Green Tomato Salsa Verde

photo: Kate Bentley

photo: Kate Bentley

Here is a perfect way to use up lots of tomatoes from the garden even if they have not ripened yet. Everyone who tastes this salsa loves it, and it is very easy to make. If you would like to freeze it, it does so very nicely in bags or jars or plastic containers; however, I usually can mine in 1/2 pint jars so that it is ready to go. If you do not have experience with hot water bath canning, please read about it on the ball website. The instructions below assume that you know how to sterilize jars and that you know what “process in a hot water bath” means. You also can just share with friends, and eat this fresh, right now. Or preserve some for later, and keep some to eat now, depending on how many green tomatoes you have to use up. This recipe is from a blog called Local Kitchen, where I have found many recipes that I love for winter preserving. I usually double this recipe for a bigger batch.

Salsa Verde

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 cups green tomatoes, finely chopped

  • 1/2 cup red onion, diced to 1/4-inch (about 1 tennis ball-sized)

  • 1/2 cup green bell peppers, diced to 1/4-inch

  • 1/2 cup minced hot peppers (a mixture is great), with or without seeds (about 3 – 4 large) (wear gloves)

  • 1/4 + 1/8 cup white wine or cider vinegar

  • 4 tbsp lime juice

  • 3 large cloves garlic, minced

  • 2 tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped

  • 1 and 1/2 tsp ground cumin

  • 1/2 tsp sea salt

  • 1/4 tsp chile pepper flakes

  • 1 tsp raw sugar (optional)

METHODS

  1. If canning, prepare canner, jars and lids.

  2. Chop vegetables. Add all ingredients except cilantro to a medium stockpot; bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and boil gently for 10 – 15 minutes, or until vegetables have softened and the salsa has thickened slightly. Add cilantro, mix well and return to a boil.

  3. Ladle hot salsa into hot, sterilized jars; remove air bubbles and push all vegetables down below the level of the liquid, adding more salsa to yield a 1/2-inch headspace if necessary. Wipe rims, affix lids and process for 15 minutes in a boiling water bath.

Yields about 5 half-pints.

Secret Sauce to Remember the Herb Garden in Winter

Photo by Kate Bentley

Photo by Kate Bentley

This blog post is guest written by Sophie Cassel, Red Wagon Team member and herbalist educator. Thanks, Sophie!

As much as I love ripe tomatoes and blooming flowers, high summer to me is all about the fresh herbs. While this time of year you’ll find me outside snipping chives and parsley to add to my meals, it’s also a great time to prepare for a day when we don’t have a bouquet of fresh herbs outside our doorstep. Dried herbs have their purpose in the kitchen, but fresh-frozen herbs can add a whole new depth of flavor and color to any midwinter meal. The easiest way to do this is by employing some ice cube trays and a little creativity to make what I like to call my “secret sauce cubes”. 

If you’ve ever made fresh pesto, you’ll recognize the general technique, but the beauty of this technique is that you can really let your imagination, as well as your garden, guide your recipe.

Basic Recipe:

  • Gather your herbs from the garden or farmer’s market. This is a great time use up the leaves from those woody basil plants or the kale that’s looking a little bug-eaten but still has good flavor. Try to pick a selection of flavorful plants and good bases like spinach, parsley, or kale. You’ll need somewhere between 2-3 largeish bunches of herbs per ice cube tray.

  • Roughly chop herbs and remove woody or tough stems. Rinse everything and shake the excess water off, but don’t dry the herbs out.

  • Toss it all in the blender! Now’s the time to add things like garlic, ginger, chili flakes or citrus zest. You can also add a little salt to taste, but I keep mine salt free so I don’t have to worry about the extra salt when I’m throwing the cubes in my cooking.

  • Pulse in the blender until everything is evenly pureed, scraping down the sides as necessary. Add just a little water to emulsify, a tablespoon at a time.

  • Spoon your herb puree into ice cube trays and freeze for a few hours or overnight.

  • Transfer the frozen cubes to a plastic bag that is labeled with all ingredients, and store in the freezer for a snowy day! 

  • To use the cubes, thaw on the counter while you’re preparing your food. You can add them in while you’re sweating onions at the beginning of a dish, or toss in towards the end to lend a bright green hue and tons of flavor. Remember that if the cubes are still cold, they will lower the cooking temperature of your dish, so slowly bring it back up to heat through. 

If you’re the type to can fresh tomatoes for winter sauces, adding a couple cubes of fresh-frozen oregano and parsley when it comes time to make pasta will result in a transcendent trip back to summer. Many a meager rice-and-vegetable stir fry was elevated this past winter using chef Amanda Cohen’s “Secret Weapon Stir Fry Sauce” (from the New York Times) which was my inspiration for breaking out of the basic basil pesto mold. Amanda Cohen’s delicious Asian-inspired blend is just one of many combinations based on what you have on hand throughout the season. Cohen recommends blanching her ingredients before blending, but I’ve found that you can also keep things raw if you’d rather not boil water in the heat of summer. Below I’ve included some combination ideas, but feel free to experiment! Your future self will thank you.  

Amanda Cohen’s Secret Weapon Stir-Fry Sauce:

  • Cilantro

  • Parsley

  • Thai basil or other basil

  • Spinach

  • Garlic, peeled

  • Fresh ginger


Pesto inspired

  • Basil

  • Parsley (about 1/4th the amount of basil)

  • Garlic cloves

    • I prefer to keep my pesto basic at this stage, and leave room for adding cheese or nuts during cooking. 

