July in January

I’ve been working on my 2015 seed order this week and talking with a few garden friends about preferences in paprika peppers; rabbit and pigeon predation (I thought I had it bad with deer – at least they don’t fly!); cover crops, and the Eternal Chicken Question. All this brings to mind images of the garden in full green swing, not the current landscape of dingy grey snow with muddy patches and with a buzzcut of bare twigs and pale grasses. Here are some of my favorite images from July, 2014. (I was planning to take some side-by-side photos of today’s garden but it was too depressing – we don’t need a reminder that the ground is hard as iron right now and it will easily be four more months until it begins to soften and “green up”.)

Just outside the dooryard, on the southfacing hillside: broccoli, breadseed poppies, sorrel, mullein, strawberries, parsley, and a Beta pie cherry tree all held in place by withy rows of Black and Scottish basket willow. Down on the lower level you can see the Washington Hawthorns providing a thorny barrier against deer (and almost enough haws for a batch of jelly in 2014) and the silver foliage of the snake willow.

Broccoli withy

More from the dooryard: purple basil, pinks, calendula, and carrots grow under the Seckel pear tree. There’s an elderberry bush coming up on the left that will need to be transplanted (again!) into the swamp during Garden 2015.

purple basil and calendula

Entrance to the lower garden: rhubarb, German paste tomatoes, mustards (in bloom), columbine, Joe Pye weed, and rugosa

rhubarb, tomatoesPink and white rose-mallow, well, mostly white this year! It was nearly smothered by pole beans in August but managed well enough to be featured in several still life paintings.

mallowThe chaos that is the lower garden center: mullein, Russian crabapple, marshmallow, goldenrod (for bee fodder), and one of the glacial erratics that characterize the Maine island garden. There’s a path in there too, somewhere. . . .

lower gardenIn every photo set from my garden there should be at least one very, very confused plant. This Angelica decided to grow up through a cinderblock amidst the nasturtium and pole beans, and it did very well, considering.

sugar cane

Can’t wait until July, 2015!




The July garden

Right now is when everything in the garden turns the corner into full production. We’ve just past the longest day of the year and now it’s all about beating that long, downhill slide toward the dark and cold. November will come, but meanwhile we can make hay while the sun shines and harvest broccoli too.

brassica larkspur

Broccoli, kale, cabbage and other brassica grow well under a variety of conditions, but in my garden they also attract pests if too many are crowded together in one place. I spot plants around in odd areas to avoid cutworms, whitefly, and fleabeetles that find their host plants by scent. In the back is a row of larkspur flowering in its first year from seed – can’t wait to see the variety of colors.

green dinner

Tonight’s dinner is kung pao tofu with assorted greens.

long view of valerian jungleSome of the lower garden is buried in an onslaught of valerian. I don’t discourage it because it goes by quickly, the bees love it, and the roots make an excellent sleep potion (which as a bonus, smells like wet dog).

blue angel hosta

This is the season for big edibles, but the ornamentals aren’t far behind: Blue Angel Hosta maturing at 5′ by 6′ down in the swamp!


For most of the year this seedum is a flat green carpet, but in July it becomes an alien solar farm.

finger trimmed spruce

I have a finger-trimmed spruce going down in the swamp, next to the hosta. It’s ten years old and has been hand pruned at the tips each year. The “antler” is what happens when the gardener is called away without finishing the task! It’s not a fast growing tree, but it managed to put out this extension in four days – that’s a lot of pent up energy.


