This is a journal of my home vegetable garden. Skippy and Suzie think it's their garden, but I do all the work. We're located near Boston (USDA zone 6A). I have a community garden plot and a garden in my backyard. I try to grow all of my family's vegetables using sustainable organic methods.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

five mistakes that new gardeners make

A couple weeks ago I asked "What do you think is the #1 mistake that new gardeners make?" Robert Leavitt, a gardener and blogger who originally asked me that the question, has now posted the answers that he has complied. You can see them at his blog here: Top 5 Garden Mistakes

In short, he found the mistakes are:
#5 Starting Too Big
#4 Not Choosing the Appropriate Soil
#3 Not Providing Regular Irrigation
#2 Planting Something Where it Doesn’t Belong
#1 Not Having Started Gardening Earlier Because of the Fear of Making a Mistake!

two and a half feet of snow!

The official snowfall measurement for our area is 30-32 inches. I haven't made the trek down to my garden yet. I'm not sure if I can. I think snow shoes or even skis will just sink into this fluffy snow.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

we have 28 inches of snow so far and its still falling

coop snowed under IMG_0049 Microsoft PowerPoint - coop cam1.pptxcoop in snow  IMG_0041 I cleared a path to the chicken coop. The hens are fine. A bit of snow blew into their run, so when it finishes coming down and blowing around I'll lay down fresh straw. The hens are mostly staying put inside the coop today. I can watch them with a remote camera in the run. Only Bertha, my big, heavily feathered Brahma, is spending any time in the run.

I'm hearing some news about the storm being stalled over our area and that its not doing any weakening yet. So we have more to come.

selfie in the snow IMG_0075suzie in the blizzard IMG_0040 Here's a selfie. Me and my husband. I was snow blowing the driveway but I'm not so good at aiming the blower and I think most of it blew onto my head. Fun!

I want to go down and check on my garden soon. Maybe I'll be able to get a few more pictures today. But probably not much to see. From the house, I can only see the tops of the hoops.

Monday, January 26, 2015

the eve of the big snow storm?...

All day today I've been hearing the words "historic", "epic", "snow-mageddon", "a top 5 storm". We are predicted to get 2-3 feet of snow with 50 mph winds all night and all day tomorrow. Other words I hear are "hunker down", "school closures", "state-of-emergency", "power outages expected". Wow.

Well, I think we're prepared. We have a generator and plenty of food (and beverages) in the house. The gardens will be happy with the snow cover. The chickens are snug. Their small coop is solid wood, their big run has a new glass roof and we lowered the tarps that protect the sides. I filled their food and water and I plugged in their ceramic heat bulb. I think they'll be good.

COOP READY FOR SNOW IMG_0030COOP ready for snow IMG_0031

Sunday, January 25, 2015

new seed trays to try out

Here are the new seed cells I'm going to try this year. I'm still deciding what to plant in which. 'Til now, I've only used the bottom right trays, which have 48 cells per 10-20 tray.

new planting trays on shelves
The new trays I'll try have 24, 128 and 200 cells per 10-20 tray.

I got my seedlings shelves out and stacked the trays on them. They're ready and waiting. I'll look for some soil mix. I think I have some out in the shed leftover from last year. I'm working on setting up a convenient watering method as Pam commented these smaller cells will dry out fast.

Below are some old photos I took at a nearby greenhouse a few years back. The farmer, Gretta, had a beautiful set up in her hoop house as she was getting ready for a CSA season. I was amazed at array of beautiful seedlings. I'll look the photos over and take some pointers from them. Of course, I can't plant as many as plants Gretta.... I think she is using all 128 cell trays.

seedlingsallium seedlings brassica seedlingsmore seedlings

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my last clove of garlic

my last garlic clove I planted 75 cloves of garlic last fall. It gave me a pretty good harvest. There were a few more rotted coves than usual, but my main wish is that I had more heads. I've had years when my harvest lasts til April. I was jealous to read a blog where the gardener planted 500 cloves of garlic!! Wow. This fall again I planted 75 cloves. I'll have to think about a way to plant more next fall. I would need to use a second bed. Just over 100 cloves would be nice.

I used to plant 100 cloves, but they were smaller and I planted them closer together. I have a real nice seed stock from Territorial now, mostly Music, and it is big and takes up more space.


