Saturday, November 19, 2011

now this is funny

You may have heard in the news this week (or heard it on the Daily Show) that Congress has decided that pizza is a vegetable!  I've been mulling this over all week, convinced I should be writing something about it - but really couldn't think of anything productive to say.  Except that I'm disgusted.

Someone much funnier than me however has some very interesting ideas to share as he or she thumbs their nose at the frozen food lobby, big agribusiness, and Congress.  @pizzalobby whoever you are, thank you for celebrating and recognizing pizza farmers everywhere!


It just keeps getting better...

Thanks Bettina for sharing!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

times flies when you're having fun...

or when you're doing major damage control on all the ornamental trees in your yard before the real winter snow arrives.

I have to admit, I've spent too many hours wandering around my yard, trying to figure out what I can save (even though it may look terrible for the next few years until total recovery) and what has to be sacrificed.

This redbud (Cercis canandensis) is one of my favorite trees on our property, it's right next to the driveway.  It blooms early in the season and is gorgeous (damn why didn't I take any pictures) and it's heart shaped leaves turn a beautiful rusty purple in the fall.  It's got 3 major breaks, each on one of it's main limbs.  There is no saving this tree. Even though I've already decided what to replace it with (Chionanthus virginicus for those who care) I'm not anxious for it to get cut down with a chain saw either.  I've lightened it's load by removing some of the broken limbs - and so we could get into our garage, but I find the whole scene incredibly sad.

Both of my Metasequoias have lost their tops, and with trees like this with one central stem (think Christmas tree shape) it is uncertain what will happen.  They received a stay of execution, as I'm hoping that one of the other higher branches will "take over" and start growing to try and replace the central stem.  I know that might sound kind of crazy, but trees do this sort of thing all the time - somehow they just know.  Mother Nature can be really remarkable sometimes.

There is more damage to my Viburnums, Ilexes and Hydrangeas that I can list - most will be getting a major haircut, even if that sacrifices there beauty and flowers for next season just to save them.

And then there is this....

I cried when I saw it (it didn't help that the power was out, and we were facing another multi-day outage).

I still can't open the door and get in, for fear that the whole thing will collapse since all the corners have been weakened.  Within is still stuff waiting to be harvested, arugula, radishes, leaf lettuces and cilantro.  Not to mention, I've got to get the garlic planted and prepare all the beds for winter/next growing season.  I guess that one apple still hanging on will come in handy if I get hungry while working outside.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

and we're back...

Power is on, internet is up, many residents in our state are not as lucky as we are.

Lots of damage to assess, full report, and pictures to follow!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

weather envy

As I hinted the other day, I just got back from a little vacation in a place where they grow this....


and this...

The upcoming weather forecast, chance of snow tonight and Saturday makes me seriously wonder why I came back.

NB-Want to see more of my photos?  You can check them out on Flickr.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

back from a little vacation

I'm admittedly still a little jet lagged, but wanted to share this video with you straight away.  Filmed at one of the recent TEDx conferences, featured is Roger Doiron of Kitchen Gardeners International.  Think the White House vegetable garden was a good idea?  This guy is pretty much the force behind it happening.  I'm not just sharing this with you as an obvious play for an invite to the upcoming TEDx Manhattan (although every little bit helps, right?) but because I think Roger has a really important message to share.  I'd love to know what you think - and when you'll be ready to start gardening!

ps - I think I kinda like feeling subversive...

Thursday, October 6, 2011

to feed or not to feed, that is the question...

I was having lunch today with a friend and colleague, and she recounted to me the story of a neighbor who was fertilizing her shrubs this week.  Nothing earth shattering right?  Except both of us learned in horticulture school that one should not fertilize a plant when it's about to go dormant.  When she inquired as to why her neighbor was fertilizing now, she replied "because that's what it says on the bag."

We were both perplexed, especially because we are always advising friends, clients, etc to follow the instructions on the bag (since many people tend to think more is better - not often the case with fertilizer, organic or synthetic).  I came home and did a little research on the product in question, you'll probably recognize it...

Well known, organic and widely available, Holly-tone made by the Espoma company is a great product. In reading the fact sheet for this product it does indeed recommend a late fall feeding.  That might be great if you still have a long growing season to go, but here in the northeast (we had frost last night people) not so much.  Do you really want to encourage more growth exactly when the plant is in shut down mode? So if you are in zone 7 or lower (don't know your zone, check here) you may as well hold off until the spring, because you will either do more harm than good, or just be wasting product.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


Well I was impressed with my 94 pounds of cucumbers this season, maybe I should've weighed and measured them individually though?  All in good fun, these giant veggies usually don't taste great, but they sure are impressive.

