A Rhapsody in Blue: Selecting and Planting Vaccinium corymbosum, (Highbush Blueberry), Plus a Favorite Recipe for Blueberry-Lemon Bread…

March 31st, 2010 § 11 comments § permalink

A Rhapsody in Blue 

What would you say if I told you that I know of an amazing cold-hardy shrub, with creamy, bell-like spring flowers, glossy green leaves, brilliant fall foliage, colorful winter stems and an attractive, well-rounded form? Interested yet? It may come as a surprise that the shrub I am describing is none other than the common highbush blueberry, (Vaccinium corymbosum). Of course, the highbush blueberry is widely cultivated for its delicious fruit, but it’s often overlooked as a useful addition to ornamental gardens. Native to eastern North America, this gorgeous shrub can be found growing wild in acidic soil from central Canada all the way down to Florida, with a western range from Minnesota, south to Louisiana. Typically reaching a mature size of 8-12 feet high and wide, highbush blueberries are most commonly found in USDA zones 3-7. Although lowbush blueberries,(Vaccinium angustifolium), are also a fine and quite hardy shrub -famously grown for fruit in the state of Maine- they too are are rarely grown in ornamental gardens. This is a shame, as lowbush blueberries make a fine ground cover, producing pollinator-friendly blossoms and very sweet fruit. They also display beautiful autumn color.

If you live in a climate with lengthy cool seasons, highbush blueberries are easy to cultivate either in the vegetable garden, berry patch or mixed border. This is a relatively long-lived shrub, with few pests and diseases. When provided with the proper conditions, blueberry bushes make fantastic garden plants. Although Vaccinium corymbosum are generally trouble-free, a few growing tips will help increase berry yield and plant health…

Vaccinium corymbosum autumn color

In life, I often find that a group of diverse, mixed company creates great culture. With blueberry varieties this is especially true. When buying plants, keep in mind that for best pollination and fruit set, you should choose two different varieties of blueberry bushes that bloom at the same time. If you would like fruit throughout the season, try growing several different varieties in the same patch. When choosing plants, ask a local grower which varieties grow and produce best in your area. Some excellent early to midseason varieties include ‘Blueray’,’Duke’ and ‘Berkeley’. For later fruit try ‘Jersey Blue’ and ‘Elliot’ varieties. Again, ask your local grower for some recommendations. Remember that every variety will have a slightly different flavor.

When growing blueberries, one of the most important aspects of cultivation to consider is soil acidity. All blueberry bushes prefer a pH below 5, with an ideal range between 4.5 and 4.8. Be sure to test your soil pH with a kit. If your soil is more alkaline (even neutral is too alkaline for blueberries) you may lower the pH by adding sulfur, pine needles and/or other naturally acidic materials both to the soil and as a regular top-dressing in mulch. Blueberries are shallow-rooted plants and they require moist, but well-drained soil. Unless your garden receives at least an inch or two of rain per week, you will want to water your shrubs. The best way to keep soil moist and plants weed-free is to apply a wood chip/pine needle mulch. When planting new blueberry bushes, be sure not to plant too deeply. Keep the top of the pot level even with your existing soil, and add 1/3 peat moss to the planting mix when you backfill the dirt. Be sure to saturate the soil and peat, as well as the planting hole, with water. Do not fertilize your blueberry bushes for 2-3 months after planting. Once the plants are established, use an organic fertilizer in spring at bloom time, and again 3 weeks later while fruit is setting. Plants should not be fertilized later than this, and never in summer  or fall as the shrubs may suffer winter damage on soft wood ….

Fresh washed blueberries from the garden

In general, when grown for fruit, highbush blueberries should have 5-10′ of spacing, (depending upon variety). But if you are planting in rows, space plants 4-5′ apart in rows with 8-10′ separation. Some growers recommend removal of flowers in the first season for a better crop the second year. This is optional. No pruning is needed in the first three years, but in the fourth season, thinning may begin during dormancy, (late winter/very early spring). Remove weak branches, and any branches restricting sunlight and airflow at the center of the shrub. If fruit is your primary goal, aim for 12 healthy, strong canes per plant. The younger wood will produce the best fruit, so choose a good mix of branches, removing older sections each year.

By following these simple tips, delicious and health fruit will soon be on the way! But beware: birds love to eat blueberries too. If you grow Vaccinium corymbosum solely for ornamental value, then maybe you will leave the fruit on these shrubs for our birds to enjoy. However, if you are growing blueberries as a crop -perhaps as a hedging plant in your potager- you must cover the shrubs from the time of fruit set ’til the point of harvest. My father always used tobacco netting on his highbush blueberries, and I tend to recommend it or the modern-day equivalent, Remay. Plastic netting is hazardous to birds and other creatures, and I find Remay or tobacco netting work as well, or better.

And now, what do you say? Shall we use up some of those plump and delicious blue fruits? Oh, of course! Why not? A couple of weeks back, I featured a favorite recipe for Blueberry Hill Hotcakes and Syrup. They are scrumptious. Over the weekend, I was feeling the blues again, (maybe it was all the rain?). So I took to the kitchen. But this time around, I whipped up my favorite blueberry-lemon bread. This versatile recipe can also be used as a muffin mix, if you’re in the mood for a tasty-treat to-go. The lemony-sugar-syrup is optional, but I find it provides an extra bit of moisture and an added kiss of sweetness – plus I love the shimmery-effect on top. And although frozen blueberries work well here… there’s nothing quite like the fresh berries we will be enjoying later in the year. On a quiet weekend morning, I’m always in the mood for a rhapsody in blue…

Blueberry-Lemon-Bread-Muffins-thegardenersedenBlueberry Lemon Bread / Muffins, photo © 2010 Michaela at TGE

Blueberry-Lemon Bread with Lemon Syrup (or muffins)


Ingredients for one loaf of bread or one dozen average sized muffins:

2          cups all-purpose flour

1          teaspoon baking powder

1          teaspoon baking soda

1/4       teaspoon salt

1/4       cup sugar

2          eggs

1 1/4   cup sour cream

1/4      cup melted butter

1          tablespoon fresh lemon zest

2          cups of fresh or frozen blueberries

Lemon Syrup:

1/2      cup fresh squeezed lemon juice

1/2      cup of sugar

4          tablespoons water

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375°. Butter one 9″ x 5″ x 3″ bread pan or two muffin tins.

To make batter: Toss flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a small bowl. In a larger bowl, combine eggs, sugar, sour cream, melted butter and lemon zest and beat until well mixed. Add dry ingredients to wet and mix until just blended. Add blueberries and stir lightly to combine.

Pour the batter into the bread pan or muffin tins, (each muffin tin should be filled to 2/3 full). Bake bread for 50 minutes to 1 hour or until top is golden brown and a wooden stick comes out clean after inserted at center. If baking muffins, 15-20 minutes in the hot oven should do the trick.

To make the optional lemon syrup: combine the ingredients in a small saucepan and boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat and set aside.

After removing bread or muffins from the oven, prick the top with wooden stick, (all over for bread, or in 3 or 4 places per muffin). Drizzle the lemon-syrup slowly over the surface. Allow the lemon-bread or muffins to cool for 10 or 15 minutes before slicing or removing from the tins.

Serve warm with Earl Grey tea and fresh blueberries if they are in season. If you skip the syrup, the muffins also taste great with a bit of butter and honey.

Mixy, mixy…

 For further inspiration, there’s always…

Gershwin: Rhapsody In Blue/An American In Paris

Photography & Text ⓒ Michaela Medina Harlow/The Gardener’s Eden. All images, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Please do not take my photographs without asking first. Thank you! 

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Organic Manifesto: Maria Rodale’s Unflinching Look at the Perilous State of Farming in America & A Call to Action…

March 16th, 2010 § 4 comments § permalink

Maria Rodale’s Organic Manifesto, (available at Barnes & Noble today)

Last year, when a friend of mine insisted that I rent and watch “King Corn”, I put my name on a long waiting list, even though I am not one to get overly excited about documentaries. I’d heard about the film of course, and after watching “Food, Inc.”, I knew that a deeper look at American agriculture -particularly corn production- would be sobering. After watching both films, I began to seriously doubt the integrity of many government-run institutions and policies, which I’d always assumed benefitted American farmers, and protected us as consumers. So when Kristin, my editor at Barnes & Noble, sent me an advance copy of Maria Rodale’s Organic Manifesto, I thought I was already fairly well informed. I was wrong. This book was a real eye-opener, and I hope you will take the time to read my review of the book for Barnes & Noble at their Garden Variety blog linked here.

Both “Food, Inc.” and “King Corn” are must-see films, but as important as these documentaries are, I urge you to read Maria Rodale’s Organic Manifesto. Better yet, (if you can afford it), order a copy for yourself, and then drop it off as a donation to your local library for others to read. I think it’s that important. Rodale’s new book, with an introduction written by Eric Scholosser, takes a deeper look at some of the issues touched upon in “Food, Inc.” and “King Corn”. This throughly researched exposé bravely explores both the history and the environmental consequences of chemical, (aka “conventional”), farming, and offers realistic, organic alternatives. Do we really need man-made fertilizers and toxic chemicals to grow food, or is this a myth created by the multi-million dollar companies benefitting from this government-supported system? Rodale calls the public to action in her manifesto, urging us to act on the most basic level: demand organic produce.

Have you seen “King Corn” and “Food, Inc.”? Have they changed the way you look at farming in America?

Buy “King Corn” –  from Barnes & Noble

Buy “King Corn” –  from Amazon.com

Buy “Food, Inc.”  –  from Barnes & Noble

Buy “Food, Inc.” –  from Amazon.com

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Hello Friend – WAIT – Whose Team Are You On Anyway?

March 9th, 2010 § 7 comments § permalink

It’s easy to recognize this friend as an adult. A ladybug rests upon Peperomia. Photo © Michaela at TGE

Hello friend… or foe? In all of life it’s important to know your friends from your enemies, but as gardeners this issue is especially important. We are conditioned to think of bugs as destructive, ‘icky’ and ‘bad’. Of course this isn’t always the case. Hardly. In fact, some bugs are easy to like – especially if they are beautiful. Butterflies and moths easily charm us with their colorful patterns as they dance on the breeze, and dragonflies delight us with their bright colors and aerobatic maneuvers. Honeybees seduce us with their sweet nectar, and their bumbling cousins are equally charming as they buzz about the garden. Perhaps the most famous of all, pretty red and black ladybugs have become the pin-up girls of the beneficial insect world. In fact right now, as I type this sentence, hundreds of these helpful creatures are emerging from hibernation in my house, covering my houseplants like a smattering of little red polka-dots.

But what about the other “good” bugs? Would you know a beneficial insect if you saw one? It’s certainly been a long time since my last entomology class, and I admit that I am a bit rusty. Although I can easily recognize most garden pests, and I know how to combat them, I am not always spot-on with my identifications. Part of the difficulty lies in the nature of insect metamorphosis. What? Yes, that’s right: metamorphosis. Remember that from school? And no, I’m not talking about Franz Kafka’s famous novella, (although that is one of my all time favorite, freaky-works of fiction). Most of us become familiar with the process of metamorphosis in elementary school, when butterfly caterpillars, (particularly Monarch and Swallowtail), are collected in containers during science class. Kids of all ages love to watch as a mature butterfly emerges, transformed after weeks inside a moody, magical chrysalis. All insects live out their lives in stages, and it’s important for a gardener to know how they look in their ‘baby’, (larval, nymph, pupa), phases as well as in their mature form.

