Saturday, February 28, 2009


Our warm weather yesterday melted out some of the beds. The nice blue green mat is my dianthus that I grew from seed years and years ago. Last year I cut it back to make the new garlic and onion bed above.

The unknown softneck garlic that I planted poked up right after going into the ground in fall. They have lots of leaves coming up now. The hardnecks are barely starting to peek through the earth.

My sage is beautiful right now. I cut it back in the spring before its new growth starts. If I don't do this it gets huge and takes over. It has a week or two before it gets sheared. On second thought I can see some new growth already on the plant. I have work to do.

My French thyme is the first of the thymes to be uncovered. French thyme is my favorite of all my thymes. I find it much more flavorful than the English thyme, but I grow that too. The English thyme is reliable. It doesn't die, grows profusely and can handle getting sheared way back for large harvests. My harvests from the French thyme are much smaller.

As I was scoping out the garden, I started trying to take the snow off of my plastic row cover that failed last winter. I wanted it to get propped up again. It turns out the top 3" of snow are really snow, the bottom 3" is all ice. Some of it came off easily and some had to be chipped. One of the covers has been unearthed. The hoops won't straighten up since they are frozen into the prone position. I did prop them up just enough with rocks to provide a layer of air underneath. The broccoli seems quite dead. The chard is just missing. I can't even tell where it was before. I'm hoping the roots are still alive and it will reemerge, but I doubt it. The old lettuce leaves are all brown, but the inner rosette is still green and alive. Whoo hoo! I'm psyched.

So I had a very happy moment communing with my lettuce. I enjoyed the moment. Today is another story. Today my weatherman let me down. We have not one but two winter storms headed our way. Tomorrow's storm starts off as an ice storm then just as it starts moving out another storm will get here and dump lots of snow. My nicely melting beds will have another blanket.

Also since it was the first thaw since the snow started in December and I have a 100 pound dog, lets just say I had a messy chore in the back yard. Next year I must remember to dig more than one doggy composting hole in the fall. I really need two or a massively huge one.

I'm still happy. My lettuce survived the winter. Now it just has to survive the freeze-thaw of spring and I'll have early salads. Whoo hoo!

Friday, February 27, 2009


Chiot's Run was asking today about what we were anticipating most about our gardens. Tessa was commenting the other day that gardening hasn't helped her learn patience. I think this time of the year really brings out the anti-Zen in all of us. The summer garden for me is very Zen like. I will stand in the middle and just experience it as I listen to the bees buzz. I welcome what it provides and live in the moment. Yes at that time of the year I still plan my fall garden and do succession crops, but the strong anticipation isn't there. This time of the year we look to the future and have such desires. We want our little seeds to germinate NOW.

For me my greatest anticipation is the melting snow. I want my soil to be snow free, unfrozen, and workable. I want to wash the dirt out from under my fingernails again. I want to plant seeds in the real soil, not my soilless mixture. I want to see my pea shoots come out of the soil and grab onto the trellis. The trellis that currently can't go into the garden since the ground is covered in snow and is frozen solid. I want St. Patrick's Day, the traditional day for pea planting, to be a celebration of green, not a cold day of mourning covered in white.

I anticipate today, which will be the warmest day of the year so far getting up into the 50s. I anticipate seeing my garlic shoots peeking from the soil. I don't anticipate next week. My weatherman says we will again have below normal temperatures. Normal this time of the year is in the low 40s. Next week the high will only be in the 30s and for some days maybe only the 20s. It has been a very early winter. It has been a very cold winter. It has been a very snowy winter. I hope today I see the dirt again. I would love to try to get my tunnels that collapsed under the heavy snow, back up. I would love to start my soil melting.

Though I do have great plans next year with seed saving, tomato experiments, and record keeping, they aren't currently my greatest anticipation. That is reserved for the coming month. I hope the March weather makes up for our cold winter. I hope for warmth. Are you as all anti-Zen as me this time of year? What are you dreaming about?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Book Review

Seed saving is not one of my strong suits. I've done a little of it over the years, but really not enough. My excuse is always a production or space issue. I never want to let my green beans go to seed since it would stop production. The same can be said for zucchini. Letting my lettuce go to seed requires more space. Right now I do succession plantings and letting some go to seed would require removing that spot from the succession.

In the past I've felt that my garden just isn't big enough to save a lot of seed. I'm not happy with my excuses anymore. Surely I can spare a little room for some seed production. So when One Green Generation put out the Seed To Seed challenge (see side bar) I joined in.