Seed order 2014, new directions

Every winter I try to take a snow day off from work and spend the morning finalizing my seed order to Fedco. There’s something very satisfying about glancing up from long, detailed descriptions of luscious tomatoes and tender green beans to see the snow pelting down outside. (Seeds for bush beans and alyssm “Carpet of Snow” are already on order, as they were in 2013 below.)

beanies beans

My seed order for the coming year will be an experiment; an acknowledgement of suspicions and assumptions that I’ve been resisting for several seasons. My new guidelines, In no particular order, are:

  • I don’t need to grow boatloads of everything. That goes double for tomatoes
  • I should grow more of what we actually eat, regardless of whether it appeals to my Yankee nature and stores well in the pantry or root cellar
  • I love flowers, I paint flowers, and although we can’t eat flowers, I should step all over that Yankee nature and give serious consideration to creating a huge cutting garden.

And maybe give in to the occasional impulse buy that turns out to be really cool – like Dutch Butter popcorn!

dutch popcorn

Well, no, growing popcorn is an indulgence in space that we could be taking up by growing 9′ stalks of Silver Queen (the finest white sweet corn of all time), so popcorn didn’t make the 2014 list. I am easily swayed to excess when I’m reading seed catalogs but I think I managed to hold closely to my New Rules. FEDCO seeds just emailed me my order confirmation:

214 – Greencrop Bush Green Bean ( A=2oz ) 1 x $1.40 = $1.40
658 – Silver Queen White Sweet Corn ( A=2oz ) 1 x $2.20 = $2.20
818 – Oregon Giant Snow Pea ( A=2oz ) 1 x $1.50 = $1.50
2073 – Shin Kuroda 5" Carrot ( A=1/8oz ) 1 x $0.90 = $0.90
2186 – Bulls Blood Beet ( A=1/8oz ) 1 x $1.00 = $1.00
2425 – Bleu de Solaize Leek ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $1.50 = $1.50
2510 – Space Spinach ( A=1/4oz ) 1 x $1.40 = $1.40
2555 – Giant Winter Spinach ( A=1/4oz ) 1 x $1.40 = $1.40
2766 – Australian Yellow Lettuce OG ( A=1g ) 1 x $1.60 = $1.60
3209 – Maruba Santoh ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $1.10 = $1.10
3222 – Tokyo Bekana ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $1.10 = $1.10
3230 – Mizspoona Salad Selects Gene Pool OG ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $1.50 = $1.50
3273 – Joi Choi Pac Choi ( A=1g ) 1 x $1.80 = $1.80
3315 – Gypsy Broccoli ( A=0.5g ) 1 x $1.70 = $1.70
3316 – Purple Peacock Gene Pool Broccoli OG ( A=0.5g ) 1 x $1.20 = $1.20
3322 – Arcadia Broccoli ( A=0.5g ) 1 x $1.80 = $1.80
4441 – Aromato Basil OG ( A=0.5g ) 1 x $1.30 = $1.30
4481 – Wild Bergamot OG ( A=0.1g ) 1 x $1.20 = $1.20
5113 – Sunburst Heliopsis ( A=0.1g ) 1 x $2.50 = $2.50
5168 – Giant Imperial Mixed Larkspur ( A=1g ) 1 x $1.00 = $1.00
5171 – Lavatera Mix ( A=1g ) 1 x $1.00 = $1.00
5291 – Tall Climbing Mix Nasturtium ( A=4g ) 1 x $1.10 = $1.10
5350 – Elka Poppy OG ( A=0.1g ) 1 x $1.20 = $1.20
5351 – Ziar Breadseed Poppy OG ( A=0.1g ) 1 x $1.20 = $1.20
5731 – State Fair Mix Zinnia ( B=2g ) 1 x $2.80 = $2.80

This order and what I’ve saved from previous years will probably still grow more that we can eat, but perhaps I won’t feel quite as compelled to spend the entire harvest season canning tomatoes. Perhaps. The baby in this photo is now 22 – obviously I have a long history of growing too much produce!

tomatoes, everywhere

Once upon a time. . .

. . .it was summer in the garden. Not today, because we’re having a raw, wet March day with snow still on the ground, but summer will be back around soon. I was going through my photo files to find a particular study of quince and wild apples and found a few images that reminded me of what the weather will bring in the coming months once March with its snowy mornings is out of the way.

