Friday, November 21, 2008

A Book Review

I just finished The Unlikely Lavender Queen: A Memoir of Unexpected Blossoming</a> by Jeannie Ralston.

This wasn't a book that I had heard of, or that was recommended to me. It simply caught my eye while I idly perused the stacks at the library. Lavender, hmm, my favorite flower, what's this book about? Normally I'm not interested in memoirs, particularly ones of people I never heard of before. I hope I can convey how this book affected me.

The author was an up and coming journalist in New York City when she met the love of her life, Robb Kendrick, a National Geographic photographer. For him she gives up her beloved metropolis and moves to Austin, Texas, and then moves again to a piece of property in very rural Texas. Inspired by the lavender fields in France, Robb decides to plant lavender on their property but his work requires him to travel extensively, leaving Jeannie to handle the business of the lavender alone. Meanwhile she is trying to get pregnant, trying to deal with her feelings of resentment towards her husband, and trying to cope in a place where she feels she doesn't fit in.

She believes it was the lavender that eventually taught her to let go and that her life with her husband, their life adventure, is more important than her idea of living a metropolitan lifestyle. Once she began to accept her new life she marketed the heck out of that lavender and turned her town and region into the lavender capital of Texas. Then Robb asked her to reinvent herself again, move again, accept him again.

This is a wonderful story, a fantastic manual on marriage, a terrific gardening journal. And in many ways I could relate to the author. I too moved from a large city, Philadelphia, to very rural New York for the love of my life. Gardening was the catalyst that has taught me to accept my life here. In short, I was very moved by this memoir and I'd recommend it to anyone, particularly married women.

Friday, November 7, 2008

A review of this year's veggie garden

Overall, I'd call it a great success. We had a wet and cool summer. I rarely had to water. So, the tomatoes had less flavor than I like, but they were profuse as the picture above illustrates. Granted, we planted more than twice the plants we ever did before. I canned 60 quarts of tomato sauce, along with a few quarts of stewed tomatoes and an attempt at my own ketchup. I was very pleased with the San Marzano paste tomatoes I tried for the first time this year. I felt they produced much better than the Big Mamas that were our standard for pastes, and they had a better flavor. The Heirlooms did very well also. We grew Striped Germans, which are my favorite and may not ever be kicked out of that position, and Roses, which were quite good too. And, of course, we included a few plants of Sungold cherry tomatoes.

Despite the low temperatures, though, the heat loving plants, like eggplant, did fine. I will likely plant eggplant again although three individual plants was quite enough. The peppers could have done better but it was my fault that I planted that tall cosmos between them which crowded and shaded them. I won't do that again. And I had a complete failure with the tomatillos. Again my fault, I didn't get them started soon enough and frost hit them before the fruit was ripe.

The beans did fantastic. But next year I'm going to abandon the purple beans and go with all green. The purple was pretty but not as prolific and I thought the green beans taste better. Besides, cooking turns the purple beans green anyway.

Planting the carrots and onions together in the same bed seemed to work quite well. And even though I historically have a terrible time with cucumbers, I did manage to get a few this year.

Of course the zucchini did very well. I really enjoyed the variety I planted this year, Eight Ball. They are round and had a good flavor.

The new asparagus plants I put in got a good start and hopefully we'll be able to harvest them in a couple years. And I planted some garlic before preparing the garden for winter.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Herb Pods

Yea, I need to come up with a new name for them, Herb Pods sounds both unappetizing and illegal. But since I'm not really marketing them it will work for now. This is my new favorite thing to do with all the basil I grow. I use basil a lot in cooking, doesn't everyone? And I'm a complete snob for fresh basil, dried, you might as well sprinkle grass clippings on your food. So, I wanted to find a way of preserving the basil before first frost.

Here's what I did; I picked all the basil that was left and de-stemmed it. I also pick a lot of oregano and de-stemmed that as well. I peeled a whole head of garlic. All of that went into the blender with about 1/3 cup olive oil and I pureed it into a thick liquid. It had a milkshake consistency. Then I poured it into ice cube trays and froze the mixture. When it was solid, I popped them out and put them into individual sandwich bags and back into the freezer.

