Sunday, June 26, 2011

Do as I say, not as I do...

Have I ever told you about the importance of soil testing?  I don't think I have.  It's one of the first things I learned in Hort school - test your soil, it's a must.  Ask any serious gardeners if they've ever done it, and most haven't.

When I put in my raised beds at our new house last fall, I got the soil mix from a really reliable source (and all around nice guy who was my soil science professor in hort school).  He advised me that I should add nitrogen in the spring, as most of it would leach out over the winter.  Easy enough right?  I followed his directions and in the early spring I added nitrogen, and waited for the soil to warm up enough for planting.  I did not once ever consider soil testing.

Fast forward over the next few weeks and an unusually wet and cold spring.  My vegetables were kind of  limping along.  Peas, and lettuces were doing okay, but the other early crops were having problems.  Carrots, swiss chard and beets were germinating, but not growing.  They weren't growing, but they weren't dying either.  It was my first year with this garden, so I was contemplating, are the drip lines providing enough water?  Or too much?

Then it was time to put in the rest of my transplants, cucumbers, tomatoes, squash, and peppers.  Except for a few very hot days, the weather was still very up and down, and wet.  Stuff just wasn't growing.  My tomato plants still looked perfect, but they were the exact same size that they were when I put them in the ground.  Be patient I said to myself, tomatoes like really hot weather, and again I contemplated the drip lines.  Then my 4 inch tall cucumber plants (whose vines can easily grow 4 feet) set flowers.  This all of the sudden seemed to to look like a nutrient issue, right?  But how could it be? I talked the problem through with a couple of friends, and we all had the same conclusion.  I ran to Agway to get a soil testing kit.  In general I think these "home testing" kits are wildly inaccurate, and like to send samples off to the lab at UCONN for testing, but time was of the essence.  Completing the test would at least hopefully give me a general idea of what was going on.

And this is what I saw.....

pH is perfect
Phosphorus is a little low and Potassium is okay, but uh-oh.

No nitrogen at all!!!

Lessons learned; 1-Take your own advice and soil test, 2- trust your gut when it seems like something is going wrong, instead of blaming external forces, 3-I must have the most well drained soil on the planet to lose that much nitrogen.  The fortunate thing in all this is that plants are pretty forgiving and after a heavy dose of blood meal (gross I know, but organic) things are starting to bounce back very nicely.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

yikes, the corpse flower has bloomed

Also missed by me this week, (sick kid, grrrr) was the blooming of the Titan Arum up at UCONN Storrs. Somewhat of an oddity in the plant world, this giant flower from Sumatra smells like rotting flesh to attract pollinators, hence it's nick name.

Despite it's putrid smell the Titan Arum (it's botanical name is Amorphophallus Titanum, I leave that one up to you Latin language lovers) draws huge crowds to whatever university or botanical garden has one when they bloom.  I've been wanting to see one for years,  looks like this one is due to bloom again in 2014.  With the bloom only lasting a day or two, the greenhouse at UCONN extended it's hours to accommodate all of the visitors, who knew there were so many plant geeks in my home state!

Friday, June 17, 2011

another week passes without much done

Nothing like having a kid at home with a fever all week to hamper your plans.  And on the last full week of school no less!

Regardless, I'm finally coming to grips with the fact that some pest has totally decimated my swiss chard and beets.  Completely.
Insect damage? possible...

This is looking more like bites than insects

this is looking like a lost cause

Going to try and sow new rows next week and see what happens.  Row covers might be worth a shot, but the only problems is little rodents (if that's whats causing the damage) tend to hide under the row covers.  If that happens, you will hear me screaming in the next county - no joke.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


For those of you who don't know me well, I am a ridiculously early riser.  Up with the roosters was a saying that was made for me.  This doesn't mean however that I wake up super cheerful or anything.  Most days it takes a full cup of coffee, and a few minutes of peace before the rest of my household descends to make my day get off to the right start.

This morning as I was making my coffee and looking out the window at the pouring rain, I was thinking that another day is going to go by in which I can't get done what is needed in my garden right now.  Acquiescing to mother nature, I sat down at the computer to check my email, and read the news headlines. Following the ever depressing news headlines, I always check in on a blog called 1000 Awesome Things.  It's a reminder to appreciate the absolute smallest, mundane things to be grateful for and that are simply put awesome.  Today, #223 rocked my world.  Our first spring in this house, and it's happening almost everyday!

My all time favorites remain #475#587#478 and best of all #538.

Tongue of Fire beans - coming along awesomely!

Friday, June 10, 2011

the season is upon us...

Strawberry season, that is if you're here in the Northeast, or other areas of the country in USDA hardiness zone six.  No more supermarket strawberries that taste like cardboard for the time being.  Next week I'll be eating tons, making strawberry jam (more on that to follow next week)  and strawberry shortcake with biscuits (the real way, not the sponge cake way).

I bought these just down the road from my house at a local orchard, where one of the employees grows these on their own time, pretty neat, huh?  We're growing strawberries here too, but they are smaller and more sour, I think a different variety is  in order for next year.

