2013

3 Gardening Resolutions for 2014

We started out with about 8 resolutions for the upcoming garden season, and pared them down to three.
‘Be more organized’ and ‘keep better records’ have had enough time on the list already, either that will happen or it won’t.

‘Buy less seeds’- forgetaboutit.

Some other ridiculous expectations got scratched as well.
Let’s be serious.
After all, this is gardening- if it ain’t going to be fun, then it is a chore.

peas in the home garden

More of this.

So instead, and without further eloquence, we will:

1. Try not to expand, again.

They say when you are changing a behavior, you should never use the word ‘try’, it is weak and you should be more assertive.
Like we will not expand the garden.
But seriously, that is just dooming oneself to certain failure.

This year, though, we are looking at simplifying in certain ways; so rather than expand out like we have been, we are going to give in a bit and grow more vertically.
That will be a little easier physically, and involve less time as well.

More of these.

More of these.

2. Garden with more perennials.

With some additional fruit trees, canes and brambles, we can assure ourselves and our family of a year’s supply of fruit; that is if we use more of the space in the roadside garden previously taken by annual edibles.
Last year we doubled our horseradish barrels, increased our rhubarb plants, and added an expanded area for walking onions.
We also added an additional sunchokes bed, somewhat by accident.
Hey, perhaps it was meant to be.

This year we want to incorporate some additional items, including Lovage, French Sorrel, Good King Henry- a plant related to spinach but eaten more like asparagus, Sea Kale and Ramps.
We are also looking into more pots of herbs.
The more the garden can grow itself, the better.

oriental lily

Yeah, let’s bring these back this year.

3. Add more flowers.

It was just a few years ago that most of our flower beds were lost during construction.
Now we have a wonderful front porch instead, but its time to take another look at building areas to feed the soul.

Years ago my Dad made a chart of what to plant, here in Zone 5/6, for a continual bloom spring to fall.
Surely that would work in many nearby zones as well.
That’s the kind of thing we post on the website, and we’ll get that up asap.

So that’s not too bad as far as resolutions go.
What are yours?

To all of you, here’s to a
Healthy- in both mind and body,
Wealthy- in love, happiness and a bountiful harvest,
and Wise- in mind and spirit, 2014!

~ the Jones

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Categories: gardening, special posts

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How to Grow Ginger – The Conclusion & New Beginning

A bit of store-bought organic ginger was planted last Feb 1st.
You can read how we did it here and follow the progress here.
This is the result:

Older roots to the left.

Older roots to the left.

From this experiment we learned:

Ginger prefers to be neglected.
In the beginning, keep your ginger just moist, not wet. Other gardeners have told me their ginger pieces rotted, so watch out for that.
We found our larger piece did better, our smaller ones did rot also. So in this case, bigger is better.

We also saw the difference between what we grew and what we bought.
Fresh, young ginger roots have barely any peel on them at all. The ones from the store have a much heavier coat. Even with what we grew, you could see the difference as the larger and most likely older pieces had more of a peel on them.

Because the ginger you pick yourself is younger, it is less woody or fibrous. Just don’t let it grow too long and you are good.
We waited 11 months, which is a little more than what is recommended. Our ginger had to take moving to the outdoors in the spring, then back inside in the fall, so we cut it some slack.

Soon to be a comparison planting.

Store bought vs. homegrown.

Of course the taste difference is undeniable, as is the case with almost anything you grow yourself. In order to get that nice pink color from pickled ginger, you need young roots, so unless you have access to an Asian market, growing it yourself is the only way to get that.

Pickling.

Pickling.

We’re trying another experiment, this one based on adding bone meal and blood meal to the soil, and occasionally watering with a little fish emulsion- to see if we can grow the 2014 ginger batch even better.

There will also be a comparison of store-bought to homegrown root starts, just to see if there is a difference and well honestly, because now we can.

Let the experiment begin.

Let the experiment begin.

Pickled Ginger:
Peel then thinly slice young ginger roots.
Salt and let stand for 20 minutes.
Rinse, drain, pat dry.

