Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Spring Buds

The reds and browns of spring buds were striking in the warm sunlight this weekend.

These are the buds on the Japanese quince bush. They'll produce beautiful red trumpet flowers in a month or so and will attract hummingbirds. If we're lucky they'll also set fruit so we can make more quince jelly this Fall.
This is growing in the marsh with wonderful reddish brown bark. I'm not sure what it is. The plants had interesting dried flower or seed pods at the end of some of the shorter stalks.
An unknown in the front flower bed. I was struck by how beautiful the red shoots were against the brown leaves.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Saturday Seedling Update

Today the seedlings ventured out on to the warm step to soak up the 60 degree temperatures and the sun.

Here's the kale and my one cilantro seedling. I've re-seeded these, but still no sign of more cilantro.
My freckles lettuce is getting its second set of leaves.
The spinach has it's first set of true leaves.
Here are the seedlings I started for my mom on Sunday.
Out in the garden, the soil has thawed down 4 to 6 inches. Some of the garlic is just beginning to sprout out of the ground. Matt helped me dig up the brussels sprout stalks and we cleared out those that survived the winter because they were looking pretty sad after the cold nights we've had since the snow melted. I was tempted to transplant the kale into the garden, however the forecast for the next week is mostly rain. I wasn't expecting to transplant anything out until mid-April so I'll wait until then.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Sowing Seeds 3/27

Tomorrow's going to be a busy day of errands so I did my weekend seed sowing tonight. I started:

4 Pot of Gold Yellow Swiss Chard (a new variety for me)
8 Bright Lights Swiss Chard
10 Golden Beets (I'm really excited about these)

and 4 mystery peppers.

I bought a pack of peppers that supposedly has Jalapeno, Anaheim, Ancho, Long Slim Red Cayanne, and Hungarian Wax. Earlier this month I tried to tell the difference between the seeds but couldn't divide them into five groups. So today I started four seeds that look different to me and labeled each cell by number. #1 is a darker seed, #2 is an orange tinted seed, #3 is a larger white seed, and #4 is a smaller white seed. I only planned for two peppers in my garden, but with a seed pack with 5 varieties I felt I had to plant more than just two. So I guess I'll find spots for them somehow.

I'm taking the lead from Annie's Granny, and I am putting the pepper seeds on a heating pad. I was thinking of putting them in t
he cooler to create a warm surrounding insulation, but came across our insulated tote for casseroles in the closet first. So they are snug in there. I'll have to check on them daily to see if they sprout.

Also I recently seeded some things for my mom's garden. Last Sunday night I put in two oak leaf lettuce, two arugula, two freckles lettuce, and two pot of gold yellow chard. The arugula has been germinating quickly in just three days and at a 100 % rate. I'm especially impressed because the seed dates back to 2005. The other lettuces soon followed, and one of the chards appeared today, five days later.
She and my dad are visiting next weekend and will take the seedlings home with them to finish growing and put in her new garden boxes.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Creek Finds

Last spring, my husband and I went down to explore the main channel of the creek in the marsh behind our house. It's easier to get to it in spring before all the grasses, reeds, and thorns grow up. While looking in the creek, we saw pieces of pottery along the sandy bottom. Since we live in an area that's been inhabited for the last 160 years, its likely that previous occupants gave their broken dishes a strong toss into the swamp. It was too chilly to venture into the water and the water was a good two feet deeps, so we decided to return in warmer summer weather to see what we could fish out.

One hot summer day, we decided to go investigate again. To our disappointment, the clear spring creek waters were now green with algae and plant life. There was no way we were seeing the bottom, nor venturing into the water.

This spring we returned to see what we could see. A piece caught our eye that looked like it was supposed to be a fake log with leaves on it. We attempted to retrieve some objects with large sticks, but breaking the surface of the water was just too hard.

This past weekend after raking off the flower bed, we returned with a long-handled metal rake and the snow shovel. We found the edge of the channel still frozen, but the water was running, high at almost three feet. We had fun retrieving a variety of objects, and here are the most interesting pieces of the bunch.
The 'log vase' ; white pottery stamped from England; thick brownstone painted with a blue design; a pair of fluted saucers; a piece brown pottery with corn design, the bottom of a light blue bottle and the remains of a dark green bottle.

We found more heavy brownstone wear and simple white stoneware as well.

