Category Archives: seeds

And the season begins

Howdy!  It only seems like we didn’t do any gardening last year, because I never updated the blog.  We did grow plenty of vegetables, although the Back 40 garden was a complete disaster, overwhelmed by weeds.  I was also overwhelmed by a new job, hence no posts.  But we’re back, and this year there’s a new plan.

This year we are of course doing the usual in the front gardens:

Tomatoes 5-22
Tomato plants
Eggplants & peppers
Eggplants & peppers

These are the leftovers, which we will be giving away to friends and family.  Old MacDonald likes to have extras on hand, in case of premature vegetative death.  Or because he has the flats, so why not fill them?  I just nod and smile; as we all know, I don’t do the seeds.

Out back, though, we’ll be trying something new and different.  In previous years, the Back 40 has been a 25′ x 90′ monstrosity of a garden, where whatever is planted must survive on its own – we’ll weed, but we don’t water, and we’ll fence it to keep critters out but we don’t do much about the bugs.  Last year was such a disaster, weed wise, that we knew we had to do something different this year.  It was so bad we barely harvested anything from the gardens and I refused to go back there by late July because the conditions were so depressing.

This year we’re cutting that garden in half.  As much as we’d like to add to the square foot total of gardens, to make people question our sanity (go ahead, we do too!) – last year was depressing from a yield perspective and until we retire, we need to do what we can manage.  Its been reconfigured, too – a series of raised mounds of dirt to help create beds that can be mulched to keep down weeds:

The new Back 40 configuration
The new Back 40 configuration

We’ll fence it, as we always do, and we’re going to try putting down grass clippings as our mulch to control weeds and lock in moisture.  We’ll see how it goes.

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 waiting……

We have now entered the difficult time of year where everything’s growing merrily (particularly the weeds) and yet nothing is ready to harvest (except the lettuce, that’s still coming.)  Maddening.

The back 40 garden looks good:

Back 40
Back 40
Beans, corn , pumpkins & watermelons
Beans, corn , pumpkins & watermelons

While we were away at Barbecue University, all the peas and beans came up, much to our delight, because it apparently rained really hard for that week.  We need to focus on putting up trellises this weekend, and we’ll see if we’re still so pleased when we’re out there picking bushels of legumes in either the broiling sun, or the mosquito-infested twilight of August.  Either way, likely to be uncomfortable while harvesting:

Beans and peas
Beans and peas

In other news, almost all of the seeds I sowed for herbs have come up.  The dill has been a little difficult, but that happened last year so I’m not worried, plus I don’t use a ton of fresh dill in my cooking so what’s coming up will probably be enough.  And another challenge is that I absolutely cannot tell the difference between the tarragon seedlings and the weeds.  This should sort itself out in a few weeks, because the weeds will grow much bigger much faster.  I think.  I didn’t photograph it, because who wants visual evidence of their weeding incompetency?

I am currently reading The Roots of My Obsession: Thirty Great Gardeners Reveal Why They Garden, edited by Thomas C. Cooper.  It’s a series of essays by famous gardeners (not that I’ve heard of any of them, though) trying to articulate why they garden.  Most of them can’t – they can trace the roots of their interest to a family member, or family tradition, or just an interest – but all of them are universal in their love for working with dirt and plants.  It’s a mix of both vegetable and ornamental gardeners (and sometimes folks who are both) and an interesting read.  Something to occupy my time while I avoid weeding the tarragon right out of existence.

