Rainy days and Sundays always get me down when I can not garden!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

I'm Dreaming of......the Average Date of the Last Spring Frost!

Gardening is dictated by the weather.  The weather tells us when and how to prepare the soil, when to start seeds indoors, or to direct sow in the ground.  It tells us when to protect our plants from in climatic weather and even when to harvest.  We have learned how to "fool" the weather by extending the growing seasons with the use of low and high tunnels or hoop houses, cold frames, frost and shade cloth, and cloches. However, what is probably most important is the average date of the first and last frost.  Of course, this will vary depending on where you live, not only in the country, but also in a region or even by area code.  But, it is this information that will help to create a timeline for your gardening activities.

In the are in which I live (19033), the average date of the last spring frost is April 23.  The average date of the first fall frost is October 15.  However, actual frost dates can vary by 1- 2 weeks.  So it may be possible to plant as early as April 17 and harvest as late as November 1st.  Keep in mind that the average frost date has a 50/50 chance of being correct.  Average does not mean last and there are other factors such as local micro-climates that will play a role in your gardening decisions.

Sweet dreams.........

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Growing a Community

Opened in the Spring of 2011 on the lawn of the Ames True Temper plant in Camp Hill Pa.   There are 150 raised beds in 3 sizes, 6x9, 8x18, and 16x18.  There is a stocked tool shed plus access to water through hoses that reach out to every bed.  There is a larger fence plus a second, smaller rabbit fence.  The best part is that there is no fee!  
I grew up in this area and this is where my love for gardening began.  I was lucky enough to have a big backyard in a sunny spot to grow a garden.  But for those who do not, a community  garden is a way to grow!

Sunday, December 9, 2012


I turned a couple of tomato cages into a Christmas Tree!

I started with 2 round wire tomato cages.....

...and a pot wide enough to support the base of the "tree".

Place the tomato cages upside down in the pot.  Slip the second cage over the first and stagger the vertical post.  This will help keep the shape of the tree rounded. Gather the "top" of the tree and tie into a point.  

You will need to anchor the tomato cages to the pot (otherwise you may be running after it on a blustery winter night.)  I drilled holes just under the rim and secured the cages with tie wraps.  

I used 3 packs of 33 feet each green wire pine garland to cover the tomato cages.  I began at the base and worked my way to the top.  (I got a little dizzy with this part.)  

All wrapped and topped off.

I then added some lights and a bow.  

Monday, December 3, 2012

What's eating you?

Call me naive but when I came across an article on "food fraud",  I was dumbfounded.  Some 7% of our food supply in the US is adulterated and/or mislabeled, involving growers, importers and distributors.  This problem spans international boarders, is difficult to uncover, is worth billions of dollars a year, and is no match for a strapped FDA.

At stake, besides not getting what you paid for, is a health risk to an unknowing public, often with long term consequences.  From carcinogenic additives to lead contamination, dangerous pathogens, toxic ingredients and chemical residues, banned antibiotic use and unsuspected allergens, the problem is enormous.  In most cases the consumer has no idea that they have been ripped off, unable to detect that the food as been adulterated.  Food fraud is an economic problem, but it also a public health issue, especially if the food is potentially harmful.

Some of the most adulterated foods are listed below.  But be aware, almost any food can be adulterated.  

Olive oil-One of the most adulterated foods on the market.  Often times regular olive oil is sold as extra virgin.  Cheaper oils are colored to look like olive oil, or used to dilute the oil to increase profits.  In 1981, over 600 people died in Spain from consuming rapeseed oil (a non-food grade industrial lubricant) sold as olive oil.

Milk-The second most adulterated food on the market.  Watered down, reconstituted milk powder, cut with detergents, caustic soda, sugars, salts, urea, and laced with melamine to cover up the dilution and increase the protein content.  300,000 consumers were made sick, and 6 infants died from the 2008 Chinese milk scandal.  

Honey- Honey that does not contain pollen can not be called honey.  Removing the pollen makes it impossible to trace the honey to its source, or to determine its authenticity.  1/3 of the honey imported from Asia was found to be contaminated with lead and antibiotics.  Honey is also cut with sugar and corn syrups.

OJ and Apple Juice are cut with water or other cheaper juices diluting the product.

Spices-Almost all our spices are imported.  Lead coal tar dyes, tartrazine (yellow dye believed to cause hyperactivity in children), and borax are just a few additives that have been found in spices.  Be careful of buying spices from unmarked bins and markets. without knowing their source of origin.