Chimichurri inspired:

  • Parsley

  • Arugula

  • Oregano

  • Garlic or shallots, chopped

  • Chili flakes

    • Add lime juice, oil and a little rice vinegar when cooking

“Scarborough Faire”:

  • Parsley

  • Sage

  • Rosemary

  • Thyme

  • Oregano

  • Marjoram

    • Make sure to strip leaves off any tough or woody stems

Zucchini Days

costata romanesco zucchini on chair red wagon plants
  • It is that time of year, when the zucchini plants needs to get checked every couple of days or you end up with some giant baseball bats in no time. I have unfortunately not followed my own advice, and ignored my plant for 2 weeks straight, only to be confronted with vegetable mayhem. But, in need of some inspiration, I have turned to social media to find out what you all are doing with your big zucchini and here is a round up of the brilliant ideas:

  • shredding all the zucchini in 2 cup measurements and freezing it. I make zucchini tots and bread in the winter! Also made a zucchini pie with corn and mushrooms, one for the freezer, one now.

  • Bread, cookies, zucchini noodles

  • I just made zucchini chocolate chip bread

  • Zucchini pizza crust: There’s recipes online but also in the old-school Moosewood cookbook: grate and salt zuke, wring it out, mix with eggs, a small amount of flour, parmesan and mozzarella, bake, dress with toppings and bake again. I’m still tweaking things to make the crust more crusty and less soggy, but it’s really tasty.

  • Bread or baked stuffed zucchini .

  • Roasted in tomatoes, garlic scapes and butter. Finish with fresh goat cheese

  • Among my favorites: grated into fresh spaghetti sauce, roasted w/ olive oil as a side veg, zucchini relish using my Mom’s recipe!

  • Walk around Shaw’s and Hannaford’s parking lots and put some in every vehicle with its windows down. 😂 That’s what my grandfather used to do.

  • Zucchini lemon bread with apple juice from how to cook everything- Mark Bittman ( fruit and veg bread)-

  • Smitten kitchen zucchini fritters!

  • obviously you could install an engine into that big guy. take it for a spin.

Thanks for all the suggestions! Here are the two I am making this week:

Chocolate zucchini bread from King Arthur and the zucchini fritters from Smitten Kitchen.

Design Inspiration and the Gardens of Chicago

Echinacea (maybe ‘white swan’?) at Lurie Garden in Chicago.

Echinacea (maybe ‘white swan’?) at Lurie Garden in Chicago.

I am writing this from Chicago where I have been lucky to spend a few days with other plant people attending the Perennial Plant Association’s annual symposium. Legendary garden designer and plantsman, Piet Oudolf, gave the keynote address and spoke on a panel on Tuesday, and on Wednesday, we spent time touring the Lurie Garden that he designed in Millenium park. Also present were other designers such as Roy Diblick and Kelly Norris. Roy’s gardens include the Shedd Aquarium, which I captured a tiny corner of in this little video. This movement in garden design, which has been around for a while in Europe and here for about 20 or so years, is naturalistic, based on prairies, and inherently ecological. In this case, Lake Michigan is an important migratory pathway for birds and the addition of prairie plantings on the water’s edge has attracted a huge amount of butterflies, birds, and pollinators to the area. If you are in the Chicago area, I strongly recommend a visit to these two gardens, about a 20 minute walk from each other along the water’s edge.

I feel so inspired to bring you more perennials in 2020. The future of ornamental gardening has to be ecological, in my opinion, and part of that is being affordable. These types of plantings require a huge amount of transplants, and the benefit is less weeding because of the planting density. If you are interested in this, let me know. I would love to work on growing plants for specific projects and am doing all of my ordering now. This style of planting requires lots of small plants, not showy 2 to 3 gallon plants that bloom right away. I am not a designer, but I can certainly help make suggestions and point you in the right direction for resources about this style of gardening. Maybe a winter book group would be a good idea? I would like to read this. Does anyone local want to join in and meet up to talk about it sometime in September or October?

I find that August is a great time to start planning. It is when I make plant lists for the coming year, it is when I evaluate the current year’s garden and take notes and it is when I actually place orders for cuttings and bare root stock for the following year. If you would like to take a step back from your ornamental garden to evaluate or make plans to adjust things, now is a great time to do it. It is often too hot to be in the garden, but you can certainly be working on the garden. I would rather do big plantings and edits in the cooler weather of September - plants will still have plenty of time to get established before the cold hits, and the watering requirements are a little less demanding.

I am so excited to get back to Vermont and put into motion some of what has inspired me this week. And I am especially happy about the timing of this Saturday’s workshop with garden designer Charlotte Albers, who owns Paintbox Garden. She will be coming to Red Wagon to talk about the use of color in the garden. She will give us an inside look at how we can select and combine plants for maximum effect. There are still a few spots left, and you can sign up here. Here are some words from Charlotte for inspiration:

The garden is constantly changing. It's a living artwork, nothing is static. When I walk through my gardens each day is an exploration of shape and texture, color and scent. But for me, color is the thing that brings the most joy. I love certain combinations - right now it's the purple spikes of gayfeather (Liatris spp.), Siberian catmint, and 'Rozanne' geranium mixing with deep yellow gloriosa daisy and the clean white blooms of 'Becky' shasta daisy. Easy to snip and put in a mason jar too.

As a designer I look primarily at foliage - it's what interests me most after form and suitability (I prefer to design with native plants and cultivars). I like leaves with unusual colors - chartreuse, mahogany, variegated forms of hosta and coral bell add character and energy. Foliage is what stays around the longest so it matters more. Flowers are secondary to me.

In this workshop we'll cover the color spectrum including many of my favorites for containers, beds and borders. There will be a handout plant list; after the horticulture portion and a yummy snack break everyone will have a chance to design a garden of their own to take home as a guide.

And we are having some sales at the greenhouse. All annuals are 50% off and all shrubs are 15% off. See you soon!

