Archive for Garden Technique

Restarting The Kitchen Garden

I wish I could say that year-round gardening is the way of life here. But it has not been true for the last couple of years when several things have – ahem! – come in the way of winter gardening. So it’s spring, and I am planting!

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Lower Garden on March 23, 2014

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Growing Ginger In Virginia


Nothing could be simpler than growing ginger in Virginia.

It’s almost true.

Just dug baby ginger in the fall


Ginger is reasonably ornamental – a reed-like plant with clear green leaves. While it can be grown in the vegetable or herb garden, it is not out of place with ornamental plants – provided you can dig them out easily enough — without damaging bulbs or perennials. Don’t plant them with daffodils!

A small clump of ginger growing with other tropicals and annuals


So yes, it is tropical – but that not necessarily a reason not to grow it. We grow many other plants from the tropics and treat them like annuals. You can do the same with ginger.

I have grown it for years in my garden – small yield but it was mine! Ginger requires a long frost-free growing season — about one year for mature ginger, 8 months for baby ginger. That’s more than our climate allows… except that you can start ginger indoors. farmers do it in high tunnels (aka hoophouses). I start it my greenhouse, but a very sunny window or sun room will work. With a warm early start in late winter, appropriate temperatures at all times, abundant water, and judicious shade, you can grow ginger to a harvestable size. Read more

Late Fall Gardening

It’s amazing what a basic (read “scrounged”) cold frame or fleece (agricultural fabric) can do in extending the planting and harvesting season. The simple and inexpensive protection makes a huge difference by giving the plants a few more heat degrees and some wind protection.

Square beds house hardy veggies at various stages of growth with the help of agrofabric


Arugula, cutting celery (parcel), lettuce (lots of lollo rossa), dill and an underveloped holly savoy cabbage


Leeks. As they are harvested, I plant/transplant violas (edible), mustard and lettuce. I also just threw some mache seeds in there.

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February Garden Tasks

Dada! Indoor seed starting. Some hate it, I love it!
200 pepper seeded in late January, up-potted and looking rather good. Peppers take along time to grow: they need to be well established in the garden before summer heat parks itself over us. When it’s too hot, many drop their flowers and one harvests very little until temperatures moderate again in the fall. I plant a mixture of bells, cubanelle, Italian, a few chiles and some odd ones. And I start them early!

The 2 dozen eggplants are looking well and the 15 tomatoes (the ones started in January in hope of a early harvest) are already 3″ tall. This week-end, another 50 cells got seeded with more tomato varieties. In the greenhouse, celeriac and violas have been transplanted to individual cells, chard is germinating and leeks finally got seeded. Some kale seedlings were up-potted and left in the greenhouse – the remainder transplanted outside under agro-fabric.

Outside, I direct-seeded 3 kinds of peas on Sunday: 2 sugar snaps and one dwarf garden pea. I always soak the seeds for several hours until they plump before planting them. Read more

The Taste Of Green

I simply love this time of the year when the days are clear, the nights are cool, the maples are blooming, the buds are swelling on the trees, and so many green things – good to eat too – are poking out of the ground, or just starting to grow for real.


  • The acid green of sorrel. Lemony flavor in our salads and tart soups and sauces. Lovely with potatoes.


Growing Babies


Seven weeks old (seeded on January 25), and growing. Transplanted once already and soon again!

Those are my super early batch (The main batch was started on Feb22). They are a reliable tasty and prolific cherry tomato for me (Wetsel Red Cherry) and – cross our collective fingers – harvest should start in June. That’s the only reason really to start things so early: to really extend the harvest season.

On Spinach

A month ago, we were under 2 feet of snow with night temperatures in the single digits. This week we garden in short-sleeve shirts and harvest mache, baby lettuce, just-emerging sorrel, baby arugula, escarole and… spinach – lots and lots of spinach. Finally!


