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Showing posts from 2011

Book Review (The Organic Home Garden by Patrick Lima, Photographs by John Scanlan)

About this time of year I become a regular at my local library signing out gardening books in an effort to add to my bag of tricks. Recently I came across a book that I would like to add to my personal library. I just finished reading The Organic Home Garden (How to grow fruits and vegetables naturally) by Patrick Lima with photographs by John Scanlan. This 160 page book released by Firefly Books was a truly enjoyable read.

On occasion one will read a book that really strikes a chord within. This particular book did so. It's philosophy in regards to land stewardship was completely relatable and more importantly presented in a practice that is completely obtainable. Just like the author I happen to live in zone 5 so while reading The Organic Home Garden I was able to directly relate to the process from seed to harvest, no pun intended. I think what also makes this book a pleasure to read is that Patrick Lima talks specifically about what he does best rather than trying to expand t…

Bird Feeder

We all the know the benefit of having birds in the garden. Yes they do occasionally eat seed but they are also invaluable in regards to eating garden pest. So I thought I would pass along a nice winter project that you could work on with your children to help keep your birds fed through the winter. A couple of months ago my kids built a few simple bird feeders that now hang from a lilac bush outside of our dining room window. It has brought all sorts of beautiful bright feathered guest to our home. Cardinals, blue jays and black capped chickadees just to name a few.

These particular bird feeders are extremely easy to build. First thing you need to do is find some large pine cones. Take some twine and tie it to the top of the pine cone. Then cover the pine cone in peanut butter and then roll the peanut butter covered pine cone in bird seed. The peanut butter acts like an edible glue and the pine cone is covered in seed. Then simply hang the pine cones from the branch of your favorite…

Book Writing

"Easy reading is damn hard writing." ~Nathaniel Hawthorne

It has been some time since I have written publicly and for that I apologize. It is with good reason though. While the winds become progressively colder and the days shorter both in temper and sunlight I have been focusing my energy towards the long term goal of writing a gardening book.

I have spent the past couple of winters digesting some fantastic material through the public library and as gifts from friends and relatives who are kind enough to feed my addiction to gardening. I have also read a few that have left me feeling a little cheated after I put the book down. It has occurred to me for some time now though that there is an angle that is missing that I think should and could be addressed if properly presented. So with that said I am eventually going to throw my hat in the public arena with some written material of my own. I am aiming for spring 2013 to be finished with it.

In the meantime I will eventuall…

Winter Reading

It is hard to believe that it is the last week of November! The weather is incredible. I just finished spreading compost over the majority of the main garden and the raised bed. Normally this time of year I am staring at a blanket of white that covers the lawn daydreaming about warmer weather while I thumb through last years seed catalogues.

Yesterday I ordered a few 2012 catalogues in preparation for just such an event and thought that I would pass them along to you in case you were interested in heirloom seed stock. My old reliable is the Seed Savers Exchange out of Decorah, Iowa. Their new catalogue is coming out in early December. For those of you interested when I was on the site yesterday, , I noticed they are selling last seasons seeds 50% off. Of course the catch is , especially with heirlooms, that the older they get the less potent they are, but if you are willing to be patient and work your crop over a year or two's time you will have made a solid …

The Final Numbers

On numerous occasion this year I have mentioned that I have been keeping a running tally of the amount of produce grown in our gardens this year in relationship to the cost to get everything up and running as well as the amount of money saved on groceries this year. I have finally compiled all the numbers and thought that I would post them for you. Our garden space is around 600 square feet give or take a few. I ended up getting the price per pound from the USDA website. In the end these stats are ballpark figures but I think it gives everyone a good idea of what type of year it has been. What this list does not take into consideration are the numerous pounds of food simply eaten straight out of the garden by myself or the children and their friends or all the fresh herbs that we grow as well. Some items in our yard are simply not mentioned or recorded, for example apples are not listed on this chart because I have been pruning our old tree over the past few years and this year was t…

Book Review (Newspaper, Pennies, Cardboard & Eggs for Growing a Better Garden by Roger Yepsen)

Newspaper, Pennies, Cardboard & Eggs for Growing a Better Garden by Roger Yepsen and the Editors of Organic Gardening contains over 400 ideas for year long gardening.

I enjoy Yepsen's work. He is also responsible for "A Celebration of Heirloom Vegetables", "Berries" and "Apples". This particular book is a reasonably quick read for 346 pages. The format reminds me of a blog to be truthful. The entries are short and to the point. Due to the quick pace of this book it is easy to read it in a matter of a few sittings.

