New Year Brunch

It is a quiet New Year Morning around here, the kids are all scattered and we are puttering about and recovering from a late night. Seemed like the perfect time to use some of the Christmas gift we got from my niece … Farm fresh eggs from her chickens !

Mix in a bunch of fresh spinach, small bits of bacon from the farm and some crumbled dried hot peppers from our garden… Perfect Brunch Frittata. I topped it with a bit of Salsa and now I am contemplating a nap….

Nap or paperwork? hmmmm

Onion Planting

It is too rainy out today to be gardening, but during the break last weekend, I finally got my onions planted.  This year we added Vidalias to the experiment in addition to White and Red onions.  The Vidalias come as sprouted plants, so there is instant satisfaction in planting rows of them.

We also raised the beds a bit this year, as lsat year saw us battling a bit of rot. With all the rain, I figured a higher bed could not hurt. I spaced the beds very wide, so we can grow some quick crops like radishes and lettuce in between.

 The White and Red onions come as small bulbs, and they get planted about 2 inches down in the middle of the beds. While I hand spade planted each of the baby Vidalia plants ( which are spaced about twice as far apart as the bulbs), it is easier to hoe out a small trench, lay in the onions at 2-3 inches apart and then cover them up. 
At the end of the day, I ended up with 10 beautiful rows  of onions. Now to watch them grown…

Signs of Spring

Rhododendron in bloom

Late in the Winter, we get crocus and daffodils, which bring us some hope for the season change. But it is not until a little further in, when things really begin to green and early flowers bloom that I can say that Spring has settled in well.

 First the Rhododendron out front will bloom. It happens suddenly and almost always catches me by surprise, the buds turning overnight into full blown flowers. Unfortunately, even though it is in a sheltered area, this one is usually short lived, as it blooms right at the start of the spring storms and the delicate flowers are beaten and shredded by the winds and rain.

 Not long after that, the Phlox pop open.  Low to the ground, their color spreads up the hill garden where they grow.

When the Violets kick in, growing not only in the large garden masses where they were planted, but also popping up in random spots in the yard, I can be confident that we have turned the seasonal corner. Rarely will we get snow on top of violets. When we finally get a break in the rain again, I will be busily out gathering violets to be dried- for tea, for bath salts and a precious few to be sugared as cake decorations. 
Ostrich Ferns

 The unfurling of fern fiddleheads parallels the the unfolding of the season. We have always had a few ferns scattered about ( mostly at Cthulhu’s feet), but planting a mass of Ostrich Ferns two falls ago has given us a new show to watch in the spring.

 And then there is the most classic sign of spring of all- the Dandelion, with a sleepy slow bee perched a top, slowly gathering up the first nectar of the season.

 Although I will be luxuriating in the lushness of the gardens in another 2 months, there is so much growth and activity that it is hard to take it all in. One of the joys of spring is that it is like a quiet morning, allowing you to focus on a few stories and follow them completely.


Earlier in the season, we were waiting for Seedocide, but it is looking like it will not happen, after all.  For the majority of the tomato seedlings, we have made it past the cotyledon stage  and well into “real” leaves.  For plants, this is even more significant than when baby teeth are lost and adult teeth grow in.

Over the weekend, I took the growing and leggy tomato seedlings and planted them deep. The seedlings had hit about 4 inches tall and were waving in the breeze, desperately rooted in the little spouting pellets of soil.

I collected random small containers about 6 inches tall and transplanted the seedlings ( pellets and all) so that all but the upper leaves are snug in some transplant soil. Tomatoes will gladly sprout roots from any part of their stem buried underground. This will give the plants an even stronger start.

Now all I need is for the rain to stop, so I can get them out in some real sun again.

Asparagus:Preparing for years of harvest

I finally got around to adding Asparagus to our perennial collection. Since all of our kids love asparagus, this will become a spring and early summer staple. We eat enough of it that I invested in 2 year old plants, so that we can do a light harvest this year and get a full harvest next year, rather than waiting two or three years. The savings at the Farmer’s Market/grocery will more than offset the extra cost.

