Friday, January 24, 2014

another blizzzard warning and another cold spell on the way

Today it was 36 degrees  and there was melting snow dripping from the roof making little puddles.  And then this afternoon they issued a blizzard watch for Sunday with snow possible beginning Saturday and more 20 below cold on Monday.  The greenhouse is struggling in this cold.  With the two little milk house heaters running it is still getting cold over night.  And today when it is warm outside and it was 60 degrees in the greenhouse the soil in the planters closest to the glazing was frozen.  I know that the plants will eventually bounce back but they are not getting bigger very quickly.  The soil in the gutter planters and the plants in the middle of the room are not frozen so it is time to do some rearranging. 

I have been stalling making the changes.  I kept thinking that we must be done with the really cold weather but I fear I have been deluding myself.  So I moved the tables away from the glazed roof into the middle of the room.  I lost a bit of table space and so for now I have some planters on the floor.  I have them sitting on overturned planters so that they are not sitting right on the tile floor.  I moved the heat sink back under the tables in their new location and I cut rigid foam insulation into the pockets made by the rafter tails.  If this doesn't make a difference I will  consider a layer of plastic  on the inside to make the glazed roof double walled at least part way up.  I hate the thought of covering up the beautiful roof. 

Here are a couple of pictures of the new arrangement.  It is more crowded and I am sure that I will be tweaking it as the days go on.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

oh nuts!

When we moved to our farmsite 25 years ago there was a great tree in what is now what I call the orchard.  Every fall it got these round 'fruit' that was a rubbery coating around a shiny dark 'nut'.  In trying to research the tree I am thinking that it is a buckeye.  Buckeyes are not edible as they contain a toxin and it doesn't really matter if they are edible or not because the squirrels get every single one of them.  There is not a nut on the ground or left on the tree each fall.  The one in the orchard has a place of prominence and there was a second tree near it which was cut down because of storm damage so I think that it was intentionally planted there.  There are two other ones that are part of the grove, one on the south side and one on the east side.  I am wondering if those are ones that were planted by the squirrels? They are fun shaped trees with interesting branches and they are early to flower in the spring and early to turn yellow in the fall.  But no edible nuts.

When I was looking at the seed catalogs that Mom shared with me I noted that there were lots of nut trees but very few were safe to grow in our zone four.  In fact the only ones were a sweet chestnut tree and an American hazelnut.  We have  two of each on the list and the challenge will be to figure out where to plant them.  The chestnut will eventually grow into a tall shade tree and the hazelnut is suggested to plant where it will be protected from north and west winter winds.  It will be important to have a vision for the future and other trees that may eventually be planted in determining the best location for these new trees. 

Other fun stuff that are on the list:

Last year we grew ornamental gourds and we are growing them again this year but adding a small ornamental pumpkin and Indian corn.  Last year we planted a pie pumpkin variety for eating and they were really good so we are doing those again but adding a carving pumpkin as well.  I am also going to try growing two varieties of popcorn.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

more fruit? yes please, I believe I will.

One of my goals for Mom's hobby farm is to add some new fruit each year. Under the tab at the top of the blog called Orchard you can read a little bit about my efforts so far to expand the fruit produced on the farm.  I think that fruit is a great asset for the farm as you plant it once and (hopefully) it gives you fruit for years.  We have had some successes and some that are less than successful and some in that TBD (to be determined) category.

In the successes column I would place the grapes.  I have four grape vines that were planted on an arbor over a period of a couple years and for the first years the grape that was planted first and was the oldest vine when planted had been producing fruit but last year we got a crop off of all of the vines.  We had a few apples on both of our apples trees last year and the black raspberry bushes that i transplanted grew a few berries which the birds got to before I could pick them.  We planted two pear trees and two plum trees and it looks so far like one pear and one plum are successes.  One pear did not grow and was replaced the next spring and the new one now looks to be doing well. One plum is in the TBD category as it started getting lots of suckers from the bottom and we will have to see what develops.  I cut the suckers off last summer and the plant looked good as winter arrived.

