The Backyard Gardener!
There are really no words. I am over the moon! The author copies of my first book The Backyard Gardener have arrived and I’m finally feeling it all come together.
I can’t believe I’m finally holding my book in my hands! This all started with an email from my (now) editor asking me about what gardeners today are looking for and would I be willing to submit a proposal of one of the ideas we discussed.
So I really thought about what I always wanted out of a kitchen garden book. I talked to my garden (and noon-garden) friends and asked what they were looking for … and at the end I thought that there wasn’t really a book on the market that describes the whole process holistically. I mean, they all have great info with the vegetables listed from A to Z, but many have you flipping backward and forward to see page so-and-so to get the whole picture. And by the time you’re ready to start growing you have to go and organize which vegetables and fruits go in each bed, then mark those pages throughout the book. I wanted to do something different.
This book covers all you need to know in the first three chapters. I start by talking about gardening from the ground up, these are your basics (soil, light, water, plant care, pests, etc.), then the various propagation techniques I use (sowing seed and how to take and start cuttings). The third chapter is a departure from many other garden books. I share all my favorite organic practices that you can use in the garden to improve your crops without chemicals. Things like crop rotation, season extension, different ways to warm the soil and even my own sheet mulch (lasagna gardening) recipe are covered here. There are also growing tips, like my heating-mat hack or how to make a potato tower sprinkled throughout.
Everything in this book I’ve grown 🌱. And that’s what the second seventy percent of the book focuses on, growing vegetables and fruits! I laid these pages out just like I garden-in crop rotation groups. You’ll find all the Brassicas together, followed by the nightshade vegetables, and so on. Here is where I’ve compiled everything I know from personal experience with years of reading and advice from friends into each plant listing. Then I talk about my Top 10 herbs and flowers that no kitchen garden should be without, and in the final chapter I break down all my garden chores by month and season. Now you’ll know everything I know!
The past year-and-a-half has been crazy. So many hours of writing, gardening and photographing went into this little book and I’m so proud! 💕 My husband was a real trouper. The laundry pile never seemed to shrink and I think I began naming the dust bunnies in the corner by the time my deadline hit. So many nights CJ made dinner, helped me in the field or proofread the many iterations of each chapter. He is so excited that he’ll finally get to see me (and have me make dinner)! Last year he’d leave for work and I’d be out in the greenhouse or fields trying to stay on top of my farm chores and orders, and when he got home I’d be at my desk writing or photographing out in the garden. His only consolation was that our little house was overflowing with produce!
I wrote this book from my heart. I hope you read it as if we were having a riveting conversation over a fresh tomato salad and sharing our excitement about the upcoming growing season.
“All through the long winter, I dream of my garden. On the first day of spring, I dig my fingers deep into he soft arch. I can feel its energy, and my spirits soar.” ~ Helen Hayes
I’ve had a clipping of that quote tacked to my cork board since I was 16 and it never fails to capture my feelings about growing … Every time I sink my hands into the soil I feel my connection to the world, and that is my wish is for every gardener, new or experienced. Just go out, get your hands dirty and grow, it feeds both your tummy and your soul. Happy gardening!
Thankful Days at the Farm
Where did this season go? Am I the only one feeling like summer was a blink and then gone? The growing season can be like that, between the sowing, transplanting, fertilizing and harvesting mixed in among all life’s other trappings. And now we’re plowing through fall right on through to the holidays…I wish I could wind back the clock. But even if I could, I doubt anyone would recognize me.
My husband has the patience of a saint. It was a crazy several months. Last fall I was contacted by a publisher and asked to write a garden book (which was beyond exciting!), so as time trotted out into spring, I thought I had this. I could write 50-60,000 words. I could supply a couple hundred photos. Appendices? Sure, no problem! Oh, and let’s not forget the most important thing, I had to actually garden! A new greenhouse was going up. And not one to turn away work, my wholesale client list for fresh cut herbs grew, I added mail-order scented geraniums and I was booked throughout the end of 2016 for speaking gigs. So let’s just agree that I may not have been at my most sane, but that could also just be from the lack of sleep.
So this is my long, drawn-out apology to my fellow gardeners out there as to why my blog sat quiet and lonely and your mailboxes might have been missing a BBF summer newsletter. I’m sure we’ve all had a year like that. Yours might have been filled with many good things or some not-so-good moments too, but eventually we all catch a breather.
