Customer Stories and Testimonials

How to Get Your Soil Tested

Here's one of our most popular posts from the archives. If you are a new gardener or gardening in a new spot, it's well worth it to get your soil tested to ensure happy plants and bountiful harvests. 

I've always thought that getting your soil tested was going to be somehow difficult and arcane.   But I've had some challenges growing things since moving here (namely like a non-blooming hydrangea).  So since Julie said it's a good idea, I've decided to give it a try. I visited the UVM Extension Service website.

And downloaded this form to fill out.

And scooped some dirt into a bag.

Julie adds:

It's best to take samples from multiple places, digging in the first 6" of soil, mix up the various handfuls of soilin a bucket, and select your soil test sample from this mixture. It gives the soil test people a better idea of the overall make-up of your soil. Make sure the bucket and spade are very, very clean.

skillet garden 024
skillet garden 024

Tomorrow I'll send the dirt and $18 to UVM.  And in 10 - 14 days I'll get back a recommendation of what I should add to my soil to grow what what we're planning.

In the meantime, I'm watching as the plants blossom, and unfurl, and grow.

skillet garden 013
skillet garden 013

Beautiful RWP pansy.

skillet garden 012
skillet garden 012

The last day of last year's inedible sorrel.  Tomorrow I'm ripping it out to make room for the currant bushes when they come, and will throw the leaves into a Greek-flavored braise I'm making.

Lori and Doug's Garden, Part 3

Sophia and Lily visited Lori and Doug's garden this week to take some pictures and get an update on how all those plants are doing in their new raised beds. The garden looks beautiful, and Lori and Doug, gracious as ever, are so pleased with their abundant harvests. A few lessons have been learned along the way in this garden's history, which you can read about here and here. 

The garden is a great example of how colorful and varied a vegetable garden can be. Here an array of lettuces, marigolds, chard and kales co-mingle to create a carpet of textures, colors, and flavors. This is a perfect example of how edible gardens are also ornamental and can be featured in the center of a landscape.

Doug and Lori did a tight spacing on their potatoes at planting time, so they decided to hill with straw since there was not enough room to hill the sides of the plants with soil. This should lead to good yields, helps retain moisture and keeps disease pressure down.

They carefully stripped the plants of blossoms in the spring and are awaiting next year's harvest. By taking off the blossoms in the first year, Lori and Doug were able to help the plants concentrate their efforts on producing the lush green growth you see in the picture. A raised bed is a great way to go with strawberries - it keeps the plants under control so that they do not spread into neighboring plants, the strawberry  plants have better air circulation (therefore less disease) and it keeps the berries clean.

On a recent trip to Tuscany, Lori and Doug spied this trellising system and were able to re-create it at home. Anytime tomato plants are trellised from above, they will grow strong, tall and the fruit will be blemish free. This is the method used by greenhouse growers and in field production on small farms that really care about quality.

This small 4' x 4' bed provides plenty of space for herbs used daily in the kitchen as well as a few edible blossoms such as calendula. Lori makes a fantastic herb salt by very finely chopping sage or rosemary and mixing it with a good quality sea salt. This herb blend is great on hard boiled eggs, fish, salads, grilled meats.....pretty much anything you can think of. I felt pretty lucky when I was given a jar and have been carefully parsing it out ever since. It is also a great way to preserve herbs for winter use since the salt acts as a natural preservative.

Spaces were cleared out as crops were harvested which meant that new plantings had plenty of room to grow. The space in the back corner is being reserved for another fall planting. Lori just called today saying that she is ready to do a round of fall crops - this will include lettuces, greens, cabbage, and some cold hard herbs such as parsley, cilantro, dill. It is always a good idea to clean up gardens regularly so that old or sickly plants don't take up space that could be used for new, fresh plantings.

We just love the mixed beet plantings....the mixture of golden, cylindrical and regular beets makes for great salads.

These broccoli side shoots will keep producing into early winter. We only select varieties that produce lots of side shoots. Often one four pack is plenty to keep a small family in broccoli all summer, fall and early winter.

These peppers are great for stuffing. They have a wide, flat bottom and a large, hollow cavity. An herbed rice or a curried couscous is a lovely thing to pair with these beauties.

These are huge and lovely, and making me a bit jealous since the ones in my garden are small and not very happy.

Lori and Doug's Garden: Planting

Meet Lori and Doug, two of our favorite long-time customers and friends. Our skillful and talented guy, Eric Denice,  built them some beautiful raised beds and they've been busy planting.  Check out what's sprouting in their garden. These photos are from a few weeks ago, and we are updating them as we find time....so stay tuned to see more of this great progress.

I think some incredible meals will be coming out of this garden and kitchen this summer. Keep checking in to see the changes!

