Thursday, March 24, 2011

heirlooms or hybrids, which is best?

Kudos to the New York Times and yesterday's article on this topic - very informative and I think, fairly balanced.  Okay Michael Tortorello you get back a little bit of my respect with your non-judgemental reporting on this topic.  You know I have not been such a fan in the past.  Maybe you and I will be turning over a new leaf this gardening season....

My favorite quote from the article is, "Heirlooms are not intrinsically more appetizing than modern hybrids. Heirlooms began as hybrids, after all — a fortuitous cross of two parents. Modern hybrids, or so-called “F-1s,” are usually proprietary to a seed company. But this is still the 19th-century genetics of Gregor Mendel, not genetic engineering."  In fact, at many of these seed companies, even the big ones, they are cross pollinating varieties using real high tech gadgets, like Q-tips to mix up the pollen.  Seriously.  It's about as far from a GMO as you can get. 

In case you care, about 20% of my seeds come from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (and their new branch, Comstock, Ferre here in Connecticut) and 80% come from Johnny's Selected Seeds, both highlighted in the article.  And for the sake of clarity, Johnny's also carries heirlooms.  The vegetables that I choose to grow as heirlooms for the most part are tomatoes, beets and swiss chard.  The rest are hybrids.

Which are hybrids and which are heirlooms?  Can you tell the difference?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

the winter that just won't die

Remember how I was bragging a few days ago about how spring was here, I'm working outside, etc?  Zoom in on today's forecast, 5-8 inches of snow expected.  Great.  Two steps forward and one step back.  I'm really glad I held off on sowing seeds outdoors, and it wasn't just my laziness this time, it was totally planned.  The old farmer's tale here in zone 6ish is planting peas on St. Patricks Day. That's always seems kind of iffy for me.   For anyone who did plant peas, they might be okay - I'd just expect way lower germination rates.  Peas don't mind the cold, but cold and wet doesn't work quite as well.  The good news about this snow delay - is it gives all you slackers who've told me over and over that you want to grow some of your own vegetables a little more time to get things organized.  Peas are seriously the easiest thing to grow.  Grab a pot, throw in some organic potting mix either put a stick from your yard, or a bamboo stake in it (these baby's like to climb) put it in a sunny location, and have your 4 year old plant the seeds.  Done.  Oh, and you don't even need to fertilize.  Peas, like all legumes, are fix nitrogen in the soil, so they basically fertilize themselves. You'll be eating fresh sugar snap peas in a few weeks, and after that I'm pretty sure you'll be hooked.  The peas will be done producing right around the time that tomatoes get planted (around here they say May 15th, but I stick with Memorial Day, same reason as mentioned above) so cut off the pea vines (leave the roots, the nitrogen thing again) and stick a tomato plant in there. It's not rocket science.

For today I'll have to console myself with indoor seed starting.

These were taken years ago, on an obviously much nicer day than today.  It was probably one of those fluke nice days in early spring, and my then 3-year old and 6 year old were assisting with the pea planting.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

flowers i've loved and lost

Okay, a bit dramatic, some are just annuals, but some were left behind at our old house.  I can't help wondering if they've survived the winter (and if their new owners are taking care of them.)

Friday, March 18, 2011

today is the day!

The first "official" day of spring may still be a few days away, however for me it starts today.  You see, today was the first day that I opened the door at 7:00 am to let the dog out and didn't get an arctic blast of cold in the face.  Let me tell you, after this hellish winter we've had, it feels damn good.  So the entire day today (predicted to be 70 degrees) will be spent outside getting everything (ha) done.  Lots of pruning, perennials, ornamental grasses, shrubs, and some mourning for everything that didn't make it after being suffocated by 4 feet of snow pack.

Vegetable beds will be also be fertilized, as we are expecting a couple days of rain.  Once all that nitrogen is good and soaked in, the planting will begin.  Peas, arugula, beets, lettuce and calendula all getting started outdoors this week.  Indoor seed starting for swiss chard, cauliflower and more lettuce.  I'm counting the days until our produce does not need to come from Whole Foods.   I've also got to get serious about figuring out what I'm planting where in my vegetable beds. I have a rough idea in my head, but areas need to get marked off, so no space is wasted.

Look what's popping up nicely....

Kids have already asked how long it will be until we have garlic bread.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


Trying to find time to write hasn't been easy lately - the gardens are calling me all the time, every spare moment in which I can tolerate the not as cold, yet still very gray weather are spent outside.   I found this video beautiful, and will write more about the book when I finish it - but in the meantime, enjoy!

On Being a Gardener: From "And I Shall Have Some Peace There" from Margaret Roach on Vimeo.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

this is a first

So I was in a department store the other day - and in the shoe department they had a whole display of Hunter wellies in at least a dozen different colors.  How did muck boots become the latest "in" thing?

I think this is probably the first and only time I will be ahead of a trend.  Welcome to mud season!

Friday, March 4, 2011

I knew I was right!

Back in the day, when I had paying clients (not you freeloaders - you know who you are) I had a design suggestion that was questioned by nearly every single one.  When sketching out on paper, and then when actually installing the design I would, as I learned in school, leave 2 feet of clearance from the foundation.  Yes, it can look a little awkward, but as the plant grows and fills the space, access is still needed for pruning, watering or in case you need to paint the house, fix a window, etc. This is also assuming that most people (with a few crazy exceptions) will not actually prune at all.  There is also the problem of clogged gutters, and icicles which send a steady stream of water to the same spot over a long period of time.    Most winters, may not be an issue, but behold some boxwood awesomeness...

Sunny today - ignore the shadow!  Next up another boxwood - right next to the front door, how welcoming!

This holly used to stand about 5 1/2 feet, just a little bit taller than me.  Now it's about knee height. 

NB- Just in case you're wondering - these problems came with the house...

Thursday, March 3, 2011

love it!

From our friends at Kitchen Gardeners International (the people who made the dream of a White House vegetable garden a reality)