I planted some strawberries in  the wood tower and they did okay the first year sending out runners but did not come back the second year.  The six blueberries  have not died yet but they are not doing well.  This will be their third year and they are just hanging on despite my efforts to amend the soil that they are growing in.  I am considering moving them to a raised bed where I can start out with acidic soil and see if they do better.

So here is the plan for 2014:

Last year in the late summer I transplanted a few more black raspberry canes to the cornfield in the row dividing the north from the south halves.  I plan to move more in the spring.

Mom shared a couple of seed catalogs that came to her house this winter and there were some interesting fruits that were pretty reasonably priced so we made a list of ones that I would like to try.  When they are only a few dollars for a couple of bushes I feel that we can risk that something might not work for that kind of investment.

on our list:

sand cherries--also called a dwarf flowering cherry used for sauces and fresh eating

black elderberry--for pies and wine.  An online acquaintance shared that when she lived in England she collected the flowers to make elderflower fizz.

gooseberries--red colossal variety--largest of the gooseberries, produce 10 quarts of fruit per plant, and should produce fruit one year after planting

I also was kind of excited to see a free packet of huckleberries could be included with the order but a little research found that the huckleberry seeds were an annual plant not the perennial bush that resembles blueberries.  The reviews were not encouraging but I am considering them as they seem to be a favorite of birds and so maybe as bird food they might be desirable.  I guess that I can wait until they arrive before making a decision and could plant a few seeds and see what they do. 

So it is another blizzard in Minnesota.  A good day to be dreaming about spring and the garden of 2014.

Monday, January 20, 2014

the tomato experiment for 2014

The plans for the 2014 garden are starting to come together.  Yesterday Nikole and I completed our seed list and Nikole ordered our seeds from Johnny's Seeds.  We had ordered there last year and had good success with the seeds that came from there.  We had only one little snafu and even that turned out okay.  We got to try a great paste tomato when the packet that we received was what we ordered but the seeds inside were a different variety.  The seeds should ship tomorrow and I imagine will arrive this week.  They it will be the fun of deciding what to plant where and when to start the seeds in the greenhouse for transplanting in the spring.

So we ordered a lot of the same varieties as last year along with a few new ones.  We are trying a second heirloom tomato and a second paste tomato this year.  We were so happy with the tomatoes that we grew last year that we are doing those again.  The Big Beef tomatoes were a hybrid so we ordered them again.  Last fall I saved seeds from our heirlooms which is a process that I have not tried before.  I decided to try to plant a few of the saved seeds before we got our order ready to see if our seeds were viable and right now I have baby seedlings under the grow light set up in Caitlin's bedroom.  We actually had a decent germination.  Not every seed that I planted sprouted at the same time but all of the brandywine and the pastes have germinated and half of the cherry tomatoes have sprouted so far.  The cherries were later to start with so I have not given up on them yet.  It will be a good chance to see if we can get a head start on the growing season by putting them in the greenhouse when it is pretty much done with freezing and we have longer days.

nine cells of each variety
planted three varieties

some cells got more than one seed
 So this year our plans are to have these tomatoes:

Big Beef  Johnny's describes this in their online catalog as 'nice combination of size, taste and earliness' and they are right.  They have good flavor and they were the first of our four varieties to fruit and the fruits most of the season were about the size of a baseball.  The stragglers at the end of the season were a little smaller.  I grew these on two sides of a fence with about eight or nine plants on each side in a row of about 20 feet and they got great yields.  these are supposed to be an indeterminate type of tomato but our plants stayed pretty small.  I tied them to the fence and they did well.  I am not sure if they would have done even better given more room per plant.  I might try a two rows, some with larger spacing  and compare the yields.  We used them for fresh eating and mixed with other tomatoes for stewed tomatoes in the canner. 

Brandywine  This is an heirloom that we grew last year and is a pink tomato.  Our biggest tomatoes that we grew were the brandywines although there was a great variety of size in the tomatoes.  I planted these in two rows with tomato cages.  I used the cages that I had and some were the larger cages and some were the smaller cages and none of them really contained these tomatoes.  The plants  were long and sprawling and tipped over the cages.  This year I will try them on a tall trellis and see how they do.  I also will need to do some research on pruning.  I had the most problems with picnic bugs on these tomatoes and that was probably my fault.  I expected these tomatoes to get darker and so the earliest ones stayed on the vine instead of being picked when first ripe.  It was a challenge to pick them and I feel that I have learned a valuable lesson about tomato growing so this year I will spread the tomato rows out and do a much better job of trellising.  I saved the seeds from a few of these tomatoes and will be using the saved seed for these.

