Friday, April 29, 2011

nature's calendar

The dandelions are in full bloom here which means it is time to plant potatoes. I am not sure where or when I first heard this, but it has stuck with me ever since.

I like the idea of observing nature to determine what needs to be accomplished in the garden. It seems like a more natural way to time gardening chores, especially for those of us who are not the best at following schedules and calendars. And it helps to wake up and tune in a little more to what is happening in the outside world. Of course it is still important to be aware of your last frost date, especially during a spring with unseasonal warm spells (like we are having here in zone 6) that could throw things off a bit.

For fun I decided to do a little research on following nature’s calender and found it's name, Phenology, which is derived from the Greek word phaino , meaning to show or appear.
Below are a few more traditional phenological observations:
-Plant peppers, melon, and eggplant outside when bearded iris is in bloom.
-Plant corn when oak leaves are the size of a squirrels' ear.
-When lilac has leafed out plant lettuce, peas, beets, carrots, lettuces and other cool weather varieties.
-When lilac flowers are in full bloom plant beans,cucumbers and squash.
-Direct seed your morning glories when maple trees have full size leaves.
-When you see new growth on green ash, grapes and bur oaks it is safe to plant tender vines, annuals and perennials.
-Plant peas when you hear the first spring peeper.
-Plant tomatoes when lily-of-the-valley are in full bloom.

I am inspired by Heather's note taking, and think it may be fun to start jotting down some of my own observations.

I noticed today as we were planting our potatoes that the crape myrtle is beginning to leaf out. The White Dawn climbing rose is beginning to bud and we could hear the hungry chirping of baby birds coming from the birdhouse where the black capped chickadees make a nest each year.

Yes, I think I may have come up with a few more notes for the list under “When to Plant Potatoes”.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Garden notes

"I can't wait until we have fresh strawberries", "Mmm, those will be so good!", "I'm looking forward to when our cosmos are blooming"... These are things I find myself saying. When I was eating lunch outside today, which consisted of a salad using our spinach, radishes, and alfalfa sprouts, I thought, you know, this is pretty great. I love spinach! And while out of the corner of my eye I could see tiny green strawberries and my taste buds were watering at the thought of when they'll be ripe, I need to remember to really be thankful for what we have right now. So I'm devoting a notebook to garden notes, for tracking what/when we plant, what/when we harvest, general noticings, etc. Writing garden notes is a practice I don't normally keep. Usually I jot down when seeds go in the ground on the fridge calendar and that's it. So I'm giving this note taking a go.

notebook made by Jen Causey
garden notes:
4/22/11 Fri.
`it really rained

4/23/11 Sat.
`picked a bunch of spinach, handful of radishes

4/24/11 Sun. Easter
`a beautiful morning, I took film photos in the garden after chuch & brunch
`planted cosmos & bachelor's buttons

4/25/11 Mon.
`blackbirds bathing in the alley puddles

4/26/11 Tues.
`while printing & looking out the window, I thought how different the garden will look in a month's time.
`robins greeted me atop the grape posts
`spinach galette
`picked spinach & radishes

4/28/11 Thurs.
`ate lunch on the strawberry step
`spotted the baby bunny hopping from under the woodpile, eating dandelions
`pulled nearly all the radishes
`alfalfa sprouts

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

unintentional overwintering


for some reason, i have never had much success growing carrots.  i can't explain why, but i do love them so.  so each year i try try again.  {in fact, the carrot seeds that i planted over two weeks ago still haven't germinated...but try again i will!}

last summer, i had an early season spinach failure and as soon as i ripped that spinach out, in went the carrots (on june 6, according to my garden journal).  they never seemed to be ready to harvest, so i just left them in there and kept on watering them all summer.  somehow, in the hub-bub of the end of the season, i forgot about them and just left them in the ground over the winter.  they were essentially mulched by leaves and multiple feet of snow, which insulated them throughout the winter.  last week, as i was clearing out my garden bed in preparation for planting lettuces and peas, i pulled up a handful of small, but crisp carrots.  what a delicious surprise to have something straight from the garden while the forecasts are still calling for snow this evening! 

this fall, i think i just i may intentionally plant some crops for overwintering. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

starts from seed & cold frame instructions

this year luke & i decided to start most of our vegetables, greens & herbs from seed for our spring garden & summer container garden. as we began germinating our seeds indoors & then moving them to our large window while snow was still on the ground, we realized this system just would not do. the starts looked lanky & certainly unhealthy.

once the snow passed, we decided a cold frame was the best solution for our situation, considering our lack of time & money.

luke began searching for the perfect cold frame design. we needed to be able to easily deconstruct our cold frame for our big move this summer. also, we needed a design that used what we had. once luke looked around, he came up with his own design for a working cold frame & is sharing it with us today!

luke's cold frame
-four windows with no cracks
*three smaller windows (ours were 28" x 16") for the sides & a larger window (ours was 28" x 28") for the lid
- ply board cut to match the size of the small windows (ours was cut to 28" x 16")
-two hinges
-16 screw eyes
-4 metal rods that are close to the same height as the sides

1. i used four old windows found on the side of the road. the three smaller windows (28” x 16”) served as three sides of the cold frame & the larger windowpane (28” x 28”) served as the lid.

