Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Artichoke Seedlings

Nine of my artichoke seeds went on to sprout. Hopefully this will be another good year for artichokes.

This weekend, I'll start sowing some early spring lettuce, Asian greens and herbs. If we were in Massachusetts, I probably would have done this already as the days are beginning to heat up quickly despite the snow storm this week. Here in Vermont, I'd like to have some greens transplanted out in early April. The community plot I signed up for won't be ready until late April (I think) so hopefully the beds behind our townhouse will have thawed enough for me to work the soil.

Another Round in the GMO Fight

I hate to sound fatalistic but I'm starting to imagine a day when all of our grain seeds will be contaminated with transgenic pollen.

"Modified Crops Tap a Wellspring of Protest" - New York Times, February 7, 2012

Interesting tidbits from the Article:

In January, Bill Gates devoted most of his annual letter on agriculture from the Gates Foundation to the need for advanced technology. He later said that most people who object to transgenic agriculture live in rich nations, responsible for climate change that he believes has caused malnutrition for the poor...

Like Mr. Stephens, most of the farmers in the Manhattan courtroom were plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit filed last year by the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association against Monsanto....But the real issue here is not patent law; it’s contamination. The point made by the suit is that, according to the regulations that govern American agriculture, it’s these unwilling farmers who must prevent Monsanto’s products from trespassing onto their land.

The company has moved to dismiss the suit, claiming that the plaintiffs lack standing because Monsanto has taken no action against them. The judge, Naomi R. Buchwald, said she would rule on the motion to dismiss by March 31.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Dormant Fig Trees - Rooting Fig Tree Cuttings

A few days ago, I brought my fig trees up from Massachusetts. For the past 4 months, they have been lying dormant in the garage of our old house. I must admit that I have a lot to learn when it comes to growing fig trees. I bought my trees from a local (Boston) grower almost two years ago. The first summer, they did well. But last year, they hardly grew at all and what new growth there was was severely stunted. The leaves in particular were much smaller than they were the previous year and the lone fruit that I got never matured. Figs develop on the previous year's growth so I probably won't be getting any fruit again this year.

Last year, I compromised a bit when it came to their care and fertilizer. Essentially, I just left them alone to grow. This year, I'm determined to follow Joe Morle's instructions exactly. After visiting his nursery and seeing all of his lovely healthy fig trees, I can't think of a good reason not to do so.

Once I brought them up here, I decided to place them in the green room to break dormancy now and get a head start on the growing season. If I let them do so naturally outside, I might be waiting until late May at least.

For fun, I decided to take a few cuttings from my dormant trees. I've been doing a lot of reading on how to propagate fig and citrus trees. Plant propagation from cuttings and grafting is definitely on aspect of gardening that I'd like to explore.

Apparently, everyone seems to have their own technique when it comes to rooting fig cuttings. In my case, I decided to severe each cutting just below a node on 2nd year growth. Each cutting is about 6-7 inches long. I then covered them almost entirely with some damp peat moss and placed the container in a clear plastic bag (for added humidity) with a couple of small holes for ventilation. I placed the container in the green room where it stays relatively warm and away from direct sunlight. From what I've read, it should take anywhere from 2 weeks to a month for roots to develop (if they do at all).

Initially, I'd dipped the bottom end of each cutting in some root hormone powder but noticed a couple of days later that fungus was starting to grow on the dipped portion. I've since read that others have observed that root hormone powder seems to facilitate fungus on fig cuttings so I've since rinsed the hormone powder off. Hopefully that helps.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed that they will root. If you have any advice on rooting fig trees, please share!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

A Short Message

I'd like to apologize to anyone who may have emailed me within the last...ooooohhhh...say 2 1/2 months or so. For a long time now, I've sorely neglected my personal email but will plan on going through everything tonight. One thing about posting your email address on a blog - you get hit will TONS of spam. It's like digging for buried treasure in order to find the legitimate ones.

Again, I'm sorry if I haven't gotten back to you! I will soon!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Climate Zone

I've been doing a bit of research on the climate here in Burlington, Vermont. According to the 2012 USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map, Burlington lies within a narrow band of light blue surrounding Lake Chaplain. The 1990 map had listed the area as zone 4b but now it appears we are officially zone 5a. While this warming trend may benefit the growers in our area, I can't help but wonder what devastating effects it may have on other parts of the world already prone to such things as drought or flooding.