Another Season Begins

Most of the garden is now in the ground:


Potatoes, carrots & parsnips, planted in April

 I didn’t remember to photograph the main garden, because we were headed out immediately to plant the back 40:

From this angle, it doesn’t look so bad.  Hunched over the rows, planting peas, beans and corn, it seemed like the worlds loooooongest field.  Where you can see the furrows above, we planted corn in one half of the right hand side (we are planning a successive planting over the weekend of June 16-17 if the weather holds) and on the left-hand side, we planted 1 1/2 rows of pole beans, 1/2 row of green bush beans, 1 row of purple bush beans, and five rows of peas.  I must have put in more than 200.  J claims to like peas – we’re about to find out just how much.  We left 2 rows empty to do successive plantings of green and purple bush beans.  About the middle of the field you can see some very thin stakes sticking up – J planted barley in that area.  Behind the barley is where we will be putting the pumpkins, watermelons, winter squash and radishes.  We don’t actually like radishes all that much, but J read that they repel the bugs that eat squash and pumpkin plants, so hey!  Let’s grow some radishes.  I bet the woodchuck will love them.
Our newest concern is how often it rains.  Unlike the main house garden and raised beds, there is no water source out by the back-40 field, and it’s quite some distance from the house:

Standing next to the field, looking back towards the house

In fact, you can’t even see the house from the back-40 garden.  Fortunately today it is raining, and it seems like we got a pretty good soaking rain last night.  We’re hoping the overcast/drizzly weather last through Thursday, as predicted, while J investigates the possibility of rain barrels for out back.  Otherwise it’s a really long way to haul 5-gallon buckets of water, even if we put them in the trailer that attaches to the tractor.


Today I planted the potatoes.  I love planting potatoes, it’s so easy:

Dig hole

Select potato

Deposit in hole

Today’s temperature reached 92 degrees, which for April is a record breaker.  It also makes us feel like we’re behind with our garden planting, even though we are not.  I also planted the parsnips:

I did not expect the seeds to look like that, but they are way easier to deal with than carrot seeds, which are so tiny and fussy I did not even bother to photograph them, I just threw them in the shallow trench 1″ apart and covered them up. 

In the end, our middle raised garden looked like this:

In other words, not much.  But we’re a month ahead of last year, at least.  And with 20 potatoes planted (to last year’s seven) we should see double the yield.  Maybe.


I meant to post a few weeks ago when the seeds arrived in mid-February.  In the past, Pine Tree has shipped our seeds in a padded envelope.  This year?  We got a box:

And because we purchased so many items, we got a free reusable tote:

Currently we are storing the seeds in the box in the tote.  I will eventually appropriate it for grocery shopping.  What constitutes a lot of seeds, you ask?  Observe:

And not everything has arrived yet.  And we still have some seeds left over from last year that we’ll be using.  Still missing are the two types of potatoes, garlic, and hops – basically all the root plants.

This year I am going to try and grow all the flowers for my flower boxes and pots, as opposed to purchasing seedlings from the nursery.  But of course, once I started poking around in the flower section, there were so many new! and exciting! options for flowers.  I somehow ended up with lupin seeds (which always remind me of Monty Python) foxglove (which is making Himself nervous, as it is poisonous if ingested) and some unordered poppy seeds.  I hate poppies.  I’m going to plant them anyway, that’s a $1.35 of free seeds!  I can always Freecycle them.

Also on the purchasing agenda?  A larger seed-growing rack.  This is the one we purchased last year:

And this year’s upgrade:

Bit of a difference, no?  The added advantage with the new system is that the lights are standard sized and so we can steal them from our attic, insert new bulbs, and use them during the growing season.  J was telling me the other day about how the bulbs he just purchased have different UV spectrums, which are supposed to be good for seedlings.

This is such a complex setup and process for growing seeds.  If the Mayans are right, and the end is coming in December, we’re going to have a really hard time getting the seedlings started next year without electricity.

Especially if there are zombies.

Wait! It’s time to start thinking about next year’s garden ALREADY?

Tuesday night I probably passed the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse on my way home from work but didn’t notice – I had two back-to-back evening meetings cancelled, leaving me with an unexpectedly free evening.  (The odds of having two meetings on the same night cancelled are so astronomical I can’t calculate them, and I probably should have purchased a lottery ticket on my way home.)  It must have been the end of the world – I had a free evening.  Perhaps the Horsemen in were in the drive-through line at Dunkin’ Donuts which is why I missed them when I drove by.

