...And Winter returns!

Yesterday was such a lovely day with warm sunshine and 54 degree.. and then someone turn the switch on Mother Nature's mood - she decided that she's not done with Winter season quite yet.. So we got nasty reminder of it last night and into this morning. 2 inches of ice covered everything - my trees, garden beds, drive-in.
This is what I woke up to this morning. No, didn't miss it at all and could have skipped it and just go straight for spring. I guess we'll just have to wait 4 more weeks for official spring.

Colors, texture and smells

Do you want to know what really attracts me to gardening? It's all the experiences that you get while gardening - the smells, sounds of birds and chipmunks, bright colors of flowers and veggies and of course the amazing taste that tickles my taste buds every time you try something new. I'll admit I love unusual things - purple potatoes and rainbow carrots, chocolate peppers, green yellow and bi-colored tomatoes - can't get enough of them. Beautiful glads in August, first spring daffodils, tulips, hyacinths and lilacs bursting with honey smell that makes you feel like you're floating on a cloud. And then there are textures. Have you seen horn melons? Or spiked Chinese bitter cucumber? Velvety softness and gentle smell of Alpine strawberry and fresh picked peach. There is something awesome that happens when you pluck that huge tomato that's larger than your hand and it bursts with smell and you can't wait to slice it up to see how it looks and more importantly how it will taste. Or that surprise that you get from a small potato plant that doesn't look like it's going to have anything because it's all shriveled at the end of august and yet you dig out half a bucket of beautiful fingerling potatoes! And then you can't wait to dig into the next one just to see if that is just as bountiful as first one.

Sorry, spring fever is really getting to me and I just can't wait until everything burst into bloom and I get first berries and greens of the year.

Harvest Monday

I've joined 'Harvest Monday" group that post their totals of whatever has been harvested that week. Given that my garden is not in greenhouse it's not likely that I'll be doing many of these for few more weeks until the first set of cold-frame items will come out, which should be sometimes at the end of March. But there is one thing I did want to share - my hydroponic bokchoy picture. And no, it's not most current one - I gathered up fresh greens - whole 4 of them, and tossed into stirfry before realizing that I should have probably taken a picture of it before. But since they all look pretty much the same I'll repost older version :) Now off to re-seed the missing slots. How was your harvest?

We're expanding!

For a very long time now my hubby and I have been talking about expanding our garden so I can have more space to plant veggies. The problem has always been that our back yard is covered with very mature trees that make it impossible to plant as they shade everything and we were not about to cut them down. Our current garden is on the side of the house but there is not much space for it. As you can see we only had 5 raised beds that we build 2 yrs ago and it didn't give me much of a space to plant everything I wanted originally. So we finally agreed that we need more space and he'll be building a new garden area for me - on the front of the house. Originally that area was not even in question as it's first thing that people see when they come over, but considering how little visitors we do have we just decided to go with it. It will be long and narrow to avoid leech field but it will be better than none. So he created design for me this weekend and already started gathering supplies. Hopefully it will look just as nice once it's completed. I'll have to do some creating planting outside the fence to hide the structures and use vines like grapes, roses, jasmine to mask chicken wire fencing. I will also plant some herbs and landscaping greens to make it more of an island design afterwards and plant some colorful flowers like peonies and bulbs for spring, glads and hollyhock for taller varieties as well as some decorative pumpkins and squashes to fill the area on the bottom. Now this should keep me more than busy this spring and summer :)

Moving Sorrel

This weekend I'll have a new project to complete - I have to move all my Sorrel plants out of the garden and use as a decorative border around the house. As much as I love it first thing in spring when it wakes up as soon as snow melts, I don't think I can allocate so much space for it. Here you can see where it was growing last year - the bottom 3 rows (the rest is arugula and spinach on that bed)
Now this was taken early in summer and by the end of summer it has really grown! It gets very large almost like Hosta plants and what's interesting, the deer won't touch it. It might be the lemony taste that drives them away. In any rate I'll be removing it from bed this Saturday. It should be around 50 degrees during the day so sounds like a perfect day to start moving. I'll cover them with plastic for few nights to make sure they don't die out on me completely after transplant. And then I can start transplanting my current cold-loving seedlings in to that space!

