It's All Over Now, Baby Blue

You must leave now, take what you need, you think will last

 

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But whatever you wish to keep, you better grab it fast

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Yonder stands your orphan with his gun

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Crying like a fire in the sun

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Look out the saints are comin' through

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And it's all over now, Baby Blue

Frosted Eggplants

Frosted Eggplants

I have a tendency towards an internal soundtrack. 

And melodrama (apparently). 

The last two weeks I've been singing Dylan in my mind while gardening and two nights ago it finally happened...frost.  Enough to kill most of the annual cutflowers, the basil, what was left of the tomatoes (not much, just sungolds), the eggplants, the peppers...

I've known it was coming.  We had an iffy night about three weeks ago but I scrambled to cover everything and came out unscathed, save for the green beans.  A warm spell followed, enough for another large harvest of hot peppers to ferment for sauce, some pretty zinnias to admire, raspberries galore, broccoli, beets, and squash, and squash, and squash.

final eggplant harvest just in the nick of time

final eggplant harvest just in the nick of time

Shishito, Cayenne, Peach Habanero, Anaheim, and bell peppers for relish

Shishito, Cayenne, Peach Habanero, Anaheim, and bell peppers for relish

Hot Pepper Relish

Hot Pepper Relish

All ready to be put away

All ready to be put away

In the field I dug all of the potatoes, prepared and packed the onions for the root cellar, weeded a little, finally planted some of the nursery pots that have been sitting out front ALL SUMMER LONG, and slowly said my goodbyes. 

Goodbye to having more work than I can do in a day, every day.  Goodbye to abundance.  I wish I could say it gets easier.  I know that the seasons are changing and I am facing months without active growing, which to me means months without momentum.  This happens every year.  I know that.  I'm not sure I can accept WHEN it happens here in Vermont, or will ever be able to accept it, but I can at least try to be less of a baby about it.  I can pull on those insulated coveralls and fingerless gloves and get on with it.

Herb bed detail

Herb bed detail

It ain't over 'till it's over and there are plenty of things still to do as well as plenty of beauty.  I love, love, love ornamental grasses and they are in their prime right now out front.  The miscanthus 'Adagio' (maiden grass) and Calamagrostis brachytricha (Korean feather reed grass) that I put in a couple of years ago have filled in and have been really spectacular this fall.

Miscanthus 'Adagio' blooming

Miscanthus 'Adagio' blooming

Calamagrostis brachytricha with cosmos and dahlias

Calamagrostis brachytricha with cosmos and dahlias

Calamagrostis brachytricha

Calamagrostis brachytricha

From a garden design standpoint I like to squish grasses in wherever I can.  Perennial grasses are especially nice amongst/near early blooming plants that will be in their prime while the grasses are just breaking dormancy, and past their prime while the grasses are showing off.  Annual grasses are welcome wherever... pots, interspersed with annuals or cutflowers, etc.  Grasses are textural and architectural as well as being pretty low maintenance on the culture end of things.  Most are both heat and drought tolerant and are fine in normal to relatively poor soil.

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Front of bed

Front of bed

Back of bed

Back of bed

The Brussels sprouts are sizing up.  For those of your who have never seen these growing in the field they are monstrous plants that will get to 3 feet tall.  I pruned the top growth in September to encourage the plant to put it's energy into the sprouts.  They require a very long season and getting them to size up can be a challenge.  Luckily they prefer cooler weather and can handle frost.  Adam has been hinting about harvesting some but I like to wait until the offerings are more limited.... saving them for when other wimpier crops bite the dust.  Need to eat all these daggone eggplants first!!

'Fallstaff' Brussels sprouts

'Fallstaff' Brussels sprouts

Hearty Brussels sprouts bed surrounded by frost-kill

Hearty Brussels sprouts bed surrounded by frost-kill

Beautiful 'Deadon' savoy cabbage

Beautiful 'Deadon' savoy cabbage

Cabbages are also rolling in.  I'll be making sauerkraut this weekend to preserve them.  It is forever amazing to me the capacity that some plants have for preservation.  Quick science lesson:  Cabbage (like many fruits and vegetables) is covered in lactobacillus and other beneficial bacteria.  When shredded, salted, and pounded to release it's juices the lactobacillus converts the sugars in the cabbage to lactic acid, which inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria and acts as a preservative. 

All you need is cabbage, salt, a suitable container, and a little elbow grease.  My first year making Sauerkraut I did it in 3 gallon tofu buckets I salvaged from the local co-op, covered with a dish cloth, and placed in the cellar for 6 weeks.  Eating it for the first time felt like playing Russian Roulette and I must admit I made Adam do it!!  I have since upgraded to Kraut Kaps which take the guess work (and skimming of stinky moldy skum) out of it.  They fit over a mason jar and make an airtight seal while allowing gases to be released from the jar. 

'Gold Coin' cipolllini onions

'Gold Coin' cipolllini onions

I honestly have more onions than I know what to do with.  My favorite of the four varieties I grew are the 'Gold Coin' cipollini that look like just that, beautiful golden coins. 

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The 'Rossa Lunga di Tropea' or Italian torpedo onions are a close second.  Not as pretty but the flavor is very good and quite mild as far as red onions go.  I am using these and the big 'Alisa Craig' onions first as they don't store well.  The cipollini will make it through until the spring in the cellar, only adding to their appeal.  The 'Pontiac' onions are powerhouses and will last too.  They have a more basic flavor profile, but you can't have it all.  There is something about always having onions and garlic on hand that makes me feel like I'm ready for anything.