Early July Garden Tips and Chores

beans growing on vine.jpg

Early July is the perfect time to do a little garden make over in the veggie garden and with your potted plants. One question we get a lot - Is it too late to plant beans? Not at all! I recommend that you plant bush beans in small amounts, but every 2 weeks or so for a continuous harvest all summer long. A good rule of thumb is that for every handful of beans you want to harvest, grow about 2 feet of beans. The seeds should be sown about 2 inches apart in a shallow trench about 1/2 inch deep. Seeds should be covered as deep as they are tall, so not too deep. Press the soil down gently with the palm of your hand, and water thoroughly. The seeds will germinate in a few days, and when they are about 6 to 10” tall, you can plant another small patch. I do just 4 or 5 feet at time usually. And if you want to have a large amount of beans for pickling or freezing, make sure that one of your generations is really big. Having a big bean batch is perfect if you are prepared for the harvest bounty. If you just want a few meals’ worth of beans during part of the summer, a small patch is just enough. Too many beans can feel overwhelming and cause you to feel guilty about not harvesting in time. We don’t want that. My favorite variety is Provider. They are really dependable and can be planted from late May all the way to August 1st. So you have another month of bean planting ahead of you. They are the perfect thing to throw in the garden where you may have cleared out a patch of salad greens from an early planting.

Speaking of clearing out spots in the veggie garden, now is the perfect time to use those cleared out spots for fresh batches of cut flowers, scallions, fennel, greens, lettuces, and beets. It is fine to sow beets up until mid-August. I always tuck scallions into little corners of the garden, and lettuces can go into the shade of the tomato plants. If you want a big batch of pesto, plant lots of basil now - if you planted basil early in this cool and wet spring, it might not be happy right now, and you will be better off with a new planting. You will see the difference warm soil makes - basil is much happier planted in July than in May. Cut flowers are such a fun thing to add to the garden - some of my favorites for right now are scabiosa (we have three or four colors available), annual asclepias (a milk weed relative that is a stunning orange and red color), celosia for hot colors and fun texture, sunflowers, euphorbia ‘snow on the mountain’, snapdragons, and lisianthus. Our plants are big and healthy and will start blooming in just a couple of weeks from the time you transplant them.

If you are interested in making a big batch of salsa with your tomato harvest, make sure to plant some cilantro now. Pickles in your future? then plant more dill now too. You should probably plant dill from transplants if your cucumbers are going to be ready soon or you can do it from seed if your cucumbers are timed to be ready in mid-August. You have control over so much in the garden, and there is no reason to have a crazy jungle and bounty all at once. Timing is everything!

On that note, I just took a look at our top Google searches that send people to our website, and was surprised that for three years, our most popular page is this one. Cilantro and dill bolt (go to seed) and that is just their life cycle. The best way to cope with that is to plant often. Both from seed and from plants - it will give you two generations at once if you do that. If you are eager to make lots of salsa this summer, make sure to replant cilantro so that it is ready at the right time - now from seed or early August from plants. We also have another Mexican herb called Papalo which some people love to use as a substitute for cilantro. They don’t taste the same, but are equally delicious in a salsa, and papalo has a summer long harvest window - no need to replant. Next time you visit, feel free to try a leaf from the plants in the greenhouse…we are curious what you think!

Another chore for right now is feeding your containers. As heat sets in, many annual plants will feel stressed. Keep them well watered, and give them a little boost against the stress with a good, well balanced fertilizer. My absolute favorite is Compost Plus from Vermont Compost Company. It is a compost based fertilizer with all the micro nutrients plants need to thrive all summer long. Just sprinkle a handful or two on the top of the soil around the base of each plant, then scratch it in a little, and water gently to soak it it into the soil. I use it on houseplants, hanging baskets, all my potted annuals, and hanging strawberry plants.

And finally, some homework. Please make sure to just enjoy the garden. Sitting with morning coffee, wandering through in the evening with a glass of rosé, taking a morning stroll of appreciation, sitting quietly to hear the birds and watch the bees….creating these moments for myself has been the most important part of gardening lately.

mid-June Garden tips and chores

We can help you get set up with row cover just like this. Photo from Johnny’s Selected Seeds.

We can help you get set up with row cover just like this. Photo from Johnny’s Selected Seeds.

Hopefully you have been able to put some tomatoes in the ground at this point. And if not, don’t worry. It is not too late. I have successfully planted tomatoes as late as July 1st and still had a decent harvest. The trick is to look for varieties that will mature in under 72 days or so. Our tags usually have the days to maturity listed. This means you can count the days from the time of transplant and get an estimation of when you will be harvesting. This varies with the size of the seedling somewhat, and because we sell such beefy, healthy plants, we are often ahead of what the tags say. Here are some varieties I would recommend right now - any of the cherries, Juliet, Celebrity, Big Beef, Black Prince, Cosmonaut Volkvov, Mr. Stripey, Clementine, Jaunne Flammée, Eva Purple Ball, and many more. Our staff is always happy to help you with tomato selection, and I am there on Saturday if you want to ask me personally.

All of this rain has made it hard to get into some of our gardens, and we have delayed some projects and changed the course completely on others. Gardening is a humbling act and always a good teacher. You must bend and flex and adjust. Our plans to put in a display garden at the edge of the herb farm are now getting completely reworked as we see what a wet swamp it is during a rainy year. That is ok, we are taking the opportunity to research vernal pools and what type of ecological landscaping we can do in a site like that. It is easier to bend to what the site wants than to force a piece of land into something it is not meant to be. So one tip this June —don’t force it. Adapt.

We are reducing our display garden to a dry strip of three beds along the herb farm caterpillars. Sarah M. has been helping me transplant everything and it is looking great. Here are some extra steps we are taking to mitigate the wet and to ensure the plants take off at a rapid rate:

  • Compost Plus in the planting hole. I do this with all the plants I put in the garden. It is magic fairy dust.