Fish-A type of bate and switch, farm raised fish will be sold as wild.  Also, one type of fish is sold as another.  Buying fish whole makes it more difficult to misrepresent it.

Coffee-Selling a cheaper variety as a gourmet brand.  Instant coffee being sold as brewed.  Adding barley, chicory, caramel, malt, figs etc. 

Even garden variety tomatoes being sold as heirlooms!

So how do we go about not falling victim to fake food?  For starters, if it seems to good to be true,  most likely it is.  I am not saying that you have to buy the most expensive items on the shelf, but be wary of hard to beat deals.  Once my husband bought extra-virgin olive oil at an unbelievable price, from a brand we never heard of.  It was the worst olive oil ever!  So much for saving some money, but could we have been a victim of adulterated food?

Look for lot numbers, seals, stamps, a/o certification from reputable sources.  Often times, this shows that some sort of quality control is taking place and that the food is going through proper channels.  

Buy brands that you are familiar with, including store and generic name brands.  They have a vested interest and depend on their reputation.  

When you buy local you have heave a better understanding of how your food is grown a/o raised.  You can choose organic farms with grass fed/free range, humane practices.  


Monday, November 26, 2012

Dee Weeder

I came across this while on vacation.  
It is a multifunctional light weight tool made from aluminum.  
Use it as a hoe or rake to clear weeds and grass, to sift through and cultivate the soil or to mix in or add compost.  (I actually got it to use in my compost bins, to mix up the compost and to scoop it out when ready.)

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Road Trip to Vermont

Vermont is seeing a upsurge in residential/lifestyle farms or what is often referred to as sustainable agriculture or the localvor movement (growing and consuming locally grown food).  Vermont produces the most local food for consumption with the highest % of people who by locally.  Most farms are less then 50 acres and gross between $1000 and $50,000.  There are roughly 554 certified organic farms, 99 farmers markets and 164 CSA's.  

Monday, November 12, 2012


As a homeowner, I can understand the desire to maintain continuity within the neighborhood.  I often feel that the front yard is the first impression of the homeowner and a  window into the owners personal style.  In Feng Shui, the front yard is the stage for what is happening in the home.  How you present your home is how you present yourself.  I don't wont to be "that" neighbor with the unkempt yard.

Grass is not native to North America.  The use of the term 'lawn" first appeared in 1733.  Grass is a monoculture (the cultivation of a single crop), depleting the soil of nutrients, deprived of biodiversity and unable to support itself (and others). And yet, homeowners toil to achieve their well groomed lawns contributing $40+ billion dollars yearly to the lawn care industry. Maintaining these perfect yards require fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, mowing, watering and time.

But what is the real cost?
5% of air pollution comes from gas-powered tools in the US.
Pesticides kill 7 million birds yearly and linked to Honey Bee Colony collapse disorder.
Phosphate fertilizer have been linked to water pollution and algae blooms from runoff.
We use 7.9 billion gallons of water daily to maintain landscapes
There is a higher risk of leukemia in children living in homes that use pesticides
Home improvement stores dedicate  25% of store space to lawn care.

Ground cover, ornamental grasses, and native plants are alternatives to planting grass, requiring less maintenance, fertilizers and water.  In addition, they attract song birds, butterflies and other living things.  Organic fertilizers and pesticides are effective and non toxic solutions to synthetic chemicals.

It may be time to rethink the word "lawn", creating instead a lawn inspired by nature to attract nature, reducing the environmental impact and the cost to our wallets.


 American Green: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Lawn by Ted Steinberg

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Tasty Pickled Peppers.

Pickled peppers for dinner!

The last of the peppers from the garden.

Wash peppers.  Cut off tops and bottoms.

Remove seeds.

Cut peppers into strips or rings.

Boil for roughly 2 minutes.

Gather ingredients for the brine.

Combine ingredients and bring to a boil.  Simmer for about 5-10 minutes.

Place peppers in warm, sterilized jars, leaving about 1/2" head space.

Add brine.  Tap jar  on counter (gently) to remove air bubbles.

Process for 10 minutes in water bath.


"No matter how long the winter, spring is sure to follow." - Proverb

O, wind, if winter comes, can spring be far behind?  ~Percy Bysshe Shelley

No winter lasts forever; no spring skips its turn.  ~Hal Borland

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Creek after Sandy!

