March – Starting seeds in a snowstorm

Maybe I’m rushing the planting season given that we’re expecting upwards of 16 inches of snow – but it’s not snowing inside my greenhouse and the pepper and tomato seeds need to get started.  I have a laminated chart that I refer to every year and it says to start peppers and tomatoes before March 8th for my growing zone.  So I’m tucked away in my little greenhouse, planting my Italian red peppers, Amish paste tomatoes, Big Boy slicing tomatoes, San Marzano tomatoes, grape cherry tomatoes and yellow pear tomatoes.  The flurries are just starting and it’s warm-ish inside.  In a few more weeks I’ll start the squash, broccoli and loofah sponges.  The loofahs are this year’s experiment – but it will be fun to watch them grow… if spring ever gets here.  I’m done with this snow!

Starting the peppers and tomatoes because my chart says it’s time even as the flurries are starting.
And now it is accumulating – they say 16 inches are coming.  Good thing my tiny seeds are warm and cozy inside the greenhouse.

February – Damn Mice

Bruce – you were right — those damn mice moved right in once we insulated the basement.  We’ve kept traps down there, and we would catch a mouse every once in a while – but it didn’t seem like a big deal.  Until now…

I noticed that they are eating my squash!  Damn mice.  They climbed right into my wood crates, chewed holes, and cleaned out the inside of the squash.  Thank goodness they didn’t eaten them all!  I grabbed the rest of my good squash and rushed them to safety in the house.   I scrubbed them good – with soap and water — just in case a mouse had walked over them.  Then I roasted them, pureed then and packed them into freezer bags.  Hah!  No more squash for those damn mice.

Now, I hope the mice will go for the cheese in the traps – given that their supply of squash has been squashed.

Damn mice!
This mouse trap will get more action now that all the crates are empty.

December – The Garden by the Numbers

The 2017 garden was a success – the freezer is full to the brim with a rainbow of vegetables – beets, carrots, green beans, squash.  Our shelves are laden with jars of sauce, jams, jellies, pickles, salsas, chutneys and soups.  The wooden crates in the basement are full of potatoes and squash, and the pantry is full of dehydrated tomatoes, herbs, scallions, onions, garlic.

What did we really get out of the garden?  Here it is by the numbers (rounded to the closest pound):

  • Beans                                     25 pounds
  • Beets                                      28 pounds
  • Brussel Sprouts                    3 pounds
  • Carrots                                   11 pounds
  • Cucumbers                            19 pounds
  • Farm Berries (wild)             4 pounds
  • Garlic                                      1 pound
  • Onions                                    2 pounds
  • Peas (shelled)                        3 pounds
  • Peppers, Green                     8 pounds
  • Peppers, Red                         3 pounds
  • Potatoes                                 25 pounds
  • Pumpkins                              8 pounds
  • Squash, Acorn                       9 pounds
  • Squash, Buttercup                7 pounds
  • Squash, Butternut                35 pounds
  • Squash, Spaghetti                 2 pounds
  • Squash, Zucchini                  4 pounds
  • Tomatoes, Amish                  32 pounds
  • Tomatoes, Beefsteak            45 pounds
  • Tomatoes, Cherry                 35 pounds
  • Tomatoes, Zebra                   30 pounds
  • Tomatoes, San Marzano     44 pounds

That’s 380 pounds of produce!  And that’s not counting the salsify that we’ve just begun to harvest, and all the herbs, and the gourds that were just for decoration, and the smattering of raspberries and blueberries.

What do I want to do differently next year?  I think less tomatoes, beets and beans and more garlic (I’ve planted it already!) and onions.  The acorn squash doesn’t seem to hold up well in the “root cellar” but the butternut, buttercup and spaghetti squash are doing great – so I probably won’t do acorn squash.  I would have expected more zucchini, but the plants got some sort of blossom rot and didn’t do much this year – maybe I’ll try that again next year.

There is a coating of snow on the ground now.  All my gardens are blanketed in white, but I gotta go… it’s time to start looking through the seed catalogues for next year!

Just a few beets for dinner.
Lots of tomatoes!
So many cucumbers, but where are they now?

November – Sour Grapes

Our experience with grapes on this property has been a bit sour.  First, we planted some grapes and they died.  Then we planted some grapes, and they are still alive, but there are no grapes.  Then… I found wild grapes!  I figured that was the solution — free, wild and growing profusely.

I picked bunches of these tiny gems, washed them, stemmed them, ran them through the food mill to remove their seeds, and made grape jelly!  I’ve been making jams and jellies for years — I know how to do it.  This batch was a flop.  It wouldn’t set up, so I ended up with tiny jars of grape juice.

Not one to give in to failure, I popped open all those little jars of grape juice and tackled making jelly — again — with even more Sure-Jell.  It still didn’t set.  It’s a little thicker, but still not like jelly; it’s more like grape pudding – which sounds disgusting.  Sour grapes.

Tiny little grapes.
Only half a quart of juice, and a batch of jelly that wouldn’t set.  That’s sour grapes.


September – Eye of the Storm

Remember back when I said the garden was DONE!  I was wrong.  That was just the eye of the storm.  It was calm and quiet for a few weeks.  It was so quiet, in fact, that we even sneaked away for a long weekend of vacation — since there wasn’t much happening here.  Maybe it was the extreme heat followed by the unseasonably cool weather that stunted the production of tomatoes, peppers and squash; but now they are back with a vengeance.

I came back from vacation to find a garden full of ripe red tomatoes, red and green peppers and more squash!  In fact, I picked 14.5 POUNDS of tomatoes.  Time to get busy canning again!