So, home then, for dinner.  While chatting with J, I flipped through the pile of mail and there it was, shining like a new penny, calling out to me like a siren’s song:  the new seed catalog.  (Cue chorus of angels singing.)

We have been loyal to Pinetree Garden Seeds since we first started growing our own vegetables.  Our first year, we ordered several different company catalogs on the advice of my father-in-law, but were most interested in Pinetree because they’re based in Maine and family owned and operated.  Their seeds are relatively inexpensive, orders are packed by hand, and they guarantee their product.  Last year we only looked at their catalog for our orders, and placed our order just after Christmas, in early January.

Now, Christmas calls to mind many things for people – decorations, tree trimming, gathering with family, celebrations – and it does for me too, but in addition, Christmas to me is the line in the sand for chosing the seeds to be ordered after the first of the year.  I distinctly remember sitting in the living room last year, admiring our decorated Christmas tree, circling types of seeds to add to our list.  And since we put up a fresh tree we cut down ourselves (that’s a whole other blog-worthy post) within two weekends of Christmas, in my head I have the seed catalog arriving in December, not before Thanksgiving.

But there it was.  And so I did what any garden enthusiast who had an unexpected free night home with her husband:  I completely ignored him and spent time paging through the catalog, pencil in hand.  I think he tried to talk to me.  I think he tried to tell me about his day.  But his train of thought must have been interrupted many times with my abrupt interjections to read him the catalog descriptions of things like lunar white carrots (“Henry VIII ate them!”) and purple trionfo violetta pole beans (“They overran the trelises and the adjacent rows of corn.  And they’re purple!”)

I did eventually put the catalog down, mostly because I needed to get up and get another glass of water.  At which point J grabbed both the catalog and my pencil……..and began circling his own selection of seeds.

How do you know he’s a king?

So part of our weekend was very much like the first 9 seconds of this video:

Monty Python and the Holy Grail

(I resisted the urge to shout, “Help!  Help!  I’m bein’ repressed!” while planting.  After all, I was there of my own free will.  And there was no sign of a king, although Max thinks he’s pretty important.)

It’s been a very rainy and wet spring.  J was finally able to get the tilling done out back on Friday night, and when he was finished, it looked like this:

Once that was done, we could think about planting the pumpkins and watermelons.  We created mounds to plant the seeds in:

Put the seeds in……

And covered them up:

It was really muddy.  Really, really muddy:

It was a great excuse to wear my frog boots, however!  (They’re left over from my days as a Conservation Commissioner.  So yes, I’ve worn them out in public.  I’m not known for my fashion sense, but I am known for my practical footwear.)  The whole thing felt a little like a, well, Monty Python movie.  At least I was laughing as I squished through the mud with my hoe.

We planted Jack-Be-Little, Lumina, Howden and Orange Dream pumpkins, and planted Sugar Baby watermelons.  We have hope that we will get both plants and pumpkins.  Watermelons would be great too, but we’re mostly interested in the pumpkins, because of our love of Halloween:

Of course, in the end, they all meet a fiery death:

This is what passes for entertainment in the suburbs – flaming produce.

When we’re not gardening, I’m reading about gardening

Or, in this case, farming, which to me is the ultimate hard-core act of sustainable living.  A few weeks ago I read a great memoir called The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food and Love by Kristin Kimball.  She was a NYC writer in a rent-controlled apartment who met a self-taught farmer while on a writing assignment, fell for him, and move to upstate New York to start a farm from the ground up.  The book covers the good and the bad, talking about the fun of making your own cheese with the worry about money when your bank account reads nearly zero.  She doesn’t romanticize or sugar coat the hard work that she and her fiance (now husband) put into starting a farm from scratch, but you get the sense that she truly feels its worth it – she’s traded the security and lifestyle of NYC for a simpler life where they grow their own food and were able to develop a year-round CSA model that provides a complete diet to their members – they have bees, chickens, pigs, cattle and dairy cows.  They even use draft horses to plow the five acres in which they grow vegetables.  It got great reviews online, and I picked it up thinking, “Even when the garden expansion seems overwhelming, it will never be as much work as this.”  Heck, we don’t even have pets, never mind dairy cows that need milking or pigs we have to slaughter.