Saturday, January 24, 2015

new computer - new seed cells

I have a new computer. I'm inside on a snowy day, working on setting it up. Its a fantastic touch screen, high-res Dell running Windows 8.1. (I had a hard time deciding Mac vs PC, but have run PC's for the past 20 years and didn't want to make the switch - learning windows 8 was enough - a one day effort with on-line videos. So I will have the "worker drone" image and not the "creative" image computer. Oh well.)

The challenge for me now is to get the new computer running - so I'm not always relying on the old one and playing with the cool new features of the new one. So, I'm going to try to do all blog posts after this one on my new computer. Most of my files are already transferred. I need to transfer Photoshop and Dreamweaver. Since we have a branch down on a wire outside and are getting intermittent internet service, not sure if it will happen today.

As soon as I do get another post up, I have photos of the seed trays I received this week. I am going to be trying four different sizes of seed cells. Can't wait. They look fun. I need to decide what seeds to plant in which size seed cells.

Monday, January 19, 2015

chicken coop with a glass covered run

I think this is the reason my chickens are laying nearly an egg a day in the coldest and darkest days of winter. Its my husband's invention and creation.

glass roofed chicken run IMG_1378 During our house renovation, we needed up with two unneeded large panes of glass. A wood frame was designed to fit these panes. The panes and heavy and weren't easy to hoist up onto the frame. I love the result! Can't say I'm hearing any complains from the hens.

coop renovation IMG_2642coop renovation IMG_2641 coop renovation IMG_2643coop renovation IMG_2645 In this last picture, snow has covered the roof. We clear this with a big ice scraper and the hens get their sunlight back. And we get out eggs. If need be, we'd lower the blue tarp sides in a blizzard. No need to yet, but I'm sure there will be.

glass topped coop IMG_2704



In the middle of winter, its a perfect time for a gardener to dream. (On MLK day: I have a dream.) I dreamt a lot last night. Dreamt my piano teacher kicked me out of class, dreamt I forgot to feed my chickens for a week. My night time dreams tend to be my little worries. I thought today was a good time to think about bigger dreams. Maybe not anything I can do anything about, but if they're written down, maybe it means something.

I have a dream...

- That someday everyone will have access to garden space and knowledge on how to grow their own food

- That everyone would have enough food, eat food that tastes good, food they know the source of, that they know has no pesticides in it, that farm workers hadn't been exposed to toxins to grow it, and that the land it grew on was still healthy

- That everyone could have the opportunity to be involved with growing their food and taste how good tastes when you dig the dirt, you plant the seeds and you tend the plants

- That everyone would have the opportunity to be part of a community where people from different backgrounds grow together according to their heritage or preference and share their knowledge and maybe part of their harvest with everyone

This last dream is from my experience at the community garden I manage. I think it does work this way. Maybe you could take out the garden references and make it a generic wish... that all could live harmoniously according to their heritage or preference and be able to share with their community.

That's it. Some big wishes but I don't often think about them outright. I go about planning and planting, sharing my garden journal and helping to manage our community garden. Hopefully this contributes something positive.

I've had some great discussions with my college-aged son. Maybe my dreams aren't realistic. If all people grew their own food then everyone wouldn't have enough to eat, he tells me. If we forgo pesticides and protect our soils then we can't grow enough. Also, there's no way everyone can plant seeds or would even want to. OK. I can't argue. I'm just doing my little thing and dreaming....

Saturday, January 17, 2015

its a 4 egg day!

All four of my hens laid an egg today. Omelets! IMG_2705

Thursday, January 15, 2015

2014 harvests

What a year. Now I remember why I was busy! I love to look back and remember the harvests.

It was my first year to harvest a full meal of asparagus. My best year for bok choi, beans, eggplants and cucumbers. And a fantastic year for popcorn and pears. The potatoes, peppers, squash and raspberries were good. I wonder what 2015 will bring.

2014 harvests.pptx


how to grow "comically huge" onions

I was so thrilled with Sara's comment on how to grow "comically huge" onions that I have spent some time reading up on onion culture.

Sara wrote: Onions: plant very shallowly, feed, feed, feed and water to put on as much leaf mass as possible before your daylength reaches the # of hours that your variety requires to bulb. Used organic fertilizer and compost last year and grew HUGE onions. Comically huge.
These are my tiny onions:
onion harvest 042 onions 004

Here's a really great link I found: Growing Onions, TexasA&M
The size of the onion bulb is dependent upon the number and size of the green leaves or tops at the time of bulb maturity. For each leaf there will be a ring of onion; the larger the leaf, the larger the ring will be.
My onion varieties are all "long-day" onion varieties. They will quit forming tops and begin to form bulbs when the day length reaches 14 to 16 hours. In the Boston area, that happens (15 hours) on May 29. (I used this daylight calculator.)