Since I haven't saved seed from very many plants, I figured I'd better educate myself a little. I bought two books. The first is Carol Deppe's "Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties". I've just finished it and I've really enjoyed it. She sprinkles science in with stories from the garden so you don't get overwhelmed with too many new long words at once (monoecious, dehiscence, pleiotropy, allopolyploids, aaarrrggghhh). More importantly she has a chapter entitled "Conversations with a Squash", and indeed actually talks to them. This is not a one way conversation mind you. She has squash that talk back to her, so you just know she is a great plant breeder . . . or is insane. Either works for me.

I learned a lot from the book. The most important and basic concept is that there are two kinds of plants in the world. Inbreeders and outbreeders. Inbreeders (tomatoes, lettuce, bean, peas) in nature usually self pollinate their own seed. Outbreeders (brassicas, onions, squash, corn) are usually pollinated by other plants.

It is very simple to collect seed from inbreeders. Since they inbreed naturally, the plants really don't care if you save seed from just one plant. You might be losing some diversity if you only grow from one line (she suggests 20 plants to maintain the diversity), but you can do it and the seed will be quite viable and the plant will be just as vigorous as its parent.

Many of these kinds of plants don't need much isolation from other varieties of its kind to keep the seed true to type. Peas and beans usually won't cross. They self pollinate before they even open up. This comes with a huge caveat though. It really depends upon your insect population and if you garden without pesticides like I do, you will have a lot of insect variety. General wisdom says you can plant peas right next to each other and 99% of them will come true. If you live in the Andes 60% of the peas will cross. They obviously have an insect that has no trouble getting into those flower before they open. So you need to figure out if plants will cross in your garden or not.

Tomatoes have their own exception. Usually tomatoes have flowers that hold the stigma inside the cone of anthers, making them self pollinating. However some varieties, usually wild varieties or very old varieties, have long styles and the stigma is out there for bees to pollinate. She suggests inspecting the flowers before saving seed to see if you need to isolate or hand pollinate. Most varieties are safe, but not all.

Outbreeders are more problematic. They don't like being inbred. They need diversity in their gene pool. Some won't set seed if the pollen is too close to its own genetics (self incompatible). Some will pollinate but the plants won't be vigorous (inbreeding depression). Some have both problems. Squash is the exception of the outbreeders and can be treated like an inbreeder for seed saving. The others however need diversity. She suggests if you want to maintain almost all of the gene pool for corn grow a thousand plants. If you want to maintain most you can grow just one hundred. That is a lot of plants and just the tip of the iceberg with respect to issues about saving corn seed. She says in general you need 40-200 plants for outbreeders. I don't grow that many of anything except onions, but they will be eaten long before they flower.

The bottom line is that I'm going to stay away from saving seed from outbreeders. I just don't have the land for that. Instead I'm going to try for most of my inbreeders. If I only have room for one plant of a variety, I can still save its seed. Some of it I may not isolate well enough and get a few crosses on occasion (like peas and beans), but if I save it just for myself it shouldn't be an issue. In future years, I'll know if it crossed so will know how true the seed really is.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Monday Seedling Update

I'm still doing my seedling update every Monday since there is no harvest to be had yet. The ground is still frozen. We have gotten three snow storms in the last week, though none very huge, each just a couple of inches. Which is enough to make my back yard pretty again (by covering the frozen dog poo), but not enough to annoy me with too much shoveling.

The onion seedlings got their first haircut a few days ago. I lowered the lights back to their lowest setting. They payed me back by growing back to their old height in just three days. The lights are back to where they started. I see the leaf area near the soil is very yellow, while the ones right against the light are bright green. Hmm I think my LEDs aren't quite intense enough to go very far, or it could just be that they are onions and the bulbing part just never turns as green. The onions keep growing though. They are getting stronger and stronger.

The leeks are also doing well. They are the smaller plants to the left of the onions. They were planted a week after the onions, so it is no surprise they are smaller.

There is no sign of life from my bunching onions or my extra, extra early lettuce. Also not surprising since they were only planted two days ago. I need to learn patience. Opening the top to check for growth on the day after planting is very silly. Or should I call it rampantly optimistic?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Playing in the Mud

Remember when you were a kid and got to play in the mud? It was that kind of day today. I got to play with my new toy - my soil blocker. I debated endlessly with myself over whether to buy one or not and if I did, what size it ought to be. For those that have no clue as to what I'm talking about suffice it to say that it makes blocks of soil that you use in place of a pot. I bought it as a means to keep from buying all those plastic six packs and tossing them when they started getting ripped.

