garden almanac

Garlic Ritual

Planting garlic in Vermont is a great way to extend the gardening season and gives you a crop that is perfect in so many dishes, stores well all winter long and even generates its own seed. It is a perfect way to tune into the cycles of the gardening season and feel like you are growing an important part of your diet. Garlic is expensive to purchase so there are savings to be had with your own garlic crop. Please follow this guide for easy, step-by-step instructions that will give you a garlic patch for life. I have been growing out my own garlic for 18 years and usually do not need to ever buy seed stock or garlic in the grocery store. The pleasures of garlic growing are abundant and I encourage you to get familiar with this wonderful and simple crop.

When to start the cycle?

Planting dates in Vermont are anytime between mid October and late October. It is best to wait until then, because if you plant too early, the bulbs will break out of dormancy too soon and this weakens the plant going into our harsh winters. If you plant the cloves during those last two weeks of October, it gives them just the right amount of time to take root and hunker down until spring, but not send out any top growth.

To plant garlic, you need to follow a few easy steps.

1. Bed preparation.

This is the act of making your garden soil ready for garlic planting. You want a nice patch of garden, that is worked deeply so that the soil is loose about a foot down in depth. If your garden is very compacted and hard, the garlic will not be able to grow well and you will be sure to end up with small heads of garlic that are tedious to peel and not all that satisfying. You can prepare the bed with a 3 prong fork by digging in straight down, tilting the handle of the fork back and forth, and loosening the hard pan. This is a good work out! Don’t hesitate to get dirty here by kneeling in the earth and breaking up the clods of soil with your hands so they are not chunky at all. Add a bit of well rotted manure or compost at this time. Not too much. For a 5 by 10 bed, maybe a 5 gallon bucket’s worth. You don’t want to over feed the garlic roots in the fall, but a little compost will add organic matter and that will help the structure of the soil, keeping it loose, able to retain some moisture without staying too wet.

Take your time and your garden will reward you. I always look at garlic planting as a soulful moment in the gardening cycle. It is saying goodbye to summer and embracing the dormancy of winter, when seeds deep below the surface slowly get ready for their spring emergence. Living in a climate with such long winters, I need these small, but important, rituals to remind me that spring will come and the cold barren winter is a necessary part of it all. The seed garlic is planted in the fall because it needs to send roots far into the earth in order to feed itself the following year. I take this as a metaphor for my own winter activities that feed me all year long - catching up on sleep, feeding my mind with more reading time, eating great, nourishing foods, and spending more time with friends and family.  I digress here, but these are the thoughts I have as I plant garlic, and after many years of doing it, I find that it is a necessary part of my mental preparation for winter.

2. Mark the rows with a hoe, or hand tool. I usually keep the rows about 12 inches apart and since my beds are about 4 feet wide, I keep 3 rows per bed and can easily reach the center. Just drag your tool - the sharp tip of a hoe or the narrow edge of a hard rake works well - through the soil to delineate the rows. You can use string and stakes if it is important to be straight, but I don’t bother with that at all.

3. Break up the garlic heads into individual cloves. Do not peel! And notice that one end is the root end and one end is the stem end. This will be important for planting right side up with the root end pointing straight down and the stem end pointing straight up.

4. Space out the cloves. Lay the cloves on the top of the soil, following the line you have just drawn in the soil.  Allow about 6 inches between all the cloves.

5. Planting, spacing, and yields

Now you can start to plant. I always kneel down and take my time to feel the earth under me at this point. It just feels good and is a way to say goodbye to the garden before winter! Then, take a bulb planting tool, or a sturdy,  sharp pointed stick, or your hand if your soil is soft and pliable, and poke a hole about 4 to 6 inches down. Shove the clove of garlic deep down, root end down, and cover up with the soil. Continue down the row and repeat until all is planted. Three  heads of garlic will turn into about 24 heads next spring - assuming your garlic has about 8 cloves per head. . And with 6” by 12” spacing, a 5’ x 10’ patch of garlic will yield about 60 heads of garlic. That is enough to enjoy one head of garlic per week, all year long, and still have some left over for planting. To plant a patch this big, you will need to plant the equivalent of 7 to 10 heads of garlic.

6. Compost and mulch. I usually add another 4” of compost or well rotted horse manure to the bed. I then leave it like that for about 6 weeks. Then in mid to late December, I cover the bed with a thick layer of straw. You can also use leaves here, but straw is the best insulator with hollow stems that trap air and keep everybody warm down below. Another advantage of straw is that it usually does not have weed seeds in it; mulch hay, straw’s poor cousin,  should be avoided since it is laden with all sorts of perennial grass and weed seeds. The straw moderates the winter soil temperature and prevents buckling and heaving which could push those garlic cloves up and out of the ground.

Let winter pass you by now, and next......

7. Spring time chores with garlic. Once the snow melts and the soil warms up a bit, your garlic will break dormancy and magically pop up out of the earth. It is important to pull back the straw to let the garlic see sunlight. If you wait a bit too long, and pull back the straw only to see a bunch of yellowing stems, don’t worry! The garlic shoots will green up in no time and will look fabulously sturdy after a week or so of direct sunlight. I usually pull the straw into the garden path, let it pile up there and then replace it around the growing garlic to block out weeds once the garlic plants are about 8 inches high. I often will add a little granular fertilizer at this time, before putting the mulch back in place. For a 5 by 10 garlic patch about 3 cups of Pro-Gro from North Country organics or one bag of Compost Plus from Vermont Compost Company is just about right. This will insure you get large, easy to peel cloves that taste great.

8. Garlic scapes will appear on stiff neck garlic around late May. These look like green curly cues with a pointy end that gracefully swoops down and around, waving in the breeze. This is the budding and flowering portion of the garlic plant. It should be removed to help the plant spend its energy on sizing up the goods below ground. If it is allowed to flower, the plants’ strength will go towards the flower and the garlic forming below ground will be the weaker for it. The good news here is that the “scapes” as they are called, are good to eat. I usually cut off the pointy tip - it is rubbery and inedible, and then slice up the round stem and use it in stir fries, stews, pasta dishes, or pickles. When cooked, it has the texture of a nice green bean and the flavor of mild garlic. It is absolutely delicious and a once a year treat that marks the beginning of summer - a harbinger of good things to come.

9. When to harvest? Garlic is ready to harvest when about 70% of its leaves have turned yellow. This is somewhat subjective, and should be taken as not a hard and fast rule, but rather a guide. You can dig up one head of garlic and look for signs of well formed skin, plump cloves, and individuation (cloves that are individually formed, and not one big mass). This is usually some time in late July. In very wet and rainy years, sometimes it makes more sense to take the garlic our of the ground a little early so that the skin does not rot in the damp earth.

10. How to harvest? Take out your three prong fork again and use it to loosen the soil around the outside edges of each garlic row. This will break up the soil enough to allow you to pull out each plant with a firm yank. (If the stems break off, it is likely you waited too long and the skin and stems are starting to rot. At that point, just dig up the cloves with a spade and they will be okay in taste; they just won’t store well. ) Lay the plants on the surface of the soil so that they start to dry off. Once all the garlic is pulled up, wipe it with a towel or rag, and get ready to tie it into bundles. I usually take about 8 plants, hold them together in one hand, and with the other hand, wrap twine around the whole bundle. Tie off the twine and then hang the bundle in a dark airy space. The rafters of a garage, shed or barn work well. If you don’t have that type of space, just find a place out of the rain, out of direct sunlight and with good air circulation - a covered porch? a dry basement with a fan running? a spare bedroom that can get a little dirty? (no shag rugs please!).

11. Curing the garlic Curing is the process of letting the garlic dry which makes the papery skin that allows the garlic to keep all winter. The stems will turn brown and brittle and the exterior of the bulbs will become dry and paper-like, just like garlic in the store. At this point, it is okay to cut off those dry stems, wipe off any remaining dirt, cut off the roots, and place your garlic in a crate to store it. This can be done anytime from 3 to 6 weeks after you initially hang up the garlic to dry.

12. Storing the garlic Once the garlic is cured, cleaned and trimmed, you are ready to store it for eating all winter long. Garlic is best stored in the dark. In an airy, dry, cool place. I use milk crates, covered with a piece of burlap, and keep the crate in a very cool part of the basement. Ideal garlic storing temperatures are between 35 and 45 degrees, but a refrigerator is too humid, so please don’t be tempted to use that as a storage method. Other good places to store garlic (and onions for that matter) are unheated attics, attached garages that don’t freeze, but are not heated, or 3 season porches that do not freeze. Root cellars are great, but most of us don’t have one. If well stored, garlic will last until April or May - almost right in time for the garlic scape harvest!

13. Finding seed stock.

Until you build up your own supplies, you will have to purchase seed garlic. There are many great resources for garlic and for finding garlic seed, I recommend Johnny’s Selected Seeds, or locally, Last Resort Farm in Monkton, Hudak Farm in Saint Albans, or any farmer at your local farmers market who has nice looking seed stock. Seed stock is basically sorted out of the garlic harvest and selected for the following the following traits:

      • good size
      • evenly formed cloves
      • strong stem
      • well formed skin
      • great flavor
      • ability to store for a long time

If you have been growing out your garlic in your garden, you can pick out the best cloves at cleaning and storing time. Set these aside in a safe place where they will not be eaten and come October, experience the joy of planting your own seed garlic.

14. Plant garlic. Repeat Step 1. above and the cycle starts all over again!

April 26th Photo Gallery

Lettuce 'Forellenschluss' 

Marigold, French Bonanza

Catnip 4" Pots

Dusty Miller 'Silver'

Snapdragon Rocket 4-Packs- Pink, Red, and Yellow

Cosmos 'Sensation Mix' 4 packs

Mara des Bois Strawberry - everbearing French variety that is prized for its outstanding flavor. 