Now The Guardian is well known for it's gardening coverage - much better than the top US newspapers.  When I saw this on their front page I couldn't resist sharing.  

Asking advice from a man who grew a 85 pound rutabaga - you can't make up stuff like this.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

thoughts about the future...

Apologies if posting has been rather light lately.  I wish I could say it was because I'm spending so much time working out in the garden that I don't have the time to write.  Unfortunately I've been nursing a nagging shoulder injury which leaves me unable to work in the garden at all (or one handed).  I won't bother you with the details, but basically my left hand is barely working as a result of something with the nerves in my shoulder and my neck.  It's getting frustrating to say the least, but I'm being very vigilant about the exercises prescribed by my physical therapist so I can get out there soon (hopefully)!  I guess all those years of lifting shrubs, bags of compost and other things that are way too heavy may not have been the best idea to tackle all on my own. I'd love to say that I will learn from this mistake, but you and I both know that's not true - I'm way too stubborn.

The time off, so to speak, has given me a lot of time to think about whether or not to continue with this blog and if so where it's going.  In the beginning, I had two goals in mind.  One, to keep track of what was going on year to year in my garden - like a gardening journal, but virtual. Two, was to satisfy my own curiosity. Several people told me I should consider writing a book after having "coaching"sessions with me where I taught them how to take care of their gardens.  I doubted that I had the skills to actually do that, plus with the home gardening movement on the verge of explosion, the rate of gardening books being published was unusually high.  Did I actually have anything different to contribute to the conversation? I mean somebody already wrote Organic Gardening for Dummies, which is probably a very good book (don't know haven't read it).  I'm still not convinced that I have what it takes to make this happen.

In return, I learned several very important lessons on the way to building a blog with a small but very steady readership.  Most importantly, I realized that teaching people how to take care of their gardens still remains my favorite thing to do in the garden.  I need to be more active in creating situations where that happens.  In addition, it's great fodder for blog topics.  The secondary benefit has been meeting all kinds of cool people - and there is nothing like the feeling of someone you don't know coming up to you and saying, "I love your blog, I read it all the time," it's ridiculously gratifying.   I've also learned that I'm a terrible salesperson (okay this wasn't exactly a revelation) and don't do enough to spread the word around about my blog.  While I have no shortage of things to say, as those who know me in person can attest, I'm really bad about sharing this experience with others.  Hence the lack of a facebook page which every successful blogger has told me is a must.  I just can't do it.

So the journey is continuing for the time being... we'll see where it takes me.

Friday, September 16, 2011

the plant(s) that just won't die

Not something most people complain about, right?  This season I've harvested 88 pounds of cucumbers from my garden, from about a dozen plants.  It's ridiculous, but don't be jealous because my tomatoes did not fair nearly as well.  I was talking with a neighbor the other day, and she was also having a bumper crop of cucumbers this year.  It seems now matter how well we plan, fertilize, protect and water our plants what mother nature provides sets things on a very specific course.  Cucumbers should have long been done by now, and tomatoes at full peak with a typical hot August, followed by a September indian summer.  That just doesn't look like it's happening this year.

So what does one do with 88 pounds of cucumbers (oh, and there are still more on the vine)?  I've made pickles so many times that we could survive on them for the whole winter. Beyond that though, the options for preservation are limited.  There is no way to preserve them fresh for use later, and you can't cook with them either.  In desperation to deal with so many cukes before they went soft I turned to my favorite canning book Put 'em up by Sherri Brooks Vinton.  Within I found a recipe for Agua Fresca which uses lots of cukes, and then can be used to make cucumber martinis.  Let's just say I didn't need a lot of convincing to give this a try!

Admittedly the color is little freaky - but throw some vodka in, and I don't think anyone will care.  Full report on taste to follow after the weekend!

Monday, September 5, 2011

I know it might seem a little bit late to be doing a hurricane wrap up post, and it wasn't my laziness that got in the way (this time).  Six days of no power and no running water took it's toll.  Don't get me wrong, we are better off than many people, as there was no substantial damage to our home or property.  Using water from the pool to water my vegetable garden and manually flush toilets (who knew you could do such a thing) were not things I ever thought I'd do.

