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.