Asparagus comes as rhizomes with a crown..  we got three varieties, Jersey Knight, Supreme Jersey Knight ( for large stalks for grilling) and a Purple Asparagus ( supposed to be sweet enough to eat raw..)  The hardest part of planting asparagus is digging the trench.  It needs to  be 12-18 inches deep.  I put one variety here, close to the house, so it is easy for dinner harvest. The other two varieties got planted yesterday in a 30′ trench at the edge of the far east vegetable garden. We just agreed to  turn this into a permanent bed and lose 2 feet of garden. It was  much easier to dig than this trench, which was in un-tilled clay ground. This will also save us from augmenting the soil with lots of organic matter as we will have to do with this bed.

The rhizomes are planted crown up, and rhizomes spread in the bottom of the trench and covered with 2 inches of soil. As it sprouts, we will fill in the trench until there is a slightly hilled asparagus bed.

Plants are spaced between 8-18 inches apart, according to variety instructions.

Fingers crossed and a little sun mixed in with this rain, and soon enough we will have green sprouts shooting up through the ground.

Puddles of Hope

It’s that rainy time of year that makes gardeners nervous and hopeful all at once. After a few days of rain, this is not what you want to see in your potato trenches.

And yet, we push forward. I have to admit, today I mostly planted flowers and not the asparagus and horseradish waiting in the wings. In the muck, it seemed the perfect time to plant toad lilies and wood poppies at Cthulhu’s feet.

The Toad Lilies love the wetness and hopefully will soon be sprouting gorgeous spotted bursts of color. Until then, I planted a new Lilac bush where the TikiMan used to be, and filled in strawberries where we lost a few over the winter.

There is something intrinsically hopeful in the act of gardening, We put scraggly little seedlings, dormant rhizomes, or tiny little seeds into the dirt with unwavering faith that even in the absence of visible life, soon enough growth is certain.

And even in the midst of puddles that seem like they must drown everything in hopelessness, we look closely and there we find the green sprouts of hope.

New potato sprout

Food Prices Rise, thus my garden grows

Pea Plants Sprouting- Aptil 15, 2011

Gardening is good for the soul. It is meditative, relaxes and helps restore us to balance.

It also feeds my family.  In the summer, we have a minimum of 6 mouths to feed (I am always glad to have friends and family over at meal time, so our table size often grows beyond immediate family).

Ours are no longer little tots who barely count as a mouth. The youngest is 11, the eldest is 19 and almost all of them now out-eat me on a regular basis.

Putting fresh vegetables and fruits on the table in the needed quantities could quickly become daunting- and not just in the summer. We often have the majority of the family here on weekends, holidays and other school breaks during the rest of the year. We always have at least a few of us here.  And now, food prices are on the rise.  It really doesn’t matter if it is energy, weather and unrest; rising fuel prices, or just people playing the futures and gambling some people’s starvation against their profits- it is hitting all of us. Food prices in February had the highest jump in 36 years, and there is no end in sight. It is not just processed foods or finished, packaged goods that are rising- even staples are going up in cost. The continued rises are expected to push more and more people into poverty and into starvation or malnutrition. I was even interviewed by the Christian Science Montior about rising food costs earlier this winter.

What bothers me the most about all of these articles is that they document the rise of costs and the increases in problems, but I do not see any recommendations to people on how to cope. All they do is raise fear and hopelessness.  It is time that we in the US return to our roots, so to speak, and tackle this the old fashioned way- start planting and growing some of your own food.  Give me an excuse why you can not, and I can counter it.  Plants are expensive? Seeds are cheap. And for many plants- like these sprouting tomatoes, the packet holds many more seeds than any one family needs- share with friends and family. A packet of tomato seeds holds on average 30 seeds. If you want 5 plants just to supplement in the summer and fall months, that is 6 families worth of tomato plants for about $2.  When you go to the grocery and tomatoes are 3-5$/lb, the savings seems obvious.  Don’t have time to start seedlings? You buy the seeds and let someone else start them    in exchange for some of the plants.  Have the time and money? Sprout extra plants and give away the extras to someone who has neither.