Once the power finally came back on I had the best shower of my life. The kids got completely engrossed with the television and I finally went outside to take stock of what was really going on in my gardens.  In short, they're a mess.  Not just from the hurricane, but from neglect of a really busy summer in which what little gardening time I had, was focused on the vegetable garden and not much else. I've got my work cut out for me.  The kids go back to school tomorrow, and I get back to doing what I do best.  Finally.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

the calm before the storm

Have you heard, we're having a hurricane here in the northeast.  From all the weather forecasts it's starting to sound like the apocalypse is coming.  Like everyone else, I'm worried about my house.  This is the first year we've lived here, and even though we had extreme winter weather this year, we've never experienced anything any where near this.  We are fortunate to have a generator (well water + no power = no drinking water OR flushing toilets) but it's never been tested, so I'm not even sure that it will work.  I'm going to pick up some fruit from my local farmer, and probably bake some muffins and other stuff to get us through the next few days.  Then we will just sit and wait.

This morning though, I headed out to my vegetable garden to pick anything that was at least a little bit ripe, hoping that it will finish up on my window on the sunny forecasted week post-hurricane.  Looking around at all of the unripe tomatoes (probably close to about 40 pounds I'd guess) I'm thinking there's a good chance that they will be on the ground when I next see them.  Plants are tough, yes there will be broken branches and dislodged fruit, but I'm hoping at least a little survives.  My first fall sowings are already in the ground, so hopefully no matter what Irene does it won't wash those little seedlings away.  If they don't make it, then I'll just start over.  Hope springs eternal when you're a gardener - there is just no other way.

Guess we're having swiss chard for dinner, and pesto

Stay safe everyone.  See you on the other side...

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Organic or not? Which do you choose?

Do you buy organic produce?  If you don't because of the cost, do you worry about what the effects might be?  What if organic produce isn't all it's cracked up to be? Would you still buy it? The question of what constitutes healthy, safe food is something I've been thinking about for over 20 years.

Back in 1989 I was a freshman in college. Young and impressionable, a new friend suggested I read "Diet for a New America" by John Robbins. Written in 1987, this expose into the business of factory farming and new environmentalism was written years before it's time. If you've seen the recent film, Food, Inc.. you get the general idea of what the book is about. After waffling back and forth for a few months on the issue much to the dismay of my family (my grandparents owned a deli for goodness sake), I decided to become a vegetarian. Tweny-two years on, I'm still sticking to it.

This decision to change my eating habits set me on a course for what I do in my life now. I grow a lot of the vegetables for my family. I shop organic. I feed my kids sustainably raised hormone free meat, dairy and eggs and when they were babies I made their baby food out of organic produce even when it wasn't that affordable. It's been a growing process, these things didn't happen overnight. I'm pretty happy where we are now, I'd be even happier if child #2 would eat more vegetables, but I digress.

Things have changed a lot since 1989. Organic produce, well it's everywhere. It's in our markets and in our news. Have you heard of the "dirty dozen" list? The list of fruits and vegetables that have the highest pesticide exposure. I even have an app for my iPhone which keeps the list handy for when I struggle with is "local and seasonal" better than "organic from who knows where".

Today, I was catching up with one of my favorite blogs called The Garden Professors (it's for plant geeks, and I know most of you are way too cool for that.) It's written by several college professors, all quite respected in the horticulture world, one of whom is particularly known for debunking gardening myths. Imagine my confusion when I read his summary of a fairly recent scholarly work regarding pesticide exposure (or lack thereof) on conventional produce. Is it possible that conventional produce is not quite as bad as we have been led to believe?  The study seems to suggest that the pesticide levels on conventional produce are so negligible that it poses little or no risk to consumers.  Have the marketing geniuses behind the list (Environmental Working Group) made us afraid of our own shadow? Or is this newer research flawed or sponsored by an organization that has something to gain?  Lots of questions for the idea that "organic is better".  Here's the referenced study from the Journal of Toxicology.

Lest you think that I'm advocating that you stop buying organic, I'm not.  However, what you may or may not know about organic farming, is that organic farms spray pesticides too, they are just organic based.  For example, copper is a highly potent fungicide, and depending on it's mixture and delivery method can be 100% organic.  Copper in some forms can also be highly caustic.   So in other words, just because it's organic doesn't mean it's "safe".  I'll touch on this more in an upcoming post, as it's a topic that surprises many people.