Sooo.... My plan is: plant shallow, then baby my onions until the end of May. Lots of food and water and sun.

Onion varieties I'm growing this year: Pontiac, White wing, Red wing, and Ailsa Craig.


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

new year's vegetable garden resolutions

1. More lettuce. I say this every year. I get a good spring crop then get distracted with all the other plants and forget the succession planting. Lettuce and other salad greens are something we eat a lot of.

2. Also more beets, carrot, garlic, onions. And less winter squash.

3. Grow beautiful tomatoes, which means solving the problem I had with bad compost. I'll move them to a bed that didn't get the bad stuff. I hope some of my home compost is ready this spring.

4. Grow bigger onions. I gave some of my seedlings to a friend who is a fantastic gardener and she grew onions 3 times as big as mine - from the same seedlings. OK she's not all organic. But I can do better by giving them more space and not letting other plants shade them. I wonder how much inconsistent irrigation affects onions.

5. Consistent crops of bok choi and broccoli. I did all-or-nothing, feast-or-famine, with these last year. There must be a way to have a few ready all the time.

6. Try again for a good crop of winter greens in a plastic tunnel, i.e. get rid of the voles.

7. I want to find a good vantage point to photograph my garden more and keep up with monthly photos. Sometimes I forget just how beautiful a garden is and how wonderful the summer season was. I just love to look back at the photos in the middle of winter. And I love to share the pictures.

8. Enjoy my garden more this year. I've certainly enjoyed it every year in the past, but I would look forward to the challenge of enjoying it even more!

I'd love to hear other gardeners' New Year's resolutions!

the first year in skippy's new vegetable garden

the first year in skippys new garden These photos are from August 21 2013, March 11 2014, April 6 2014, April 26 2014, May 26 2014, June 12, 2014, August 31 2014 before fall clean-up, and August 31 2014 after fall clean-up.


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

herb salts

Back in early November, I made several herb salts. I looked up several recipes and found that these mixes can be either mostly herb with a bit of salt for flavoring or mostly salt with a bit of herb flavoring. At first I used a recipe for the former: mostly herb. That didn't seem the most useful for me, so I added salt.

My mixes ended up with about equal amounts of salt and herbs. I use them whenever I would be normally be adding plain salt to a recipe - and I get some extra flavor. I sprinkle the sage salt on cooked carrots, the thyme salt on broccoli, rosemary salts on scrambled eggs. Very nice.

rosemary salt ingredients IMG_0328sage salt ingredients IMG_0330 thyme salt ingredients IMG_0329herbs before processing IMG_0339 To make the salts, I combined all ingredients listed below, processed in food processor til smooth, then spread on a sheet of the plastic mesh that came with my dehydrator with a sheet of parchment below and anther plastic mesh below those. I dried at low heat (110*F) in dehydrator for a few hours. When dry, I pushed the mix through the mesh onto the parchment and stored in plastic bags.

As I mentioned above, I added salt to get the flavor I preferred. I ended up with equal amounts of salt and herbs, 1:1 ratio. Many recipes call for a 1:4 ratio of salt to herbs.

Rosemary salt
Fresh rosemary
Lemon zest
Garlic cloves, crushed

Sage salt
Fresh sage leaves
Shallots, chopped
Dried chiles

Thyme salt
Fresh thyme, stems removed
Fresh oregano, stems removed
Lemon zest
Garlic cloves, crushed

herbs after processing IMG_0340herb mix in dehydrator IMG_0364
I gave several of the salts away as Christmas gifts to my siblings. Now that I've posted this I can send a link and show them how I made them.

rosemary herb salt IMG_0927

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Saturday, January 10, 2015

updated planting calendars

I've just finished updated the planting calendars on my side bar. Its taken me a few weeks as I'm better with plants than HTML. I think the result is good, considering. The updated calendars have more vegetables and updated explanations. Also I've added dates for succession planting and dates for transplanting. I am looking forward to using them this year.

Tonight I printed out spring, fall and winter planting calendars for myself. My first planting date is Feb 22, the date to plant onions and celeriac. I don't know how I can wait that long. I usually can't and I end up planting these crops at the end of January. Once my first seeds are sown, I do better at waiting.