Most experienced gardeners will recognize the black and orange ‘monster’, (pictured below), as a ladybug, (or ladybird beetle, also known as Coccinella septempunctata), in its larval stage. In one of the more dramatic insect transformations, this freakish-looking creature morphs into the cute little red and black beetle we all know and love. If you have never  seen one before, do get to know this chameleon, for it is your dear, dear friend. The ladybug is a garden hero, and it does an extraordinary amount of work before it even reaches adulthood. Aphids; mites; scale: these garden pests are the ladybug’s favorite foods. In fact, a single ladybug can consume thousands of destructive aphids, mites and other insects within its lifetime. Would you have killed this creature, (pictured below), if you saw it in your garden? Many do. Sometimes the ladybug larvae is mistaken for a pest, and other times it is accidentally wiped out with an application of insecticide intended for the very aphids it is actually consuming, (warning: many organic pesticides can kill beneficials, especially in the larval stage)…

But would you recognize it as a baby? (An immature lady bug feasting upon aphids. Photo: Vejezus via Wikimedia Commons)

The first step toward becoming a responsible, organic gardener is to recognize the natural things living around you, and to learn about the role they play in the ecosystem. ‘Good’ or ‘bad’, all creatures are part of the web of life, and we should respect them. Of course this doesn’t mean that I invite aphids to join me for dinner in my vegetable garden. Heck no. I plant my garden to enjoy –  and to EAT! But, I do try to work with nature, not against her, in order to keep my garden free of insect competitors!

Like most gardeners, sometimes when my plants are under siege, it’s hard for me to decide who or what is to blame. Even the calmest gardener can start to panic when a favorite cultivar is being skeletonized. Learning to recognize the tell-tale evidence left behind during or after an insect attack is one of the keys to gardening success. Recently I posted an article, “Help! Something Is Bugging My Plants, (And Me Too)!” on the Garden Variety Blog at Barnes & Noble. There you will find some helpful diagnostic resources. I also believe that a good, easily transportable, insect ID guide book is an excellent gardening tool. Below I have linked my two favorites, in order of preference. For quick reference, I am a big fan of the indestructible, laminated Mac’s Field Guide to bugs, which hangs on my garden gatepost all summer like a wild-west “Wanted” poster. One side has “good” guys, flip it, and on the other, “bad” guys are illustrated in all stages – very useful. While you are here today, have a look at the right hand side of this blog. Scroll down until you see the “Insects and Entomology” category – there you will find a list of useful links. Explore some of the free online resources listed there. Many of these sites offer fantastic images to help you identify common, as well as uncommon insects, and some offer excellent information on how to combat backyard pests in a safer way.

The garden season is on its way! It’s time to flip through the list of regular insect-characters, and familiarize yourself with the different players and costume changes you will encounter this year. Friend or foe? Before you start attacking, or laying out your welcome mat, it’s wise to spend some time getting to know your garden “guests”…

Your friend, Milkweed Assassin Bug, is one of  over 4,000 members of the Heteroptera order. (Photo credit: Ira Eskins via Wikimedia Commons)

Buy from Amazon : NWF Field Guide to Insects and Spiders of North America

Buy from Barnes & Noble: NWF Field Guide to Insects and Spiders of North America

Buy from Barnes and Noble : NAS Field Guide to North American Insects and Spiders

Buy from Amazon: NAS Field Guide to North American Insects and Spiders

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Article and photographs, (with noted exceptions), © Michaela at TGE. All rights reserved.

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden, and may not be used or reproduced in any way without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world an link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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What’s Up Doc? Waskilly Seeds and a Recipe for Velvety Baked Carrots…

January 23rd, 2010 § 7 comments § permalink

Baked Velvet Carrots

Beautiful Bolero …

Flat leaf Italian parsley from the windowsill herb garden…

Sliced Bolero Carrots…

We all know that old Elmer Fudd thinks Bugs Bunny is a terribly, waskilly wabbit. But frankly I think Elmer has it wrong. I think it’s Bugs Bunny’s carrot that’s a bit waskilly – at least as a seed. Itsy bitsy, teeny weeny carrot seeds are notoriously difficult to sow. Tiny, fine and lighter than a feather, it’s easy to lose track of those little devils. They stick to the packet; slip through your fingers; blow down your shirt; and before you know it they are spilling all over the ground. Waskilly Kawits. Unfortunately, if you want beautifully shaped, full size carrots, then seed spacing is pretty darn important. But you know, I’m also fairly sure that I’m not the only gardener to lose track of how many carrot seeds have fallen into the soil, and how close they ended up being planted together. To solve the spacing problem, some gardeners broadcast seed with sand or coffee grounds. Other gardeners have showed me how they create elaborately folded paper contraptions. And a few frugal New England gardeners I know have ended up breaking down and buying pre-seeded carrot tape. Me? Oh I am stubborn. I usually struggle through the planting and then, weeks later, I test my patience by thinning seedlings with a pair of scissors on a buggy day. But there is another, fully-organic, OMRI approved solution: pelleted seeds. This year I am going to give them a go…

Pelleted carrot seeds with radishes, (photo courtesy of The Old School House Plantery)

Never heard of pelleted, (or pelletized), seeds? Well, they are just regular old seeds, coated with an organic substance, (usually an inert material like starch), that makes them easier to see and handle. The coating is sort of like the dusty, crusty stuff on the outside of a chocolate truffle, (sorry chocoholics, I didn’t mean to do that to you). If you are planning on planting a vegetable garden with kids, or if you have less-than-steady hands, or less-than perfect eyesight, (or, err,  less-than saintly patience, like me), pelletized seeds can come in very handy. I just ordered up pelleted Bolero, Mokum and Sugarsnax carrot seed from Johnny’s Seeds yesterday. I also chose a few packs of pelleted lettuce seed, since I find them a bit waskilly as well. Johnny’s Seeds is a wonderful employee-owned company in the great state of Maine, and they carry a wide variety of organic, heirloom and gourmet vegetables. I order many of my unusual vegetable seeds from Johnny’s Seeds and the other great online companies, including Renee’s Garden Seeds and Botanical Interests, listed in the sidebar at right under “seeds”. I have found that each company usually has some special variety I want, (such as the pelleted seeds from Johnny’s), so I always end up spreading my orders around the country a bit. And this year, I notice seeds are selling out faster than usual, so it’s always helpful to have a few reliable sources.

Carrots are a cook’s kitchen staple. The foundation of many stocks, carrots also add color, sweetness and vitamins to everything from salads, appetizers and soups to savory baked dishes, casseroles and breads. And can you imagine life without carrot cake and cream cheese frosting? For such a rewarding crop, carrots are remarkably easy to grow in the garden. These bright colored veggies aren’t fussy, but they do like very deep, loose, compost-rich soil. So if you have rocky loam, you might have better luck with carrots if you raise your beds with mounds or planters. Many gardeners use radishes as companions for carrots to mark the row, and to help break the crusty soil. Of course it also helps to keep the soil evenly moist during germination, (but be sure not to overwater carrots during the growing season). During the hot summer, carrots will benefit from a layer of mulch; keeping their roots cool and their tops warm enhances flavor. I also like to shade carrot roots by planting them between rows of leafy lettuce, spinach and/or chard. If you sow a fast maturing variety in the early part of the season, (when soil temps reach a consistent 60° F), and then plant a second crop when the soil is warm enough to plant tomatoes, (70-75°), you can harvest carrots all year long, (and for those of us with frozen tundra, carrots will also store well in root cellars, layered in damp sand).

Hungry yet? There’s nothing like a serving of bright orange, velvety carrots to remind me of summer’s sweetness, and I truly love this rich, savory old recipe. Brilliantly colored baked carrots are the perfect side dish for a potato-vegetable gratin or a roasted or baked pretty-much-anything. Mmmmm. Sweet Bolero, my lovely carrot, you don’t seem quite so rascally now….

Greene on Greens

Velvety Baked Carrots

(an oldie but a goodie, from Bert Greene’s Greene on Greens cookbook)

Ingredients (serves 4-6 as a side dish):

3 1/2 c       homemade vegetable stock or chicken broth

1 pound     peeled carrots cut in half lengthwise

3 Tbs         unsalted butter

3 Tbs         all-purpose flour

1/2 c          heavy cream

1/8 tsp       ground allspice

1/8 tsp       fresh grated nutmeg

dash          Sriracha hot chili sauce, (or other pepper sauce)

to taste      salt

to taste      fresh ground pepper

1/4 c          fresh bread crumbs

2 Tbs         fresh chopped parsley

1 Tbs         grated Reggiano Parmesan cheese

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350° F. Wash and peel carrots, and slice them in half lengthwise, (more if they are particularly large). In a medium saucepan, bring 3 1/2 cups of vegetable, (or chicken), broth to a boil.  Slowly add the carrots and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook the carrots, uncovered, until they are soft. Test with a fork after 25 minutes. Drain the carrots over a bowl, reserving the broth. Place the carrots in a separate bowl and mash, (lightly with a potato masher), until smooth but still attractively textured. Set aside.

Return the saucepan to the stove and melt 2 Tbs. of butter over medium-low heat. Stir in the flour and cook, continuously stirring, for a couple of minutes. Add 1 cup of the reserved cooking stock and whisk together while brining the mix to a boil. Reduce the heat to low. Add the nutmeg, allspice, pepper sauce. Whisk in 1/2 cup of cream. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove the mixture from the heat and combine with the mashed carrots. Pour into a buttered, shallow baking dish and set aside.

In a small skillet, melt the remaining butter over medium heat. Add the bread crumbs and stir into the butter, cooking and turning until golden brown. Remove from the heat and add in the chopped parsley. Sprinkle the bread crumbs evenly over the carrots and top with grated Parmesan cheese.

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the topping is bubbling.

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All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden, and may not be used or reproduced without express written consent. Please do not use photographs or text excerpts without permission, (see contact at left). Inspired by something you see here? Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams.

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Gourmet Gardening: Seed Potatoes – Plus an Easy Recipe for Oven Roasted Fingerlings with Fresh Herbs and Parmesan Cheese…

January 16th, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

Oven Roasted Fingerling Potatoes with Fresh Herbs and Parmesan in an oven-table baking dish by Emile Henry…

Look a little tempting? I confess I just finished off my second bowl of fingerlings about an hour ago. Mmmm. Delicious. As you may remember, last week I touched on the subject of gourmet potatoes in my post on potato leek soup. My country-neighbors, the Millers, operate a small greenhouse called The Old Schoolhouse Plantery where they grow and sell rare conservatory plants, annuals, herbs and gourmet vegetable starts. John also sells his organic produce at the local farmer’s market. Throughout the winter, his booth is a popular place to find gourmet root vegetables  – particularly potatoes. This past spring, upon John’s recommendation, I grew a few gourmet potatoes from seed purchased at Ronnigers Potato Farm, and they were the tastiest spuds I have ever eaten. I tell you, there is nothing like the reward of a delicious crop to motivate a gardener to keep on planting. After cooking a few dishes with gourmet fingerling potatoes, I am convinced that an entire corner of my potager should be dedicated to these tubers. I tried oven roasting some fingerlings with an olive oil/parmesan coating today, (pictured in the baking dish above), and they were lip-smacking good!

This year, I am planning to add many more gourmet potatoes to my potager; including ‘rose fin apple’ fingerlings and other colorful varieties, such ‘all blue’ and ‘purple viking’. Although winter has only just arrived, I am already thinking about this year’s seed order. Seed potatoes are planted in the garden when the soil temperature reaches approximately 45 ° F, (7° C). Usually, the soil reaches this temperature by mid-spring here; about three weeks before the last frost-date. If you live in a warmer climate, potatoes may go in by late winter, (check zone maps and potato seed catalogs for specific location planting times). When plotting out your vegetable garden, remember to rotate your crops each year. To avoid disease and confuse pests, it’s best never to plant potatoes in last-year’s tomato bed. Marigold, bush beans, corn and cabbage are a few good potato companions. But again, in order to avoid insect pests and diseases, locate crops such as tomatoes, cucumbers, squash and pumpkins in the opposite corner of your garden as they are not good companions for potatoes. Many gardeners start potatoes in shallow trenches and then ‘hill’ them as they grow. I will go over this method and the straw-mulching hill method as we get closer to planting time.

Right now I am obsessively thinking about all the delicious gourmet potato varieties I want to grow and how much room I can devote to this versatile crop. Seed potatoes are planted approximately one foot apart, so they take up some space in the garden. Last season, I had great success with the ‘Desiree’. This is a beautiful pink-skinned potato with yellow flesh; one that stores well and holds its texture when cooked. Easy to grow, this popular European-gourmet potato is resistant to many diseases, including blights. Of course the fingerling varieties have definitely become favorites. When it comes to flavor and cooking texture, (especially when pureed in soups), it’s hard to beat the ‘Rose Finn Apple’ fingerling potato, (pictured in this post). ‘LaRatte’ is another great gourmet potato, with firm texture and a unique, nutty flavor. Both of these varieties are on my shopping list.