Matt's Wild Cherry was the cherry tomato that we planted last year and I planted two rows side by side.  These are another heirloom indeterminate tomato.  I did not get them caged and ended up with a massive hedge that was  20 feet long and 5 or 6 feet wide.  It was nearly impossible to pick except along the edges.  The tomatoes were great.  They grew in little clusters like grapes and were the size of smallish grapes.  They had the most marvelous flavor.  They were very prolific bearing until killed by a hard frost.  I will definitely grow these again except they will be on a heavy trellis and I will limit myself to fewer plants and not plant them next to another row of tomatoes.  I save seed from last year and the saved seeds are part of my group of tomatoes under the lights.

Amish Paste tomatoes were the variety we ordered last year.  We got a packet labeled Amish paste but when the tomatoes ripened they were red with yellow stripes and looked exactly like Johnny's picture if a tomato called Speckled Roman.  We have ordered them again and look forward to a row of these.  They are described as being large for a sauce tomato and a long time favorite so I am excited to try them.

Speckled Roman is the striped paste variety that I am pretty sure we had last year.  They were great, produces a lot of good sized, good tasting tomatoes.  We made some into fresh salsa and salads and a lot were combined with other of our tomatoes in the stewed tomatoes and sauce that I canned.  These are listed on one of Johnny's catalog chart as an heirloom so I saved seeds from a couple of the larger tomatoes at the end of the season and  a few of these are also under the grow lights. 

Rose is the new heirloom that we will be growing.  It is described as meaty and flavorful and good yielding.  It is said to rival brandywine for flavor.  Where brandywine has bigger 'shoulders' and creases the Rose in the catalog picture is smoother.  Both are a pink tomato.

Our tomato experiment is two-fold.  We started some seeds way too early for regular transplanting into the summer garden.  In fact the growing information in Johnny's catalog specifically discourages too early planting but we started ours to see if our saved seed is viable and now that we have the plants started it will be interesting to see how they do.  Can we get them big enough in the greenhouse and transplant them successfully into the garden?  If we put them in containers can we move the containers outside when the weather is right and not have to transplant them?  It will be fun to see how it goes.  

Sunday, January 12, 2014

the U of M greenhouse study is published

Last summer we had visitors to the greenhouse.  She took a few pictures and asked some questions.  She was a gal in the landscape architecture program at the University of Minnesota and she was doing her dissertation on winter greenhouses and visited our greenhouse among others for a tour as part of her research.

Now her research has been published and the report is available for viewing.  Here is the link to University of Minnesota website and go here to read the report.

It was fun being a part of this study.  Thank you Jodi for including our greenhouse in your study and thanks for sharing the results.

There were a two other area greenhouses in the study that I have visited--the Elks Bluff greenhouse and the Garden Goddess greenhouse and it was fun to see the pictures from those greenhouses as well as the others that I was not familiar with.  The Garden Goddess greenhouse was our inspiration as well as inspiring Elks Bluff.  According to the dedication most of the other greenhouses also had ties to Garden Goddess and Chuck and Carol.  Even with that connection each of the greenhouses were unique. 

This was the temperature in the greenhouse one sunny day during our recent very cold weather in Minnesota.