Dissolve 1/3 cup sugar in 1 cup rice wine vinegar by boiling.
Pour over ginger.
Better the longer it sits, at least 1 week suggested.

Categories: ginger, turmeric

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3 Ways to Save on Energy Fees in 2014

Happy little ones.

Happy little ones.

This blog is foremost about gardening; but the less money you spend in other areas, the more you will have to put into the garden.
That’s my logic, and I’m sticking with it. :-)

So there are many simple things you can do to bring your energy bills down by cutting usage.

1. Sunlight is Free

It never ceases to amaze me when I see new homes with windows elaborately covered in drapes, and lights on all over the room.
Nature’s gift of sunlight can help in so many ways.

By opening those drapes you not only cut down on the use of light bulbs, it can lower your need for heat. Cover the windows as the sun goes down to likewise conserve the warmth.
If you use A/C in the summer, do the opposite.

Of course, if you have older windows the drapes may be more effective on saving energy in the long run. Consider adding to that by using bubble wrap, moistened and stuck to the glass, to keep the heat indoors.

A sunny window can also cut down on the light source needed when starting seeds.
See, this is a gardening post after all.

We turn our overhead seed starting lights off when there is good sun coming through the window, then back on when it is not enough.
When we compared our bills from this and full overhead lights only, supplementing with sunlight saved us a fair amount.
And the plants didn’t seem to notice.

We also start our seedlings near a heat source, rather than pay to heat another area.
Win-win.

Send that heat back down.

Send that heat back down.

2. Remember Heat Rises

If you have ceiling fans, set them to blow downward in the winter months. This will draw the heat down from the ceiling and back to where you need it.

Be sure to insulate the flooring for second and third floors and attics.
My grandparents and many of that generation used old newspapers under rugs as insulation on the upper floors. They lived ‘green’ and ‘upcycled’ long before there were terms for it.
Likewise, take advantage of the cooler areas of your home and even the outdoors if you can. We built a Green Closet in our laundry room, saving energy by letting the cold temperatures from outdoors in to keep our cool loving veggies happy all winter.

Timing is everything

Timing is everything.

3. Live Simpler

Things that heat up are the main energy users, but electronics left on also add up fast.

You can simplify energy use for making food by using a toaster oven, microwave and/or crock pot, if they are available to you.
Avoid heating a full oven for just a small amount. Consider making more than one meal, and freezing some that you can just nuke another time. When you do use your oven, take advantage of the heat lost through the vent burner by simmering a dish on it or heating up a kettle for tea or cocoa.

Think about a clothesline if you can have one where you live, or even just a clothes ‘rack’ placed in your bathtub. When you do use a regular dryer, gently shake your washed items before placing inside. By loosening them up a bit, they dry faster and that uses less energy.
Also, wash on cold.
Pretty much all the time.

A real energy saver is to place a timer on your water heater. These wonderful little devices give you the opportunity to decide when you will need hot water the most. They are inexpensive and pay for themselves in a short period of time.
You are most likely bathing at the same time each day already.

You can also save some money by turning your electronics off when not in use. A small investment in a power strip can not only help prevent power surge damage to your electronic devices, it can make it easy for you to cut their power when they will not be in use.

Well, that’s it for now.
With all that saved money I can go ahead and place a seed order.
Or two. :-)

Categories: living green, preparedness, saving money & time

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Dear Santa: What I Want to Give for Christmas

Christmas

There have been years when one child’s main Christmas gift request was more than our entire holiday budget, lean as it was.

There have also been times when there WAS no budget to be had.
When visiting family and sharing gifts meant giving up a week’s groceries.

Oddly enough in retrospect, those really were the times we remember the most fondly. The times we learned what Christmas really means.

“Oh sure G. J., you can say that now… now when you are comfortable.”

Oh, make no assumptions my friends.

Christmas

Our first Christmas together we could not afford a tree or decorations. I made snowflakes from construction paper and hung them around the apartment.
I also discovered I was pregnant with our first child.
What was the best gift that year?
Yeah.

