Sunday, July 19, 2015

Oh, Sweet Pea!

This year, my peas came to life! We had about six Sugarsnap Pea plants that produced wonderful sweet peas which we ate raw, sautéed, and in salads for about 2 weeks. Didn't save any for later - they were too tasty - yum! Next year I hope to plant double the amount as they have a relatively short growing season. Now, we're watching the string beans and tomatoes reach for the sky!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Basement Beginnings - Canning vs. Freezing - Pros and Cons

So, I'm stepping back in time for this blog post - I never finished my thoughts on canning vs. freezing (oops)...

Canning - I loved canning tomatoes and tomato sauce! The process of taking these beautiful tomatoes I had grown, and adding the other herb elements from my garden, gave me a true sense of accomplishment well into the Winter months. 

The sauce and tomatoes were also very tasty, and held their flavors very well into the Winter months. We could also open a jar, use a little as a chicken or beef flavoring, close the jar, and use the remainder at some point later in the week as a pasta sauce (refrigerating after opening, of course.).

We stored the canned tomatoes and sauce in one of our pantry cabinets which was not used previously. I made about 30 Mason Jars of sauce which easily fit in the cabinet.

*Lesson Learned*
If you don't have cabinet space available, find a closet - or any space that will not freeze - to store your sauce and/or tomatoes. Since I used 'Ball (Glass) Mason Canning Jars', I did not want to risk them freezing and breaking. 

Freezing - Freezing tomato sauce was very efficient. Rather than using Mason Jars, I used freezer bags, and added them to the freezer to be used during the Winter months. 

It's important to have a backup in the event of a power loss, but we were lucky last year with our power staying consistent through the Winter months. 

Also, freezer sauce does not stay as fresh as canned sauce - there's a shorter life span. You also can't use a little and refreeze. Canning does allow a bit of flexibility to use a small amount and refrigerate for later in the week.

*Lesson Learned*
Make sure you have space available in your freezer. If you freeze too much sauce, the sauce may block the circulation vents and generate a lot of ice.  

Saturday, April 25, 2015

My Garden 2015 - a new beginning!

Well, it doesn't look like much, but we have a plan and are starting our garden anew in 2015! Still very cool in New England with sporadic bursts of warmth, so we headed out to Lowes last weekend to buy manure, and a few different Spring seeds and pansies. The Spring seeds and pansies typically hold up well during these cooler Spring days and nights in the Northeast.

Tony was the great garden orchestrator, making sure the manure was incorporated into the soil properly, and ensuring that our water barrels were properly positioned and ready-to-go. I planted the pansies in the window boxes - on the porch railings - and designed the garden layout. Because my MS symptoms are impacting my balance, Tony was kind enough to plant the first batch of Spring snap peas following the layout I put together (you can see the area he watered below to give them a drink).

We decided not to plant seeds in the basement this year due to the long Winter and short growing season, so we'll be purchasing starter seedlings from Lowes and Home Depot. This year, we'll be planting lettuce, dill, tomatoes, green beans, eggplant and parsley. There should be enough room in the garden plot for all with enough sunlight and rain water.

I do love the garden! Each year it brings new surprises, and great tasty treats that we can enjoy right away, or freeze for the winter.

Go ahead, get your hands dirty!


Friday, March 20, 2015

Happy Vernal Equinox???

I was hoping to 'spring' into warmer temps and throw open the windows after this brutally snowy and cold winter on this first day of Spring, but woke to another cold day and no sight of any red, red robins bobbing their heads anywhere on my snowy lawn! The pain, the pain... So, I'll live with the knowledge that the warmer winds will find their way to this cold climate and bring a taste of rebirth before the month has ended.

In the meantime, I'm shopping for seeds this weekend! Even though I won't be planting anything yet, I'll be able to set up my basement accordingly for seedling generation. And that makes me very happy!!

Let's hope April showers will bring May flowers...

Happy dreaming.


Monday, February 16, 2015

Basement Beginnings - Plans for 2015 garden

Well, we've been buried in snow this February, so thinking about a garden and warmer temperatures seems like I'm pushing a boulder uphill! But, thinking of warmer days helps to look forward. So, I'll imagine...

June 2014
First, I'll set up my basement to prepare for seed germination. This includes moving the growing tables in place, and confirming that the growing lights are still functional, move my growing trays in place, have appropriate water containers, tools and soil in place.