Lobelia Regatta Midnight Blue

Bidens 'Namid'

Echeveria Holy Gate

Rose Cascade Ivy Geranium

Thai Basil

Patriot Bright Red Zonal Geranium - Blurry picture, but lots of our geraniums are breaking into color like this. 

Arugula

Cold Frame with lettuce, chard, onions, kale - everything is hardening off nicely.

Spinach and most of our leafy greens are seeded fresh every week, so they are never old and root bound.

Another cold frame with chard and onions.

Penny Yellow Viola

Lilac Ice Viola

Sweet Genovese Basil, Nufar.

Mara des Bois Strawberry. This is a French variety that has been bred for maximum flavor. It came out of breenders' greenhouses in the late 90's and came on the market in the USA only in the past few years. It has the most incredibly intense strawberry flavor and is day-neutral, which means it will bear fruit this year, and will continue to do so all summer long. Very hard to find and expensive root stock. We are lucky to be able to grow it out for our customers. 

Onions, leeks, shallots, scallions on the cold frame.

Provence Lavender. Hardy to Zone 5 reliably, but have gotten a few years out of it in Zone 4. Faster to grow then Munstead Lavdender with bigger plants and flowers. 

Penny Orange Viola

Cold Season Gardening

As soon as the ground thaws, and dries out, I will be ready to plant. After chomping at the bit through this long, never ending winter, I long to get my hands in cool dirt and ceremoniously plant the first seedlings. A cold frame helps to rush the job along, and I can't wait to open ours up, fluff up the tired soil, add some compost and amendments, and dig in. My cold season garden is pretty predictable each year. I crave certain things, stick to those, eat only that the entire period of time it is ready, and then usually it is out of mind the rest of the year. Asparagus for example. It is pretty much a part of every meal during asparagus season, and then I never think about it the other 47 weeks of the year.  And it is ready before many other things, so why not give it the star treatment it deserves?  It takes up a good chunk of my garden for a reason....homegrown asparagus absolutely cannot compare to what you buy in the store.  There are so many delicate flavors in asparagus that are lost after any period of refrigeration, and I greedily await that first harvest each year.

And then there is bok choi. For some reason, I don't think about this vegetable too much 11 months out of the year,  but it is so cold hardy and so quick to grow, that earliest spring is the only logical time to insert it into the garden and into our kitchen. We grow 4 kinds of boc choi to give our gardens a real array of size, color, and harvest time. Violetta is quick to grow to baby size, and has shiny, dark purple leaves with pale purple and white stems. It is gorgeous and delicate and ready in just 3 weeks from the time I stick it in the ground.  Shanghai Baby Bok Choi is another quick and tiny one, but the palest green, with the most tender flesh. Red Choi is a medium sized boc choi with a more mustard like flavor, and the regular boc choi we grow, Joi Choi, grows up to be huge, heavy, and gorgeous (see below). These are all delicious chopped up and stir fried with ginger, hot pepper flakes, and garlic;  or thinly slivered and eaten raw as a salad or slaw or dropped into a warm bowl of broth.

Scallions are another cold hardy, quick to grow vegetable that makes it into all my early gardens. They can be planted in little clumps in tight spaces and harvested over a long period of time. I harvest them three or four at a time and leave the rest to grow for a later picking or two.

Next up are the salad greens, bitter greens and mustards. All of these can take multiple frosts and are happy to go into the garden long before the others.

In this picture from last year, we have Tokyo Bekana mustard in the bottom left corner. It is a light green, tender mustard delicious steamed or eaten raw. I especially like it in soups and broths with soba noodles and tofu. In the center is my favorite bitter green, Frisée ('Tres Fine Maraîchère") which I love to eat with a mustardy, garlicky vinaigrette. Behind that is some arugula which really should be planted multiple times throughout the season (just rip out the old plants and sow new seeds or seedlings). In the top right corner is a little bit of bulb fennel Zefa Fino poking into the frame. This is another great option for for those of us needing cold hardy and interesting garden plants. In the kitchen, I simply slice up the bulbs into long, thick wedges and roast in a 400F oven with olive oil, herbs and seas salt. And the bottom right corner is the soldier of the spring garden: Natacha escarole. This chicory relative is huge, easy to grow, and equally perfect cooked in a braise or sautéed or eaten raw in a salad, again with that garlicky Dijon vinaigrette. Escarole withstands multiple hard frosts, grows quickly to a 3 pound head, and is frankly one of the better values in the garden. A small to medium escarole in the grocery store can cost close to $4. And from one 4 pack, you can easily have twelve times the yield for about the same amount of money.

Here we have Lily sampling a bit of Lacinato kale. also known as dinosaur kale, Tuscan kale, or cavolo negro. We love it for its nutty flavor and the fact that a few plants stuck in the ground in April will produce until December. Again, a pretty good value! In front of the kale is more boc choi, Red Choi. And in front of that is ruby red chard. Chard is the least cold tolerant of all these greens, but it can take a few light frosts. The others can survive a few dips even into the 20's and come out fine.

From seed, I like to start radishes and spinach and peas, because really, who can resist this sight:

Get ready, set, go. Spring is coming, and we want to help you get ready. And soon, we will be looking at this:

Herb Thoughts

Herb garden planning is not a lot of work, but here are some thoughts I have put together on the topic. Herbs are easy to grow for the most part, but they are a big category of plants (we grow 100 varieties of herbs) and it helps to break them down and organize them into categories. This will help any gardener plant the right plant in the right place and give it the preferred amount of water, sunlight, food, and water.

Why grow herbs? For flavor, fragrance, and beauty - it is the easiest way to improve the flavor of what you cook. It is also one of the easiest ways to have a container garden on your porch or deck.  Herb gardening is intimate - you get close to the plants, smell them, taste them, see them respond to regular clippings. They are a perfect way to better understand plant physiology and the best short cut to great food made with little effort.

Propagation: Plants vs. Seeds

All herbs can be planted from plants, and some can be planted directly into the ground as seeds. The herbs that you can seed directly in the ground and expect great results are: cilantro, dill,  and chamomile. Everything else will do much better if you start the seeds in containers in a sheltered environment. You can start your own herb transplants easily if you have grow lights and a heat mat. Many herbs take a long time to germinate and many herbs are propagated only from cuttings. Making your own rooted cuttings is possible too, but that takes a little more of a sophisticated set up with misters, rooting hormone of some sort, and humidity domes. For those herbs, it is generally easier to purchase the plants.

Herbs from Seed:

  • Parsley
  • Chives
  • Cilantro
  • Dill
  • Chamomile
  • Savory (winter and summer)
  • Marjoram
  • Basil (all kinds)
  • Common Mint
  • Sage
  • Catnip
  • Chervil
  • Oregano (basic varieties)
  • Thyme (basic varieties)
  • Shiso
  • Sorrel
  • Lovage
  • Lemon Balm
  • Fennel
  • Salad Burnet

Herbs from Cuttings:

  • Rosemary
  • Lavender
  • Mints that are true to type (spearmint, peppermint, pineapple mint, etc)
  • Tarragon
  • Specialty Thymes (lemon, variegated, silver, etc)
  • Specialty Oregano (golden, ‘Hot and Spicy’, variegated, etc)
  • Specialty Sage (purple, tricolor, golden, etc)

Containers vs. in the Ground

Some plants love to be planted in the ground and others would prefer to be in pots.  Generally speaking, the herbs that like it dry and warm will prefer to be in a clay pot that breathes like Italian terra cotta. Plants that like it wet and cool might prefer to be in the ground, but they can also be grown in pots if the right conditions are given (more watering, a glazed or plastic pot, heavier potting soil, a little shade).

Herbs that like to grow easily in the ground in Vermont:

Cilantro, Dill, Parsley, Rosemary, Savory, and Chervil

Herbs that prefer to be in containers in Vermont: EVERYTHING ELSE!

This does not mean that you cannot grow herbs in the ground, it just means that in containers, it can be a little easier.

Some herbs do really well as tiny shoots for micro-greens: chervil, dill, cilantro, basil, fennel are our favorites.  And they are easy to grow indoors year round – just pat down some moist potting soil in a shallow container (only need 2” or so of soil) with holes in the bottom, press in the seeds, cover very lightly with a thin layer of soil, and keep moist. When the first set of true leaves begin to emerge, they are ready to eat. You can also grow pea shoots and sunflower sprouts this way. A south facing, sunny window is sufficient.

You can bring in potted herbs in the fall and keep them in a sunny window for use during the winter. The herbs that do best with this treatment: sage, parsley, rosemary, thyme, and savory. Basil can be brought in as well, but it won’t be terribly happy unless you have grow lights for it.  If you had some of these herbs planted in the ground, you can dig them up and slowly acclimate them to being in a pot and being indoors.

Herbs can be dried or frozen or infused in vinegar or simple syrup for year round use. Pesto or herb pastes made with oil or water can be frozen in small containers.  Drying is very simple or very elaborate – you choose! A dehydrator can be used, and the leaves can be stripped off of the stems once dried and stored in jars in a dark place. Or you can go the simple route and just harvest whole branches of the woody herbs such as thyme, oregano, rosemary, sage, and winter savory. Place the branches in woven baskets and keep in a dark, well-ventilated space. They will dry just fine on their own, and you can keep them covered with paper bags or kitchen linens and use as needed.

Related Upcoming Events

Cooking with Herbs with Molly Stevens and Julie Rubaud – a class and dinner.

South End Kitchen, Burlington, Vermont

March 19th.,  6pm

Red Wagon Plants pre-season Open House

April 4th 10 am to 3 pm. Tour the greenhouses and see behind the scenes.

Herbal Cocktail Party with Caledonia Spirits

April 17th, Red Wagon Plants 6 pm to 9 pm

Help us kick off our season with a bang!