Garlic Shoots

The first green shoots from the garlic that I planted a few weeks ago.  Once we get a hard freeze, these will die off.  They will re-appear in the spring. I will mulch around them for now, then completely cover the bed after the killing frost. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

MUMS, perennial or annual?

A  chrysanthemum (from the Greek words, chrysos [gold] and anthemon [flower]) is a perennial that is often treated like an annual.  To some extent, this may be true!
If planted in the fall, the roots have less time to establish, often limiting their chance for survival.  However, if planted in the spring, there is a good chance they will overwinter and re bloom the following year.
Mums prefer well drained, composted soil with 6+ hours of sun per day.  In the fall, pinch back the dead blooms and cover the mums with 4" of shredded leaves or other mulch.  Uncover in the spring to reveal new shoots.  To keep the plants compacted (vs leggy stems), cut the plants back several times in the spring/summer, stopping around July 4th.
Mums are a inexpensive flowing plant to accentuate any fall landscape.

A mum at its peak.

7 year old mums.

A variety of colors and shapes.

Purchase mums that are mostly in the bud stage.  

Monday, October 22, 2012

Pickled or Fried?

What to do with all those green tomatoes at the end of the summer?

We are still a week or two away from the first fall frost (@10/28).  But my tomato plants are kaput.  I salvaged what I could and composted the rest.

There are several methods of ripening green tomatoes.  You can pull the entire plant out of the ground, shake off the excess dirt, tie a string or rope around the base and hang it upside down in the basement, garage or barn.  The tomatoes will ripen "on the vine".  Great if you have the space or do not mind a little dirt.

Since light is not needed to ripen green tomatoes, it is not necessary to place your tomatoes on a windowsill. Place a single layer of tomatoes in a box and cover with several sheets of newspaper.  Place in a cool area, such as a basement.  Check back on a regular basis.  You can also wrap each tomato in a sheet of newspaper and place in a box or bag.  However, I find this method to time consuming.  If your basement or garage is on the cooler side (50-60 F), it may take up to four weeks for the tomatoes to ripen.

To hasten the ripening process, a banana, pear or apple (or a ripe tomato) can be added to the box or bag.  The fruit releases ethylene gas, the "ripening hormone".  (If you use plastic bags, glass jars or other containers, keep an eye out for mold, due to moisture and warmth.)  Also, by placing your tomatoes in a warmer area of your house (65-75 F) you will accelerate ripening by about two weeks.

There are many uses for green tomatoes.  Besides frying or pickling, they can be used in salsa, chutney, and relish.  You can make green tomato bread, green tomato pie, or green tomato jam.  I also know a few individuals who eat raw green tomatoes!

What do you do with your green tomatoes?

Friday, October 19, 2012

Garlic Planting Time

I begin to plant garlic around Columbus day (the unofficial start date).  I try to have all the garlic planted by Halloween (the unofficial end date).  However, I have planted garlic into early November with no problems. I have heard of planting garlic in the spring, but I have never done this myself.  
Garlic is insanely easy to grow.  It can be planted in a variety of soil conditions, but does best in rich, loamy, weed free beds with 6+ hours of  daily sun. 
 I plan to grow both the hardneck and softneck varieties that I purchased, plus the basic "German White' from the local produce store.  I am also planting two bulbs from the past years harvest.  
Separate the individual cloves from the bulbs when time to plant.  To protect from fungal disease, the cloves can be soaked in water with 1 T of baking soda plus 1 T of liquid seaweed.  Keep the larger cloves for planting and save the smaller ones for cooking etc. 
 I use a hand bulb planter to dig to a depth of 2".  Space the cloves 4-6 inches apart.  Shoots will appear in the fall and will die back during the winter.  Mulch the garlic with several inches of leaves, straw, etc when the ground starts to freeze to help prevent heaving.  (Remove the mulch from the plants in the spring when new growth appears.)
Remember that garlic does not get harvested until June or July of the following year.  Keep this in mind when planning out your next years garden!
The end results is great tasting garlic!

Hardneck and softneck varieties.

Amend soil with organic matter.

You can also add a general purpose fertilizer since garlic is a heavy feeder

Work or turn the soil to a depth of 6+ inches

Separate cloves shortly before planting leaving the papery skin .

Plant cloves pointed side up, 2" deep.

Space cloves 4 to 6 inches apart.

If short on space, plant the garlic around the perimeters  of your beds.