  • Landscape fabric for weed control and extra warmth. We use a re-usable kind that can be folded up in the winter and re-used every summer. We burn holes into it with a blow torch and lay it over prepped beds with drip irrigation lines underneath. This is a lot of set up but it is a one time effort to minimize weeds all season and to guarantee that the root zone is warm and watered well (if it ever stops raining every other day!).

  • Cucurbits (anything in the squash, cucumber, pumpkin family) are getting hoops and row cover over them to add warmth, protect from wind, and protect from cucumber beetle (those little yellow and black striped guys). Once the plants are bigger and start to flower, I will take the row cover off so that the plants can get pollinated. Usually by that time, the plants are big enough to out compete any damage caused by the pests.

Cucumber beetle prevention starts now with row cover.

Cucumber beetle prevention starts now with row cover.

A lot of organic pest control methods have to do with timing….in this case it is pushing the plants along to grow quickly, so that they can outrun the pest’s life cycle. Understanding pest habits and plant habits and manipulating the plants when possible is key to good gardening. By manipulating I mean slowing down or speeding up, pruning, fertilizing, and weeding. Sometimes a weed is a host for trouble makers, and it is important to stay on top of it. Other times, planting something late gets it in the ground after the life cycle of a pest is complete. Gardening without chemicals means treating the garden like an ecological system - and we as humans, are part of that system.

  • We are watering the cucurbits once a week with a strong solution of fish / seaweed emulsion. This will help them get big before they flower so that they are really healthy when they go into the fruiting stage. Flowering and fruiting require a lot of energy and the more green leaves on a plant, the more they will be able to photosynthesize to support the fruiting and flowering. This applies to cucurbits more than to tomatoes.

  • Only fertilize tomatoes at transplant time and then again two weeks later. Tomatoes can get too green in our short season, and then they do not actually make much fruit. It is important to only feed tomatoes when they are young - at transplant time and maybe one other time before they flower. If you encourage green growth once they flower (in the form of nitrogen rich fertilizer) it will cut down on your tomato harvest. A little bit of stress is actually good to induce flowering and fruiting in tomatoes.

  • Now is a great time to keep transplanting lettuce, greens like chard and kale, kohlrabi, spinach, beets, scallions, mini onions, boc choi, cabbage, broccoli, and fennel. We have a great selection to choose from and will always encourage you to grow in successions. Running out of lettuce in the heat of summer is a drag because that is when salads are all you want to eat!

    And I hope you remember to just enjoy the garden. Stop to just breath it in, and don’t just see it as a list of chores and projects. There is always some bit of beauty to focus on. I have found great pleasure in just walking through my garden early in the morning, coffee in hand, and purposefully ignoring the thoughts of “I should do this” or “this looks bad”. It is become a morning ritual that I really love - just noticing something new in the ever changing world of my home garden.


Cafe in greenhouse 3 update

oysters.jpeg

. Julianne and Didier Murat are making coffee, juices, and treats Fridays (11 am to 6 pm), Saturdays (9 am to 6 pm) and Sundays (9 am to 6 pm). New starting in June - OYSTERS!

BYOB.

Come for oysters and your very own rosé amidst the plants for a lovely afternoon pause. We are so excited for this.

Rainy Weather Gardening

The weather lately is really putting a damper on my gardening aspirations. I am gong to make the best of it, and focus on what can actually be done in the cool and wet spring we are having, rather than on what cannot be done.

Paths are newly mulched with cardboard and bark mulch. The row cover tunnel just yielded our first harvest of mache and arugula and was just replanted with chard and broccoli raab. The row cover with hoops is one of the best ways to keep bunnies out without a fence. This is the year of the bunny. We even have a bunny statue to beg off the bunnies and ask them to spare us, but it is not really working. Chamomile and stone edging is looking cute and a new patch of self seeding Marble Arch Mix Salvia will provide us with edible flowers, cut flowers, and dried flowers for a few years.

Paths are newly mulched with cardboard and bark mulch. The row cover tunnel just yielded our first harvest of mache and arugula and was just replanted with chard and broccoli raab. The row cover with hoops is one of the best ways to keep bunnies out without a fence. This is the year of the bunny. We even have a bunny statue to beg off the bunnies and ask them to spare us, but it is not really working. Chamomile and stone edging is looking cute and a new patch of self seeding Marble Arch Mix Salvia will provide us with edible flowers, cut flowers, and dried flowers for a few years.

Here is what I am doing in the garden this week:

Clean up and mulch the path ways.

The weeds come out easily when the ground is wet. It is ok to walk on the pathways to clean them up and mulch them, but I avoid walking on the growing beds or doing much to the soil in the growing beds when the ground is really wet. Doing so would compact the soil and adversely affect the tilth. So, the paths are getting a little extra attention this year and I am mulching with a thick layer of cardboard and some rough bark mulch from Clifford’s lumber. This is not the regular bark mulch from a garden center - it is a byproduct of a local, family owned sawmill just down the road. I would not use it in all applications where mulch is needed, but it is perfect for paths and under trees and shrubs. It is a little too coarse for perennial beds (but that is a whole other topic, because really I don’t think bark mulch belongs in most perennial beds). Once the paths are clearly defined and mulched, the rest of the season will be so much less labor intensive in the garden. Some other mulch ideas for paths are burlap coffee bags (which you can find this Saturday at our New North End Plant Sale at Bibens Ace Hardware on North Ave in Burlington). straw (I recommend the organic straw from Aurora Farms in Charlotte), or a combination of newspapper and leaves. These are all pretty heavy duty recommendations for paths. I would not use a heavy mulch like this right under smaller growing plants because the decomposing organic matter uses up the nitrogen in the soil and starves the plants of the food they need for healthy growth. Mulching paths is satisfying and really pays off in the long run. Plus, you can do it in the rain.