The spinach was not planted in the hoophouse but outside. Last spring we simply did not have enough spinach, not having planted any the prior fall. So this past fall, I did 2 separate sowings, a small one in September to give us some fall spinach, and three long rows in November. We covered the bed with wire hoops, and Reemay. The bed was buried under snow for several weeks, the hoops crushing in the process – they’ll have to be reshaped. Yes, the larger leaves of the spinach are somewhat tattered (but fine enough for the chicken who are happy enough for anything green), but the 2nd planting – much smaller plants – did very well and is starting to grow again. Happily so, too. With enough water, that should provide us with spinach through May. Maybe I’ll even have enough to freeze some later this spring. Read more

A Gross Of Tomatoes

It does roll good off the tongue, doesn’t it? or is it just me?… “a gross of tomatoes”…

Except of course, they are not yet tomato plants, just 144 seeded cells with the promise of 144 seedlings. Seeded on Februray 22 (although the labels read 2/21 because I meant to do it on the 21st but did not get to them until the 22nd, and then was too lazy to change the labels). Hard to look at that one flat and think that’s a potential of 144 tomato plants. Hard not to go and seed an other gross… it seems such a long time away until we can pick tomatoes. Especially when the wind is howling outside.


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Seed Starting Madness Starts

Seasonal madness has started. Seed starting madness that is. There is still snow on the ground – although slowly melting, but this is the time of the year to start seeds for earlier crops.

In late January (1/25), I started a few Red Cherry tomatoes, as well as 2 flats of peppers. Four weeks later, Wetsel Red Cherry (2009) has had excellent germination. With true leaves showing, most of the seedlings have been transplanted and moved to the greenhouse 10 days ago. I purposefully did not transplant a few seedlings because I need them to demonstrate transplanting techniques in my upcoming Seed Starting Workshop on Saturday Feb 27. Cherry tomatoes are the easiest thing to eat, freeze and dry. They are simply wonderful in winter green salads. Can’t have too many of them. Every year I start a few plants extra early so we can start eating garden-grown tomatoes in June.

Not surprisingly, the fresher pepper seeds are doing a lot better than the old ones:

Pepper Seedlings under light

Pepper Seedlings Under Light

The spicy hot peppers have had good germination. They are about to be moved to the greenhouse for transplanting in individual cells: Read more

Planning for Tomatoes

We may have two feet of snow on the ground, but the early tomato seedlings have germinated.

I do like to pick my first tomatoes in June, so I plant a few seedling in late January. They germinate in early February, and I keep up-potting them into bigger pots until it is time to plant them out. I will put a couple in a cold frame come April, and I may this year – space allowing – plant some in the hoophouse.

What are those super early babies? Wetsel Red Cherry. I love cherry tomatoes for salad, fresh salsa (especially mixed with other veggies or fruit like this Grilled Peach Salsa) and for drying. Dry cherry tomatoes are simply wonderful tossed in a green winter salad – a burst of sweet-acid tomato taste. Of course, it’s also easy to freeze bagfuls of fresh cherry tomatoes.

Cherry tomato start to produce earlier than the big ones, and by starting them in January, and keeping them happy (that’s the key), I will have tomato in June. My earliest is June 14, and that was prior to the hoophouse. Can I beat that?


So can’t say I am “dreaming” of tomatoes – after all I am consuming plenty in the form of soup, sauce, paste, confit etc from last summer canning. But I am certainly planning my tomato crop. This year I am getting more of the non-red tomatoes, and I am planting more of the canning tomatoes too. That is, those tomatoes that were bred for little pulp so that they would not give off too much liquid. They are also called paste tomatoes, processing tomatoes or sometime Italian tomatoes.

Last year I had three different paste cultivars: Amish Paste (at noon in the picture – new to me then), Roma (at 4:00) & San Marzano Sel el Redorte (at 8:00). Amish Paste is very meaty and some were longer than my hand (it was a dry summer and I don’t water that much so the specimens below were not that large). Great for sauce and paste. Roma, which I decided to try again – was fine for crushed tomatoes. San Marzano was good also for sauce and paste, to can whole and to make tomato confit – and Tomato Tatin.


Those, as well as the slicing tomatoes and more cherry, I will be starting from late February through mid-March. Trying to time the determinate paste tomato harvest for September, you know… so the ambient temperature is a little more conducive to canning.

What are your tomato plans this year? Any you can’t do without? and why?

PS: the first pepper seedlings have been emerging over the last few days. Hot pepperts up first, followed by Round of Hungary. Still waiting for the bell and Italian…