As a gardener, I must admit that I like the sound of 'zone 5a' much better than 'zone 4b'. Whenever I look at a fruit tree catalog these days, I always get discouraged to see the number of varieties that are only suitable for zone 5 or higher, like most sweet cherries and Asian pears. (I particularly love Fedco's Tree catalog, which gives great advice on specific varieties that will grow best here in New England.) If we decide to remain here for the long haul, I would definitely try to grow some marginally suitable varieties.


When researching Burlington's average frost dates, I found this great chart put out by National Weather Service. I'm horrible at interpreting these things but if I'm reading this one correctly, it seems that May 7th is the median frost free date. We have a 25% chance of frost on May 13th and only a 10% chance on May 19th.


Fast forward to fall, our median first frost date is October 6th with a 25% change of frost on September 29th and a 10% on September 25th.

So how does this compare to what we've been accustomed to our zone 6a garden in northeastern Massacusetts? Well, it looks like we'll be losing about 2 weeks of frost-free days at each end of the growing season (one less month of growing). What's even more striking are the average maximum temperatures during the summer months here in Burlington (June - 75.8 F, July - 81.2 F, August - 77.9 F), which seems much milder than what we're used to.

I imagine my first year of growing here in Vermont should be an interesting one. I'll be curious to see how our tomatoes, peppers and melons fair this year. At the very least, it will be a learning experience for this veggie gardener.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Gardener's Wish List

I cannot tell you how much I love our indoor growing space. As I'd mentioned earlier, our landlord is an avid gardener and had designed this room to accommodate the bulk of her house plants and garden transplants. She referred to it as the 'conservatory' but I prefer to use the term 'green room'. Marc and I hope to one day buy a piece of farm land and build our own home. If our wish comes true, I'd like to have a room built just like this one.

I feel a bit spoiled now compared to the growing space I had in the basement of our old home. The room itself comes with a lot of perks. There are remote controlled shades that we can extend over the glass ceiling on ultra hot days and a fan that turns on automatically if the room temperature goes above a preset number.

In addition to the built-in selves, the room also has a prep station with storage, a stone counter top and a good sized sink. There are three faucets, two of which can be connected to hoses for easy watering.

What I find most impressive is the wood floor, which is sloped slightly inward and has a built-in drain. There's radiant heating underneath the floor so it dries fairly quickly.

When we move again (which hopefully won't be anytime soon), I would sorely miss this room. If you had a green room, what features would you want in it?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Eliot Coleman

I came across an interesting article about Eliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch yesterday in the New York Times. It's nice to see that these pioneers are still working hard and doing what they do best - winter gardening! What I found particularly interesting is the fact that they were able to gross $120,000 in sales from veggies grown on 1 1/2 acres (though all but $25,000 went back into operating costs). Still, it offers some hope for those who want make a living from micro-farming here in New England (a rather difficult proposition indeed).

"The Land that Keeps Giving" - New York Times, February 22, 2012

Be sure to check out the beautiful slideshow!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

And the Onions are In...

I always seem to have problems with onions every year. Leeks and scallions are much easier to grow in my own personal opinion. For one thing, my onions never seem to germinate consistently though I seem to have gotten a good batch of seeds this time around. I'm growing a yellow and red variety - 'Copra' and 'Ruby Ring'. Also, I haven't been able to grow an onion larger than two inches in diameter. But I plan on doing things a little differently this year, which I hope will pay off come harvest time. For starters, during the past two years, I've tried growing onions both from seeds and from sets. Both years, most of the onion sets I planted ended up bolting so I'm done with them. Also, I'm not setting my onions out this year until the weather has warmed up significantly (maybe the last week in May here in Vermont). Hopefully that helps too. If anyone has any additional onion growing advise, please let me know!