Plant more salad greens and try out some new varieties of cool hardy vegetables, flowers and herbs

I just added two kinds of kohlrabi to the garden, green Swiss chard, some Italian bulb fennel, broccoli raab, dandelion greens and frisée. This weather is perfect for transplanting a few plants here and there into corners of the garden. Again, you want to avoid working your soil when it is wet, but it is entirely all right to loosen up small corners of beds and tuck in a few plants here and there. I just harvested my first planting or arugula and of mache and re-planted right into those spaces. I did not disturb the wet soil too much, and I think they will all be fine.

Make containers

Picking out colorful annuals and cool foliage plants is the perfect antidote to the grey and the wet days we seem to be stuck in lately. I am covering my mom’s balcony with pots of geraniums, agastache, salvia, herbs, petunias, argyranthemum, canna, millet, banana, and heuchera. Heurchera, or coral bells, is an under-used plant in containers, and adds broad texture, interesting contrasting color (so many to choose from), and looks good all season long. We have a dwarf red banana we are growing this year that has a beautiful glossy red tinged leaf and looks really striking with the wispy orange of the Kudos mandarin Agastache and the red veined caramel heuchera. Tuck in a red oak lettuce here and there, and you will have a gorgeous container with edibles, perennial and season long interest that holds up well in rain, cold, heat, and dry. I love helping people make containers and have two more Make and Take classes coming up in June for shade loving containers. There is still room to sign up in both.

Wistfully choose heat loving crops

This weekend, I plan to select the tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, melons, cucumbers I want to grow, but I am just hardening them off for now. I am not planting them in the ground. This means that they will come inside at night if it is below 45F and they will go back out in the day time to feel the sun (wishful thinking?), wind, and rain and get used to real life outside. What I am not doing is planting them in the cold ground. That would just stress them out. They need soil that is 50F or warmer in order to grow well, and stressing them at a young age will weaken them when they are older and diseases start to settle in. Planting heat loving crops in cool weather is just asking for trouble down the road.

Move perennials

They love this weather. If you have an area that once was sun but now is shade, it is a great time of year to move those sun loving plants to a brighter spot, away from the encroaching shadow of shrub and tree. I took advantage of the dry and warm day on Wednesday to clean up a perennial bed and replant with shade loving plants under the shrubs that now cast shade. I used tiarella, pulmonaria, variegated Solomon’s Seal, Jacob’s ladder, and hostas. I love that sun to shade switch that inevitably takes place in a garden, the moving art of it all.

Hopefully, this gives you a good amount to do and scratches the gardening itch just enough. Happy gardening!




Who likes what? Inspiration for this rainy and cool spring.

calendula.jpg

While it has been a little cool and wet, I have had some extra time to plot out some new combinations I want to try in the garden. I love to mix up edible and ornamental plants, and coming up with some new ideas is always a creative part of the garden process I enjoy

People often ask me about companion planting, with the goal of learning more about what plants keep pests off of what other plants. I usually reply by saying that a mixed garden, with flowers and herbs interspersed among the vegetables generally helps confuse insect pests and also helps attract beneficial insects who are in search of pollen. Here are some combinations that I regularly create just because they work so well. Maybe as an exercise in trying something new, you could try your hand at one or two of these combos and then come up with some of your own. It is a great way to study plants, contrast, colors, and texture in the garden.

  • Verbena bonariensis, California poppies and lacinato kale - We do this often in the demonstration garden at Red Wagon Plants because the Verbena bonariensis is self seeding, along with some California poppies, and it is just so simple to throw in a few kale plants and see the magic unfold all summer long. The poppies bloom first and are a cheery, airy note floating beneath and alongside the dark green, almost black foliage of the kale. Later on, in late summer, the kale is bigger, the poppies are finished blooming and the verbena kicks into high gear with wiry stems waving high above the kale; delicate purple blossoms nod above the mature, gnarly textured leaves of the kale.

Some other favorites include:

  • Rainbow chard, gem marigolds, and lunchbox peppers

  • Opopeo amaranth,nicotiana elata, northern sea oats and redbor kale

  • Green butter lettuce, curly parsley, and calendula

  • Tokyo Bekana mustard, chervil, green oak lettuce, pansies and alyssum

  • Bleu Solaize leeks, Hungarian bread seed poppy, and rebor kale

  • Datura, African blue basil, and dusty miller

Team Red Wagon, Vadeboncouer and Some Jobs for the Week

Team Red Wagon 2019. Front row, l to r, Julie, Claire, Sarah M., Sophie, Tina, Mary. Mid row, l to r, Chad and Conor, Carol, Jane, Lily, Lisa, Hattie, Oren, Jess. back row Kat, Sarah B., Rob, and Kate.

Team Red Wagon 2019. Front row, l to r, Julie, Claire, Sarah M., Sophie, Tina, Mary. Mid row, l to r, Chad and Conor, Carol, Jane, Lily, Lisa, Hattie, Oren, Jess. back row Kat, Sarah B., Rob, and Kate.

Best Crew EVER! It feels like summer camp when we all get back together for the season. Our work is about to get incredibly fast paced, but we are enjoying the last week or so of the ramp up. I love the end of April because we are starting our wholesale deliveries, the production crew is on its own well-oiled trajectory each day, the retail staff has returned for the season and the plants look fresh and gorgeous. There are many mini- transitions within our short season, and the longer I go through each cycle, more patterns emerge.