The book is broken up into ten chapters ranging from seed starting and saving to tools, supports and storage. It touches on the theory of biodynamic gardening via lunar phases (without labeling it as such) and making your own compost bin. It provides advice on healthier houseplants and Asian eggplants. Color schemes for flower beds and how to replace a broken handle on your most trusted garden shovel. On some level I may not be doing …

Straight into the Snow

A few days ago I went out and began a final harvest of the main garden. I brought in the bulk of the Brussels sprouts and the last of the danvers, Saint Valery and dragon carrots. I was able to harvest a couple of handfuls of Swiss chard and gathered some nasturtium. I was even able to get a few lemon drop cherry tomatoes before the winds of late autumn and winter set in.

I made my way around the yard looking for anything that may have been overlooked and brought in lavender clippings and a bouquet of zinnia and black eye Susan to decorate our dining room table, I know very P. Allen Smith of me.

A day later we ended up with our first snow of the season and it looks as though this weekend will be more of the same. Temperatures have dropped quickly and we went from summer straight into the snow.

When the weather gets like this I can't help but begin my plans for the next growing season. There are a few small patches of lawn that I believe we can still turn into vibrant garden sp…

Seed Exchange

"In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous." Aristotle

Later today the kids and I are going to go out and start prepping the garden for its winter slumber. There are still some Brussels sprouts, carrots and peas to harvest and garlic to plant. We will also be adding green compost to the garden as well to feed the soil.

For those of us who are passionate about our gardens this is not necessarily the end of things, in fact some may say it only the beginning. I am already trying to figure out what we will grow in the gardens next year and where it should sit amongst the tranquil backdrop of herbs, flowers, vegetables and fruit. I have already started looking through the outdated seed catalogs in an attempt to find something new that I may have missed. I have even started glancing at my old blog post searching for a veggie that may be worth bringing back next year.

In my search for new seed I found welcoming group of fellow seed savers on the Internet, facebo…

Collecting Seeds (Walthum Butternut Squash)

I am a huge fan of squash. I love their bizarre physical features, the way they stretch their long limbs around the garden, and of course I really enjoy their unique flavor.

When we had our first garden here on Orchard we grew Walthum Butternut Squash and it was a prolific producer, not to mention absolutely delicious! At that point I thought I had figured out how to grow squash and attempted a few different varieties over the course of a few growing seasons. I simply did not have the luck I had with the Walthum and decided it was time to go back to the old standby.

As usual we ordered our seeds from The Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa. We decided this year that we were going to trellis our winter squash as well and that was a huge help in regards to space and quality of produce.

Saving seed from winter squash is actually very easy. Simply cut the vegetable in half and scoop out the seed. Remove as much of the flesh from the seed by hand as you can. Afterwards run the seeds u…

Book Review (Gardening With Herbs for Flavor and Fragrance by Helen Morgenthau Fox)

"The first European to write on plants was the Greek Theophrastus, called the father of botany, who was born in 370 B.C. He was a pupil of Plato and later of Aristotle." Page 22, Gardening With Herbs for Flavor And Fragrance by Helen Morgenthau Fox.

Recently I traveled to the small town of Franklin N.Y. to check out the annual Library's book sale. I went specifically to find some books on gardening and to get some text for our children whom we homeschool. I found a few interesting books and after being of accused of trying to steal them from the book sale by the Head Librarian I paid for them and made the short drive home. (That of course is a whole separate story)

One of the books that I purchased was the book Gardening With Herbs for Flavor And Fragrance by Helen Morgenthau Fox. Originally published in 1933 the edition I found was from 1970 with an inscription on the inside that said "For Doris, birthday 1973".

I have been thinking about how I want to appro…

100 Year Flood

As I am sitting here thinking about what to write I am watching the chickadees swiftly move amongst the branches of the lilac tree outside of our living room window. The air is crisp and the dew that covers the garden numbs your finger tips. This morning my son and I went out to the garden to gather the winter cabbage. Normally the fall harvest is one of my favorite times of year but this year it has taken on a much deeper meaning.

In 2006 our little section of the country fell victim to the "Hundred Year Flood". Recently with the back to back arrival of the tropical storms Irene and Lee our area was once again submerged by another "Hundred Year Flood", problem is it was 95 years too early. Luckily for our family we are situated on enough of a hill that the waters stopped about 30 to 40 yards from our home, so aside from a wet basement we made it out in fairly good shape. Countless farmers lost entire crops of corn and soybean to the flood. Homes were destroyed t…

Smoke Signals Popcorn

For the past few years we have been growing organic sweet corn. We decided over the winter that it may be time to try out popcorn. The decision was based on the fact that there is sweet corn for sale on every corner in this area and we eat a ton of popcorn during the course of a year so we thought it just made sense.

