Tuesday, September 28, 2010

completely mind blowing!

I love when this 11 year old says, "don't even get me started on CAFOs".  Really? You are 11, if you've got it figured out, how come so many adults can't?

Monday, September 27, 2010


I'm coming clean and admitting that I made an absolutely ridiculous mistake in my garden this past week.  No matter how much gardening experience (lots) and how much schooling (also lots) there is just so much room for error.  I think I'm going to turn my complete sloppiness into a science experiment however, just so I can feel better about myself.  Let me backtrack....

When we moved to the country this summer we left behind a great house in a much larger city, with fabulous gardens that I had spent countless hours creating and maintaining.  Most unfortunately (stupid economy) that house is still for sale,  so this past week I went to go steal some plants I wanted to keep with me (however, it's not really stealing, we own the property after all).  I only had a couple of empty pots handy, so I figured I take the Hakonechloa macra (Japanese forest grass).  It's a brilliant little grass, Perennial Plant of the year in 2009, super easy to care for, and tolerant of a variety of conditions.  It's only downfall is that it can be a little slow to get going, and when you purchase them at a nursery they always seem to be tiny.  The most amazing thing about this plant however, is that when it's planted in a bed, it always seems to grow (in a prostrate fashion) in the directions that it should in relation to the other plants, i.e. towards the front of the bed.  How it does this I don't know, but if you think that plants don't talk to each other google plant communication some time.  So here's a perfect example of what they do...
The grass with the yellowish leaf on the left center and upper center are very mature specimens.  Gorgeous though, huh?  And here are the little plants that I dug up last week.

They are all leaning one way, which was towards the front of the bed before I dug them out.  The largest of them all barely fit in the pot that I brought, but I shoved in it anyway, knowing they wouldn't be in the pots too long.  I ran home with them and quickly shoved them in the ground - hoping to minimize the transplant shock.  So conventional wisdom would say that the plants should be planted in the same direction they were before, so that they "laid down" towards the front of the bed, right? Ummm, right, that's why I planted the largest one backwards.  I could've just dug it up immediately and fixed it, but I feared causing more damage to the already fragile root system.  So now they science experiment begins.  This plant won't get cut back until late winter.  When it emerges again in the spring, will the foliage be facing the right way or the wrong way, only time will tell....
Backwards, for now.  Anyone else have any gardening mistakes they'll freely admit to?

Saturday, September 25, 2010

School lunch explosion in our midst

It started with blogs like The Lunch Tray and national press exposure of Alice Water's Edible Schoolyard program. The public consciousness was really heightened with Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution tv program.  All of the sudden, everyone has school lunches on the brain.

The Child Nutrition Act has been floating around Congress for a while now, and is due to expire next week.  While the bill itself does not provide the financial support for making the sweeping changes that are truly necessary to overhaul the school lunch program, it is a step in the right direction.  The Senate passed their version of the bill in August (Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act) however, they funded the program by cutting money from food stamps.  Does that make any sense at all to you?  It sure doesn't to me.

In the next 7 days the House will be considering their version of the bill, I urge you to contact your Representative to ask that they not only pass the bill, but do so without cutting other nutritional programs.  This link will take you to a site that will automatically fax your representative (why fax, paper wasters) with either a prepared message or one you can personalize yourself.

It just takes a minute to voice your opinion!  While this may seem slightly off topic for me - as someone who grows their own food, and forces my kids to eat lots of vegetables (it's working with one, not so much with the other) I'm very concerned about the status quo when it comes to school lunches.

Things are heating up at the White House and not just in the kitchen.

[via The Lunch Tray]

Friday, September 24, 2010

more tomato news

Thanks to the ladies of Garden Rant for sharing this recipe.  The weekend hasn't even started and I now know what I will be doing and eating all weekend.  Good thing I bought 5 pounds of heirloom tomatoes this morning from one of our local farmers.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Not your grandmother's canning project

I'll admit, I've been reluctant to join the canning craze that seems to be the new "in" thing with the sustainability, eat local, and okay hippie groups I usually tend to associate with.  It's been called "granny-chic," there are blogs about it like Punk Domestics, and books on the end displays at every big book store.  Even though I'm fairly competent in the kitchen, I've been too scared to try this out on my own.  In the past I've always either frozen left over produce, cooked with it then frozen, or given extras to friends.

Two days ago, I had a revelation courtesy of the New York Times.  With a few left over peaches from my CSA box, italian plums from our local farm stand, and raspberries (bought at whole foods, as local berries are out of season now-note to self, make this in August next year) I decided to take on this little project for rum preserved fruit and really it couldn't be easier.

Layers of berries, sugar, rum and peaches

Plums and more rum added - and it's done.  Into the basement for 12 weeks, and I'm realizing now they will be ready just in time for my birthday.  Perfect!