Then there’s the tale of the Christmas we bought a pair of jeans for our older daughter from Salvation Army for 50 cents. That’s how tight the budget was.
It ended up being her favorite gift- because the jeans were covered with zipper pockets that had unexpectedly held a quarter in each one.
She has always been lucky that way.

But my favorite story was a little different.
It wasn’t long that we were married and assuredly quite without funds. I would babysit for my husband’s boss and his wife, to earn a few extra bucks.
She invited me to go Christmas shopping with her.

To be honest, I was embarrassed.
I only had $25 total to spend, and that was stretching it.
And so we went and it was fun… though difficult when you have little money and everyone is trying to sell you something.
I did make a few meager purchases and when we were done- I had $35 in my wallet.

“How could this be?” I wondered.
I tried to retrace my steps to see who had given me the wrong change.
I really wanted to set things right.

“Don’t worry about it” she said. But I could not help feel I must fix this, I would not want it to come out of someone’s paycheck.

Finally she said it was time to leave, and so we did.
Mystery unsolved.

Christmas

In my early 20′s, I was so naive, and for many years later I did not realize what had taken place.
It was not too long ago I was telling our, now adult, kids this story when Mandolin said:
“She put that money into your wallet, don’t you see that? Did she have access to your wallet? She gave you that money.”
And so he is right, and I never knew the act of kindness that she bestowed upon me that Christmas season.

As I sit here this Christmas Eve and think back on the old days, I can’t help but wonder where did asking a child “What do you want for Christmas?” come from.

I wonder if we are doing them a disservice by asking that, and perhaps instead, should be posing the question:
“What do you want to give for Christmas?”

So herein begins a new tradition I can have with my grandson, as he gets older we will plan a ‘giving’ holiday together.

If nothing else for my benefactor so many years ago.
Her name?
It was Mary.

Categories: Keeping up with the Joneses, special posts

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An Edible Garden – Evolution to Revolution pt. 3

Previously:
1997-1998
1999-2000

GARDEN 2001

It was four years after we moved to this house that the front, roadside garden really began.

This area is a knoll, mostly covered in weeds and gravel, that is at the center of the half-circle driveway.
Because it was already a bit higher level, it warms up faster. It also gets more sun, so was the perfect area to grow.
As big as it is, it did not take long for us to fill it with plants.

We used the fencing not only to keep the deer out, but to grow vertically as much as we could.

The back garden, compressed.

The back garden, compressed.

We still used the back garden, but over time the trees were growing tall and reducing the amount of sun this area received.

2002

2002

In 2002 we tried expanding sideways, along side the house and towards the front.
As much as I did not want to admit it, it was becoming too much garden for the amount of time we could put into it.

2003

2003

The back garden had one last hurrah in 2003.
The two older kids were not home as often at this point, so we didn’t need quite as much food.

We focused on variety rather than quantity that year, learning to grow more of what we prefer to eat.
The time was coming to stop expanding, and start gardening smarter.

Stopping the expansion.

Cutting back.

And so it was in 2004 that we gave up the back garden.

We added a few dwarf fruit trees out front, some raspberry canes, and moved the strawberries to their new home.

The intention was to keep things simple from now on.
Guess how long that lasted.

Categories: Addiction, gardening

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8 New Plants for the Jones’ 2014 Garden

Ready to go.

Ready to go.

Many gardeners have already either ordered their seeds for the upcoming year, or at least made tentative plans.

Although we are still in the planning stage, there are a few things we expect know we will be adding in this year:

1. Sugar beets
Concerns about our food supply combined with our efforts to be more self-sufficient have led us to look at growing sugar. White sugar beets have a higher sugar content than regular red beets, and can be dried and ground into a powdered sweetener.
This should be interesting fun fun fun!

2. Tomatillos
Our daughter in law and son gave us some of the abundant crop of these green beauties last summer, and we were hooked. The salsa verde that resulted is both a treat to the eyes as well as a wonderful topping to many dishes.
Now we want need more from our own garden.