If you haven’t tried growing gourmet fingerlings, you may want to give them some space in your kitchen garden this year. Perhaps you’ve never tasted these delicious potatoes? Well then… I encourage you to pick some up at your local winter farmer’s market – I think you will quickly come to understand what all the fuss is about…

‘Rose Finn Apple’ Fingerling Potatoes from Ronniger’s – before and after a scrub down with a bristle brush…

Ronnigers Potato Farm Online

Oven Roasted Fingerling Potatoes with Parmesan and Fresh Herbs

Ingredients:

(serves 4, double recipe to increase quantities as you like)

2 lb           Fingerling potatoes, washed and cut in half lengthwise

1/4 c         Olive oil

1/4 c         All purpose flour

1/4 c         Reggiano parmesan cheese, grated

1 tsp         Sea salt, fresh ground or regular table salt

1 tsp         Black pepper, fresh ground

sprigs       Fresh rosemary and thyme, a few sprigs to taste

(try this with a clove of garlic and other herbs if you like)

Directions:

Preheat oven, (rack toward the top), to 475 degrees fahrenheit.

In a small glass bowl, (or in a large plastic bag), measure in olive oil, flour and parmesan. Add salt and pepper. Stir or shake to mix well.

In a large bowl, toss cut fingerlings with 1 tbs olive oil to lightly coat. Add dry mix to the large bowl, (or add potatoes to the large plastic bag), and toss with hands, (or shake bag). Be sure the potatoes are thoroughly and evenly coated.

Coat an oven-to-table baking dish with the remaining olive oil and arrange the potatoes cut -side up. Sprinkle with fresh rosemary and thyme.

Roast for approximately 15 minutes, Turn the potatoes and roast for approximately 15 more minutes more. Turn one last time and roast until crisp and golden brown, (approximately 10-15 more minutes).

Cool dish for a few minutes, garnish with a few more sprigs of herbs and serve hot with a tablespoon of sour cream if you like.


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Photographs and Article copyright 2010, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced for any purpose without prior written consent. Please do not republish images or text excerpts without permission. Inspired by something you see here ? Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Thank you ! Michaela

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Providing for our Feathered Friends in the Winter Garden – Part One…

January 12th, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

Dark-eyed Junco, (Junco hyemalis)

Last week when snowshoeing through the forest, I was amused by a small group of chickadees bouncing from branch to branch in a hemlock stand. With so few sounds in the woodland at this time of year, the chirping birds really stood out and made me laugh. I try not to anthropomorphize – but they really did sound like they were having a passinate debate about something very important. And who knows, maybe they were.

I love watching birds in my garden and in the forest surrounding my home, so I tend to plant trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals with birds in mind. Come autumn, instead of cutting my garden back, I always leave my perennials and annuals, particularly those with seed-heads, standing for the overwintering birds. Safe backyard-havens with conifer shelters, (such as hemlock and spruce), winter fruit, and seeds are very attractive to birds. The western side of my home is buffered by a hemlock stand, where birds congregate, protected from the wind. I have also noticed juncos and sparrows crouching beneath the ornamental juniper along my walkway. Sometimes a group of of little birds will surprise me when they take flight from the shrubs in the entry garden, reminding me that they are making use of the space even when I am not.

In addition to the many cultivars of winterberry, (ilex verticillata), viburnum, cotoneaster, and other fruiting shrubs in my yard, I have also planted native perennials for seed. Beautiful gold and purple finches are always attracted to coneflower, (Echinacea), black-eyed susan, (Rudbeckia), ornamental mint, (Nepeta), and bee-balm, (Monarda). Standing sunflower heads and other annuals left overwinter in the vegetable garden attract both small and large birds, and of course the occasional squirrel.

As winter drags on, supplemental feeders with seed are useful if you want to continue providing for, (and watching), birds in your backyard. Below I have linked some excellent resources for gardeners interested in birds, (including books and recommended feeders). If you are planning to hang feeders or scatter seed in your yard, please be sure to keep cats indoors, and protect visiting birds from neighborhood felines by siting feeders away from potential ambush spots, (cats like to lurk in shrubs or beneath porch hide-outs). Woo (my overweight, senior bird-watcher), is mainly an indoor cat. Although I allow her supervised time outdoors in summer, I don’t let her out when birds come here to feed in winter, (it’s safer for her indoors anyway). Also, be sure to keep all feeders clean, (wash at least twice a year), to prevent mold and spread of disease. Remember too that birds need access to fresh water year round. I have natural brooks and ponds on my property, but if you don’t there are plenty of water-bowl options. My father has a heated bird-bath for winter, and I have noticed birds visiting it regularly.

Of course, not everyone visiting this site lives in a wintery climate. If your are lucky enough to be enjoying mild temperatures at this time of year, then chances are good you will have hummingbirds, as well as other local and migratory birds, in your garden. There are a few hummingbird and songbird resources here as well, and there will be more to come.

Over the next few weeks I will be passing along more information on how to attract and support birds in the garden. But for now, one of the most important and trusted resources for birders is, of course, the Aububon society. The Audubon website is a great place to visit if you are interested in learning more about our feathered friends. There is a wealth of information on bird feeding and bird watching for everyone from amateurs to seasoned ornithologists.

Are you seeing birds in your garden right now? A reader, (who wishes to remain anonymous), sent in the photos of Black-eyed Junco and the Cardinal you see here. If you have taken some great bird photos, consider sending them in to be featured on The Gardener’s Eden, (with credit of course), over the coming weeks. And please feel free to share your bird-sightings in the comments here. I’d love to hear about the winged visitors to your backyard havens…

Northern Cardinal, (Cardinalis cardinalis)

Dark-eyed Junco, (Junco hyemalis)

The Audubon Backyard Birdwatcher: Birdfeeders and Bird Gardens

The Backyard Bird Feeder's Bible

The Backyard Bird Feeder’s Bible: The A-to-Z Guide To Feeders, Seed Mixes, Projects, And Treats (Rodale Organic Gardening Book)

projectsforbirdersgarden200

Projects for the Birder’s Garden: Over 100 Easy Things That You can Make to Turn Your Yard and Garden into a Bird-Friendly Haven

Smith and Hawken for Target Bird Feeder

Teardrop Roosting Pocket

Avant Garden Berkshire Lodge Feeder

Avant Garden Berkshire Lodge Feeder

Thistle Feeder

Bird Quest SBF5Y 36

Natural Bird Roost : Shelter

Acorn Roosting Pocket

Hummingbird Gardens: Turning Your Yard Into Hummingbird Heaven (21st-Century Gardening Series)

Hummingbird Feeder

Etched Hummingbird Feeder

Humming Bird Feeder Glass Crackle

Bird Brain, Crackle Hummingbird Feeder, Yellow

audubon oriole feeder

Plastic Oriole Feeder

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Article copyright 2010, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without express written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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A New Year’s Resolution for Gardeners: Making Informed Choices About Gardening Practices and Products to Support a Healthy, Natural Environment…

January 5th, 2010 § 3 comments § permalink

We  ♥ Mother Earth

The new year often brings about a desire for change and personal reckoning. We make promises, resolutions and plans to better ourselves and the world around us. Over the past couple of years, many people have committed to building environmentally conscious, self-sufficient lives. As a result, gardening, particularly vegetable gardening, has re-emerged as a popular interest and hobby.

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This return to the earth is a good thing. But it is important to remember that even in our backyard vegetable plots and tiny rooftop potagers, the way we garden, and the products and practices we choose for our gardens, all have lasting consequences for our environment. Every action we take in the natural world must be considered carefully. Words like “organic”, “green”. “sustainable” and “eco” are being tossed about freely these days. Buzz words can sometimes be confusing and misleading.

Perhaps the single most important thing we can do as gardeners is to educate ourselves. There are many websites, magazines and books written to help inform gardeners about environmentally sound horticultural practices. If you are new to gardening, or even if you have been tending a plot for decades, publications such as Organic Gardening Magazine, and books, particularly Linda Chalker-Scott’s The Informed Gardener, and Jeff Gillman’s The Truth About Organic Gardening: Benefits, Drawbacks, and the Bottom Line, are essential for up-to-date, accurate scientific information. I will be writing much more about this topic come springtime, but winter is also a great time of year to read and research these important topics, before you begin planting your garden.

If I can send one message out to new gardeners it is this: just because a product or practice is organic, it doesn’t mean that it should be applied or adopted indiscriminately. Take organic pesticides for example. Even OMRI, (Organic Materials Review Institute), approved substances such pyrethrin, rotenone and neem, can be harmful or deadly to beneficial insects, including honeybees and ladybugs. All pesticides, even organic products, should be used sparingly, and only as a last resort in gardens. The best way to avoid diseases and harmful insect infestations is to provide garden plants with the growing conditions they require, and to avoid mono-culture, (growing large numbers of only a few kinds of plants), and environmental stress.

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For new gardeners, I highly recommend learning the basics of vegetable gardening from respected teachers and authors. Edward C. Smith’s The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible (10th Anniversary Edition), is an excellent place to start. In addition, Rodale’s Vegetable Garden Problem Solver, by author Fern Marshall Bradley, can serve as helpful reference to all gardeners. Also remember to take advantage of free, reliable online resources, such as beneficial insect identification sites. Three great online pages: The easy and fun Insectidentification.org, the comprehensive Texas A&M University Vegetable IPM site, and of course Cornell University’s Vegetable MD Online all offer excellent photographs and descriptions to help gardeners recognize natural allies and pick up on small problems before they become large and unmanageable.

I am not a big New Year’s resolutions kind of gal, but January is a good time to turn a new leaf, (even if the trees are still naked). So if you are planning your first vegetable garden this spring, or even if you have been growing your own food for many years, I hope the first leaf you turn this year dangles from the tree of knowledge. Education is a life-long process. With the help of solid, scientific information, we can work with nature to cultivate a safer, healthier garden environment for all…

The Nasturtium Seat in the Potager at Ferncliff

Early Greens in the Potager at Ferncliff


The Informed Gardener by horticulturalist, Linda Chalker-Scott

Rodale’s Magazine, Organic Gardening (2-year)

Jeff Gillaman’s The Truth About Organic Gardening: Benefits, Drawbacks, and the Bottom Line

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Article and photographs are copyright 2010, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

This article originally appeared as a guest post at The Honeybee Conservancy Blog, please pay this important non-profit cause a visit !

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without express written consent. Please do not use article excerpts or photographs featured here without contacting me first. Inspired by something you see here? Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Thank you !

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Cozying up by the Fire: Kitchen – Gardening Guide Books to Give or Get…

November 30th, 2009 § Comments Off on Cozying up by the Fire: Kitchen – Gardening Guide Books to Give or Get… § permalink

My favorite place to read: beside a glowing fire…

The photograph above was taken last night from a favorite old chair, where I will be spending my leisure hours reading during the months of January and February. And although a few calendar weeks remain until winter officially begins in the northern hemisphere, I have already started on my seasonal pile of gardening books. Some of the titles in my stack are new, (to be reviewed here later), and some are old favorites, (listed below).

Recently a number of new gardeners have contacted me with questions about the basics of vegetable gardening. New gardeners always have great questions. How do you learn to garden ? What should you plant in your first garden ? How much do I plant and when do I plant it ? While some of us were lucky enough to have vegetable plots of our own as children, (or to grow up on, or around, farms), many gardeners begin when they move into their first home or apartment. To a new gardener, without early gardening experiences, the horticultural world can seem mighty daunting. Phrases like, ‘she was born with a green-thumb’, or ‘he can grow anything‘, or ‘do you have the name of the cultivar in botanical latin?’, only add to the mystery and anxiety surrounding the gardening world. But the truth is, no one is born with a green-thumb, and even the best gardeners can not grow everything, (we all routinely kill things, sometimes by accident – gasp!). And please, never let language intimidate you –  I have met many a ‘gardener’, fluent in botanical latin, without a shred of gardening skill. Just because the parrot can talk, it doesn’t mean he knows what he is saying !