Container Grown Lettuce Sprouting

Space is always cited as an issues- but there are a myriad of vegetables and herbs you can grown in containers, on balconies and rooftops. And many cities and towns have community gardens that you probably already have access to. Now is the time to claim your spot. This early lettuce will never leave the container, it will provide a first crop of lettuce before the ground is warm enough to sustain.

There are a million reasons to grow food- even if you pick just one thing to grow. Besides taking the pressure off of food demands, you know where the food  has been and what it was exposed to. You will taste flavors and textures you can never get in a grocery store. Given the opportunity to pull dinner from the ground and help prepare it, you will be surprised the foods your kids will eat.  At a minimum, if you are not physically able to grow your own food, stop by your local Farmer’s Market this weekend- almost all of them are now open – a simple google search will turn up local opportunities you might not have known existed.

Early Sprouts of Spinach

It is time to combat the fear of food prices with a few simple tools- some seeds, some dirt, some water and some sun.

Garden ReHab

Last fall I got sick, and the fencerow perennial garden didn’t just go wild, it got overrun by crabgrass and weeds. You can see the results this spring. It was not only horrendously ugly- it is pain in the making all summer long when that crabgrass wakes up and starts to sprout and grow. With the ground soft from recent rains and the crabgrass not yet growing , today was the day to tackle this.  The fence is about 50ft long and there is garden on both sides. In addition to over wintered crabgrass with months of roots, there was also the monster weed that infested and overgrew everything.,
I decided to tackle this with a trowel, some clippers and a large shovel. I used the shovel in between the clumps of perennials, turning over every bit of the garden, pulling up roots and destroying the invaders. Closer around the perennials, I used the trowel to get close but not tear up the barely sprouting new growth.  After 5 hours of work, the results have made me very happy and will be much easier to weed going forward. The garden does need a load of mulch still, but the uncovered perennials ( bachelor button, echinacea, black eyed susan, gay feather, bergamot, daisy and tiger lillies are what are starting to sprout at this point) have lots of room to get water and sun- and much less competition.  Stay tuned later in the season when the garden is in full bloom and the butterflies flock from miles away.

The potato saga cotinues

Here in Indiana, it is Potato Planting time. This is our third year of a growing potato addiction. The first year it started with a walk through Rural King , and we happened to pass by the bins of seed potatoes.

“We should grow some potatoes this year…” , was quickly followed by picking through seed potatoes and filling a  sack or two with small seed potatoes that could easily be put into the ground.  We broke new ground for that garden, made some mounds, planted the potatoes and let them grow.
 Our yield was relatively low that year, but honestly not bad for someone who had never grown potatoes ( how is it I grew even peanuts as a child, but not potatoes??). We hand pulled small ones during the late summer and our harvest took us until Dec 1. It was satisfying, the potatoes were delicious and we were hooked.  Over the winter, I read more on raising potatoes and was more prepared the next spring.   

When the gardening catalogs started coming in, I poured over all the potential types of potatoes.  I was excited to try something other than the red, yellow and russet that were available in the grocery stores and locally.  I had learned that we needed to grow the potato mounds as the plants grew to increase yield.  We dug, planted and watched them sprout and grow.  We fell in love with Kennebecs, before I found out they were the new darling potato in upscale restaurants. ( no surprise why, the flavor is gorgeous, they cook well and have a beautiful  creamy color). We love the taste of the Purple Blush, the lightly purple skin always revealing amazingly sweet pure white potato flesh. Unfortunately, their yield is lower, so they were a cherished treat.  Last year we learned lessons about overcrowding plants and flooding. However, we started eating potatoes hand picked from the garden in June and did not buy another potato until March. We had improved.