Lori and Doug's Garden: Construction

Meet Lori and Doug, two of our longtime customers and friends. Last year, they visited the greenhouses repeatedly, making large purchases of vegetable plants, it seemed every day. I finally asked them if they were starting a small farm, and they admitted that they were having some problems. Apparently, everything kept turning black and dying. This does not usually happen to our plants, so I offered to visit their garden, which happens to be on the way home, and they happen to have very nice wine to offer, so it seemed like a win-win. Lo and behold, their beautiful garden site was also the low lying spot where their entire property drains. The plants were sitting in standing water (remember all the rain last year?) and were drowning. I advised them to just start over, sad as that is, because there was just no way to grow in that site.

They asked us to help them build a big beautiful raised bed garden, so we set our expert carpenter and all around handyman, Eric Denice, to the task. Here's what they created together.

In the fall, Lori and Doug planted garlic, which is now growing beautifully, and each week, they come in to let us know what they are up to and we help them pick out plants that are appropriate for the weather. It has been such a fun project and we are grateful to Lori and Doug for including us!

Please keep checking back for updates as we chronicle the progress of this great garden and its people.

Our Plants in New Places

We had a great week last week and met up with lots of new customers at a few new venues. Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington is a leader amongst hospitals around the country for taking health, well being, and green living seriously. Their nutrition and dining services people use local foods, they have a beautiful garden on the roof top, and multiple gardens on the various campuses where herbs, salad greens and other vegetables are grown for the kitchens. The staff is dedicated and enthusiastic - so much so that they asked us to provide plants for a plant sale last week which was a huge success! Here are a few pictures from the sale:

I have to say, that when I dropped off the plants, I was sure that there were way too many, but those amazing women sold so many plants! There were only a few trays left at the end of the day. This will be an annual tradition hopefully and we can get a chance to talk gardening with all the hospital employees again next year. Ally sent along a sweet note this morning:

Hi Julie & Awesome Greenhouse Crew,

We had a blast at the hospital plant sale and so did all the employees, patients, and visitors who stopped by.  Everyone commented on how great the plants looked. Even our executive chef ended up adding some  impulse purchases to his list for the hospital's gardens!  Thanks to Eric for stopping by with more signs, and to Julie for her expert gardening advice, and to everyone at Red Wagon who contributed towards growing such healthy plants.  I've included some pictures from the first hour of the sale.  I wish we'd thought to get some shots of the empty tables at the end of the day.  Even then, with slim pickings left and the cash registers shut down, people kept trying to buy plants!  Thanks again, Ali

Corn and Poblano Chowder

One of our customers, Michelle Reiter,  sent us this recipe which sounds and looks so incredibly great. She was making a hot soup during that broiling weather we had last week, so you know it has to be great! Thanks, Michelle! And this reminds me to make a note to grow some poblano's next year! The plants sold out before I could get one in the garden, and yet again, I am poblano-less. They are one of the varieties that seem to get more and more popular each year as people plant them and come back for more the following season.

Poblano Corn Chowder

Cut kernels from: 10 ears sweet corn (5 cups)

Puree in a blender: 3 cups corn kernels 1 cup whole or 2% milk Saute in 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil over medium heat in soup pan: 2 poblano chiles, seeded and diced 1 ½ cups white onion, diced 1 teaspoon garlic, minced Cook 4-5 minutes

Add: 2 cups chicken broth 2 cups corn kernels 1 teaspoon sugar 1 teaspoon kosher salt ½ teaspoon cayenne Simmer 5 minutes

Stir in: Pureed corn 1 ½ cups tomato, diced ¼ cup feta cheese, crumbled Simmer to heat through and melt cheese, about 3 minutes Garnish servings of soup with choice of avocado, lime, and/or cilantro

What are some of your favorite varieties this year? What are you making with them? Let us know and we can post your recipes, suggestions, ideas. This is the time of year when we start picking out the seeds for next season, so speak up, please!

Sweet Potatoes in a Customer's Garden

We had some very innovative customers today who showed us photos of their garden, including some homemade containers for sweet potato vines. Here are the photos. Take a look and please know that we love to see what you are up to!  There is so much to learn from each other....

You can follow their whole process by seeing the pbotos and reading the caption in this photo album. Inspiring and informative!

What to do with Sweet Potato Slips

We're so excited for this weekend's sale of sweet potato plants, and want to make sure everyone has what they need to enjoy these wonderful plants.

Here's a link to the information we'll be handing out to everyone who comes out to the greenhouses for the sale.

You can grow them in containers too.  They look beautiful in containers and whiskey barrels, apple crates, five gallon buckets with holes drilled out for drainage are all great, low cost options.