'Gold Coin', 'Alisa Craig', 'Pontiac', and 'Rossa Lunga di Tropea' onions

'Gold Coin', 'Alisa Craig', 'Pontiac', and 'Rossa Lunga di Tropea' onions

But ready to put the garden to bed?  For the dark days?  Can I say goodbye this year without falling off the deep end?  If I write it down will it make it so?  Either way, Fall is edging closer to Winter (with a capital W!) whether I like it or not.... and at the very least I have plenty of food squirreled away, a deluxe light therapy box on order, and the right song stuck in my head.

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Leave your stepping stones behind, something calls for you
Forget the dead you’ve left, they will not follow you
The vagabond who’s rapping at your door
Is standing in the clothes that you once wore
Strike another match, go start anew
And it’s all over now, Baby Blue

-Bob Dylan


 

My Garden Gritty: June

Lawdamercy!  This month has been a doozie.  The kids finished school and the garden took off, along with the weeds and the multitude of daily tasks just to stay afloat.  I reeled for a bit and quickly settled into a new groove.  Not much choice if a girl wants to eat!  We are quickly approaching the summer solstice and in Vermont that means 15.5 hours of daylight, really.  I swear, the sun has fried my brain so let this be a post of pictures.  Wouldn't everyone rather look at a garden than read about one anyway?

 

Pretty much everything is in the ground, finally.  There are a few stragglers in the greenhouse; dwarf cabbages, 'Solstice' broccoli, and some strawflower for cuts but there just isn't an inch left to plant them!  I'm hoping they'll hang on until I harvest the rest of the lettuce and make some space.  You'd think 80'x40' would be plenty of room to grow everything a family of four could eat...think again.  I have already annexed the melons and peppers to a 10'x20' space in the corner of the yard where our compost heap used to be.  The soil should be rich and they are planted in plastic so the fact that I rarely get over there to weed or water shouldn't be too big a deal.

lettuces, spinach, and chard

lettuces, spinach, and chard

'Tom Thumb' dwarf butterhead lettuce

'Tom Thumb' dwarf butterhead lettuce

'Pirat' butterhead interplanted with 'Aromatto' Basil

'Pirat' butterhead interplanted with 'Aromatto' Basil

'Forellenschluss' or 'Freckles' romaine

'Forellenschluss' or 'Freckles' romaine

'Red Carpet' romaine

'Red Carpet' romaine

Delicious, lemony, and flea-beetle-eaten Bloody Sorrel   

Delicious, lemony, and flea-beetle-eaten Bloody Sorrel

 

'Dragon's Tongue' arugula might be the spiciest variety I've ever grown.  Only a handful and your salad is truly breathing fire!  Expensive, tiny seed but worth it.   

'Dragon's Tongue' arugula might be the spiciest variety I've ever grown.  Only a handful and your salad is truly breathing fire!  Expensive, tiny seed but worth it.

 

Rhubarb Patch kids

Rhubarb Patch kids

The peas are blooming!!!!  I don't think I'll ever get tired of our nightly monstrous salad, but sure will be nice when we have something other than greens to eat! 

'Lincoln' and 'Petit Pois' shell peas blooming

'Lincoln' and 'Petit Pois' shell peas blooming

Flowers starting to bloom in herb bed/focal point of kitchen garden   

Flowers starting to bloom in herb bed/focal point of kitchen garden

 

Our first ripe strawberry

Our first ripe strawberry

And by "we" I mean all four of us.  Sure, there have been ripe strawberries, delicious and bright and still warm from the sun, but I'll be darned if I've had more than three.  The boys are hunting each day and eating anything even CLOSE to ripe.  Give it a week and we'll have more than we can eat so Adam and I just have to be patient.  These berries make these boys SO happy.  And it is nice that the harvest of strawberries is one garden task I can count on someone ELSE doing. 

'Sparkle' strawberries beginning to ripen

'Sparkle' strawberries beginning to ripen

Our two neat rows have turned into an unruly patch.  I'll be transplanting the runners this year and starting anew.  And yes, we garden in our pajamas.

Our two neat rows have turned into an unruly patch.  I'll be transplanting the runners this year and starting anew.  And yes, we garden in our pajamas.

Most everything else in the kitchen garden isn't much to look at yet, unless you like the look of hundreds of immature transplants and seedlings.  I'll show you the way I grow tomatoes and cukes vertically now anyhow.  Once they are mature you won't be able to see the structure.

I planted the zucchini behind the trellised tomatoes.  I hope they have enough room back there because that was the last place left I could squeeze them in!  Whoa the garlic in the background is in major need of some weeding attention.

I planted the zucchini behind the trellised tomatoes.  I hope they have enough room back there because that was the last place left I could squeeze them in!  Whoa the garlic in the background is in major need of some weeding attention.

The supports for the tomatoes are the same frame style that I use for sugar snap and snow peas (which are taller than shell peas) and sweet peas (cut flower, not edible).  My talented hubby built them for me based on a design I found in Eliot Coleman's The New Organic Grower.  Instead of stringing them with netting as I do for the peas, I tie heavy gauge twine at the top above each plant and stretch it down to tie to a stake in the ground at the roots.  As the tomatoes grow I simply twist the stem around the twine, pruning off any suckers.  I have found this to be the easiest way to grow lots of tomatoes in a small space, and I have tried MANY methods.  There are 18 plants in this row.

cukes are starting to climb   

cukes are starting to climb

 

This cucumber support has been with us since our Richmond, Va days.  Adam designed and built this simple structure which is hinged at the top for easy storage.  It keeps the plants off the ground so leaves are less susceptible to pests and the fruit hangs for easy harvest.

carrots on the right, sweet pea trellis underplanted with savoy cabbage on left

carrots on the right, sweet pea trellis underplanted with savoy cabbage on left

But enough about edibles already.  How about some eye candy?!