My family and I are very fortunate where we live, that we have access to small family farms for about 7-8 months out of the year.  Apple season has just begun here in the northeast, which means through November at least - all the apples I buy will be local (like 1 mile away for the most part), but not organic.  While the local vs. organic debate is still on my mind, this study provokes even more questions for me than it provides answers.  I'd love to know what you think.

Friday, August 19, 2011

one more time...

So it seems that the whole male/female flower thing on squash plants continues to perplex people.  I ran into a friend the other day, who happens to be a chef.  He asked me how he could tell the male flowers from the female, to avoid picking the females (the ones that will turn into a squash).  The male flowers only bloom for one day, in the morning.  Once they start to fade they are perfect for picking and stuffing.  So I'm going to make it easy, without a botany lesson...

Bloomed this morning

It's a boy!

Of course in the last few days there has not been a single female squash flower blooming in my garden. Most likely this is because I was complaining about this squash plant the other day and now Mother Nature is punishing me.  This is a cucumber female flower, so you'll get the idea.

Speaking of the dreaded jumbo patty pan squash, I managed to turn it into this (sauteed with chick peas and onions) and now I'm not complaining so much anymore.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Thanks to the ladies at Garden Rant for posting this yesterday.

I know most of you won't find it funny, but trust me it is...

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

just when I thought it was over, there are more cucumbers

My how things can change in just a short amount of time, from this....

to this....

I think anyone who has a vegetable garden suffers from the same affliction.  We all over plant "just in case".  Even when you know what you are doing, there are so many variables that are just out of your control.  Weather conditions, fungus, insects, pollination issues, sudden death for unknown reasons - you really have no choice but to over do it.   A problem follows with all that over planting though - every season you will have at least one crop that does so well you will be begging others to take it off your hands.  This year it's cucumbers here at the homestead.  I'm not sure how my cucumber plants don't have powdery mildew, which slows them down, by mid-August.  That's practically unheard of in the Northeast, but they don't.  They are also still blooming and reproducing like crazy.

I've already harvested 18 pounds for consumption by my family and friends, plus I've made pickles twice.  I was so relieved when a blog post from the Connecticut chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association arrived in my inbox yesterday about an organization I knew nothing about. seeks to connect backyard gardeners and small farmers with local food pantries, where you can drop off your excess veggies. Stuff that is still good enough for your family, but you just can't consume fast enough.

Today my daughter and I will be dropping off 32 pounds of cucumbers (a good lesson for the pre-teen as well) to Operation Hope in Fairfield, CT.  Our organically grown cucumbers will be distributed to their clients through their food pantry.

I actually harvested 36 pounds this morning, 4 I'll keep to make one more batch of pickles.  Brings our grand total on cucumbers so far this year to 54 pounds. Crazy!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

mix up in the nursery?

So back in the spring, I picked up a squash transplant at the local nursery to fill a hole I had in my vegetable garden.  I thought I was planting mini patty pan squash. So small you can hold a couple in your hand, and so small that you only need to cut off the end and just saute.  One of the easiest things to prepare in the squash family.  I'd show you a picture if I had one, but I don't.  That little plant tag that was in the pot was wrong.  Instead I have these...

Big patty pan squash, anyone have any ideas what to do with them?

Mix ups (understandably) happen.  The plants look identical, as do the tiny seeds - but I'm still annoyed.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

all hell is breaking loose in my garden

And I'm not really doing anything about it.

I've reached that August slump (happens every year) and the plants have taken over  a la Little Shop of Horrors.  Weeds, who cares about weeds?  It's too hot to be on hands and knees for hours picking them all out.  I'll recover sometime soon, clean up things a bit and get the fall sowings in, but for right now I'm surrendering.

My tallest tomato plant tops out at 7 feet 4 inches this morning, and yes there are flowers all the way at the top.  And the race is on to see which will ripen first.  Right now it's a dead heat between Green Zebras (one of my favorite heirlooms) and Sweet 100's (great cherry tomatoes).

I've got cucumbers coming out of my ears, and after 2 rounds of making and canning pickles I'm giving them away to anyone who will take them.  The vines are on the loose, I've given up trying to tie them up. I'll be honest, it looks like a mess, but I love it anyway.  There is something about when all those formal rows and neat little seedlings breaking free that really makes me happy.

next up, I guess I'll be making salsa

Friday, July 29, 2011


Apologies for the poor quality, I only had my phone handy, picture.  This is what 9 pounds of cucumbers looks like.  I guess I'll be spending the day making pickles (which I already did last week too).  Note to self, plant fewer cukes next year.  Off to Agway to buy more canning jars....