Popcorn is an interesting food. In tombs in Peru there were kernels so well preserved that they could still be popped. A 1,700-year-old painted funeral urn in Mexico had a corn god on it wearing a headdress of popcorn. One can see why it would be such an important food source for early civilizations since it grows so easily and stores so well. It was also one of the few crops that American farmers were able to succesfully grow and sell during the Great Depression.

We grew a beautiful decorative variety called Smoke Signals. As usual we bought our seed from the Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa. We are getting ready to try out some kernels tonight, fingers crossed I am…

The "Perfect Pumpkin"

All three of our children love the garden. At this point in life they all play different roles which is fine by me. I prefer them to have a genuine interest rather than being part of the gardens labor force. My oldest daughter is usually very excited about taking part in prepping the garden in early spring and planting seed. Once the garden begins to bloom she is a little scientist observing the shape of leaves,flowers and stems. She kneels in the dirt watching the insects hard at work and is a constantly asking for answers to her observations. Our son loves playing with all the tools and digging in the dirt and can be found in the patch all through the year weeding and harvesting veggies. When playing in the yard he will snack on nasturtium and cherry tomatoes without hesitation. Our youngest has recently begun to realize there is an entire world deep within the foliage that is available for her to explore and is always eager to follow her father out to the garden.

I mention all of …


"Earth laughs in flowers." ~Ralph Waldo Emerson~

How about a little history lesson? Recently my wife started reading a book on herbs that was originally printed around 1933. In it there is a list of the crops that were grown one particular year by Charlemagne (Charles the Great), King of the Franks and Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. I bring this up because it lead to an interesting conversation. We live in a world of constantly changing technology. On some level I am sure every generation has felt like they are moving further and further away from so called primitive lifestyles. But underneath all the window dressing of technology we are still very dependent on some very consistent and basic ideas and practices. One of which is the food that we grow and eat. Though you can buy all sorts of artificially flavored foods in your grocery store some of the cornerstones of our diets are rooted in the fabric of human existence and if we are lucky will continue to be a part of li…

Fall Planting

"As the gardener, such is the garden." Hebrew proverb

Once again the garden has come in really handy as far as providing healthy meals for our family. In an attempt to make the most of the space and get a little more time in the patch before the season ends my son and I went out and planted some seeds for a nice fall harvest.

We actually started prepping the garden for this planting a few weeks ago by adding organic matter from the compost bin to "feed the dirt", as we say in our house.

We had a few spinach seeds left over from the initial planting this past spring that we started out with. Our neighbors, who have a fantastic garden themselves, were kind enough to give us three different varieties of lettuce seed. Needless to say we planted a few rows of each to mix things up a bit at the dinner table. We also had a ridiculous amount of Yellow Snap Peas from our own seed stock so we decided to plant about a hundred pea seeds to get a little late season treat in …

Collecting Seed (Lettuce)

Funny how things tend to sneak right up on you in regards to garden work. All of a sudden it is time to harvest seed and to get a short season planting in for the fall.

This is the first year that I have attempted to save lettuce seed. It is actually quit easy. Lettuce will bolt once the weather hits 85 degrees or so on a regular basis. Simply choose a few heads that you are going to allow to become seed stock and let them go to flower. Eventually the heads will look like tiny dandelion flowers with the white plume attached to the seed waiting for the wind to carry them away. Pick the seed pouch from the plant and crack it open, inside you will find an abundance of lettuce seed. Set them in a dry spot with some mild air circulation to dry and you will be set for the coming year, or better yet use them for a fall planting of your own!

Recently I had a friend make a comment while I was harvesting pea seeds that it takes a true Buddha to do such patient and diligent work,(*authors note …

Cherokee Purple

The Cherokee Purple is another of the seven heirloom tomatoes that we are growing this year. Only one of the seven happen to be a plant we have had in the garden previously so we are still trying to determine which tomatoes are right for our garden in regards to disease resistance, harvest and so on.

Visually they are really beautiful fruit. They caught my wife's eye right off the bat. Last week was the first time I have eaten one and when I first cut it open I was a little hesitant, it looked like a soggy mess to be completely honest with you. With that said though I ate it raw with some chicken breast and it was absolutely amazing! It was meaty,sweet and delicious and I simply could not stop eating it. So far the Lemon Drop cherry tomatoes and the Cherokee Purple (both from the Seed Savers Exchange) have made the cut.