Learning to garden is a basic life pleasure, and it isn’t difficult at all – in fact, anyone can do it. I have been gardening professionally for quite awhile now, and I still can get really frustrated with the often haughty ‘horticultural world’s’ insistence upon academic language and off-putting ‘rules’. This is no way to encourage participation. So, for you new gardeners out there, or those of you just thinking of testing the waters – you know what I say to all that? Forgetaboutit. Seriously. Gardening is an action verb. It’s like Nike says, ‘just do it‘. The most important thing you can do is to approach your little plot of earth with with the desire to have fun and to learn. Everyone has to start somewhere. Most gardeners learn through trial and error, (and a little bit of help from more experienced friends). Remember that all professional gardeners started as novices too, and they often make just as many, (and sometimes bigger), mistakes as amateurs, (making mistakes is part of learning, no matter your level of experience).

Now that we have that out of the way, I will say that there are some very handy resources out there for gardeners; well-written guide books for everyone, from the novice to the advanced horti-maniac. Understanding how plants grow and what they need to thrive is always key to your success. Soil science, (basic natural chemistry), is important; basic entomology, (insect identification), is useful; and of course simple botany, (the study of plants), is helpful. Below I have listed the three books I most recommend to vegetable gardeners. Whether you are just turning your first vegetable plot, or working on your 25th gourmet-potager-plan, these books will help you to develop and improve your gardening skills. Because I teach and coach other gardeners, I am always reviewing the basics and making new discoveries for myself.

So, if you know a new, intermediate or advanced vegetable gardener, and you are looking for a good gardening gift, you might want to consider the three titles listed below. I give each of these books a five-out-of-five star review. So here they are, listed in the order I would assign them if I were your teacher. Now, put the tea pot on the stove, cozy up beside a toasty fire, and dig right in…

Vegetable Gardener's Bible

The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible: Discover Ed’s High-Yield W-O-R-D System for All North American Gardening Regions

This is the first vegetable gardening book I would recommend to anyone. Ed’s book a perfect resource for new gardeners. Written in simple, easy to understand language, it includes step-by-step guides to composting, soil testing, amending and building, seed starting, companion planting and harvesting, and more. It is worth it’s weight in gold…

rodales-vegetable-garden-problem-solver

Rodale’s Vegetable Garden Problem Solver

Fern Bradley’s book is the next title on my list. This is a great book for beginning or advanced vegetable gardeners. The author covers all of the important organic gardening essentials, and digs deeper into entomology and companion planting than many other authors. I consider this an essential title in the organic gardener’s library…

Kitchen Garden Jennifer B

Designing the New Kitchen Garden: An American Potager Handbook

Once the basics have been mastered, (or for the more comprehensive vegetable gardening home-course), I usually suggest reading this fantastic potager-design book by Jennifer Bartley. Although Jennifer’s book does touch on some basic gardening information, I consider this title more of a design and layout, (also important), resource. It is gorgeous and inspirational.

Happy Reading !

Settling into a cozy chair for a season of gardening dreams. Image ⓒ Michaela at TGE

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Article and photographs copyright 2009, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

Please do not use my words or photographs without contacting me first.

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced for any purpose without express written permission. Inspired by something you see here? Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Thank you !

The Gardener’s Eden is an Amazon.com affiliate. Any Amazon purchases made through the links here help to support this site. Thank you !

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Rich, Beautiful, Dreamy Dirt…

November 6th, 2009 § 7 comments § permalink

A nice delicious bowl of…. dirt?

Has someone been making mud-pies? Sometimes I think I got into gardening because I never grew up. Yes, I know, that is a silly photo. But I couldn’t help myself. All the cooking blogs and magazines showcase gorgeous, slightly-off center bowls filled with the most mouthwatering food. So I got to thinking – what about the plants? They need to eat too! If plants could read cooking blogs, this photo would really pull them into the recipe – rich, beautiful, dreamy DIRT !

There is nothing more exciting to me than playing in a big, sun-warmed pile of dirt. I just love it. And of all the gardens I work in, it’s the vegetable plots I get really excited about – think of all those mounds and mounds of dirt! So, right now I am having a ball, because fall is when I usually plan and prep new vegetable plots. This is the best time of year to test and supplement garden soil, because it takes awhile for organic materials to decompose and for pH to change, (more on that in just a bit…). If I make adjustments now, the soil chemistry will have plenty of time to correct before next year’s planting season rolls around. So I have been playing with dirt a lot lately. Glee !

Great vegetable gardens always begin with beautiful, fertile earth. And every kitchen gardener wants a productive potager filled with healthy plants and colorful, plump, delicious vegetables. The good news is that building productive soil isn’t magic – it’s simple science. But in order to give plants what they need, a gardener needs to observe soil structure and learn a bit about chemistry…

compost, marigold, spinach

I am going to keep this as simple as possible, because most of us aren’t aiming to turn our backyards into farm-schools – we just want our little plots to produce good food! It really only takes a half an hour, a few supplies, and a little effort to get the basic answers you need about your soil’s fertility and, if need be, how to correct it.

Plants require Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus, (P) and Potassium, (K) in order to steadily grow a strong framework and create vigorous, richly colored leaves. Plants with insufficient nitrogen often look yellowish and unhealthy, and if a garden is low in phosphorus, plants will be stunted and produce poorly, (a purplish cast on tomatoes is a common sign of phosphorus deficiency). Potassium deficiency is harder to detect, but equally problematic. Plants suffering from potassium deficiency are internally weak; unable to control moisture and distribute nutrients, among other things. And perhaps most important of all, in order for a plant to absorb N, P and K, the soil needs to have the correct pH level. Nutrients will not dissolve in water that is too acid or too alkaline, and unless nutrients dissolve in water, plants can not absorb them through their roots. No one wants to starve their garden! How can a garden feed us, unless we feed it ?

A simple and fun way to find out about your garden’s soil chemistry is to buy a home soil-testing kit. This is a great project to do with kids. Basic soil chemistry kits are inexpensive, (almost always under ten dollars for a basic kit, and under 20 for more extensive testing), and can be purchased in most garden centers and mail-order supply stores online. The kit I use most frequently requires a one to five ratio of dirt to water for testing nutrients. So I begin by scooping up a cup of soil from the garden, or if I am working in a large garden and want to do various tests, I will take a cup from several different areas, (marking the sample with a location note)…

Soil Sample for TestingSoil sample scooped from the vegetable garden. Take your sample 4-5 inches below the surface for best results…

I usually test soil pH first, since I only need a small amount of dry soil, (see photo below). This particular soil-testing kit requires that I add soil to the first line of the test-tube. I then add pH reactive powder, (it’s non-toxic and safe for kids to handle), from the color-coded kit, add water to the top line, replace the cap and shake the vial, (ideally distilled water, which you can get in most supermarkets, should be used for all of these tests). This test-tube is set aside while I continue with the rest of my experiments…

Dirt in a vile for pH testing...The first test is for pH…

Next, I take my cup of garden soil and place it in a glass, ceramic or plastic bowl. To the dirt, I add five cups of water and stir thoroughly. This muddy mixture needs to settle for at least ten minutes. So, while I am waiting, I investigate the results of my pH testing…

Dirt in a Bowl plus WaterNext, five cups of water are added to one cup of soil, stirred and left to settle 10 minutes or so…

Below you will see pH test-results from two different vegetable gardens. The color of the water will range from dark green to bright orange, with green indicating alkalinity and orange, acidity. It sometimes helps to put a piece of white paper in back of the tube when comparing the color-results with the pH chart. The first test, (A: directly below), indicates that the pH is just slightly more acidic than neutral. Most plants prefer a pH in this range – but it is always a good idea to know the exact preference of your crops. Soil testing kits usually come with a small pamphlet about this, but if not you can look this information up in a good gardening book, (see recommended book linked below). The third photo, (B), indicates alkaline soil. The soil in this garden will need to be amended in order for plants to properly absorb nutrients…

pH test in progressTest A: Slightly acidic soil

soil testing kit color barTesting chart

Ph test alkalineTest B: Here is an alkaline soil sample, (it actually looked darker greener than it appears in this photo). This soil will need to be amended with organic matter and/or agricultural sulfur this fall in order to bring it closer to the acid-neutral range.

Soil that is too acidic for vegetable gardening can be corrected, (or ‘sweetened’ as farmers sometimes say), with lime. Limestone and wood ash both raise pH. Organic lime can be purchased at most garden/home centers. Be sure to follow instructions and wear a mask when spreading lime on soil. Wood ash is an old-fashioned remedy for poor soil, and it is useful because ash also adds magnesium and potassium. If nutrient testing reveals low potassium, then wood ash is a good, economical supplement for an acidic vegetable garden. However, if the garden soil is alkaline, (as in test B), wood ash should not be added.

If test results reveal alkaline soil, (as in vial B, above), there are two ways to lower the pH. The best long-term solution for improving alkaline soil is to add organic matter. Composted oak leaves, pine needles, peat moss or untreated sawdust are all good supplements. However, it takes time for these additives to work. So, if you are looking for faster results, or your soil is very alkaline, (like test B, above), then adding agricultural grade sulfur makes sense. This supplement can be purchased at garden centers and it is applied in the same manner as lime. Always work additives into the soil with a garden fork after they have been applied, and then cover the bed with a good, thick layer of compost.

For the next three tests, (N,P,K), samples are drawn from the bowl containing the soil-water mix. Take care not to disturb the settled soil when obtaining the samples. There is a bit of organic matter floating in the tubes shown below. A small amount is OK, (it can be tricky to get a clean catch in super organic soil, especially for little hands), but try to keep as much as possible out. Your results won’t be skewed from a bit of floating debris, so no worries if some gets in the tube. Next add the reactive powder to each vial, replacing the color-coded cap to match the test. Be sure your caps are on tight! Then, shake the tubes and wait another 5 to 10 minutes for color-results…

soil test with some depletionsHere are some test results for K, N and P  – The Potash, (orange) content is good. Nitrogen, (purple) is very low, and the Phosphorus is depleted, in fact it’s just about non-existent !

When the color in the tubes has developed, match your results with the chart provided in the testing kit. Low and depleted levels of nutrients can be corrected with organic supplements. Low nitrogen? Good compost will raise the nitrogen in garden soil and fish emulsion or blood meal will also correct low nitrogen. During the growing season, cover crops like alfalfa can also be turned into the soil to raise nitrogen levels. How you improve soil fertility depends upon when you are correcting the situation and how depleted the soil is. In cold climates, adding a rich layer of compost to the soil in fall will often do the trick for correcting fertility in the long term. But if levels are particularly depleted, additional supplements may be needed. The phosphorus test above indicates complete depletion. To improve this situation, rock phosphate is recommended. Like the other supplements mentioned, this can be purchased at any garden center. Always follow instructions on the bag. The orange-capped test above indicates ample potassium. If potassium is low however, it can be improved by adding granite-dust, greensand or wood ashes. But remember, wood ashes will raise pH. Only add wood ashes if your pH test indicates acidic soil. And remember, you can add supplements like greensand and rock phosphate to your compost as well – they are all natural…

compost:hands

In addition to checking soil chemistry, it is important to have a look at soil structure. If a garden has particularly sandy soil, or clay soil with poor drainage, now is a good time to add organic matter to the garden. Compost, leaf-mold, clean straw and other organic matter can be worked in and raked over the garden in the autumn. This healthy mix of ingredients will continue to decompose over the winter months, building a healthy, hearty stew for next year’s plants.