3. Salsify
Scorzonera, or ‘black salsify, is a delightful root veggie that we have grown in the past, but we have never planted salsify.
We’re thinking a side-by-side taste comparison would be a great way to find the difference between the two a neat way to spend an afternoon in the kitchen.

Prepping for 2014

Prepping for 2014.

4. Parsley root
Up until a few weeks ago, we didn’t even know this existed.
Just think of the possibilities of a parsley-flavored root veggie.
This time next year we are looking forward to trying a recipe few lot of recipes out.
Mmmm.

5. Bitter melon
This is a veggie we had heard of, but never grew. The bitterness is mild and lends itself well to oriental dishes, which we love eat almost daily.
Do we see a ‘fun in the kitchen’ theme here?

6. ‘Lunchbox’ sweet peppers
The plan here is to stuff these as they ripen and toss in the freezer for a quick winter snack or side dish.
No need to blanch, how easy is that?
If the crop is really abundant, we might absolutely will try some pickled as well.
If it is good enough for Peter Piper, hey, it works for us too.

7. Strawberry spinach
This unusual veggie caught our attention in Baker Creek’s seed catalog.
If your spinach is going to bolt anyway, it may as well produce bright red edible berries.
The catalog describes the flavor as bland, but we’re thinking it should would be a delight conversation piece in a tossed salad.

8. Amaranth
Technically, this is not new to our garden as we did grow both yellow and red a number of years ago.
Unfortunately, we didn’t know you can eat the grain it produces.
We just tasted that recently and it had wonderful flavor, not to mention lovely on the plate.
It is considered a highly nutritious ‘pseudo-grain’ and will be a good one to grow for our health another food we can play with in the kitchen.

Is it ever enough?

Is it ever enough?

Of course we may very well end up with other veggies we haven’t planned on, as there is always something new out there to find.
And isn’t that just a part of the wonderful hobby habit called Gardening?

Categories: gardening, jonesen'

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11 Things to Look For on a Seed Packet

NOTE: This was originally posted on 8/26/12. Many of you are new to the site since then, and now many are also preparing your seed packet orders for 2014; so we wanted to share this again.
Check out your packets. How many of these can you find?
Happy Gardening!
~GJ

A good seed packet should give you much of the info you need to know to grow that plant.
Unfortunately, they all don’t.

Here’s what to look for, and why:

1. Days to Germination: A pea can sprout in just a few days, broccoli raab can take as long as three weeks. Many a gardener, having assumed there was a problem, has replanted a row of a veggie that is slower to germinate only to find the first seeds planted start sprouting very soon after.
Been there, over-planted that.

2. Days to Maturity:This one is a little tricky. First, for plants that should be started indoors, not all seed packets will tell you that the Days to Maturity are from transplanting outside. Second, when is a plant mature? Is that when it begins to bear fruit or when it’s ready to harvest. Some seed packets specify Days to Harvest instead.
This is very important if you are timing your plants so they get some frost, if you have a short growing season, and if you are succession planting (planning on a second crop in the same place).

seed growing information

on the front or on the back

3. Packed For or Sell By Date: Seeds will loose their rate of germination and their viability over time. We always keep leftover seeds for the following season, and some for a few years. We also purchase ‘end of season’ seeds at a reduced rate. If you packet isn’t dated when you receive it, just make a note of it yourself. It’s easier than trying to remember.

4. How to Plant: Every seed packet we have ever seen has growing information, the only exception being the sale items mentioned above. You should find what depth to sow the seed, plant and row spacing, how much sun/shade is needed, etc. Some companies even give you little tips, such as soaking the seed prior to planting. Don’t you just love that stuff?

seed descriptions are fun

smiley face

5. How to Harvest: Much less common, helpful hints on harvesting is wonderful info to find on a seed packet. Sure, everyone knows when a tomato is ripe, but how do you know when and how to pick an eggplant?
Well, okay, you can find out here; but it’s great when it’s right there on the seed packet.

6. How to Use: Less important but wonderful to find are suggestions for eating what you grow. Did you know you can throw lettuce thinnings in salads and eat the leaves of beets? Sometimes you’ll read that right on the seed packet.