Tobias Whitaker blogs for Mother Earth News and Grit Magazine. Click on the Mother Earth News logo at the bottom of the page for all of his post. You can also fin…

Adirondack Blue

Though stereotypes about potatoes usually revolve around Ireland the potato can be traced to Peru. The potato was being cultivated in Peru around 8000 to 5000 BC.

This year we grew four different varieties of the nearly 8000 tubers available but the one that I will focus on this year is the Adirondack Blue. Blue, or purple potatoes can also be traced back to the people of South America. Adirondack Blue though is a product of a local Ivy League University. It was created by Cornell University potato breeder Walter De Jong in 2003.

We found this potato to grow really well in our garden, which should be no surprise since we are only an hour or so from Cornell. It produced nice size tubers and seemed to do the best of the four varieties.

When cut open the blue flesh is as intense as a Sapphire, it really is beautiful. One of the interesting things I have to point out though is that you don't realize how programmed you are in regards to your food visually until you get ready to eat …

Collecting Seeds (Bush Beans)

It is that time of year again. For the past two or three weeks the kids and I have been working over the bean patch in an attempt to gather seed. We basically have been growing three main types of beans over the past three years and added in a Lima bean variety this year.

The Pencil Pod beans are probably the easiest to get out of their shell. For the most part the pod will dry and become brittle and you can just work it out with your fingers with little difficulty. The other two varieties, the Dragon's Tongue and the Royalty Purple, are a bit more "fleshy" for lack of a better term and you have to keep an eye on the plant so that it does not rot before you get to the bean. So in essence it is a timing game with those two variety's because you need to work the bean from the shell after they have become ripe but before they are lost to mold. Due to this the Royalty Purple has been slow in regards to a solid build up of seed. The Dragon's Tongue on the other hand …

Lemon Drop Tomato

"It's difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato.” Lewis Grizzard

To tell you the truth tomatoes usually rank pretty low on my chart of must grow garden veggies. For one reason or another certain people are drawn to growing certain items due to their ease or difficulty, their appearance, their demand and so on. I enjoy eating tomatoes but up until recently did not realize how much I had been missing out on.

Last year I had gotten a yellow cherry tomato from our local farmers market, Frog Pond, and it was really delicious. I had wanted to try to save seed from it but never got around to it. This past winter while reading through my seed catalogs I started thinking back to that yellow tomato and thought I would give something a bit more exotic a try and see what the big deal was/is with heirloom tomatoes.

The Seed Savers Exchange, whom I love, offered a 6 pack of random starter plants for both peppers and tomatoes so I decided to order t…

Collecting Seed (Peas)

As I sat in the morning sun with ants crawling over my bare feet and insects snapping by my head nestled under the corn stalks I told my oldest daughter that I think this may in fact be my favorite time of year in the garden. I love the simple, time consuming process of collecting seed from my heirlooms.

Both varieties of peas have made a strong push toward settling into seed. The British Wonder Pea, which we are growing for the first time this year, is nothing to write home about just about, 20 seeds if we are lucky. But the yellow snap pea is an entirely different story. We will be heading into our 4th generation of this particular pea. When we bought our start up pack from Seed Savers Exchange I think there were around 25 seeds or so, don't quote me but you get the idea. So far today we have easily taken in about 200 seeds and it is safe to say we are barely half way done.

If you are new to saving your own seeds I would recommend beans (which we will talk about at a later d…

Entering the next phase

The last couple of weeks in the garden have been very busy. About two weeks ago we started with the onions, I ended up passing on writing specifically about our bulbs but did want to mention them briefly because we had such a great harvest this year.

I have been keeping an eye on the bush beans, spinach, lettuce, yellow snap peas and radish as they go to seed. The British Wonder Pea, which we grew for the sole purpose of adding nitrogen to a weak spot in the garden already went to seed, in fact a few of the seeds that fell from the pods are sprouting in the damp soil beneath.

We went on a monstrous weeding campaign and the garden looks significantly better. I went and I cut the Swiss chard down so that it could grow some young and tender leaves before the weather sets in a few weeks. Chard is such an underrated plant in the garden. It is so healthy for you, stands up to all sorts of weather and if prepared properly so delicious.

The popcorn has also started to display its tassel…


"I'm happy now." 3 year old Liam Riley

This has by far been the best year of gardening we have had since we have moved in. The garlic has been no exception. We recently harvested three different varieties of the cloves from our raised bed and from our son's little side garden. It may be worth adding that his plants were huge and put ours to shame, he is a natural and just like his father it makes him happy being in the garden.