Garden Things to do in December

  • Mulch your garlic. Need a good source of organic straw? Call up Aurora Farms in Charlotte, VT. They grow grains for the Nitty Gritty Grains Company, and their bales of straw are just beautiful - no weed seeds, nice long strands with hollow stems to insulate from the cold, and best of all it is organic. You don't want to risk introducing persistent herbicide residues into the garden.
  • Plant bulbs before the ground totally freezes (quick!)
  • Plant some paperwhite bulbs for forcing. You can find out how right here. 
  • Give your houseplants a trim, a feed, a little love. Check them for pests, wipe them off with a little neem oil if you see anything crawling around. This is a great time of year to give houseplants a little shower. The heat source in your house is likely quite dry, and most of your green friends like the feeling of rain. Recreate it for them. You can sing to them, too, while you are at it.
  • Make a few holiday gifts from the garden - herb salts, lavender sachets, cranberry apple chutney, herbal vinegars, calendula skin oil, or rosemary short bread. If you don't have any of the necessary garden ingredients, you can always purchase them and see it as inspiration for growing your own next year. Pinterest and the internet are brimming over with ideas and directions for making all kinds of beautiful  holiday treats from the garden. The links above will get you started.
  • Make a garland, wreath or swag with stems, twigs, branches, seed pods, dried flowers, and other goodies from fields, woods and gardens. I love growing a hedge of Ilex verticulata and a small row of red osier dogwood for their berries and twigs make striking additions to winter greenery like balsam or pine or cedar.
  • Poke at the compost pile. Try to introduce some air into its nether parts so that it really heats up before the cold sets in. Add some fallen leaves, and a little manure from a horse farm or friends with chickens. You get the idea.
  • Look at seed catalogs! They are coming out now and the best therapy for  December Darkness is those spring dreams of budding life and sowing seeds.

Shorter days, winding down, and it is alright.

Our greenhouses start up in February, when we begin the bustle that does not end until the final sales of early September. During that 6 moth period, we are in constant motion, putting in 14 hour days at the beginning of our season for a solid three months and gradually tapering down to a normal 8 to 10 hour day for the remainder of the year. Work moves into the office where I am planning out next year's varieties; we are also busy with greenhouse clean up and putting everything to bed for the winter.  When the maples signal that autumn is here, I am ready for a little slowing down. A little time to enjoy the fruits of the garden, to eat those fall greens that quietly draw attention amidst shades of yellow, red, and orange. I finally have time to cook, to preserve some of the bounty with the help of the canning pot, dehydrator, root cellar and freezer.

I tend to be a creature of habit and make more or less the same things each year, because I know my family loves them and because I  am not willing to give up precious time and space with experiments that might not work, that might join the sad jars and mystery freezer bags that lay untouched. I do try one or two new things each year, but only after they have been enthusiastically recommended by trusted sources.

Here are some of the tried and true that show up every year in our winter pantry:

Sauerkraut. I use this recipe from Sandor Katz, fermentation guru, author, and person of note who just recently spent some time teaching his craft in Vermont.

Plain and easy,  roasted and frozen tomatoes. I wrote about this one last year, and you can read that here. This is the easiest way to make tomatoes that will taste great in a sauce mid-winter. I have more time to cook in the winter, so I don't bother making sauce to freeze or can during the height of summer. But if i have these in the freezer, I can turn them into sauce, soups, add them to braises, etc.

Fancier, slower, seasoned roasted tomatoes. These are a different beast. The tomatoes are slowly roasted, like 8 hours of slow, in a 240F oven with olive oil, garlic, herbs. I sometimes do different batches and label them as such so that they can be used in various dishes during the winter. For example, I make some that are sprinkled with just oregano, or just cumin. But most of them are made with olive oil, thyme, and garlic. And a little sea salt.

Here are some of the tried and true that show up every year in our winter pantry:

Pollinator Habitat Restoration for the Home Gardener, Part 1: Bees

By Hope Johnson

(Part 1 of 2. See Part 2 for information about promoting butterfly and hummingbird habitat).

Habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation are serious threats to the survival of pollinators.  There are three basic pollinator habitat requirements:

1.  Flower-rich foraging areas and water source.

2.  Suitable host plants or nests where they can lay eggs and/or raise brood.

3. Environment free of pesticides.

This blog series will focus on the habitat needs of bees (social and native solitary), and the butterflies and hummingbirds which are the pollinators we most often encounter and recognize in our home gardens.

Bees

Of the 20,000 species of bees worldwide, 4,000 are native to the U.S. and 90% of these are solitary. These include bumble, mason, and ground-nesting bees. The domesticated honeybee is a European import.

Bees prefer purple, yellow and white flowers and see ultraviolet color patterns, such as shape and color ‘nectar guide” patterns that provide clues to the location of nectar in the flower.  Not surprisingly, sequential bloom  is important for forage all season long. So, what to plant?

Here's a list of Top Ten Perennials for bees and other pollinators from Annie White at University of Vermont:

1. Monarda fistulosa, Bee Balm.  More resistant to powdery mildew than M. didyma (red).

2. Aster Nova-angliae. late season nectar source (for Monarchs, too).

3. Eupatorium purpureum, Joe Pye weed.

4. Penstemon digitalis, foxglove beardtongue, native.

5. Veronicastrum virginicum, Culver’s root. Blooms late summer.

6. Helenium autumnale, Sneezeweed.  Deer and rabbit repellant.

7. Lupinis premis, Sundial lupine.  Host plant for butterflies and native to Vermont.

8. Lonicera sempervirens, Trumpet honeysuckle. Native and blooms June to September.

9. Echinacea purpurea, purple coneflower.  native to NY and CT, composite flower.

10. Agastache foeniculum, anise hyssop.  Native to NY and NH.

Other ways to promote habitat? Seventy percent of bees live in the ground and these include the squash bees that nest in the ground near the squash and cucumbers they pollinate.  Preserve areas of bare or sparsely vegetated well-drained soil and avoid compaction of same. Also preserve dead or dying trees and hold the fall clean-up since tunnel nesting bees rest in the debris. Create your own wooden net blocks or bundles of hollow stems.

Avoid using insecticides containing systemic neurotoxin neonicotinoids especially Imidacloprid and Clothianidin that linger in the soil and can remain active for a year or more. Neonics are absorbed by the plant and dispersed in plant tissues including pollen and nectar and they are toxic to bees and beneficial insects. Although there is conflicting evidence that neonicotinoids cause colony collapse disorder for honeybees, there is increasing evidence that topical or ingested exposure in bees retards colony growth, impairs navigation and foraging behavior and may increase their susceptibility to other pathogens such as mites, bacteria and fungal infections. See Friends of the Earth Bee Safe Gardening Tips for a full list of neonics to avoid.

Bee in squash blossom

Local Resources

“The Buzz on Designing Pollinator Friendly Landscapes”

Annie White, UVM Graduate Research Assistant.  Presented at 2013 Flower and Garden Show, Burlington, VT.  At PollinatorGardens.org, see “Top ten perennial plant choices for pollinators” and  “Designing pollinator-friendly  landscapes”.

“Enhancing Pollinator Populations for Farms and Gardens”, presentation by John and Nancy Hayden of The Farm Between at NOFA Winter Conference 2014.   At thefarmbetween.com, see full powerpoint presentation and info on June 30th, 2014 Pollinator Workshop.

“Attracting and Conserving Native Pollinators”, presented by Anne Dannenberg, Pollinator Habitat Consultant, a One Night University class at Access CVU, 3/10/14. Contact:  acd@gmavt.net

Echinacea purpurea

What to Plant in Late June

Has your garden been producing lots of vegetables yet? We have been harvesting for a while thanks to some season extension and some early plantings.  Boc choi, lettuce, escarole, radishes, asparagus, chard and kale have all been making regular appearances in our meals and keeping us out of the produce aisle at the grocery store. So now, there is a little room in the garden where some of these plants have been harvested. What to plant next? There are so many options, and we like to take these "gaps" as a time to experiment, or add some diversity to the garden, or take advantage of short season crops that can be ready before planting a fall crop, or put in another generation of a warm weather crops to ensure a healthy harvest for as long as possible. Here are a few ideas......

Experiment

An empty spot or two is the perfect place for planting something new. Preferably something that does not take up too much room, and something that grows vertically so that it does not crowd its neighbors. Celery, fennel, scallions, boc choi and chard are all great candidates. Or a new variety of lettuce, or some arugula or mustard green you've been wanting to try. These are all crops that are fairly quick to harvest and will help maximize your harvest  in that precious garden real estate.

Add some diversity

Small spots are just perfect for adding flowers to the garden that will attract pollinators, provide habitat for beneficial insects, and will give you blooms to enjoy in the garden or in a bouquet. There are many great annual flowers that grow well in tight places and they break up the wide expanse of vegetable plants. By punctuating the garden with blossoms, you make it harder for predator insects to find your vegetables and you create a more diverse ecosystem, in miniature. Going for the most diversity possible in a small space is a great move in your over all pest control strategy. Some flowers we recommend for tight spaces:

Cosmos

Verbena Bonariensis

Zinnias

Sneak in a short season crop

Arugula, baby boc choi, spinach, lettuce, radishes, dill, cilantro and scallions all grow quickly and can take a bit of shade from their neighbors. This means you can plant them in close proximity to taller plants, and they won't mind one bit. They even enjoy the shade in the heat of summer. These can all be started from seed or transplants this time of year, and are a great way to add something to your table that you may not have planned on. Keep salads fresh with new lettuces, don't keep eating those bitter old ones! Same with arugula that has bolted or is too holy from flea beetle damage.....start with some fresh ones for those July salads.