First bloom 'Mother of Pearl' poppies

First bloom 'Mother of Pearl' poppies

another bloom from the same seed mix

another bloom from the same seed mix

Almost all of the flowers were planted in the cutting beds out front this year.  I am crossing my fingers that Frankie, our spirited Wirehaired Griffon, doesn't trample them all when she gets birdy (which she is doing more and more of these days!).  Most of the plants are still only inches tall but a few buds have started to open on the early bloomers which were started indoors in March.  Once again, persistence pays off.

Cornflower 'Frosty Queen Mix'

Cornflower 'Frosty Queen Mix'

One of the advantages to having a greenhouse and starting my own seedlings is getting to choose the varieties most interesting to me.  You'll soon see that there is little of the ordinary in my cutting garden.  I am a little worried that come August it is going to look like a circus out there as it is all jammed together but more is more, right??  I was once told that you could tell the gardens of plant nuts apart by their abundance of "onesies", or specimen plant upon specimen plant with little coherence, little repetition, and littler regard to design than one might expect .  That and having unplanted nursery pots lying around without a bed to go in... yet!  I guess I'm bonafied, although I must say I do try to plant in lots of at LEAST three.

Baptisia 'Chocolate Decadence' underplanted with Aralia 'Sun King'

Baptisia 'Chocolate Decadence' underplanted with Aralia 'Sun King'

Dwarf Blue Artic Willow with Sedum 'Angelina' underneath, who needs flowers when you have colorful, textural foliage??

Dwarf Blue Artic Willow with Sedum 'Angelina' underneath, who needs flowers when you have colorful, textural foliage??

Lupines started from seed LAST spring are blooming for the first time

Lupines started from seed LAST spring are blooming for the first time

Peonies I divided from the old stand of them we inherited with the house, set off by 'Hakuro Nishiki' Willow behind

Peonies I divided from the old stand of them we inherited with the house, set off by 'Hakuro Nishiki' Willow behind

Someone should write a song about peonies in New England.  On second thought, what millennium do I think I'm living in?  Well, they really are special here, just sayin'.  It takes them ages to finally open up but once they do, watch out!  Everywhere I drive these days I see their gigantic, beautiful, droopy-if-not-supported heads lolling about.  And the magic is that they sort of grow themselves here.  We had a large bed of them when we moved in (and no you can't see it because it is an abomination of weeds right now!) and I have been able to divide and transplant them to my hearts content.  Our white ones open first, followed by dark pink, then light pink brings up the rear.  Such rich blooms from such hardy plants.

'Snow Hills' Salvia in foreground

'Snow Hills' Salvia in foreground

Another gorgeous peony

Another gorgeous peony

Spirea 'Snowmound' is a smaller variety of bridalwreath that only gets 3' tall

Spirea 'Snowmound' is a smaller variety of bridalwreath that only gets 3' tall

Pots of Hakonechloa and 'Molten Lava' Oxalis provide texture and an extra pop of color out front.

Pots of Hakonechloa and 'Molten Lava' Oxalis provide texture and an extra pop of color out front.

Lamium 'Purple Nancy', Ajuga 'Black Scallop', Heuchera 'Caramel', Penstemon 'Dark Towers'

Lamium 'Purple Nancy', Ajuga 'Black Scallop', Heuchera 'Caramel', Penstemon 'Dark Towers'

Oxalis 'Molten Lava' blooming

Oxalis 'Molten Lava' blooming

Passion flower 'Amethyst' in flower in my hanging baskets

Passion flower 'Amethyst' in flower in my hanging baskets

So I hope this had made it a bit more clear.  When y'all ask me "What have you been up to this spring" and I say "gardening" it is impossible to imagine all that word signifies.  How many hours of work and hours of pleasure derived.  How much food eaten, rows howed, weeds pulled, insects fed, insects killed, children taught, soil amended, transplants planted, potatoes hilled, flower beds mulched, hanging baskets filled, soil blocks blocked, seeds sown, fertilizer applied, supports built, netting hung, containers moved and planted, and moved again, greens harvested, greens cleaned, greens washed, potting soil mixed, and the WATERING multiple times a day, shoooooeeeeeee!  You know, "gardening".

Rhubarb, baby!

I often joke with my husband that I'm a farmer who needs a wife!  Spending much of my time growing food leaves less time to be in the kitchen preparing it.  After a long spring day cultivating, planting, and running around after two active boys I am pretty much burnt out and the thought of some extravagant cooking is enough to make me call the local, crappy Chinese take-out for noodles that I'll add a ton of greens to. 

After kids, long gone are the days of working outdoors until dark and leisurely eating something (surely too spicy or too bitter) around 8:30 or 9 with my man.  Nope.  Gone.  Try kids hanging on my legs around 5 saying they are STARVING and me losing it trying to keep them at bay until said man gets home from work when we eat, trying to keep the boys from saying "fart" at the supper table.  I know these are the times I'll look back on and miss, or at least that is what everyone says.  More like, I'll look back and smile and then smile harder when I realize that I have just baked a rhubarb pie in peace after a full day's work thank you very much.

I know, I know, I managed to do it even WITH the kicking and screaming!

I know, I know, I managed to do it even WITH the kicking and screaming!

When we moved into this house, built in 1860, there was little left of the gardens than forsythia, daylilies, lilacs, monstrous locust trees, currants, apples, tons of Bishop's weed, and one enormous rhubarb plant.  I guess you'd say only the strong survive.  Being the propagation nut that I am I thought to myself "why have one enormous rhubarb plant when you can have 10?" and after a few divisions and a couple of growing seasons I am left with enough rhubarb for 50 pies!  I do this ALL THE TIME.  More is more, you know?