I figured the most useful size for me was the uncommon 1 1/2" size which is called the Mini 5 Blocker because it makes 5 little soil blocks. Most people go with two at the beginning - the 3/4" and the 2". You start all your seeds in the 3/4" block and then plop the the 3/4" block right inside the 2" block when you want to pot up. Which saves a lot of space with the new starts under the lights, but as they all go into the 2" eventually it adds up. 1 1/2" is smaller and I have extremely limited light space. Most of my plants only stay inside about 4 weeks. The 1 1/2" size ought to cover that. The others I'll have to pot up into larger pots or make myself someway to make larger blocks. I'll cross that bridge when I get to it.

I bought them and the soil mix I'm using from Fedco. They seemed to have reasonable prices. I liked their mix of potting soil - Fort V, so I didn't mix up my own. It is made with lots of compost and is organic. Hopefully it drains well enough. I ought to add sand to it, but I didn't. I'll find out soon enough if all my seedlings rot out instead of growing.

I took a small bit of the mix. I only needed to make a couple of rows of blocks. All the advice says add water until you can just squeeze water out of the mix. So I did. Then I took my soil blocker and plunged it down into the wet soil. The first blocks didn't quite come out right. Some fell apart. Some didn't have enough soil at the top and had gaps. All these mistakes got tossed back into the mix to try again. I played around a little. Some say you need to dunk the blocker in water between each set of blocks or the soil will stick. I tried it both ways. Not much sticking either way. I eventually got tired of playing and made some nice nice blocks that were totally filled out and held together.

I can see a need for a tool that is thin and as wide as the blocks, like a giant pair of tweezers. That way I could move them around if I wanted. As it was I just picked them up carefully with my fingers and put them where I wanted, which was two plastic trays that fit six blocks each. Then I put the lids on so they could germinate. One tray was for my bunching onions, Nabechan. The other for my extra, extra early lettuces, Red Sails, Mervielle de Quatre Saisons, and New Red Fire. So I have just two of each of the lettuce types started. I'll start lettuce every 2-3 weeks throughout the growing season, so there is no reason to start more than this. Two heads a week is probably more than sufficent to feed me.

Friday, February 20, 2009

I Will Grind Your Bones To Make My...

I love eggs. I eat them every day and every day I get two egg shells. Such things should never go to waste. They are rich in calcium. I save them. They get cooked in the oven whenever the oven is being used. It isn't worth heating the oven up just for them, but I am paranoid about salmonella, so unlike some people I cook them. Then I roughly crush them and put them in a ziplock bag in my pantry until it is full. Once or twice a year I take the bag out and powder the contents in my food processor (warning doing so will cloud the bowl of your food processor). It is probably not necessary, but I think the large eggshell chunks look funny in my garden and they take forever to break down.

So what does one do with saved eggshells? Some people make their own calcium suppliments with them. I'm not quite ready to try that yet. Others swear roughly crushed eggshells kill slugs. I've tried it. My slugs laugh at such attempts to kill them and multiply.

I use it as fertilizer. Sometimes it gets sprinkled on the compost pile, but my favorite way to use them is on my tomatoes. They love them. I put the powder under them as a supplement when they get planted. If I suspect blossom end rot, I make eggshell tea to water them. Blossom end rot happens when the plant isn't taking up enough calcium. This is often the result of erratic watering, but since I can't time my rainstorms, I supplement with egg shell tea and it works.

The other day I made roast chicken. The next day of course was chicken soup to use up the carcass. As I was throwing away all those bones, I started thinking. I keep my eggshells. Why don't I keep my bones? Instead I buy bone meal for the garden. This seems kind of silly. Was there a way to grind up the bones for use. Thoughts of sledgehammers went through my mind. Though I did toss that set of bones, I started searching the web for more information.

My initial thought as I typed in my search was, "This is an awfully grisly search." I was wondering how much of my web traffic was getting monitored by some government computer somewhere and what someone would think about me wanting to know about how to grind up bones. Well it turns out it is a very common subject among pet owners that feed their cats a more natural diet. Yes they grind up chicken bones all the time with meat grinders, but raw chicken bones are easier to grind than the cooked ones. So on I went with the search.

Lots of people burn them and then put them on their garden. Not quite what I was looking for. One person uses a Vita Mixer. Another uses a pressure cooker to make his soup. It turns out when you cook chicken bones in a pressure cooker they get really soft and then break up easily. Interesting, but I don't have a pressure cooker.