Building a vegetable garden, testing and building soil can be fun and rewarding for kids. This soil testing process is a great way to teach young gardeners about practical science. For less than $20, a real-life skill can be acquired while having a great time. For more information about creating great vegetable gardens, I highly recommend Edward C. Smith’s book, The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible , linked below. This book is easy to read and follow, and it makes a great gift for beginning vegetable gardeners, (and even the more experienced, for reference!)…

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Article and photographs copyright 2009, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without express written permission. Inspired by something you see here? It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Gardening Beyond the Harvest Moon: Extending the Growing Season with Hoop-House Cold Frames…

September 8th, 2009 § 25 comments § permalink

September’s Harvest Moon

It may seem a little premature to be writing about cold frames and frost on a beautiful late summer day, (sunny with daytime temps in the 70’s here in Vermont). But the gorgeous Harvest Moon this past weekend served as a reminder that we are nearing the end of the growing season in the northeast. Nights are getting cooler now, warning us that fall is coming and frost will soon be on the way. Although I am excited about the coming autumn, I am definitely not ready to give up my homegrown produce. So I won’t – at least not until December. I don’t have a greenhouse yet, but there are plenty of late-season, cool-weather crops to plant now and enjoy later. In order to extend my growing season last year, I began using hoop-house style cold frames in my kitchen garden to protect a few beds from frost. Unheated cold frames can save many vegetables from killing frosts, including tender herbs such as basil and rosemary, and mature warm-weather crops such as cherry tomatoes and peppers. Later, my spinach, chard, and broccoli will be protected inside the hoop-houses from harder freezes in late November and early December. By using hoop-houses to protect my crops, I was able to extend my growing season by more than two months last year.

Constructing a basic cold frame is a great two-person weekend project for early September. Cold frames are nothing more than unheated miniature greenhouses, and they are useful at both ends of the growing season. By protecting crops from frost with hoop-houses, cold-climate gardeners can still enjoy some vegetables into early December or longer. I now keep four hoop-houses installed in my potager throughout the winter. Although I am not able to make use of the garden in January and February, come spring the soil in these 4′ x 8′ beds will be warm and ready for planting weeks before the rest of the garden is clear of snow. Baby salad greens, spinach, broccoli and other cool-season crops can get a protected jump-start beneath the warm plastic of the mini-greenhouses. Hoop-houses are also a great way to protect and warm plants requiring extra heat, such as tomatoes, peppers and eggplant in the early part of the growing season.

Hoop house with baby greens and chardBasic hoop-house cold frame protecting baby greens and chard

For someone with a few basic carpentry skills, a hoop-house is a simple project. If you can operate a skill saw and a screw gun, the assembly will be relatively easy. If not, maybe you can offer to share some produce with a handy friend or neighbor in exchange for a bit of help. Although the tasks involved in building a cold frame aren’t complex, this is definitely a two-person job. The simple design of the frame takes advantage of standard sized lumber, (8′ length), and only one cut is necessary to create the base. The ends of the wood are butted and screwed together with coated deck screws. Plastic tubing is cut to length with a hack saw and attached to the inside of the frame with pipe clamps. Then, ( to build an open-ended house), plastic is stretched over the tubes, folded beneath the rectangle frame and stapled to the inside edge of the wood. I keep the plastic ends on my un-sided hoop-houses folded closed with metal clamps. A plywood back and vent can be added on one side of the hoop-house for greater function and durability. I use both styles. Cold frames are inexpensive to build, and when cared for properly, they can be used for years. With longevity in mind, it makes sense to seal the wood parts with oil to protect them from moisture. Maintenance is simple; occasionally, if you use your hoop-house throughout the winter in a snowy climate, the plastic may tear and need to be replaced. The cost of materials to create two simple cold frames in 2008 was about $74.50, (adding plywood and a vent to the back added an additional $25 per unit for a total of $62.25 each). Your costs may be higher or lower, depending upon where you live, where you shop, and what kind of bargain-hunter you are.

If you have some experience building things, and would like to make  a cold frame of your own, review the materials list below and read the instructions carefully before you get started. The series of photos here were taken at various points during the construction of two hoop-house sets; one set was made with a vented ply-wood end, and one set was constructed without. I would recommend starting with the basic hoop house first. If you feel comfortable with the building process you can always add a plywood back later. The photos below can be enlarged by clicking for a closer view of the frame. Keep in mind that these structures are very simply designed. They are only intended to protect your crops from frost and they do not need to be perfect. Go slow and, as they say, measure twice and cut once.

hoop house frame constructionBasic hoop-house cold frame

hoop house stage 1Simple hoop-house cold frame ready for plastic

hoop house plywood with vent, before installationOptional plywood back with vent for greater protection and temperature control

hoop house frame with vent installedVented plywood back installed on basic frame

Hoop house stage 2Covering ventless hoop-house with plastic; pulled and stapled to one end of the wood frame

hoop house with vent:plastic installedVented hoop-house with plastic, ready to set in the garden

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Materials List for ONE  4′ x 8′ size hoop-house cold-frame

Tools:

skill saw

hack saw

jig saw (for vent-back model)

screw gun

hardware staple gun

tape measure

Materials from lumber dept.

3  2”x4”x8′  spruce or pine boards

1  full size sheet 1/2″ plywood (for vented-back model)

2  1”x3″strapping (optional, prolongs life of plastic by protecting the stapled inside edge)

Materials from hardware dept.

4 PVC pipe, 1/2″ cut to 6′ lengths, (or slightly larger for a bigger cold frame design)

pipe clamps 1/2″ (can be found in electrical dept)

1/2″ screws for clamps

3″ coated screws for all-weather use, (one small box), for the frame

2″ coated screws (optional for installing vented plywood-back model and for optional strapping at base)

hardware staples

heavy weight 06 mil plastic (we purchased ours online from a greenhouse company)

1 foundation vent, ( optional : for vented back hoop-house, *automatic opening is best)

thermometer (optional, for monitoring temps inside hoop houses)

Instructions:

To construct one cold frame you will need three  2” x 4” x 8′ spruce or pine boards. Cut one board in half to create two 4′ length pieces. Set the short boards inside the two long boards to form a box, as shown in the photos above. Screw the pieces together well, using at least two, (3″ coated), screws at each join. This rectangle forms the base of your hoop house. Sealing the wood base with linseed, (or other), sealer is a good idea to preserve the wood. If you do this, you will need to wait about 24 hours dry-time before continuing with the next steps of the project. If you are planning on adding a vented plywood back, this would also be a good time to seal the plywood with oil or stain.

Next, measure and cut your PVC tubing with a hack saw, to approximately 6′ length pieces. Space the tubes evenly on the inside of the frame and affix to the frame with pipe clamps screwed, (1/2″ screws), into the wood. I prefer to measure and mark before attaching for even spacing, setting all the clamps in place first with one screw on each side. When assembling the hoops, it is easiest to affix all pipes to one side of the frame first and then affix the opposite side.

* Note: If you are adding a plywood-vent end, draw a semi-circle outline on your plywood slightly larger than the shape of the hoops, (you can measure out the 4′ bottom edge end and then use one of the cut hoops as an outline for your circle). Cut the plywood semi-circle with a jig saw. Trace the interior shape of your vent in the upper middle of the plywood, and cut with a jig-saw. You may want to err on the tight side and test your vent fit in the opening. You can always make additional cuts with your jig-saw to fit the vent as you go. Finally, install your vent according to manufacturer instructions. Once set, slip the plywood wall inside one end of the hoop house frame, and then screw the plywood in place to the base,(using 2″ coated screws), as shown in the photo above. Clamp the plywood to the end hoops, (at least three points), and screw in place with 1/2″ screws. You are ready for the next steps below.

Once the hoops are evenly in place, lay out the plastic. Do a dry-run and stretch the plastic over the hoop house, checking to be sure that your length of plastic will fit evenly around the hoops with a few inches remaining to fold under the frame and staple. You also want to be sure the plastic is long enough on the open-ends to fold shut on both sides, (and to staple/fold and close the ends of a vented-style house). Be sure to allow some slack to spare before cutting. Once you have completed the dry run, lay out and cut the plastic and set the edge of one long-side, (8′ side), of the hoop house toward the end of the plastic with the remainder of the plastic trailing away from the structure. Be sure to leave a few inches to fold up under the wood frame. It is easier if one person holds the plastic in place while the other staples. Once the first side is secure, pull the plastic up and over the hoop house from the outside, and bring it around, lifting the other edge and setting down, once again with a few inches to spare for folding. This time you will be working from inside the enclosed hoop-house, so it may be helpful for the second person to hold up the finished end slightly for ease of stapling the other side. (Optional: For extra durability, it is useful to add strapping to cover the stapled plastic edge. To do this, cut a 3 1/2′ piece of strapping and lay it over the stapled plastic edge, and screw it in place with 2″ coated screws. This will help protect the plastic edge from tearing at the staple points).

If you have installed a plywood back with vent, at this point you will need to tightly fold or roll the extra plastic at the end and staple it to the plywood exterior. You can protect the edges with strapping, (wood, or recycled plastic as shown in the photos above).

The hoop house cold frame is ready to install!

***

oli with bug sprayThough Oli is invariably involved in these projects, he can not be counted as a helper.

***

Article and photos copyright 2009, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without express written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through links here. A small percentage of any sale originating from The Gardener’s Eden site will go toward web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you for your support!

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Tears of Joy: In praise of the Onion…. and my favorite French Onion Soup!

September 1st, 2009 § 7 comments § permalink

Spanish Sweet and Stockton Red onions at Harvest

If the end of summer is bittersweet, then I will credit the humble onion for some of the sugar. On a chilly autumn day, I am a complete pushover for a bowl of French Onion soup topped with a thick layer of gooey, delicious Gruyere cheese, (see my favorite recipe below). I love cooking with onions, and I plant many varieties. Onions are tireless kitchen workhorses, adding sweet flavor to homemade pizzas, stews, tarts, dips, salsas and virtually every savory dish I love.

Onions are easy to grow, but they are a slow crop requiring months from seed germination to maturity. So in cool climates with short summers like mine, the seeds need an early start indoors. I usually buy my onion starts from local, organic Walker Farm. But if you live in a warmer climate, you can sow onion seed directly into the ground. Although onions do prefer a slightly sandy loam rich in organic matter, they are otherwise easy to please. In fact, over-fertilizing bulbs will result in lots of green but little onion, so be modest in applying fish emulsion, (once a month is more than enough in well prepared garden soil). Keep onions well weeded, and be very carefully when using tools, you don’t want to damage bulbs growing close to the surface. In late summer, you can tell when mature onions are ready to harvest by watching for the ‘flop’. When most of the tops have bent over, your onions are ready to pull. Of course, like most root vegetables, onions may also be harvested before maturity. Sometimes early-harvest onions are called ‘scallions’, but this is technically incorrect. Scallions, (or bunching onions), have a milder flavor, and are distinguished by their mature bulb-size. A true scallion produces a bulb no larger than the base of its leaves. Shallots, also a member of the onion family, have a mild flavor and are very useful in creating delicate sauces.

when the tops flop It’s time to harvest when the tops flop

When most of the tops have fallen over, carefully pull the onions from the soil and give them a good shake to remove some of the soil. When storing onions, it is important to carefully dry-cure them in a well-ventilated, low-humidity space. If the weather looks clear for a week, I will harvest mature varieties and spread them out on newspaper in a corner of the hot, sunny terrace. There I allow them to ‘cure’ for a week, rotating, shaking, and brushing them clean throughout the drying process. Walla Walla and some of the other poor-candidates for long-term storage will be braided and hung in my kitchen, while the shallots, as well as the firm red and yellow onions will be placed in nets and suspended from the ceiling in my cool, dry cellar.

onion harvest straight from the potager to the newspaper on terraceOnions are dug fresh from the garden, then spread out on the terrace to dry

herb shallots,(allium cepa aggregatum group)Shallots, (Allium cepa aggregatum group)

I use onions throughout the winter, so I grow a wide variety of easy-to-store types, as well as some for immediate use. I cook with shallots on an almost daily basis, (especially in egg dishes), and this year I have quite a large harvest of this favorite culinary herb. I am also a big fan of sweet onions. Walla Wallas have been popular for over a century; their mild, sweet flavor adding complexity to everything from soups to casseroles to steamed and grilled dishes. Spanish yellow onions and sweet Alyssas are also delicious. But the Cipollini Italian button onion (aka Cippolino) is my current favorite of the Allium cepa cultivars. Cipollinis are slightly sweet and wonderfully mild yet pungent. I love them roasted and grilled and used in panini. Cipollinis are beautiful onions, and I like looking at their flat tops displayed in braided bunches, hanging from my kitchen beams.

walla wallaClassic, sweet Walla Walla onions are one of my all-time favorites

cipollino button onionsThe deliciously sweet, mild Cipollini button onion – a gourmet favorite

spanish sweet onionsSpanish sweet yellow and white onions are both flavorful and mild

And now, for the best part of this post…

My  Favorite  French  Onion  Soup


Ingredients: (six small or four large servings)

6 good size yellow onions, peeled and sliced in half lengthwise, then into 1/4″ chunks

3 tbsp butter

1 1/2 cups dry white wine or sherry

6 cups homemade or high quality store-bought chicken broth (or high quality vegetarian substitute )

2 1/2 cups grated gruyere cheese

1 baguette cut into 1/2 inch slices

A half dozen sprigs of fresh thyme

1 bay leaf

Fresh ground black pepper to taste

salt to taste

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place the onions in a covered large roasting pan or good sized Dutch oven. Coat onions generously with butter, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Roast 2 hours or more, turning occasionally, and scraping the bottom of the pan until onions are golden brown, tender and soft. Test with a fork.