Now, when making spaghetti sauce with my unseasoned tomato sauce, I just pop one of the herb pods into the sauce and it is all seasoned in one shot with the fresh basil flavor. I've also used them in a friend's recipe for a lentil rice casserole. It would work anywhere a recipe calls for fresh basil, oregano and garlic. Next year I intend to make more. Maybe with different mixtures; some that would be just basil for example.

I'd show you a picture but they really don't look like much.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Pre-Halloween snow

Oh, goodness, I can't believe I haven't written in here for 2 months.  Ridiculous!  I'm going to revamp how I do things here.  I think the blog must be about more than gardening because I have so much more going on.  I'm a mom, I like to cook, I have other hobbies.  

But in the vein of the title of this blog, I want to show you just how snowy it can be around here.  

We had big plans for Halloween this year.  A bunch of friends were coming over.  I decorated inside and outside the house.  My husband built a coffin and a crypt facade for a little Haunted House.  Since we live in a village and many of our friends live in the country they all came to our house to watch the trick n' treaters.  My husband dressed as a mummy and laid in his coffin to scare the kids when they came up our walk.  I bought lots of booze, made too much food and even got my hands on some dry ice.

But two days before Halloween, on the 29th, we got 18" of snow.


In this area, snow is a way of life. No one bats an eye. You never see people at the grocery store before a predicted snow storm loading up on toilet paper and jugs of water like you did in my hometown of Philadelphia. People still go to work when it snows. Life goes on. And 18", that's nothing around here. But when the 18" is heavy wet snow and falls on trees that still have many of their leaves, that causes substantial damage. We lost our power for most of the day. School was cancelled. And it kind of put a damper on our Halloween plans. How would we put up the graveyard and crypt in a yard full of snow?

The next morning, the day before Halloween, my husband blew the snow out of the yard with the snowblower. When it broke down, as it is want to do, we shoveled snow out of the yard. Halloween day was warm and sunny and much of the piles melted and we had a great party.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Sunflower Mania

My garden was recently spotlighted in the small local newspaper here.  Much was said about all the sunflowers.  They are definitely the predominate feature out there right now.  It's not intentional.  They all grow on their own and I don't have the heart to pull them all out.  I do pull a lot of them, otherwise the yard would be a great big field of sunflowers.  I do love them, even if they make my yard look ridiculous.  When have I ever cared what other people think?  It's just a good thing that I don't live in a neighborhood nazi...uh... association area.  A few weeks ago we drove through a town that was having a sunflower contest.  I would have won, hands down.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Another Jungle

Every year my vegetable garden turns into a jungle.  Despite careful planning to maximize the small space and yet keep things neat, things always go wild.  I know it is my fault.  I cannot bring myself to pull all those self-seeded sunflower, dill, cilantro and borage plants.  That certainly adds to the issue.  The other problem is that I plant very closely.  As I said, the space is small and I want to get as much food out of it as I can.  But as a result, I now have to climb into the back of the tomato row on my hands and knees.

And then every year there is one huge sunflower that dominates the garden, like a sentinel.  I should dress it like a scarecrow the way it looms over the rest of the plants.  Someday, I swear that I will have a nice neat garden with wide rows that I can amble down with a basket on my hip. So here is the garden today.  Do you think there is any hope for me?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A wish for berries

One thing I do not grow is fruit, simply for a lack of space.  I feel confined by our corner village lot.  Apparently almost an acre is not enough room for me, especially when a rather large house consumes most of that acre.  I think I'd like 3 acres.  

On one acre I would have 4 vegetable garden beds each about 20x30 feet in size.  This would give me enough room to rotate the crops from year to year to reduce disease and pest problems.

A second acre would be dedicated to fruit crops.  I would have several apple trees, a large stand of raspberries bushes, a big strawberry patch, a few rows of grape vines and, if the soil is acidic enough, quite a few blueberry bushes.

Then, that third acre...  Well, here is my thought.  I'd like to do a u-pick flower farm.  I'd have rows and rows of cutting flowers, such as gladiolas, dahlias, sunflowers, zinnias, cosmos, lavender, etc. that people could come in and cut their own bouquets to take home.