Add a second generation of a warm weather crop

This is a great time to plant another round of cucumbers, cantaloupe, a short season tomato, hot pepper, summer squash or zucchini. You can try out a new variety to mix it up, and even grow a vining crop on a trellis to save space. The plants were planted a month ago are going to be producing pretty soon, and when they get tired out or have a pest or disease issue, your new plants will be just maturing and ready to provide you with a new round of goodies. You can maximize the bounty this way, and you won't be tempted to keep an old and diseased plant in the garden if there is a new one ready to report for duty.   This will also help with your disease and pest prevention over all.

Remember that the more you keep up with the garden, the tastier your meals, and the healthier your plants. There are so many reasons to garden, and keeping the plot looking and tasting good will keep you motivated to maintain your garden and to eat really well!

Stick Season Tasks

  • Plant bulbs. Watch this video with Charlie Nardozzi if you don't know how.  Gardener's Supply in Burlington, Williston and on line, has a great selection of flowering bulbs that will wow you in the spring.

  • Mulch your perennials with leaves. No need to think of leaves as waste...they are loaded with carbon and a perfect way to add organic matter to your gardens. They will offer some winter protection too.  Here are some other leafy ideas.
  • Cut back annuals if you have not done so yet. Or leave the sturdier ones such as sunflowers and amaranths since they make lovely perches for song birds. Not everything needs to be so tidy.

 

  •  Build a raised bed for next year
  • Weed and cut back perennial beds.
  • About all that food you diligently canned and froze all summer - start eating it!

  • Let us know what varieties worked well for you. You can contact us through this website.
  • If you want to make a new garden for 2013, now is a great time to mark it, remove the sod, and amend with compost.
  • Turn the compost pile.

 

  • Clean off tools, oil them, put them away neatly, and feel good about it all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  •  Store garlic and onions in a cool, dark, dry place.
  • Make a pot of potato leek soup.
  • Mulch your leeks and root crops, if you have some in the ground still, with straw, so that you can harvest them after frost comes.

  • Sit by the fire if you have one, light some candles if you don't, and enter the time of contemplation and restoration.

 

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.

Home orchard, here I come.

Last Saturday, we were lucky to have a visit from Charlie Nardozzi, garden educator, author, TV and radio personality, and garden coach. He provided us with two hours of entertaining and information packed advice on growing fruit at home - a project which can feel like a daunting commitment, but which he explained so clearly, that it felt like a task we must all embrace...right now. I have to admit, I have been living in the same house for 6 years and have yet to plant much in terms of fruit trees. I keep studying my property and imagining where the trees would go, but every year, another chance passes and my trepidation leaves me fruitless yet again. I have planted a few blueberry bushes and raspberries and currants far from the house, but no trees save for one orphaned plum tree a couple of years ago. Growing fruit trees always seemed like more work and maintenance than I have time for, but after learning some of Charlie's simple strategies, I feel armed and prepared. Here are a few of the general tips Charlie shared with us.....

  • Trees are grafted, unless you dig them up out of the woods. Which is not a good idea, since you would be getting something not bred for fruit production and possibly disease laden. Trees are grafted in order to provide strong root stock in combination with a "top" that is bred primarily for eating quality. In addition, apple trees are often grafted onto a "dwarfing" root stock which will keep the tree from towering above you, fruit out of reach.  When planting, look for what is called the "graft union" - it is a slight bulge at the base of the trunk where the root stock and the top meet. This union should be about 1" above the soil line once planted. If you plant it too deeply, you may trigger the root stock to take over the top growth and this would not provide you with the best eating fruit.
  • At planting time, use only the native soil in the planting hole. Dig the hole so that it is 2 to 3 times wider than the tree's container or root ball. Do not go deeper than the container or you risk planting the tree too deeply.  If you add compost to the planting hole, the roots will never have to reach out and search for food in the native soil and the tree's root system will never develop fully.
  • When purchasing a tree, look for even lateral branching (called "scaffolding").
  • The first two years of a fruit tree's life are the non-bearing years. It is important that the tree puts its energy into being strong and vigorous, not into making fruit. So, sadly enough, you must pick off the blossoms so that fruit does not form.  This difficult task will reward you with bigger and better fruit on a healthy tree in years to come. After Charlie's talk, I dutifully went home and stripped my plum tree of its recently formed flowers.
  • Spacing of trees is equal to their height. In other words, if a tree is going to be 15' tall, you need to plant it 15' from its closest neighbor.
  • Pitted fruits like plums, cherries, peaches, and apricots do not do as well on clay as apples and pears do.  If you are like me, and live in a clay pit, look for the best drained site and consider digging some trenches to direct the water away from the orchard.
  • Amend the soil by layering in compost and other nutrients on the soil surface (not right up against the trunk though) after planting. This should include compost, some additional nutrients based on soil test results, woodchips from hard woods (which promote beneficial fungal activity), and a little woodash (only about 1 cup per tree).  Vermont Compost Company's Perennial Blend is a perfect material for mulching around the base of the fruit trees. It includes compost, micro-nutrients, macro-nutrients (NPK), and an extra shot of bark, which is high in lignans and which promote the beneficial fungal activity trees love.
  • A north facing slope is the best spot for a home orchard - it heats up a little later in the spring and keeps the trees a dormant a little longer. This delays bud formation which lowers the risk of a frost zapping those early flowers.  A north facing slope also has good air circulation and frost tends to blow away before settling into a valley or dip.
  • Fruit trees are best planted in pairs, and their planting partner should be a different variety or cultivar. This diversity leads to better pollination which equals more fruit formation.  For example, a Liberty apple, should be planted near a Honeycrisp, or a  Parker pear should be planted with a Summercrisp pear.

I think I will try a few cherry trees and  pears  this year. I have a spot picked out, on the north facing slope outside our kitchen window. And maybe once those are in, I will start to imagine some blueberries and raspberries nearby....closer to the house than the ones I planted when we first moved here.  One thing I am glad about....my years of procrastination with the back yard means that I have a blank slate and the home orchard can be very close to the house; it will be landscape and larder, all in one.

 

What to plant now?

Given that our spring has been pretty mild over all, many gardeners are eager to get in the garden and plant a little earlier than normal. While the temptation is huge, it is also a good idea to remember that a hard frost can still come anytime in the next month or so and the ground is not all that warm. So what can go in the ground now? Lots of cold hardy vegetables and herbs are ready to go including onions, broccoli, cabbages, kales, mustards, boc choi, and more. It is best to harden off the plants for a few days before transplanting them - this means letting them get used to the cold, the wind, and the direct sunlight. Most of our plants will come to you already hardened off, but other nurseries may not take care to do that, so it is best to do it yourself. You can also use some row cover to create a small micro-climate for the young plants. We use hoops made out of 9-gauge wire to hold up the fabric off of the plants. This will give the plants a breathable, water permeable house to grow under during their initial weeks in the garden. The growth rate will be about double the rate of plants grown without row cover.

You can read more about hardening off  here.

Another great thing to plant now are crops you direct seed and that can germinate in cold conditions - spinach, carrots, beets, turnips, radishes, scallions, peas, and fava beans.

If you have a spot in your garden that you are not going to use this year, you might want to consider spreading some cover crop seed. this will help ensure that the soil is fed during it's fallow period. The cover crop is essentially plants that are grown just for the soil's on going health. For cold weather sowing, you might want to try a cow pea and vetch mixture or oats or an annual clover .  This will smother out weeds and add lots of organic matter to your garden.

FAQ #20: Do I have enough sunlight for this plant?

First you need to determine if you have full sun, partial sun, or full shade in the area you are considering. The best way to do this is to spend a day at home and note which areas come into sun and when, and when they are in shade again. Do this in spring when you have a realistic amount of sunlight, not in summer when the day is longest. Full sun means at least 6, but preferably 8 hours of direct sun each day. Sun loving plants can usually survive with less but will not bloom as much. Part sun and part shade plants prefer 3-6 hours of direct sunlight per day; however part sun plants can usually take more heat than part shade plants, which will want relief from strong afternoon sun. Full shade means zero to 3 hours of direct sunlight. These plants do NOT want total darkness but rather filtered, or indirect light, such as that provided by a deciduous forest.

FAQ #8: How much/often do I need to compost?

If your garden soil is naturally rich in organic matter, an inch or so of compost at the beginning of the season and again in midsummer is probably plenty. If you have very sandy or nutrient-depleted soil, provide as much compost as possible - several inches at the beginning of the season, a few handfuls for each plant at transplanting time, and a thick re-application in midsummer. If you have very poor soil it is also a good idea to rotate the growing area and grow nitrogen-fixing cover crops to increase the organic matter and nutrient content of the soil. The best way to determine your nutrient needs is to do a soil test. Soil can be tested using  a simple test from the garden garden center, but a professional soil test will provide more detailed information and recommendations for amendments. Soil samples can be sent to UVM Extension for soil testing for about $14. Find out more about soil testing here.

The Kitchen Garden: Abundant Harvest in Small Spaces

The following is a hand out that accompanied a workshop I presented at the NOFA conference Feb 12, 2012. -Julie

 

An abundant harvest in a small space can seem like a challenge, but by understanding a few concepts, you can make the most of your small garden so that it meets your needs and brings you joy. Observing plants is the best way to develop garden awareness; making good choices is the best way to avoid “garden guilt.” Abundant harvests have to do with efficiency:

  • The efficiency of the plant taking up nutrients
  • The efficiency of the amount of time it takes for the plant to mature.
  • The efficiency of minimized waste.
  • The efficiency of using your space to its maximum potential.

