Thursday, December 31, 2009

Cage Method for Growing Potatoes

So many gardeners have tried the "cage" method when growing potatoes (this where a structure is built and the cage is continually filled over the growing season) and the results have been very mixed.  The answer to this success or lack there of all comes down to variety.  Yup, that is the wild card when using this planting method.  After many hours of researching this method, and it's results I finally came across a site that mentions specific varieties- YES!!!

I already knew Yukon Gold tots would not yield more using this method.  And now I know three out of the four varieties I ordered this year will not be appropriate for this method.  (Darn!)  Almost had 2 varieties to cage, almost.... turns out fingerlings (yay, thats me!), Yellow Fin, Red Pontiac (my almost), and Indian Pit are recommended by this outfit,  Irish Eyes.  That link will bring you to their potato growing tips page which is loaded with good information.  More information on building a cage can also be found on their site under "How to Grow 100 lbs. of Potatoes in 4 Square Feet" in the Grower's Guide.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Seed Stash and 2010 Ordering

Inventory your seeds (From Johnny's Seeds)

Before you order seeds, take a look at what you have left over from previous years. A few guidelines will help you decide which seeds are still good and which should be discarded.

Of primary importance is the way seeds have been stored. Exposure to moisture causes seed viability to decline, so seeds should be stored in a dry place in an airtight, watertight container. Zipper freezer bags, glass jars, plastic containers, and metal boxes can be used if they seal tightly. Buckets with tight lids also work for larger seeds like beans and corn. In humid climates, a desiccant such as silica gel or dry milk powder can be placed in the container to absorb moisture. Seed also should be kept cool, and can even be stored in the refrigerator or freezer.

If seeds have been stored properly, and are not pelleted or otherwise pre-treated, this is the number of years you can expect them to remain viable:

  • 1 year: onions, parsnips, parsley, salsify, scorzonera, and spinach;
  • 2 years: corn, peas, beans, chives, okra, dandelion;
  • 3 years: carrots, leeks, asparagus, turnips, rutabagas;
  • 4 years: peppers, chard, pumpkins, squash, watermelons, basil, artichokes and cardoons;
  • 5 years: most brassicas, beets, tomatoes, eggplant, cucumbers, muskmelons, celery, celeriac, lettuce, endive, chicory.

Do your own germination testing
If you are in doubt about the viability of leftover seeds, don't take chances. You can test the germination easily. Moisten a coffee filter or piece of paper towel and place on it a specific number of seeds, such as 10 or 100. Fold the moistened paper over the seeds and put it in a plastic bag in a warm place. Take the paper out and inspect the seeds twice a day, spraying with water as needed to maintain moisture around the seeds. After the usual number of days required to germinate that variety, count to see how many have germinated and calculate the percentage of germination. Compare it to the germination rate on the Johnny's label; if it's close, your seeds are fine to plant. If germination is much lower or slower than expected, order new seeds.

Order early
Demand often exceeds supply for certain plants and seeds. This is particularly true of leeks, onions, and potatoes, so place your order soon. If you want potatoes in February for early planting or greensprouting, the deadline for ordering is Jan. 15. We've found an insulated carton that will get them to you in top shape, even if it's freezing here in Maine, at your farm, or somewhere in between. Specific varieties are available in 25 lb. increments. Reserve on the website right now, and your credit card won't be charged until your potatoes ship in February.

Here is what I have ordered so far after doing my inventory:

12 Georgia Jets Sweet Potato slips  (These I plan on growing in containers this year.)
 - Reportedly best for Northern growers, though yields are less than Beauregard variety which I grew last year.  Loved the flavor of the B's, but with the cool weather they just did not have time to bulk up.

 - Northern growers need to cover planting site with black plastic at least 2 weeks prior to planting to warm the soil.  This year I am going to plant through some type of mulch to aid in keeping the soil temp up.  This combined with raised container height (which also makes soil warmer) should help give my yields a boost!

- Ordered from, $11.50 for 12 plants shipped.  Requested April 19th ship date.