Yes, more is more, and more, and more to cook!  Although this is NOT a cooking blog, it is impossible to separate growing food from preparing, it in my mind.  This time of year, when spring has FINALLY sprung in Vermont there is nothing more indicative of the season than rhubarb in the kitchen.  The nubby little alien looking sprouts pushing through the snowy soil in early spring is enough to bring tears to my eyes and as I'm learning to focus on all things positive in this cold as hell climate, let's give rhubarb it's due!

Rhubarb (Rheum rhaponticum) is a perennial (Praise the Lawd!) vegetable that prefers cooler weather.  This member of the buckwheat family is long-lived and easy to grow if sited well.  Full sun in the North, part shade in the South (where the stems may become leggy) and moist but well-drained soil.  Rhubarb does not like "wet feet" but needs to stay moist.  An annual dressing of rich compost and plenty of mulch (around the crowns, never touching them) will keep this plant happy.  If you are ambitious enough to test your soil make sure it is high in phosphorous otherwise amend with bonemeal.  Straw or grass clippings work well for mulcing.  As soon as the shoots emerge in spring I get right to this task as I have spaced mine too close together and at full height I cannot get in between my plants without a lot of hassle.  I actually found my 5 year old hiding in the patch the other day, completely concealed and very happy he had tricked his mama, little rascal!!  Unless you want a fort for your children, space about 3 feet apart in rows 6 feet apart.  I also battle slugs (teeny, tiny baby slugs) that chew tiny holes in the leaves.  I'm assuming If mine were spaced further apart I would solve that problem.

Our rhubarb patch in early May

Our rhubarb patch in early May

The younger, redder stalks (known as "Strawberry Rhubarb") will be the most tender and will need no peeling. 

The younger, redder stalks (known as "Strawberry Rhubarb") will be the most tender and will need no peeling. 

To harvest, simply pull the stalks gently, and firmly out from the crown.  No clippers needed.  Cut the leafy top off at once (okay, now you need your clippers) and compost it.  The leaves are high in oxalic acid and are inedible.  If you leave them on the stalk they will suck away water and nutrients so best to remove them right away.  I do this in the garden as I'm harvesting.  Choose the reddish stalks which will be smaller in diameter.  Moderate harvesting can begin on 2 year old plants once the stalks are about 1" thick. 

Rhubarb can be purchased in crowns, plants, or divided from a neighbor or friend.  I will be doing this again either early fall this year early spring next so message me if you want to reserve some of my plants.  Mine is an old fashioned variety that has a tendency to go to seed as the weather gets warmer so I must be diligent about keeping the flower shoots pruned.  There are newer cultivars that would provide more bolt-resistance and deeper red coloration to the stalks but I love thinking about who else might have cooked from these plants, perhaps the farm wife I'm always wishing I had. 

Clark at 2 helping me chop rhubarb for jam.

Clark at 2 helping me chop rhubarb for jam.

Keep flower stalks pruned to keep stalks vigorous

Keep flower stalks pruned to keep stalks vigorous

She was probably a goddess with pies.  I have come a long way with my crust, especially after the introduction of lard into the equation (thank you, Dawn!), and now a pie comes pretty naturally to me.  When I moved to Vermont in 2009 my sister gave me an old copy of The Vermont Year Round Cookbook published in 1961 by Vermont Life Magazine.  I have loved an old-timers introduction to the seasonal cooking of New England (thank you, Mamie!).  I have especially loved the anecdotal additions to the recipes and the one with this simple rhubarb pie is a keeper.  I don't know about you, but marriage can be a long row to hoe and if you have secret weapons like this recipe in your arsenal you are sure to mend some fences, I know I have.  "To be sure your marriage is happy, make rhubarb pie like this"...


I use dark brown sugar instead of white

I use dark brown sugar instead of white

Another favorite recipe of mine and one that can be served sweet or savory (think roasted pork) is Rhubarb Rosemary Preserves.  I don't know where I got this recipe!  It is jotted down in an old garden notebook of mine and I did not note the source.  Thank you to the universe.

 

 

 

8 cups rhubarb chopped into 1" pieces

4 cups sugar

Juice of 1 lemon

12 sprigs rosemary

1 2" piece ginger cut into coins

Place cut rhubarb in non-reactive bowl with sugar and lemon and macerate overnight. 

Strain syrup into pan and add rosemary and ginger.  Bring to a boil.  Skim.  Continue to boil until gel point (221 degrees on candy thermometer).  Doing a gel test by placing some jam on a plate and placing in the freezer for a few minutes to see if it sets up always eases the mind.  Remove rosemary and ginger.

Add rhubarb and cook 3-5 minutes.  By adding it this late in the game it keeps it's shape rather than turning into total mush.

Ladle into hot sterile jars and cap (I added a sprig of fresh rosemary to each jar ahead of adding jam).  Process in hot water bath for 10 minutes.  

For those of you who need a primer on canning read this article from Organic Gardening

This recipe yields about 10 half pint jars.

Currants are naturally high in pectin and seeing that our freezer (or bush in early summer) is always full of them I add them to jams rather than commercial pectin.  Thank you hand model Clark.

Currants are naturally high in pectin and seeing that our freezer (or bush in early summer) is always full of them I add them to jams rather than commercial pectin.  Thank you hand model Clark.

This homage to rhubarb would not be complete without my go-to EASY rhubarb dessert recipe.  Well, not as easy as just cooking it down with brown sugar and ginger and serving over vanilla ice cream, but easier than rhubarb custard.  I will just link it because I found it on Epicurious.  This recipe for Rhubarb Country Cake indulges my Southern love for biscuits which is never ever satisfied!!!  Best served with fresh whipped cream.  I always use more rhubarb than called for because I always have more and it is usually a sticky mess, but a delicious sticky mess and I like the more filling to biscuit ratio.  If you use more just be sure to place a pan (aluminum foil lined if you want easy clean-up) under your dish to catch the drippings.

