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Next Up: Bathroom Storage

bath1 This, my friends, is a bathroom.
Not MY bathroom, actually. But a bathroom.

This is the downstairs half-bath in my son’s house. This house, built in the late 19th century, has extremely tall ceilings and the person who did all the original rehab work on the house basically threw up his hands in the bathroom, put in a toilet and a sink and walked away. (more…)

Seeds! Seeds! They’re Here! They’re Here!!

seeds2015 OK, that’s a lie. SOME of them are here.

But not all of them.

And certainly the garlic and onion plants are not here; the garlic won’t arrive until this fall and the onion plants won’t arrive for at least a month.

But first, a message from our sponsor:
If you have not ordered your seeds, bulbs, sets, tubers, or whatever for your garden yet, then get to it, NOW. I ordered these several weeks ago and had to hunt and peck my way through the catalogs along with the web sites because some of the particular varieties were all sold out.

Don’t say you were not warned.

So, what is out there on the table that your Aunty is so excited about?

Afina Cutting Celery.
What makes this sort of celery different from the usual sort that you buy in the grocery store? Well it sprouts more like a little bush and doesn’t form big chewy stalks. You can do this as ‘cut and come again.” It is much faster than celery, at 63 days.

Cucumber Ministro. One of my goals this time around was finding varieties which are super short season since the long-range weather boys have said that this summer will be cooler and drying here. This cucumber is 50 days.

Kohlrabi Winner We love eating kohlrabi fresh right out of the garden, sliced up. It makes wonderful coleslaw (or perhaps better spelled ‘kohl-slaw’). This one, like the cucumber above, is 50 days.

Spinach Mix One of the things, as I have noted before, about Pinetree Garden Seeds is that generally, you can find mixes of seeds, which is very nice if you are trying to grow a bed of something which will not all arrive at the same time. This one has spinach varieties which can be picked as early as 35 days. Woohoo!

Peppers One new project for this year is for us to create (or, ahem, try to create) our own paprika this year. Now, theoretically speaking, this should be simplicity itself: Get a lot of peppers which are red ripe, wash thoroughly, take out the seeds, dry, and run through the food processor or crush by hand with a motor and pestle. I picked two varieties which noted, right in the catalog, that they are to be used for paprika:
Alma Pepper (70 days)
Paprika (80 days)

For anyone wondering how ‘smoked paprika’ is made, you add the additional step of putting them in a smoker (many people have those as an attachment on their outdoor grill) once you’ve washed them and taken out the seeds, and smoke them until they are dry. To make sure they are really dry, I’d then run them through a dryer or in the oven on the pilot until they are breakable,

The other seeds are various varieties of ornamental corn, squashes, gourds and pumpkins, including the every-popular “Dill’s Atlantic Giant’. I must remind the DH to put in his reservation for the crane to come and pick up that one for the fair.!

So, what will you be growing this year?

Winter Gardening

wintergardenHey, folks – welcome to February!! Up here at Chez Siberia, it’s doing its usual February thing, which means that from day to day, the morning temperature can range from minus 11 F. (which is -24C for folks across the pond) to 16 degrees F this morning (-9C). To say this sort of weather whiplash can be tough on plants is to put it mildly. As you can see from the photo, the garden at Chez Siberia is firmly under snow (though the depth is only 4-6 inches, really), and we’ve got (groundhogs notwithstanding) at least 6 weeks of snow and cold in front of us. If we get a break in March (which the long-range weather folk say we will), I’ll be able to shovel off a couple of beds in the garden, cover them with glass or clear plastic and warm them up enough (soil temps to 50 degrees F are plenty) to sow seeds from lettuce, beets, chard, and anything from the cabbage family. (more…)

When choosing garden seeds, what information is most useful?

seedcatGood day, folks. I know you are veritably bristling with excitement over the upcoming gardening season, champing at the bit, so to speak. And, for the ‘old-timers’ out there, what I’m going to discuss today might seem old stuff, so you might as well go pour yourself a cup of tea, coffee or perhaps something stronger (hey, it’s been a really cold week here in the US – in Tampa, Florida, it was 36 degrees F at one point. The rest of us here in the northeast have had to sing praises when it hit positive numbers).