Unreasonable cost of living

This morning I was browsing local newspaper article when this section made me choke on my breakfast.

United Way of Northern New Jersey recently reported that nearly one in three Sussex County households is ALICE, an acronym for "asset-limited, income-constrained, but employed," otherwise known as the working poor. ALICE represents individuals and families earning between $20,000 and $60,000 annually.

This is something that really makes me think hard about about area where I live - it's not just about salaries and such but the actual cost of living. It's simply unreasonable and unsustainable. Considering that every job description that I've seen in past year only advertises $12-15 an hour it's not reasonable to expect people to live decently with such high costs of everything else around us. And it's likely to keep rising every year. It's another reason why I really want to keep my garden expanding and full of every variety of veggies and fruit that I can cram into it. Yes, there is upfront cost when you're building it but once that's done you can keep going with minimal cost afterwards. It also helps to plant extras so I can save some of the produce for winter time - canned tomato sauces; my own potatoes, garlic and onions; salsa; home made jams from starwberries and raspberries; frozen chopped veggies that I can use for stir-fry - they will all bring COL price down. And I intend to plant as much as my little garden can handle!

Coldframe surprise

Yesterday I went to check on my garden, toss out leftovers into compost bin and also checked on my two cold frame boxes. Now they are experimental and I didn't really plant anything into them yet as my hubby build them late in October and by then ground was pretty frozen. Besides, the frame itself was not quite the way it should be - sides were high and made of wood so very little sun actually got through. I was going to ask my hubby to redo it but thought to wait until spring. But I didn't realize that some of the seeds that I used in summer did not wake up on time so when I thought frames were empty in reality they've been producing.
I guess some of my lettuce decided that frame provided enough warm air and started growing. Not much of it of course but then it wasn't exactly seeded to grow - it's a leftover from summer. And on another side of the same box I found some bok choy - also left overs. They're not in great shape but pull back old leafs and you'll get a few good shoots for stirfry.
And in another frame self-seeded parsley woke up! I mean self-seeded because there was a parsley patch before that I picked and dried for winter but I guess some seeds spread anyway so they started growing and one of the older plants came back to life as well. Unexpected but always welcome as I use alot of parsley in cooking.
Actually I'm surprised that anything grew at all since the coldframe was closed and I didn't bother watering or doing anything else and grown was bone dry. And yet these little buggers still made it through most of the winter. I guess you can call it first harvest of the year :)

So many Tomato choices!

In my quest to try many types of fruit and veggies I've gone a wee bit overboard with my tomato selection. Don't take it wrong, I love to try all veggies and I'm in the middle of organizing my full seed list but for now I've gone over all varieties that I have for tomatoes. And the list is long.

Ananas Noire Or Black Pineapple
Big Rainbow
Black From Tula
Black Giant
Black Krim
Caspian Pink Heirloom
Cherokee Purple
Chocolate Stripes
Grandma Oliver's Green
Green Zebra Heirloom
Hillbilly Heirloom
Mr Stripey Heirloom
Orange Fleshed Purple Smudge
Prudens Purple Heirloom
Purple Calabash
Red Mortgage Lifter
Red Zebra Heirloom
San Marzano Lungo No. 2
Sarah Black
Super Italian Paste Heirloom
Sweet Million Hyrid
True Black Brandywine
Red Brandywine
Pink Brandywine
Yellow Pear (Cherry)

So if I plant at least 1 plant each I should have plenty of choices come August. Some are paste variety like Super Italian and San Marzano - they'll be great for Marinara and other sauces. Some are salads like Yellow Pear. Of course I'll be using some in my pots, especially those that I'm not quite sure about or that had mixed reviews like Purple Calabash and Orange Flesh. Cherry tomatoes will definitely go into pot because they tend to get very large so I don't want them to take space in garden. But for those that I've tried already and love like Purple Cherokee, Brandywine and Black Krim - they'll be at least 2 each. Yes, it will be alot of tomatoes pending no blight or other disasters of course, but knowing me I'll be giving them away to anyone who wants them :)

We got greens!