Monday, September 20, 2010

You say tomato, I say toe-mah-toe

Here in the Northeast, last summer was a disaster in terms of the tomato harvest for both home gardeners and farmers.  Plagued with an outbreak of late blight (or phytopthora infestans if you want to be technical about it) there are farmers that faced either losing their entire crop or fighting the pathogen with lots of nasty chemicals and still in many cases losing the battle.  Many home growers who were giving it a first try were seriously discouraged. There was lots of finger pointing as to the cause (I'm looking at you, Dan Barber) with the holy grail of tomatoes, the heirloom, holding center stage.

This summer it's a whole different story. While there was an early in the season confirmed case of the blight here in Connecticut, the early July heatwave knocked the pathogen down without issue.  Since then it's been so hot and dry that tomatoes are thriving and tasting better than ever.  The heirloom tomatoes, that is.  There is a reason why heirlooms have become so popular with chefs and regular folks alike - they just taste so much better.

We were having dinner the other night with friends when I was asked why heirloom tomatoes are so much more expensive than "regular" tomatoes, was it the seeds that are more expensive?  For those who are seeking very rare heirlooms that may be the case - but in general not so.  For farmers there is a much higher rate of loss on heirlooms.  First there are many fruits (and yes, they are) that end up not sale-able because they are so ugly, cracked, etc.  Also heirloom tomatoes are susceptible to a whole host of plant diseases, so there is a higher loss of plants in general.  The tradeoff is the hybridized tomato, they are perfect looking and have been bred to resist disease but what suffers in the process is taste and texture.

A hard killing frost is probably just a few weeks away here in CT unless we get really lucky... so go out and get some heirloom tomatoes while you still can (and think about growing your own next year!).

Gorgeous Ox Heart Tomato, one of my favorite heirlooms.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Taste! roundup

Rows of organic farmers make me a happy camper!

Loved these products from Boxed Goodes so much that I had to buy some... and then went home and made this...Heirloom Tomatoes with Allium Salt.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Kitchen Gardens

Perfect gardening weather and the promise of some rain this week has left me scrambling on my projects and not leaving much time for writing.  I thought this was a great video, which features Roger Doiron, the force behind the White House garden campaign last year.  In the clip there is a picture of a small white ranch house with a kitchen garden in front.  This is Roger's house, demonstrating that you don't need a big space to grow veggies (it can even be done in containers on a patio).

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Taste! Organic Connecticut 2010

This Sunday is the 10th Annual Taste! Organic Connecticut Festival at Manchester Community College.  The only local and organic festival of it's kind here in CT.  There will be a farmer's market, prepared foods, kids activities, artisans, sustainable vendors and awesome free workshops (making fool proof country wine, anyone?)

Organized by the Northeast Organic Farming Association it promises to be a good time for the whole family.   I'll be there hawking goods at the NOFA Merchandise Tent for a few hours, then strolling around to check everything out.  Hope to see you there!

Friday, September 10, 2010

easy composting 101

I have to admit I'm a compost junky.   I can't make it as fast as I need it (it is a slow process) but it's quite possibly the easiest garden project to undertake.

Why compost?  Why not when you can turn your vegetable waste and your yard waste into free fertilizer!  I know lots of people have tried (unsuccessfully) to have a compost bin or area and have had animal issues, or the smell is horrible, etc.  I promise, this really can be simplified into a few steps;

1-Put the right stuff in
2- Keep your ratios right
3- Keep it hot, moist and aerated

You've got two types of waste to put in a compost bin (or area) green waste and brown waste.  The green (nitrogen rich) waste are vegetable and fruit peels, cores, scraps and grass clippings.  The brown (carbon rich) waste is chopped up autumn leaves, sticks, sawdust, fireplace ashes or even shredded news paper (certain inks are questionable so stick to black and white only).

When you are putting waste in your bin, you want to have a 1/3 green to 2/3 brown ratio.  This is the biggest mistake that many people make.  They put a heavier mix of green waste (and let's be honest at some times of the year it's harder to find brown waste) and it begins to stink and attract raccoons, all sorts of rodents and even bears and coyotes (hey I told you we moved to the country).  No measuring cups are needed you can just eyeball the pile, but know that if you smell anything nasty you need to add more brown waste.  An evenly balanced pile does not smell at all!  If you don't believe me you can come over and stick your face in mine.

Once that pile starts coming together it gets hot, and I mean really hot and there is all sorts of super-cool biological activity going on as all the waste starts to break down.  To encourage faster (if you can call it that) breakdown the pile or bin needs to be turned once in a while just to shake things up.   While turning is not absolutely necessary it will take forever if you don't.

