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We Now Return to Our Regularly Scheduled Summer Activities

Greetings! It certainly has been a long time, hasn’t it? We never stopped gardening, I just stopped blogging. In the summer of 2017 I got back into community theater and that has been a whirlwind of productions, either as an actor, writer, director, or producer and has not left much time for keeping up with this site. Now that the pandemic has caused those of us with the option to stay home to social distance, I feel like this is the year to get this blog regularly updated again. I am remembering, however, that I will be struggling for content until the vegetables actually start to be harvested, so you’re in for about 8 weeks of me blathering on about books, other blogs and random plant facts. Watching plants grow is about as exciting as watching plants dry. But if you’re out of options on Netflix, swing on by this blog.

We got off to a great start this year, with good-sized seedlings ready for planting by mid-May:

The indoor greenhouse

Memorial Day weekend has always been our traditional planting weekend, per the advice of my grandfather and this year we got everything in on Friday. First we had some prep work to do:

Daisy (as in “Daisy-cutter”)

We need to redo the fence on the main garden but have not figured out a workable solution to having a removable end piece with any of the options we have been exploring. J has suggested perhaps making the open end near the patio, but that gets into moving the bench, outdoor sink, and rolling across the patio which is not my top choice. J thinks the pie-shaped bed at the end of the garden would make a great rose garden, and I don’t disagree, but absent a workable solution for getting the tiller in there every two years, it needs to be something that gets planted annually.

Speaking of plants, here’s how they look after this weekend:

It’s not very exciting, and it won’t be for a number of weeks. The middle photo captures the newest bed addition, our hops bed – you can barely see the strings reaching up from the bed to an overhead pole designed to encourage the vines to grow up and around the strings. If it works, it should make a really interesting backdrop by mid-summer.

No rest for the weary

We have had one heck of a winter in the Northeast this year.  Boston just broke its all-time snow record for the last 20 years over the weekend, and further out where we live it has been a banner year:

This was the first storm
This was the first storm

Of course, all that snow has to go somewhere, which in our case was a big pile next to the deck:

Mount Cocktail
Mount Cocktail

That’s a pre-Prohibition drink perched up on our hastily-assembled ice bar called Satan’s Whiskers.  Here’s the recipe:

1/2 oz. gin
1/2 oz. Grand Marnier
1/2 oz. sweet vermouth
1/2 oz. dry vermouth
1/2 oz. orange juice
Dash orange bitters

Old McDonald likes to stir the cocktail rather than shake it with ice.  Your mileage may vary.

Speaking of Old McDonald, he’s got a new hobby, and oh lucky me, it involves more boiling!  The new farming hobby is……wait for it…..maple sugaring.  We did the first part the weekend of March 13:

Drilling The tapEmpty single bagEmpty double bagsOf course, you drill the taps and set the bags, and then you get some warm days and this happens:

Full single bagSemi-full double bags40 gallons worth of that, as it happens, in just about 2 weeks.  40 gallons of sap is equivalent to about one gallon of syrup, or so we have read.  But to get to that syrup, first you have to boil it:

Boiling photo 1And boil it…..

Boiling photo 2And by the second weekend, you will decide that you should also have a propane burner to assist in the boiling, and to help your wife this summer, when she cans vegetables:

Boiling photo 3We are currently at about 2 gallons of not-quite syrup, waiting for its final boil.  It’s sitting in the fridge, because we ran out of time and daylight last weekend, and intend to follow up tomorrow, just in time to have it ready for Easter.  Of course, the homemade maple syrup needs a label:

Cocktail_Farmers_LogoI cannot even tell you how excited I am we’ve got a logo now, courtesy of Old McDonald and Adobe Illustrator.  I am going to get a coffee mug out of this entire endeavor if it kills me.

Summer begins

So once again, I cannot take a lot of credit for moving the garden from concept to reality – J has done the lion’s share of the seedling care & planting. I did go on a massive weeding spree this past weekend, so the gardens are attractive enough to be posted on the internet:

Main garden
Main garden

Parsnips, carrots, turnips, beets
Parsnips, carrots, turnips, beets

Herbs & lettuce
Herbs & lettuce

It has been such a cold spring that growth has been sluggish.  Everything went into the ground the weekend of May 17th but it’s barely done anything.  I know the heat of July will kick everything into high gear.

