Welcome to Bepa's Garden!
This blog is about organic gardening, healthy eating and healthy living.
Each month I will be posting Garden To-Do Lists, Tips & Techniques, Garden Project Plans, Photos from the Garden, Recipes and Book Reviews.
I hope you enjoy reading and I hope I can inspire others to start a backyard garden!
Happy Gardening!
~Rob~

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Happy Holidays!



The summer and fall vegetables have all been harvested, the cold frames have been planted with the winter crops of kale, lettuce, carrots and transplanted leeks & onions, the garden beds have all been covered with leaves to protect them from the freezing northeast winter (if it ever gets here) so now it's time to reflect on the successes and failures of the past growing season, start planning next years crops and enjoy the holidays spent with friends and family!


Wishing everyone a safe and Happy Holiday season!!



Thursday, September 29, 2011

Seed Saving


This year I planted all heirloom, organic, non-gmo, non-hybrid plants with plans on saving seeds for next year's crops. This is my first time saving seeds from the vegetables I grew, so it has been a little trial and error and a bit of a learning process. I have already saved seeds from my bell peppers, chile peppers, lettuce, and carrots. It's amazing how many seeds you can get from one bell pepper!

I have researched methods for seed storage and it all seems to come back to a dry, cool, dark place. I have also looked for seed envelopes and have found a variety at Seed Savers, and also found several sites where you can print out templates to make your own.

Making Your Own Seed Envelopes

Making your own seed envelopes is easy to do. I have tried making my own templates with seed information printed on them that I could cut out, fold and glue together. They were nice, but were very  time consuming to make and seemed to waste a lot of paper. 


Here is one of the simplest ways I have found to make a seed envelope and you can make it any size you wish. I usually make two different sizes by starting with either 3-1/2" or  5-1/4" square paper.


Start with a 5-1/4" x 5-1/4" piece of paper.
 

Fold in half from corner to corner.
Fold the center point down, about 1/8" from the bottom.
Fold one corner to the center
Fold the other corner to the center
Lift up the center points and tape the end flaps.


Now you're ready to fill!
Seeds should be stored in a cool dry location. The paper envelopes alone aren't enough to protect your seeds from humidity and temperature so the packets should be stored in an air-tight container such as a mason jar. For long term storage they can also be stored in the freezer.

One of the best resources I have come across for learning how to save seed is Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth. This book goes into great detail on the process of saving and storing seeds. It also gives in depth detail on the proper technique for each plant variety. I think it s a great tool for anyone interested in learning how to save their own seeds.



Does anyone else save their own seeds?


Monday, September 19, 2011

Flood Relief & Supporting Organic Farmers


Hurricane Irene caused the worst damage in many years here in New England. Homes were washed away and destroyed along the coast in Connecticut and old covered bridges, roads and homes were washed away in Vermont. We were very fortunate and only lost a few trees, and our power & phone service was knocked out for only a few days.

Vermont was hit especially hard by this storm with some of the worst flooding some have ever seen. My wife and I got married in Vermont and we feel like it is our second home (we are actually hoping to purchase a 2nd home there soon!) We vacation there a couple of times a year and one of our favorite place to stop at is The Woodstock Farmers Market.




The Woodstock Farmers Market sells local organic produce, fresh local meats, deli foods, prepared dinners, fresh milk, eggs and all sorts of specialty food items. We always look forward to stopping buy and order holiday gifts for family, friends and business associates from their online store. They were hit especially hard by Irene, as you can see in the picture above. The store was completely destroyed and they are trying to rebuild. They are running a program called the Irene Card to help then raise cash to rebuild faster while they wait on the insurance and other disaster relief to help them. They are a wonderful market and really serve their local community!





The Vermont farmers were also hit hard. Their fields were flooded and their crops were destroyed. I am a member of the Northeast Organic Farmers Association, both Connecticut (CTNOFA) and Vermont (NOFAVT) chapters. The Vermont chapter is now accepting donations for the Farmer Emergency Fund to help Vermont farmers recover from lost crops due to the damage from Tropical Storm Irene.

If you are looking for a way to support organic farming, local food or would like to help Vermont farmers rebuild after this devastating storm click on the links above to make a donation. Help support organic farming and our healthy food supply!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Where did the summer go?



 I had big plans at the beginning of this summer. I was going to get so much accomplished and yet here we are in the middle of September and not much has been done. Now that the kids are back in school and life is getting somewhat back to normal, it's time to regroup and get back on track.

Our new puppy Buster.
I have already ordered some seeds for next season, planted the cold frames for our winter garden and fenced in the gardens. I have been planning topics for future blog posts and hope to be more organized and do them weekly or bi-weekly from now based on the projects I am working on and the crops I have growing.

The summer gardens are almost finished. I had an excellent crop of lettuce early in the summer, with several different varieties of romaine and we enjoyed fresh salads every day for a couple months. I just planted more romaine and leaf lettuce in the cold frames for the fall and winter garden. We had a week of extremely hot and dry weather in July when we were away on vacation so my tomatoes we pretty much wiped out.The heirloom peppers are doing great. I have been harvesting the red and orange bell peppers and sweet frying peppers. They are delicious roasted! I also have some heirloom peppers called Joe's Long which are 8-10" long and are just about ready to pick. We finished harvesting the garlic, fairy tale eggplant, cucumbers, zucchini and carrots for the season.
  


