The Miracle of Seeds

160418 Seeds

This morning I finally started some seeds for the garden.  People may be shaking their heads and thinking it’s late but I have to tell you nothing goes into the ground before the first week of June here.  You just never know.  I think I will be building a cold frame in the next week or so to give them a little more growing space and sun and ease the hardening off process.

I love planting seeds, they hold such promise.  I’m always amazed that for a couple of bucks you can get a little packet of seeds when planted and harvested could feed a hundred people.  That’s not to say that every seed I plant will produce to that extent, there are variables but there are also the memories of those years where the harvest was beyond belief.  Those I look forward too with a little trepidation.  One summer I canned enough beans to last until the next harvest eating them every single day.  I was really sick of canning beans.

Into the soil they go, in a few days their heads will be popping out of the soil, a couple of weeks and they’ll need new pots, more sun and more water.  A few months, if all goes well, things will be picked and served for every lunch and dinner.  Such freshness and flavor is something you will never find anywhere else and the personal satisfaction is something that can’t be beat.


Little Thief

131228 Finches (1)The finches love this seed sock filled with a combination of nyjer seed and sunflower chips.  They flock to it in droves.

It was hung on an S hook on a line going across the patio in full view of the kitchen window.  I would drink my coffee with camera waiting.  Well, last week we had snow, then rain and ice.  What was on the roof came down and the feeders on the line were bounced off when the snow came to the ground.  Yeah, yeah, not the best plan for hanging feeders but hey, live and learn.  I arrived to all the still hanging feeders empty and went out to gather them in to clean and refill.  The sock was nowhere to be found – gone.  The S hook was laying on the ground.  There were telltale tracks though and I thought it was the little red squirrel that I had seen the previous week.

I filled the feeders and brought out the fruit and nut mix for the top of the pine stump.  The jays really love it there and it keeps them from bugging the other birds on the feeders.  Once they were all filled and hung back up the birds returned.  All the time I’m out by the feeders you can hear them singing, just waiting for me to get far enough away to feel safe.  The chickadees don’t wait long.

Back indoors I made the usual cup of coffee and sat by the window.  Guess what I saw?

140112 Squirrel (2)Yup, and so innocent looking too.  I don’t usually see gray squirrels here.  I know they are around but they aren’t the huge, pesky hoard I have in Enfield.

So now I know who the culprit is and I’ve ordered another sock that I will attach to the line in a different way.  I will also put it up as high as I can.



If You Feed Them They Will Come

100918 Birds (6)I’ve posted an older, warmer photograph today because this is really where this starts – feeding the birds.  Each year I try to be mindful of what I’m planting to bring the birds and butterflies to my veggie garden.  I always plant sunflowers because the finches always seem to know they are there and wouldn’t frequent my yard much without the food to entice them.

I don’t feed the birds otherwise until winter hits – and it has.  I hadn’t put feeders out in a few years because of the bear population and their affinity for bird feeders.  I heard somewhere that anytime after December 1st in our area it’s safe to put feeders out so I put out a small one the weekend after Thanksgiving.  I was surprised at the number of birds that were on it only 3 days later and at the number of different kinds of birds that were all vying for the seed of this one feeder.  I was thrilled.

Last weekend saw flocks of birds at the feeder at most hours of the day.  A surprising number of woodpeckers were visiting as well including two Red Bellied Woodpeckers.  They are the real stunners so far – large and flashy.  They are there everyday so now we just wait to see them.  It’s quite the colorful group as well – House Finches looking so rosy and Bluejays on the ground mixed in with the Goldfinches, Juncos and Chickadees. It seems like they all visit at different times of the day, each species taking its own turn.

Last night I decided to make something special for the woodpeckers to eat and proceeded to process suet, peanut butter and a nutty, fruity mix into self hanging feeders.  I mixed the ingredients warm, packed them into large paper cups that I had threaded a looped and knotted piece of twine through the bottom.  Once filled I put them in the freezer overnight.  This morning I peeled away the paper from the cup and hung one out on the hook next to the feeder.  We’ll see how this goes.  I’m also looking at other types of feeders and seed to try and cut down on the congestion at the one little feeder.

Cornell has a wonderful bird guide on line if you decide to feed the birds in your yard this year.  It’s a fun activity that brings life into your yard through the doldrums of winter.

So my camera is ready, the food is set out and all I need a little time to just sit and watch.