After reviewing all of this I'm realizing maybe I don't need a wife, maybe I just need to clone myself.  If I had two of me running around; one in the garden, one in the kitchen I might be able to accomplish all I set out to do.  Just think of the flower arrangements!  The pickles!  The window treatments when I finally learn to sew!!  On second thought, there aren't enough rhubarb pies in the world to make my marriage survive two of me in this house.

Decoding Sun Exposure

While texting with my sister over the weekend about the sun requirements of a purple oxalis she purchased for her covered porch, it became apparent that some budding gardeners may benefit from me just starting at the beginning.  Shade, part shade, dappled shade, part sun, SUN.  All plants need some degree of it.  Even the most shade tolerant houseplant would die if put in a closet.  Well it may take a sanseveria a long time to do so but I'm sure that given time that sucker would bite the dust just the same as any of 'em. 

 

First things first, figure the sun exposure of your garden, or the location your containers will be placed.  Stand behind the garden space with your back to the house.  Using a compass (you have one in the utility section of your iphone!) get a reading facing the garden.  That is the direction your garden is facing and the sun exposure it gets; Southern exposure getting the most sun while Northern gets the least.

 

Now look up.  See any trees?  Is there a porch roof over your head?  Any other shade producing structures around?  These will all take away from the amount of sun the garden receives.  To figure out exactly how much sun (hours per day) just choose a day to observe.  Check every hour and note when the space comes in and out of sun.  Not all sun is created equal.  Afternoon is much stronger than morning so you'll need to know not only how much sun but WHEN.  

So now you are at a reputable nursery.  I cannot stress this enough.  If you are finding this post helpful then you will no doubt have further questions when you are selecting plant material.  Go to a locally owned nursery.  The staff will be more helpful and knowledgeable (I used to be one of them!) and the plant material will likely be grown closer to where you live (better come transplant time) and of a higher quality.  As with most things in life, you can't get somethin' for nothin' so be prepared to pay a bit more but it will be so worth the investment.  These are living things we are talking about here!

While shopping read tags. I repeat, take the tag out of the container and read it!  Your average plant tag will tell you the sun requirements, water requirements, hardiness zone, mature height, and spacing (how far apart to plant them).

Full Sun:  Needs 6-8 or more hours of sun.  Many of these plants can tolerate an entire day of sun and be completely happy as long as their moisture requirements are met.  Most vegetables and herbs fall into this category as do many heat loving annuals and perennials.  If you are looking to plant ornamentals in an area that receives absolutely no shade at all look for keywords "heat tolerant" and "drought tolerant".  Ornamental grasses and succulents are not only interesting textural plants, they are also particularly good for all day blasting sun, as are Echinaceas, Rudbeckias, Salvias, Artemesia, Amsonia, Penstemon, Lupines, Baptisia, Hisbiscus, Scabiosa, Kniphofia, Nicotiana, Zinnias, and Yucca to name a few of my faves.  If you are a container maven look for these top pics:  Banana, Scaevola, Brocade geraniums, Echeverias, dwarf grasses, Sedums, Million bell petunias, Salvia 'Black and Blue', Basil 'African Blue', Kalanchoe thrysifolia, Senecio.  I have a LOT of sun so a disproportionate amount of sun pics, sorry!

Light or Dappled Shade:  These plants require little direct sun but need a days worth of filtered sun coming through deciduous leaf cover.  They do not want heavy, dense shade.  Woodland plants fall into this category.  Aconitum, Anemones, Cimiifuga, Aquilegia, Carex, Chelone, Hellebores, Heuchera, Hosta, Ligularia, Thalictrum, and most ferns do well in this placement. 

Check out my cute son Clark, aww he was so little then... as well as the understory... lots of dappled sun going on here.

Check out my cute son Clark, aww he was so little then... as well as the understory... lots of dappled sun going on here.

Part Sun/Part Shade:  Need 4 hours of sun, preferably morning sun or evening sun.  These plants will suffer if hit with much hot afternoon sun.  I have gotten away with stretching some of these to have more sun here in Vermont than what they will tolerate in Virginia where the hot afternoon sun will fry an egg!  Clematis, Astilbe, Aruncus, Hydrangea, Brunnera, Foxglove, Dicentra, Lobelia, New Guinea impatiens, Begonias, Tiarella, Japanese maples, and Fuschias need part sun.

non-stop tuberous begonias thrive with some morning sun and rest day shade

non-stop tuberous begonias thrive with some morning sun and rest day shade

Shade:  Less than 4 hours of sun a day.  This DOES NOT MEAN a dark place.  If you have a structure (i.e. fence or building) that casts a dark shadow make sure that the plants are getting the 4 hours direct sun to counterbalance.  Shade plants will also thrive in dappled or bright shade.  The brighter the shade, the less direct sun the plant will require.  Hosta, Impatiens, Ferns, Filipendula, Heuchera (many varieties can tolerate part sun), Rhododendrons, Daphne (sniff, sniff zone 7), Trillium, Solomon's seal, Aralia, and Yews.

blooming Solomon's Seal

blooming Solomon's Seal


assorted Rex Begonias... beautiful foliage for shade that can be brought in and overwintered in bright window.

assorted Rex Begonias... beautiful foliage for shade that can be brought in and overwintered in bright window.

Heuchera 'Caramel' in full shade, potted fuschia blooming near door.  This is on the north side of my covered porch which gets no direct sun.