Once this is setup, I'll finalize my seed list for this year. My initial thought is to purchase the following seeds: parsley, cilantro, dill, lettuce, peas, bush beans, plum tomatoes, early girl tomatoes. I'll plan to purchase small eggplant plants (it's easier to have a growing plant).

I'll also make sure the watering barrels are ready to act as the supply for keeping the beds moist. We spent no money on water last year - it all came from the rain that fell in our area!

Finally, once the snow is no longer burying the bed, I'll purchase manure and garden soil to refresh the garden.

But, before any veggie beds are planted, I'll start germinating the seeds in the basement.

Ahhh...warmer weather.

Sweet dreams...


Friday, January 23, 2015

Basement Beginnings and Seed Choices - what worked?

So, I thought my seed choices last year were a match for the plot size I had, as well as my desires for consuming and freezing the produce, herbs, and pesto. They included: cherry tomatoes, early tomatoes, bush beans, peas, eggplant, basil, parsley, dill, oregano, thyme, sage.

*Lessons Learned*

                                                  We did learn a few things:

- Peas and beans are best planted directly in the soil. Peas must be planted late in the spring to get any type of harvest. I waited until cool temps were gone altogether, which is not correct. The peas were tender and delicious fresh or cooked, but timing does matter.

- Cherry tomatoes were tasty, great for cooking, but one plant is enough. We had cherry tomatoes every day, and they lost their appeal after 3 months. 

- Early girl tomatoes were a great palm-sized fruit, very sweet and great for sandwiches and salad, but were too sweet for a nice sauce. We had to add tomato paste to get a hearty sauce. And, we planted too many plants - they took over most of the garden, and shaded other plants from the sun which did not allow them to grow to their fullest state. This year we'll plant a few plum and (hopefully) heirloom tomatoes for variety and flavor. It really is nice to have the garden tastes of summer in these sauces as we hunker down in a winter storm.

- The bush beans, eggplant, parsley, dill, oregano, thyme and sage were great! We also planted cilantro which did not survive (my bad). This year we'll reduce the amount of parsley (we had 4 big plants), and add additional bush bean plants - they were delicious! However, we did make and freeze some outstanding pesto with the parsley that we use to season our sauce - even now!

- We planted no lettuce last year which was a mistake. Lettuce is very easy to grow, and does last for some time in a garden. We had grown some in 2013 and it was a delicious treat! 

All in all, we had a fun and productive garden in 2014. It offered enough produce to stay interested, and didn't require a lot of TLC and maintenance. We'll be back getting our 'hands dirty' in a few months! 

Next time, I'll look back and talk about lessons we learned about maintaining the garden.

Happy Growing!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Basement Beginnings - What worked and didn't?

I began my last year of growing vegetables (1994) in the middle of a snowstorm. I was mentally finished with Winter, and wanted to get on with growing. So, I headed over to Home Depot and Lowes in search of vegetable and herb seeds, growing trays, soil and grow lights. I knew I wanted 'uncomplicated' plants - no vine plants, wide or tall plants, or plants that required an early or extended growing season. So my quick list was to purchase seeds for cherry tomatoes, early tomatoes, bush beans, peas, basil, parsley, dill, oregano, thyme, sage. Then, it was back to the house to clear out a space in our basement, and setup the tables and grow lights.

*Lesson learned* 
Looking back on this one year later, I should have carved out my basement space first. It would have created my initial 'growing environment' which I needed as a foundation. This would have eliminated all of the other gyrations I needed to go through after the seed and soil purchase that were essential to my growing plan: setup tables, hang grow lights, organize a watering strategy for seedlings, and fill trays with soil.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

2015 - Growing Season Dreams...

As the winter begins its cold march through New England, I find myself dreaming of dirty fingers, muddy sneakers and the scent of newly mowed grass, the musky smell of soil and manure, the delicate tendrils of newly 'hatched' seeds, the immense pleasure and pride of new veggie plants in the garden, and the joy of tasting new herbs and produce - my garden of earthly delights...

But, reality places me here in Winter's season, so I'll limit my dreams to looking back on the last growing season, sizing up what worked, what didn't work, and adjustments needed for the next season.  Each week, I'll take a look back and comment on the positives and negatives of my choices last year, and a plan to maximize the pluses, and reduce the minuses as we move into the 2015 garden season. I'll also add a few thoughts on herbs and veggies we'll be adding or removing this year.

Of course, it all starts in the basement, so we'll start with that next week!

Happy planning!