Monday, July 25, 2011

tomato crises on the rise?

Seems that way for me at least... hardly a day goes by that I'm not getting an email, phone call, or facebook message about tomatoes.  They're not ripening, the blooms are fading, my leaves have spots, etc.

So in an effort to address everyone's questions at once.. (not that I don't love hearing from you all)

No, I do not have any ripe tomatoes yet, but that's here in zone 6a Connecticut.  On average here in the northeast things are running behind by a couple of weeks.  So while I've got lots of green fruit, nothing is looking even close to ripe.

The flowers look like they're dying?  Well, to some extent they are, the blooms need to fade in order to set fruit, but not every single bloom will actually form in to a tomato.  The trifecta of good weather/timing, good pollinators, and available nutrients all need to be in place.  There is a case to be made for removing some of the flowers, particularly ones that are close together to create a situation where there is stronger fruit set.  I rarely do it, even though it makes good scientific sense.  In the picture above, there is a faded blossom between the already too close fruits,  could a third tomato survive here, probably not.  I might get around to removing this blossom, but it's about #367 on the list of gardening chores I need to get done right now.

My leaves have spots do I have late blight?  Is probably the most common question this year.  Since the awful spread of Phytopthora infestans (more commonly known as late blight) two summers ago wiping out almost every tomato in sight, everyone is on high alert for this pathogen.  Here's the good news, phytopthora cannot survive under extreme weather conditions.  While it likes the cool rainy spring that we had, the 90+ degree days in early June probably knocked it down.  And if for some reason it didn't the 102 degrees that we hit this past Friday definitely did.

Lucky for you, late blight is pretty easy to identify, and it does not look like most other fungal pathogens.

If you've got this,

or this

you've got verticillium, fusarium, septoria, anthracnose or ten other different things take your pick...

Here's the best way to prevent these problems; One - water in the morning, and water the ground around the plants, not the leaves.  Soaker hoses are ideal for this. Two- don't plant too close together, air circulation is crucial (I'm not to embarrassed to admit I failed this year, I want lots of tomatoes!) Three - practice at least a 3 year crop rotation, even if you've got a small garden, this is a must.  This is less necessary if you grow your tomato plants in pots.

The good news is even with one of these pathogens, there is a good chance it won't interrupt your fruit set.  So don't go running to home depot to buy don't want to eat that crap!  If the leaves really bother you, as then just pick them off and dispose of them in the garbage - not your compost bin.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

well, this is not very exciting

Back in the spring I was lamenting over my obsession with new cultivars of Echinacea purpurea, or coneflowers.

So I shelled out $22 bucks a piece for these 'Secret Desires'.  I just had to have them.
photo credit Terra Nova nursery

They're flowering now, and I'm rather unimpressed.  While I can appreciate their smallish appearance overall compared to other echinaceas (yay, no staking needed) the color is very blah. Even though they are in a bed with a lot of green, they don't really standout.

Maybe this will finally cure me of my obsession?  Yeah, I doubt it too.

Monday, July 18, 2011


I know, it's been quite a while between posts, which I really dislike and promised myself (ha) that I wouldn't do.  I've had an awful distraction this week though.  So awful, that it's even kept me out of the garden most of the week.  It's this.

I'm pretty sure that it's evil, and has taken control of my brain as I've been able to focus on nothing else since I've downloaded it.

It makes this happen....

pretty, but a little too neon pink for my taste

vintage feel = much better

too sunny this day, the colors end up looking kind of blah

this helps

this one is my favorite I've worked on so far

This all, and I haven't even really learned how to use all the tools in the program.  I pretty much want to re-edit every picture I have ever taken.  Any Aperture experts out there want to share any secrets with me?

P.S.  - The garlic has all cured, and I used the first head tonight.  I'm pretty sure I can never go back to supermarket garlic ever again.

Friday, July 8, 2011

glamour shots

I heading north tomorrow to take pictures at several gardens through the Garden Conservancy's Open Days program.  In getting myself organized I found myself looking through a lot of old photos taken by me at scattered locations throughout the northeast.  Just thought I'd share...

today's project

Garlic harvest!