Heuchera 'Caramel' in full shade, potted fuschia blooming near door.  This is on the north side of my covered porch which gets no direct sun.

Now, what if you have a plant in the wrong spot.  Your plant will give you signs that it isn't getting what it needs before it up and dies so pay attention!!  Scorched and yellowing leaves means it is getting too much direct sun.  Often, it is too much hot afternoon sun. 

my poor 'Moonlight' Pilea has been getting fried on my desk as the spring sun gains in strength

my poor 'Moonlight' Pilea has been getting fried on my desk as the spring sun gains in strength

Leggy (long stems, losing compact shape) plants are reaching for more sun, so they aren't getting enough.  If your flowering plants aren't blooming that could also be a sign of not enough sun.  Plants that have colorful foliage that has dulled or reverted to more of a green shade often are telling you they want more sun as well.

These are general guidelines.  The most important thing is to pay attention to the health of each individual plant and adjust placement when necessary.  With gardening there is always the occasional anomaly, shade plants in sun or vice versa that are happy, microclimates that are created and allow for something surprising.  If it ain't broke don't fix it, and alert any plant breeder you know and they may be over to take cuttings!

When briefly trying to text all of this info to my sister she exclaimed that it was making her "head spin" and after this blog post I am feeling just about the same way.  Before I go to take the boys to ride bikes near the lake I'd like to share a little bit of our family life with you.

Each night as we sit down to supper we give thanks for what is on our plate.  We thank the cook, the farmer (or mama!) that grew the vegetables, farmer or hunter (papa!) for the meat, the animal that gave it's life, and Mother Nature for the rain and, of course, THE SUN (my father will be scoffing a bit now without the proper prayer but it ain't easy with a scientist for a husband and a few questions of your own!!).  Without the sun we could not live.  We are lucky to have whatever degree of it in our gardens where no matter how much there are always beautiful things to grow.  Thanks to the sun.  Amen. 






Asian Greens

 Spring in New England is tough for a Southern girl.  I have many pre-concieved notions about weather and torture myself by remembering specific spring wedding weekends with Flower Girls (the flower company I left behind in Richmond, Va) and how we were in flip flops and sundresses delivering the flowers and hanging out on the warm deck afterwards for our celebratory cocktail.  I will fondly reminisce while stoking our woodstove (this is BOUND to be the last night we have to have a fire, right?) and getting the greenhouse heater going and crossing my fingers that the pepper starts won't go into shock if the temps drop too low in there. 

View from the window as I write this, May 4

View from the window as I write this, May 4

I have fought these Southern demons for four years now and am finally at the point where I can try to say it is okay that it might snow... again.  It is okay that while my mother is planting her tomato plants I am putting mittens on my kids.  It is okay that while my sister's family is in North Carolina at the beach, my father swimming in the (albeit frigid) pool, I am scrambling to cover the seedlings in the garden for worry of frost.  All of this is okay because while they have creature comfort, I have the best Goddamn greens around and the salads to prove it!

Yukina Savoy, Vitamin Green, Komatsuna Summerfest, Spinach in Greenhouse this April

Yukina Savoy, Vitamin Green, Komatsuna Summerfest, Spinach in Greenhouse this April

I have practically stopped growing lettuce (gasp!).  I still grow a couple of varieties of fine butterhead and the occasional freckled or red romaine but the bulk of the greens I grow are Asian.  I got into growing them because they are super cold tolerant and well suited for winter greenhouse production as well as loaded with vitamins and trace minerals and the kids really prefer them, and even better they prefer them raw.  Flint (3) eats each leaf individually and by hand, grasping the stem and eating the leaf in one bite.  It's slow-going but daggone if he won't eat a whole plate!

The Asian greens range of flavors make for a dynamic and nuanced salad.  Such delicate flavor you wouldn't suspect coming from such hardy little plants.  I had Mizuna, Tatsoi, Yukina Savoy, Tokyo Bekana, and two mustard varieties survive THIS winter in the greenhouse (which I do not heat in winter) with only mild cover, exploding in new growth in February.... saying a lot when we are talking about THE WINTER FROM HELL.   These plants are SURVIVORS and I find inspiration in that.

 

A salad bowlful of homegrown Asian Greens is a revelation.  My friend Cecelia said that after eating my greens she would never go back to store bought again.  Being of Chinese heritage and also vegetarian these greens are mainstays in her kitchen and she struggles to find them for sale at local grocers.  When she is able to find them she says they lack any depth of flavor.  Last week she planted 100 seedlings I started for her so she can grow her own, Go Girl! 

The flavors range from sweet and somewhat watery, to bitter, from mild to hot, to everywhere in between on the pungent spectrum.  I harvest huge amounts daily for salads and when the plants really get going I have plenty to saute as well.  Dress them lightly (I keep a jar of buttermilk dressing on hand recipe at end of article) so as not to overpower their delicate flavor.

As for growing, they are pretty easy.  You have to be careful of flea beetles and slugs early season and cabbage loopers and moths mid-late season but if given a moderately rich and moist soil and plenty of sun you will be in business.  Most prefer cooler temperatures so they are well suited for spring or fall production as well as for growing in winter greenhouses or cold frames. 

If you are growing salads you will be harvesting at baby leaf stage and can pretty much jam the plants closely together.  For baby leaf I space plants 3" apart in large blocks (in raised beds where the depth for the roots allows you to plant closer together) and 6"-8" (variety dependent) for saute or full sized heads.   

So here's the line-up....