So, that is my ultimate dream and someday it will come true.  If I had all that fruit I could make more pies like that one up there. 

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Ode to bugs

I am learning.  It may take me a little longer than some people to figure things out, but I think I'm a pretty smart cookie and I usually get there eventually.  

I used to hate aphids.  They are so gross looking, right?  And I used to battle them.  I'd spray them with hard bursts of water to get them off the affected plants and I'd try insecticidal soap.  None of it was very effective.  And once, as I hang my head in shame, I specifically remember spraying some lupines with Seven.  Then one day, I just gave up.  "Screw it, let the aphids have everything!" I said to myself. 

 This year I have a patch of yarrow that planted itself in the corner of the yard next to the neighbors fence.  I noticed it was completely infested with aphids, but I didn't care.  Then I noticed some lady beetles on it and thought they'd never eat all those aphids.  Then later I saw that there were a whole lot of lady beetle larvae climbing all over the patch and I started to pay close attention.  On looking today, there is not a single aphid on that yarrow to be found.  And when I say it was infested with them, I mean every stem was covered with them from top to bottom.  I've never seen anything like it.

So there is the moral of that story: Leave the bad bugs alone and the good ones will come.

More about bugs: It looks like we are back in the caterpillar raising business.  I did this last year; brought in butterfly eggs and cats and raised them into butterflies and then released them.  I wasn't going to do it this year.  It's a lot of work and someone has to be around all the time to keep them fed and to release them when they emerge from their cocoons.  We did have a few Black Swallowtail cats on the dill in the garden, but every single one has been eaten by an industrious bird.  So, I caved and we've now started collecting the Monarch cats.  They are fun to watch.  The kids love it.  And it feels good to be saving a few beautiful lives.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Reseeding Annuals

Some of my favorite plants in my flower gardens are reseeding annuals.  I don't put down mulch specifically for their benefit.  If I did mulch the perennial beds they wouldn't be able to sprout.  Here is a pictorial list of most of them.  Some aren't blooming yet, like the sunflowers, and aren't included.  Maybe I'll do a late summer list.

1. Peony poppies - Papaver somniferum

2. Shirley poppies - Papaver rhoeas

3. Love-in-a-Mist - Nigella damascena

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Year of the Striped Cucumber Beetle

Seems like every year I get a new pest in my gardens that I must wage war upon.  There has been the Saw Fly larvae which have made me pretty much give up on columbine, the Japanese Beetles which love my poor roses, the Squash Bugs which try to consume my zucchini, and various other annoyances.  I suppose the more I garden, the more the bugs are going to be attracted to their favorite foods that I just lay out for them to feast upon.

The new one this year is the Cucumber Beetle.  Never saw one in the gardens before.  They did some serious damage to my tiny tomatillo plants.  Then I surrounded the tomatillos with marigolds and they moved to the zucchini.  Ah, the poor zucchini, if it isn't Squash Bugs, it's Cucumber Beetles.  So far this year, knock on wood, I've only seen one Squash Bug and it was promptly squashed.  Heehee, squash the Squash bug eating the squash.  So far the Cucumber Beetles haven't found the cucumbers, despite the ominous name.

It takes a lot of resolve to not break out the heavy chemicals when you watch a pernicious bug chow down on one of your favorite plants.  I do believe in companion planting as the most effective way to battle a great deal of the pest found in the garden.  Many plants are helpful not as food but as either a repellant or camouflage for the food plants.  Others may attract beneficial insects to the gardens.  So you will find in my garden, planted among the usual food crops, marigolds, cosmos, nasturtium, borage, sunflowers, tansy and calendula.  Aside from the nursery bought marigolds I bought the other day for the tomatillos, none of them are blooming yet.  But you'll be sure to see a picture of the garden when they are.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The veggie garden today

Again, I apologize for being such an infrequent blogger.  Perhaps with practice, and less to do in the garden, I will become better.

Yesterday I planted two tiny tomatillo plants so therefore my garden is now completely full.  Here are some recent pictures.