One crop that is doing well are the hops – J bought three different types a few years ago.  The first year we put them in pots outside our sun porch, and ran them up a trellis.  Last year they were transplanted out into a sunny spot in the area where the orchard is going to go, and this year he split them.  Several of them are already higher than five feet:

Hop vines - without flowers (yet)
Hop vines – without flowers (yet)

Two years ago J grew barley, with the intent of trying to brew his own beer.  The birds ate most of it, and Max napped in what the birds didn’t get.  It was less than optimal, so we’ve abandoned barley.  And beer brewing, truth be told.  Turns out Sam Adams makes perfectly acceptable beer, and it is ten times easier to get it at the store.  Go figure.

Finally, the back garden went in this weekend – this year, everything is being started from seed (watermelons, corn, beans, peas, pumpkins, etc.) so there’s nothing to look at here except exceptionally fluffy soil and beautiful rows achieved with the assistance of some John Deere tractor attachment that’s been cluttering up our basement.  Meaning that it gets to live another year at our house, because there is no way I want to rake a 25′ x 90′ garden into parallel rows.

Back 40, after planting
Back 40, after planting

And now we wait.

Still growing…….

This year we decided to grow Kellogg tomatoes.  Mostly because the name brought breakfast cereal to mind:


They are a bright yellow-orange, like the one in the photo above, when they are fully ripe.  These tomatoes are not quite as flavorful as Brandywines, but they add a nice pop of color to a tomato salad.  Online searches told us that they can get large enough that they hang over the edges of sandwich bread when split horizontally. I believe it.

We were starting to (foolishly) believe we had worked out the proper balance of vegetables in our many different garden beds.  So far this year we’ve not given away much in the way of produce – a few tomatoes, some Fooled You jalepeno peppers, a few zucchini – because we’ve done a lot of canning – 9 jars of dill pickles, 5 jars of banana peppers, 4 jars of bread and butter pickles, and 4 jars of dill beans.  We decided, almost as an afterthought, to go out to the garden tonight to pick “…a few things….” and ended up with all this:


We have been officially schooled, onced again, by the calendar.  It is all fun & games until August rolls around, and then we’re buried.

And the next batch of peas and lettuce have started to come up.  If only we could figure out a way to have vegetables 4 months of the year, instead of 2…..

Gardening season begins

We put the first round of seedlings into the ground May 19. This was the rack before:


In fairness, the bottom two racks were flowers, and went in pots and boxes at the front of the house. This year J decided to try a new planting scheme, given that we got hit so hard last year and lost our squash and cucumbers. The plants are in groups of four types of each plant, scattered around the garden:


It’s hard to tell now, but should look better in a few weeks as things start to grow. Speaking of growing, the lettuce and cabbages are coming along nicely:



As are the parsnips and carrots, although they are still too small to see. There are some holes in one line of the parsnips, where a lot of them didn’t come up, so I am going to sow some more this weekend to fill in the gaps.

New this year – onions:


I am growing red cippolini and while I suspect I might have spaced them too close together, I am going to risk it because we did them from seed and if it doesn’t work we’re out less than $2 for a package of seeds and the time it took me to plant them (about 30 minutes.)

I also put in basil, cilantro and tarragon seeds in the herb bed; I’m planning on a subsequent planting in pots near the deck for cilantro, basil & dill. I found the tarragon seeds to be fascinating:


You can’t really tell from my photo but they are a long black seed with just a touch of beige or white at one end. I picked out a Mexican tarragon from the catalog, just to try growing it. I don’t really use it that much in cooking, but I guess I’ll learn some new recipes in order to make use of it.

Also seeded this weekend were French Breakfast radishes and turnips. They went in the bed with the carrots, parsnips and beets, which are looking fabulous.

Up next on the planting schedule: Beans (pole & bush), watermelons (Sugar Baby & Moon & Stars), winter squash, pumpkins (Dill’s Atlantic Giant, Jack Be Little, Amish, Orange Smoothie,) peas (Mr. Big Pea and Sugar Snap) and parsley.