Remove from oven. Move pot to burner and bring heat to medium high. Cook onions, stirring constantly with a flat edged wooden spoon, scraping the pot as you go. After onions are nicely brown and crisp on top, (15-20 minutes), raise the heat slightly more and add wine, (or sherry), 1/2 cup at a time. Continue adding wine as the liquid evaporates, scraping the pot to deglaze as you stir. Reduce heat and add chicken stock, herbs, salt and pepper to taste. Bring the mixture back to a boil for one minute, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes or more.

Meanwhile, spread the French bread slices on a cookie sheet and brown in the oven, (set to 400 degrees), for a few minutes. Watch carefully. Rotate the bread to brown both sides.

When ready to serve the soup, ladle portions into oven-safe ceramic bowls. Float the bread on top and sprinkle with the Gruyere cheese. Place beneath an oven broiler until the cheese is melted, but watch carefully. Add more grated cheese if necessary. Cool the soup for about 5 minutes before serving.

Serve hot


* NOTE: You may also save the broth for several days in a refrigerator to use for hot soup later. I actually find this enhances the flavor, and I often double the broth recipe to enjoy the soup all week.

~

Recipe adapted from many wonderful sources including Grandma and Cooks Illustrated Magazine


***


basket of yellow, walla walla, spanish and small yellow onions


***

Article and photographs ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through our affiliate links. A small percentage of any sale originating from The Gardener’s Eden site will go toward web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you for your support!

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Simple Pleasures & Hard Won Treasures

July 30th, 2009 § 2 comments § permalink

Salad of sun-ripened ‘Orange Blossom’ tomatoes and basil. The beautiful gunmetal-glaze plate is by artist Aletha Soule.

There is nothing in this world quite like the flavor of a sun-ripened ‘Orange Blossom’ tomato picked fresh from the garden. For my lunch today I enjoyed a salad of home grown tomatoes and basil, seasoned with extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar and fresh ground black pepper; one of my favorite simple pleasures. In honor of the first ‘Orange Blossoms’ harvest, I served my salad on one of artist Aletha Soule’s beautiful ceramic plates, decorated with purple and green basil leaves. Isn’t it amazing how such a simple thing can feel so special?

This year, I almost think I should rename my favorite tomatoes ‘Gold Blossom’, for they certainly have been a hard-won treasure. It has been a tough summer for growing tomatoes in New England. Last year at this time, I had a bumper crop of tomatoes. I harvested four different heirloom varieties as well as ‘Early girl’ and ‘Lemon boy’s to beat the band. ‘Sungold cherry’ tomatoes were so abundant I was giving them away to anyone willing to take them off my hands. No such luck this year. My tomatoes went in early this summer, (protected by small hoop houses), and were off to a fantastic start. But a cold, rainy June and soggy July soon followed the removal of my protective hoops. The weather in the northeast hasn’t been good for warm weather crops like tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers. My vegetable plants were all slow to establish. Then just as the tomatoes began to blossom, and in spite of all my preventative measures, I noticed the tell-tale yellow spots of early blight on my tomato foliage. Fungus is a real problem in the garden this year, and though my tomatoes have so far been spared the dreaded late blight, I am carefully keeping watch. Cherry tomatoes have been appearing on my table for about a month now, but I only began harvesting ‘Orange Blossoms’ (pictured below), last week, (late for me), and so far my yield is significantly lower. Is it human nature to want what is less plentiful? Maybe its just me, but this precious crop seems to taste even sweeter and more delicious this year.

orange blossom tomatoesOrange Blossom Tomatoes

I garden organically, and of course the best way to deal with fungal infections like Alternaria solani, (the cause of early blight), is to prevent them before they start.  I began applying copper fungicide early, (see photo below), and reapplied after every rain. However this year’s weather, (the constant wet with little sunshine), created ideal conditions for early blight. By the first week of July, I began to notice yellowish spots on the lower leaves of my tomato plants. Immediately I pruned out the diseased foliage, and removed it from the garden. I will continue to snip off diseased leaves as spots appear throughout the remainder of the season. I am certain that my methods are helping to contain the spread of early blight and preserving the unripe fruit, even if my storm-battered plants are looking less-than-stellar this year. And though I may have fewer tomatoes, I can not really complain. Due to the cooler temperatures, this is the first year I have a steady supply of snow-peas in late July, as well as abundant arugula and lettuce. I will take the greens thank you, and try to be grateful for what nature provides.

organic fungus controlSerenade and Bonide fungicides for organic gardeners.

For further information on identifying and controlling diseases and pests in the vegetable garden, see the Vegetable MD Online.  This excellent resource is available to all of us courtesy of Cornell University. You will also find the Vegetable MD link on the sidebar to the right ,(beneath garden resources and vegetable gardening headers). Many thanks Cornell !

***

Article and Photographs copyright 2009, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

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Maybe the Princess was On to Something: A Gardener Falls in Love with Reptiles & Amphibians, Scales, Warts & All . . .

July 8th, 2009 § 2 comments § permalink

frogPhoto ⓒ Michaela at TGE

While I have certainly kissed my fair share of frogs in life, I can not say that any of them turned into princes. However I have never tried to kiss the warty, slimy amphibians residing in my garden, so it may be that they are the true royalty after all. And though I have always appreciated the beauty of a snake from afar, I am afraid I must be honest about my instinctive feelings toward those slithery creatures made famous by the Garden of Eden. Let’s just say we haven’t, historically speaking, been chums. But times change and people change, and sometimes it turns out that the creatures you find most repulsive can truly become your best friends.

garter-snakeEastern garter snake – Photo ⓒ John Miller

Take my new pal the garter snake for example. Mild mannered and rather shy, this helpful reptile is now a most welcome guest in my garden. Truth be told though, correcting my attitude toward the garter wasn’t exactly easy. Although it isn’t fair, we often pre-judge individuals by their kin, and the snake family and I have a somewhat checkered past. Our trouble began long-ago, in a childhood incident with a black rat snake. Playing in the backyard, I inadvertently stepped on or otherwise threatened this harmless creature and, in self-defense, it struck me with a painful bite. I no longer remember the details of this encounter, but apparently the bite mark on my arm frightened my parents enough to warrant a visit to the emergency room, where they were relieved to discover that the bite was non-poisonous. Perhaps if I had become a more sedentary, contemplative child, this would have been an isolated event. But no, this was not my destiny. As the years of my country-childhood went by, my arms and legs were punctured on various occasions by serpents, not that they were in any way to blame for our quarrels. I am afraid that on each and every instance, the snake was either stepped on or mishandled by yours truly. Eventually my curiosity turned to aversion, and from there it slid on down to genuine dislike. By the time I began gardening, I had come to loathe all snakes, (this attitude due to fear and ignorance on my part), and considered them my enemy.

Humans can be so foolish. As the years passed, and my work and studies took me further into horticulture, I found that avoiding snakes was all but impossible. Fueled by a desire to conquer my fears, I decided to investigate the snake, and educate myself about the various kinds I might encounter in the wild. As it turns out of course, snakes are pretty wonderful and amazing creatures. Some snakes, such as the brown snake, live on a diet consisting mainly of slugs and snails. Brown snakes are not biters; usually they will release a foul, musky-odor in order to defend against attack. Likewise, the passive ring-neck snake is an excellent predator of that ruinous garden slug. The common garter snake, as well as the smooth green snake, northern red belly and worm snakes are all serious insect eaters. How fantastic is that? Non-toxic, environmentally friendly and all-natural: these snakes are the perfect garden-guardians. Even larger snakes, (such as the black racer, eastern hognose, and my original “enemy” the black rat snake), are extremely helpful to gardeners because they control populations of destructive mice and moles. Rodent-eating snakes are more likely to strike at humans when threatened, but in spite of an unpleasant sting, most are quite harmless. Unfortunately countless snakes are killed every year. Often this violent action is a knee-jerk response to the same fear and ignorance I carried with me for years. Now that I am a friend to the snake, I try to educate my friends and neighbors whenever I can. Most snakes provide us with natural control of insects and rodents, creatures human beings often attempt to eliminate with toxic substances that poison our air, food, soil and water. Helpful snakes will make themselves at home in stonewalls, woodpiles, stumps and other cool shelters in your garden. From these safe-havens, they will patrol for insects and slugs, helping protect you and your garden while maintaining a balance in the natural world. If you want to attract beneficial snakes to your yard, observe potential spaces to create snake-friendly habitat. Keeping some “wild” zones on your property and safe, cool hiding spots will encourage snakes to make a home in your garden.

Of course, not all snakes are as defenseless as those I have just mentioned. Some snakes have highly toxic venom, and they should be considered quite dangerous. In New England, where I garden, hike and play in the outdoors, poisonous snakes are virtually non-existent. The timber rattlesnake and the copperhead are the only two poisonous snakes living here, and they are considered rare or even endangered in some states. This is not true however, for other parts of North America or the world.  In fact in some areas, poisonous snake populations are a serious threat to pets, small children and adults alike. If you live in an area with poisonous snakes, it is best to educate yourself about their preferred habitat and environment in order to deter their presence near your home.  It is always a good idea to learn how to identify the creatures living around you, and respect their rightful place in the world.

The amphibian is another unsung garden hero. Unfortunately, many people are still repulsed by the thought of slimy pond-water filled with tadpoles and slippery frogs. While I have always liked salamanders, frogs and toads, I have only recently become interested in working on their PR campaign. Frogs, toads, salamanders, newts and their cousins are all excellent insect hunters. Some research claims that a single toad can consume over 100 insects per day!

Frogs are identified by their smooth, slippery skin, webbed feet, long hind-legs and bulging eyes. They like to live in and around water, where they lay clusters of eggs. Toads, conversely, have dry, warty skin, squat, stubby bodies, short hind-legs and glands between their eyes. Toads lay eggs in long chains in and around water. These two amphibious creatures are mainly carnivorous, and eat an extraordinary number of insects every day. In order to encourage their presence, some people like to place purchased toad-houses in their gardens, to provide these garden-friends with cool shelter from the sun and protection from predators. Toad shelters can also be created at home with old flower pots tipped to the side and concealed with twigs an branches, or naturally, with piles of stones and logs. Beware that toads can become ‘trapped’ inside houses without backdoors when pursued by snakes or other hunters. So, be sure to provide your warty friend with a second exit to the shelter. Frogs are most attracted to gardens with water features. Ponds and garden-pools are ideal for frogs of course, but even a sheltered water-bowl or dish will provide the moisture a frog needs. The same conditions attractive to frogs and toads are also pleasing to salamanders. As organic gardeners, the environment we provide is much safer and more hospitable to amphibians and reptiles than places where toxic pesticides and herbicides are used. Many of the chemicals in these products, as well fertilizer combinations used in inorganic lawn care, can kill amphibians, make them sterile or drive them off. A few minutes spent watching a frog capture mosquitoes should be enough to convince anyone to protect this garden prince from a toxic world.

