunked the seeds in soil and watched it go all wrong.  Turns out we should have read the directions.  You don’t plant them in soil but rather in a jar with water.  Even cooler!  🙂

It takes 5 or 6 days to get the harvest so it is pretty easy overall.

You will need some seed, water, a mason jar, butter muslin, and some bleach.  Store the seeds you don’t use in a sandwich baggie.

Alfalfa 1 2013 Alfalfa 2 2013

To start it is important to sterilise the seed in a bleach solution of 1 tsp bleach in 1 cup of hot water.  The seed is gathered in fields with animals and you don’t want to risk e coli.  Soak for about 15 minutes.

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Pour into a strainer and rinse thoroughly.

Alfalfa 4 2013

Rinse the jar and pour the seeds back into the jar.  Cut a small piece of butter muslin and place it over the opening of the jar and tighten the ring over it.  Fill with water and pour most of it out again and leave on the draining board upside down so the excess water can drip out.  Do this bit daily until it is ready to “harvest”.

Alfalfa 5 2013

Using a large bowl tip out the sprouts and gently loosen the clump.

Alfalfa 6 2013

Fill with water and let the seed shells float to the top and skim off.

Alfalfa 7 2013

Drain until mostly dry then store in an airtight container in the fridge.  It is great on salads and sandwiches.

Planting Potatoes

We had heard over the years how wonderful fresh harvested potatoes were so last year we decided to give it a try.  We did pretty well up to the point tiny little bugs stripped the leaves.  Those little buggers eat really fast.  We did get a small harvest and they were delicious.  So this year we’ll be ready for the little twerps.

The potatoes being planted are Red Norland and German Butterball.  Because our plot isn’t big we needed a way to grow them without taking up a lot of space.  I found last year on Pinterest loads of information about potato towers and that seemed perfect for us.  And it worked very well.  They aren’t hard to grow but there is a bit of prep to do before planting them.

Planting potatoes 1 2013

The seed potatoes get shipped mid April to our area.  We get our stuff from High Mowing in Vermont.  They are great but I do recommend buying your seed from an organic source near your zone.  That way you know it is adapted for your growing conditions.  The potatoes need to be sliced so each chunk you have has some “eyes” on it.  This is where the potato plants grow from.

Planting potatoes 2 2013

The cut sides need to be treated with sulfur to prevent rot.  Now last year we were very careful to follow directions.  They had to dry completely before planting.  But then the next direction was to put them in the soil and water well.  What’s the point?  So this year I cut them all up and treated them.  I let them be in the sun while I put the towers together.

Planting potatoes 3 2013

As the potatoes grow more soil is added so you need enough height to accommodate the growth.  It is also good to have composted soil for this as the potatoes need lots of nutrients.  We had some old wire fencing so we use these for the forms of the towers.  Line the bottom with the compost and line the sides with straw.  Fill the tower with about 6 inches of soil, water well then place the potatoes in with the eyes pointing upwards.

Planting Potatoes 4 2013

Cover with a couple inches of soil and water well.

Planting Potatoes 5 2013

A friend gave us two small tower bags to try out so we used those and built a second tower.  We should get loads of potatoes without using a ton of space.  🙂

Planting Potatoes 6 2013

First seedlings of the year…

For me planning the garden makes the winter more bearable.  It’s snowing right now, not a big storm, but it’s not spring.  So a few weeks ago my husband and I figured out what we needed for seeds this year and got them on order.  It’s like Christmas in January when they come! 🙂

We learned quite a bit last year on what works and what doesn’t for seedlings so hopefully this year we will do really well.  I think we’ve sorted out which seeds need to start now and then to stagger the rest.  We planted our peppers, leeks, bunching onions, broccoli, and Brussels Sprouts.

planting seeds 2 2013

To start we brought out all our trays we had from last year.  Thank goodness they are reusable!  I fill the tray part way with organic seed starter and then water.  I use a spray bottle so there is an even spread of moisture.  You don’t want mud.

planting seeds 3 2013

I don’t want the drier soil to wick away moisture from the seeds.  Then furrows are “drawn” in the soil and the seeds are dropped in.  I try to match the spacing on the package as much as I can.  We’re limited for space in our setup so I want as much to come up as possible.

planting seeds 5 2013

Once the seeds are dropped in they get sprayed again.  Then the soil gets pressed down over them lightly.  Spray again!  Our house is quite dry in the winter time so it’s important that the seeds get the right environment.

planting seeds 6 2013

Pop the clear lid over the tray.  These are great for keeping the moisture and warmth in.

We set up a spot in the back room with grow lights and heating pads.  We learned the hard way last year that the heating pads should be on timers.  Our house runs 55-60F/13-18C and some seeds require soil temps of about 75F/24F.  So we bought heating pads that said they would raise the temps 10-20 degrees.  Perfect we thought.  Until the soil temp shot up to 110F/43C.  Great way to kill seeds!  So there was a false start there.

planting seeds 7 2013

It’s been a week and the broccoli and Brussels Sprouts are coming up!  We also have alfalfa sprouts coming up as well.  🙂

planting seeds 8 2013

Can’t wait for spring!!

First Frost of the Season

Where we live it can get brutally hot and bitter cold.  One year we had a range of -30 F (-34 C) to 110 F (43 C)!  It was a bit much.  So for the gardens we have to expect anything and everything.  Last week we had our first frost of the season and it got chilly, down to 24 F (-4 C).  Which meant we had to protect our tender veg that was still going strong.  And right now that is nearly half our garden.

It was time to tuck a few raised beds in.  When you do this you want to use breathable fabric so the plants get air but the frost doesn’t settle on the leaves and veg.  When the sun starts to hit the plants remove the sheets and blankets.

