the summer garden

Phew, it’s September 3rd and the garden is in full force! garden mid summer Corn is ready, fresh sweet corn   swiss chard has been prolific, swiss chard tomatoes are slowly coming along first ripe tomato beets have been the sweetest ever and the green beans were fabulous and abundant! beets and carrots beets and green beans Not sure how to cook beets? Check out this recipe for roasted beets – d-e-l-i-c-i-o-u-s !   This year, Finn and I have been able to keep up with the squash bugs, so we have lots of buttercup squash growing! Yeah! buttercup beginnings squash beginnings squash And the flower beds have done well despite the japanese beetles trying their best… front garden lilly garden spider We’ve been enjoying swiss chard in just about everything and I’ve even found a great recipe for a home made puff pastry, homemade puff pastry so I’ve made a few of my swiss chard tarts this summer too. Recipe for pastry in a future post! Oh, I can’t forget my garlic! fresh garlic garlic before cleaning opened bulb Wow. I can’t believe it has taken me so long to grow this simple and scrumptious bulb. Thank you Mim for giving me the garlic to plant and the encouragement! Store bought garlic pales in comparison to homegrown. Actually, there is no comparison. If you have space, at all, try planting garlic. While it’s not an expensive herb, it is a delicious and easy homegrown plant to try. Bonus, the scapes garlic scapes which come out in early summer… While school has begun, summer weather still abounds and there is still plenty to be harvested and enjoyed. Lettuce is growing again, spinach is planted and more beets and carrots are on their way…and some plants are also going to seed…gather, dry and save those seeds! Below are pansy seeds, which I started from store bought seeds, though this year will start from my own seeds. pansy seeds If you can’t or simply don’t garden, don’t forget to check out your local farmers markets – they are fabulous resources for fresh, organic fruits and veggies and they may cost a bit more than the supermaket, but not that much more and many accept food stamps too! What you may spend in dollars saves your health and supports your community. So do check them out! How does your garden grow? Anything exceptional this year? Anything troublesome? late august in the garden Happy gardening and eating! enjoy!

gardening in Maine, in the rain…

I’m surprised by how well my little backyard garden is doing, despite all the odds against it…

carrots

curly kale

Time constraints, a precocious three year old, fluctuating temperatures, heavy rains, Maine mosquitos (bad for me, not the garden) and the constant threat of insects (particularly slugs and snails right now)… makes gardening this year a bit of a challenge, to say the least. Granted there are always variables out of our control when growing one’s own, though this year, the wet and cooler temperatures are certainly above and beyond the ‘norm’…

borage

While Finn naps, I try to get out there – little by little more seeds are sown, weeds are pulled, additional mulch is laid and insects are picked off one by one…for me the key to having and enjoying my garden is simply getting out there, once a day, even if only for 15 minutes…to keep an eye on things and say ‘hello’. Yes, I do talk to my plants…why not?

lettuce leaves

I want to garden. I want to eat fresh organic greens. I want to pick (and then enjoy) fresh homegrown, veggies! I want super fresh, real food. My current budget won’t allow me to buy locally grown, organic tomatoes, but it does, if I grow them myself, from seed. Lucky for us, I like to garden. And I have space to garden…

one half of garden

Not only do I like to garden, I need to garden. For me, it’s innate. It always has been. I like to eat what I grow. Plus, the taste, is impossible to achieve with store bought vegetables. Nothing is more fresh than ‘just picked.’ Seriously.

freshly picked lettuce and kale

So, I garden.

I start seeds in the late winter/early spring, I compost, I save seeds, I read about companion planting and organic gardening. I teach myself and I learn as I go. Life is all about learning – it’s never ending – and for me, this years garden is teaching (and reminding me) that plants want to grow.

young corn

Every living thing wants to grow – despite set backs and challenges, we all want to and need to grow, vegetables are no different. So if you think you don’t know enough to grow a few plants, think again, they are forgiving (to a point) and they want to please you as much as you want to enjoy them…

green bean beginnings

So why not start a seed and see how it feels…you may just get hooked.