Good Food


My kids call me the doomer.  I try to tell them that I just like to be prepared.  I never want to worry about where my next meal is coming from.  In doing so I have learned to garden in good weather and bad.  This year is one of those years where some things are doing much better than expected while others are an unmitigated disaster.  Every year I seem to say to Bill, “If we had to survive on this year’s garden we would starve to death by February”.  Even though I’m getting better at my gardening and adding more and more perennial beds and plants to the ever changing array of food that I grow I know that it would never be enough for a family to survive on until the next crop comes in.

The main reason I really grow a garden is there is nothing like the taste of a warm cucumber just picked, or that summer tomato.  The real revelation came to me when I grew potatoes for the first time a couple of years ago.  Potatoes freshly dug scream “POTATO” when you eat them.  Something happens to produce the minute it is harvested – the taste begins to wane. There are only two things I grow that improve once picked – pears and long pie pumpkins.

Last weekend we made a spectacular meal of things we have grown (or in the case of the steak watched grow).  These are the meals that are memorable, the ones I like to share with friends and family.  I want them to know their food can be so much better. There is such satisfaction in knowing you started the seeds and nurtured your food.  That there are no chemicals involved in any of the food we ate.  The beef was fed grass and hay from one property, no hormones, antibiotics.  It grew up in fresh air and sunshine.  It tastes like BEEF, not the homogenized red meat you find wrapped in plastic and styrofoam at the grocery store.  There is a huge difference.

The garden surplus I will continue to can to use in the winter months.  Peaches and apricots are next on the list and I will continue with tomatoes.  Even with processing the taste of  home canned fruit of any kind is a revelation in the winter.  The first bite brings you back to summer.  That is what makes all the work of preserving your harvest in the summer worthwhile.

Rain, Rain, Rain

130701 Crocs


This photo says it all.  I wear these crocs when I work in the garden in the summer.  They are easy to slip on, hose off.  After working yesterday I hosed them off as usual and left them on the patio to dry.  They may have dried but it started raining in the late afternoon and continued off and on through the night.  The forecast for today – rain.

I managed to get half of the garden weeded but really need to get out there again and finish before the weeds take over.

All this rain has wreaked havoc for farmers of every variety over the whole of New England this year.  It’s been one of those years where you think you have the right combo of things to plant because they have grown so well in the past only to find no matter how many times you plant the seeds the conditions won’t allow them to germinate.  I’ve planted beets twice so far this year and have had one sprout.  It’s not a matter of bad seed either.  I’ve planted two varieties, new seed.  I will plant them one more time, if they grow great, if not I wait until next year. My carrots are sparse, but the rhutabagas are fine.  The potatoes are finally going after a very slow start. They are also sprouting all over the garden – apparently I didn’t dig up everything last year.  They’ve survived tillage 3 times so I guess I will just hill them where they are.

The beans are a bit disappointing as well, they have had a tough time starting.  There will be a few more seeds planted there as well.  Although my tomatoes had a rough start they are looking pretty good at the moment.  I need to tie them up for the second time this week.  Onions and garlic are very happy.  There are blossoms on my cucumber starts but I’ve come to realize that I don’t plant enough to really put up so they will probably be eaten fresh and I will have to visit the local farmstands to make pickles. My long pie pumpkins look great, they are one of my favorite varieties and they are great keepers.

The potted flowers have never been happier.  Every summer for the past few years I’ve had to have someone water them on the days when I’m not here.  No problem this year.

One of the biggest problems that has occurred this year is with haying.  It’s has rained every day for weeks, for hay you need at least a couple of dry days (dry, not exorbitantly humid like it has been).  With the weather pattern that we’ve been in the hay has been in the field too long so the quality of the feed suffers.  I’m not sure what the answer is here.  There may be more steers going to the auction in the fall because there won’t be the hay to feed them through the winter.  We’ll have to wait and see.

Farming is such a difficult way of life.  You are dealing with the unknown on a daily basis.  Each week the weather is bad you adjust your expectations for the off season.  This is something that hasn’t changed since the dawn of agriculture but each year when it happens to me it is deeply personal.

When A Plan Comes Together

130527 TillerAs most people know the holiday weekend began rainy and very cold for this time of the year.  When the sun came over the horizon on Monday morning I immediately got up, had coffee, dressed and went out to the garden.  I felt like I now had one day to do what I had planned on doing in three.  I spent the first couple of hours spreading fertilizer and tilling.  The photo above is what I looked at for quite a while.  I have to say in spite of the noise it’s quite meditative, especially walking behind it in the soft, tilled earth (smells great too).

The next chore was planting my asparagus (finally).  I was using bone meal and had to keep careful watch of the new bed – Chester thinks it smells heavenly and is sure if he digs something fantastic will come up.