Below, a steam canner full of Beta and Somerset grapes ready to put the lid on, turn up the burner, and make juice. The vines look thin and sad in the garden right now because the posts are crooked and some of the wires are down, but I’ll be able to set things right in April. I made almost 5 gallons of grape juice concentrate last year and it was wonderful – rich and sweet. More on the way for 2014 as the vines mature!

steam canner full of grapes

My pallet after painting peaches and geranium blossoms in the hoop house under the summer evening sun – light enough to work until 9 pm.


Setting up to make tomato sauce on the Hoosier cabinet. We put up 5 gallons (in pint jars) in 2012, none in 2011 due to virus, we’ll have to see what 2014 will bring.


Fedco Seed Order for 2013

I finished my 2013 seed order today. I’ve been working on it since Thanksgiving, but with three separate plots projected for this summer I had some special concerns to work out. More on that later – here’s the full list with prices (OMG I spent over $100 on seeds this year!) and the occasional reference paragraph from the Fedco catalog.
seedling trays

204 – Provider Bush Green Bean ( A=2oz) 1 x $1.30 = $1.30
285 – Kentucky Wonder Pole Bean ( A=2oz) 1 x $1.40 = $1.40
323 – Jackson Wonder Bush Lima Bean ( A=2oz) 1 x $1.40 = $1.40
658 – Silver Queen White Sweet Corn ( B=8oz) 1 x $7.50 = $7.50

Silver Queen 2012

675 – Dakota Black Popcorn OG ( B=8oz) 1 x $10.00 = $10.00

677 – Pennsylvania Dutch Butter Flavored Popcorn OG ( B=8oz) 1 x $11.50 This open-pollinated popcorn is so good on its own that you won’t need to add any nutritional yeast. Our trialers agreed that it was the best they’d ever tasted: creamy, buttery and delicious. Incredibly green and healthy 8′ plants with very long dark green leaves set two 4–6″ ears per stalk, with 26–28 rows (occasionally 22) of fat creamy white kernels. Thanks to our friends at Southern Exposure Seed Exchange for enabling us to offer this pre-1885 Pennsylvania Dutch heirloom. SESE was the first to bring this variety to commerce, in 1988

818 – Oregon Giant Snow Pea ( B=8oz) 1 x $4.50 = $4.50

896 – Opal Creek Snap Pea OG ( A=2oz) 1 x $2.50 = $2.50
953 – Blacktail Mountain Watermelon ( A=1/16oz) 1 x $2.20 = $2.20
1046 – Athena Muskmelon ( A=1g) 1 x $2.80 = $2.80
1059 – Arava Galia-Type Melon OG ( A=1g) 1 x $1.50 = $1.50
1114 – Petite Yellow Watermelon ( A=1g) 1 x $2.00 = $2.00
1372 – Lemon Slicing Cucumber ( A=1/16oz) 1 x $0.90 = $0.90
1375 – Richmond Green Apple Slicing Cucumber OG ( A=1/16oz) 1 x $1.60 = $1.60
1434 – Cocozelle Zucchini ( A=1/8oz) 1 x $0.80 = $0.80
1719 – New England Pie Pumpkin ( A=1/4oz) 1 x $0.80 = $0.80
2073 – Shin Kuroda 5" Carrot ( B=1/2oz) 1 x $2.50 = $2.50
2093 – Yaya Carrot OG ( A=1g) 1 x $2.00 = $2.00
2099 – Over the Rainbow Carrot Mix ( B=3g) 1 x $6.50 = $6.50
2149 – Touchstone Gold Beet OG ( B=1/2oz) 1 x $6.20 = $6.20 Open-pollinated. The most refined and reliable golden beet. Much more dependable germination and uniformly round roots than others we’ve tried. Resists zoning. Like other golden beets, retains its color when cooked with the sweet flavor prized by aficionadoes. Performed well even when overcrowded in my trial. Takes the guesswork out of growing golden beets, “The first gold beet that’s ever done well for us,” reports Janine Welsby.
2186 – Bulls Blood Beet ( B=1/2oz) 1 x $2.20 = $2.20
2224 – Easter Egg Radish ( B=1/2oz) 1 x $2.10 = $2.10
2310 – Harris Model Parsnip ( A=1/8oz) 1 x $0.80 = $0.80
2425 – Bleu de Solaize Leek ( B=1/8oz) 1 x $2.50 = $2.50
2426 – Siegfried Leek ( A=1/16oz) 1 x $1.70 = $1.70
2766 – Australian Yellow Lettuce OG ( A=1g) 1 x $1.60 = $1.60 (50 days) Open-pollinated. We are hoping this new color in the lettuce palette will catch on. In our 2011 trial the opalescent yellow-green leaves burst out of the gate with rapid growth yet were still holding their quality on July 19 when Waldmann’s had bolted. Glossy yellow in the early stages, seedlings take on more green pigmentation as they mature, with the crinkly quality of a spinach and a sweet taste augmented by the barest hint of bitter. Frank Morton’s strain is the best we have found. Though Australia is more famous for its squashes, this is another worthy émigré from Down Under
2767 – Les Oreilles du Diable Lettuce OG (Devils Ears) ( A=1g) 1 x $1.30 = $1.30
2803 – Tom Thumb Lettuce ( A=2g) 1 x $0.80 = $0.80