A few quick don'ts for the pile, no dairy products, meat scraps and bones, weeds or diseased plants.  Also NO PET WASTE.  Sorry folks, composting animal manure is a whole different animal (pun intended) and it's gross, trust me.

That's it, that's all you have to do.   I'm really not kidding.  More to follow on this topic...

Yum!!! Eggplant skin, banana peels, apple cores, onion skin, plus coir (coconut husk) and fireplace ash will make for some great compost.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Happy New Year!

The Jewish new year starts this evening at sundown, so instead of being in my garden I'm in my kitchen.  Cooking, baking, and making magic happen.  I've been making my own challah for years and wonder why one always comes out looking perfect and one always looks ugly and awkward (but tastes great anyway).  Here's #1 pre-baking...

Here's #2 - Just kidding I'm not showing you a picture because it's really ugly and then you might think I am less than perfect!

In the end it all tastes awesome!

Happy New Year to everyone in the blogosphere who celebrates.  I'll be spending the next few days praying, daydreaming when I should be praying, and stuffing my face!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

and the projects begin

Before I can actually think about redesigning all of the beds in my yard I've got to see what I'm working with.  The gardens are so overgrown and overcrowded, that it's hard to get a clear picture of things.  So round one is removing any dead plants, mostly dead plants, diseased plants or anything that really needs to go.  Like this-

Or this...

The last thing you see before you pull into our driveway which consists of several large blue spruce trees, 2 dead spiraeas and lots of weeds.  Lovely huh?  What a great first impression.   After ripping out the offensive parts I initially contemplated just leaving it as is since it looked so much better.

Now comes the hardest part, finding the restraint not to put a bunch of new gorgeous plants in this perfect empty spot.  The natural reaction is to fill the spot, but that will only get me in to trouble in a year or two.  If I don't leave some space (and by that I mean quite a bit of space) for things to fill in and grow, next fall I'll be moving half the plants.  I added one small hosta and 3 tiny Heucheras.  Sure it looks sparse now (which I hate, just like everyone else)  but come next spring when the Heucheras (coral bells) start filling in it should look just perfect. It takes a lot of patience! Developing beautiful gardens is a multi year project. There is an old gardening adage; First year they sleep, second year they creep and third year they leap.  I know, waiting 3 years...I don't know if I can do it either.  Anyway by the time the third year rolls around I'll be ready to redesign all the beds again :)

This is how tiny the heucheras are now (this shot is super magnified)

And in a few years they'll look just like their mama

Sunday, September 5, 2010


It's just before 7 am on a Sunday, and I'm headed out to start weeding while the weather is still cool.  These are the days that I think I'm crazy, scratch that I know I'm crazy.

Then I see something like this and it all starts to make sense.  No, this is not my garden.  Hollister House Gardens, Washington, CT

Saturday, September 4, 2010

this is seriously awesome

This morning I had a "last chance clearance sale" email from one of my favorite websites.  Gardener's Supply Company has loads of amazing products so I had to check it out in case there was something I needed.  Of course there is not, because the amount of money I have spent with them in the past is shameful and I already have everything.  While I was cruising around the website I found this...Pest and Disease Detective.  It's a really simple tool to use to figure out what is going on if you've got a problem with your veggie garden.  So now you don't have to call me anymore (just kidding, I love it when you call and email with your plant problems at least my education is good for something!)
Aphid problem?  These guys will take care of it!

Friday, September 3, 2010

well now we've gone and done it...

We packed it up, moved away from all our friends and my beloved short trips to Manhattan and moved to the country.  Okay, it's not quite that dramatic, we only moved 30 minutes away but this is definitely more country than I've ever experienced.  We are spitting distance to people who raise sheep, goats (I've already been promised home made goat cheese) chickens and a working dairy farm (have to go take pictures of the bulls because they are so cute).  The local vegetable farmers are tripping over themselves to sell produce and you have your choice of almost everything.   I love the fact that the kids see these things on their way to school everyday even though we appear to live in your typical suburban neighborhood.

In a few short weeks construction will begin on my raised beds and vegetable garden enclosure.  Six hundred square feet of uninterrupted (except by snow) vegetable and fruit growing. Oh, and then there's the 3 acres of weeding I need to get to.

Project number one however is drawing up a complete redesign of all my beds.  If you've ever seen my drawings (and a few of you have) you know that this is a big challenge.  I can see the beds in my mind but putting them on paper is a different story.  I'm going to attempt to renovate them all by myself (with the exception of a spare pair of hands when the plants are to heavy to lift alone - don't all volunteer at once).  I had been contemplating restarting this blog for some time, so I'll attempt to document everything as well a spew forth all of my gardening advice.  You should have heard how happy the new neighbors were when I told them I was a Horticulturalist (oh you'll have to come over to my yard, it needs help).  But for now the weeds are calling my name....

(farmer in training)