At the same time that the strawberries are ready, it's time to put in the tender bulbs.  It's also time to change over the spring pots, put in all the annuals, do the second ridiculous round of overdue major weeding, next sowing of beets, chards, time to do major plantings in the borders, shear back the early bloomers so they'll rebloom etc.  the list is endless right now.  Everything needs to be done in a scramble of it's finally warm enough, yet its not too hot frenzy.  I actually did a lot of those things today, during the six precious hours that my children were in school.  Unfortunately, I don't have one picture to show for it.  Today was a really sweaty, dirty work day and the thought of taking on and off my gloves constantly to take pictures just wasn't going to happen.  My camera is way too precious to me to to put my mud caked hands and gloves on it.  Maybe I should hire a photographer?  One who will take payment in strawberry shortcake?

So, back to the tender bulbs (which actually aren't all bulbs, some are tubers and rhizomes, but why split hairs).  It's time to put in cannas, dahlias, and other bulb like things that don't like the soil here when it's cold.  I promise, I'll take pictures of them when they bloom.  Truthfully, they aren't that exciting to look at right now anyway.  Plant them the same way you would other bulbs, to the depth mentioned on the package.  The difference with tender bulbs is they need to be dug up at the end of the season and stored in a very specific fashion, then they can be replanted next year.  Unless your lazy like me, who has no strength left at the end of the gardening season to do this task (plus its an invitation for mice to find their way into your basement where you store them, yikes).  I buy all my tender bulbs at the cheapest place possible, usually a hardware store or Agway and leave them in the ground.  

On a completely unrelated note, I just ate a whiskey brined pickle from Whole Foods.   It's probably one of the best things I've ever eaten.  Just so you know...

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Here's a question for you...

What kind of gardener plans an extended weekend vacation in what is usually the best part of the growing season?  One who forgets how fickle mother nature can be, and who assumed that everything would be planted, and well established enough that drip irrigation on a timer would be all the minding that the vegetable garden would need.  Not too smart.

Things are really out of whack this year, cold, wet spring, followed by spurts of very hot weather.  My plants are seriously confused.  Nonetheless... things are finally starting to move along (If you are a farmer's market shopper or belong to a CSA please take pity on the farmers, everything is running very late).

This week I'll be harvesting (yes in 90+ degree weather);

Black seeded simpson lettuce, this was started inside, limped along, now is finally ready.

Snap peas and leaf lettuces

AND garlic scapes!!!!!

What's a garlic scape you ask?  Here is a great explanation from Dorie Greenspan along with a fabulous recipe for garlic scape pesto, which is what I will be making with my scapes.  Anyone want to come for dinner tonight?

When they start to curl they are ready to be harvested.

Friday, June 3, 2011

take me home country road....

There are those that might argue that I don't actually live in the country.  I've heard it said that if you live less than 15 minutes from a Starbucks (yes there is one close to here) you don't really live in the country. I have to disagree for the following reasons;

1.  There is not one, but two feed stores about 5 minutes away (don't know what a feed store is, you definitely don't live in the country, but they are really awesome).

2. Within walking distance of our house there are the following varieties of livestock being raised; goats, sheep, and cows.

3.  There are no traffic lights in our town.  Just one yellow flashing light.

4.  The one "store" we have in town lets you set up an account, just like the old days - wait until my kids figure that out.

5. There are 22 working farms in our town (aren't we lucky?!) And our Memorial Day Parade looks like this....
Photo credit, Samantha Henry, The Daily Easton

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


I know it's been a while, but kids, life, holiday weekend, good weather and massive planting, all got in the way of spending time in front of the computer.  And now, I'm heading out of town.

So a quick round up of what's been going on here at the homestead...
We've started harvesting strawberries

Tomatoes were moved out of the basement and into the sunlight - pictured is 'black cherry'

So I had a little bit of an ethical dilemma this week (alright that sounds a little too dramatic).  I was standing in line at Whole Foods, and the woman in front of me was buying tomato seeds.  Here in the Northeast, our growing season is not long enough to grow tomatoes from seed outside.  Seeds need to be started inside many weeks ahead of planting.  I wondered to myself, should I say something to this stranger that is likely an inexperienced gardener, and save her from a summer of frustration of not being able to grow tomatoes?  Or should I just keep my mouth shut?  In the end I didn't say anything, and then felt guilty about it all day.  The end message however, is that it's not too late to plant tomatoes, if you purchase transplants from a nursery (not from a big box store please, let's avoid the potential spreading of the tomato blight).

Don't forget to plant your tomatoes really deep, they like having their stems buried.  Seriously (but don't ever do that with any other plant).

This happened this week too...

Three apple trees arrived, two Braeburns in espalier form (oh just wait for the pruning post on this in the winter) and one dwarf Red Delicious.  The kids were jumping for joy when they got home from school, "you mean we can just go outside and pick an apple off the tree and eat it?"  Well, I explained, not this year.  The tree really shouldn't be allowed to have any fruit mature on it, that way all it's energy should go into rooting and getting established, for the longer and better health of the tree.  

But really, am I actually going to have the strength to pull all of these off?  I'm not so sure.