Thinking About Spring Already

Leafing Through the Catalogs and Guides

OK I know, we just got our first winter snowfall to speak of and I am thinking about spring already. But the time has come. I mean, it is January 17th. Last year I busted out my seeds and seed catalogs a week earlier. I pulled the bin of seeds from last year and years before that, spread out the seed catalogs and started doing some planing. I got interrupted several times so it took me most of the day, but I I figured what I need to order for our 2012 garden.

I have plenty of seeds, but I can’t use them all. The Danvers carrots from 2007 are just not reliable. Some might sprout but most likely will not. Lettuce seeds from last year? Might be good, might not. Pumpkins seeds on the other hand, saved even from 2007, will probably be OK. The big ones last longer. I had to determine what I want to plant, then go through my inventory, then decide where to purchase seeds I don’t have but want.

Mostly I plan to order seeds from High Mowing Organic Seeds. They are fairly local, so if they can make it grow, I probably can as well. I will also order some from Seed Savers Exchange. I love the work they do and they always have something new and different. I prefer to plant open pollinated varieties rather than hybrids, so it is fun to try something new each time. Potatoes, especially, are fun ones for me when it comes to experimenting. They are pretty easy to grow, and any variety will taste good one way or another, so why not try the pink ones? Of course, I have tried some varieties of vegetables that were not the greatest–red zebra tomatoes looked great but just didn’t taste as zowie as I wanted them to taste, and some carrots are so not as sweet as others–but mostly you can’t go wrong with food you grow yourself.

I had hoped to order seeds today but that will have to wait until later in the week. I had way too much playing outside with my daughter to do. The kids were outside a ton yesterday and today, despite the frigid temperatures (yesterday never got above 7 degrees and today the wind chill was below zero in the afternoon). I was proud of them. I didn’t want to be left out. And I do have time. I will likely plant some seeds indoors in March, which isn’t that far away, but I don’t need to order anything two-day shipping at this point. But still, it is hard to resist thinking about summer when the temperature is in the single digits and the wood stove is eating up logs.

So here’s to seed catalogs and the companies who print them! Thanks for bringing me a little summer today.

Popcorn Picking

I picked the popcorn today. Last time I planted popcorn, two years ago, I picked it on the 22nd of September, but this was ready to go. It was nicely dried and the stalks were starting to fall over. I planted the same variety as last time–Tom Thumb, a miniature variety with four foot tall stalks–but the weather was just not the same this year.  With the help of my daughter I picked 69 small ears.

Popcorn off the Stalk

Both my kids helped me shuck it. My daughter noted several times that the ear she just revealed would the be the perfect size for a doll, although it would have been less tasty than the corn we purchased from the Conant farm (whose last day was today, and we missed it). After peeling back the husks, we ended up with a pile of golden ears.

Each Ear Equals One Batch of Popcorn

Last time I bagged the ears in a mesh bag and left it to dry for a bunch of weeks. The children were so excited to start collecting it in a bowl, however, that I totally forgot in my own excitement. So we took it off the ears and we marveled at the bowl of kernals. It will need to dry more, indeed, but in a mesh bag that is hanging in the right spot, that should happen easily.

This Will Warm Us on a Winter Day

It was easy to grow. The hardest part was keeping the birds away long enough for it to sprout. They love to yank it out just as it pushes green from the soil. The first time I grew it I had to totally replant it. The second time I tried to grow it I did not have enough time to try again. This time I hung reflectors just as the first shots appeared. That scared the crows and turkeys away and I had plants. After that it was just water, weed and wait. I planted melons in between the plants and that worked out well for both plants.

In a few weeks I will test the popcorn to see if it pops well. Once it is I will jar it up to keep the moisture content right and we will have healthy snacks for the winter. And plenty of it.

First Potatoes

A Handful of Beauties

I made a summer gratin last night–fresh zucchini we picked yesterday, onions, tomatoes, garlic I dug up right before mincing, and potatoes. I had asked my wife to grab some potatoes at the market when she went out. She came home without them, however, as there were no local tubers to be had, and she just couldn’t bear to buy some from California in the summer. So I had the thought that I might find a few out in the garden. I was richly rewarded.

Let me say that the gratin came out well. Hot and saucy and flavorful, with fresh herbs in the mix. The potatoes were the game maker, however. I stuck my hand in the dirt and–BOOM!–potatoes. One plant yielded all I needed, and we have many many plants. We will not have to purchase potatoes for a long time. While I was washing them and parboiling them and slicing them and then eating them, I kept thinking how incredible it is that one can pop a chunk of root into the ground and it turns into a plant that yields ten times what you planted.

These pictured are Purple Viking. I also planted Yellow Finn, which are white. I will go out soon and dig up some of those to see what we get. I’m thinking breakfast tomorrow, maybe, some home fries with eggs? That could work.