This is the left half of the garden facing North.  You can easily see the flush of self-seeded cilantro that I will allow to remain for now.  Eventually it will have to come up once in goes to seed, becomes coriander, and is no longer of any use to me.  In the front beds from the left are: 1st bed, spinach; second bed, onions and radishes and carrots; third bed, zucchini and nasturtiums and fourth bed, peppers and tomatillos.

In the background you can see the self-seeded dill which I will also allow to remain.  I expect to have black swallowtail caterpillars on it at some point as I did last year.  The beans are just beginning to show their heads, as are the cucumbers and lettuce.  To the right in the back is the asparagus bed.  Behind all that is the self-seeded borage and sunflowers which will stay.  I love the borage for the simple fact that the honey bees love the borage.  The more honey bees I can get in there, the better everything grows.  The sunflowers are just really pretty.

This is the right side of the garden that is dedicated to the tomatoes.  Originally I planted 59 plants but one succumbed to the foot of the child who was helping me put on the straw mulch.  I also have a few basil plants stuck in there among the tomatoes.  The patch of red is the plastic red mulch that the Master Gardeners were asked to trial.  Supposedly red plastic helps the tomatoes grow better.

A close-up of one of the tomato plants; I believe this is a Rose heirloom.

And here is the new herb garden which is looking pretty good considering everything was moved this spring. Seems I made it quite a bit too small.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Kids and Gardening

I know why many people wait to become empty nesters before they take up a gardening hobby.  Kids just plain make gardening difficult.  First, babies leave no time for gardening at all.  You can try to bring the baby out into the garden with you but they get hot or cold, or bugs bite them.  So your only option is to have Daddy watch him while you sneak a few hours out pulling the weeds that are threatening to overtake everything.

Then the babies become toddlers and you think that finally you'll be able to really spend some time in your neglected perennial beds but you find yourself chasing the kid around the house or fixing this or that toy.  And they still demand food, drinks and a change of clothes after playing with your garden hose.

And with older kids you are picking baseballs out of your tomato plants, lamenting the crushing of a prized columbine from a wayward soccer ball and finding bike tracks crossing the border of daffodils.

But the kids love to help plant seeds and pick tomatoes and they bring you bouquets of dandelions.  So, I guess they're worth it.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The newly expanded and improved veggie garden

Just a picture of the veggie garden as it is today.  We expanded it by about 10 feet.  The posts will be for the indeterminate tomatoes, pole beans and cucumbers.  I'll add more pictures as I get plants growing in it.  Maybe once a month or so.

And since they are so pretty, a picture of some tulips growing in my obelisk garden that I took today.

Gardening practices I abhor

First off, a big thank you to my loyal reader who reminded me to write.  I really need to get better at that.

I just came back from a walk around my neighborhood with camera in hand to show you some of my biggest pet peeves in gardens.  This is a full blown rant, inspired by my favorite gardening blog, and this blog post I read today:

1. Make compost, People!
The photo above shows the pile of black plastic garbage bags at a house up the street, all filled with leaves and last year's mulch.  I couldn't count them all but I estimate that there are approximately 50 bags in that pile.  The village will pick them up and supposedly compost them (although I've never found the compost pile, only the pile of woodchips they make.)  But they will happily pick up just a pile of leaves; they don't need to be bagged.  These are people who consider themselves gardeners and definitely do not have any kind of space constraints that would prohibit a compost pile.  Personally, I don't believe anyone is really a gardener if they don't compost.

2. Stop strangling your trees.
Everyone seems to think that trees can't stand up on their own.  But the truth is that if they are properly planted they will do much better if they are not staked.  Staking prevents the tree trunk from developing the strength to stand up against wind.  Also those wires often damage the bark and if left on too long, which often happens, will girdle the tree.  So how do you properly plant a tree?  Remove the burlap or wire wrapping the root ball.  I even recommend removing all soil from the root ball as well.  Roots will develop better if there is no difference in the soil it is planted in.  Dig a hole twice as wide and deeper than the size of the root ball or pot the tree is in.  Don't amend the backfill and water well making sure there are no air pockets beneath or between the roots.