Then I found my favorite site (scroll down to the article "How To Make Bone Compost"). Ah yes go back a hundred years and see how they did it then. Wood ash, bones and water together will turn bones into mush in about three months. In fact you get both your P and some K with that mixture. I'm assuming it will still be very alkaline, so great for liming my garden. If only I still used my fireplace, I'd have a steady supply of wood ash. Hmmm. I'm thinking I can get wood ash on camping trips. Or maybe I'll just go buy myself a pressure canner/cooker and make my life easy. I really would love one to can pumpkin this fall. I've been thinking of a pressure canner for some time. Then again the sledgehammer idea sounds like it might be fun.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


The APLS carnival this month is about nature - my relationship to it and how it relates to sustainability. Nature has always played a large roll in my life in one way or another, but I've had a great deal of trouble writing this post. I'd start then erase it all and start again. So here we go again for one more try.

I grew up in the mountains of Colorado. My parents owned about six acres of land. The house was built into the side of a cliff and some of the walls inside were the actual cliff side. The surrounding landscape was not planted, but it was all natural woods. We didn't have the typical lawn, but instead we had natural meadows that had a profusion of wildflowers every spring. My backyard was a National Forest.

So I certainly grew up with nature. I loved being outside more than inside (except when Star Trek was on :>). In the afternoons I would take my dog and we would go running up the neighboring mountain. In the summer I would splash in the creek bed in the valley. As I grew older my outside time became more structured. I took up backpacking and helped start a backpacking club in my high school.

When I got married and moved to Boston suburbia, I was suffocated by all the houses around me (not to mention the trees here give you a closed in feeling, where Colorado's forests are very open). We finally moved to our current home that is half an acre and has a natural woods behind the house. We thought it would be a great place to bring up kids and it was. The kids were no longer stuck playing in little sandboxes, but got to dig earthen forts in the backyard. My garden switched from being a small 4'x12' raised bed to the 20'x20' plot I have now. There is a small little conservation area about a 1/3 of a mile from the house where I go for walks. The neighborhood is safe. It is not close to public transportation or major roads, so the only people that come here live here.

It was an idyllic place to bring up kids, but green it was not. Not being on public transportation has caused a lot of issues. I have biked to places from here, but its major flaw is that it is on the top of a large hill. It is OK if you are pedaling yourself up the hill, but as soon as you put a couple of gallons of milk and all the rest of the food for the week on the bike, it becomes really hard. It wasn't something I did for long. I still occasionally bike to Trader Joe's to buy things, but I can't do a real stocking up run without a car.

I think the love of nature often causes more problems to nature than it solves. Though I'm inside the 128 belt in Boston, many people that love nature like me choose to live farther out. This means longer car trips, tearing down more trees for homes in the wild, building more roads. So many people want that second home in the mountains, on the lake or in the woods. They put in lawns even in the wilderness then fertilize them and cause runoff pollution. People seem to love their nature, but then have an absurd desire to tame it.

I often see people that claim to love nature yet don't tread very lightly. Backpackers use up wood in the wilderness that is important to the ecosystem. I've seen people that blithely go off path and walk on desert soil crusts. I've seen people stand up on coral. Most of these people are not trying to be bad. They are there because they love the woods, the desert or the reef. They are merely uneducated about the harm they are doing.

Loving nature isn't always bad though. There are those who love nature and become protective of it, instead of just using it. These activists (like John Muir and Howard Zahniser) have protected many beautiful places so that our children and their children will still have real wilderness to see and explore.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Monday Seedling Update

The cute little onion and leeks seedlings are getting stronger. Or at least some of them are. The onions all have their second leaf and are reaching up to the lights. I raised the light last week just a bit to accommodate them. Now they are hitting the lights again. I'll either have to raise the lights again or snip the highest inch off.

I've noticed that some of my seedlings are very strong, and some not quite up to par. I wish I had sown about a third more cells with seed, so I could just pick the strongest. The really weak ones I've pulled out but there are still the almost OK ones. I noticed when I planted those kind of leek seedlings last year they just didn't perform. The strong ones got over an inch in diameter, the weaker ones only got to be pencil width. I'm sure my onions will behave about the same. I need a little more will power to make my onions better, but I also need more onion seedlings.