These are not hard and fast rules, but can be applied at your discretion in any area of the garden you would like to improve. These ideas can work for the spontaneous or lazy gardener (like me) or for the hyper-planner who maps it all out on graph paper ahead of time (like my neighbor). Think of it as cooking without a recipe - once you know a few techniques and concepts, you can explore and have decent results most of the time. And there is no such thing as garden failure - it is just a lesson waiting to be learned. The big factors:

  • Soil - texture, nutrients, compost, fertilizer
  • Shape - raised bed, containers, or “in ground”, bed prep
  • Water - drip, overhead, by hand, on timers, etc
  • Cultivation - weeds, mulching,  pests and diseases, season extension, spacing and timing, succession planting, shape of plants
  • Harvest - understanding life cycle of plants, post-harvest handling, when to try for multiple harvest or when to cut your losses, cleaning up plant debris.

Soil should be loose and rich and deep.  In a container it should be a pre-mixed potting soil, not garden soil. If the container is large (1 gallon or more) it should have some drainage material in the bottom. Many things work well for this - styrofoam packing peanuts, crushed up plastic pots, gravel, etc. If a pot is very lare (3 gallons or more) the drainage material can be a little deeper, up to the bottom third of the pot. It is a good idea to cover the drainage material with a piece of burlap, an old pillow case, or some other type of screen or fabric to keep the soil from washing down into the material that should remain porous.

In a raised bed, it can be a combination of materials including pre-made finished compost, leaf mold (rotted leaves - make a pile in the fall, it’s good to go in the bottom of the raised bed in the spring), peat moss, rotted manure/bedding (a good source is horse farms), garden soil,  sand and pre-mixed top soil / compost combinations. The key is to have a mixture of ingredients to re-create the complexity of a living soil system.

In the garden, the soil should be worked deeply with a 4 or 5 pronged fork, and loosed by hand or with a hoe. Even if you use a rototiller in the garden, the plants will benefit from having the soil loosened more deeply than where the rototiller tines reach. It is a good idea to shovel out the paths of the garden and put the extra soil onto the beds. This essentially makes a raised bed and will allow the roots to grow quickly and deeply in their search for food. Nutrients can come from compost, granular fertilizer, “Compost Plus” and/or  mineral inputs. It is a good idea to get a soil test in your in-ground garden or raised bed. If you are using materials in the raised bed that you know are of good quality, you can skip this, but if your plants look deficient during the growing months, you may opt to do a test after all.  Applying granular fertilizer or “Compost Plus” is best done after the plants have had a chance to grow out - either a month or so after seeding or two weeks or so after transplanting. Water is best done through drip irrigation - either soaker hoses or drip tape. A good source of drip tape is Dripworks. Next best watering choice is by hand since you can aim the hose nozzle at the soil, and not get the foliage wet. Third best choice (and not a good one, sorry) is overhead sprinklers: they require less of your time and labor, but they get the foliage wet. Two reasons to avoid getting the foliage wet with overhead irrigation (sprinklers and incorrect hand watering):

  1. it rots the plants, and disease can set in. Dry plants tend to be healthier plants.
  2. the plants take up water with their roots, not their leaves. You waste a lot of water and the leaves act as a nice umbrella for the roots, making it wasteful. You have to water more than necessary for the roots to actually start drinking. Getting the plants wet and watering the garden are two different things, and it is best not to confuse them.

Watering is best done in the morning - it gives the plants a chance to dry off before night time and supports their busy daytime growth. Watering at the end of the day is not recommended since disease spreads most during humid summer nights.  You can water the garden during the middle of the day, and the plants will still have time to dry off by sunset. Cultivation is simply the act of caring for plants. In larger scale farming, to “cultivate” means to scuff up the soil in such a way that you are removing weeds, usually involving a tractor and some sort of implement. Here we use the term “cultivate” in a broader sense meaning a general discussion of the cultural requirements of common garden plants. The “cultural requirements” of a plant are all the things that a plant needs from humans in order to thrive. For example, the site, the water, the tilth or texture of the soil, the space and  the nutrients are all a part of a plant’s cultural needs. To understand what a plant needs, you have to look at these factors:

  1. what is it’s shape? Shape of plants, physiological structure, and type of cells that make up the roots and the foliage all give you clues to what the plant needs. Thin fibrous roots dry out more than thick, tuberous roots (think of an onion plant vs. a tomato plant). Waxy, shiny leaves are more drought tolerant than matte, thin leaves (think of a succulent like aloe vs.a leafy plant like lettuce). Large plants with broad leaves have very different requirements than skinny tall plants (think brcocolli vs onion). The canopy a plant creates is also a clue - plants with a small canopy (onions, celery, leeks) do not cast much of a shadow. This makes them very vulnerable to weeds. Plants that create a large canopy (squashes, cabbages, broccoli, eggplant) cast a large shadow which slows down weed growth. Understanding the shape or growth habit of a plant also helps you maximize the potential of your small garden.
    1. A tall, vining plant can be trellised.
    2. A low growing, sprawling plant can be planted on the edge where it spills onto a lawn.
    3. A tall, skinny plant can be tucked into tight spots.
    4. A pretty, decorative plant can be planted in the flower bed.
  2. how hungry is it? Plants that need a lot of fertility are often referred to as “heavy feeders”. One common point amongst most heavy feeders is their life span. A baby lettuce plant that is in the ground for 20 days is going to be a light feeder. A giant, prize winning pumpkin in the ground for 130 days is going to be a heavy feeder. Plants that produce fruit such as tomatoes, zucchini, squash, peppers and eggplant are best fed when in a vegetative state (all green leaf growth, earlier in the first 45 days of transplanting); once those plants are in their fruiting state, it is best to lay off the fertilizer or compost which support green growth, not fruit growth. The plant has only so much energy, and if it is putting it into leaf growth, it won’t also put it into fruit growth. It is a balancing act since the green growth needs to happen quickly and in a lush manner in the earlier part of the season in order to support healthy fruiting in the latter part of the season.
  3. how thirsty is it? As in the discussion of shape, a plant’s water needs have to do with its structure, but also with weather and soil type. A garden in sandy soil will always need more water than a garden in clay soils. You can look for cues of thirstiness in a plant and water just as needed. These clues include very slight curling of leaves, a blue-like hue that creeps in (this is very sublte), or a very subtle droop in the way flowers are angled. This type of “reading the garden” takes some observation to understand, but gardening is a lifetime project with countless places to learn. Fruiting vegetables tend to taste better with less water. Leafy vegetables tend to taste better with more water. It is entirely possible to water tomatoes only once every two weeks, even in a drought, and get very tasty fruit. If you did that with lettuce, it would be bitter at best, but more likely it would simply be dead.
  4. how well does it share? A plant that knows how to share light, water, and nutrients with its neighbors is a plant that does well in small spaces. Radishes are a good example. They can be sown alongside just about any other crop, and they do quite well because of their short life span, lower light requirements, and broader leaves that shade out weeds. Radishes can share. Other examples of plants that cooperate nicely: arugula, baby lettuce, scallions (they are skinny and can go in nooks), cilantro, curly parsley or smaller varieties of Italian parsley, strawberries and wild strawberries, and pansies. Notice....with the exception of scallions, all these plants are low growing, have broad leaves that create a canopy that shades out weeds, and can tolerate a bit of shade that might be thrown by a neighboring canopy.
  5. how well does it compete? Plants that compete well are plants that are not easily thwarted by dry conditions, weedy conditions, temperature extremes, or low nutrition. You can always increase your harvest and increase your efficiency by knowing which plants have these characteristics. It basically allows you to prioritize garden tasks -you can make the less competitive plants a priority, and save the more tolerant, tough plants for a day when you have a little more time.  Working smarter in the garden can increase the harvest, and save you some “garden guilt”, just by knowing when to say “it’s okay if that is weedy, it can wait until the weekend.”

Succession planting is another way to increase your yields. This is the act of planting multiple generations of plants so that you have a continuous harvest. The trick with succession planting is to know a few numbers

  1. the date of the average last frost in spring
  2. the date of the average  first frost in fall
  3. the amount of time it takes for a plant to be harvestable (a.k.a. “days to maturity)

and two cultural factors:

  1. is the crop frost tolerant or not?
  2. is it a “multiple harvest” crop or a one time harvest?