Orange Bell Pepper waiting to ripen

Fairy Tale Eggplant

Sweet Pepper "Lipstick"


Joe's Long Pepper

This year I started saving seeds from all my organic heirloom varieties.
Would anyone be interested in a seed swap ?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Cold Frame (mini-greenhouse) Feedback

It's the first day of summer, all the seeds have been planted and the seedlings are all out of the greenhouse and into the garden beds, so I am now ready to start planning my winter garden.

It feels like an ongoing struggle -always trying to stay ahead of the calendar.



Did anyone download and use the cold frame (mini-greenhouse) plans I posted last year?

 If you built a cold frame and used it over the winter I would love to hear from you. You can email me and tell me how it worked (or didn't work), and be sure to include photos. I would like to do a future blog post (if I get enough responses) and include reader built cold frames with pictures, results, etc. If you have a blog include that in your email as I will include your link as well.


My cold frames ...
Mini-greenhouses - January 8th, 2011!


Using my cold frame design, I was able to grow lettuce, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, scallions, carrots and sage throughout the (northeast) winter. Most of the plants survived but I did learn that I do need to start them earlier in late summer / early fall so the they are more established before the temperatures drop. The plants were able to survive the sub-zero weather, but grew slowly once the temperatures got cold. Having the plants almost fully grown before the winter hits would be ideal.

In the works ...

I am working on putting together full-size plans for my cold frames as well as small backyard greenhouses. They will contain a complete set of building plans, materials list, cut list and assembly instructions. I hope to have this finished by the end of summer. I am also in the process of developing a new website where the plans will be available as well as useful links, growing instruction and anything that has to do with growing organic, healthy eating and healthy living. Stay tuned ...more on this later!


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Going Green



We try to live as green as possible. We always bring our own cloth bags when shopping, we recycle, we heat our house with a wood stove instead of using oil, we grow our own vegetables and shop from local farms for the items we don't grow ourselves, so it only made sense to get rid of the noisy, gas guzzling, air polluting lawn mower for something quieter and more economical. After a couple years of considering and reading customer reviews to compare different models I finally bought a reel mower. I ended up getting a 20" reel mower with grass catcher from Lee Valley Tools.

We have a small 1/3 acre lot with about 1,200 square feet of vegetable gardens so I figured doing the lawn with a reel mower shouldn't be that difficult. Yesterday the new mower arrived so today, instead of working,  I decided to give it a try. I have to say I am pleasantly surprised at how nice it cuts and how easy it is to push! It is such a pleasure to mow the lawn without all the noise and fumes and the lawn really looks great!  Reel mowers are said to leave a nicer lawn because they shear the grass instead of tearing it like rotary mowers do.

There are a several reasons why I went with the Lee Valley mower. I wanted a larger mower (20") with a bigger range of height adjustment. I like to leave the lawn taller and the Lee Valley reel mower is adjustable from 1-7/8" to 3". It is also made in the USA. Some other mowers also make this claim but are actually made in China. The mower only weighs 30 lbs so it is light weight and easy to store. I ended up getting the grass catcher with it, but I don't think I will use it that much because it cuts the grass small enough to just leave on the lawn.

Other than the weird looks I got from the neighbors I am very happy with this mower. I never looked at yard work as work before, it is more therapeutic and relaxing for me because I am inside in my office working most days. Using a reel mower makes it much more enjoyable to do the lawn - you get a feeling of being a little more in touch with nature, a little more Zen.


Friday, May 13, 2011

It's tea time!!!


The seedlings are growing nicely in the greenhouse, the lettuce is planted and garlic and carrots that were started last fall are growing vigorously. Now it's time to start giving them a little added boost of nourishment with compost tea.

I start brewing compost tea in early May and apply it every 2 to 4 weeks. I use a 4-gallon brewer that I purchased from Compostwerks. They carry different size brewers which come with premium compost and the food source to add to the tea. They also carry refill kits if you don't have your own compost.

The Compost Tea Brewer

The compost tea brewer consists of a 4-gallon pail, 2 air pumps with air diffusers to aerate the mixture, a mesh bag that fits over the mouth of the pail to hold the compost, fittings and plastic tubing to connect to the air pumps.
Air diffusers in bottom of pail.

Mesh bag to hold compost.

Brewing the Tea

To brew the tea you first fill the bucket with warm water, about 78 degrees but not warmer than 85 degrees because you could damage the biology in the compost. If you are using tap water that is chlorinated you should run the air pumps for 15 minutes before adding the compost to volatilize the  impurities in the water. Chlorine will harm the organisms in the compost so this is an important step.

Next, with the pumps still running, you add the appropriate amount of compost and food source. Mix all the ingredients slowly to reduce clumping.

Brewing the tea.
Place the cover on the pail to help maintain the temperature and reduce splattering. The tea should brew for 12 to 24 hours - you get better results if you let it go for the full 24 hours. After the brewing cycle is finished, squeeze out the mesh bag in the pail and you are ready to apply the tea to you plants.