I'm also still debating with myself what to do with the cells that have more than one strong seedling. I can plant them as a unit. Though I've never done it, supposedly bulbing onions grow fine next to one another. They push each other apart as they grow. Or I can transplant strong seedlings to an empty cell. Hmm decisions, decisions. The part of me that is itching to garden wants to transplant them now - not to mention the obsessive part of me that wants nice neat rows all alike. The scientist in me wants to see what happens when I plant two or three onions right next to one another. I think the scientist part is going to win out, but the gardener part might sneak up the scientist someday while she isn't looking and just do it.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day February 2009

It is that time of the month again to celebrate blooming flowers in our gardens. Carol of May Dream Gardens hosts this monthly extravaganza and I've joined her most of last year. This year has been a challenge. Last month I had pretty Makeupius iciclium, but they are gone for now. Nothing is blooming. Even the pretty berries from my holly bush have been stripped off of the bushes by the ravenous birds.

I still have the skeletons of old flowers. Dark red brown globes on the rudebeckia have been denuded of seeds, but they still provide structure under the snow. My sedum's seed heads make beautiful patterns of light and shade. Surprisingly the coriander still has seeds on their heads. I guess my birds don't have a taste for seasonings.

I also have the promise of blooms to come. The earliest is my hellebore. The snow has melted along the fence and part of its evergreen leaves have become uncovered. The showiest are my rhododendrons with their large buds. Will I have flowers by March? Time will tell.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

A Yellow Rose for Valentine's Day

I'm sending this yellow rose out at Valentine's Day to Stuart and all my friends at Blotanical. A yellow rose means friendship and that is what I've found in so many people there.

Blotanical is an online gardening community. Though it has other facets, I've used it primarily as a reader for my gardening blogs and to meet like minded folks and that usually means vegetable gardeners. I've found a lot of them since I started on the site in early May. We tend to be in the minority, but they aren't too hard to find.

As the months have gone on, I've developed a ritual. Every week or so I check out the new blogs page and look at each one. The ones I like go onto my favorite blogs list. This list is very important to me, because there is a page on Blotanical that has the two most recent posts of each of my favorite blogs. I read that page every day. Ok I confess. I'm there more often than once a day, but I'm addicted to my blogs.

So to Stuart and all my Blotanical friends have a happy Valentine's Day. And to my husband, whom I've already wished a happy Valentines's Day, don't worry. Stuart created Blotanical and he lives in Australia, so you have nothing to worry about.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Seed Savers Yearbook

I had a real treat land in my mailbox yesterday. It was the Seed Savers Yearbook. This year it is a collection of over 13,000 varieties of open pollinated seeds from over 500 members of the SSE. There are lots of old and otherwise hard to find seeds. I've already ordered my seed for the year but some of the squash really caught my eye, which is strange since they have not one photo in the book.

I have trouble with the squash vine borer every year. This year I'm growing C. moschata "Neck Pumpkin" to foil the nasty pests since moschatas are supposedly resistant to the vine borer. It seemed the best of the moschatas that were available when I was purchasing seeds. The SSE Yearbook however has pages of moschatas.

Creek Candyroaster Pumpkin caught my eye, but it had an L.Q. tag. L. Q. stands for limited quantity, which means I can't get it. Only people who list seeds in the yearbook can get L.Q. seeds. Ah well there are tons of others. Then I saw "Magdalena Big Cheese". That looked perfect. One person wrote "never found a vine borer in the vines" and "easiest and best pie pumpkin I have found". Jackpot. Another said "huge plants will spread all over everything". It sounds just right for my three sister's plot. With a little more research on the web, I found it is perfect for a three sister's plot. It is a very old squash grown by Native Americans. It is not a perfectly pretty squash, but irregular and funny looking.

One thing that is fun to look at in the yearbook is where the seeds come from. There are five people that are offering the seed of Magdalena. You can follow the tree down and find that they all come originally from Native Seeds/SEARCH, a nonprofit who has a seed bank for old southwestern seed.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

I See Dirt

It may be a dismal day out today with all the clouds, but I'm happy. We have had a nice little warm spell for the last couple of days and our snow is melting fast. I can finally see some structure in the garden. I find it interesting how the snow melts first from all the dark things that stick up like my fence and the landscaping pavers that hold up my raised beds. You can't really see it in this photo but the dirt is bare six inches from the fence all the way around. The big dirt area in the lower right of the photo is close to the house, so I'm guessing it melted because my foundation keeps it warmer.