Snakes and amphibians do not get particularly good PR rap in our culture. Its really up to all of us to change that. These days, when I see a child instinctively recoil from a reptile or amphibian, I think of my own experience and try to encourage a more positive, cautious curiosity. I like to point out that these animals will not harm us, (and in the case of snakes, will not strike unless we threaten them), and that they are helpful to us by eating the mosquitoes biting us and the slugs destroying our vegetable plants. The seeds of my irrational fears were sown in childhood, and it took many years of self-discipline and education to overcome my dislike of snakes. I would like to spare others from such a fearful relationship with any animal. While a fast moving serpent can still make me jump, (OK, perhaps even scream), I now quickly recover and laugh at myself as I return to my work in the garden. The snake may surprise me, but I know it is a natural helper and garden-friend.

ribbon snakeA Northern ribbon snake on my front terrace. Photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE

For help with identification, or for more information about snakes in New England, visit The Snake Lady of Rhode Island‘s website. For information about all North American reptiles, including snakes, turtles and more, visit the National Biological Information Infrastructure website. In addition, information and help with identifying snakes in North America may be found by visiting the excellent snake identification webpage developed by Doug Henderson and Dennis Paulson for the Slater Museum of Natural History.

For more information on amphibians, such as the frogs, toads and salamanders of North America, visit the USGS Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center’s Checklist of Amphibian Species and Identification Guide.

***

1st garter snake photo copyright Diane and John Miller, courtesy of The Old Schoolhouse Plantery

All other photos and article copyright 2009 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

***

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through our affiliate links. A small percentage of any sale originating from The Gardener’s Eden site will go toward web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you for your support!

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Stop! Put Down That Hoe, and Let’s Eat! Great Food Blogs to Stir Your Imagination and Wet Your Appetite…

July 1st, 2009 § 2 comments § permalink

11June harvest: red chard, arugula, oak leaf and red rumple lettuce..

As I walked back from my kitchen garden on this wet afternoon, colanders and baskets filled to the rim with chard for rissoto and mixed greens for salad, I felt a deep gratitude for all that I have in this life. I can not pretend that this focused awareness is with me all of the time, and I will not paint you some rosy picture of perfection. Still, on this day, after reading news of more uprooted families and lost homes, I am keenly aware of my good fortune in the midst of tough times all around.

It is no secret that with the arrival of this economic recession, vegetable gardening has seen a remarkable surge in popularity. People everywhere are looking to save money, simplify and learn new skills. Growing a few basic crops, perhaps some tomatoes and lettuce in raised beds, has become a popular place to start. From the neighbors down the street to First Lady Michelle Obama, it seems that just about everyone has planted a backyard potager this year. And now that June has arrived, hopefully all of that hard work, planting, weeding, and battle with mother-nature, has produced something edible in those little vegetable plots. It comes as no surprise to most green-thumbs that with this fresh, new crop of gardeners comes a renewed interest in home cooking. The direct link from hand to mouth is a natural one for gardeners, and for many of us, consuming organic produce can be as simple as washing and tossing a salad of new greens or steaming a bowl of broccoli on the stove. Somehow though, I have a hunch that all the bright colors, fresh fragrances and delightful tastes in the garden are stirring more creative culinary urges.

Like most vegetable gardeners, I am interested in learning the secrets of kitchen-alchemy that will turn my organic produce into gourmet gold. But in all honesty, Giada De Laurentiis I am not. With a busy schedule and competing demands of work, home and garden, lately I find myself searching the internet for simple summer recipes and inspiration.

Food sites have become incredibly popular on the web; so much so in fact, that New York Times writer Mark Bittman recently ran a post in his column, Bitten, requesting recommendations from readers on favorite culinary blogs. In my own experience, late night web-log-surfing has resulted in some delicious discoveries for both mind and palate. My new-found love affair with food blogs began with the Edible Boston website and Facebook page. It was there that I discovered a link to one of my favorite new food blogs, Poor Girl Gourmet. Poor Girl Gourmet is written by Amy McCoy, a talented photographer, culinary-whiz and soon-to-be-published author of a new cookbook from Andrews McMeel. The recipes on Poor Girl Gourmet are imaginative, but easy to follow. And best of all, in these challenging economic times, Amy McCoy is indeed frugal-minded. Yet for me, there is more. Beyond the great recipes, what truly separates Amy’s blog from the virtual sea of online cooking journals is quite simply her engaging, entertaining style of writing. Poor Girl Gourmet is witty, conversational and fun. As a gardener, I caught myself laughing-out-loud while reading methods of squash-bug control in her recent post “Memories of Zucchini Blossoms Past“. Recipes on the site are always served up with a perfect side dish of short stories and personal anecdotes. From the beginning, the combination was enough to stir my appetite and imagination, and to keep me coming back for more. I am eager to try all of the new recipes on Poor Girl Gourmet as the gardening season marches on. In meantime, I can now personally recommend her delicious French Breakfast Radish Bruschetta, and also the delightful Toast with Sour Cream and Jam, (with fresh thyme from your garden, of course).

While visiting Poor Girl Gourmet, I happily discovered some other internet gems; among them, the incomparable Orangette.  Although the author, Molly Wizenberg, is currently taking a break from her blog-writing, the site and accompanying archive are worth visiting for the evocative photography and addictive journal entries alone. The posts on Orangette are exquisitely written; as poetically rendered as any novel I have ever read. But there is so much more to this gorgeous blog, and I haven’t even touched on the recipes yet ! For a quick look at what Orangette has to offer, click on over to her recipe index. Vegetable gardeners, (like most of you, dear readers), will love the quality, variety and ease of the author’s selected recipes. Her site will help you make use of your tender greens, sun ripened tomatoes and just about anything else you harvest from your potager. Molly has also published a book, “A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table“, and you can bet it is already on my wish-list. Equally compelling, the writing style of Tea and Cookies is at once mysterious and personal. With a cup of Earl Grey and a warm blanket, cozying up with Tea’s journal feels like an intimate tete-a-tete. I can imagine sharing evening hours in my garden room with the author, swapping stories and homemade delicacies. This blog is simply delicious.

There are so many new sites I have yet to explore on rainy weekend afternoons. But another spot I must mention here, Sassy Radish, is also becoming a personal favorite. This snappy web log is written by the lovely and talented Olga Massov, a Russian immigrant with a flair for “all things pickled, herring, pelmeni, cabbage and sour cream”. Like the other blogs recommended here, what makes this one a stand-out is the combination of great, easy-to-follow recipes and distinct, personal style. Olga’s entries are charmingly conversational. Within a few posts I felt like a new friend; a virtual guest in her tiny on-line kitchen, listening to her sweet stories while watching her prepare exotic, European-inspired dishes. The memory of her latest post,”Pasta with Stinging Nettles and Ramps Pesto”, stopped me in my tracks yesterday afternoon as I was about to string trim a weedy patch at the edge of my meadow. “Why waste those nettles”, I thought, newly educated, “when they can clearly become a great meal”?

On each of the sites mentioned above, (as well as on the fabulous 101 Cookbooks, and Cheap, Healthy, Good, or the myriad others popping up on my blogroll under the cooking section), you will find lists of more like- minded cooking blogs. Search these fantastic sites for ways to creatively use the fruits of your kitchen-garden labor. Along the way you may encounter the names of a few new vegetables, herbs or fruits you might like to try-out in next year’s potager.

For now, I will leave you with an early summer favorite from my own recipe box. Although it will take a bit more sun, (please!), before I can harvest my beloved sungold cherry tomatoes and basil from the garden, I certainly have a bumper crop of arugula on hand!  Hopefully the weather here in the Northeast will improve, as I am eager to taste the sweet and spicy flavors in this quick no-cook recipe I copied with minor adaptations from Martha Rose Shulman‘s original on the New York Times website last year. Bon Appetite !

arugula-and-sungold-cherry-tomato-pasta

dinner from the vegetable garden…

***

Pasta With Sungold Cherry Tomatoes and Fresh Arugula


1 pint sungold cherry tomatoes, (halved, or if larger, quartered)

1 plump garlic clove, minced (more to taste)

Salt to taste (try coarse sea salt or fleur de sel)

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

1 cup arugula leaves, chopped coarsely

1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

3/4 pound fusille or farfalle pasta

1/4 cup freshly grated Reggiano Parmesan cheese, (more to taste)


Combine the cherry tomatoes, garlic, salt, balsamic vinegar, arugula, basil, and olive oil in a large bowl. Set aside at room temperature for at least 15 minutes. Taste the mixture and adjust seasonings accordingly.

While the mixture rests and flavors blend, bring a large pot of water to boil. Add a salt and cook the pasta al dente, (still firm to the bite). Drain the pasta, and toss with the tomatoes. While the pasta is still hot, sprinkle with parmesan cheese, and serve.


Serves 4 as a light dinner or first course.


*** Article and Photographs copyright  2009  Michaela H.  ***

Hey, BUG OFF !

June 30th, 2009 § 2 comments § permalink

nasty-mosquitoes

While I genuinely believe that every living thing on earth has it’s purpose —I am a nature lover, after all— there are times when some residents of my garden do try my patience. For one thing —particularly in a rainy year— there are the mosquitoes. It’s bad enough that these whiney bugs buzz my ears and suck my blood, leaving itchy welts all over my skin. But it is also important to keep in mind that mosquitoes carry disease. And beyond the omnipresent mosquitoes, there are the countless other small vampires lurking in the moist, shady corners of gardens and in the tall, camouflaging grass of meadows; gnats, horseflies, deerflies, and those disease-carrying ticks. Bug off, I say ! I am not a mobile lunch wagon! When insects are out in full-force, they can ruin an otherwise pleasant outdoor experience. So what to do? Well, we all know that unless you step into Dracula’s castle well prepared, you will probably be bitten. But how, you may wonder, do you effectively defend against insects without poisoning yourself in the process? Fear not warm blooded friends, you needn’t bathe in deet. There are workable solutions to the bug problem, and many are both organic and effective.

bug-bafflerBugBaffler

When the weather is warm and muggy, after a period of rain, I almost never work in the garden without netted clothing. Sometimes just a head-net will do, but on the worst days, I pull out the full body-armor. My Bug Baffler jacket has a zip hoodie, long arms, and an elasticized band at the bottom. No, it isn’t much of a fashion statement. But who cares?  I wear it in my garden, not to the Oscars. It works. The little blood-suckers may bounce around and whine a bit outside my net, but they can not get in. And although your skin is completely covered, the netting allows air -flow, so you will not overheat inside. The BugBaffler works in cool weather too. I layer it over warm sleeved shirts and light sweatshirt jackets. But, in all honesty, it can become a little stiff with more layers. Certainly this model isn’t the perfect solution for very early spring and fall.

the-original-bug-shirtThe Original Bugshirt

Then, some time ago, my friend Mel introduced me to another jacket designed to foil insects. It is called The Original Bugshirt. This machine washable jacket has a cotton body, net arms, and a zip-open net-hood. In late April, I tend to wear it over a light sweatshirt, or beneath a barn-jacket. It is less stiff than the other design. By June, on cool over-cast days, I can wear it with a t-shirt or tank top. My hands are always protected against insects by garden gloves, and my ankles by light-weight socks. I rarely wear shorts when I garden (poison ivy, brambles, etc) but if you do, both companies make leg protection as well. I think these products are great, and I use one or the other throughout the season, as weather dictates. Oh, and in case you are wondering, these companies have not paid me to mention their products and I do not do paid reviews (promise !).

natrapelNatrapel Plus Bug Repellent Spray

Effective as my bug-net jackets are, I know that there are times when you can not dress like a walking screen-house. Sometimes it’s just too hot, and sometimes you want to hang-out in just a tank top and shorts. Then what ? For most of us, toxic chemicals are no longer an option, even when sprayed on outer clothing. The poisonous substances used in standard bug spray inevitably end up in the environment; polluting air, water and soil. I don’t put anything toxic on my skin, and after trying many safer products, I have found a few things I can recommend. There is a natural bug-repellent I use called Natrapel Plus. It contains citronella oil and wintergreen oil, among other non-toxic ingredients, and it works quite well. The company recommends you reapply every 4 hours or so, and I think that is about right. Although the spray is safe for children and adults, and can be used directly on skin, it is still important to apply it with caution and to keep the stuff out of your eyes. Natrapel comes in an environmentally- friendlier can, meaning it acts like an aerosol, but it doesn’t contain chemical propellent. I find Natrapel to be effective, and the smell, while certainly not like fresh cut flowers, is tolerable. Repel is also effective in moderately buggy conditions I have often read that because our body chemistries vary, the type of repellent that works for you may not necessarily work as well for your friend. So, you may have to experiment a little to find an organic mixture that gives you results. In my experience, bug repellents are no where near as effective as netted clothing, so I always protect myself with ‘screen-wear’ when the bugs get really serious.