Eye of Hurricane
Thankfully — we weren’t affected by the hurricanes…
But we’re in the middle of a tomato tornado



September – The Root Cellar

I thought harvest time would be in October – but here we are, barely into September, and my “root cellar” is nearly full already.  I don’t really have a root cellar – I have a basement. And the basement door has a sign over it that says “wine cellar.” It’s not really a wine cellar either. I’m not sure what the basement is other than dark and damp and cool.  I guess that makes it the perfect place for a root cellar and a wine cellar.
We’ve dug up the potatoes, harvested most of the winter squash, canned the tomato sauce and put up a year’s worth of pickles and jams – and it’s all stored in the root cellar/wine cellar/basement. It can be a bit inconvenient to traipse outside to go to the basement/root cellar when all I need is a couple of potatoes for dinner – but as long as I’m there, it’s a good thing that it’s a wine cellar too.
The “fruits” of our labors – jams and pie fillings.
Pickles and tomato sauce.
Butternut squash, butter cup squash, spaghetti squash and acorn squash.
And lots of potatoes!

August – The Tomato Tree

Tomatoes are supposed to grow on small bush-like plants, but our tomato plants are some sort of mutants.  The plants are so far over my head, I’ll need a ladder to pick
them. Maybe it’s because we mixed in well-composted manure, or because I planted the tomatoes with my Grandfather’s secret fertilizer formula – but whatever the cause – our plants are out of control. They are taking over, and I’ve given up on chopping them back.
The tomatoes ripen from the bottom of the plant, moving higher each week with more ripening fruit.  Right now, I can comfortably pick the produce of the week – but in another week or so, they will be out of my reach.  And maybe that’s a good thing.
I’m about at the point that we have enough jars of tomato sauce for a weekly spaghetti supper, enough dried cherry tomatoes to toss into many a pot of stew or soup, and enough roasted tomatoes with olive oil, oregano and basil to use for Friday night pizzas. So, other than those delicious summer-time bacon and tomato sandwiches – I’m about done with tomatoes.
The fence is six feet tall — that makes this tomato plant a TREE!
I pick this much almost every day.
And we have a great variety — yellow pear tomatoes, red cherry tomatoes, green-purple zebra tomatoes, San Marzano tomatoes, Amish paste tomatoes and nice big slicing tomatoes.

August – The Bunny Trail

The bunny trail is closed.  Permanently.  I hope.
After spending a minor fortune on a six-foot high fence to keep the deer out, with the added expense of small gauge fencing trenched in at the bottom of the perimeter to keep the ground hogs out – you’d think we would have an impenetrable garden. But the baby rabbits managed to jump through the fence just above the small gauge fencing, squeezing themselves through the 2” x 4” squares and helping themselves to
my garden’s bounty.
When we first became aware of the problem, Chris put bird netting around the entire garden to keep Peter Rabbit and all his cousins out. That worked for a while, until they chewed through the bird netting and I started noticing half-eaten beans and nibbled broccoli. Then Chris used zip-ties to fasten the netting where the holes had been chewed, turning each 2” x 4” space into just 2” x 2” spaces. Then those buck-toothed rabbits chewed their way through the zip ties.  Chris took down the tattered bird netting and fastened a layer of chicken wire around the garden. Now we have a reinforced metal fence with more metal fencing wrapped around it. Anything to protect my
tomatoes, cucumbers and squash!
Now it is impenetrable (I hope) – and if I see any rabbits running around looking like they are wearing metal braces on their front teeth, I’ll know to go check on the
fencing again!
They chewed right through the mesh.
We used zip-ties to patch it, and they chewed through the zip-ties.
So now it has metal chicken wire.
Just let them try to chew through this.
On the outside looking in — let’s keep it that way!

July – The squash are escaping!

When I planted the squash in the side garden that we created this year, they looked so small and vulnerable inside that big space fenced only by some chicken wire.  I wasn’t sure they would make it.  The chicken wire was just about low enough for any hungry bunny to hop over, and certainly wouldn’t deter the deer if they wanted to just step over it and invite their friends for dinner.   We did put some stakes around it with some webbing tape sprayed with deer repellent and we’ve been lucky so far.

In fact, the squash have grown, and grown, and grown some more.  At this point — they are escaping the fence and running away, and there is nothing I can do about it – but wait for harvest, put on a my safari expedition attire, grab a machete and fight my way in to the squash patch and hope for a bounty of acorn, butternut and spaghetti squash — and some pumpkins and gourds.

I guess what is growing outside the fence is fair game for the rabbits or the deer.

The squash are so tiny you can barely find them in the dirt.
But they grew…
And they’ve crawled over the fence and are escaping — I’m afraid I’ll wake up tomorrow morning to find that they’ve covered the chicken coop!

July — It’s empty till next year!

Spring and early summer went so fast.  I got a late start on my seeds since the greenhouse didn’t arrive until mid-March.  By the end of June the greenhouse was empty — except for some weeds growing up from the floor.  Seriously!  I have enough weeding to do in my outside garden spaces.

I washed all the pots in a bucket of soapy water and let them dry so they’ll be ready for next spring.  It’s kind of sad seeing it empty.  Maybe I can start some seeds for a fall planting — there’s always spinach or lettuce.  And I wonder how hot-house tomatoes might taste at Thanksgiving!

Weeds! In my greenhouse!
A good scrub to get rid of slugs and creepy, crawly things
All cleaned up and drying in the sunshine — ready for next spring.