Tokyo Bekana is a year-round crop for me.  I usually start early transplants on heat mats indoors in late Feb- early March to speed germination.  From there the plants are transplanted into greenhouse beds by late March-early April at which point the crop from the previous fall is going to flower.  The chartreuse leaves make for a highlight in the garden or salad.  This green is heat tolerant and will go all summer outdoors in the garden as well.  In the South you'd want it lightly shaded for summer production so it doesn't fry.  It is delicious as baby or mature greens.  It's flavor does not take on any heat as it matures. 

 

 

 

Hon Tsai Tai in flower   

Hon Tsai Tai in flower

 

Hon Tsai Tai is most easily described as the Chinese Brocolli Raab.  It has a very similar growth habit and edible flower buds (and flowers if you are negligent in your harvest (see pic!)).  This is best grown as a summer-fall crop ( or even fall-winter crop in the South).  The taste is mildly mustard and it is suited for salads or saute.  Harvest the flower shoots early as the stem will toughen quickly at which point it is overmature, still edible but VERY tough.

 

Mustards  I have a real thing for mustard greens.  I love the opening of the sinuses and pungent bite of freshly harvested home-grown mustard greens.  They can be a real challenge to eat and I'm into that.  There is something about tears running down your face while at the supper table that I really enjoy.  If your only experience of mustards is store-bought you are only halfway there.  Grow your own or search a farmers market as the depth of flavor just isn't available commercially.  Varieties that I love are Shuenling no.2 (pretty light green frilly leaves), Red Giant (robust and wonderful for saute), and Scarlet Frills (deeply serrated purple leaves are garnish-worthy). 

 

Mustard Red Giant and Scarlet Frills

Mustard Red Giant and Scarlet Frills

Baby Shuenling no.2 mustards with Yukina Savoy

Baby Shuenling no.2 mustards with Yukina Savoy

Komatsuma Summerfest  These are mild, tender Japanese greens for salad and braising.  I am just putting these in now as they are heat tolerant and should go through the summer.  The plants are upright and uniform which makes them easy to pack into my beds... I am a helpless overplanter!!

Wasabi Arugula This tastes EXACTLY LIKE WASABI.  Feeding leaves of this to guests is a party trick of mine.  It is truly unbelievable.  The seed is TEEENY TINY and expensive and of course, I SNEEZED while planting it in the greenhouse, also unbelievable, and so only have one little row that I'm hording.  A little bit slower to grow than regular arugula but still pretty easy.

Yukina Savoy This is probably my favorite Asian green.  I eat it nearly every day for lunch, massaged with chili garlic paste and topped with poached eggs and avocado.  I am a creature of habit, what can I say.  I love this green so much that I started it TWICE this spring, both from seed and transplant, and now it is taking up a disproportionate amount of the greenhouse.  I love the dark green slightly savoyed leaves and the delicious crunchy watery stems.  It is both heat and cold tolerant with a more vigorous growth habit than Tatsoi.  The heads are delicious steamed/braised if you have any plants that make it beyond the baby salad stage!

Vitamin Green  This is my first year in a LONG time growing this brassica.  It was part of my second city garden many years ago thanks to The Growers Exchange where I then worked.  The leaves are uniform and very flavorful but not at all hot or mustardy (great for the boys).  It isn't much of a show stopper in the greenhouse but it is growing fast and easy. 

A couple of greens that I did not picture are Mizuna and Pac Choi.  I have taken a break from both for different reasons.  Mizuna has been a mainstay in the greenhouse since it was completed.  This very mild Japanese mustard slows in the heat and so I find it better suited for a fall crop in the greenhouse.  It will regrow as a cut and come again crop, always a bonus.  I prefer the purple and red varieties to add color to my salads.  As for Pac Choi I am out of greenhouse room and I have an epic flea beetle problem in the garden so am avoiding putting out any Chinese cabbage varieties until I can get it under control.  That is a post for another day!!

If taste alone isn't enough to inspire you, I was told that a bag of assorted Asian Greens at Healthy (er, WEALTHY) Living Market in South Burlington was going for $15.00!!!  Reason enough to make some room for these delicious greens in your garden this year.  All seed available from Johnny's who if you live in New England has super fast delivery.  Order today and plant early next week!!

Finally... the promised Buttermilk Garlic Dressing.  My children will literally drink this stuff.   I like it sort of liquidy.  If you want a thicker dressing just keep adding mayo till you get to the desired consistency.

1-2 cloves chopped raw garlic (to taste)

1 cup highest quality buttermilk you can find (Butterwork's farm is soooo good)

1/2 cup mayonnaise

2 T lemon juice

3/4 tsp Worcestershire

salt and pepper to taste

let garlic steep in lemon juice and worcestershire for about 30 min or so.  Whisk in buttermilk and then mayo to reach desired consistency.  Season with salt and pepper.  Will keep in jar in fridge for a week or so.

PLANT SALE

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Now that the boys are getting older and I have more time to sit and concentrate I was able to spend a lot of time on seed ordering this year.  I'm super excited to be growing everything from the oldest known beet (the variety dates back 1000 years!) to rare chocolate sweet peas to a cute little green Korean eggplant called 'Kermit'. 

I have started a ton of seedlings in the greenhouse and there is no way in HELL I'll plant them all so I'm putting them up for sale!  I grow everything organically and most of these will be available in soil blocks or CowPots which means no plastic and less transplant shock. I don't have the greenhouse space to grow extras of everything so this year I focused mostly on tomatoes and peppers which EVERYONE SHOULD BE GROWING FOR THEMSELVES YOU CAN DO IT IN A POT IF YOU HAVE TO.  If this sale goes well, next year I'll have a wider variety.

To all of my Southern friends and family I wish I could share these with you!  Try and track some down for yourselves at plant sales and farmers markets.