And I love that I get to see all of you! Have you stopped by the new cafe yet? In April, Vadeboncoeur is open Saturdays and Sundays. In May, Didier and Julianne will be set up every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 9 am until they sell out. It has been so nice to have a place to meet up with friends in the greenhouse, enjoy coffee and pastries, and just soak in the plants. Please come have a peek if you have not been yet. If you plan to linger a while, please use our north parking lot (follow the signs for “extra parking”) when you drive in. Today, Julianne has made Hot Cross Buns, radish tartines on rye, tangerine cake, chocolate cookies, and more. So good.

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Garden tasks for the week:

Sow peas - Snow peas, sugar snap peas, and shelling peas can all get planted now.

Find a spot in the garden where you can set up a good trellis.

Make a trench that is flat across the bottom, about 6” wide, and 3” deep.

Scatter seeds across the whole flat trench, then cover with about 2” of soil and sprinkle with some Compost Plus on top of the soil.

Pound in posts or erect trellis at the same time or after they have germinated. They do best if given something to climb within a few days of germinating.

Watching the plants bend towards the trellis and seek it out with searching, gentle tendrils is pure magic. Show the kids.

Greensprout your potatoes to get a stronger crop that is ready earlier.

First, select your potatoes - we do sell out of certain ones, and we have some very good varieties this year. It is still a little early to plant them, but you could be like a professional grower and greensprout them. Here is how:

Spread potatoes out on a tray (cardboard or wood is best), then keep them in a warm spot. It can be light during the day because you are trying to break dormancy. Ideally, they should be at 70F to 80F.

Once you see sprouts, in about 7 to 10 days, put them outside to harden off. They can just stay like that another week, day and night. I leave mine on the picnic table, someplace where I won’t forget about them.

When you are ready to plant, cut any large potatoes in half or thirds, making sure each piece has at least one or two sprouts. Leave smaller potatoes whole.

When ready to plant, make a trench about 4” wide by 4” deep in a prepped garden bed.

Lay the pre-sprouted potatoes out every 8 to 12” in the bottom of the trench.

Cover the trench back up, and gently walk along the line of potatoes you have just planted to pack them tight against the soil. You could even make a little ritual of it, and take your shoes off. Feeling garden soil against bare feet is a nice way to usher in this new phase of spring.

Vermont adage - potatoes can go in the ground anytime that dandelions are blooming. So if you buy and sprout now, you will be getting the timing just right.

Mid-April Garden Jobs

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It is finally time to get into the garden after a long and very cold winter. Here are some jobs that can happen right now.

Sow from Seeds

Peas, carrots, beets, radishes, turnips

Transplant

Onions - they need the cooler days and long nights of April in order to make large onions in summer. Here are a couple of videos that will give you an idea of how to do it quickly. First, make a trench and sprinkle in some Compost Plus:

Then separate the clump of onion plants into individual plants. Onions should be planted about 4” apart, so just lay them in the trench, all in a row, then gently pat the soil around them to fill in the trench and stand them upright.

Leeks are planted the same way, but require more space, so I do those 6” part with 2 feet between the rows. Onions can have 1 foot between the rows. One 4-pack of our onion or leek plants has about 80 plants in each pack, so it is great to buy a few varieties and share with a friend so you can try multiple kinds. We grow red and yellow storage onions, Italian cipolinni onions, mini purple onions, 2 kinds of sweet onions, and early New York onions. We also grow scallions, 3 kinds of leeks, and shallots. All are planted in the same way, except scallions can be planted in small clumps of 10 to 15 plants. And they don’t need to grow in rows, but can be tucked into individual spots between other plants.

You can also be planting kale, arugula, mache, mustard greens, cabbage, and collards.

Herbs that can take the cold of April: Sorrel, chervil, cilantro, dill, chives.

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In the flowering plants department, it is a good time to plant alyssum, violas, and pansies. They are a good food source for bees this time of year when very few other things are flowering.


I wrote more about onions a few years ago here.

Happy gardening! They are announcing rain later today, so I am getting out there now.






First workshop of the season is coming up!

Our new classroom space in Greenhouse #3.

Our new classroom space in Greenhouse #3.

Open House yesterday started with snow and slush and ended with bright, sunny skies. Thanks so much to all of you who turned out and helped reel in this elusive spring. The plants loved all the attention. And our spirits were lifted.

Did you miss the open house, but are craving a little gardening inspiration? You are in luck because coming up this Saturday, I will be teaching a class about some of the harder to grow vegetables like cardoons, artichokes, leeks, and other trouble makers. If you want to challenge your self with something new this season and are the type of gardener who likes to dig a little into the how's and why's of plants, this class is for you. We will discuss plant physiology and other characteristics that will help you read the cues plants generously provide as a little code of sorts. You will leave a little more fluent in plant-speak and a little more confident in your abilities to branch out with your plant selection. You will get a better understanding of the relationship between the way a plant looks and what it needs to grow well. In terms of the real botany here, I am pretty much self-taught, with a degree in English and Philosophy, so rest assured that this won't be a deeply scientific thing. More like the poetry of plants, the love language of plants. This workshop will make you a more intuitive gardener, and hopefully will shed light on why certain things have not worked for you in the past. Hope is at hand.  

I will make us a lunch to share, highlighting some of the vegetables we will be focused on.  






Apple Crate Gardens

A delivery of fresh new apple crates from our friends at Clifford’s Lumber.

A delivery of fresh new apple crates from our friends at Clifford’s Lumber.

Look at this cool garden idea we want to share with you. It is a simple apple crate, from Cliffords Lumber, right here in Hinesburg, filled with potting soil from VT Compost Company from Montpelier. In fact the first house I lived in as a grown up after college had a beautiful porch that I decorated with apple crate gardens!