Moose Tubers Order:

 - LaRatte Organic Fingerlings, 3# - 'the mouse' potato.  Plump nutty flavored yellow flesh.  LATE
 - Purple Viking, 2.5# - purple skin, white slightly mealy flesh.  Great for baking or mashing.  MID
 - Keuka Gold, 2.5# - newer variety; similar to Yukon Gold but higher yielding.  Moist, firm flesh. MID
 - Red Gold, 2.5# - very early potato, around 65 days. Red skin, yellow waxy flesh.  Poor storers. VE

 - Picasso Shallots, 1#
Total:  $47.15

Nourse Farms Order:

 - Pink Champagne Currant (1)
 - Reka Blueberry (1)
 - Ouchita Blackberry (5)
Total: 49.90

Johnny's Selected Seeds:

 - Inoculant
 - Peas: Feisty, Casselode, and Premium
 - Tomatoes: Sungold and Green Zebra Indeterminate; Polbig, early Determinate
 - Cukes: Northern Pickling and Diva
 - German Extra Hardy Garlic (Oct. ship)
 - Carrots: Mokum and Sugarsnax
 - Lipstick Pepper (will compare to Carmen which I have 4 seeds left of, my current favorite)
 - Victoria Rhubarb, 3 plants
Total: $74.95
~Phew, that should about cover it!!~

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Decisions, Decisions

How are you all doing with your seed stash?  Will you be doing much ordering this year?  (See this guy's face to the left here?  He is Mr. Shrimp Goby and I just find him to be so ugly he's cute.....the fish never make the blog, thought I should change that!)

OK, back to gardening.  I need to compile a stock list soon.  Today I am mulling over potatoes.  I love 'em.  I want to grow 'em.  I just don't have any room for them.   There are so many darn methods/suggestions for growing potatoes out there one can get overwhelmed......bags, bins, barrels, wire, tires, straw, and of coarse good old fashioned garden soil.  I think I am going to use straw this coming year, but hill it over a standard SFG bed.  This will allow me to use a standard depth bed (right now I only have one extra deep).  The straw will make hilling and digging at season's end easier as well as keep the soil temp up and moisture level more stable.  Last year my yields were terrible, hoping for much improvement this coming year.

My list of wanted seeds is short and sweet this year thanks to my overindulgence last year.  I will be adding a few new heirloom tomato varieties (seeds already purchased), quite a few potatoes, and as many peas as possible.  The garden needs expanding, sigh.

What will you be trying for the first time come Spring?

What can you absolutely not live without in your garden?

Are you an heirloom or a hybrid tomato grower?  (Or maybe a little bit of each like myself?)

As for us the kids ate the peas the second they were ready to be picked, I snacked daily on the heavenly Sungold tomatoes, and the Carmen and Joe E. Parker peppers were picked nightly for some role in dinner or a late night nacho snack.  These are the garden favorites in our house.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

What we have been up to......

Never call my daughter to help you move:

Digging for Dinosaur bones is messy business.
(Ella has grabbed the chisel from the junior paleontologist.  Negotiations are taking place.):

OK, back to business.

Finally, after 2.5 years of kicking around my house this snowman kit can finally be put to good use:

What you can't see is this beast tearing off Frosty's left limb shortly after this picture was taken.
 We now have an amputee on our hands.

My snow angel (runny nose and all!):

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas, Making memories, and Happy New Year!

Merry Christmas!  I have been catching up on everyone's blogs after being down for the count this past week (a nasty stomach virus). I wish I could say things are quiet here in the literal sense, but they are not since the kids are somehow still running on all cylinders.  But things are quiet this year since too many of us are sick and all the relatives are all elsewhere, some home and miserable with their own illnesses.

Yes, lets Christmas cards didn't get done this year, Santa had to leave a note about a special toy being sent via the post, and I have so much food it isn't even funny.  This will certainly be a Christmas to remember, lol!! It has been a reminder that the two most important things in life, health and family, can never be taken for granted.  I have spent the week reminiscing about my childhood holidays, wishing I could go back to one of those Christmas Eve parties when my favorite Uncle Bill and my Grandmother were still there laughing and enjoying the company of family, good food, and good drink.  Holidays really are special, they make up the memories that cloud the mind, and in the end, they may be all we have left of our loved ones.  Today I was laughing with my "Bop" about how "Ma" (my Dad's mother) used to get laughing so hard, and so loudly after a few stiff party drinks.  This would get my father going, and then his sister, and before you knew it everyone was in tears from laughing so hard.....God only knows over what.  These are the memories I never want to forget,  I am so thankful to have them in the first place.  I hope you all have been busy making your own special memories- especially ones involving liquor and laughs!

