My favorite PLANTS: Dreaming of Spring in Vermont

plants

It is VERY cold here and I am trying to think of gardening plans for spring but it is very difficult. To see past that snow and ice covered garden bed into the the beautiful spring and lively little shoots that will be coming up. So, I will instead write about my favorite plants to grow here in Vermont and why I enjoy them so much.

plants

One of my favorite plants is the Yellow Baby Bear Pear tomato. This is a great variety for here in Vermont. These come up so much faster than the regular beefsteak tomatoes and are sweet and pop in your mouth fresh. Oh man, they are so good. We start them inside around the end of January or beginning of February. Sooo, in December it’s just the thought of these that I have to dream about.

plants

Another awesome favorite I have and that does really well here up north is the Long Variety Purple Pole Bean. These are about 8-10″ long and are fairly quick to harvest. It is so fun to go out and grab a handful of these and snack on them while planting the tomatoes in the garden. Digging a hole, take a bite, add liquid fertilizer and water, take a few bites, add the tomato plant, take a bite, fill in the hole, nibble again, and add cut grass clippings for mulch. YUM, these are easy to plant as soon as the ground is warmish and so yummy and healthy for the kids to grab for a snack in the morning. Looking at waiting till April to plant these… oh well, guess we can dream.

plants

Oh yes, these are just so beautiful when we dig them up they must be on my list of favorites. Easter Egg Radishes are loved by my family and I love the look of theme but can pass on the taste of a radish… They always do very well in our garden. These love our cold springs and do better when the nights stay cool. Last spring we had a very warm April and May and radishes did not do as well, it got to warm too fast.

plants

The children love to take care of planting and harvesting (eating) these. Edible Pod Peas, or Sugar Peas are fun for even the youngest of the family. They are fun to plant and fun to watch grow and of course fun to eat. We have a small garden raised bed box that the children use to plant these each year. The dirt in the ox came from a friends house when she was digging out for a culvert under her driveway. Peas don’t seem to care how “good” the soil is BUT they do care that the soil is cool, man we had one year that we planted them too late and it was a pile of mushy seeds and a couple very poor producing plants.

This post is sure making me long for spring. Seeing the kids hunting for the peas. This year we also had peas and Morning Glory’s planted together. They followed each other up the front porch and were lovely and yummy at the same time.

plants

Last but not least I will talk about our best producer of all the ordinary Potato. Doesn’t matter if we buy weed potatoes, or if we plant them in the lawn, or if we remember to water them; these will grow and produce a huge harvest with so little work. Potatoes are a staple in our house. Trying to fill the belly’s of 4 growing teenagers and 2 more younger kids is not easy but potatoes sure do the trick.

Well, I guess that is all. What is your favorite garden plant?

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Seed Catalogs are Here

seed catalog

We get so excited when the seed catalogs start arriving. Such inspiration in the dead of winter. The brain starts dreaming and scheming up new garden plans.

This year we are hoping to start more plants ourselves. In the past few years we have just taken other organic farmers discarded plants. It is a blessing but we never know what we will get. This year we plan to have a better plan☺

Seed catalogs are so inspiring. Mine never grow like those veggies in the catalog. Ours are never as prolific as those catalog pictures. But they taste so good and the joy of watching them grow is very fulfilling.

Have your seed catalogs started arriving?

Bulbs I Forgot

I was given some flower bulbs about 4 years ago. They were nicely dried and placed in shoe boxes for me. I had good intentions for these bulbs. I thought how wonderful they would look in the front of the house in the spring.

Well, like I have said before, I am not the best gardener.

These have sat in a shoe box for 4 years. Do you know what bulbs look like after four years of sitting in a shoe box? Not like that picture at the top of the page for sure.

So…… What did I have the kids do last week? Plant them, of course.

Those kids laughed at me and said that nothing is going to grow from these dried up, hollow, gross bulbs. Maybe but might as well try is my thought. They had just planted some bulbs for a friend of ours a few weekends before this so they knew what they were doing. They laughed the entire time. Pretty sure it was at my idea and not because it was fun to plant them.

We will see… to be continued.

What do you think? Do you think they will come up in the spring?

Happy Gardening!

Potatoes Don’t Care Where You Plant Them

potato

Potatoes are a vegetable that seems to grow anywhere you plant them. Even before we improved our clay soil into a more loamy type soil the potatoes would still grow in it. That first year when we were learning about how clay soil works was the year we got the largest potatoes we have ever had. Not much else grew that we planted except the green beans and potatoes.

We have even planted potatoes in just a section of the lawn that we dug up right along the horse fence line. We dug up the soil and just stuck them in. They grew really well. NO extra watering or fertilizer or anything. I am not sure why they grow just anywhere.

Where do we get our potatoes that we plant?