Don’t have a lot of space? Try plating vegetables/flowers in pots. A tomato doesn’t taste any better grown organically in the ground, in the country, in Maine as one grown organically, in a pot, on a fire escape in NYC…homegrown is homegrown, and that is always better than any store bought tomato…the best part of organic homegrown? Monsanto is not involved – at all.

Happy gardening – for yourself, your family and the earth!

enjoy.

how to start seeds indoors

It’s not as complicated as you might think. You’ll need some seeds (then plans as to where your going to eventually plant them), peat pots (I often use cardboard egg boxes), starter mix (how to make your own), water, a tray with an edge (to keep pots on and help with any water run-off), plastic wrap or a plastic ‘dome’, a warm place and an area (relatively warm) which gets indirect sunlight throughout the day. And most importantly, patience.

I don’t have any gadgets or anything fancy from ‘specialty’ garden shops – I just use what I have.

I buy the seed starter mix from a local gardening shop (the bigger bag usually lasts me two seasons). I typically (though not for these photos) re -use egg cartons (cardboard) and pierce small holes in the bottoms of each holder for drainage.

egg cartons

 

A large sheet pan (picked up at the dump) comes in handy for storing all the pots while the seedlings are emerging – it also makes moving them around very easy…I picked up a spray bottle for $1 and use it just for watering the seedlings (year after year) and while I did re-use a plastic dome for years, it finally gave way and now plastic wrap is what I use (and re-use). I know, plastic wrap? I haven’t been able to find a suitable (and earth friendly) substitute…any ideas?

So that’s what you’ll need and here’s what you’ll need to do;

1. Place pots on a large tray (with sides preferably, but not necessary). I fill each ‘set’ of pots on a smaller tray, first, then move onto the bigger tray once complete.

pots filled

2. Fill each pot (peat pots, seed trays, or pierced egg cartons) with the seed starting mix . I use an old metal measuring cup to scoop and fill…be sure to fill each to the top, the mix will settle once moistened.

watered

2. Water thoroughly.* This will take a bit of time…I water the mix and then let it rest awhile before planting. The water may rest on top for awhile before finally settling, fully into the pot. Do be sure the entire pot is moist before planting and then be sure to keep it moist once the seeds are planted.

*I sometimes use a watering can with a very narrow spout for this. It allows more water, quicker, than the spray bottle. Though, if you try this method, do go slowly as the water will quickly accumulate on top and spill over the edges if done to rapidly…seed starter is made to absorb and hold onto water, it’s different than soil, thus absorbs it differently – at least at first…

making holes

3. Take a pencil or pen and use its’ bottom to create holes (at the recommended depth) in each pot of soil, for each seed to be planted in. No gadgets necessary…

read your seed packet

4. Read the planting instructions for each seed type (some like to be deep, others do not) and plant accordingly.

seed in

I typically place two to three seeds in each pot to ensure one will sprout…I then usually end up with three seedlings, though I simply ‘thin’ once big enough and keep the strongest looking one. If I have the space, I’ll even re-plant the ones I’ve ‘pulled’…it’s hard ‘throwing’ those little ones away…above is a coriander seed I had saved from last year…

cover gently

5. Cover with soil, gently (if necessary – some seeds need to sit right on top).

spray seed

6. Water thoroughly with a fine spray mist.

cover with plastic

7.Cover the pots or trays with a clear plastic bag, plastic wrap or dome and be sure to label each set of pots with the date and seed type. It can get confusing after awhile…

8. Place in a warm location with indirect sunlight. I keep mine next to the wood stove at night and then once morning arrives, I move them onto an ottoman in the dining room

covered on tray

and once the sun comes ’round to the sunroom (which we can now start to use!!) I move them again, onto the ottoman in there. Yes, I am busy with these seedlings, but it’s worth it. If your lucky enough to have a spot which receives indirect sunlight all day, all the better.

If you don’t have a warm spot to overnight them, consider using an electric blanket (do be cautious and mindful about possible fire hazards!) or making your own. Check out what Kate over at The Museum of Forgotten Pickles has done to make her own heating mat.