7. Diseases and Pests to watch out for: You’ll be more likely to find this information in a seed catalog or on a website, but occasionally it will show up on a seed packet. It’s usually in the description of the vegetable, such as ‘drought tolerant’ or ‘late blight resistant’. Whatever battle you fight in your garden, it helps to be armed with the right seed.

8. Personality: Okay, so this one isn’t essential, but does serve a purpose. A description of the ‘personality’ of your veggie, such as tangy, sweet, versatile, attractive, as well as probably the most common- delicious- can help not only get you psyched to plant, but also make the experience more fun.

9. A Pic: Personally, we prefer a picture of the vegetable growing to a beautiful display of a great harvest in a lovely setting. The first time we saw a kohlrabi in its natural habitat we were quite surprised.

botanical names of seeds

good to know

10. The Botanical Name: This one is becoming more rare over time. Having the botanical name of a veggie, even if you can’t use it in a conversation :-) helps you to know which veggies you can and cannot rotate and which ones share disease and predators. It also can help you when you are trying to prevent cross-pollination for seed saving. All that in two italicized words? Really really.

11. Plant Specs: Is it a bush or a vine? How tall will it get, does it need a support? This information should be made available to you right on the packet. Did you know a watermelon vine can easily grow over 6 feet in any direction? Better to find out before the seed touches the soil.

Of course you can read all these things online and in seed catalogs. Johnny’s Seeds not only have great products and customer service, their catalog is like a how-to manual for growing.
Keep your own notes, ask questions, and even save the seed packets that have the best information.
After a while, it will all be in your head anyway.

botanical gnome

reminders help

Well, maybe not those italicized words.

Categories: all about seeds, How to Grow

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Wonderful Homemade Knish

Serve with a dollop of sour cream.

Served with a dollop of sour cream.

Most every culture has some kind of filled dumpling recipe.
The Polish serve Pierogies, while the Italian Ravioli. Chinese have numerous and varied recipes from potstickers to things we cannot begin to pronounce correctly.
Do a search on the internet and you will find an abundance of recipes to choose from.

Although we had heard of them for many years, it was only recently that we found knishes for sale at the local market.

Cool, a new food- We’re game.

It was somewhat disappointing though.
The dough was heavy; the knish fried, then cooled, then reheated; the filling bland.
But then, isn’t pretty much any manufactured version of a good recipe usually not as flavorful as it is supposed to be?

So I set about reading up on recipes, and feeling somewhat overwhelmed, decided to just try my own.
Most dough-filled dumplings can be fried, baked or boiled.
The kitchen is cool this time of year, so baked it will be.

The fillings usually center around precooked meat, potatoes or cabbage, and possibly veggies. Pretty broad.

We had some leftover mashed potatoes with turnips and rutabagas in the fridge, along with leftover imitation spicy sausage and homemade fermented sauerkraut.
Perfect.
We mixed it all together, adding a raw egg to help bind them.

Baking is something I have been doing since childhood, and professionally at our restaurant.
For us, the filling was a given- it was the dough that mattered.

We wanted a dough that would compliment the filling rather than overwhelm it.

Corn meal appearance, but able to form a ball.

Corn meal appearance, but able to form a ball.

So here’s what happened:

In a food processor, we added
2 oz. butter
3 oz. hard cheese, we used swiss
3 Tablespoons ricotta cheese
3 Tablespoons Kefir (or yogurt or sour cream)

Pulse this until it looks like cornmeal. You can also do it by hand with a pastry knife or two butter knives.
Slowly add enough flour to form a dough, in this case it was 2 cups. Like many recipes, how much flour to liquid ratio depends on your elevation and on the humidity.

Also keep in mind the less you work the dough, the better the texture will be.

Roll the dough as thin as you can on a floured board.
Fill with your choice of filling, pinch closed using an egg wash, or leave open at the top.
I was concerned the dough might melt some, having never made one with so much cheese in it, so used muffin tins. Turns out the dough held up just fine, so this really wasn’t necessary.
Bake at 350 until brown, about 15 minutes.