Yesterday I placed my seed orders. One at Johnny's and one at Territorial. After the seeds arrive, I'll organize the seed packets by planting date using my calendars.


Thursday, January 08, 2015


eggs! IMG_1395b Today, for the first time, all four of my hens laid an egg! Yeah!!!

I haven't had any eggs for almost 4 months! After loosing a hen to a local hawk or coyote last summer, I purchased two young hens (pullets) in late August. The new chickens apparently disrupted things so much that my two one year old hens stopped laying. It took a couple months for things to settled down. Once everyone started getting along, I think it was too dark for them to lay. My run is covered with tarps to keep it dry, and I suppose it was pretty dark underneath.

My husband figured out how to solve the darkness problem. He built a glass roof for the run! About a month ago my two youngest chickens started laying. They've each been laying an egg about every other day since then. Last week, my one year old Brahma, Bertha, started laying. And today I finally have a blue egg from Ginger, my Auracana.

I will post photos soon of the fancy new coop with a glass covered run.


Monday, January 05, 2015

january community garden plot

The low sun is making a prism of light across my camera lens. In the foreground my pear tree branches are budded and braving the cold. Winter rye is growing in a few beds, green manure to turn under in the spring. The garlic bed is covered with salt march hay and I'm imagining healthy garlic root systems. I see some arugula that is still green. My compost bin was full to the brim in the fall. I ended up with a big pile of debris that wouldn't fit in. I see the lid is now sinking as contents mature. The rest seems pretty quiet and cold. No snow. That's nice for me, but my garden soil and garlic roots would prefer to be covered. community plot january IMG_2654

Friday, January 02, 2015

plans for another year

I drew up a couple diagrams for this year's gardens.
home garden plan 2015 In planning for a new year, I always move everything so nothing grows in the same location as last last year (crop rotation).

Along with rotation, I want to do a few things different this year. For my home garden:

- I've moved the tomatoes to a bed that didn't have the store bought compost that made them sick last year. Last year, all my tomatoes had spindly growth, curled leaves, and very few tomatoes. I hope the move will help.

- I'll add some flowers along the front fence. I thought I'd be adding a raised bed there eventually, but not enough room. I think flowers right in the soil will look nice.

- This year, I'd like to have more broccoli, carrots, beets and shell beans. I don't think I had too much of anything last year. Maybe a few too many eggplants, snow peas and snap beans. I made more space for this year by removing the zinnias patch from the garden.
community plot plan 2015
Again this year, my community plot will grow crops that need less regular care. I was able to tend this plot once a week last year and it worked out well. Changes for my community plot include:

- Growing flowers up the arbor rather than winter squash. Last year, I ended up with too much squash.

- Moving the dill out of the onion beds and into its own bed. The dill self sows and its easy to leave it where it comes up. But I think my onions will do better with more sun.

- I'm growing a lot less sweet potatoes this year. I didn't get a very good harvest last year. I had lots of very small tubers. I'll allocate a small space to the sweets for a while and see if I can get them to grow better. Maybe its just a matter of spacing the plants further apart, maybe I need new varieties.

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Friday, December 26, 2014

seed sorting

I've been reading piles of seed catalogs this week. They keep arriving in the mail. I circle and make wish lists. If I ordered everything that's caught my eye, I'd go broke and have closets filled with seeds. Plus I'm sure I already have many of these seeds. So today I'm sorting my old seeds.

sorting seeds IMG_1299

My seed baskets are a jumble after a busy year. I'm piling the same types of seeds together. Lettuces, tomatoes, squashes.... The seeds I remember not sprouting this year go in the trash along with seeds that are just way too old. I came across an endive packet from 2008, gourds from 2007. 8 years old! They might sprout, but if I haven't used them by now, obviously not one of my favorites.

I have lots of bean seeds that have fallen out of packets. Don't know why I save them. I have baggies full of mixed bean seeds. Maybe I'll plant a random bean plot and see what happens. Then again, maybe I'll be organized this year and only grow labeled varieties in separate rows so I know what they are......

After sorting my seeds, I wrapped each type of plant with a rubber band and then put them back in my seed box - alphabetically. I feel so organized now. Soon, I need to get some kind of garden plan drawn up for 2015 so I know what I have room for. THEN, finally, I can go back to my wish lists, check them against what I have, see if I have room for them, and THEN ORDER SOME fun new stuff.

sorting seeds IMG_1302sorting seeds IMG_1303

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