Still, I am amazed at how I can plant something and it grows and then we have food. I paid a total of 30 dollars for seed potatoes. I will without question get my money’s worth. If I save some of them to plant next year, I will double my investment. For the moment, however, I don’t want to think about next summer. I just want to savor the yumminess of this crop. And have a great breakfast. Or two or three.

Grow, Baby, Grow

I planted potatoes for the first time this spring. This is what they looked like last weekend, six days ago:

Potatoes, May 30

I was pretty excited that they were growing at all. I mean, I’ve never grown these tubers before. Here is what they looked like today:

Potatoes, June 5

The popcorn appeared today. This morning the green shoots were popping out of the dirt.

Popcorn Reaching for the Sky

I knew I had to get something to scare the birds or they would pull it all as it sprouts. When I first planted popcorn, the birds ate every kernal. So I replanted and hung some reflectors. That did the trick. I wanted to wait this time until the shoots were just coming up so the birds would not get accustomed to my little scare tactic. So late in the morning I rigged my reflectors. Between the time I discovered the seeds sprouting and the time I carried stakes and string out to the garden beds, one of those flying bastards had pulled half a dozen seeds. I hope that is all they manage to get.

I save CD’s over the year so I have a few to hang to keep the birds away. That they are reflective, and that they spin in even a slight breeze, seems to be enough of a deterrent. I add some flagging tape in there just to make things really wiggy. I need the birds to stay away long enough so they no longer want the just-bursting seeds. In past years, once the plants have become established they have done fine, and I am looking to repeat that pattern this year.

Better Than a Scarecrow

And that’s how things are growing these days. Most everything is coming up, although lettuce seems to be slow. I’m thinking it has been too hot. That is what you get for waiting. We have had some hot days and some rain so growing conditions are right on for most things. Although the basil isn’t doing well, which surprises me. But you can’t have everything. If the cucumber beetles are less of a nuisance this year then I will be happy. Cucumbers and melons instead of basil. Not ideal, but not a bad trade.

And speaking of nuisances, I haven’t seen the damn bunnies in a few days now. Maybe my chasing them around in old clogs was enough to scare them? Or maybe my wife watching me chase them, through the upstairs window, and laughing through the screen, was what really made them flee. Either way, I am glad they have decided to snack on more wild fare for the time being.

Too many critters to deal with, I tell you. Too many critters.

Garden On the Way

So far so good with our vegetable garden. Most of the beds are planted, with a few empty spots left over for second plantings of lettuce, carrots and cilantro. A few weeks ago I added beneficial nematodes to help alleviate our cucumber beetle problem. I have my fingers crossed with that one. I also put up three new birdhouses this year in hopes that they might snack on the beetles once they hatch. Right now I am waiting to see if the seedlings get munched by the larvae. Like I said, I have my fingers crossed. After a couple of days, my melon seedlings still look OK:

Future Melons?

Last fall I planted garlic–two varieties–and those plants are the stars of the garden right now. They are just starting to form scapes.

Reaching for the Sun

The peas are a little behind. At least, they are smaller than I would like. Last year the pea plants got munched by rabbits. Just as I was thinking we may be free of those rascals, there were three of them at once yesterday. They have not munched the peas yet, but they will find them, I am sure.

Still Not Tall Enough

Also, peppers are growing well. I transplanted these several days ago and they are still alive. I will thin them soon.

Still Youngsters, but Showing Promise

So things are looking good so far. Potatoes are up as well, and arugula and carrots are poking out of the dirt. I hope this will be a good season. Something will grow at least. I mean, carrots are hard to kill. Unless those damn bunnies come back.

Damn bunnies.

Close to the End

 

Sauteed onions and peppers

Pizza Topping--Colorful and Tasty

Last night’s dinner was pizza. We topped one of them with peppers and onions. I used the last onion we grew in our garden. I used peppers and another onion from our farm share. We have one more pepper we grew tucked in the refrigerator, one more pepper from the farm, and a couple small onions from the farm. There was a bonus pick up yesterday but I have been sick, so I didn’t get organized enough to put in an order. That is a bummer since having more peppers, onions and some squash at least would be helpful in making this transition to winter. I really want to make sure we preserve more food next year. We have some, but cracking open something I grew over the summer, in the middle of winter, just can’t be beat.  We have a few items left, including sweet pumpkins, but we are close to out for the season. Winter’s farmers markets are near. I need to make sure we get there.

Tomato Update

A bit ago I posted about transplanting tomato plants from small to large pots.  One of them in particular was not doing well.  It sagged.  It hung low.  It looked poorly.  I thought it would kick it.  But check this out:

 

Limp No Longer

Limp No Longer

The plant on the left is the same one that was all droopy before.  A little water, a little sun and bam!  Healthy(ish) plant.