I then got out my fence posts and paced off my garden design.  I put the teepee up in the center of the plot.  Then I divided up either end of the garden into the spaces I was planning for crops I would be planting.  I planted onions – red and yellow – on the north end along with the start of the tomatoes with the ones that Bill had bought from the flower gypsy.  I raked the soil for the four corners in the center where the corn will go and realized that I had a lot more space for other plants so made the decision to plant hills of squash and long pie pumkins.  So in essence it will be 3 sisters planting but in a more mannerly fashion.

I also planted the four pepper plants that Bill brought home next to the garage wall with the garlic.  There was space and it’s a nice warm, sunny spot, I thought they’d be happy there.

Later, while mowing some of my sister’s field (her mower broke last week), I saw her out planting her seeds and I have to tell you that my head was screaming “Go back and plant those seeds!” It’s May 27th though and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve planted things too early pushed by warm weather and sunshine.  The urge to plant something when it starts to warm up is powerful.  I remembered how many times I’ve had to replant things (2 and 3 times) because I was impatient and planted too early.  My seed will go in this coming weekend in what portends to be blistering heat and humidity but I’ll know the soil is warm enough.

With the lawn mowed and the garden structure there I took a couple of photos and thought about how nice it is when a plan comes together.  This is going to be a great garden.

130527 Garden


Beginning in Earnest

130526 (2) Garden PlanYesterday in the cold, rainy, windy weather I went through my seeds and actually drew up the garden plan.  It had been in my head for  a while just finally put pen to paper.  Today I plant the crowns and bulbs, put up the bean teepee and get out the seed potatoes.  Last night it was cold by any standard but the forecast for the rest of the week is warm and sunny.  By the 31st I should be able to put my seeds in the ground if the forecast holds true.  All of my seed comes from High Mowing Seeds in Vermont.  They are organic, non-GMO and many are open pollinated.  Honestly the best seed I have ever used.

I had taken all of my annuals in pots into the shed on Friday night, this morning I will go see how my lonely little eggplant fared. I will be mixing beans on the poles this year, I’ve planted just a green bean in the past couple of years but I really have missed the scarlet runners – and I’m assuming so have the birds.  I will also plant sunflowers in the corners with the popcorn.  I’m kind of taking for granted the popcorn will end up being fodder for raccoons but you never know.  This variety is Tom Thumb and only grows to a maximum height of 3 feet, I’m more than a little excited about this experiment.

We have a guy in Enfield we refer to as the flower gypsy.  He’s a wholesaler who has a van and goes from shop to shop selling cut flowers – this time of year annual pots and vegetables.  He comes around every other week or so with what he figures will sell for the season.  During the winter it’s always long stem roses from Ecuador.  Easter it’s lilies, cut flowers for Thanksgiving and Christmas.  I was pleasantly surprised when I walked into the shop the other day to four pepper plants and four tomatoes.  Bill always buys me flowers but apparently he’s been listening and bought food.  Hehehe, excellent, my plan is working, one person at a time.

Food Rant Friday

Growing Food in Protest


Okay, so there are a few friends and relatives that know how pissed off I get when yet another article crosses my path about Monsanto and their GMO’s.  This week was the motherload in reading about various lawsuits that Monsanto has brought against everyone in the world from the small farmer to the state of VT.  Apparently the money stream is so important to them they are willing to take on any state in the union that would try to label food as containing GMO products.  Hmmmm, doesn’t it make you wonder what they are trying to hide?  I believe in informed consent.

There are now apps available to help you boycott all kinds of products as you peruse the groceries in the store, just scan the barcodes and voila you know what subsidiary that food is coming from and can make your choices with a little more knowledge.  I’m thinking that’s all well and good if what you are eating is processed but it’s really not going to help you in the produce section.   I read today that one of the country’s leading suppliers of French fries is asking the federal government to approve genetically modified potatoes.  This is to prevent those unsightly brown spots.  Really?

You know that lawn that you hate mowing every week?  Why not use part of it to put in a raised bed and plant some tomatoes there she goes talking about those tomatoes again?  Put a few potatoes in your little plot or grow a few carrots to eat right out of the garden.  I promise you the seeds that you grow will surprise and delight you. You will have such a feeling of accomplishment and be astonished at the money you save over the summer on some of your favorite things.  It’s also FUN.