For the rest of you out there who are beginners or who have not been involved in vegetable gardening for very long, this, my little dear ones, is for YOU. (more…)

2014 – a year in review

Yoohoo, everybody!! Since today appears to be ‘International Gotta Review 2014 Day” for bloggers, I guess I have to woman up and work my way through the good, the bad and the did..not…work for 2014. Organization, I realize, is everything here, so we will go by topic sub-group so that for those readers who are only interested in one topic, just scroll down until you hit that. (more…)

So, whatcha got?

Good afternoon, little munchkins. Now that you’ve theoretically crawled out from underneath the holiday wrapping paper and all the cookies, I’m sure what is burning at your brains is this:

What is new in the seed catalogs for 2015?

Yes, my plump little gardening elves, the seed catalogs have been out for a while; I swear the first one to hit my mailbox arrived the week after Thanksgiving. They are everywhere and I think they are all sharing their mailing lists as well since I’ve received some catalogs from companies that I’ve never heard from before.

However, I, your sweet old Auntie, have spent some of MY holiday time (a dirty job, but someone must do it) in checking out what is new. Not that I immediately rush to whatever new thing the seed folks are serving up (I do have my favorites, such as Royal Burgundy beans), but it’s always good to check things out because, after all…you…never…know.

Here are a few things that caught my eye. Not that there are not literally hundreds of new and newly-rediscovered varieties out there but here are a few that rang my bell:

Territorial Seed (Oregon): These folks, ever since I started buying a big block of onion plants which always do very well, have become one of our favorite sources. They have some very interesting things which might (depending on your point of view) be worth trying out:

Summer Purple
Summer Purple Broccoli. This does not form a big head (which is not a disadvantage in my book since you have to cut it up anyway) and, with a 60-90 day growing period looks to be something people could try out for early spring gardening, fall gardening and even, if you live in a relatively mild early winter area, winter gardening.

Quinoa
Quinoa. Yes, believe it or not, if you are interested in giving growing quinoa a shot, you can get seed here. Even if you live in a short-season area, it might be worth it to grow just for the nutritious greens.

Pinetree Garden Seeds (Maine): This seed house has been a long time favorite with us. In the early days it was because we could get small, relatively cheap packets of seeds. Since then they have grown on us because we can also get mixtures of seeds (such as mixtures of lettuces, or mixtures of peppers and so on), which is actually a lot more fun to grow.

Chia
Chia. This will take 4 months, and here in the north, will require starting just like tomatoes and about the same time, but if you’d like to give it a shot, here you go.

Celery
Peppermint Stick Celery. This looks good – fast to germinate and worthwhile growing because to be frank, grocery store celery is one of the top items on the ‘dirty dozen’ list of fruits and veggies which have high concentrations of pesticide residues. Grow your own.

Seed Savers Exchange (Iowa)
The grand-daddy of the heritage seed saving organizations.

Sorghum
Sorghum. Want to grow your own pancake flour? Shoot – want to grow your own pancake flour AND pancake syrup. Here you go. Long season – strictly for the south but definitely worth trying.

Hustard
Heirloom Mustard – the description says it is not prickly, which makes it a huge improvement on anything I’ve found. If you want to try mustard greens – here you go.

Johnny’s Selected Seeds (Vermont)

Gunsho
Gunsho (looks like Chinese asparagus to me), also referred to as choi sum. Great for stir fries and harvested for the tender stems and just-opening flowers.

Radish
Sora Radishes – The best feature here is heat tolerance so you won’t lose your radishes as soon as the first hot weather in the spring shows up.

Tiren Tomato
Tiren San Marzano. Great San Marzano tomato shape and flavor but earlier which is always a benefit.