My poly tunnels didn't hold up. Not much of a surprise. There might be some life underneath, but I can't tell yet. I think I would need another day or two of warm weather to melt the last bits out. Since the tunnels collapsed, the odds are slim for widespread survival. Plastic tends to transmit the cold if it is touching the plants. Next year I either need better tunnels, or just stick with row covers. I still think the bunching onions and the tatsoi will have survived, but I'm also holding out for the lettuce and chard. Hope springs eternal on such warm days.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Summer Reading

Decades ago (boy that make me sound old) I used to read a lot of vegetable gardening books. I don't often do that anymore. I would read a book about a "new" system and it would just say the same things over that I already had heard before. Each author just packages it differently.

I felt that way about the one vegetable gardening book I read last year - "How To Grow More Vegetables," by John Jeavons. Ok I know it was first written over 30 years ago. So I'm slow. I'm not saying it isn't a good book. It is. In fact it is a wonderful book. I've just heard it all before. Intensive gardening isn't very new. It was done by South Americans and Chinese for Millennia. The French took it over, I think in the 1800s and started the French Biointensive Method (which is the system that this book evolved from).

I do have some beefs with the book. First off, my raised beds have always been about four feet wide. His are five feet. He must have inhumanly long arms to be able to reach the middle of a five foot bed. Do any of you make your beds that wide? I sometimes feel stretched with my four foot rows.

Secondly he tells you to grow all your own carbon sources for building soil. As a sustainable issue this is a good thing. If you want the grain, I can understand it. I live in the middle of suburbia. My neighbors THROW AWAY their carbon sources (leaves in the fall). Farming carbon for me seems kind of silly. My neighbors package it up every fall in nice brown carbon rich bags. Yes even the bags are carbon. All I have to do is collect it on the way home from work. It doesn't even take an extra trip in the car. I see no need to farm carbon, so I don't. Well OK I am a bit.

I was taught to never have bare soil from many books I've read and since forgotten. I do put down cover crops when my soil is not being used for crops. So I do farm both nitrogen and carben to a small degree. Those crops get ripped up as soon as my vegetables need their space.

I agree with his take on saving your own seed. It really is a good thing to use open pollinated seeds and save them from year to year. I'm trying to do more, but I'm weak. Please don't take away my hybrid cole crops or my seedless cucumber that I can leave on the vine way too long and it still doesn't have nasty seeds. I love my Diamant cucumber. Most of my crops are open pollinated. I'll save more seed this year. I promise.

I am keeping this book and not passing it along for one reason. I love the tables in the book. I don't agree with all of his numbers, but it really is a great reference. If I can't remember how far apart to space the little brocolli seedlings I can look it up. He really has more information in his charts than I will ever need.

I've missed having charts. I don't actually have a normal howto book on vegetable gardening on my bookshelves anymore. I used to. I have no clue as to what happened to them. The only book that comes close is Fukuoka's book, "The Natural Way of Farming." I think I read that one in the early ninties. It really made me want to grow my own grains and sold me on no till methods of growing food. Well except occasionally. I'm allowed to dig that bed up every fifteen years. Right?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Kindle

My husband had been getting more and more excited last week. It all culminated yesterday, when Amazon announced the Kindle 2. If you have never heard of a Kindle, it is an electronic reader for books. We got our first ones over a year ago around Christmas. DH said he wanted to try it. He had a friend at work with one and he really liked it. I didn't quite have the desire he did, but I did know one thing. If he had one, I had to have one. He buys all the books in the house - well most of the books. I read what he buys.

Despite my skepticism, I fell in love with my little electronic book. I thought I would hate the feel of it and miss my paper, but no. It is so much easier to hold than a real book. If my aging eyes get tired, I can change the font size to make reading easier. I vote for the Hugo Awards and they usually send out all the books and stories in electronic format. I hate reading them on the computer screen, but on my Kindle it is a joy. When we travel, we have a whole library with us and if we are within Sprint cell phone range we can download more books whenever we want.

DH pre-ordered the newer ones yesterday. My response is similar to the last time we got them, what's wrong with how I do it now? I don't know if I really want a new one, but it is required of me. My kids know that when we get the next version, they get our hand-me-downs. We can have up to 6 Kindles on our account and this would make four. When we buy a book, we can all read it. Even when they are off at college. They have been impatiently waiting.

I do have one major problem with the Kindle. I downloaded a gardening book - Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties. I thought I would be OK since there isn't supposed to be photos and illustrations, but no. Reference books really suck on the Kindle. When they refer you to charts in the back, you can't flip back really quick to look at them. You have to page through or randomly pick a spot in the book. You can bookmark spots, but not label them. Ick. I returned it. Somethings just have to be on real paper.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Monday Seedling Update

My onion seedlings are still growing at their slow steady rate. Their little tops are bashing against the light right now, but it doesn't seem to bother them. No burning at all from the LEDs. The ones that are farther under the lights actually seem to be doing better than the ones that get more of the real sun. I think that is just a temperature issue with being too close to the window. The poor little onion seedlings are still shivering at night too close to the cold glass.