Now as I take stock, I can see how some things might have been missed: the temporary hoop house never made it up this year; I was late on getting succession crops in the ground; and on more than one occasion, I was behind on my kitchen garden harvest. Aside from the dahlias and flowers that went to local brides or florists, almost none made it into the house…I just didn’t get around to it. Oh, the plans I had for landscaping? Never made it off the page. And how can I discuss the growing season and not comment on the water situation? Nine days of rain. All season. A single digit, and those nine days weren’t even dousing rain, they were more like a trickle. All my farmer friends felt it. Needless to say, I did not have warm fuzzies for the weather gods. But hey, this is the life of a grower, and at the end of the day I am so incredibly lucky to make a living doing something I love. It is hard work but I am so happy and thankful for this life.
So as we head into the holiday season, all I can think about is all that I’m thankful for (of which CJ, my hubby, is still at the top of my list!). Whether you are a farmer, florist, marketer or home gardener, we are all so lucky to find the joy in growing and sharing it with others who love it as much as we do.
With Thanksgiving literally around the corner, it’s time to talk turkey. And by that, I mean what you use to roast your turkey. I’ve been cooking Thanksgiving dinner for the past several years and I usually get a Butterball, but this year I’m stepping outside my comfort zone and ordered a locally raised Maine turkey from a neighboring farm. I love supporting local agriculture, but if I’m honest, I’m a bit concerned about how this will all turn out.
The only think I do know is how I will season (and stuff) it! Whether Butterball, local or some other brand, it’s how you cook and season the turkey that matters. So here are some things that I’ll be harvesting fresh from the field to use in our Thanksgiving dinner.
- 1 Tbsp. fresh rosemary leaves
- 1 Tbsp. fresh French thyme
- 1-2 Tbsp. fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley
- 1 Tbsp. fresh sage (*I use sage in my stuffing instead of on the turkey, and I prefer to dry it in my food dehydrator a few days ahead so I can crush and grind it. Dried sage is more potent, so I use 1 Tsp. rather than a Tbsp. But, as my mother always reminds me, it’s important to taste as you mix!)
The above herbs can be chopped or minced and either rubbed on the turkey or mixed with butter and basted on the turkey.
Happy Thanksgiving and holidays to everyone!
I’m Going to Sleep Here!
I cannot believe it’s here and I love it so much! I think I may actually sleep in our new greenhouse–it’s that gorgeous!
Last year I was seriously outgrowing the current greenhouse space, and as I would jenga my way in amongst flats of basil, thyme and scented geraniums the little greenhouse troll would whisper …. “You need a larger greenhouse space!”
At first I ignored this. There was already so much on our plates with the work we already had. And how would I explain to my husband that I needed even MORE space? I could already imagine his face and the silly questions …
1. “You are only one person, how are you going to grow even more plants and have time to take care of them and the rest of the farm?”
2. “How is this greenhouse going to be different from the one you already have?”
3. “Where are you going to put it? I don’t think we can fit another building on the property and what about zoning? How are you going to pay for it?”
So many boring, ludicrous and nonsensical questions, but that is how his mind works. And I had answers for all of them.
1. “I’ll get up earlier (I may have been crossing my fingers behind my back) to take care off the extra plants.”
2. “This one is going to be bigger. Made of wood and polycarbonate to keep the plants warmer. And I can heat it (that last one may not have made it into the explanation. I can only tell CJ so much of my grand master plans, otherwise he thinks I’m “complicating” things).”
3. “And I’ve already decided where I can put it, contacted and spoke with a supplier and spent time over at the assessment office and got the green light. All I need to do it formally fill out the permit application! Oh, and since I am growing every year, recently received my mail-order certification and orders are rolling in, I’ll just reinvest some of what we made this year into the new greenhouse.”
I’ve obviously thought this all through.
And in time he realized it too.
By mid-winter I placed my order, and a few weeks ago it arrived and up like a carni-ride it went!
The only concession I made to the hubs was that he wouldn’t have to install it. That made him a lot happier … particularly since I may have mentioned I wanted him to build me some more garden beds and a new compost bin system.
He really is such a good guy to put up with me and my ever-expanding plans.
So up it went in a matter of hours!
I am loving the powered roof and side vents. All I have to do it set the temperature and it takes care of itself!
I really, really, really could sleep here!
Oh, and did I forget to mention benching …
Oh yes, all new ebb-and-flow benches! When I was in college and working at a farm in New Jersey they got these and I was in love! I thought all they would ever be is a fantasy.
Now in case you have not fully grasped my excitement, here is a taste …
I may have run and jumped around a bit too.
But how could I not? All my garden dreams are coming true! It’s just like Cinderella, just without the pumpkin and glass slipper!
Now I just have to transfer all my plants from the potting shed into my new fancy-shmancy greenhouse!
My Favorite Top 10 Seed Sowing Tips
I never mind propagating – whether sowing seed or taking cuttings. And there are a number of things you can do to get your seedlings off to a great start … these are my absolutely favorite tips:
1. Use great soil! Happy, healthy, lush plants start with a good base. My favorite all-purpose potting mix is Pro-Mix BX with Mycorrhizae.