We recommend Fort Vee as a growing medium for containers, as we do for all container plants.  Sweet potatoes need a loose and well-drained soil, whether in a container or in the ground.

By now you're wondering how many plants you should get, and how many things you can cook with your sweet potatoes.  Here are some recipes to tempt you:

We hope to see you this weekend!

Sweet Potatoes are Coming!

Cheryl says: I spent the Memorial Day weekend gathering containers, amending soil, watering, and otherwise getting my garden planted.

And now, with a few days of rain my plants are looking fabulous and happy, while I'm on a second mad search for containers so I can take advantage of the Sweet Potato Slip Sale this weekend.

A few of the things looking especially terrific right now:

garden skinny pancake 004
garden skinny pancake 004

Apparently a deer thought so too:

garden skinny pancake 014
garden skinny pancake 014

The Cherry Bomb pepper was full of flowers and now is setting fruit:

garden skinny pancake 008
garden skinny pancake 008

And the okra and pickling cucumbers are settling beautifully into their hanging bags.  I'm excited for when they start to vine.  The cucumbers are about to flower:

garden skinny pancake 011
garden skinny pancake 011

My next project is to get myself 4 containers and a bunch of Fort Vee for sweet potato culture, consulting thesetwo Julie-approved links.   More to come.

Plants in the Ground

There are a few things I (Cheryl) must reiterate about my garden life. 1.  Curiosity yes.  Skills no.

2.  Everything in the garden takes me twice as long as normal people because I'm so easily distracted.

3.  I can never, ever seem to come home with enough mulch.

4.  I should not be trusted with plants who have needs that are in any way complicated.

Which is why the blueberries I planted two years ago are still these pathetic runts:

garden 002
garden 002

And why I should have resisted when Julie gave me a cardoon and an artichoke plant, which are sort of greedy plants that like lots of room and nutrients and water and stuff.

garden 003
garden 003

But I went out to the greenhouse this week and came back laden with lettuce, frisee, fennel, cilantro, broccoli raab, mustard greens,chervil, and gorgeous pansies for my more-shady eastern bed.  Julie had helped me pick these because they fit with my edible garden theme, are somewhat shade tolerant, and many are from the botanical family that's especially attractive to beneficial insects (as well as being the preferred food of the caterpillar that turns into the swallowtail butterfly - very pretty).

So I got the bed ready in the laziest possible way.  I did a fairly uninspired job of weeding, then spread mulch over as far as I could.  (Having, as usual, bought much less mulch than I needed, I could only go so far.)  With the lettuces and herbs, I put some compost in the small holes I dug in the soil.  But there was a foggy memory in a dusty corner of my brain telling me that overly fertile soil can discourage flower formation so I didn't add the compost boost to the pansies' spots.

garden 004
garden 004

Julie adds:

A gentle word on mulch.  In general, instead of bark mulch, which doesn't add anything to the soil, I'd recommend a good compost that is free of weed seeds or a product like VT Compost Company’s Perennial Blend. It is a mixture of compost and potting soil and peat moss and will create a weed barrier while adding nutrients at the same time. If a weed seed is under the compost blend, it won’t see the light of day, and in theory will not germinate.

Alternately,  I am a big believer in hoeing or using a tool to scratch up the soil surface every now and then, before the weeds germinate. I know it can be hard to fit in, but it can be kind of meditative, quick and not at all like weeding. Really.  Around food crops, it’s always best to assume you will have to do some handwork since there are no perfect and total mulch options. Close spacing, planting in rows and mulching paths works well in a more traditional plot; but in a situation like yours, where you are doing edible landscaping and not going for straight rows, weeding is inevitable.

Scratching up the soil surface before you even see the weeds is the simplest, input and money-free solution.  But if you want to invest in your gardening future, I think your beds could really benefit from the Perennial blend. For about $30 you could cover that whole eastern bed with a thin layer. That method is called “top dressing.”

Oh yeah, now that you have the mulch down, say three Hail Mary’s and come back to talk to me in a few weeks.

While I still had a ton of greens left to fit in, I went back to the greenhouse for today's grand opening and came home with some stunning annuals and very pretty perennials, as well as the most adorable basil I've ever seen.  Tomorrow morning, more mulch goes down, the rest of the plants go in.  And I now have to consider what to do with the additional bags of mulch that I bought.

red wagon grand opening 006
red wagon grand opening 006

Spring's Slow Awakening

Inspired by Julie's visit and emboldened by the sunshine, I went out to clear away some of the mess from last year.  I was rewarded with a peek at what's coming up ... just in time for a cold snap this weekend.

3-20-10 Dakin Bfast 001
3-20-10 Dakin Bfast 001

There was the wintergreen, staying as bright as it's supposed to.