So, check out the seed sites; open up those seed catalogs and put together your order, pronto.
What am I excited about this year? Cover crops – in specific, tillage radishes (which are really selections of daicon radishes which grow HUGE roots, pull up all sorts of nutrients in the soil and then…DIE, releasing all of that goodness into the upper reaches of the soil. Great stuff.

End of the season?

novgarden2 And a good, good day to everyone, wherever you are. This has been a very busy week in the garden for the DH and your Aunty. Not for choice necessarily, but sometimes you have to get things done before the weather gets colder, or rainier or something else (yes, what is on that kale is SNOW – it was 27 degrees F this morning. I think we can safely say that winter is coming).

The big job that had to be taken care of was the arrival of the replacement fruit trees. Yes. Replacement. Not addition. Replacement, as in ‘Dear Sir, the fruit trees x.y.z etc. that I ordered from you did not grow. As a matter of fact, they died. Toes up. Kicked the bucket. Gone to meet their maker. Please send replacements. Respectfully…” It happens, and if you don’t know this first thing in the spring (which most people don’t because you are waiting, hopefully, that the damned things will leaf out and oh, joy!!

Only these ones did not. (more…)

Plants I can recommend: Chrysanthemum ‘Sheffield Pink’

chrysanth1 For years (shoot, for DECADES), your Aunty Toby has been trying to find a chrysanthemum which not only claimed to be hardy but also really WAS hardy and did not go ‘toes up’ after a tough winter.

A couple of years ago, I went to a local Cooperative Extension plant sale and frankly, because the price on the pot was ridiculously cheap, I picked up this thing that claimed it was a ‘hardy pink chrysanthemum.

Dang, if that was not the complete truth. Any chrysanthemum which can deal with a) my rather negligent style of gardening and b) our unbelieveably crazy winters (some winters it is very dry; some winters we get 100″ of snow; some winters it’s relatively warm – that is, no temperatures lower than about 5 degrees F – and then some winters where we get -20 degrees F a LOT), and still come back year after year and blossom gets the ‘Aunt Toby Siberian Seal of Approval’ for sure.

chrysanth3This is it. No question. It does seem to take a bit to get going in the spring and everything above the ground will be dead when the snow disappears. Just cut it back to about 1″ above the ground and it will take off. The flower buds start appearing mid- to late September (here at Chez Siberia, which is Zone 3), open up in early October and keep right on going until we get a massive killer frost. We have had several weeks of tremendous frosts down to 27 degrees F, but no big killer yet. The plants do spread a big but are not too crazy invasive. In full blossom, the plant will be about 18″-24″ high.

chrysanth2Another reason to recommend this plant is this: Because it blossoms so late – and can hold onto its blossoms through frosts, at this point, it’s the only thing in blossom here. All the wild plants in the fields surrounding us have been blasted by the frosts, so the bees have nothing to eat. Check out the photo at the top again – that plant is covered in bees. I counted at least three different sorts of bees on it today plus other winged insects. At this point in the year, if the weather has not closed down for the winter, the insects have nothing to eat, so this plant is a real boom to them.

I did a quick and dirty search on the internet on this and all sorts of nurseries carry this plant – this coming spring, please think seriously about adding it to your garden.

OK, so you’ve got a garden – what are you going to do with it?

tomatopasta1OK, so here we are, at what, for us here at Chez Siberia, is well on the way to the prime production time out there in the garden. And frankly, even though we’ve been doing this for (ahem) 35 years, we, too get the shakes when we look out there (and our garden is not that big, truly, folks) and see all that stuff that has somehow been produced through seeds, sun, and water.

It’s humbling, truly. (more…)

Helping out pollinator friends

If you read news accounts on various pesticides and their effects on pollinators and birds, you might feel we are doomed. Not so.
If you are interested in Monarch butterflies, you might also feel we are doomed.
Again. Not so.

There are a lot of plants out there which can provide nectar (food for adult insects) and leaves (food for the larval forms) for pollinators and the more we can make sure there are a lot of them around and that they are blooming at the appropriate times (that is, that there is stuff in bloom basically all spring, summer and early fall), then we are basically doing our job. (more…)

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