Amazingly this canning lid was whole. Its similar to the ones I use on the top of my wire clamp jars which I use for storing dry goods. The top reads "A.C. SMALLEY & Co. Boston & New York."
The base of the green bottle reads "Saratoga, NY."
The blue color stood out on the bottom of the sandy creek and we were surprised to find it was another piece of glass.
Now we just need to decide what to do with our finds.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


I love seeing crocuses peaking up through the ground. They're the first flower to appear and a sure sign of spring. Growing up in Maryland, I remember these would appear in February. Here in New England, we're a month behind. These beauties opened up to show their deep yellow pollen contrasting the light purple petals in the warmth of the mid-day sun.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Seedling Progress

Saturday morning was sunny so I decided to put the seedlings on the window sill for a while and get some natural sun light. Here's an update on how things are progressing.

The kale started on 3/2 is doing very well. Some of them are beginning to develop their second sets of true leaves.

The arugula and freckles lettuce started on 3/14 has all sprouted. The freckles lettuce has two colors even on the seed leaves.
My spinach seeds were also seeded on 3/14. The seeds date to 2004 yet they germinated very well.
I also seeded six cilantro on 3/14 but so far only one has sprouted. The seed package says they take 7-14 days to sprout so I'll give the other five another week before I re-seed.

As a side note, I'm not happy with these peat pots I picked up at the home improvement center. The soil seems to dry out quickly, yet the pots have green mold on the outside of them! The black plastic pots are doing much better.

There is nothing on the calendar for seeding this weekend, and while the garden is no longer covered with snow, the soil is still frozen below the first half inch or so. Currently there is snow squall outdoors. Luckily it's unlikely to stick. Spring is slowly on its way.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Happy Spring!

The warm weather and some strategic shoveling vanquished the snow bank next to the house. We found these crocuses under the pile this week, reminding us that green things will return soon.

Also our shoveling last weekend payed off, as we now have almost completely clear beds and the soil is starting to thaw. Earlier in the week I couldn't even extract the frozen plant labels, but now I was able to pull out a few. I'm sure it is still frozen a few inches down.
We discovered a carrot or two that survived the winter as well. I doubt there is much of a root, but we'll see if they will take off this spring.
Soon I'll have to get outside and rid the garden of last year's remains, as well as pick off all the rocks that rose to the surface in the course of the freezing and thawing this winter.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Teal Fair Isle Sweater

As I mentioned before, I picked up some teal yarn at our school's holiday bazaar table. They were on the 25 cents table, and I got three skeins. The skeins are Cascade 220 wool and so it I have roughly 660 yards. I was puzzled by what to make of it, but thought I might be able to stretch it into a sweater. I mulled over it for a bit and came up with a ball of white wool and a ball of charcoal wool of long-forgotten origins. So I decided I could break up the strong teal color and stretch the yardage by designing a fair isle yoke.

Using guidance from the Knit.1 magazine article about top down sweaters in the round, I knit a swatch to set my gauge and figured out how many stitches I would need around the body, plus what I would need around each sleeve. I subtracted the number of stitches for the neck and this gave me the number I needed to increase between the neck and where I put the arms on stitch holders. I started trying to draw a pattern on graph paper but quickly switched to an excel spreadsheet where I could easily move colors around. I had to figure out which rows would get the increases, how much they would increase and ensure that the number of stitches would fit the number of stitches needed for the pattern repeats at that point. This is my first time with a fair isle type pattern and carrying multiple colors at once, so I designed it so there are only three rows where all three colors are used. My skills have developed for the two color work and I think I'll enjoy doing it again.

The yoke pattern is 64 rows long. When I get to the 64th row, I put the arms on scrap yarn and will continue down with the rest of the body in solid teal. I may add a few rounds of part of the design as I near the bottom of the sweater. Then I plan to come back and pick up the sleeves and knit them as short sleeves. If the yarn allows, I'll take them longer.

Here's a photo of me trying it on so far, after finishing the yoke and putting the arms on waste yarn.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Green Mashed Potatoes

In honor of St. Patrick's Day...

Last week I saw this recipe for Mashed Potatoes with Greens on Mark Bittman's weekly Minimalist column and video. They sounded good but we are quite far from having spring greens like dandelions or arugula. So we used kale instead.
The basics are that you peel and cube the potatoes and cook in water. Then spoon the potatoes out and blanch the kale. Rinse in cold water and roughly chop the kale. Mash the potatoes with lots of olive oil, add the kale and salt and pepper. Top with bread crumbs and olive oil and brown in the oven. Find more details on this recipe page.