3. Don't form a mound around the base of your tree trunks.
This example is also shown in the photo showing the staked tree although you can't see it clearly.  Mounding up mulch around the base of a tree is a bad idea for a couple reasons.  First, it encourages rot and insect damage to enter the bark of the tree which should only be exposed to air.  Second, it causes water to funnel out away from the tree, and this is especially detrimental to young, newly planted trees.

4. Red mulch is wicked ugly!
Not only is it ugly but it is artificially dyed.  I don't know what they use to dye it that red color.  I tried to google it but only found a company that would sell you the dye so you can dye your own mulch.  They say it is all natural but who knows what that means.  I also found a reference saying that red mulch is better at keeping weeds down than other mulches.  Hmm, wonder why that it.  I believe that red mulch also inhibits the growth of the plants you want to thrive.

Actually, I don't mulch at all, except with compost when I have enough.  I rely on reseeding annuals in my gardens and mulching would prevent them from growing.  Oh wait, I do mulch with straw in the veggie garden.

5. Why, oh why do you use pesticides?  
Don't those warning signs give you a freakin' clue?  I have nothing more to say about this or I might start frothing at the mouth.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Hot weather

It was over 80ºF today!  Unbelievable for the middle of April.  My daffodils were starting to wilt and I just came inside from watering them.  We've had an entire week of overly warm and dry weather.  Now, it could come in the last week and half of April, but we haven't had our usual April snow storm.  Granted, I hate those storms.  HATE them!  But I'm kind of freaked out that is has been so hot and dry this month.  Not warm, hot.  I've never had to water the garden in April before.  You know, April showers and all.

I also wanted to talk about a neat little flower I found in my garden yesterday.  That's it up there.  I've decided it is an Iris reticulata.  I didn't plant it and was astonished to find it.  I've never seen one growing before and I have no idea where it came from.  At only about 4" it is a wee tiny thing and very delicate.  I hope it spread some for me.  Kind of a whole If-You-Build-It thing.

Friday, April 11, 2008

When Your Gardening Heart Breaks

On August 14, 2002, the hottest day of the year, new neighbors moved into the yellow house on our west side.  I greeted them with a bouquet of hot pink gladiolas cut from my garden.  She loved them and we soon became fast friends.  Sharing a new interest in gardening we signed up for a gardening class together.  We spent hours together discussing how our gardens were growing, scouring obscure nurseries for interesting plants, and helping each other dig new beds and pull weeds.

Being a military family, they moved to Germany last year.  When the newer neighbors moved in last summer I greeted them with a plate of cookies and explained that if they had any questions about their garden I'd be happy to help because I knew everything that was in there.  She told me that she didn't know anything about flowers and didn't think she wanted to learn.  Ok then.  That week they tore out the raised vegetable garden.

Yesterday I looked out my kitchen window and gasped in horror.  They were ruthlessly tearing out the beautiful flower beds surrounding the front of the house.  I ran over and told them that if they wanted to dig the gardens out then I would do it for them so I could save the plants.  They agreed to that and I called a friend to help.

The whole thing makes me so sad.  I was almost as emotionally invested in that garden as I am my own.  Certainly not everyone will have the same interest in growing and beauty as I do, but to sacrifice the thousands of dollars invested in those gardens simply because you don't want to do the work involved?  That hurts my heart.  The only thing that makes me feel a little better about all this is that between the time my friends moved out and the new people moved in, I snuck over at night and dug up a few prime specimens including a wonderful hardy hibiscus and some perennial heliotrope.  They are happily growing in my own garden in honor of my good gardening friend and neighbor.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

My OM (organic matter) Troubles

I was desperate this year for a big load of horse manure for my veggie garden.  I transported a few bags across the state line (is that legal?) from my parents' place in Pennsylvania but it wasn't nearly enough.  So yesterday I came up with a brilliant plan.  A teenage boy down the street has a beat up pick up truck and a brother who worked at a horse farm.  I offered to pay him $50 to bring me a pick up load of horse manure.  He was more than willing and I explained to him in detail about how it needed to be well decomposed, old poop.  