This is an easy question to answer. The potatoes that grow eyes over the winter that we forgot about in the potato drawer are the ones we plant. We also get them from the reduced produce section of our local grocery store. We do not buy special seed potatoes to plant, we just use the ones from the grocery store. As I have said before, we would not win gardener of the year but we always seem to grow lots of veggies 🙂

Why do potatoes grow just anywhere?

I decided to do a little research on this delicious and versatile vegetable to figure out why it just grows anywhere. Some things I found are:

  • Potatoes like an acidic soil with a pH below 6.0
  • Good drainage is important
  • Dry the potato cuts for 2 days before planting
  • You can use the whole potato also
  • They will grow in a container
  • They will grow in straw
  • They will grow in a bag
  • They will grow just on top of the ground without planting them

So like I said potatoes grow anywhere. They are just easy to grow.

How we plant potatoes?

      1. We pick an area that we won’t be using for anything else that year. An area away from everything else. We do this because we grow a lot of potatoes and need the space for that large amount. That is how we choose in front of the horse fencing that one year.
      2. Most years we cut the potatoes into 2 to 3 pieces. When cutting them we are making sure each piece has an eye on it. We sometimes let them dry and sometimes we plant them right away. If it ends up being a wet spring the dry ones do much better. The fresh ones tend to rot in the ground in a wetter spring. Some years we plant the whole potato just to see what will happen.
      3. We till up the area of ground that we will be planting the potatoes in. We leave a trench for the potatoes to be planted.
      4. Next the trench is watered. Sometimes we add Miracle-Gro to the water and sometimes we just use water. (affiliate link)
      5. We put two to three potato pieces into piles in the trench keeping the piles about 6 inches apart.
      6. We cover the potatoes with dirt and mulch them with cut grass. Usually we also drench the mulch down with the water so the cut grass doesn’t blow away.
      7. At the end of the season we dig them up.

Close-up low section of woman holding spade

What are our plans for planting potatoes next year?

In the search I did over the internet I found an idea I would like to try. I loved the idea of planting the potatoes just on top of the ground and covering them with 4 inches mulch. I think we will try this next spring. Boy, spring seems like a long way off. I better write it on my google calendar or I am going to forget I want to do it that way.

What now? How about trying to plant potatoes in a new way next year 🙂

Discovering Soils Types & Clay Soil

soil typesThere are many types of soil, I believe six. Ours is clay soil here so that is what I know the most about. But where we used to live was beautiful loam soil. I am going to talk about the three that I have worked with personally.

Loam soil is an amazing soil which is perfect for anything. This is the type of soil my mom has. All plants grow in this and it does not tend to dry out quickly. It works easily in the spring and even carrots grow nice and deep in it.

Sandy soil is what my sister has. It does not hold water well but if you live in a really wet area this would be an advantage. Carrots love it because they can grow really deep without much effort.

Clay soil is what we have here. It holds water really well which would be an advantage if we lived in area where there was chance of a drought. It is also great for making clay pots and mud pies. But for growing vegetables we need to alter it to be closer to a loam soil.

What soil do you have? A couple tests.

Test #1

Loam soil I believe, has a perfect mix of sandy and clay soils.  It is the kind of soil that when you grab a handful and squeeze, it forms a ball for a bit but then we’ll fall apart again. This would be without wetting it.

Sandy soil is made of mainly sand, as the name suggests. If you were to grab a handful of this soil and squeeze, it would not stay in a ball at all but just continue falling through your fingers. You would have to wet it to get it to maintain a ball at all.

Clay soil is made up of mainly clay, add the name suggests. If you were to grab a handful of this soil and squeeze it would become a ball that you would have to break apart afterwards, it would not just fall apart.

Test #2

Another way we have found to differentiate the kinds of soil is feeling it between your fingers when it is wet.

Loan soil when you do this will feel a bit gritty, a bit slimy, and a bit like you think of real dirt feeling. There would be a little residue on your hands but mainly in chunks stuck in your own hand creases.

Sandy soil when you do this feels gritty, you may have bits of sand stuck on your hands, but leaves no residue really.

Clay soil feels like slime when you do this and would leave a gross grey/brown like slime on your hands.

What kind of soil do you have? You can use these tests to try and figure it out.

Clay Soil

Clay Soil

Clay Soil

We have clay soil here. It forms a hard ball when squeezed, feels slimy when wet, and leaves a coating on my hands when it is mixed with water.

Clay soil, like sandy soil, takes a lot work to get them closer to the loamy soil we all dream of having.

What are some things we do with our soil to help reach that loamy soil goal?

When we first moved here 14 years ago..

(copied from my post Tomato Hornworms & Garden Clean-Out)

“We have clay soil here which means if you want to make a pot just walk outside and add water to our dirt. The garden has gotten better over the years. The first year everything cept the potatoes and green beans died. We had grown gardens for years and never had a year this bad. We did some research and added some special ingredients to the clay to make it more like loam soil.