9. Lift plastic daily and check moisture levels. I check them first thing in the morning and then just before I go to bed. You want to be sure to keep the seedlings properly moistened. Try not to let the ‘soil’ dry out or the seeds won’t be able to grow. Using your spray bottle, moisten daily (if needed).

emerged seedlings

10. Remove plastic when seedlings emerge. Oftentimes a few will emerge, though others haven’t yet. This is where the plastic wrap comes in handy, because I can pull back the area where the seedlings have emerged and leave the others covered…sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. These are baby tomatoes…

11. Keep seedlings moist until they are big enough to transplant. Want to learn how to transplant?  Read here.

12. ‘Thin’ seedlings to one plant per pot, once big enough… Meaning gently remove all but one plant; best to do after watering, as the water will help keep the seedling you want to keep in its’ place.

13. Keep growing the seedlings in these beginning pots until each grows the first set of true leaves. Once they have this set of leaves they are able to be transplanted into bigger pots before going outside.

14. Keep in mind, plants which have started off this way will need a time for ‘hardening off’ before being able to be planted outdoors.

Hardening off simply means allowing the little tender plants time to get used to be outdoors  while still in their transplant containers, before they make the ‘big jump’ outdoors…

Starting seeds is not a complicated process. It usually takes anywhere from a week to a few weeks to see the first seedlings sprout (my tomatoes above popped up after only five days!) and when they do, it’s so exciting!

You’ll not only be proud of the fact that you’ve started your plants from seed, but you’ll also know what’s in them. If possible, avoid any Monsanto tainted seeds and go for organic or locally procured seeds…there’s enough GM seeds out there, let’s not add to them!

Have you started any seeds lately?

Enjoy.

bliss

Saturday was one of those days in Maine…the kind of day people envision when they think of ‘vacationland’… the kind of day which makes me appreciate living here – a cloudless brilliant blue sky, the sound of warm breezes blowing through tree leaves, roses in bloom, hot sunshine, green grass, waves gently rolling in the background and most importantly no bugs. The last part is the most critical – you see, Maine is notorious for its’ mosquitos, there are LOTS of them and where I live, they are relentless – truly incomprehensible…SO, to have the entire day to myself (Michael and Finn were out for the day), absolutely stunning weather (prior to this we’d been having nothing but rain) and to not be constantly assaulted with buzzing and biting (mosquitos), well, the day was absolute perfection (for a girl in rural Maine who loves her garden)… I spent five blissful hours outside, working in my garden.

I transplanted pumpkin seedlings,  planted more beans, carrots and spinach in order to have a continuous supply…I also planted corn seeds – I love fresh corn on the cob in August.

I was also thankfully able to transplant my tomato plants – they were over 3 feet in height and desperate to get in the ground. I planted each with a few basil plants (said to enhance flavor) and marigolds (pest control) as well as borage (for the dreaded tomato worm – they were terrible last year). I’d never seen or worked with borage, but I’d learned of its’ benefits from companion planting with tomatoes, so I gave it a try – I’m curious to see what comes of it.…if all works well this year, I’ll start a few borage plants from seed next year. It’s also said to help prevent worms in corn as well.

I then mulched the new transplants with hay to help with weeds as well as prevent moisture loss. I then happily picked baby lettuce, kale and spinach and have enjoyed them every night since.

I am hopeful for a good garden season – the risk with gardening is you just never know how it will all turn out – it’s all a bit of an experiment really…we cannot control the weather, thus we cannot control what may come of all our hard work. You may know the what, where and when of planting and gardening, yet still you cannot control the outcome of your labor…We prep the soil, begin seedlings months in advance, plan the layout, plant, weed, water and continue looking after the soil and if mother nature decides not to cooperate, well, that’s just how it is…So while I hope (and work towards) an abundant season (there’s nothing better that homegrown veggies) I know in the end, its not up to me – it will just be as it is…so until then, I will eat my greens and hope for more!