There’s a plan to start some of the seeds this weekend, requiring a trip out to pick up some new supplies.  J has some new things he wants to try, namely grow lights.  We’ve already been using covered trays and seed mats for heat.  This year we also have a new baker’s rack, assembled and waiting in the basement.  We’ll have more trays of seedlings this year, based on the expanded, ambitious garden plans, and it will be easier to move them from their daytime home on the sun porch back into the kitchen if we have the rolling rack.  The tentative plan is to start the eggplants and peppers now, staggering the rest of the seeds (tomatoes, squash) based on our target planting date of Memorial Day weekend.  We’re currently debating whether to put the peas, beans and cucumbers directly into the ground or not.  We did decide that the corn, pumpkins and watermelons are going directly into the ground one to two weeks before our big planting weekend.  J is planning on creating furrows in the garden and we’re going to buy hay for insulation during the germination period.  In the past we’ve used weed block, but last year’s heat and dry weather shredded the material and we ended up weeding once a week anyway.  We’re going to try and keep the weeds down with the hay and some good old-fashioned hoeing.  I also think it’s an excuse for him to buy some other piece of equipment to attach to the tractor for the plants in the open field.  Did I mention that we might need to build a new and larger shed this year? 

Tonight the alpine strawberry seeds are going in the freezer – in order to mimic nature and what they would experience if they were outside all winter it is recommended you stick them in the freezer for 4 -6 weeks prior to planting.  I have been reminding myself for weeks that I need to do this, and finally decided tonight was the night; it will be easier to remember the date I did it since today is the start of the month.  Depending on the rate of germination, I might sow them directly into the raised beds that have yet to be constructed, or I might start seedlings in about a month.  My research shows they can be somewhat susceptible to frost, so they’ll be going in the ground around Memorial Day either in seed or seedling format. 

A lot of this is guess work and trust in others’ research and experiences.  Our favorite phrase around here is, “It’s an experiment.”  So far it’s worked out fine (except for those blasted pumpkins!) but I can’t help but feel at some point there will be a failure.  We’ll see.  It’ll probably be those strawberries I’ve spent so much time thinking about.  They’ll probably get frostbite in my freezer.

It’s Not Just The Tractor…..

In my last post, I mentioned the purchase of the John Deere garden tractor. J was very specific in the type, vintage and condition he wanted, which is why it took almost 5 months to find the right one in the right price range. However, given how expensive they are new, this was worth the effort. Especially since I didn’t have to do anything except say, “Whatever you want, dear,” and “I think that’s a good price,” and “I’d be happy to go with you to pick up the tractor.” Which I said. Repeatedly. For five months. Don’t get me wrong, this is probably one of the best things ever – there was zero effort involved on my part except some verbal reassurance AND now I get a ride-on tractor to do the lawn instead of having to use a push mower. Win-win.

It’s more than just the tractor, though – it’s the accessories necessary for the larger garden. It started with the rototiller, which appeared in our garage even before the right tractor had been located. That sucker is big. And rusty, which is par for the course when you purchase a piece of equipment that rips up the dirt as you drag it behind the tractor. It’s apparently of early 1960’s vintage if J’s research is right, which explains the rust. Then came the plow, which is currently in pieces in the basement, being painstakingly restored. A few weeks later a mulching kit arrived via U.S. post, an EBay purchase. Somewhere in between the hydraulic lift was acquired, the details of that acquisition still fuzzy to me. Someone might have actually brought it to the house for him. And over Valentine’s Day weekend we travelled out to the MA / NY border to pick up the remaining parts for the mower’s bagger and a 6-gallon attachable sprayer. He’s still on the hunt for a garden cart, and probably a few other things he hasn’t admitted to yet.