I  went to a site after visiting Farmgirl Fare's Blog, she posted some of her favorite charities.  I have my own list, but I am adding one of hers to a different 'list' of mine, that famed resolution list that usually involves losing weight or giving up a bad habit.  I gave up on the standard run years ago and tend to not even bother anymore, but this charity is going to receive a small monthly donation from myself for 2010.  It won't be much but I know every little bit helps.  I added the charity to my side bar as a reminder to follow through with this coming resolution:  To help these creatures that have no words, to help them heal at the hands of good people so they will know something other than hurt from our hands and hearts.  Thanks to Farmgirl for mentioning this wonderful charity, her blog is linked in sidebar for anyone that does not already read it!

It has been a great year, I am looking forward to what 2010 will bring (hoping it's not blight again), Happy (Almost) New Year everyone!!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Windy Wintery Wonderland

My two labs have been romping around in the fluffy stuff all morning, it was past their bellies so they were hopping like bunnies around the deck when they first went out, it was very entertaining as we cheered them on.  The third, neurotic doggie child is in the corner shaking.  The poor thing is so easily disturbed.....lets see how long he can hold it today before finding the will to head out in the weather.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The mantel is finally decorated.

The tree is trimmed, the fire is cozy, the dogs have assumed their positions for winter.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Last Dig

I FINALLY made it out to the garden today to do my final dig for the year.  All the recent rain made pulling dahlia and gladiola tubers an easy task.  Well, aside from the dahlia that was intertwined with a rat's nest of asparagus roots, that one took a beating as I tugged and ripped the tubers off the main stem one by one....I am hoping rot does not set in in all the newly exposed flesh.

I also pulled most of the remaining carrots.  One of the later sowings had not put on much growth, so I left is the bunch I pulled, disappointing!

I have so many carrot varieties growing in three different beds, too many for me to keep straight....not sure which 2 varieties these are, but I can at least narrow it down:  the carrots in the spinner basket are either Mokum or Bolero.  The bunch to the left of the basket are either Petite 'n Sweet or Short 'n Sweet.  They smelled so good as they were tugged from the earth, it will be interesting to see if the cold weather sweetened them up or not.  The Napoli I sowed never took off (my bad, they went in quite late).  I am going to cover them with straw and hope they winter over for an early Spring carrot.

Lastly, some Rouge D' Hiver romaine will be on the menu tonight, nothing like being spoiled by crisp greens from the garden in mid- December!

(P.S.- we have a Christmas tree on the premises, though it has not made it IN the house.  Baby steps.  :)  )

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Household projects and school have been keeping me busy.....the turkey review is long overdue!  First, we are sad to announce that we will not likely purchase these turkeys again, the bird was so stiff I couldn't tuck the wings or tie the legs, and that did not improve even after 5 hours of slow cooking.  The meat was rather tough (which is to be expected since the bird actually roamed), and so we figure why pay more money for a tougher bird?  My husband found the dark meat to be inedible and this is his favorite part.  I used the carcass to make stock for soup, and after an additional half a day in the stock pot the meat was FINALLY falling off the bones.  On to the flavor...fabulous!  We have found that we prefer the meat the next day, the smoke flavor seems to change a bit after some refrigeration and it makes a delicious sandwich.  The kids wolfed it down- and my son normally won't eat turkey.  They kept saying it smelled like bacon, I think that was the wow factor for them.  Even my dog who could care less about food stalked me whenever I had some turkey.  It was quite entertaining!  (I limited the birds time in the smoker, starting and finishing it in the oven so that the flavor would not be overwhelming.)

I have yet to pull my dahlia tubers out of the garden, it has been so wet.  The temperatures are really going to drop in the coming days and weeks so it is now or never......things certainly are not getting any dryer, my wetlands are looking more like swamplands these days!