2. a piece of ply board was cut to match the size of the small windowpanes. then i attached the large windowpane to the ply board side with two hinges on both sides for easy opening & closing of the lid.

3. i then screwed large screw eyes into the inside corners of the small windowpanes (two per each side of the window), which aligned when i put the windows together to form the sides of the cold frame. to hold the four sides together, i slid metal rods through the eyelets of the screw eyes (there should be four eyelets per rod).

4. this design allows for easy deconstruction into four small sections. when deconstructing, simply pull the four metal rods that hold the sides together.

our cold frame has been very successful in helping to begin our starts from seed.

we have been taking full advantage of this success & gifting our small herbs to friends.
we hope you, too, will build your own cold frame for this upcoming growing season!

Monday, April 25, 2011


sometimes, the hardest part of gardening is waiting. i am a zone 7 girl living in zone 4. spring snows happen frequently here in vermont.


our little backyard garden was covered in snow just two days ago.

field garden

but, the snow melted the next day. we already planted our large, sunny field garden with green peas, radishes, and lettuce but not a seed has sprouted. we may have to plant again if the seeds don't germinate. it's fine. we have plenty of seeds leftover.

when planting your vegetable garden, it is important to remember the following:
  • be patient
  • wait for the soil to dry out or your seeds could rot
  • direct sow seeds based on your region's last frost date
  • amend your soil only if necessary--take a soil test before amending (usually your local university extension will offer this test at a minimal cost)
  • be patient
just last night while at a party someone said that they thought spring was having a breech birth this year. so true. while we're waiting for things to ramp up in our garden, we are enjoying the first of the daffodils and the coltsfoot that line the ditches on our dirt road. such vibrant yellows cheer us even on these windy and dark, cloudy days.


Friday, April 22, 2011

come walk with me

well hello there and happy spring!
i am so excited for this little project, which i have been dreaming up for some time now. and i could not have asked for better company in helping to create it. i hope you will be inspired as much as i have by these lovely ladies and that you will come visit us often.

my garden is showing true signs of awakening. things are beginning to bloom, sprout, and blossom. it is hard to believe that when we moved here there was not one plant, shrub, or tree. just grass. i have managed to get rid of all of the lawn and use my space a little more efficiently. it is an ever, evolving project that brings me great joy. i have a small amount of growing space, which incorporates my front yard, the space alongside my house, the strip between the sidewalk and the street, and my back yard. because i do not have one big patch to grow a vegetable garden, i incorporate veggies, herbs, and fruit throughout the garden, intermixing with my perennial flowers, shrubs, and trees. I love the look of swiss chard growing among things like black eyed susans, and coneflower. or, lettuces, growing in a pot of pansies. rhubarb growing up through a ground cover of strawberries just makes my mouth water. and toscano kale is the most beautiful speciman plant in itself. i will be sure to show you all of these examples as the season progresses.

but for now, to give you more of a visual of my space, i thought it may be fun to introduce my garden through a little tour of sorts. garden walks are a favorite pastime of mine, not only in my own garden but in other’s as well. there is so much to learn by just simply observing, taking in the sights, smells, sounds, and of course the tastes of the garden. you can read about my early morning walks here.

each week i will be focusing on all sorts of things happening in my garden but why don’t we start off with a little springtime walk, shall we?

come walk with me from amy johnson on Vimeo.

Thursday, April 21, 2011


Don't let these photos fool you into thinking our garden is in full on spring/summer mode. The collards we planted this spring are currently mere leaflings, towering only about two or three inches above the soil. Meanwhile the above two collard plants somehow managed to survive through the winter without a hint of bitterness.

First, a memory. I've been a vegetarian now for thirteen or so years but when I was a kid, apparently it was a struggle to get me to eat my vegetables. Because I remember one particular occasion when my dad drew a picture of me sitting in front of a plate of peas, with a fork and spoon beside the plate. Clearly he knew I was a visual learner. I don't remember what happened after that but I suspect I ate my peas.

Well lately I have discovered I have a real fondness for collards and kale, since my husband and I have been growing them in our garden over the past couple years. And I would like to share with you one of my favorite quick ways to prepare collards. It is tasty and simple, which is just the kind of food I like.

Collards over Polenta
Prepare the polenta. When cooking various grains, I always consult the Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home for the correct water/grain ratio. For polenta, use three parts water to one part cornmeal. Then I add in a little Better Than Bouillon vegetarian broth to the cooking water for the polenta. When the water boils add the corn meal in a steady stream, stirring. Put a lid on it and let cook on low until done, about ten to twenty minutes.