2. Moisten your potting mix before you sow your seeds. Watering afterwards often results in seeds sliding around the container. Also, it is hard to ensure the entire potting medium is moist if it’s watered from the top.
3. Label. This step seems obvious but it’s easy to forget every once in awhile (even for me)! For entire or half flats, I use painter’s tape along the side, and for individual pots/plants I use old mini-blinds cut into 4-6-inch lengths. These labels are waterproof and you’ve done your part for the environment by recycling!
4. Keep your seeds and seedlings well lit. I use shop lights over my flats and pots. Yup, the same one from the hardware store. I suspend them 2 inches above the soil and raise them up as the plants grow.
5. If possible, water the trays from the bottom. Place your seeding tray into a standard 1020 tray without holes and let the plants soak up water from the bottom.
6. Use bottom heat to speed up the germination process. You can pick up heat mats at your local hardware or garden center. A great garden hack is to use incandescent (not LED) Christmas rope lights under your flats! They will warm, but won’t burn. Then, remove the plants from the heat source once they’ve germinated. (Note: seedlings don’t require as much warmth as seeds.)
7. Get a basic fan. You can find these for a few bucks at Walmart. A little air movement goes a long way to building strong root systems and healthier seedlings. Additionally, air circulation is a good defense against disease and infection.
8.Feed your seedlings once they have 2-4 true leaves with a gentle fertilizer. I prefer a fish emulsion and kelp mixture at half strength. It gives your plants a little boost.
9. Harden them off! Gradually expose your seedlings to cooler temperatures over a week before planting them outside. This avoids shock and transplanting stress.
10. Milk jugs and 1 to 2 liter soda bottles make great DIY cloches! Cut the bottom off and place them over the transplants, sinking the bottom about 1 inch into the soil to anchor it against the wind. On warm days, take the tops off to vent and replace them in the early evening!
11. BONUS: Give your seeds and seedlings a light dusting of cinnamon when sowing. It’s a natural fungicide!
Spring is in the air!
The calendar says it’s spring, but the snow outside my window gives me serious doubts. Still, I know the white stuff will disappear in a few days (hopefully less) due to our unseasonably warm weather. My garlic, chives and comfrey are all awake and I’ve been running flats of herbs and scented geraniums wrapped in frost blankets between the hoop house and potting shed. Even thought Mother Nature is teasing me, my plants and my garden, I will not let her get the best of me.
Aside from my little tirade about the weather, there are many lovely things happening and growing at Bowery Beach Farm. We have a new four-season greenhouse going up next week, the base of which is finished. This past fall we received our official mail-order nursery certification and our spring orders are already rolling in. And last, but certainly not least, my first book, The Backyard Kitchen Gardener, will be published by Lyons Press next Spring (2017). Their senior editor contacted me last fall and I signed my first very first book contract.
Needless to say, we’ve been quite busy, but also quite grateful!
Hellebores are here!
There are not many plants that thrive in the winter, but Hellebores are one of them!
I love these plants so much I cannot get enough of them. In fact, last year I started my very own collection of these pretty girls in one of my garden. And I just bought two new additions this winter that I plan to plant out in the spring. First is the traditional white Helleborus niger that currently is residing in our guest bathroom.
Then there is this green-flowered hellebore, Helleborus argutifolius, that I’m crushing on. Can’t wait to see how it stacks up against the Stinking Hellebore (Helleborus foetidus) – which by the way does NOT stink – and the purple flowered hellebore from Slovenia, Helleborus atrorubens.
Planning the Garden
While it’s still chilly and cold outside here in my office I’m nice and cosy. I love this time of year. There’s nothing to do in the garden but imagine what can be …
Time spent pouring over seed and bulb catalogs. Mostly likely with a glass of wine.
Making meticulous layouts of this year’s garden that will be modified many times over before the season is over.
And catching up on some of my favorite movies like Anne of Green Gables.
Just the way I like to spend a wintery day.
Bulbs are Busting Out!
Potted up in late October, now is the time of year I can begin pulling my forced bulb pots from the cold.
Most were potted in soil, but I did some hyacinth water forcing in the fridge. And they look ready to bust open!
Every year I’m amazed that within one day the shoots go from white to green. It really is the magic of forcing. And just think that in a few more weeks my house – which is shrouded in wintery, cold snow (grrrr!) – will be filled with color and the sweet scent of Spring!
Most people start the New Year off with promises and resolutions … me, I start it off with a little hibernation.
I can’t wait to shower, get some fresh jammies and curl up on the couch and read one of the books I’ve been diligently adding to my “Have to Read” list during the growing season. A glass (or two) of wine may, or may not, be involved!
Merry Christmas from my family to yours!