We still need to put up a Christmas tree. Again, the kitchen project and wet weather has foiled every attempt we have made.  Do you all have your trees up?  If so I would like to make a request.....would you post a picture of the tree on your blogs?  I would love to see some Christmas cheer (if you have already done this forgive me, i have not 'done the rounds' lately)..... wish somebody delivered the darn things around here.  :)  I have my fingers crossed for a white Christmas here in coastal Massachusetts, that is my wish for Santa.  Happy Holidays!

(EDIT:  The smoker is actually quite simple Thomas.  There are two doors.  The bottom section houses the flame, the wood pan, and the water pan.  The top has racks to place the food on.  This is not a true pit type smoker, it has been adapted for the average Joe via the use of wood chips which are soaked in water prior to being set over the heat.  I took it a step further and went with a propane version which makes controlling the temperature a breeze, I am able to control just as you would on any gas grill.)

Friday, December 4, 2009

More Turkey Talk....

Here is one of the birds I purchased locally from Run Dog Run Farm.  The cavity was stuffed with rosemary and sage fresh from the garden, apples, onion, and carrot.  A butter, lemon juice, and herb mixture was applied to the top and underside of the skin.  Next came a soaking of Pinot Grigio.  This bird was officially ready to hit the heat.

I started it off in the oven since the smoker still needed to be cured.  After an hour the transfer was made, and the applewood was a smokin'!!  (A little too much I might add, the heat was left on high about ten minutes too long thanks to my daughter peeing on the rug, a book, and her blanket.  Operation Clean Pee resulted in the chips catching fire in the wood pan....hoping this hiccup did not ruin the bird!)  Here is the insane smoke that resulted:

Now for a shot of the appropriate smoking of the applewood chips:

I was very disappointed to find there were no innards & neck in the cavity.  This was not an inexpensive turkey, I expected all standard parts to be included!  Besides, the neck meat is one of my favorite parts of a roasted turkey......and everybody wants gravy right?

Everyone keep your turkey toes crossed that this bird will not only be edible, but enjoyable.  I will report in tomorrow with the outcome.   I am thinking smoked salmon will be the next experiment.

Garden Update

Since I am currently having a nice time with my insomnia I figured I would do an update as I sit at the kitchen counter with the laptop as not to disturb the husband in my bed, and the child on my floor.   I made the mistake of leaving "my" dog behind and he is on the other side of the bedroom door growing more perturbed by the minute.   Anyway, now that you know what I am doing as today crosses over into tomorrow I can share that I FINALLY made it out to the garden today to snap a couple of photos and check in on things, and I am happy to report all is well! The carrots seem very happy, as does the lettuce under the cold frame. Winter rye is peaking through the straw, I am just hoping it doesn't grow too long or turning it over come Spring is going to be quite a chore. I totally forgot to peak in on the garlic (just realized this)....I would have to imagine it has sprouted with all this rain and warm weather we have been having, nothing like a sixty-something sunny day in December! (All the animals at the zoo today seemed quite pleased as well, even the bears were energetic.) Here are a couple of photos- one of some carrots, the other of the rye amongst the straw and leaves.

We have been enjoying some of our 'put by' food from summer.  Peach and Blueberry Crumble for dessert (frozen peach pie filling with some blueberries thrown in for good measure), and Strawberry Jalapeno Jam on english muffins for breakfast.  I had to smile at the memories of canning in the heat, knowing I would enjoy a little taste of summer's bounty come winter.  And seriously, I could just eat that jam by the spoonful when no one was looking..... and actually come to think of it, my daughter has.  Luckily at two years of age her thighs are still considered "cute" when squishy and dimply (though they aren't, she's a twig).  I guess I should hand over the jar and a spoon and just watch in envy.

My little guy just came out to see what I was up to, so much for not disturbing the family.  It's all the dog's fault.  Border's and their neurosis, gotta love em!  If you are ever bored just google something like "neurotic border collies" and be prepared to laugh at the stories folks have of their dogs shredding their mattress or breaking through the window to drag out every last couch cushion.  These dogs are too smart for their own good and are so good at herding because they are cookoo.  They really are.  Mine was medicated for years just so I could leave him to go to work everyday.  Sorry, I seem to have gotten side tracked.   I think this rambling is a sign that it's time for some Sleepy Time Tea and a cuddle with a seed catalog, the Seed Saver's hasn't been cracked yet....good night all!