Please email josephinecrary@gmail.com if you are interested in reserving any.  They will be available for pick-up at my house in Monkton late May.

Any photos that aren't mine are thanks to Johnny's Select Seeds and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds where the seed was purchased.

ALL PLANTS 4" POTS $3.

 

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 Tomato Pozzano  These are roma style tomatoes best for sauce, salsa, drying, and canning as the flavor improves with cooking.  This is a unique variety as it does particularly well in greenhouse or hoophouse culture.  I grew these in the greenhouse last year and they definitely out performed the other roma varities I had in the garden.  We dehydrated them and ate them on pizza and salads and dropped into soups all winter.  Indeterminate

Tomato Pearly Pink  This is the first year I'll be growing these beautiful pink cherry tomatoes.  The Baker Creek catalog claims the flavor to be crisp and intense and that they are one of the prettiest they carry and that is saying a LOT considering how many varieties they offer.  The fruit size is large for a cherry.

 

Tomato Sungold  This has been my standby cherry tomato for years.  These are by far the sweetest tomato out there and the golden orange color is pure summer sunshine.  They are exceptionally sweet dried when they take on the size of a raisin or dried cherry, perfect for adding a taste of summer to winter salads.  Very productive.  Indeterminate.

 

Tomato Cherokee Purple  This is another on my top 10 list.  The fruit is large and flattened and colored mauve pink with darker shoulders.  Beautiful when cut as the interior ranges from pink and purple to brown to green.  Indeterminate but relatively short vines. 

 

Tomato Green Grape  Every year I grow Green Zebra and wanted to mix it up this year.  This tomato was bred by the same guy and has a flavor that is equal to if not better than Green Zebra.  Sweet and zingy with a smaller grape size make these more snackable than Green Zebra and if you have two preschoolers in the garden that means less of a choking hazard!!  Lime green inside with chartreuse yellow skin make these very beautiful in your kitchen and on the plate.  Make sure to let ripen fully to avoid sour harvests.  Semi-determinate bushlike habit.

 
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Tomato Orange Banana  In late summer I always have large bowlfuls of tomatoes in the kitchen for snacking and wanted a mix of pink, green, gold, and orange that would be purty to look at y'all!  Orange Banana rounds out my mix and although it isn't ideal for snacking (better for paste, drying, canning, sauces) I couldn't resist it's unique shape and color.  Indeterminate and dependable.


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Tomato Granny Cantrell  This large beefsteak tomato won the taste test at the 2006 Baker Creek Heirloom Garden Show... SOLD!  The name comes from the woman who grew this variety in Kentucky year after year saving her own seed.  A true heirloom.  I didn't grow Brandywine this year and can't wait to see how these add up.

 

 







Tomato Mountain Magic  Round, bright red salad tomatoes that are resistant to early and late blight and resist cracking.  Very sweet.  This grew crazy well in my garden last year.  Although I love the size and flavor of heirloom slicing tomatoes, having a few workhorses like this are nice because they are just daggone easy to grow!  Similar to the Campari-type tomatoes available at grocery stores but way more flavorful.  All the science and breeding behind this variety certainly ain't for nothin'!  Indeterminate but compact.

Pepper Shishito I learned of this pepper variety last year while visiting a farmer friend in Virginia.  The plants were so cute and compact and LOADED with fruit.  They are all over trendy restaurant menus these days as the sweet thin-walled peppers go perfectly with cocktails.  Just blister them in oil and sprinkle with salt... Voila!  This variety would be well suited to container growing.

 

A little word about peppers and zone 4... I ain't gonna lie, peppers can be tricky in Vermont as the season is short and not quite hot enough.  I always plant mine in black plastic (which I install a couple weeks ahead of planting to make the soil as hot as possible) and cover with frost protection cloth at summers end to trap as much heat and extend the harvest as long possible. 

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Pepper Tabasco  That's right... the true Tabasco pepper that Edmund McIlhenny created his famous sauce from in 1868 on Avery Island, Louisiana.  Grows to 4 feet but probably not so big here in Vermont.  Pick when red for the spiciest peppers.  Also well suited for container growing.










Pepper NuMex Joe E. Parker  This is a thick-walled very prolific Anaheim style pepper.  Perfect for stuffing, roasting, especially grilling.  This pepper is my favorite to grill for fajitas as it has a teeny tiny bit of heat and a delicious flavor.  I harvest when green but peppers do mature to red.  Used in New Mexico for dried pepper wreath making.  I have had great success with these in Vermont the past few years. 




Pepper Ace  This bell pepper does particularly well in cool climates.  Last year's bumpercrop harvest culminated on Labor Day which I spent grilling these for a delicious cold roasted red pepper soup. I will post the recipe when I make it again this late summer.  When left to mature to red the fruit is very sweet.

 

 

Pepper Cayenne Andy This is a high yielding mildly spicy cayenne pepper that is perfect for chopping fresh or drying whole.  We have used these all winter in stir-fries and soups.  The mildly spicy flavor is perfect when cooking for a family.  We have had success with building up our little guys' spice tolerance but only to a certain extent! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Pepper Peach Habanero  Hot Habanero flavor with a pretty coloration.  Plants reach 18".  These are off to a SLOW start in the greenhouse so let's get together and do a dance for the sun and heat to finally reach the Northeast!  I'm hoping these will size up to be sell-able in a month or so.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AND FINALLY....

 

Pepper Peperone di Cuneo  Italian, sweet, tomato shaped peppers that are very fine flavored.  These thick walled small peppers are perfect for snacking and KIDS LOVE THEM.  

That's all for now folks.  I may have extras of some specialty cutflowers just haven't figured out how ambitious I am going to be this summer with cutflower production this year.  Peace!