Once you know these numbers and the frost tolerance of a plant, you can make some simple calculations based on your season length to determine how many generations of a particular plant you can grow. For example, head lettuce has about a 40 day life cycle from transplant time to harvest time, and it can tolerate a light frost. This means you can start transplanting it in early May (in Burlington, average last frost is last week of May)  or so, and you can repeat the planting of it every week or so, until early September. (in Burlington, average first frost is first week of October). Head lettuce is something you harvest only once, so if you want a nice head of lettuce every two days or so, you would plant 4 heads of lettuce a week, every week from early May to early September. This will give you a continuous harvest from early June until mid-October. If you are the kind of gardener who “puts in the garden” on Memorial Day and then you never replant, it is likely that you have a big glut of produce at certain times, and then none that is fresh and good at other times. By planting multiple generations of plants, you insure high yields and great flavor. A patch of bush green beans only produces good quality beans for about 2 to 3 weeks. After a while, the beans are tough and sparse on the plant. If you replant a new patch every couple of weeks, you will always have high-yielding, tasty beans. Abundant harvest happen on healthy plants at their prime, and gardens in small spaces require a certain amount of decision making. You always have a choice to pull out tired plants and to replant with new seeds or plants - this is often the most efficient way to have better yields. Mulch is a great way to keep weeds at bay, and to keep moisture near the root zone. It can also build soils, heat the soil, or cool the soil - all depending on your goal and what the plant needs. You can mulch paths and/or growing beds. Raised beds that are constructed out of wood can also be mulched and the paths around the raised beds can be mulched to minimize lawn mowing if you would like. If you use materials that naturally break down such as paper, cardboard, burlap bags, straw or bark, the mulched paths can become mini compost piles. By layering in materials that block out weeds, you are creating a layer of organic matter that will decompose over the course of a year and can then be shovelled onto the growing beds the following spring. Some mulch materials carry weed seeds so beware. They can still be used effectively in the garden, but best as a layer that is covered up with another barrier such as cardboard or burlap. As it breaks down and heats up over time, the weed seeds lose their viability and will not be a problem the following year. Plastic mulches heat the soil and are great for the heat-loving, fruiting crops. Harvest and post-harvest handling are other factors that affect the yield in your garden. Being able to plan or predict when you harvest a crop depends on your knowing the life cycle or days to maturity of that crop. It is entirely possible, to plan a garden harvest around certain dates or to plan for having no harvest during vacation times. An abundant harvest is one that happens when you want it. An unwanted harvest is a hassle - you have to get your neighbors to help, or find volunteers for a school garden, etc. Sometimes that works, but it is possible to minimize unwanted work, and under-appreciated produce by timing the plantings and knowing how much to plant of each crop. There are many charts on the internet that can help you gauge the garden harvest and how much to plant of each crop and when. Johnny’s Selected Seeds has some wonderful on-line tools, as does our own Red Wagon Plants website. Post-harvest handling includes everything from time of day you harvest, how you pack it into your basket or boxes, and how you store it. Morning is generally the best time to harvest since the field heat has not had too much time to affect the leafy green plants. Fruiting plants can be harvest later in the day. Again, this is a place where you can make a choice by harvesting the right plant at the right time of day. If you only have a few minutes to harvest in the morning, do the leafy greens. The fruiting plants can usually wait until later in the day or even a couple of days. Once a plant is cut or picked, it is best to wash it and refrigerate it right away. Again, this is related to an abundant harvest because anything that improves quality reduces waste. Lettuce that is wilted and dirty in the bottom of the fridge drawer is just not as appealing as lettuce that is crisp, clean and ready to eat. A small garden is not a productive garden if what you harvest ends up under-utilized. A good trick is to harvest the lettuce, and when you get in the house, soak it in a basin or large bowl of cold water right away. This takes out the field heat, the leaves absorb some water making them more crisp, and the dirt drops down to the bottom. Lift the leaves out, re-soak once or twice depending on the amount of dirt, and then spin the leaves in a lettuce spinner or by layering between some clean towels. Lettuce treated this way is sure to get eaten, promise! Plants like broccoli, beans, and tomatoes produce more the more they are harvested. Broccoli will generally make one big head, and then produce what is called side shoots all summer long. These shoots are the perfect size for cooking or eating raw and the more you remember to cut them, the more the plant will produce. Often a broccoli plant that goes into the garden in late April will continue to produce side shoots into mid-December - talk about a high yield! Most fruiting plants (tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, peppers and eggplant) will also produce more the more they are picked. These do not need immediate refrigeration, and tomatoes and basil should never go in the fridge. A basket full of cukes and zukes can stay on the counter until a time later in the day when you have had a chance to make room in the fridge or have time to make pickles,etc. Again, a high yield can be a burden or a blessing, depending on how it fits into your life. With a little planning, a very small garden such as a 4’ x 8’ raised bed can include 2 tomato plants, a cucumber plant and a season’s worth of greens. This is often plenty for a single person or a couple. Abundant harvesting is about making choices that lead to efficiency and no waste., beauty and no guilt.  If you use your minimal space for vegetables that you will not use, then the space is wasted, if instead that small space is regularly turned over with fresh plants, and old plants are removed, then you will have a high yield of well loved produce. It is always a better choice to remove the garden debris (think bolted lettuce, cabbage stumps, woody radishes) than to let it limp along, tempting disease and pests.

Some good sources of information

  • Our website has an extensive list of resources in the “Garden Journal”
  • Johnny’s Selected Seeds, High Mowing Seeds, Territorial Seeds, Seed Savers Exchange and Botanical Interests are all reputable seed companies with lots of educational materials on their websites and in their catalogs. These are great sources of free information.
  • Cornell Extension has a website for home gardeners that is very helpful
  • Elliot Coleman’s books are geared towards vegetable farmers but have very clear explanations of succession planting, timing and spacing
  • Barbara Damrosch, The Garden Primer is my favorite all around basic gardening book
  • UVM Extension offers soil tests, a plant pathology lab, and a pest identification lab
  • Burlington Permaculture
  • Charlie Nardozzi offers a garden coaching program and gives weekly talks on VPR about gardening.
  • Friends of Burlington Gardens offers support to school gardens, community gardeners, and anyone interested in learning how to grow food. They offer a season long course at Ethan Allen Homestead that provides brand new gardeners all the support necessary to achieve success in their first year.

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New Plants for the 2012 Line Up

We have been busy at work with ordering seeds, deciding on what plants to grow for the coming year, and which ones to discontinue. We usually add about 10% new varieties each year - enough to keep it interesting, but not so much that we risk having bad inventory or unwanted expenses for a plant no one loves. This is really, really hard since the seed catalogs and plug listings each year show more and more varieties that look tempting. Not to mention the world of heirloom seeds which is so vast and so alluringly historic and charming. If the pressures of pleasing customers and breaking even were eliminated, I would probably have the type of nursery where every plant has a sign that is 12" x 12" with lots of text describing some arcane knowledge about how the variety was bred or discovered, how it was cooked in 15th century Sicily and  how it came to be a Red Wagon variety. My winter job at Red Wagon is part business manager, part HR department, and part curator. Guess which is my favorite. Take a look at the list of new plants and give us some feedback. Our favorite new variety is the kind that comes by way of a customer recommendation, so you get a vote in this process.

Happy garden planning, and check out the rest of the website for the complete plant list, we are updating it this week,