I still am not ready quite yet to pop them in the ground.  Rain showers are forecast for the next four days.  And it is cool.  These puppies like it hot.  Some time this week, hopefully, I will start exposing them to the outside air.  They need to get some experience before they get to the work of growing tomatoes.

I am hopeful that we will get some fruit off these bad boys.  If only it didn’t take so long.  I suppose, however, that that is part of the joy of it–watching fruit burst from a tiny seed.  So I can be patient, even though I can almost taste what will come.  A juicy red slice on a hot summer day?  Now we’re talking.

Peas and Cookies

Trellis for Peas Woven from Saplings

Trellis for Peas Woven from Saplings

I have been jonesing for cookies or pudding or ice cream or some sweet thing. I was going to make some pudding, whip up some cream to plop on top. But my wife made cookies. A local teenager is going to watch my daughter after school so I can go to a meeting tomorrow afternoon. So my co-parent whipped up some chocolate chippers. I went with those.

Also, I spent this weekend in the garden. I dug and prepped and then planted. I can’t say I planted because my children were right there with me. I set aside a chunk of the garden just for them this year. They planted peas, carrots and (early) pumpkins. I hope the pumpkins do OK given that it is so early, but we can always replant them. In the larger garden I planted peas and carrots.

That is the game we often play in the winter when we are waiting at the end of the driveway for the school bus–Peas and Carrots. We jump up and down and someone shouts out a number and you have to get in a group with exactly that many people. It has limited usefulness as a game when there are only four or three or even two of us, but it keeps us warm. Anyway, we kept singing the little ditty as wel planted–“Peas and Carrots, Peas and Carrots, Peas and Carrots.” We had a good time.

I ate one cookie but I could use another. Tomorrow I have a busy day. I get my daughter on the bus, drive my son to school, go to Burlington to work with three groups of students in a row, head to the office to get as many tasks done as I can, drive to Milton for a faculty meeting at the high school, head home to meet my daughter at the house of the aformentioned teenager, drive with her to get my son, get home for dinner, then head up the road for T-Ball practice. Then home in time for bed.

Knowing that the garden is doing its silent job of growing will help me mentally once the day begins. And that extra cookie will come in hand, too.

Seeds

In January of every year I look forward to busting out the various seed catalogs and ordering seeds for spring planting.  January may seem a little early but it is about right.  If something isn’t available an early order gives me time to order something else, or to order elsewhere.  Plus it just gets me fired up.  Thinking of fresh produce in the dark days of the year helps remind me of the warm days that really are not that far away.

This year I spread the catalogs and was planning what to order and from where to order it, when I serendipitously uncovered, buried on the desk, an order form for seeds.  It was for a fund raiser for my son’s school.  They were from a local company, High Mowing Seeds.  Their selection was more limited than I had been looking at in my many catalogs, but they had pretty much what I needed.  I don’t know why I hadn’t looked at this company before.  So I put away the catalogs and filled out the order form.

Yesterday the seeds arrived.  It took a while, of course, but I am still in good shape.  Next weekend is the weekend to start planting.  Not outside, of course.  The ground is still frozen.  I will take down the foam cells from the shelf in the garage and plant onions and leeks.  Last year I planted both of these and they grew well once I transplanted them.  I can hardly wait to get my hands dirty.  In the past the children have helped me and I hope they are just as eager this year.  It is a fun family project.  Plus, we can all get a little muddy together.

Last year about this time I did plant onions but not many.  The seed packet I got from Seeds of Change contained only seven seeds.  It was supposed to have contained about 100 seeds.  That wasn’t what I was expecting.  I wanted to plant right then and so I couldn’t wait to order more seeds.  So I went to the hardware store to find some.  They had seeds but no onion seeds.  Apparently no one plants onions from seed around here.  They buy onion sets, the mini bulbs, and plant those instead.  So I bought leeks.

That purchase was an accidental discovery.  We had lots of leeks.  They grew well.  The lasted a long time.  They were delicious (those grilled leek, summer squash, portobello mushroom sandwiches with melted cheddar were dreamy) and I want to plant them again.  I am hooked on leeks and I can hardly wait until they are ripe.

Seeds of Change did me right this time around.  I called and told them what happened and they sent me a fresh packet of onion seeds.  Their seeds have been great and now I know their customer service is great as well.  I will order from them again.  High Mowing Seeds have been great as well.  I planted some lettuce from seeds a friend gave us and it was the best lettuce of five varieties we have grown.  I am guessing I will have some good success all around.

I need to bust out the plant rack from the basement to set the seeds trays on.  I will plant fewer plants indoors this year.  Cucumbers will do fine if I plant them outside, maybe even better.  In a few weeks I will plant tomatoes, and maybe melons.  The rest can wait until the ground thaws.  I will also give some seeds to the kids.  They can have their own corner of the garden.  They won’t be planting onions in their plot, however.  I’ll let them grow something they might like.

March is here, baby.  Let’s get planting.