I baked a batch of cookies the other day, shared them with sister Sue.  They are a delicious soft molasses cookie encrusted with course grain sugar, crunchy on the outside, soft and chewy in the middle.  Spicy and delicious they are the ultimate comfort food for me.  Then I started to think about the ingredient list – what’s gmo and what’s not.  Yeah, I know, but I’m always thinking about where my food comes from or what’s in it.  That doesn’t mean I don’t eat what’s put in front of me but I’m always aware – so is my sister.  After she ate those cookies with me and brought some home I texted her about all the potentially bad things that were in them.  Today in the interest of science and my guilty conscience I decided to actually look up what went into them.  I was pleased to find out that the things that were a little sketchy for me were all within my tolerance level for food weirdness.  So I’d have to say that if you are going to eat cookies bake your own and source your ingredients.  Now I can email Sue and tell her that those treats were really much more okay than I had led her to believe (and maybe she’ll stop sending me all that email about Monsanto).



Earth Day Coming Up



Earth Day has evolved for me over the years.  I used to spend my time cleaning out my flower beds.  I’ve planted trees, shrubs, and flowers on this day.  This year I seem to be on a mission to augment as much of my food supply as I can with things that I’ve grown.  This Earth Day week will be spent in prep for the vegetable and fruit growing season.  Seeds will be started and although it seems late to some I can’t plant ANYTHING until Memorial Day in Rowe.  There is still snow on the ground and the entire back forty was completely frosted this morning.

I want everyone to know the feeling you have when you eat or serve a meal with food that you have grown.  You know everything about this food.  You may have nurtured it from seeds or have seen it eating grass on a sunny hill.  You have watered and fed and cooed over these plants and animals.  You have planned and brought these home grown ingredients together into something that is fabulously delicious in its own time.

Years ago (really not that many) people ate what was in season.  You didn’t eat tomatoes in January unless they were the “hot house” variety that completely lacked in both taste and nutrition.  Vegetables were not flown in from Argentina or California during the winter. The cycle of meals had everything to do with what was ripe at the time or food that you had put up and was in your cellar or freezer.  Growing up I remember my aunt and cousins staying with us when the garden was really beginning to produce.  For lunch each day there would be sandwiches made with the freshest of tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce.  A platter just laid out with the bounty of summer, a taste that can not be replicated in any way other than to pick the produce, slice it up and eat it within minutes. I understand what it’s like to share the food that I have grown with the people I love.  Hard work goes into it but it’s worth it when you see the look on someones face that is eating a particular plant for the first time or an old familiar one that tastes completely different because it is so fresh.

This year I think everyone should at least put a tomato plant in a pot of soil on their patio or steps or yard.  Throw in a few basil seeds for good measure.  This is sooo inexpensive to do and you will be paid back ten fold in something that you can not buy, the true taste of summer.

100808 (24)

It’s That Time of the Year

End of year garden 2012

Many people are getting their seed catalogs out and pouring through them this time of year.  It’s good to do a little planning and have your seeds ready to go whether you need to start your tomatoes in the house, are sowing some seed in your hot or cold frame or are just thinking about what will go where in the garden this year.

I’m a planner, it’s one of my favorite parts.  I plan what I’m going to plant and where it’s going to go in the garden this year.  I plan what plants will be next to the others keeping companion planting in mind.  I plan different designs because I hate how boring it is to look at a garden with plants in rows. I pour over the charts I’ve kept in past years to make sure I don’t plant the tomatoes and potatoes in the same place year after year.

I work on an order with High Mowing Organic Seeds that I continue to change week after week from October on, waiting until the last minute to place it.  I read their website for all the info I can gather about the new seeds I want to try growing.  There are always the tried and true to grow like last year’s Gold Rush yellow snap bean.  I cannot say enough about this bean, it was prolific.  I started picking beans in July and picked them until frost.  They weren’t those tough, tasteless beans either.  They were tender and tasty until the very end.  I lost count of how many pints I canned but I know Sue and I complained towards the end of the season every time we picked enough beans to can once more.  Of course now I’m glad I did.

The other plant I grew this year and introduced to everyone I knew was Joan Rutabagas.  I grow them every year and was a little in awe at how few people had never tried rutabagas (probably because they are my favorite vegetable).  They require a fairly long growing season but are very cold hardy so they weren’t dug until well into October.  I fed them to everyone.

Every year I pick one or two new plants to try. Some work out very well like the Gold Rush beans. Some don’t
but I feel like I haven’t given it a real chance unless I plant it a couple of years in a row. Each growing season is so different.  Here’s the problem, every year there are more and more things I want to plant but I don’t have the space to plant them all.  I have to cut down my list of seeds.

Sad, sad.

There are currently 27 items in my cart.  I probably should get rid of half.

What it really makes me do is plan a new garden in another spot on the property.  It’s always some nice piece of lawn that Bill has worked on for years.  He’s not going to like this.