Lettuce beds 20122918 – Pablo Lettuce ( A=1g) 1 x $1.20 = $1.20
2988 – Winter Lettuce Mix ( A=1g) 1 x $1.30 = $1.30
3209 – Maruba Santoh ( B=1/8oz) 1 x $2.00 = $2.00
3218 – Senposai ( B=1/8oz) 1 x $2.20 = $2.20
3220 – Tatsoi ( B=1/8oz) 1 x $2.00 = $2.00
3378 – Melissa Savoy Cabbage ( A=0.5g) 1 x $2.40 = $2.40
3467 – Nero di Tuscana or Lacinato Kale ( A=2g) 1 x $1.20 = $1.20
4053 – Black Prince Tomato OG ( A=0.2g) 1 x $1.30 = $1.30
4056 – Green Zebra Tomato OG ( A=0.2g) 1 x $1.30 = $1.30
4123 – Mr. Fumarole Paste Tomato OG ( A=0.2g) 1 x $1.30 = $1.30
4134 – Opalka Paste Tomato ( A=0.2g) 1 x $1.30 = $1.30
4218 – Bobcat Tomato ( A=0.1g) 1 x $2.50 = $2.50 (65 days) F-1 hybrid. Det. This cat is a perfect replacement for Seminis/Monsanto’s Big Beef. Has the same impeccable looks, disease resistance, slightly flattened round shape, 6–10 oz. maincrop size, thin skins, midseason maturity and excellent taste. Flavor mild with a spicy sweet accent and slightly acidic complexity, color medium red. A massive plant with huge leaves, thick strong stems and big fruit set. From an Apr. 4 start and Jun. 11 transplanting, our trialer harvested her first ripe fruit on Aug. 15. Resists F1, F2, GLS and N.
4266 – Honey Bunch Red Grape Tomato ( A=0.1g) 1 x $3.80 = $3.80
4418 – Genovese Basil ( A=2g) 1 x $1.00 = $1.00
4422 – Mammoth Basil ( A=1g) 1 x $1.10 = $1.10
4449 – Sweet Dani Lemon Basil ( A=0.5g) 1 x $1.50 = $1.50
4467 – Sacred Basil OG ( A=0.1g) 1 x $1.20 = $1.20
4522 – Cumin ( A=0.5g) 1 x $1.00 = $1.00
4530 – Bouquet Dill ( A=4g) 1 x $1.00 = $1.00
4680 – Red Shiso ( A=1g) 1 x $1.30 = $1.30
4684 – Stevia ( B=0.04g) 1 x $5.50 = $5.50
4831 – Love-Lies-Bleeding ( A=1g) 1 x $0.90 = $0.90
5282 – Empress of India Nasturtium ( A=3g) 1 x $1.00 = $1.00
5351 – Ziar Breadseed Poppy OG ( A=0.1g) 1 x $1.20 = $1.20
5545 – Summer Sensation Sunflower ( A=2g) 1 x $1.10 = $1.10
5611 – Perennial Sweet Pea ( A=1g) 1 x $1.10 = $1.10
5614 – America Sweet Pea ( A=2g) 1 x $1.10 = $1.10
5731 – State Fair Mix Zinnia ( A=0.5g) 1 x $1.10 = $1.10
5913 – Madder ( A=0.25g) 1 x $2.30 = $2.30