The load of manure came in the afternoon.  It was straight out of the horses' behind fresh.  Sigh.  Now, I live on a small plot in the middle of the village.  What am I going to do with a big big pile of poo?  I considered tilling it in and hope that in the month I have before plants need to go in it would decompose enough that it wouldn't burn my seedlings.  But am I willing to take the chance?  In the middle of last night I finally decided that I couldn't take that chance and spent the morning raking it off the garden.  I made a low pile all around the perimeter of the garden.  This fall I'll rake it back on.

The moral of this story is that you should never trust a teenager to know the difference between old poop and new poop.  So now I have a whole lot of fresh horse manure that I can't use this season and I have a big pile of compost that I can't use on the vegetable garden at all.  Someone, not us, threw their dirty cat litter in it.  Wonderful.  I will use it on the flower beds this fall, it won't go to waste.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Spring Is Here

I should have written this entry yesterday because yesterday I started my tomato and pepper seeds.  But I didn't get around to it and so it must be noted that:

~Tuesday, March 25th, started tomato and pepper seeds.
~Noticed the first crocuses beginning to bloom.

My seed starting system is tried and true.  I've done it this way for the past 7 years with complete success.  I begin with the little compressed pellets.  You add water and they expand into a small planting cell contained in a light plastic net.  I do two trays of 72 cells each for a total of 144 plants.  I sow 2 or 3 seeds in each cell.  I only have one heating mat so the trays are alternated on the mat each day.  This seems to work fine although a second heating mat would be more convenient but I've had trouble finding them lately.  The trays are covered with a clear plastic top and placed on the shelves of my window greenhouse.  The window in my kitchen is ideal as it faces south and is right over a forced air heating vent.  I believe the air movement from the vent decreases disease and strengthens the seedlings.

There are several reasons why I go through the trouble of starting my own seeds rather than buy from a nursery.  First and foremost is selection.  I am a major tomato snob and I have certain varieties of tomato that I must grow which are never offered as nursery stock.  Plus I like to experiment with different and unusual tomato varieties, especially heirlooms.  I can order about any tomato seed I am interested in growing. 

Second, it is cheaper.  Granted, I grow way more plants than I need for my garden but the extras are always given to friends or donated to garden clubs to be sold during fundraisers.  They don't go to waste.

Finally, I can be sure of organic growing methods.  Not that I worry much about the fertilizer given to seedlings at nurseries, but it is an issue and I like knowing that my seedlings have only been fertilized with fish emulsion and never sprayed with pesticides.

What varieties did I plant this year?  I have my yearly staples; Big Mama paste tomatoes (24), Sun Gold cherry tomatoes (18), Striped German heirloom tomatoes (24), and Bell peppers (12).  Also this year I am trying out San Marzano paste tomatoes (24), Rose heirloom tomatoes (18), Ancho peppers (12), and Joe E. Numex Anaheim peppers (12).

Monday, March 17, 2008

Growing food & Nutrition

Following on the heals of my interest in gardening, has grown a strong interest in nutrition and fitness.  They go hand in hand, in my opinion, since most nutrition comes in the form of vegetables that we can grow ourselves.

You always hear people complain that healthy and organic foods are too expensive for the average person to buy on a regular basis.  I've noticed that many of these people complaining have space in their yards to grow their own food.  Imagine if everyone who had the place to do so would give up some of their precious chemically treated green lawn to put in a small garden for a few tomato plants, carrots, lettuce, etc.  They would begin by helping themselves by lowering their own grocery bill and providing nutritious food for their family.  Then I believe you would see the prices of produce in the stores go down because supply would be up and demand would be down.

Currently I am overweight.  A love of food, a vicious sweet tooth, bad genes and a slow metabolism have contributed to my heft.  But the good news is that I am learning and I am making the effort to be a healthy, fit person.  I've lost almost 50 lbs in the past 6 months, but I have a ways to go yet.  I will get there and my garden will help.  I'm so grateful for my garden and my ability to grow vegetables, especially now that I am working towards this healthy goal.  It is nice to be able to walk outside and pick my meal, knowing that I could not make a healthier choice.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Growing food

~ Pruned the Type 3 Clematis vines back
~ All seed orders are received except the backordered green pole beans from Johnny's.  Still need to order some asparagus crowns
~ Going to expand the vegetable garden this year by about 15 sq ft.  Garden plan is complete