Julie

Plant Category Genus Variety or Cultivar
Annuals African Foxglove Ceratotheca triloba
Annuals Amaranth Oeschberg
Annuals Angelonia Adessa White
Annuals Balsam Impatiens Balsamina
Annuals Begonia, Tuberous Illumination Peaches and Cream
Annuals Begonia, Tuberous Non-Stop, Bright Rose
Annuals Begonia, Tuberous Pin Up Flame
Annuals Browalia Endless Flirtation
Annuals Browalia Endless Illumination
Annuals Calibrachoa Saffron
Annuals Calibrachoa Superbells Dreamsicle
Annuals Calibrachoa Superbells Peach
Annuals Calibrachoa Superbells Trailing White
Annuals Calibrachoa Tequilla Sunrise Improved
Annuals Calibrachoa Yellow
Annuals California Poppy Milkmaid
Annuals Celosia Chief Mixed Cockscomb
Annuals Celosia Cramers’ Amazon
Annuals Coleus Amora
Annuals Coleus Big Red Judy
Annuals Coleus Fishnet Stockings
Annuals coleus Glennis
Annuals Coleus Sedona
Annuals coleus Wedding Train
Annuals Cosmos Cosmic  Orange
Annuals Cosmos Cosmic Mix
Annuals Cosmos Cosmic Red
Annuals Cosmos New Choco
Annuals Cosmos Sonata Dwarf Mix
Annuals Cosmos Sonata White
Annuals Dahlia Happy Days Cream
Annuals Dahlia Happy Days Pink
Annuals Dahlia Happy Days Purple
Annuals Dahlia Happy Mystic enchantment
Annuals Dahlia Mystic Haze
Annuals Dahlia Mystic Wonder
Annuals Dahlia Salvador
Annuals Dusty Miller Silver Lace
Annuals Euphorbia Mountain Snow
Annuals Exclusively  Echeveriaa Collection
Annuals Fern Montana
Annuals Fern Collection
Annuals Floering Cabbage Osaka Mix
Annuals Four Oclock Marvel of Peru
Annuals Gaura lindiheimeri Whirling Butterflies
Annuals Gazania New Day Mix
Annuals Geranium Firestar Purple
Annuals Geranium Firestar Salmon
Annuals Geranium, Ivy Mini Cascade Red
Annuals Geranium, Ivy Sunflair Fireball
Annuals Geranium, Ivy Sunflair Neon Pink
Annuals Geranium, Ivy Sybil Holmes
Annuals Geranium, Ivy Vancouver Centennial
Annuals Geranium, Scented Lemon Fizz
Annuals Geranium, Scented P. querquifolia
Annuals Geranium, Scented Sweet Mimosa
Annuals Geranium, Zonal Brocade Happy Thoughts Red
Annuals Geranium, Zonal Brocade, Mrs Pollock
Annuals Geranium, Zonal Candy Fantasy Kiss
Annuals Geranium, Zonal Madame Salleron
Annuals Geranium, Zonal Patriot Cherry Rose
Annuals Geranium, Zonal Patriot Lavender Blue
Annuals Geranium, Zonal Patriot Salmon Chic
Annuals Geranium, Zonal Pillar Purple
Annuals Geranium, Zonal Rocky Mountain Lavender
Annuals Geranium, Zonal Rocky Mountain Magenta
Annuals Gomphrena QIS Formula Mix
Annuals Hedera Golden Child
Annuals Hedera White Mein Hertz
Annuals Hypoestes Splash Rose Select
Annuals Impatiens Super Elfin Salmon Splash
Annuals Impatiens Super Elfin XP pink
Annuals Ipomoea Desana Bronze
Annuals Juncus Blue Arrows
Annuals Juncus spiralis Unicorn
Annuals Kiss Me Over the Garden Gate
Annuals Lantana Evita Rose
Annuals Lantana Bandana Cherry Sunrise
Annuals Lantana Bandana Rose Improved
Annuals Lantana - bandana Peach
Annuals Larkspur Sublime Formula Mix
Annuals Leycesteria Jealousy
Annuals Licorice Lemon
Annuals Lisianthus Echo Lavender
Annuals Lisianthus Echo Pink
Annuals Lobularia Silver Stream
Annuals Marigold Antigua Orange
Annuals Marigold Antigua Yellow
Annuals Marigold French Janie Primrose Yellow
Annuals Marigold French Single Marietta
Annuals Marigold, French Durango Tangerine
Annuals Melampodium Derby
Annuals Morning Glory Grandpa Ott’s
Annuals Morning Glory Moonflower
Annuals Nasturtium Trailing
Annuals Nemesia Angelart Almond
Annuals Nemesia Angelart Pineapple
Annuals Ornamental Corn Field of Dreams
Annuals Ornamental Millet Purple Majesty
Annuals Osteospermum 3-D Silver
Annuals Osteospermum Astra Orange Sunrise
Annuals Osteospermum Cape Daisy Fireburst
Annuals Osteospermum Cape Daisy Purple
Annuals Osteospermum Sunset Orange
Annuals Osteospermum Zion Copper Amethyst
Annuals Oxalis Allure Burgundy
Annuals oxalis triangularis Charmed Velvet
Annuals oxalis triangularis Charmed WIne
Annuals Pansy Delta Mix Buttered Popcorn
Annuals Pansy Delta Premium True Blue
Annuals Pansy Freefall Golden Yellow
Annuals Pansy Matrix Sangria
Annuals Pansy Panola XP Mix baby Boy
Annuals Pansy Panola XP Mix Blackberry Sundae
Annuals Pansy Panola XP Mix Citrus
Annuals Pansy Ultima Blue Chill
Annuals Pansy Ultima Morpho
Annuals Petunia Bouquet Salmon
Annuals Petunia Littletunia Sweet Sherbert
Annuals Petunia Mini Strawberry pink veined
Annuals Petunia Whispers Star Rose
Annuals Petunia Cascadias Cherry Spark
Annuals Petunia Littletunia Sweet Dark Pink
Annuals petunia multiflora prostrate Easy Wave Plum Vein
Annuals Petunia multiflora prostrate Easy Wave White
Annuals Poppy White Linen
Annuals Portulaca Happy Hour Mix
Annuals Portulaca Sundial Chiffon
Annuals Portulaca Sundial Mix
Annuals Portulaca Sundial Pink
Annuals Rudbeckia Autumn Colors
Annuals Rudbeckia Cherokee Sunset
Annuals Rudbeckia Prairie Sun
Annuals Rudbeckia Denver Daisy
Annuals Salvia farinacea Victoria Blue
Annuals Sanvitalia Cuzco Yellow
Annuals Scabiosa Black Knight
Annuals Snapdragon Montego Mix Sangria
Annuals Snapdragon Rocket Mix
Annuals Snapdragon Rocket White
Annuals Spectacular Succulent Collection
Annuals Sunflower Sunny Smile
Annuals Sweet Potato Vine Bright Ideas Rusty Red
Annuals Thunbergia Arizona Dark Red
Annuals Thunbergia Lemon
Annuals Thunbergia Orange
Annuals Thunbergia Sunny Suzie Yellow Dark Eye
Annuals Thunbergia Sunny Suzy Red Orange
Annuals TRIXI COMBO Ayers Rock
Annuals TRIXI COMBO Caribean Cocktail
Annuals TRIXI COMBO Gold and Bold
Annuals TRIXI COMBO Lemon Sorbet
Annuals TRIXI COMBO Lollipop
Annuals TRIXI COMBO Sunrise
Annuals Verbena Chambray Royal superbena
Annuals Verbena Estrella Salmon Star
Annuals Verbena Lanai Twister pink
Annuals Verbena Royal Peachy Keen
Annuals Verbena Tukana Scarlet star
Annuals Viola Penny Orchid Frost
Annuals Zinnia Dreamland Mix
Annuals Zinnia Dreamland Red
Annuals Zinnia Sunbow Mix
Annuals Zinnia White
Eggplants Globe Rosa Bianca
Ferns Matteuccia struthiopteris Ostrich Fern
Foliage Alternanthera Brazilian Red Hot
Foliage Alternanthera Red Thread
Foliage German Ivy Green
Foliage Muehlenbeckia Wire Vine
Foliage Setcreasea Purple Queen
Herbs Basil Amethyst Improved
Herbs Basil Sacred, Tulsi
Herbs Basil Sweet Genovese, Aroma II
Herbs Basil Sweet Genovese, Aton
Herbs Bee Balm Wild Bergamot
Herbs Epazote
Herbs Feverfew
Herbs Flax
Herbs French Sorrel
Herbs Lavender Fern Leaf
Herbs Lemongrass West Indian
Herbs Mint Emerald and Gold
Herbs Oregano Mexican Lippia
Herbs Papalo
Herbs Red Shiso Britton
Herbs Red Shiso
Herbs Rosemary Prostrate
Herbs Sage White
Herbs Thyme Lime Golden
Herbs Thyme Orange
Herbs Thyme Wooly
Herbs Zaatar Marjoram
Peppers Hot Fish
Peppers Ornamental Hot Pepper Chilly Chilly
Peppers Sweet Pepperoncino
Peppers Sweet Round of Hungary
Peppers Sweet Sweet Banana Pepper
Perennial Adenophora Amethyst
Perennial Alchemilla Lady’s Mantle
Perennial Sedum Blue Spruce
Perennial Sedum Floriferum
Perennial Sedum Oracle
Perennial Sedum Picolette
Perennial Sedum Voodoo
Perennial Thyme Wooly
Perennials Achillea Pretty Belinda
Perennials Achillea Saucy Seduction
Perennials Achillea Strawberry Seduction
Perennials Achillea Sunny Seduction
Perennials Achillea millefolium Colorado
Perennials Acorus ‘Ogon’
Perennials ajuga Dixie Chip
Perennials Alcea rosea Chaters Double Purple
Perennials Alchemilla Molis Lady’s Mantle
Perennials Anemone sylvestris
Perennials Aquigelia Cameo Rose and White
Perennials Aquigelia Origami Mix
Perennials Artemesia Silver Brocade
Perennials Astilbe Delft Lace
Perennials Astilbe Deutschland
Perennials Astilbe Fanal
Perennials Baptisia Solar Flare Prairie Blues
Perennials Bellis Daisy Bellissima Rose
Perennials Bergenia cordifolia ‘Winter Glow’
Perennials Campanula glomerata ‘Freya’
Perennials Centranthus Cocineus
Perennials Chrysanthemum Samba
Perennials Coreopsis verticullata Early Sunrise
Perennials corydalis sempervirens
Perennials Delphinium Magic Fountains Dark Blue w Dark Bee
Perennials Delphinium Magic Fountains Sky Blue w White Base
Perennials dianthus Pomegranate Kiss
Perennials dianthus Zing Rose
Perennials Dicentra Gold Heart
Perennials Echinacea Harvest Moon
Perennials Echinacea PowWow Wild Berry
Perennials Echinacea Sundown
Perennials Eupatorium dubium ‘little joe’
Perennials Fern Barne’s Male
Perennials Gaillardia aristata Arizona Sun
Perennials geranium Rozanne
Perennials Geranium cantabrigiense ‘Bergarten’
Perennials Geranium macrorrhizum ‘Album’
Perennials Geranium maculatum ‘Espresso’
Perennials Guara Pink Fountain
Perennials Helleborus Pink Parachutes
Perennials Hemerocallis Alabama Jubilee daylily
Perennials Hemerocallis Always Afternoon
Perennials Heuchera ‘Snow Angel’
Perennials Heuchera Obsidian
Perennials Heuchera Plum Pudding
Perennials Heuchera Raspberry Regal
Perennials Heuchera Silver Scrolls
Perennials Hibiscus Luna Red
Perennials Iberis sempervivens Snowflake
Perennials Iris ‘Before the Storm’
Perennials Iris pallida ‘Argentea Variegata’
Perennials Iris sibirica Pink Haze
Perennials Joe Pye Weed
Perennials Juncus effusus ssp. Twister
Perennials laminum Beacon Silver
Perennials Lamium Orchid Frost
Perennials Lamium maculatum Beacon Silver
perennials Lathyrus latifolia Perennial sweet pea
Perennials Liatris Floristan White
Perennials Ligularia dentata Britt-Marie Crawford
Perennials Ligularia dentata Little Rocket
Perennials Lychnis arkwrightii Orange Gnome
Perennials Lysimachia punctata ‘Alexander’
Perennials monarda Petite Delight
Perennials monarda Purple Rooster
Perennials monarda Raspberry Wine
Perennials monarda didyma Jacob Cline
Perennials myosotis sylvatica Royal Blue Carpet
Perennials paeonia Duchess de Nemours
Perennials paeonia Felix Crousse
Perennials Papaver Flamenco Dancer
Perennials Penstemon digitalis Dark Towers
Perennials Perovskia Longin
Perennials Persicaria Darjeeling Red
Perennials Phlox glabberima ‘Morris Red’
Perennials Phlox paniculata David
Perennials Phlox paniculata David’s Lavender
Perennials Phlox paniculata Flame series purple ‘Barfourteen’
Perennials Physostegia Pink Manners
perennials Physostegia virginiana Alba
Perennials Phystostegia Crown of Snow
Perennials Primula Ronsdorf Strain
Perennials Salvia Caradonna
Perennials Salvia Sweet 16
Perennials Scabiosa Beaujolais Bonnets
Perennials Scabiosa Vivid Violet
Perennials Sedum Autumn FIre
Perennials Sedum Matrona
Perennials Sedum Neon
Perennials sedum kamtschaticum
Perennials sedum sieboldii
Perennials Sedum spurium Summer Glory
Perennials Tanacetum Robinsons Red
Perennials Tiarella ‘Delaware’
Perennials Tiarella ‘Lace Carpet’
Perennials Tiarella ‘Susquehanna’
Perennials Trollius chinensis Golden Queen
Perennials Veronica Giles van Hees
Perennials Viola Labradorica
Perennials Viola Striata
Perennials Salvia aregentea Artemis
Shrub Hydrangea macrophylla Endless Summer
Shrub Hydrangea paniculata Limelight
Shrub Amelanchier Autumn Brilliance Service Berry
Shrub Ilex verticulata Southern Gentleman
Shrub Ilex verticulata Winter Red
Shrub Viburnum Trilobum Alfredo
Small Fruit Blackberry Black Satin
Small Fruit Gooseberry Titan
Small Fruit Strawberry Jewel
Small Fruit Strawberry Sparkle
Tomatoes Cherry Gold Nugget
Tomatoes Cherry Green Envy
Tomatoes Cherry Isis Candy
Tomatoes Cherry Lizzano
Tomatoes Cherry Sweet Treats
Tomatoes Cherry Terenzo
Tomatoes Cherry Sweet Black Cherry
Tomatoes Container Red Husky (Patio)
Tomatoes Determinate Orange Blossom
Tomatoes Determinate Oregon Spring
Tomatoes Heirloom Black Prince
Tomatoes Heirloom Cosmonaut Volkov
Tomatoes Heirloom Costoluto Genovese
Tomatoes Heirloom Dona
Tomatoes Heirloom Earl of Edgecombe
Tomatoes Heirloom Paul Robeson
Tomatoes Heirloom Pineapple
Tomatoes Heirloom Wapsipinicon Peach
Tomatoes Hybrid Brandymaster Yellow
Tomatoes Hybrid Park’s Whopper
Tomatoes Paste Amish Gold
Tomatoes Plum San Marzano gigante III
Vegetables cantaloupe Sarah’s Choice
Vegetables Cantaloupe, French Charentais Savor
Vegetables Italian Dandelion Clio Chicory
Vegetables Lettuce Mottistone
Vegetables Lettuce Nevada Summer Crisp
Vegetables Lettuce Red Batavian Cherokee
Vegetables Lettuce Red Cross - Red Butterhead
Vegetables Lettuce Red Oak Paradai
Vegetables Mei Qing Choi (Baby Boc Choi) Boc Choi
Vegetables Mustard Greens Ruby Streaks
Vegetables Okra Millionaire
Vegetables Onion Mini Purplette
Vegetables Onion Redwing
Vegetables Radicchio Virtus
Vegetables Summer Squash Magda
Vegetables Vertus Radicchio
Vegetables watermelon Sunshine