Prepare the collards. Wash a bunch of fresh collard leaves and cut away any large stems. Then roll the leaves and cut into large pieces. In a medium saucepan saute a clove or two of garlic in a little butter then add the collards. Stir briefly then put the lid on the pan to let them begin to steam. After a couple minutes check and stir. Add fresh squeezed lemon or lime juice, sea salt, and a few drops of sriracha sauce and stir. Cover again and let cook about eight more minutes. I don't let the greens cook too long, just till they are softened and still nice and green. Serve over the polenta and add a little fresh parmesan and cracked pepper.  This summer when we start getting tomatoes, I'll probably chop up some tomatoes to add to the top.

This is so satisfying you won't need anyone to draw a picture of you eating them to convince you they're good.

4/21/11 garden notes:
`picked first two radishes
`harvested first batch of spinach
`planted more lettuce
`the strawberry flowers are starting to close
`it never really rained

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

goals for this year's garden

hello everyone! i don't know about you, but seeing natalie's beautiful garden made me a bit jealous, especially since we received a nice blanket of snow here in minneapolis this morning (i'll be honest that it was all melted by the time i got home from work, but it was still a bit discouraging to wake up to!).  

since the season here in the northern latitudes is just beginning, i'm still in planning mode for this year's garden.  last year was the first year that i actually drew out a plan for my garden instead of just sticking plants in my garden willy-nilly with no rhyme or reason (you can see last year's plan here).  and this year, i'm working on one again.  

before i started drawing out my full plan (which still isn't quite completed- i promise to share it here as soon as it is), i spent some time thinking about my goals for this year's gardens.  each year, at the end of the season i reflect on which of my efforts were successful and which ones could use some improvement or aren't even worth repeating.  i also think about what new things i want to try the next year.  now that it's spring, i'm thinking again about some of these overall goals, and what new things (whether it's new plants to grow, or new techniques) i want to try this year.  in my four years of vegetable gardening, i've come to learn that tending a garden is, above all, an experiment.  

below is a list of some of the new things that i'll be trying in this year's gardens:

:: start seeds indoors early.  this one is already in progress and you can read more about it here.
:: save seeds at the end of the season.
:: grow more medicinal herbs and do a better job of harvesting and using them.
:: grow plants to use for dyeing yarn or fabric (such as hollyhock, zinnias, marigolds, indigo).
:: grow enough of something to can or freeze, or otherwise preserve. (tomatoes maybe? or green beans?)
:: plant in containers.  i'm hoping to fill up my second floor balcony with containers filled with tomatoes, peppers, pole beans, and flowers.
:: grow potatoes in potato towers.  last year i tried growing them in burlap sacks, with moderate success.
:: try more vertical growing to deal with limited space.  i plan to build different types of trellises for squash, melons, cucumbers, and pole beans.
:: and here is my list of plants i'd like to try growing for the first time this year: radishes, arugula, onions, quinoa, amaranth, peas, melon, and more flowers (marigolds, zinnias, hollyhocks).

well, then, i guess that's a pretty healthy list, isn't it? what are your goals for this year's garden?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

front yard gardening

my husband & i are firm believers in growing food wherever you are.
we moved into our little red house a little under a year ago. one of the first things we noticed about our home was the shady backyard. after much thought, we knew our only option was the front yard.

once we heard the approval from our landlord, we began transforming our space into an edible landscape & small garden for personal use.we have a large bed along the front of our house & a south-facing bed on the side. we also made a cold frame from windows found on the side of the road in order to harden off our starts from seed.

in making the transition from this home to elsewhere, i am finding the value in container gardening. it is definitely possible to grow an abundance of food in pots while moving from one state to another. i have already planted a variety of edible flowers, herbs & strawberries. i also plan to grow tomatoes, peppers & a variety of greens in containers for the summer.

until our big move, i am enjoying the fresh lettuce mix from our beds & the over-wintered spinach & kale from last season's bounty.

it is truly satisfying to be so closely connected to your food, watch it grow, harvest it & enjoy it with others.

Monday, April 18, 2011




welcome to tend! we're so glad that you found us.

i was all set to show you some of the spring beauty slowing coming to life in vermont, but the daffs aren't up yet and the crocuses are spent.

instead, i thought i would tell you about my go-to gardening resource. if i had to recommend one book for beginner gardeners, it would be the garden primer by barbara damrosch. damrosch writes simply and clearly and provides good information on a large variety of topics. the book starts out with the basics (how to prepare a bed, how to identify common weeds, how to start seeds), and this first chapter entitled "what plants need" should be required reading for all new gardeners.

i also like that her methods are organic; it's how we garden at home. i know if i turn to the garden primer for advice because of an insect problem, i'm not going to find information on pesticides. i like that. when ordering our seeds this year, we referenced the garden primer to see which varieties barbara damrosch suggested.

if you absolutely need color illustrations, you may need a different resource. this book features illustrations, but they are charming and work well for me. i say, if you need a second reference and want to see the plant in color, just google it.

it's truly a treasure trove of information--your one stop gardening resource. in the spring and summer, it lives on our coffee table and we are constantly reading and referencing it.

i'm sure your library will have a copy if you want to take a peek.

please check out our resources page for more gardening books and websites that we all love.