One bunch of kale turned out to be a little much for the pound of mashed potatoes. As I stirred the kale into the potatoes, I withheld some that we'll use another day.

As the kale and potatoes browned in the oven, some of the green color leached from the kale into the potatoes, a lovely side effect.
We enjoyed these with some spicy chicken thighs, though the level of spice on the chicken tended to overpower the mild flavor of the green potatoes. We'll be making them again with a wider variety of greens come spring. It was just the right amount for the two of us, leaving some leftovers for the next day's lunch.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Seed Starting Light Frame

Last week my husband surprised me by making a frame for a florescent light to allow me to start seeds. It turned out that hanging in the basement was an unused florescent light fixture. There was also plenty of scrap wood.
He used the jigsaw to cut out a pattern that allows the light to be raised and lowered above the seed starting surface.
Our only purchases were the piece of composite board to sit on the framing to form the surface for the seed starting trays which we spray painted black and a longer extension cord. He rigged up a timer to attach to the top of the light so that we can set when it come on and off. After using it for a few days we found that the light's ballast was overheating and shutting it off after about 8 hours. So he drilled holes in the metal of the light fixture and rigged up three computer cooling fans to a cell phone charger cord to blow the air away from the light ballast and down onto the seedlings.
With such a neat set up, I decided I could attempt to start my own peppers. So we bought package that includes Anaheim, Ancho, Long Slim Red Cayenne, Jalapeno M & Hungarian Wax. I also bought a package of Roma tomatoes so that I can start all my own tomatoes. I took a peek at the pepper seeds today, trying to tell if I could distinguish the different kinds. There seemed to be three kinds that looked different and a large pile that looked alike. The package says equal varieties of each type and there were definitely not that many seeds in the three piles I made. So we'll plant seeds that look different and be surprised by what variety of peppers we get. The starting of tomatoes and peppers will have to wait until next month.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Shoveling out the Garden

Earlier this week Matt and I went out to measure the snow on the garden again. It was up to twelve inches in the deepest spot. Today turned out to be a warm sunny day so we decided to go out and help the beds along with the melting process. We took two shovels out and shoveled off the beds. The dead stems of the brussels sprouts and kale helped us get our bearings and we eventually found a few of the resistors that hold the electric fence around the edges of the beds. In shoveling off the northern bed, we found two late planted brussels sprouts. I think I put these in the ground around July, but they never got enough sun to take off. However they survived the winter by being short and insulated by the snow.
We also discovered one small kale plant amongst the larger plants which died because of the cold.
And one small leek. These aren't in my garden plan so they may have to get moved. I wasn't planning on any brussels sprouts or leeks, but if they survived the winter I don't have the heart to compost them.
We covered them back up with loose snow to protect them from the cold nights. We only shoveled off half off the southern bed, leaving the snow to protect the garlic.
It doesn't look like we did much from the pictures, but now the snow is all one level, which means the 10" high beds are significantly cleared of snow. Hopefully this will help the sheet of ice that seems to be left on the bed melt off in the next few weeks so we can get some early peas and radishes in the ground next month.

Sowing Seeds 3/14

Today's seeding list:

Freckles Romaine Lettuce (4)
Santo Cilantro (6)
Bloomsdale Longstanding Spinach (9)
Arugula (6)

Here are the kale seedlings that sprouted last week. I can just begin to see their second set of leaves emerging.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Double Cuff Felted Mittens