Linking up to  
Between Naps On The Porch for Metamorphosis Monday

Thursday, January 9, 2014

new soup/salad/pasta plates and a tip

Many years ago I purchased pasta plates.  They were a little pricy so I bought one for each member of our family which was five at that time.  Since then our family has changed and now when we are all together we could use seven plates.  Fearing we would be unable to match the same plates my daughter Nikole found new pasta plates and bought me 12 for Christmas this year.  These plates are white so they add to the other white dishes and serving pieces that I have been collecting over the years.  They are a shallow bowl and will work perfectly for many different kinds of first courses--pasta--but also salad or soup.  The past couple of days I have used them for all three.

savory roasted butternut soup

salad- mixed greens from the winter greenhouse

 pasta with creamy carrots and Asian greens
And a tip

A couple days ago a friend sent me a video by email showing Martha Stewart peeling garlic by placing a whole head of garlic in a stainless bowl, inverting another bowl over the top and shaking the garlic.   After just a couple of shakes I could hear that the garlic sounded different, like it was changing from one piece to many pieces and after just a few more shakes this was the result:

It works!

The garlic cloves are separated and peeled and once the peeled cloves are removed from the loose skins they are ready to use, undamaged.

Here is the video:

Thanks Dar for sending the video.

Shared with


savory butternut squash soup
pasta with creamy carrots and Asian greens

I will be adding links to the homemade fettuccine.

Monday, January 6, 2014

composting leaves and garden plans

Happy New Year!

I think of the beginning of the year as kind of the beginning of the garden season.  So this weekend I spent a big part of my time making garden plans.  Last fall I ran out of time doing my fall garden chores so I have a mixed bag as far as being ready in the spring.  Last year I spent quite a bit of time getting the new cornfield ready to plant and with our wet spring we were late getting in.  This year I want to get an earlier start and having part of the garden ready to go should help.

I started with a resource that gave formulas for when to start seeds indoors and when then to plant those transplants outside related to your last frost date.  For our zone four garden our last frost date is May 23.  So I used the formulas to figure out when I need to sow in the greenhouse and what I should be looking to transplant out first.

I have two main choices for where to plant things--the cornfield and the potager.  I am thinking that I will try to use the potager with its raised beds for the carrots and beets and the greens and use the cornfield for the bigger transplants.  In looking over my records from the fall I have nine rows that should be ready to plant early in the spring.  They were made into raised rows last year and they had a cover crop of oats planted early enough to grow a crop that was a few inches tall.  Those rows will just need the dead oats turned under and a layer of compost added and they will be ready to plant.

I also have a bunch of rows--fourteen--that I planted the oats late and they did not germinate at all and I will need to watch for them in the spring and hopefully they will germinate and a grow a quick green manure crop that can be turned under a little later and some summer crops can go in those rows.

I have a few more rows that were made into raised rows right before winter and I have two options there.  I can either quickly plant some oats in the spring and let them grow for a few weeks and add transplants later or I can plant transplants there right away and wait to  cover crop those this year.  I guess I will have to wait until spring gets a little closer and we see what the weather is looking like and how much other spring prep needs to be done.  There is a lot of stuff to do to get ready where the corn was planted last year.

I also have a few more rows that need to be made into raised rows.  Those will likely be the last rows planted.

This weekend my son sent me a TED talk video on making compost from fallen leaves.  It reinforces other reading I have done about how valuable leaf compost is.  I have two items on my 2014 farm goal list that pertain to leaves and composting leaves.  One is to build a structure to hold leaves that I collect and the other is to purchase a chipper/shredder for the farm.  I like the idea of reusing or repurposing so I am hoping to be able to build a set of bins from pallets to hold the leaves.  We have a lot of leaves that fall at the farm and last year I was gifted with leaves from my sister's house and my parents' house.  I already compost our manure and bedding from the barn where the herd spends the winter.  Last year I added part of the leaves to that pile along with garden waste and kitchen waste.  This year I am considering composting leaves separately in addition to my other composting.

Where to locate the leaf storage is one major consideration that I will have to give some thought to.  My yard is quite large and my gardening areas are not close together.  Do I locate the leaf composting near where I will use the finished compost or where the most leaves fall?  Right now I haul compost in a wheelbarrow or in a small cart that pulls behind my lawn mower from the pile to the garden spaces.  Does it make sense to have more than one, one close to each garden spot?  Where will I shred?  Do I need to have electricity for shredding or will the shredder use gas?  I guess I have the rest of the winter and most of the summer before I will need to have leaf storage in place so there is some time to decide.   

Sharing this with Susan at Between Naps On The Porch