The plants we tucked in were peas, beans, peppers, and celery.  As it was quite windy we had to use clamps and lots of rocks.

The next morning was a very pretty morning.

We actually still had a few blossoms on our strawberries but the plants are still small so we weren’t overly concerned.

I love how the frost settles on the plants in different patterns.  🙂

I was thrilled to see the peas did well.

We were pushing it a bit with the peppers but most of the plants came through.

And I was equally surprised the celery did ok!  Which is good because we have a lot of it and don’t want it to go to waste.

Alas the growing season is coming to an end.  Soon the frosts will be too frequent and the warm days will be behind us.  It’s been a wonderful summer for the food.

Freezing Peppers

We planted a massive amount of pepper plants this year so we have quite the bumper crop.  I didn’t want the peppers to go to waste as the season winds down.  I did a bit of research this past month on the internet and found that you can just freeze them.  You can either freeze straight out of the garden or blanch them.  I choose the easy way.  🙂

I picked a bunch, washed them, and patted them dry.  I chopped them up into the size I wanted and put on a cookie sheet.

I just love all the colours!  I pop them in the freezer for at least 24 hours.

I then vacuum seal in the portion sizes I need.  This vacuum sealer has paid for itself many times over and it is relatively easy to use.  Needless to say our freezer is getting full!

Green House Part 2

I am a very lucky woman.  I have a wonderful husband who supports my garden habit.  Thanks to me he’s probably built more raised beds than he ever planned to and we’re not close to being done!  And he put a lot of thought into making the greenhouse workable for me.  And I love how it came out!  🙂

Rich designed a series of shelves and a workbench at the right height for me to maximize the space in this little greenhouse.

He came up with this great idea for a workbench and a peg board to hang my tools up when I’m finished.  We just need to get the hooks for them.

I got right in and started planting things!  Here are some cilantro seeds.  I also planted lettuce, basil, and radishes as a bit of an experiment.

I can’t wait to see what grows!

Homegrown Mushrooms

I do taxes and this past season I overheard an elderly man being asked how he was doing.   His response was he woke up on the right side of the dirt.  It just cracked me up and made my day.

I love mushrooms and envy those who know enough to forage for them.  But you get it wrong and you wake up on the wrong side of the dirt!  Something to avoid.  So I was thrilled when we came across a little grow your own mushroom kit at a local store.  This one is for oyster mushrooms.

It is pretty simple.  You take out the mushroom starter and make an cross in the plastic then soak for 24 hours.

I won’t lie, it is a little gross at first.  Once it’s soaked then you want to drain the excess water.  Place back in the box and mist twice a day.  Pretty easy really.

After a few days they start to grow.  And grow they do!  It is pretty rapid after this.

Now all that’s left is to find a recipe for this gorgeous mushrooms!  🙂

Green House Part 1

I am absurdly pleased and excited about this little project.  We’re not finished yet but most of it is complete.  This past year some of our rooms were overtaken by seedlings.  Looked like a jungle!  Good stuff.  🙂  But we needed a solution and Rich found a kit from Harbor Freight for a 6′ x 8′ green house.

It finally cooled down enough to dig into this project this past weekend.  We decided the best way to anchor the greenhouse to the ground would be using concrete anchor with brackets for the base we wanted to build.

As you can see from the picture we are overwhelmed with rocks.  It took several hours over two days to dig out the holes for the anchors and to level the ground.  It was very hard work!  This area of our back garden was a tarmac a few years ago so we are dealing with a lot of sandy fill.  Plus side is we now have a ton of rocks for a fire pit.

We used 4 x 4 pressure treated lumber to build the base to put the green house on.  We can get quite the storm here in New England so we want to make sure our little green house doesn’t end up in Kansas!  Because the green house states a height of 6’5″ tall at the peak we wanted to raise it up a bit as well as Rich is 6′ tall and it has to be practical for him as well.

We had storms come through on Saturday so we built the frame in our carriage house.  Which was a good thing so if we dropped a bolt we could find it.  On Sunday the weather was gorgeous so we brought out the frame and attached it to the base.  The next step was to get all the panels in and square everything up.  It was a little tricky with some sections but we made it work.  I do not like the pins to hold the panels in!  They can snap back at you and leave little bruises on your hands.  I used a screwdriver to push in the ends and that saved my fingers a bit.

This kit has a sliding door and window vents in the roof.  Let me tell you the vents are needed right now!  It was like a sauna in there while we were putting things together.

The next step we are in the middle of is getting the inside sorted.  9 bags of sand were put down over landscape fabric and we have the stepping stones in.  We are going to build a few benches then put down stone for the rest of the floor.  Stay tuned……

Radish Seeds

We accidentally got into seed collection this season.  Which is probably what happened thousands of years ago so this is not new!  I first decided to try it with some peas that were past freshness on the vine.  When I opened the dried pods I saw the seeds looked like the ones we bought.  So I planted them in August and they are coming up just as well as the ones we already had.  Sweet!

Every year we plant the radishes alongside the carrots.  We don’t eat a lot of them, just on salads but they are easy to grow.  Well this summer some bolted quickly and got pretty tall.  I saw they were developing pods so I opened on and saw the seeds.  I took one radish and cut the pod bunch off to dry.

They have been hanging round in the kitchen for a few weeks.  So I decided it was time to collect the seeds.  I wasn’t sure what to expect as I haven’t done this before but I was pleasantly surprised at how many seeds per pod there were.

So one radish that bolted got us this many seeds:

Not a bad return on investment!  I read recently somewhere that you should store seeds in the fridge to simulate winter.  I haven’t done this with any other seeds I’ve bought and then used for a few years so I wouldn’t mind some feedback on this.  In the meantime I put these seeds in a little bag and put them in the fridge.  I don’t see it would harm them.