Our special ingredients were kind of like lasagna: a 2″ layer of newspaper, a layer of sand, a layer of horse manure, a layer of vermiculite, and a 2″ layer of newspaper. Bake not at 350 but in sunlight (and under snow) for 5 months. We repeated these layers until the garden had about 8-10″ of special ingredients on it and then placed rocks and logs over the top to keep everything from blowing away. This recipe did an amazing job and now almost everything grows wonderfully in our garden. We do feed it something each year to try and keep it looser that solid rock.”

Some special things we do each year because of our soil type:

We only work the soil as little as possible. The more we work it, the more like a clay pot it becomes.

We have to be careful and not over water the garden. The water tends to pool and puddle. We don’t want the soil to get moldy either with all that excess water. We usually water our pants when we transplant then and then for the first few days. After that we do not water unless we have a drought. We did have had one drought type summer out of the fourteen years we have lived here.

We have to feed our garden every year. We have to add compost, manure, sometimes sand, and grass clippings. The sand tends to settle out of the clay soil so we have to add sand every 3 or 4 years.

I hope this information is useful to you. If you have any helpful hits for working with clay soil we would love to hear them

Happy Gardening!

Brussel Sprouts till Frost

Our own Brussel Sprouts

Our own Brussel Sprouts

“Brussels sprouts are ready to harvest when the tiny heads are firm, green, and 1 to 2 inches in diameter. Remove sprouts by twisting them until they break away from the plant. As you remove the lower sprouts, you can also remove yellowing leaves; the plant continues to grow upward, producing more leaves and sprouts.” From: Bonnie Plants

My daughter Artist asked me yesterday when the brussel sprouts would be ready to harvest. I had no idea. She suggested maybe after the first frost? I thought that sounded like a good idea.

We were out in the garden earlier this week tilling in the Tomato Hornworms and the brussel sprouts looked pretty tiny. I figured it would be a while till they were ready. We totally missed the harvest last year. By the time we remembered the brussel sprouts were still out there it had snowed twice. Not the greatest gardener.

We usually only plant certain things that we always plant. This year and last year we were given brussel sprouts in a barter for website work I did. We really had no idea how to take care of them (sure glad they didn’t give me a milk goat). We just planted them with everything else and they did great, just like last year.

My oldest daughter still at home, Director, went for a walk outside today and noticed that the brussel sprouts look ready to pick. In just 5 days they went from marble size to ready to pick.

Really glad she went for that walk. We love brussel sprouts and now we get to have our own for lunch tomorrow. YES!!

Based on the info above I better let the kiddos know not to pull the whole plant up to harvest, might be too late. Nope, they didn’t pull the whole plant up, just checked with Director. They actually pulled every leaf off the plants, guess the plants will die, oh well, maybe next year we will do it all the way right. Man, I wish these veggies came with directions 🙂

Tomato Hornworms & Garden Clean-Out

Tomato Hornworm drawing by Artist, Thanks

Tomato Hornworm drawing by Artist, Thanks

This week the garden had a the end of season clean-out. It has been a cool fall week and we needed to clean out the garden before the rain started. All that is left are the brussel sprouts (pictured below) and some green peppers.

We are going to do something different this year and till the soil at the end of the season. Usually we till the soil only at the beginning of the season just before we plant the seedlings. But this year we have a pest that we must exterminate: the Tomato Hornworm.

Based on my reading it seems that this little pest settles into the soil as a larva type creature at the end of the growing season to lie in wait for my tomato plants next spring. So the advice we have received is to till the garden and chop up those larva for fertilizer and that should take care of 90% of the population.

We hadn’t seen these huge Hornworms in over two years and we were hoping they were gone for good. The tomatoes did great this year even with this pest devouring whatever he wanted. But the thought of what these buggers could do next year got us thinking about irradiating the pests this fall instead. So the tilling has begun. Goodbye Tomato Hornworm!

Since we are working so much at moving the soil around we decided to add a few things to it: horse manure (thanks Colby), chicken manure, and compost. After all this has been tilled in the plan is to cover the garden with the grass clippings to help feed the soil over the winter.

We have clay soil here which means if you want to make a pot just walk outside and add water to our dirt. The garden has gotten better over the years. The first year everything cept the potatoes and green beans died. We had grown gardens for years and never had a year this bad. We did some research and added some special ingredients to the clay to make it more like soil.

Our special ingredients were kind of like lasagna: a 2″ layer of newspaper, a layer of sand, a layer of horse manure, a layer of vermiculite, and a 2″ layer of newspaper. Bake not at 350 but in sunlight (and under snow) for 5 months. We repeated these layers until the garden had about 8-10″ of special ingredients on it and then placed rocks and logs over the top to keep everything from blowing away. This recipe did an amazing job and now almost everything grows wonderfully in our garden. We do feed it something each year to try and keep it looser that solid rock 🙂

What’s left in the garden? Brussel Sprouts

Brussel Sprouts

Brussel Sprouts