End of April report

Last weekend we began putting in the root vegetable seeds – carrots, parsnips, and for the first time, beets.  We decided to grow an heirloom mixture of seeds based on my experimentation with fresh beets in cooking this winter – our local grocer sells beets already peeled, but not canned.  Before starting the seeds in the ground (about 4 weeks before the last date of frost) they need  to be soaked for 8-24 hours:

They were sown, along with the carrot and parsnip seeds, in last year’s tomato bed.  Because we built a new bed this year, we rotated all the potatoes and garlic, previously grown in bed #3, into that bed.  Nothing’s changed from last year’s planting system – dig hole, drop potato, cover, water sparsely.  See:

What is new this year is my selection of Adirondack blue potatoes.  Unlike the royal purple beans we grew last year, which turned green when cooked, Adirondack blues are supposed to retain their color when cooked.  If this is true, I might turn the entire batch into potato chips.

Meanwhile, the seedlings are doing nicely:

Geraniums in back, coleus in front

Eggplants – Bride and Dusky Purple

Peppers – Green, Jalepeno & Banana



Of course, the entire operation takes up a bit of room downstairs:

This year, J started putting foam core underneath the seed trays & heating mats, and covering the entire rack with plastic to create a mini greenhouse.  It seems to be working because we’re getting really great returns on the number of seeds that are being planted. 
This week we are starting squash – winter, summer, zucchini, watermelons & pumpkins.  Those grow really fast so they don’t get started until just a few weeks before planting – and that day will be here before I know it.

Waiting for Spring

So as I type this, another foot of snow has fallen, and our garden looks like this:

Quite a contrast from the height of summer:

Ok, so admittedly the watermelons were grown out back, not in the fenced in area above, but whatever.  I just wanted to have something green and lush for that photo.  Artistic license, folks!

There is reason to have hope, however – the first batch of seedlings are up:

The ones in front are onions, and in the back under the cover to the left are geraniums, and to the right are peppers and eggplants.  Allegedly.  Once again I have been remiss in assisting with the seed starting, although this year we will be trying a new technique and transplanting to regular potting soil before final planting in hte gardens and window boxes, so I am on the hook for that.  Perhaps.

At this time last year we were enjoying weather in the 70s, and we were out on the deck to wash out the seed trays, not shovel it off.  Ah, weather in New England.  At this rate we are hoping to plant before 4th of July!

Thinking of Summer

It’s official, the order is in:

We’re not going to talk about the total cost of the seeds this year.  After all, we don’t do this to save money.  We do it so you all can continually ask us, “How on earth do you have time to do all this gardening?”  (Answer: it takes way less effort than you would think.)  We are expecting it might be another year where they send us one of these in thanks:

Or perhaps call us personally.  New for this year – mini cabbages, a lettuce mix, blue potatoes (seriously, they apparently stay mostly blue when cooked; I can’t wait!) a new type of early corn, another type of peas (snow) and some new herbs.  There might be a few more things, but I can’t remember.  It was a long list.  It includes flowers once again.  We’re also planning on building another new raised bed to accomodate the root vegetables, which were very successful this year.

In other news, we’re now on Twitter.  Follow us @CocktailFarmers.  I cannot promise the tweets will be any more interesting than the posts.  But we never promised you excitement.  Only vegetables.

Thanksgiving is officially cancelled!

Because look what arrived in the mail today, our earliest arrival ever:

Ok, so we’re not really cancelling Thanksgiving (in fact, ALL of our vegetable sides will be from our garden tomorrow – some will be pulled fresh from the raised bed in the morning) but it sure is tempting.  I’ve already been through the entire catalog, and circled more than a half-dozen seeds.  But I would have more time to look at the catalog if we served pizza tomorrow.

Fortunately, J is on the case already for the turkey seasoning:

Fresh from the garden tonight!  You can’t beat that.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Too much of a good thing…..

I now find myself searching for new and inventive ways to prepare beans.  Remember last weekend’s bean haul?

Welcome to this week’s:

Beans are the 2012 squash & zucchini problem we normally have.  I’ve taken to handing out recipes with the bags of beans.  When people aren’t shushing their children and pulling their shades when they see me coming.