But I know he’s most excited about the plow, mainly because every time I go into the basement he’s fiddling with it and he spends time on John Deere posting boards reading up on plowing techniques. The garden is making a big jump this year, from the fenced-in 8′ x 20′ plot to that, plus 2 raised beds, and an open field section for the corn, pumpkins and watermelons. We need the plow and the rototiller in order to be able to put in the three hundred stalks of corn and the four types of pumpkins and the watermelons. (I will post the garden plans soon, along with the seed lists. The sheer number of plants and the ambitions of this year’s garden sometimes overwhelm me. But then I remember, we have a tractor! Won’t that help?)

Over the weekend J apparently read this on one of his boards and sent it to me to post here. I like that it’s from a website called “Weekend Freedom Machines” which tells you something about the sort of people who describe tractors like that. The author is unknown, but if someone ever uncovers who wrote this let me know as I like to give credit where credit is due. If you make it all the way through the text, bless your cotton socks. I promise more pictures in upcoming posts, rather than all this text.

From “Weekend Freedom Machines, ” a vintage John Deere garden tractor website. Author unknown:

One of the oldest and most valuable tillage tools of agricultural history, the plow has transformed many millions (probably billions) of acres of land into a productive seed bed. Through the ages, good plowing had been the soil’s best friend by preparing a seed bed with a minimum of time and effort, helping to control weeds, assisting in the degradation of mulch into organic matter, increasing water retention, and reducing erosion. One of the oldest plows known to exist (said to date from 2000 BC) is a testament to the timelessness of this tillage practice. When plowing, a farmer is part of fraternity that spans many continents and generations. Plowing contests are more than turning over soil, they are a celebration of tradition, agriculture and friendships.

Skillful plowing provides many benefits for the soil:
1.) Furrows that are turned over at the proper angle create a furrow comb (ridges and valleys) that makes an excellent seed bed. Clods and holes should be avoided as they allow seeds to fall too deep or cause it to lay on top. A farmer should be able to broadcast seed over the plowed field and harrow it lightly to incorporate the seed at a uniform depth. Once the crop emerges, rows should be visable.
2.) The furrow comb also helps to slow the wind at ground level. This reduces the amount of soil that blows away and helps to deposit snow in the depressions. On hilly land, contour plowing slows water runoff which reduces erosion and improves moisture absorption.
3.) Weed control can be achieved with good plowing. Furrow slices that are properly cut off, rolled over, and placed tightly against the next furrow bury growing weeds and weed seed deeply enough to help prevent weed growth and seed germination. An extra weed control measure may be taken by plowing a split and then placing the crown on top of that. The split shaves off all growing plants at ground level so they do not grow through the crown placed on top of them.

A good job of plowing also helps maintain a field that is easy to work with:
1.) An opening crown that is level with or only slightly higher than the surrounding furrows is preferred to one that is too high as it is easier to maintain proper seed depth for good germination and is more comfortable to drive over for the farmer.
2.) The closing furrow should be narrow and shallow while still maintaining furrow conformation and trash coverage. This will help insure the best possible seed placement at planting time and reduce the depression that runs through the field for years to come.
3.) The plow should be placed into and taken out of the ground quickly and uniformly across the field so that the ins and outs may be cleaned up with only one pass of the plow. Anyone who has plowed an uneven headland knows how rough bouncing through furrows can be.
4.) From year to year, opening furrows should be placed over last year’s dead furrow to “unplow” ridges and depressions. This requires planning and skill with a plow.

The plow itself is an excellent educator for those interested in agriculture. The same attention to the details of fine plowing would serve a farmer well in choosing chemical, seed and fertilizer programs, making equipment adjustments, and selecting farming practices. With today’s small profit margins, this attention to detail may be the difference between making money of losing it.

There will never be a profit margin for us. Our very first year my mother commented that each tomato would probably cost $82. It probably was not that much then, but it might be that much now….