Here is how you can buy or make your own:

  1. We will be selling them as kits during our open house March 23rd, 10 am to 2 pm. The kits will include the soil, drainage material, fabric, instruction, and plants.

  2. We will sell them as kits once we open April 12th at 8 am. The kits will include the soil, drainage material, fabric, instruction, and plants. your own is not your thing, you can buy them already planted after we open April 12th. We will plant them with herbs, greens and edible flowers that are cold hardy and can go directly outside.

Keep your eyes peeled here and in our newsletter because maybe we will do a workshop and people can make them together, learn how to care for them, best uses, etc. Let us know what you think!

Our apple crate gardens were a big hit at the VT Flower Show recently.

Our apple crate gardens were a big hit at the VT Flower Show recently.

Workshops and Classes for 2019

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We are so excited to announce our class and workshop schedule for 2019. We are in the process of building a beautiful teaching space in one of our greenhouses and cannot wait to host fun events filled with plant loving people. The line up is very diverse and exciting and offers something for all types of gardeners and cooks and those just curious about getting into the world of plants. We have beginner level classes as well as ‘Next Level’ offerings for those ready to improve or challenge their gardening styles. Please take a look at our offerings on the event page.


Sign ups are open in the online store. Each event is linked to the store, so just click on the ‘register here’ button underneath the description. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch!

The Fall Garden - It's never too late to plan for next year.

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Do you go to winter farmers’ markets and wonder how the farmers do it with all that beautiful produce this time of year? Here is a list of some veggies you can be harvesting and eating right now, and up until a deep freeze and snow storm, out of your garden. I have included tips on when you should have planted them in order to make that happen in a Vermont (zone 4) garden. Cold hardy crops should be sized up by the middle of October as they do not really grow actively after that point, but they do hold very well at the mature stage during the colder and shorter days. Your garden, at this time of year, is essentially a living walk-in cooler for you to glean from as you like.

 

Brussels sprouts - plant in late June, for a fall and early winter harvest. The cold actually makes them taste sweeter.

Kale - plant up to mid-August for eating all fall and early winter. You can transplant seedings, or seed directly into the garden to cut for “braising greens” or baby kale.

Collards - Slower growing, so should be planted by mid-July or so. Very cold hardy.

Cabbage – Transplant in mid-August for fall harvest.

Broccoli – Transplant mid-August to early September for a fall harvest.

Kohlrabi – direct seed in mid-August or transplant in early September.

Celery – transplant in mid-July to early August. Keep well watered in the summer months because they do not like to get too hot or too dry.

Celeriac – transplant in late June (like brussels sprouts). Great for Thanksgiving.

Carrots – direct seed through the first week of July.

Beets – direct seed through the middle of August or transplant as late as the first week of September

Arugula – direct seed through early september or transplant as late as first week of October.

Mustard Greens – same as arugula, but if you want large plants, transplant early to mid September.

Cold Hardy Lettuce varietes – transplant through late September. Direct seed through early September.  Best varieties for cold: Green oak Tango, Merveille des 4 Saisons, Red Butter Red Cross.

Cilantro – direct seed through mid-August. Transplant through late September.

Dill – direct seed through early September, transplant through late September.

Leeks – transplant in late June

Spinach – direct seed in late August. You can also seed it in early to mid September in order to overwinter it for an early spring harvest (mulch with straw in December).

 

Any crops can have a slightly extended season with floating row cover laid over hoops. This will also speed them along during the cooler growing periods of late September and October; and as an added bonus will keep off any late summer insects.

And a cold frame can extend the season even more. You can see me planting mine here on our You Tube channel. I did this in early October.

 

Jobs for the Weekend

I don't watch much television, but I  have taken to watching a British gardening show called "Gardener's World" with Monty Don and friends. Monty takes you through some gardening tasks each week in his own gorgeous garden and various guests have their own segment featuring a special garden or gardener or a plant they love or a container they make that reminds them of a special vacation. It is one of those shows that I stop and rewind a bit so that I catch every single word. I have learned so much and traveled to some lovely gardens every Sunday when it comes out. Anyhow, each show ends with a segment called "Jobs for the Weekend" with some suggestions you could take on that coincide with the weather and season. It is my favorite part of the show and even though I have to close my ears about all the things they can do in the English climate, I would like to copy Monty with our Vermont version of "jobs for the week".

Week of April 23, 2018

This is the week to make those cheery spring containers for your porch or deck or side entrance. It will put a smile on your face every time you walk by. I am really into this combination right now. All the plants are cold hardy and can be outside even in a frost. Alyssum is a good plant for bees and other beneficial insects. And it makes a quick floral ground cover, so I use it quite a bit, especially in gardens that have a lot of bare earth under perennials or shrubs. 

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We are putting covers on our cold frames and caterpillar tunnels at the farm. Chad and Hank got two of the caterpillar tunnels done yesterday, and will finish the other two this week if the weather allows. And Claire, Sarah M. and Sophie covered the cold frames with thick thermal blankets.  That is where we harden off plants to let them get used to the cold. This will provide us with some protected space for growing Mediterranean herbs for our cut culinary herb customers. In the vegetable garden, I am starting to work by hand or with rototiller the beds that are dry enough to work. 

Onions, leeks, scallions, shallots and peas are the first things to go in the ground each year, and I plan to have them in before the end of the week. Make a trench about 4" deep, and as long as you like (I usually plant 4-5 onion or shallot plants per foot) and lay out individual plants. Fill in the trench, burying the onions about 3 to 4 inches as you go. Leeks need a little more space - about 6" between plants. Scallions and mini-onions can be planted in clumps of 10 or so plants 8" apart. 

I am covering the chives with row cover to give them a little jump on the season for our herb farm customers. 