One of the goals we are aiming for next growing season is to make a solid transfer of the whole garden to raised beds, we will have to wait and see how well that works out. Part of the reason is that you are able to produce such large, healthy plants. Last year we grew lettuce in the raised bed and then at the end of the year we fed the soil with compost and in the fall put in the garlic bulbs that we just finished harvesting.

The health benefits of garlic are numerous and well documented, for example, it is a natural anti-biotic. For one rea…


I have never grown onion from seed. One of our local farmers markets, Frog Pond Farms, has always sold bulbs that produced a delicious onion so in the past I have always waited until I was ready to plant onions and picked up a bag of white or yellow and a bag of red onion bulbs for the garden. Initially this year was not going to be any different but when I got there I discovered they had a huge selection of shallot bulbs and if the truth be told I have never knowingly eaten a shallot so I thought I would give them a try with the onions. I have to admit I was/am blown away! This year we grew 3 ten foot rows of onions and about 15 feet of shallots, next year I am going to plant a ridiculous amount of these delicious and healthy bulbs.

I decided to do a little research on the shallot since it was my first time around with this veggie. I planted mine in early spring when the soil could first be worked and just harvested the last of it today. I am going to set aside some of the best bul…

Book Review (Step by Step Organic Vegetable Gardening by Shepherd Ogden)

I just finished reading Organic Vegetable Gardening by Shepherd Ogden. Normally I tear through gardening books but I have to admit that this 288 page book took me awhile. On one hand there is a lot of personal information that happen to be specific tales of his own gardening experience in Vermont, which of course is completely understandable, one writes about their own experiences. The catch is though while the reader plugs away through Ogden's script you uncover a treasure of wealth and knowledge. This is a resource book, not a quick weekend read. He goes over the specifics of gardening in extreme detail from previous season garden prep to harvest. Then again I suppose the title of the book, "Step by Step", should have given that away to me.

It is interesting though how certain information can be so timely. The particular copy of the book that I am reading is from 1992. In it while talking about the environmental impact we play as gardeners he mentions natural gas and …


"Last night I was dreaming about broccoli,
I had only broccoli for my dinner,
It was funny in my tummy filled with broccoli and nothing else."
~Sophia, the 5 year old poetess~

My daughter's favorite vegetable is broccoli so this year we grew plenty. We have been on a regular streak of raw broccoli with our dinner at night. Normally we have a little side of good dressing to dip this cruciferous veggie in and we are ready to dig in.

In the past I have written about the numerous health benefits of this green flower head so I thought I would go with a different angle on this post. I did a bit of research on the plant and found out some interesting history, interesting in the sense that I am way too curious about plants.

The Italians are normally credited with the cultivation of broccoli but it goes a little further back, though my children's ancestors do play an interesting role in the appearance of the veggie in the States. In Asia Minor, what is now Turkey, they beg…

Of Like Mind

Recently I have had the opportunity to visit with some friends that I have not seen in quite some time. One, is a leader in the local art scene and simply put drawn to the calming effects of nature. We ended up getting involved in an interesting dialogue concerning heirlooms food, indoor and outdoor growing techniques and the pros/cons of both techniques and the quality of water in our area. It's always nice to bump into someone of like mind and eventually the conversation naturally, no pun intended, took a turn into the subjects of permaculture, biodynamic gardening and even harvesting the foods growing all around us that most people never even think about such as plantain and pine, wild raspberries and strawberries as well as attracting pollinators to your gardens by introducing indigenous flowers to your gardens. Though slightly brief, I really enjoyed our chance to talk and pass information along to one another.

My other friend is a musician living in New York City and it wa…

Bush Beans and Cucumbers

In a very short span of time alot of different veggies are beginning to make a dash to full bloom, of those the bush bean plants may currently be the most prolific of the group. Over the course of 3 years or so we have mainly grown the Danish heirloom, dragon tongue, and the beautiful royalty purple pod bean and the yellow wax or pencil pod bean. All three of these are now a solid part of our own private seed stock. I have found the yellow wax bean to be the easiest to grow and harvest, plus it taste delicious. It has an onyx black seed that just falls right out of the dried shell when it is ready for storage. The other two beans are a bit of a different story. They tend to have a very fleshy case which makes for a delicious bean but in our region of the world it is difficult not to loose a substantial portion of your seed stock to mold and rot if you do not pay close attention to your patch. These particular beans need a lot of help out of their casing if you are to have a successful…