Last week we still had temperatures in the single digits at night, but warming is in sight. We got two days in the 40s over the weekend. Yeah. I read distressing articles of other bloggers about turning over the soil and planting their first transplants. I KNOW I won't be able to do this until March. I don't think I have ever been so impatient to dig into my soil. I think it is a bad side effect of blogging. I read all the other blogs in less frosty zones and feel if they are out doing it I deserve to be out there too.

So instead during our nice 'warm' spell this weekend we went to a handful of open houses in Arlington. My husband's comment was, "I'm so glad we don't HAVE to move anytime soon." We would both like to move there, but in our prefered neighborhoods the pickings are really slim.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Soup and Grilled Bread

Yesterday was a freezing day. It didn't break out of the teens. So it was time for soup. I love soup and I froze some in the late summer and fall. Sadly they are almost gone. Soon I'll have to make more.

Most of my soups don't have a recipe. They are just a mix of everything at hand at the time, be it fresh vegetables or leftovers. The seasonings are all based on whatever gets thrown in. Yesterday's soup was a nice mix of summer and fall. It had tomatoes, carrots, onions, chard, cabbage, zucchini green beans and jalapenos. I couldn't actually see the jalapenos anymore, but I could taste the spice. I'm surprised that no dried beans got into the mix as that is my norm. I love my beans.

As an accompaniment I had grilled bread. I've been experimenting with the now popular techniques of making bread quickly. The first technique is no-knead bread dough. I've always been lazy with bread. I've used my handy dandy mixer in the past. This time I just mixed up my dough and let it sit to rise for 8 hours before using it.

The second technique is to make lots of dough at once and keep it in the fridge for up to two weeks (any leftovers from that get mixed into the next batch of dough). I really like to be able to pull off a hunk of dough and having bread without thinking too far ahead. The time commitment for bread was never my issue, it was the thinking ahead that always stymied me.

I still have to think a little bit ahead. It takes a while in this freezing weather to get my refrigerated dough started rising again. The fastest bread and yummiest has been grilled bread. I found that 20 minutes in a very warm oven is enough to get the dough warm. Then I pull it out and brush butter on both sides and throw it on the grill. It is usually done within 5 minutes. Boy is it yummy. Much better than the rolls made from the same dough.

The dough is simple. 2c ww flour, 2c flour, 1t salt, 2c warm water, 1 package yeast. The recipes always call for instant yeast. I don't have instant yeast, so just did the regular bread making thing of dissolving the yeast in water before mixing it into the dry ingredients.

I find this post amusing since it was going to be a post about soup. The bread just took over somehow. I suppose it is only fair since that is how I felt when eating it too.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

A Tea Party for My Seedlings

Every year I grow seedlings the dreaded damping off fungus rears its furry head. I reuse my pots and sterilize them in the dishwasher to keep such diseases away. I also use a sterile potting mix, but neither of those two controls seem to be good enough. It isn't that I lose a lot to this disease, but I lose a couple and to me my seedlings are precious.

The poor little seedlings are only susceptible when young so some say grow those seedlings fast and they will outgrow the issue before it becomes a problem. Others say don't fertilize too much since that makes the problem worse. I mean really? They can't make up their minds. Do I grow my seedlings fast or do I withhold the fertilizer? You can't have it both ways.

Well my seedlings are in a very cold window that ranges in temperature from 50-60°F (10-15°C), not to mention that they are onion seedlings. They will grow SLOWLY. It's just in their nature. So I'm not going to give them a lot of fertilizer. What I am going to give them is tea.

Not just any tea. I don't like my seedlings getting too anxious about their chances of dying from damping off, so it will be chamomile tea. I made a big batch of it last night. This morning I poured it out into my watering can and diluted it a bit. This is what will water my plants for a while to keep them healthy.

That chamomile smell is so delightful. I wish I had made the tea for myself, but not to worry, I have a couple of more cups of chamomile blossoms left still from my summer harvest.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Tomato Madness

I did a terrible thing. From Annie's Granny I found out I could get some free tomato seeds of all sorts of interesting varieties. So I sent in my SESA to and followed their directions. I had to send in a request for 6 varieties of tomatoes and an alternate list of four more. As soon as I sent the list in I immediately forgot which ones I picked. Typical.