3-20-10 Dakin Bfast 002
3-20-10 Dakin Bfast 002

The first shoots of the soon-to-be inedible sorrel I mentioned last week.  I'm planning to harvest its first leaves for salad before I pull it out to replace with currant bushes.

3-20-10 Dakin Bfast 006
3-20-10 Dakin Bfast 006

Oh, and look - some perky German thyme from RWP last year.  This is making a roast chicken more and more likely this weekend.

And as I was looking at the bare dirt, I had the sudden thought that I have no idea what is going on with it.  Julie, should I get it tested?  What should I do next to prep it?

Getting a Garden Started with Red Wagon Plants

Oh, my garden is perfect in March - all imagined blue blossoms and bursting red tomatoes and lush with shiny leaves.  I can picture it so well in these days before reality has arrived.  But still, I'm excited for the real thing, the dramas and surprises and smells and harvest.  And I'm looking forward to sharing my amateur garden adventures here on the Red Wagon Plants blog this season. I'm a Burlington mom, an enthusiastic though not terribly skilled gardener, food-lover, fund-raiser and marketer.  I blog about my parenting and food adventures over at crankycakes.com, and Julie's asked me to write about real life with Red Wagon plants through the growing season.  Last week she came over to talk about our plans, and we took a stroll around my Burlington condo, looking at the remnants of last year's garden that haven't yet been cleaned and gotten ready for the season.  It isn't pretty, but there's all that March imagination - and there was Julie with her excitement and amazing knowledge.

opt-legs-shadow

We talked about my goals, and looked at the space.  Within a general theme of edible landscaping, I want to grow:

  • Beautiful plants that we can enjoy through the season.
  • More of the things I never get enough of through our CSA share (especially tomatoes).
  • Plants that will help with my gift-giving for the holidays.  Last year I made some crazy nasturtium liqueur and I want to do more with cordials from the garden.  Plus I'm aspiring to make hot sauce to share.

I showed Julie my challenging spots - the north-facing edge that faces our neighbors' units where I grew red-veined sorrel last year (pretty leaves, but unwieldy and inedible).  Julie suggested currants, which will tolerate lots of shade, plus give us flowers and fruit.

opt-north

We looked at the north-east corner where I don't have anything except one gooseberry bush planted.  Julie wondered about making this shady spot a garden for pollinators - bees, birds and butterflies.  She pulled out her laptop and pulled up a long list of plants that could be in the shade.  We agreed on:

The longest side of my house faces east, which means a short day of direct light.  Last year, I had grown leeks (never got bigger than scallions), chard, kale, and other greens there, along with a big patch of nasturtiums.  After talking about what I wanted, we settled on:

  • Rhubarb (I've been interested in rhubarb for a while but because I have young children, I've been scared of the leaves that I had always heard were terribly toxic.  Last year I learned that it would take 10 lbs. of leaves to reach actual lethal levels, so I now can relax and allow it in the garden.)
  • Cilantro
  • Parsley
  • Dill
  • Bronze fennel
  • Bulb fennel
  • Chives
  • Chervil
  • Meadow rue

We walked around to the south, where we talked about taking advantage of the heat and light and growing pots of tomatoes and vines along a south-west wall, and putting in a container with:

opt-south-wall

So our plans are big, and the plants are growing.  Can't wait to get started.

New Varieties for the New Year

We are adding so many new varieties for the new year. We will update the plant selection of the website and include all of the new selections for 2010, but for now here is a sneak peak.

This is a really fun summer squash with lovely shades of green and yellow, split right down the middle. The flavor is similar to any yellow summer squash, but the striped look is really fun in the harvest basket.

Zephyr Summer Squash

This next nasturtium is a new introduction from Johnny's Selected Seeds. It has such brilliant hues of yellows, oranges and reds. I think it will be a real standout amongst the herbs and edible blossoms in the spring garden. Nasturtiums are the work horses of the garden world - they just never stop producing their cheery blooms all season long.

Kaleidoscope mix nasturtium

A few customer have asked for this nostalgic, old-fashioned annual. It is a beautiful lime green flower with bracts and petals that dry perfectly along their regal, spiked stem. I just love these in bouquets with zinnias and ornamental grasses.

Bells of Ireland

Round of Hungary Pepper is another customer request. It's a really sweet pepper with a flatened shape that is perfect for stuffing and baking. It is an heirloom and as such carries with it a full spectrum of flavors. Perfect addition to the grilled vegetables you may be looking forward to this summer.

Round of Hungary Sweet Pepper

We will continue to update you with all the new varieties, so keep checking in to see what's coming. And as always, we love to hear your suggestions, stories of what works well for you...our plants and your gardens have a lot to share!