Ok, so it's not really greens but they'll be once they get bigger. As in my seedlings have sprouted! These are my salads, cabbages, spinach and bokchoy.
And yes, they are a bit "leggy" but that's because I didn't put them under lights properly. Actually I placed them on shelves but not high enough so the space between the lights and seed-kit was too high so they stretched to light. Now they'll be higher so I expect to see some improvement soon. And in couple of weeks they'll go into my cold frame.
And today I started yet another tray - my herbs. In addition to the long boxes that I have for current kitchen use I started new batch for garden - they'll be planted in April.
Not sure if you can read these but here I have basil, oregano, thyme, cilantro, sage, rosemary and marigolds. Ok, so marigolds are not herbs but they are edible and make nice pretty border. And speaking of herbs, I also placed few seeds into the pot with my basil in the kitchen and they've sprouted as well!
As you can see I've been using my basil and almost done with it so I'm reusing pot for fresh round of herbs. I've mixed genovese and purple and lemon basil so will be interesting mix when it grows.

Planting starters

Yes it's seedlings time once again! If you remember from last year's post on Seedlings I start mine at home in the little home-made greenhouse. It's a shelving with grow-lights attached to it for every level and trays with seed starting mix in containers. This year I actually have a new seed-starting kit from Burpees - and no, I did not buy it. I got it from Freecycle add. Since I didn't know how well kit like this would work this is a good time to experiment. And so far I like it! It was easy to set up, no mess with soil and it rehydrate very fast. Let's see how the actual seeds will work out through next two months.

For now I've planted various salads, cabbage, bok choy, broccoli - all of them like cold weather to start growing so it works out just right in timing. They will go into ground in March. So every week for next 4 weeks I'll add a new tray of seedlings to make sure that my crops will have new growth just as I start picking first set.

if you're not sure what to do with seeds - take a look at one of the previous posts: picking seeds.

so what are you planting this year?

It's February.. so where's the snow?

Today is the first day of February and typically should be one of the coldest time of the year. Instead we had balmy 56 degree weather. So where's the snow? I know I shouldn't be griping about it but my garden needs that wet snow so the plants can rest and roots can grow stronger and instead my plants are very confused now - crocuses and hyacinths starting to go into bloom. What worries me is that whenever we have 'soft' winter it usually tends to be followed by harsh spring. And we already had cold and wet spring last year so this year it would be nice to have normal spring season. Well, I guess we'll wait and see how it goes.

In the meanwhile, I did inventory of my seed collection and outlined what I'm planning to plant this year. For spring "cold" season I have: various salads - both head and loose types, cabbage, broccoli, bok choy, radishes, peas, swiss chard, spinach, arugula and collard greens. These will be planted this weekend in seedling containers - except for the arugula, radishes and peas as they grow super fast and do better if planted directly into the ground which I will do closer to the end of March.

After my cold-season seedlings are transplanted I will start my warm-loving ones. And for these I really look forward to seeing new varieties. I will try planting new melons, peppers, and squashes that i did not try before, but most of all I will plant all new varieties of my tomatoes. I got quite a few varieties of heirloom tomatoes and can't wait to see how they'll taste. Normally I use Brandywine, Cherokee Purple and Black Krim because these are my favorites, but this year I have at least a dozen new to try as well. Black Pineapple sounds good and looks fabulous on pictures so can't wait to get it started :)

And then of course my 'staples' of the garden - green and yellow wax beans, onions, potatoes, cucumbers, carrots, summer squash, eggplant, beets and herbs that will be planted as well. Garlic cloves were already planted in October so we should have it ready to pick in July.

In addition to the veggies I will have my fruit as well - strawberries that I had last year and I ordered two new varieties that will come in April. We also have blueberries, raspberries, grapes, blackberries, two cherry trees that should be full in bloom this year, peach and nectarine, plums and apple trees. I know we'll have plums because we had one this year but not sure about apples just yet. I hope to try at least one soon. Can we fast forward to spring now?

So what's happening at your garden? anyone getting ready for the new season?