Finally, I had wanted to start my onion seeds in soil blocks but haven't been able to source the ingredients. I ended up sowing 3 seeds in each plastic cell. Now I have to decide whether to thin them now or let them be. When grown together, onion seedlings are generally easy to divide at planting time so I may just let them be. Though I'm sure they'd be much happier thinned down to one at the start. What do you think?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Starting This Year's Artichokes

I'm trying a new variety of artichoke this year. 'Tavor' is another 'Imperial Star' type artichoke bred specifically to produce in the first year. The edible buds are supposedly green and have purple tips. For the past couple of years, I've grown Imperial Star with great success. Last summer, they produced early and well, starting mid-July and ending in late August. With the mild winter we've had so far, I'm pretty confident they will overwinter successfully in the old garden. But of course, I might not be around to witness it.

It's a bit late but I started this year's artichokes this past weekend. If we were in zone 6 Massachusetts, I would have started them in late January. Since our frost free date here in Burlington, Vermont isn't until mid to late May, I think I should be fine. I try to time it so that they have a least 6 weeks of growing time indoors and then another 6 weeks outside in 40 - 50 degree F weather before being transplanted out. Exposing them to this chilling period tricks them into believing they've experienced winter - and hence upping the odds they'll flower in the first year.

Getting artichoke seeds to germinate can be quite challenging. Refrigerating the seeds for a couple of days helps. But the best way to ensure success in my experience is to pre-sprout them. I soak my seeds fro 12-24 hours and them allow them to sprout covered in a damp paper towel placed inside a plastic sandwich bag. Usually, it takes between 5 to 7 days for the seeds to sprout. Interestingly, it only my Tevor seeds 3 days to do so. (I'm still waiting on my Imperial Star.) They get covered with potting soil when the white root tips are barely visible.

Some of last year's Imperial Star Artichokes.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener

Last year, I was contacted by Storey Publishing and asked if I would be willing to share a few photos from my blog to be included in a book they were working on about winter gardening. Of course I jumped at the chance. (I mean, who wouldn't want their amateur gardening photos published, right?) Not too long ago, I received this rather wonderful gift in the mail, appropriately titled, "The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener". The other day, I noticed that the book was on display at our local Barnes and Noble. Even though I didn't write the book myself, I still felt a bit of excitement over it.

There's even a page in the book that features yours truly and the old garden, which I will sorely miss. Even if it's eventually ripped up by the future owners of our home, it's nice to know that there will be a record of it in print.

I felt a bit of nostalgia when I saw this picture. I had fun building these mini hoop houses in the fall of our first (abbreviated) gardening year.

Then there's the hoop house we build in the fall of 2010. I am disappointed that I never got the opportunity to install the professional grade hoop house plastic that I purchased a year ago specifically for it. Oh well. Hopefully I'll get the chance to build another one soon.

I must thank Nikki Jabbour for including me in her very well-written book. (Thank you!) I really like what I've read so far and hope that it will encourage others to take up the challenge of winter gardening.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Missing the Winter Garden....Preparing for Spring

I've been feeling a bit removed from gardening world lately. I'm sure the move has something to do with it and the fact that I don't have a winter garden this year. I watched a video clip of the White House's winter garden recently and felt a bit nostalgic. The conditions here in Vermont are so brutal this time of year. (I don't think I've ever experienced this kind of bone-chilling cold before, though from what we've been told, it's been pretty mild this year. Seriously?) I doubt you could garden year round here without some form of artificial heating.

At the moment, I'm actually staying at our old home. (Still no luck finding a buyer unfortunately.) I'm in Boston three days out of the week for work and each time I make the trip down, I'm always struck by how much warmer it is here in the Bay state. Temperatures are expected to reach 50 degrees F today and remain above freezing tonight. I will definitely be harvesting some tatsoi to take with me back to Vermont. Unfortunately, I don't usually get home from work until well after dark. Picking winter greens with a flashlight should be interesting.

I'm finishing up my plant list for this year and started purchasing seeds this week. I'm a bit hesitant to make too many preparations since I don't know whether we'll be able to get a community gardening plot this year. If not, I'll just have to be extra creative this year with the limited amount of space we have. At this point, I'm sure some of my Massachusetts gardening pals are already seeding their onions, leeks, celery and early winter greens. Hopefully our time will come soon.