Adventures in ketchup

Summer 2012 was a tomato year for the garden. Hot and dry, hot and steamy, hot and drenching rain, and hot again for another week – and we have oodles of tomatoes. All the varieties I planted did well: cherry, plum, modern and vintage beefsteaks. The only heartbreak will be all the fruit still green on the vine as we approach the inevitable frosty nights of October.

green tomatoesMaking ketchup requires a lot of tomatoes and a long cooking time. I had bushels of tomatoes ready to go but I don’t like keeping steaming pots brewing on the stove for long periods of time. Our small house heats up easily, especially when the weather turns hot and humid, so I decided to haul out my big cast iron pots and cook a batch over a wood fire in the yard.

I suggest using the Blue Book recipe for ketchup. I started with two gallons of thick tomato puree and doubled the recommended amount of spices. In the two cheesecloth bags below are whole spices including: coriander, celery seed, cloves, stick cinnamon, yellow and black mustard, bay leaf and dried Chipotle peppers from the Fruit Basket in Grand Junction, CO. (These peppers are incredibly fragrant – thanks, CherieBeyond! You’re also my proof that we’re not actually stuck on this island because you made it to Colorado – and back.) The recipe also includes good cider vinegar, brown sugar, salt and anything else you feel like throwing in to make it distinctly your own. Why yes, I did add a cup of bourbon, funny you should ask.

spice bagsThis was my first experience using cast iron over a wood fire and wow, that’s a lot of energy. I loaded a gallon of puree, the additional recipe ingredients, and the spice bags into the pots and the mixture came to a rolling boil almost immediately. I could have started with a lot less fuel and ended up adding much less wood to keep it going than I thought I’d need. It took a little over two hours (stirring occasionally) for enough water to steam off and leave a nice, thick batch of ketchup with a distinctive smoky taste. This is how I’ll make my end of season tomato sauces from now on.

pots over the fire


2012 garden winners

Autumn is here. I can tell because I’m spending more time stacking firewood than picking tomatoes. It’s time to cull the seed order for 2013 by picking winners to repeat, and losers (not many of those, really) to drop. Descriptions are from the Fedco Seed catalog, online 2012 version.

Winners include: Minutina

minutina Minutina (50 days) Open-pollinated. Also called Buckshorn Plantain. “Good in a buttered frying pan with fresh snipped chives and a fresh duck egg cracked on top,” informs Jan Sonstrom. Morse Pitts of Windfall Farm brought this spiky green to our attention. As it comes up it looks like little blades of grass. As it matures, it resembles mizuna leaves, only much narrower, less leafy and more succulent. Crunchy with a mild nutty flavor. Slow grower, will regenerate from cutting, but we recommend succession planting. Extremely cold hardy

I love this green – it provides texture, flavor and a lovely bright green accent to salads and stir fry and grew beautifully all summer through drought and torrential rain. I found it energetic enough to “cut and come again” with no problem.

