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Plant ’em if you’ve got ’em

If Aunt Toby hears one more person tell me that they are tired of the winter already, I’m probably going to run screaming for the nearest exit.

This winter has been too long for everyone, everywhere. You name a location except on the Equator which has not had more than it’s usual taste of the winter this season and I’m buying tickets to ship the DH and me there, pre-paid express. I am damn tired of the winter too. And the seed catalogs coming earlier than usual has not helped the situation.

Therefore, Aunt Toby is making an executive decision (more…)

White House Garden Enters New Season!

Right now, I suspect that to the average American, the face and name that is associated with home gardening, growing your own, farmers markets and so on is NOT Aunt Toby (sad to say, but I just can’t get the coverage; what can I tell you).

It’s our First Lady, Michelle Obama. (more…)

Horseradish: From Root to Plate

P1010533 As some readers might recall, Aunt Toby and a friend went to the Philadelphia Flower Show last spring. I bought some potatoes that did very nicely indeed and made a ‘what the heck’ purchase of some horseradish roots because our son (aka ‘The Boy’) is very fond of it and asked if we could grow it ourselves. Horseradish is very tough stuff because by the time I got around to planting it (which was about May, I think – and considering I’d bought it at the show in March, those poor little roots had been hanging around in their paperbag for almost two months) they were dried up little things and not very promising at all. We watered them in well when we planted them and made sure they had plenty of water and the plants came up in a very strong way. The leaves are about 2.5-3 feet tall, wavy and about 7″ wide. (more…)

Catalog Time…Again

babytomatoesIt used to be that seed catalogs came in between Christmas and New Years. Now, they come in between Halloween and Thanksgiving, but that gives us more time to drool over the pictures, I guess. (more…)

Cheap and Good: Roasted Root Veggies

beet saladTrying to get more veggies into your family? Tired of potatoes? Every vegetable has a ‘best way’ of cooking and for root vegetables, it’s NOT boiling. Boiling leaches a lot of the nutritional value out of the vegetables in any case. Trust your Aunt Toby on this one: boiled beets, boiled potatoes, boiled turnips is just not the heating method to bring out their best.

Roasting is the deal. Whether wrapped in foil on the grill or in a pan (with or without a beast on top of it) in the oven, roasting is good for root veggies for primarily one reason: (more…)

Second Chances: Not Dead Yet in the Garden

This morning, while the rest of the world (at least the part west of my time zone…) slept, your Aunt Toby was outdoors, miserably slumped on top of a too-small plastic bag, taking photographs of the frost.

We had a BIG frost last night, though not what is called around here, a ‘killing’ frost, which is the one that causes all the moisture in the cells of the not hardy plants to freeze, expand (which is what moisture does when it freezes), explode the rigid cellular walls – and kill the plants. Last night’s frost was heavy for sure but not a killer frost. But that is coming. It’s coming. (more…)

Are We There Yet? Gardening Means Not Being Let Off the Hook in the Fall

Well, like everyplace else on the planet, it is early September. In general, everyone’s vegetable garden is looking just a little bit tired at this point. After a very wet spring and early summer here at Chez Siberia, the end of the summer has so far been beautiful, sunny, warm…and totally dry. As you can see from the photo, we’ve got some lettuces that have “bolted” – that is, flowered and gone to seed. I’m going to pull those all up and give them to the chickens – they’ll like something a little different.

I realize that photograph is rather boring – it is, after all, a picture of dirt, but it is dry dirt – really dry…down as far as I can reach dry, which is not good for what I’m going to talk about next.

Fall Gardening. (I can hear the whining voices out there already: “Isn’t it enough that we grew some stuff this summer? We have to start agaiiiiinnnn?”)

Why bother? At this point, depending on where you live in the country north of the Mason-Dixon Line, the first killer frost will be at your doorstep (also dependent on what happens to the Jet Stream in Canada – as long as it stays North, we are in good shape) sooner than we’d all like. In our case, if we are lucky – the first nippy frost will come sometime in October. Due to our geography and topography, we once had a ‘totally knocked everything down in the garden’ frost in mid-September. So, this period is risky. So, why bother?

Because, as Sir Edmond Hillary said about climbing the Himalayas, “It’s there” – because, with the help of seeds left over from the spring garden and a calendar, we can.

My calendar says that between today and mid-October, I’ve got 41 days. There are some nice little greens that will grow in that period. See these seed packages? Check out the little part with ‘days to maturity’ on it – these are all under 45 days. There is also a very hardy green which is very nutritious and which with any luck at all, I’ll be able to get going well enough that it will be big enough to get into the winter. Under the snow, it will stay alive, stay tasty, and last through at least New Year’s Day.

And that is kale. I can still hear those whining voices, “But Aunt Toby…I don’t like kale…it tastes too strong…I don’t know what to do with it….” Trust me on this one – this is like learning to like chard. Kale is a powerhouse veggie, filled with wonderful vitamins and minerals. It is worth learning to like it, especially sautéed in a little olive oil with lots and lots of garlic.