I then promptly forgot about it altogether. Yesterday the seeds arrived. Now I'm in trouble. I have no room to put them. I'll have to find space as right now my tomato area is destined to be taken up by my experiment. I'm thinking I'll have to dig up something, or find some 5 gallon containers from some restaurant to reuse. I know I said previously that tomato seeds were the exception to my seed rule. You can NEVER have too many tomato varieties. I think I have too many. Gulp. Now that I have them, I feel obligated to plant at least a few of them. The seeds must LIVE!

So what kind of tomatoes made me get into tomato madness? Well I saw Black Cherry on the list. I LOVE this tomato. I've been getting my fix of these over the summer from the near by farm. Then I saw a variety on the list that was called Chocolate Cherry. Hmm I wonder if that is better than Black Cherry. Can't know until you try I guess. Then I saw Black Moor, yet another black cherry type, but more oblong. Onto the list it went. Yes I obviously have a fetish for black cherry tomatoes. Don't judge me.

The next two on the list were early tomatoes. It's always good to get early tomatoes here because if they stick around too long our plentiful tomato diseases will get them. It is better that I get some tomatoes before the diseases eat them all. Besides, who doesn't want early tomatoes? The best ones are always the first ones you eat before you become complacent about yummy vine ripened tomatoes. Ok I never really get complacent about such things. I live for them, but there is always something about those first tomatoes.

All of my early tomatoes hail from Siberia, a wonderful heritage for an early tomato. The first is Gregory's Altai, which is a large pink beefsteak type at 67 days. Hmm big and quick. This I had to see. The next selection was Miracle of the Market, which are small about 2-4 oz and produce in 60-70 days.

The next set were the colorful ones from China. Early Ssubakus Aliana is a golden-yellow plum tomato, 75 days supposedly very prolific. Wouldn't it be fun to have yellow tomato sauce? Huang Se Chieh "Moon Yellow" is a pale yellow tomato only 2-3" across. It takes the longest of all the tomatoes to set at 80+ days. Ack. All of the above tomatoes are indeterminate. I've never been a fan of getting a ton of tomatoes at one time off of a plant. I like variety.

The last one is Tumbling Tom, which a lot of people are probably familiar with. It is a nice basket tomato and is the only determinate tomato I asked for. I'm thinking it would be a good one to try indoors.

They said they were going to send me six, but they sent me eight different tomatoes. In addition they sent me parsley (which I already have too much seed of since I collected it last summer) and Armenian Yardlong Cucumber. I'm not growing the cucumber this year. I'm growing a parthenocarpic one (sets fruit without fertilization), and I don't want any male blossoms to make nasty seeds in my cucumber, so I'll hold on to it. Cucumber seeds last a long time if you keep them cool and dry. Someday it will get planted. A seed is a terrible thing to waste.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Monday Seedling Update

Phil is telling us that we have six more weeks of winter. Personally I think Phil was more freaked out by all the people than by his shadow. Pennsylvania rodents notwithstanding, New England spring never gets here in February - though I do seem to recall one February day with a high of around 80°F (27°C). I don't remember precisely what happened the day after, but it probably snowed. Spring just doesn't blossom here until March.

So while I wait out our long and unusually snowy winter, I'm growing onion and leek seedlings under my new blue lights. I love how alliums grow. They stick just an elbow up to start before the rest is willing to follow. They are such tentative little seedlings. My leeks are just starting to come up. I've got those little upside down U shapes all over the 12-pack. Their germination is a little more consistent than my onions were. I put them behind my monitor which is the warmest spot in the house right now. The laundry room where my seedlings are is only 50-60°F. Even my cool weather crops like it better when it is not frigid.

My onions have stretched themselves out. They are still reluctant to get rid of the little black seed caps. Not all of my onions have germinated. I have a few empty cells. I'll have to deal with the issue later.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Patterns in the Snow

Every week more snow falls. This week we were going to get a nice three day thaw, and some rain, but the weather man keeps changing his mind. Now we are once again going to get snow. I usually like snow, but then again we don't usually get so much. Our usual winter storm is 6" of snow followed by an inch of rain then it clears up and everything melts.

I took the above photo on the way to the compost bin (which was covered in 12" of iced on snow). My garden is fairly pretty with its coat of snow. We did have rain after that last snow storm and it melted strange patterns into the snow. The stright lines that go from left to right are the edge of my terraces. My garden is not on perfectly flat land, but each of my beds have been made to be flat.