Aromato Basil

aromatoAromato Basil OG Dramatic bicolor ornamental. Broad bushes of mottled purple and green grow to 2-1/2′, providing a focal point. Starts purple and takes on a greener coloration. Pleasing anisey flavor and scent intensify when it is dried. Makes a great herbal vinegar. AGRIOR-certified.

I don’t normally dry basil, preferring to freeze small containers of pesto to retrieve as a fabulous quick dinner on dark February days, but Aromato has convinced me to dry at least part of the harvest. This basil has such a spicy floral scent that I’m tempted to use it in the closets as a sachet. Oh, and it also makes wonderful dark and mysterious pesto.

Dakota black popcornDakota Black Popcorn OG (100 days) Open-pollinated. Outstanding in our observation plots two years in a row. Compact plants with one ear each. Our tasters rated the popcorn “Oh, so scrumptious.” In addition to their popping qualities, Dakota Black’s 4-1/2″ dark maroon-black ears with 15 rows are extremely decorative, a must for the fall roadside stand. 4′ stalks. ICS-certified.

The ears are still drying on the stalks so I can’t tell you how it tastes. It’s so beautiful that I don’t even care if we never pop any.

Blue Gold

Blue Gold or Peter Wilcox This goldie was our best seller at the Portland Farmer’s market, and an easy one to wholesale, too. The twin sister to Red Gold, and practically an early-season potato. Trialing it last year, we had great germination, a high yield, and delicious hash browns. You could dig it later too, as it stores durably. Sets tubers in a wide hill.
Wonderful taste, great texture, easy to dig and perfect skins – my new favorite potato. Harsh drought and high heat with no watering does not seem to have impacted the yield.
Dakota Black Popcorn OG (100 days) Open-pollinated. Outstanding in our observation plots two years in a row. Compact plants with one ear each. Our tasters rated the popcorn “Oh, so scrumptious.” In addition to their popping qualities, Dakota Black’s 4-1/2″ dark maroon-black ears with 15 rows are extremely decorative, a must for the fall roadside stand. 4′ stalks. ICS-certified.

Neglect as a gardening technique

I went away for a week and evidently the garden enjoys a bit of “alone time”. Almost everything in this picture is edible (except the giant spruce tree).

the view

The oregano hedge (like everything) has enjoyed the alternating rain and sun and nearly doubled in size in seven days.


Celery (which I use only for delicious celery seed because I never get around to blanching it), rose campion, and valerian; tall plants growing rampant at the back of the garden.

celery and rose campion

Briarseed bread poppies, each blossom opening and falling apart in a day but leaving plenty of seeds behind.

poppy seeds

Golden marguerite, mallow, Joe Pye weed, in a garden row for the bees.

golden marguerite

And finally, at the edge of the garden, a wall of angelica.


In the gloaming

I have a post nearly finished about Sunday’s hive inspection, but I was out in the garden tonight and it was so beautiful that I took dozens of photos. The combination of a wet spring (groundwater tables are finally above drought levels) and my 2012 resolution not to mow or weed-whack where it wasn’t absolutely necessary has produced a really lush environment, especially for Maine.

The valerian jungle hasn’t quite spread to the entire yard, but it’s a near thing.

valarian fields forever

This is a very photogenic patch of Fedco’s “Freedom” lettuce mix.


The view down the south hill, with newly clipped withy and a row of elecampne in front of the bog garden.

withy in the gloaming

Red oakleaf lettuce growing through garlic and chives.

garlic forest

The view out back, into the alpine garden.


New work

This summer I’m trying out new techniques and a change of vision, inspired by looking at the Masters up close and personal in Paris a few months back. There are matters of scale and structure that never translated very well for me from textbooks. Now I have a laundry list of issues and a garden full of still life material and just need a few more hours in the day.

Zinnias and Cherry Tomatoes

Zinnias and Cherry Tomatoes, 20″ x 16″, pastel on board