But, in any case, here we are. At this point in the year, the soil is nice and warm, so we don’t have to “sweat” the soil temperatures. But because of the amount of sun we are getting (the days at this point is still much longer than they were in March and April, the last time we planted this sort of thing), we need to provide a bit of protection to the little plants. I found a nice little spot in my garden which has several things to recommend it for a fall greens garden.

1) It’s at the end of the bed where the apple tree gives it a bit of shade until later in the day. It’s also at the end of the bed where the big, lumbering cabbages are still to the south of them in the bed, further giving them some shade.
2) It’s at the end of the bed that is closest to the driveway and the house. That means that during the winter, when we are shoveling snow off the driveway, we will be shoveling the snow on top of the kale plants, thus protecting them. I’ll put a big stick into the end of the bed so that I can find the kale later.
The two other necessary features at this point are a) having seeds left over from the spring (which I did; if you do not, then learn your lesson and hold back some NEXT spring) for plants in the 30-40 day range. The other thing is water. Sowing seed at this point in the year is very different than it is in March or April, when the ground has been under snow for months, is full of moisture, and ready to go. As I pointed out above, this dirt is D….R….Y. So, even before I sowed the seeds, I watered it down so that when I dug a hole with my finger, it was moist for several inches.

I did my usual ‘drag a hoe or a stick through the dirt and sow as thick as you can, then cover with dirt and tamp down’ maneuver and there we go. I then watered the patch again. I’m hoping we will have some rain in the next couple of days. If we do NOT, then I will water that patch again…and again…and again until the seeds sprout.

Something else I’m going to do right now is that I’m going to go to my absolutely favorite seed site and order more seeds for spring greens etc. right now. I know there are readers who are saying to themselves, “Right – these are old seeds; why bother?”

Yes, there are flower seeds that if you don’t get them into the ground THAT season, they are pretty much worthless. But vegetable seeds are not so picky. Also, I have found if I order from a seedsman (rather than going back to my local garden center and pick stuff off the rack, all of which has been sitting there since April, in the dry, air conditioned store), I’m pretty sure of seeds that have been kept under optimal conditions. I get them pretty quickly in the mail and then I stick them into a ziplock™ bag, suck all the air out, put that into a yoghurt container to keep any light out and stick that into my fridge for the duration. I have seeds before anyone gets them in the stores locally, they are good and fresh.

So, I’ve got my seeds in the soil and the soil is moist. Anything else I have to think about?

Yep – back to the frost. At this time of the year, watching the weather is really crucial AND having something to throw over the seedlings ‘just in case’ is just as crucial. The first couple of frosts are hardly ever the ‘killer’ sort – so I have a big piece of plastic that I can use as a sort of ‘tent greenhouse’ over them. It won’t be laying right on top of the plants, which is not what you want in any case and it will keep the air around the plants warm enough. The soil will stay warm for quite a while now, but we need to keep the air around the plants warm enough so that they will continue to grow.
…to be continued.

Forget Wall Street: Invest in Potatoes

(Caution: Image Heavy) We all know what’s happened to the stock market over the past year. No news there. A whole lot of people lost a whole lot of their retirement and goodness knows what else over the past year. A whole lot of people are going to have to work long past their ‘sell by’ dates just to get through.

What Aunt Toby is here to tell you is that there are other ‘investments’ that sometimes do a whole lot better than fancy financial instruments, ‘regular’ and ‘preferred’ and Class A, B or C.

I’m talking about…potatoes (more…)

WMD: Zucchini Time

When Aunt Toby and the DH first set up housekeeping in a real house (versus their first year of marriage as students, AKA “Annus Horribilus”), we lucked upon a landlord who not only allowed us to rip up a good bit of the lawn, but also encouraged us to do so. One of our ‘challenges” was a humungous maple tree which dominated the backyard and only allowed sun to hit the prime gardening spots for a limited number of hours during the day. And being beginning gardeners, we chose things that we thought would be easy to grow: green beans, broccoli, tomatoes and zucchini.

Unfortunately, the DH’s method of making sure that we would get some zucchini, even if the only space left for the seeds was at the deepest, darkest end of the garden, hovering right underneath the maple, was to plant – six hills of the stuff. So, needless to say, by the end of the summer, we were looking for more ways to enjoy it. (more…)

I’ll Have Some Mustard With My Slugs, Please…

This spring at Chez Siberia has been almost enough to have us change the name to Chez Seattle or Chez Portland Oregon in terms of the amount of rain we’ve been getting. So far this month, we are 1.5 inches above the average for precipitation.

Lots o’ rain. That means that we get Lots o’ Slugs too.

Grey ones, big honkin’ orange ones (grrrr). And snails, too (snails are only slugs with real estate pretensions..remember that when you think of escargot). And short of ‘slug death’ or some such other chemical horror, we have tried every ‘get rid of slugs’ method known. And your dear Aunty has had zip luck. Until this year, and this was not even written up; I just stumbled upon it. (more…)

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