Of course, some people choose the do-it yourself route and make their own bug-repellent. I have tried a few home-brews and I find they can help deter insects, though I haven’t tested them in seriously buggy conditions. My friend Laurie likes to make up her own anti-bug-rub from herbs and oil. Her home recipe is made with a base of almond oil or jojoba oil. To this she adds liberal amounts of essential oils including; lavender, peppermint, lemon grass and thyme. I have used some of her oil when out kayaking with success. Home-made bug repellent, of course has the added benefit of a truly pleasant smell.

As demand for non-toxic, environmentally friendly bug-repellent products grows, I am sure more brands will arrive in the marketplace for us to try out.  If you use something that you think is particularly effective against bugs, but naturally safe and sound, please pass along the brand-name or recipe in the comments here, (beware spammers, you will be swatted like flies). Those little garden-vampires shouldn’t be allowed to take a bite out of our gardening fun (yes,  know that’s a groaner —sorry— I couldn’t help myself).

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Mosquito photo, © US CDC files

Article and photographs © 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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Help, my garden has been slimed ! Organic methods for controlling slugs and snails…

June 22nd, 2009 § 4 comments § permalink

slug-on-spinach

S L U G S  !

If you live in New England like I do, you are more than ready for a dose of sunshine ! The east coast has been having a long stretch of rainy weather this month, creating many wet-weather challenges for vegetable and flower gardeners. One of the most destructive groups of garden pests, slugs and snails, thrive in warm, wet conditions. Slugs over-winter in the garden, and when the ground thaws, they slowly emerge to begin a new life cycle. Slow moving in cool weather, slugs and snails are rarely a problem during early spring in cold climates. But come June, when the temperatures rise and when moisture and leafy greens are abundant, slugs can become devastating. Slugs and snails are usually dormant during hot, dry spells and during the daytime. On warm, humid nights and during rainy periods, these garden pests slither from their cool hiding places beneath the cover of mulch, stones, logs and other spots and begin feeding on our produce and flowers. In a single stretch of rainy nights, slugs can chew holes through row upon row of lettuce, consume entire morning glory vines, ruin a backyard crop of strawberries, and devour beds of vegetable and flower seedlings.  The tell tale signs of slug damage; shiny trails, the slippery remains of seedlings, and slimy foliage with irregular holes, will be visible the morning after a feeding frenzy.  Sometimes, when the weather is particularly rainy, slugs can even be spotted feeding in the daytime.

In order to control slugs once they have invaded, a gardener needs to act quickly and remain vigilant. Recognizing minor slug damage, (photos one and two), and responding immediately will save a garden from major destruction and crop loss, (photo three).

slug-damage-on-spinach

Minor slug damage on a leaf of spinach.

slug-damage-on-lettuce

Slug damage on a head of lettuce.

slug-damage-on-broccoli-severe

Severe slug damage on broccoli.

The most labor-intensive method of slug control is handpicking at night. When done consistently, this is very, very effective. Sometime after nine p.m., grab a flashlight and a pail of soapy water, (wear rubber gloves if you are bothered by slime), and head out into your garden. Starting at ground level, check plants, turning leaves to inspect the undersides as you go. Look through mulch and around the base of plants, and check your compost area and weed baskets too. Collect all the slugs you find and drop them in your pail of soapy water to drown overnight. In the morning, you can dispose of the dead slugs by digging a hole, dumping them and covering them with soil or compost.  You can also try luring slugs into false-shelters, such as scrap wood propped up by pebbles. Leave these traps out overnight and check them in the morning when slugs will retreat from the sunlight beneath shelters. When checking for slugs during the daytime, look beneath logs, rocks and stones, and in beds of ground-cover such as vinca and ivy.

If slugs are becoming a severe problem in your garden, try pulling mulch back away from plants, and look for slugs and eggs during the daytime. Leave mulch turned over to expose slugs and eggs to sunlight and predators like beetles, frogs, snakes and birds. Be sure to keep your garden tidy. Remove all pulled weeds, garden debris and thinned seedlings to the compost pile. Regularly empty all weeding baskets and be on the look-out for any potential slug-havens, such as the bottoms of flower pots and garden furniture.

Sometimes barriers can be effective in dealing with slugs. Many gardeners find that rough-surfaces are unappealing to snails and slugs, and laying a stretch of pine needles, coffee grounds, crushed shells, sawdust and/or wood shavings around planting beds can be enough to deter them. If you try this, be sure to replace the barrier frequently. Other barrier methods include organic, oily soap products and even copper strips. When the slimy surfaced slugs encounter strips of copper, they are hit with an electric current. This shock isn’t strong enough to kill them, but it has been shown to work as a deterrent. If you garden with raised beds, adding a strip of copper flashing along the top of the wood can be a very effective method for controlling slugs.

Many organic gardeners trap slugs in beer cups as a method of slug control, or as part of an overall plan of attack on these pests. Slugs are attracted to beer or sugar/yeast solutions in water.  If plastic cups are set into multiple 4-5″ holes dug in the soil around the edge of the garden and filled with an inch or so of beer or yeast solution, slugs will slither in to investigate, consume the liquid, and drown.  In order for this method to work, a gardener will have to take a disciplined approach and have a strong stomach. It is important to dump the cups of dead slugs into a hole in the morning, and bury them with soil. Replace the fluid nightly and repeat during wet-weather spells. Beer traps will be needed throughout the garden for this method to be successful.

Organic slug-bait is also available if you choose to use it. Many organic slug controls contain mined iron phosphate in wheat gluten bait. Iron phosphate is organically acceptable, and this kind of bait is non-toxic to pets and people. Be sure to check labels in order to be certain that any slug bait you use is approved for use by certified organic growers. And always wear gloves when distributing bait with iron phosphate, as it can irritate your eyes. Organic bait does NOT contain metaldehyde, as this substance IS toxic to people and pets.  Chelating agents are sometimes used in slug baits. Be aware that these ingredients are not approved for certified organic growers.

If your garden is prone to slug infestations year after year, it may be time to consider removing all old mulch straw and replacing it with a fresh, dry load next season. Perhaps adding pea stone or gravel paths and raised beds is something to consider if your garden area tends to be very wet. In cold climates, one generation of slugs per year can be controlled by combining all organic methods mentioned here in the early-middle part of the garden season. In warmer areas, slug-patrol will be necessary year round, and creating a drier garden climate is critical in order to protect your crops. Some slug damage is usually inevitable in an organic vegetable garden, the key is to stay on top of a small slug population in order to avoid large-scale losses of young plants and produce.

With all the wet weather in the New England forecast this week, I will be stocking up on flashlight batteries, dish detergent and cheap beer for my slimy garden “guests”.  Cheers !

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Article Copyright 2009 Michaela H.

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Composting Basics, for Beginners…

June 10th, 2009 § 3 comments § permalink

Compost Love

Learning to make your own compost is one of the most economical and effective ways to build fertile, organic garden soil. Fortunately, it is also one of the simplest garden skills to learn. Plants grown in compost-supplemented soil tend to be stronger, healthier and more disease resistant. Organic garden compost adds valuable nutrients to soil, enhancing vegetable and fruit quality and yield at harvest time. Compost is created naturally on earth throughout the seasons, with dead matter piling and decaying, building rich soil to support new life. As gardeners, when we make compost we imitate nature by rapidly creating layers of rotting material in a small space. Turning piles of composted plant material speeds up the natural process of decomposition by heating up and aerating dry, green and brown layers of organic waste from our kitchens, gardens and fields.

Getting a compost pile started can be quite easy.  As your interest in gardening grows, more permanent or attractive bins and tools may become desirable. However, composting is a very easy garden skill to learn, and it need not be expensive, time consuming or difficult.  The first step is to create a contained area for your pile.

Building a simple compost bin does not require any carpentry skills. The most basic bin is made of 4 straw bale walls stacked up four feet high. Another very easy, no-nonsense design requires 15 feet of wire or snow fencing and a pair of wood or metal stakes.  If you are using wire or snow fencing, form a cylindrical shape and set the bin in an area of loosened soil. Drive two stakes or saplings at least one foot into the ground, on the inside of the bin, at opposite midway points.  Three or four stakes evenly divided are even better for stability. Attach the bin to the stakes with wire or twine, and you are ready to start !

Once you have your bin set up, add a few inches of clean straw to the bottom. Next add water to the straw slowly with a watering can to make it damp, (but not soggy). Top this first layer with a 2-6 inch layer of loose “green” material. Green material consists of fresh organic cast-offs, such as grass clippings, kitchen scraps, thinned seedlings, or spent vegetable plants. Adding pulled annual weeds to a compost bin is also acceptable (it is wise to keep perennial weed roots out of your bin, and diseased materials should always be burned or otherwise disposed). On top of this “green” layer, add a half inch or so of garden soil or well rotted manure (never dog or cat manure).  You can also add some mature compost from a friend’s compost pile as a starter. Keep building your pile in these layers over a series of weeks. Each layer of compost should contain the described balance of dry materials, green materials and the brown layer of soil/manure/compost. Keep dry materials on hand in a shed or covered bin, and try to maintain steady layering. Some compost ingredients, such as grass clippings, tend to mat up.  Add these materials in moderation unless you have enough loose matter, (such as vines or pulled plant stalks), to balance the mix.  It is also helpful to ‘scatter’ the material into the compost bin, as opposed to dumping kitchen scraps into a solid pile on the heap.

As your pile grows, you can add shredded fall leaves and newspapers, chopped ornamental grass and other fibrous materials to the dry layer of your pile. The green layer should contain grass clippings and kitchen scraps (vegetables, fruits, coffee grounds, egg shells, etc.) as mentioned, but you can also items like deadheaded flowers and other easily rotted plant material from around the yard. Once you have created a batch of your own compost, a 1/2″ sprinkling can go in as the final layer. I also like to add green sand to my compost.  Green sand can be found at most farmer’s supply stores.  This is an organic supplement from ancient ocean floors, and it adds valuable potassium to the garden.

A compost pile needs to reach about 3′ high (be patient, as it will settle) in order to generate internal heat. Once your pile reaches this height, you can cover it with a blue or black tarp to help retain heat and keep out excess water during rainy periods. Many gardeners have two or more piles going at once, however this isn’t necessary unless you have a larger garden with a great need for compost. Once your pile is 3′ high, turn the compost with a garden fork — really mix it well to fluff and aerate the pile. You can also add some water if the mix seems dry, and then cover it again.  Keep turning your pile every few days –or at least once a week– until your compost appears dark and crumbly like good garden soil. Once the compost reaches this point, you are ready to pull up your bin, move it and start another pile. The old pile is ready to spread as mulch or add to supplement soil.

Home made compost is one of the best fertilizers you can add to your vegetable garden. A dressing of compost around the base of plants preserves moisture, and keeps soil temperatures consistent. A layer of compost at 1-2″ thick is about right for most northern gardeners during the growing season. If your soil needs building, or your climate is warmer, add a thicker layer of compost – perhaps 3″ or so. Some gardeners find they have a hard time generating enough compost for their gardens. Usually they lack green material, specifically kitchen scraps, for their piles. If this sounds like a potential problem for you, ask some friends or neighbors to keep a bin of vegetable peels for you, or offer to collect their unwanted lawn clippings. Your request for help with this organic project will most likely be welcomed as a way to dispose of unwanted materials. You can always return the kindness with a basket of fresh produce from your garden.
compost-marigold-spinach
red-chard
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Top photo: Applying a compost mulch to romaine lettuce and Swiss chard.
Lower photos: Spinach and marigold growing with a compost mulch
and red chard looking vibrant and delicious in dark, compost enriched soil.

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Article and photographs © 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through our affiliate links. A small percentage of any sale originating from The Gardener’s Eden site will go toward web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you for your support!

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