Ready for the oven.

Ready for the oven.

We did ours as an open dumpling, but you can also fold the dough over to cover the filling completely.

Forget what everyone told you growing up-
playing with your food is a very Good thing.

Categories: Recipes, you are what you eat

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How to Grow Tarragon

tarragon

Tarragon is one of the less frequently used herbs in the Jones’ kitchen, but still worth growing for anyone who has the space.

Although there are many varieties, the most common are French and Russian.
The French variety has a stronger, longer lasting flavor and is considered to be better for cooking.
The flavor is similar to anise seed and is most commonly used in chicken, fish and egg dishes or in bread stuffing.
We also like it with mushrooms.
If you have ever had Bearnaise Sauce, you have had tarragon.

To grow the French variety, you should start with a plant, as it cannot be grown from seed. Over time you can share with friends by dividing the plant at the root.

Russian tarragon

If you want to grow tarragon from seed, try the Russian tarragon. It also does have a wonderful flavor.
Because it loses its flavor over time, it is best stored frozen or as a flavored vinegar.

You can store either variety this way, which also makes a wonderful gift from your garden.

NOTE: After some discussion on Facebook, I would like to add that tarragon can take being neglected much better than over-watering.
My botany teacher used to always say “Plants love to get their faces washed, but they hate to get their feet wet.”
A good statement to remember.

Botanical name: Artemisia dracunculus
Height: 3 ft.
Hardiness: Perennial.
Growth habit: Depends on variety- French Tarragon must be propagated by root division, Russian tarragon can be started indoors from seed.
Storing: Dried, Frozen, or hold Fresh in Vinegar.

Categories: herbs, How to Grow

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5 Plants You Can Easily Grow Indoors

Fresh salad all winter.

Fresh salad all winter.

You don’t need a hydroponic growing system to have fresh homegrown food even as the snow falls.

Some vegetables need less light than others, some do not need to be pollinated, and others don’t need the heat of summer.

1. Greens
Pretty versatile and undemanding, greens are easy to grow indoors and do not require much space or light. Since they are a ‘cut and come again’ crop, you can harvest what you need all winter long.

2. Herbs
A kitchen window sill is a common place to find a few herbs growing. Since many grow like weeds, they are tough enough to have indoors.
Basil may be a little finicky, but others herbs like parsley are easy to have fresh all winter. Note that although dill can grow indoors, it can get pretty tall. Be sure to keep it pinched back for a more compact, bushier plant.

3. Radishes

Add a few radishes.

Add a few radishes.

Talk about fast and easy and radishes come straight to mind. The more compact varieties need very little room, and can be ready to enjoy in just a few weeks.

4. Garlic

You can tuck a few garlic cloves in with your houseplants and use the tops for a fresh garlic taste throughout the off season. Keep them moist until they sprout, then just harvest the tops sparingly as they grow.

5. Peas

As another cool-weather crop, peas don’t need long warm days to grow. They pollinate themselves, so that is also not an issue.
Vining or pole type peas, as many varieties are, can be problematic indoors. Unless of course you have room for an 8 ft. tall plant.

Instead choose a bush variety, or as is the case with this cultivar from Agway, a pole type that only gets to be about 3 ft. high.

The final touch.

The final touch.

These are just a few of the plants that you can grow indoors because they do not need to be pollinated and require less light and heat.
Take a look at any seed catalog for more ideas, depending on how much room and time you have to dedicate to an indoor garden.

Now I must admit that other than the garlic greens, we have gotten away from growing indoors over the last few years.
Not for any particular reason.

After writing this post by request, our interest has been renewed.

So all we need to do is head out to the shed for a few planters and potting soil and we’ll be good to go.

After we put on our snow boots, that is.

snow 2013

Categories: extending the season, gardening, How to Grow

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Everything here is original (unless otherwise noted) and has legal copyright 2014 by Gardening Jones (tm), and cannot be re-posted or reproduced without permission. Any re-posting of information, photographs, and/or recipes is considered theft and subject to prosecution.

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