A friend loaned me the book Knit One, Felt Too to get some ideas about what to do with three skeins of teal yarn I got at the holiday bazaar. The teal is so bright that it is hard to decide what it would look good as.
While paging through the book I came across the pattern for Double Cuff Mittens. I didn't really want teal mittens, but I knew I had lots of odds and ends of purples blues and pinks that I could knit up and felt into some mittens. Here is the collection of yarn I started with (the pink is missing).I knit two strands together for the whole mitten because the yarns were thin. I really wanted to use up the large purple-blue skein that had gotten partially bleached by the sun. So this strand was knit through the majority of the both mittens and the faded portion just added to the variegated nature of the mittens. I have small hands so I knit them on 10 1/2 needles instead of the size 11s called for. However after knitting the first cuff I found that I was getting the gauge, so I decreased 4 stitches for two rounds before beginning the thumb gusset. This makes them have the flair around the cuff.
Here are the two mittens finished with the knitting. I wish I had knit the whole hand using the purple/blue/pink variegated yarn but I was afraid I wouldn't have enough for the thumbs so I switched to a pink. It ended up I had a little left over after making thumbs but I didn't want to go back and rip out the tops of the hand. They still look fine.
I felted them in a zippered pillow case in my washer with some dark sheets on the hot water setting. I set the timer for 9 minutes and would return to check on them. Each time I set the water back to the beginning of the agitation cycle. It took 27 minutes for them to felt. The last step was to make the knitted cuffs that get sewn on the inside so that the mitten hugs your wrist. I used up the Elsebeth Lavold Angora yarn that was left over from my Koolhaas hat to make the inner cuffs. It is my hope that now that it is March I won't have a chance to try wearing them until next winter. However, my husband assures me I probably will need them yet this month.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

First Seedlings

The signs of spring on its way abounded today. I heard unfamiliar birds outside the bathroom window this morning. We had temperatures into the 50s this afternoon and enjoyed a bag lunch outside at a workshop we were attending. And my first seedlings sprouted!

I started six kale seeds on Monday and when we returned home this evening they had sprouted. I'm trying to be frugal with my seeds and only plant the number I have planned in my garden. So only six it is. It's exciting to see the beginning of the garden.
I thought I was going to be starting seeds just on the light of our east facing window, but unbeknownst to me, my husband had other ideas. He made a frame for a florescent light fixture this week so that I have a seed starting set up. I'll write more about that in a later post. It's too dark in the house now to get a good photo of it. So now that the kale seedlings have sprouted, they are under the light set up and will green up soon.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Garden Plan 2009

I am taking advantage of not having school today because it is Town Meeting Day to plan my garden. I liked the idea suggested on Henbogle of using an Excel Spreadsheet because you can easily move things around. I use the square foot method, so I made my 3' by 8' beds with square cells. I planned what the garden would look like in April (if I'm lucky enough to be able to get the ground thawed then) and May. Then I copied those plans and added in the June plantings of warmer weather crops. The crop name is followed by how many plants I'll be putting in the square.

My beds are actually actually oriented horizontally next to each other like bricks are in a wall, but for the spreadsheet and the image it was easier to place the north bed above the south bed. Below is the plan for April/May.

And here is the plan for June.
I didn't plan beyond that because everything is subject to change and July's arrangement will depend on how fast earlier crops mature.

Last year I experimented with a lot of variety but it felt as though we just had little tastes of each kind. This year, I'm trying to plant more squares of fewer kinds of vegetables. I left out winter squash because it takes up so much space and I only got one squash from each plant last year. I left out the brussels sprouts because they take so long to mature and take up a fair amount of space too. Last year I experimented with leeks and shallots and onions. The shallots were poor, as were the onions. The leeks did well, so if I see seedlings as deal I might try to squeeze some in.

I added cucumbers to the plot because I enjoyed making pickles last year and it would be easier if they come from my own garden. We enjoyed the Romano Beans last year but they didn't make good Dilly Beans. So I ordered Blue Lake Bush beans and we'll give those a try instead. We loved our Rainbow Chard last year so I'm planting more as well as a variety called Pot of Gold that is all yellow. We enjoyed an asian green called Tatsoi when we got it from our CSA so I'm giving that a try too.
We enjoyed beets, but prefer golden beets so I added those varieties. I added another variety of carrots (Purple Haze) and made sure I gave them a sunnier spot so that they will mature faster. I'm expanding salad greens by adding Freckles Romaine Lettuce and Arugula. We're also planting more spinach. I'm giving peas another try, though I need to pick up some inoculant so that hopefully they do a better job of sprouting than before.

My tomato varieties are up in the air. I saved a few seeds from my yellow heirloom last year and a few zebra tomatoes from store bought heirlooms. I'm not sure if they'll sprout, or if I'll be able to raise healthy enough seedlings with only my sunny windowsills. I'll give it a try and if it doesn't work, revert to other sources.

So now that my garden is planned, it is time for the snow to start melting.Only 9 inches to go!