Peas are going in a new spot between the long caterpillar tunnels where we can stretch netting over bows bent out of metal pipe using a pipe bender. You will have to come see this. I am very excited about it! 

We are working on expanding our display gardens in the field beyond the greenhouses where the caterpillar tunnels were build this past fall. We hope you take a minute to walk around and see some of our plants growing and the methods we use. 

On a more personal note, at home (a new house for us), I have raked out the bits of lawn we have, cleaned up some perennials I had not cut back in the fall (I leave them for the birds and hope you do that too), and raked out the vinca that is in many of the beds as a ground cover. We are taking on an ambitious make over in our own back yard, and I will keep you posted with that progress. So far, the excavator, Pat Minor (ask me for his number if you ever need that kind of thing-he's great) and the stone masons (Aaron and John from Champlain Landworks, fantastic wallers and landscape people) have come over to make a plan. And Sam Wyatt from Studio Roji has made us the prettiest conceptual plan and come over a few times to measure, lay out stakes and twine, and help us talk through details. It has all been such a fun process and he totally understands what we want in a garden - a private, cozy oasis. Putting in a garden that is well designed and thought through has been a (almost) life long dream and I am able to do it after years and years of plotting and sketching. My childhood graph paper designs of the "ideal homestead" have finally walked into the land of grown up action. 

Please come by and visit - our staff is always able to help you make great choices for plants and seeds that are just right for the weather. It can be so confusing when we go from deep winter to deep summer in one day! 

What is ready the week of March 19, 2018

We are back in full production, and here is what we have ready for our wholesale customers this week. We will be making deliveries this Tuesday and Friday to some area stores, so keep an eye out for our babies! Our retail greenhouse opens April 13th. In the mean time, check with these stores  to see if they have our plants yet. Happy growing and garden dreaming to you all! 

Philadelphia Flower Tour

Lily and I recently were a part of the Philadelphia Flower Tour organized by Thomas and Bailey of Ardelia Farm for cut flower farmers and  florists. While we are neither of those things, we tagged along to learn more about flowers and plants used in the industry and to attend the Philadelphia Flower Show, Terrain and Longwood Gardens in nearby Kennet Square. Here are a few pics from our the Longwood conservatory taken by our friend Nina Foster from Trillium Finch  (check out her jewelry and floral design work too - it is gorgeous). 

The flower show woke me right up after a long drive with lots of gorgeous begonias, succulents, cacti, tropical flower displays and tulips to fawn over. 

We also visited Terrain - a gorgeous garden and "lifestyle" shop owned by the same company that owns Anthropology and Urban Outfitters. A few plants made it into our car for the trip back as well as lots of ideas for future dreams and displays. We have our work cut out with a high bar and lots of inspiration. 

Dahlias in 2018

Look at these beauties! During the middle of April, we will be starting all of these varieties from tubers from Dutch breed DeVroomen and from US Washington state producer Swan Island. If you would like to grow gorgeous dahlias in your garden, the best bet is to start them indoors for a head start. If you are not equipped to do that or want to try a few new ones without the hassle, you can always get them from us. For the first time this year, we will be selling them before they bloom, in 1 gallon pots. This will make them more affordable and will give you a plant that is compact and easy to handle. In the past we offered dahlias only in 3 gallon pots, 3 feet tall and blooming. Not only were these hard to load in the car and plant in your garden, but they were much more expensive. We hope that pictures alone will do the trick, and that you will take our word that these are the highest quality dahlias to add to your collection. You can dig up the tubers in the fall, store properly in vermiculite or sawdust or dried maple leaves, and then divide and replant in the spring. Perhaps this is the year you join the dahlia craze bandwagon, or you simply continue to feed your obsession / addiction. Either way, we are here to help you find dahlia bounty. 

Tips for dahlia success:

1. Prune the tips of the plants. We will have done this once or twice before you purchase them, but until mid-June, keep pinching. This will keep the plants symmetrical and compact and they will send out more blooms. 

Pruning dahlias in early June. 

Pruning dahlias in early June. 

2. Fertilize the plants at planting time. We recommend a heaping handful of Compost Plus from VT Compost Company.

3. Foliar feed the plants once a week with a fish and seaweed emulsion spray. We recommend Neptune's Harvest. 

4. Once they start to bloom, cut the the stems at the base. Keep this up all summer for the longest bloom life. 

5. Before first frost, cut the plants to the ground and dig up the tubers. 

6. Allow them to dry and cure in a dark and airy place laying on newspaper for about a week or two.  Once cured, place in paper bags with dried leaves, sawdust, or vermiculite. Keep bags in a cool, dark, dry spot all winter. Make sure to label the bags with what variety is inside. It is also a good idea to add a second label inside the bag in case the ink fades or the paper rips. Cutting up a yogurt container into large strips is a great way to make a permanent plant labels. 

2018 Plant List Preview: Cut Flowers

Last year was the year of the cut flower program at Red Wagon. Not only did we grow and sell more cut flower varieties than ever before, but we also hosted a 3 part floral design workshop series with flower farmer / florist Nina Foster and had a chance to meet flower growers from Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. The fun and beauty continue into 2018 with an expanded offering of varieties that work well for cutting and arranging and crafting. Here is the list. If you are a home gardener, you can make a wish list now for summer dreaming and planning. If you are a commercial grower, feel free to contact us about purchase plants in larger quantities for your commercial operation. The photos below represent only about 1/3 of the plants we grow that are suitable for cut flower use. Most of our perennials and many more annuals and some herbs are also suitable for floral use. And please note that vegetables and berries can make unique and eye catching additions to those sprawling, romantic bouquets that are so in style right now. If you need any suggestions or want to make a special request,  please don't hesitate to let us know. 

Photo gratefully used with permission from Ball Horticultural and Johnny's Selected Seeds.