Food prices are going up.  We worry about the pesticides used on the food we consume.  These are the two main reasons I grow vegetables.  I wish I had more space to have a very large garden.  Nothing would make me happier then to be able to grow ALL of our produce needs.  It would be a full-time job but so rewarding.  Last year our garden was about 12x25 and we grew 30 tomato plants, spinach, lettuce, carrots, onions, zucchini, bush beans, peppers and peas.  This year we plan to extend the garden to about 12x30 ft and grow 30 tomato plants, spinach, lettuce, carrots, radish, onions, zucchini, eggplant, asparagus, peppers and pole beans.

I pay much attention in my garden plan, which as I mentioned above is already completed, to companion planting.  Some plants make good neighbors and actually benefit each other.  For instance, in this year's garden plan, I have placed the eggplants in a triangular shaped bed with the pole beans angled along the two north sides of the triangle.  Eggplants are plagued by Colorado potato beetles and pole beans repel this particular pest.  This is important to me because I do not use pesticides in my vegetable garden.  I try to not use pesticides anywhere but, man, those Japanese beetles sure do a job on my roses.  Actually, I don't use anything on them, just hand pick them off.  But I know how hard it is to watch a pest decimate a beautiful plant.  In the vegetable garden, it is crucial to not use any chemicals.  

I amend my soil every year with compost that I make or horse manure if I can get it.  I fertilize only with fish emulsion.  My primary pests have been squash bugs on the zucchini and gourds, flea beetles on the spinach and parsley worms on the dill.  For the squash bugs I check every day for the eggs on the undersides of the leaves.  Remove and crush the eggs and the squash bugs are controlled.  This year I am going to try using row covers to control the flea beetles.  And as for the parsley worms, they are actually the larvae of the Black Swallowtail butterfly, so I bring them inside and raise them until they pupate and then emerge and fly away.

My point is that it is not necessary to use harsh pesticides in a garden.  Ok, so some of the produce may be compromised, some may be lost.  Isn't that better than our health being compromised and our lives lost?  I believe that most people in this country could grow a majority of their own produce, reducing their grocery bills and improving their health.  I just don't understand why they choose to maintain their vast expanses of lawns with the help of the Chemlawn company.  I just cannot understand that way of thinking.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


Hello!  My name is Patti and I am a Master Gardener in Northern NY.  I am starting this blog as a way to journal my own garden, and if anyone else is interested in reading, then you are more than welcome.  

It is currently the 12th of March, 2008 and it is snowing.  Hence the name of the blog.  Perhaps if I started the blog in mid-July, it would have a different title.  But the fact is, up here, near Watertown, NY, gardeners are faced with up to 6 months of snow.  In some ways the reliable snow cover is a blessing.  We can grow some less hardy plants because the snow insulates against extreme low temperatures.  On rare instances that reliance on the snow can backfire when we get a cold snap while there is no snow due to a mid-season thaw.  

We are labeled as zone 4 on the map, but I successfully grow many zone 5 plants.  Someday I'll have to try for a zone 6 and see how many years I can keep it alive.  Personally, I believe in global warming and feel that our being zone 4 is no longer accurate.  But I'll save getting up on that soapbox for another time.

My garden space is not large.  We have a house in a village and are limited by our property lines.  I dream of having endless space, and I'm sure I will someday, but even then I can only make my garden as large as I can keep up with.  For now, we have a moderate vegetable garden.  And I say "we" because my husband and children help me with it a lot.  After all, they like to eat the food that it produces as much as I do.  Well, maybe the kids don't quite like to eat the produce as much as me, but they'll learn to love it.  We grow a lot of tomatoes.  They usually take up about half the garden space.  I will start the tomato and pepper seeds for this coming summer in about 2 weeks.

I also do a lot with perennials and a little with annuals.  To be honest, most of my annuals are re-seeders, so they plant themselves each year.  I'd best describe my gardening style as Untidy Cottage.  I plant tight and full.  I don't want to see mulch, I want to see flowers.

That will do for now.  I'm looking forward to keeping this blog for myself and a great bonus would be to meet some fellow gardeners through it.