This is what the finished tea will look like.
Compost tea should be used within 3 hours of brewing because non-anaerobic organisms may dominate the tea and harm your plants. The tea should smell earthy and have no funny odors. If the tea smells like rotten egg, sulfur or vinegar then the anaerobic organisms have taken over and you should discard the tea.

Applying your Tea

The finished tea can be applied in 2 ways - either spayed on the foliage or poured at the base of the plants to drench the roots. I usually do both.

Applying to foliage - Compost tea contains soluble nutrients that the plants will absorb through their foliage. This is the fastest way for the plant to absorb the tea. It has been said that by spraying on the foliage it will help ward off pests and diseases. I have found that in the past two years of applying compost tea I haven't had any huge infestations of pests like I used to. Last year the only pest problem I had was a pesky mole. The ratio to the dilute the compost tea for spraying on the plants is 5:1 (five gallons water to 1 gallon compost tea). Apply to the top and undersides of the foliage every two weeks.

Applying to soils - The ratio to dilute for applying to roots is 10:1 (ten gallons of water to 1 gallon of compost tea). Drench the root zone of the plants and apply every month. If the soil is dry it is best to water before and after you apply your tea, or apply before a rain.

In Eliot Coleman's book, The New Organic Grower, he says if plants are healthy and strong they will be less susceptible to pests and diseases. I grow organically and do not use any commercial pesticides or synthetic additives. The only thing I apply to my plants is compost in the spring and applications of compost tea during the growing season. The plants seem to be healthier, more productive and I have had far less pest problems than I have had in the past. I am a believer that compost tea makes a huge difference in growing organically.

You can find more information about compost tea at Compostwerks.








Friday, April 22, 2011

Happy Easter!

Pysanky Ostrich Egg - this was a collaborative effort by my wife and I.





Part of our family tradition is to make Ukrainian Pysanky Eggs every year in the spring. This tradition was sparked by a memory of seeing pysanky eggs displayed at my grandparents house when I was a child. It was until later in life that we saw a pysanky egg kit in a craft store and decided to give it a try - we have been hooked ever since!


Pysanky Goose Egg
Wishing everyone a safe and Happy Easter!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Signs of Spring


A sure sign of spring at our house is when the asparagus first start to appear from their wintery nap. Last week I was a little disappointed when I raked the leaves off the bed and didn't see any spears poking up. Yesterday was blustery and stormy, but today the sun is shinning and it is much warmer. The asparagus spears are just starting to poke up out of the ground!


Last fall I planted carrots to see if I can overwinter them to get an early crop this year. They survived the cold and snowy winter with only the protection of a row cover on hoops. They were buried under a foot or two of snow turning dark purple color. Now that the days are getting warmer and the sun is shining more they are growing like crazy! I dug a couple up, an early treat for my rabbit, they are about 6" long with 6"-8" tops. We should have a nice variety of early carrots late in the spring.



Scallions overwintered in garden

 The scallions and chives all survived the winter as well and are growing thick and tall. The scallions will need to be thinned and transplanted to another bed soon. They were started from seed last summer. The scallions I transplanted into the cold frames in November are three times as big as these, we have been harvesting them over the past few weeks. 


IN THE COLD FRAMES...

The scallions, cabbage, lettuce, garlic, sage, kale and broccoli survived the winter in the mini-greenhouses. Although it grew slowly, we were still able to harvest lettuce and scallions several times throughout the winter. With the warmer days and nights everything is really starting to get big. We have been harvesting scallions the size of our thumbs with tops 12" tall!



Lettuce in the cold frame planted last fall


IN THE GREENHOUSE ...

The greenhouse is chock full of seedlings growing rapidly awaiting their transplanting into the garden. I have already started several varieties of lettuce, kale, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, onions, leeks, beets, spinach, parsley, basil, sage, thyme and cucumbers. We have had a few nights that dipped into the low 30's so I have been moving the trays into the basement on those cold nights. I have many different varieties of heirloom tomatoes which are growing nicely in their 2" soil blocks.

Tomato plants in greenhouse.

The heirloom tomatoes are growing nicely in their 2" soil blocks. I have only started organic, non-gmo, non-hybrid, heirloom tomatoes this year with plans on saving the seeds for next year.

Heirloom tomatoes.
 This is the first year I have had success growing romaine and butter head lettuce. They were started in 3/4" soil blocks and then transplanted into trays. I have been leaving them in the greenhouse overnight on the cold nights and they have been thriving in the cooler temperatures.

Romain lettuce.

Last year was the first time we dried our own herbs and really enjoyed the fresh flavor of them during the winter so this year we are planning on expanding our herb garden with lots of basil, parsley, sage, oregano, thyme, rosemary and chives!

Basil.

Red Russian Kale in 2" soil blocks.
The next big project is to expand the garden and fence it in so I can get the lettuce, kale and other seedling planted. We are planning on tripling the size of the beds and planting bio-intensively in hopes to grow as much of our own food this summer as possible and preserve some for winter use. We are also working on another exciting project this year, creating a school community garden at our Elementary School! You can follow that project on facebook!