This year, I am starting to feel like an expert. I had set aside a few of our favorite potatoes (Kennebec, Red, Purple Blush, Yukon Gold and a handful of russets I got from my father in law) , so there is no expense of seed potatoes.    Last year, I learned how to cut and ash the sprouting potatoes so we were not dependent on many small seed potatoes and a few potatoes yields many new potato plants. Rolling the freshly cut potatoes in ash ( I clean out the fireplace- you can also clean out a grill) helps to protect the potatoes from insects and infection both as they sit and scab over and after you plant them in the ground. 

After cutting, you let the potatoes sit for at least 2 days, allowing the cut edges to “scab over” and making them less vulnerable to infection.  I plant in cycles. By planting new potatoes every few weeks ( and then again some at the end of June), I stagger the harvest and protect against a random weather event that trashes a crop ( lesson learned from massive flooding of huge first crop last year).  Since I am going to plant multiple times, when it is time to plant, I choose the potato starts that are most sprouted and have the smallest remaining old potato to continue nourishing them.  Potatoes that have accidentally been let to oversprout have to be planted ASAP and handled very carefully.

First, we dig trenches about a shovel head deep. Yesterday I did six 10 foot rows. The rows are put in about 2 feet apart. Potato plants grow pretty big and bushy and this year I am being careful not to overcrowd.  I then use a hand trowel to dig down  a few inches in the bottom of the trench and place a potato start in the hole.  How deep I make it and how much dirt I put over it depends on the impending weather. When we are due for several days of rain ( like now) right after planting- a good healthy time to plant, btw- I plant a little shallower, because the rain is going to erode some of the dirt off  of the hills and down into the trenches, burying the potato deeper.  When I plant in a dry spell, I make sure the potato has about 6 inches of dirt over it.
As the potato plants sprout up, we will gradually continue filling in the trenches and burying more and more stem of the plant. It is from these buried stems that the potatoes will sprout and grow. When the ground is level again, we start digging in between the rows, piling the dirt up around the potato in mounds, until the potatoes are eventually growing on mounds with trenches in between.  This helps to increase the potential yield from each crop.

I have what look to be many extra small yellow and russet potato sprouts, and perhaps even some reds. If you are local and want one or two to experiment with growing potatoes in your garden, give me a holler and we will addict you too.

Garden Starts

Finally… it dried out enough to till and start working the garden. I am exceptionally lucky to have a man in my life who likes to till. There is nothing other than a newborn that has as much lurking potential as a freshly tilled garden.

Today I cut and ashed the sprouting potatoes I managed to save back. The only time that did not get sprouted are red, so I will need to grab some red seed potatoes tomorrow. For the rest ( purple, yellow and Kennebec) I have over 100 potential plant starts. I am a little low on the Kennebecs, and we fell in love with those last year, so I may grab a few more of those when I get the reds. I only have a dozen of the purples, but they produced badly and were very insect prone, so we are mostly keeping those as novelties and to eat as they grow in the summer. they need to sit in brown bags on the gardening work bench for about 48 hours before planting.

I was planning on planting first round of peas, snow peas and spinach early this am, but late last night realized that they were calling for a couple of days of rain… which meant not only missing the raining days, but also the following days it took the garden to dry out again… so I bolted outside last night at 9:30pm and planted a row of each ahead of the rain. That will allow me to put a second round in the garden in about 10 days to stagger harvests, rather than just getting the first round in then.

Knock wood, the tomato seedlings are still growing, but the peppers have not sprouted much at all. I rearranged them under the grow lights and put some under a plastic “greenhouse” lid on the porch to see if additional light helps.

I love the feeling of dirt between my toes and soil on my hands. This is the time of year that awakens my hibernating soul and makes me smile for no apparent reason.