 

 

Frost Dates in Vermont - South Hero is the Winner!

Here is a great chart that analyses all the temperature data collected in Vermont over the years and gives us the probability of dates for first and last frosts around the state. South Hero and the lake Champlain Islands have Vermont's longest growing season (measured by number of frost-free days according to N.O.A.A).  Take a look and prepare your garden for those first frosty nights. Here is what I do at my house to prepare for those first frosts:

If it is a really early frost, (September in Hinesburg), I will harvest all the ripe fruit on the heat loving plants (squashes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, etc) and if the plants still look healthy and have lots of unripe fruit, I will cover the plants with row cover. You can use sheets, blankets, plastic sheeting, etc. If the frost is coming at a later point, I often won't bother with the plant protection - just harvest all the fruit (green tomatoes can ripen indoors) and call it a day!

I don't bother to protect lettuce unless the first frost is very cold and very early. Lettuce can handle a few light frosts, so it is usually not a problem early on. Later in the season, I set up some simple wire hoops and keep the lettuce under row cover for the remainder of the season. This allows fresh lettuce to be harvested for salads well into November. It is good idea to seed or plant fresh lettuce in late summer and early fall so that the protected plantings of fall are fresh and tender. It is not really worth it, from a culinary perspective, to keep old or bitter lettuce alive. Plus it won't do as well if it is past its prime and won't fend off the cold like a younger planting can.

Hardy greens like kale, mustard greens, collards, etc do not need row cover and can live, unprotected, into December. You can always put some sort of protection over them in November to increase the harvest period past December, but it can be difficult to do with the taller plants. The wind dessicates them and makes them unappealing, and without a larger structure like a cold frame or mini-greenhosue, it can be difficult to give them adequate shelter.

All these attempts at fall crop protection will leave you grateful for the sweet rewards of fresh salads, tomatoes coming out of the cellar ripened and tasty, and nutritious leafy greens sweetened by the kiss of cold.

Things to Plant Now. You Will be Glad You Did.

August is rolling around, thundering ahead,  and with it comes some vegetable planting possibilities that will feed you late into autumn and early winter. This is a great time to clean out some of the garden beds that have finished producing and replant them with some fresh crops for late season harvest. Here are a few options that you might want to consider incorporating into your later summer gardening routine.

Broccoli

- seed a small amount directly into garden beds, or buy transplants up to mid-August. If you are direct seeding into a garden bed, remember to thin or prick out and replant the broccoli babies so that they have proper spacing (15” or so).

Cabbage

- same as broccoli. Choose shorter day varieties. Seed packets usually list the days to maturity for all crops. In early August, you can usually get away with planting a 60 day cabbage that will be ready in early October.

Kale -

this is a great time to put in a few more kale plants or seeds, they will size up before snow flies, and will withstand lots of wintery weather. The good thing about kale, is that once it is full grown, it will just stand around in the garden waiting to be picked. It does not get “too old” or bolt (jump into seed production mode). This makes it a great early winter crop and a joy to harvest under snow fall. Collards can be treated this way as well. A note on flea beetles: It does not hurt to use row cover to speed things along and to keep out the flea beetles. They are little biting insects that make little holes in the leaves and generally slow down a plant’s growth by stressing it a bit. All vegetables in the brassica family are susceptible to flea beetles - broccoli, kale, cabbage, mustards, arugula, collard greens, and boc choi are all in this family.

Arugula -

a nice addition to salads, this tender green with a mustard-like flavor is also a great survivor of cold temperatures. It can withstand many hard frosts and will continue to add a little spike to your salads well into November and December. You can put row cover on it to keep away the flea beetles and to give it a little extra protection from cold winds that can dry it out. If it starts to turn a little purple in the colder temps, don’t worry about it, it is still fine to eat. This is just a symptom of not being able to absorb phosphorous in cold conditions.

Turnips

- a short season salad turnip can still be sown in August. I like the Hakurei variety from Johnny’s. It is delicious raw in salads, sliced thinly or finely diced, or sauteed in a little butter with fresh herbs (winter savory makes a special appearance at my house, often in this dish in particular). People who think they hate turnips will just be shocked when they taste these buttery slices that just melt in your mouth.

Spinach

- in the first half of August, it is a good idea to plant a large patch of spinach. It will germinate in the cooler night time temperatures (spinach does not like to germinate in the heat) and will last a long time in the field in the cool temperatures of October and early November.

Overwintered Spinach - overwintering means keeping a vegetable alive through the winter for spring harvesting and eating. Not all vegetables can survive our VT winters, but the few that can include spinach, parsnips, leeks, garlic, and parsley. Spinach for early spring eating (mid to late April) should be sown in the first two weeks of September. Once it germinates, allow it to grow without harvesting or touching it. You can eat a little if you want, but ideally you will leave as much of the plant in the ground as possible. Once very cold weather hits, in early to mid-December, you can protect the spinach under a layer of straw, or leaves, or a few layers of row cover. In the spring, as soon as the ground has thawed out, remove the layers of protection and you will see the spinach come to life, long before any other plants begin to stir. This is such a delicious treat for early spring and really worth the trouble. A future post will be just about overwintered vegetables, so if this is something you have been wanting to try in your garden, check back here in a few days!

Cilantro and Dill

are good herbs for fall planting since their cold-hardiness is unmatched, and it will give you something to add to autumn salsas, salads, and pickles. Just sprinkle some seed into a shallow trench, press them in, and lightly cover with soil. The planting depth is very shallow here, just 1/4 inch or so. One of the most common problems with crops seeded directly into garden soil, is that they get planted too deeply. Remember this basic rule of thumb: the seed needs to be planted only 2 times deeper than its own size. Cilantro and dill will live until the first snow! They thrive in the cold. They are true soldiers of season extension.

Let us know if you feel inspired to try your hand with some of this season extension - we love to hear about it!

Dirt

When the first delivery of potting soil comes to our greenhouses, I usually take a moment to stop what I am doing and just dig my hands in the dirt. This year, I have been a bit busier than normal, so I had to wait a few days to do it, but the feeling is the same. It means winter is winding down; that the seeds that are waiting patiently in the storage bins will have a springboard for their magical emergence; and that flowers, greenery, and fresh food will soon be in our lives again.

Winter used to be a difficult time for me, but I have learned to accept its slowness and constricting nature. I spend time outside as much as possible and try to rest; something about hitting 40 makes me understand the value of Doing Nothing more than I used to I suppose. But during those earlier years, when winter was more difficult for me, I always marked the first soil delivery on my calendar and that became the date towards which I would count all winter long. When that day finally came, Dennis, who delivers for VT Copmost Company would drive his truck into the barn and the big pile would spill out of the dump truck and I would wait politely for him to leave before taking off my boots and socks, pulling up pant legs and sleeves, and just dig into that fluffy warm pile.  A thawing takes place, a deep, deep thawing, and gratitude just settles in.

This Might Be One of the Most Dramatic Skies I have Seen

Here is what it looked like at the greenhouses a couple of days ago. We really have had some kind of weather lately!

Plants are growing well in spite of the crazy weather. Out in the garden, we are planting broccoli, lettuce, kales, cabbages, onions, fennel, escarole, spinach, peas, beets, and carrots. Come by and see what the crew has been up to - the plants look really gorgeous and are ready to make your yard smile!