This year we turned this

Into this.

Completed field with crop rows.
Completed field with crop rows.

And helped to decrease the carbon footprint just a little bit.

But it was a heck of a lot of work!
More than we had anticipated when we started. It was not something we really wanted to do but the trees that the previous owner had planted were dead and lots of dead trees are a hazard. I was constantly afraid that a lightening strike would ignite them and burn the whole darn forest area down.
So they had to go.

The trees had been originally planted as an attempt at a Christmas tree farm. It would have been fine if the trees had been looked after, pruned and thinned, but they were planted then totally ignored. The result was a lot of trees with trunks anywhere from 6 to 10 inches in diameter and up to 30 feet tall, but growing about three feet apart! Its no wonder the poor things died off. We knew quite a few were dead when we bought the farm but its hard to estimate just how many when you cant walk between the trees. Which as you can see was impossible due to all the dead lower branches.

Dead standing trees. A fire hazard and impossible to walk between due to all the low dead branches.
Dead standing trees. A fire hazard and impossible to walk between due to all the low dead branches.

Then Hurricane Sandy came along and took quite a lot of the dead ones down. We had two rows of them totally collapse, but these had been planted between several rows of white pine (who uses white pine as a Christmas tree?). these poor things were totally shaded by the much larger white pines and had all died. Sandy just flattened the whole lot. Taking those out was easy we just had to drag them away and clean up the area. Cant plant anything there because of all the white pines surrounding it but it makes a nice storage space.

This other area had several trees come down in the hurricane but a lot were still up or half down hanging on those that were down. It was a total mess. There were also a few living trees still struggling there but those were not in good shape either. They were all mostly dead with just a few little fluffy green branches on the top of a 30 foot tree. These were not exactly helping to negate the greenhouse gases so planting something more productive and more CO2 absorbing was desirable.

Many trees had fallen during Hurricane Sandy and several winter storms.
Many trees had fallen during Hurricane Sandy and several winter storms.

The problem was that the job looked a lot smaller when you cant see through all the dead and down trees and cant exactly figure out how many trees you have to deal with. The only thing to do is start at one end and work your way through it.
So that is what we did. Out with the chain saw and get cutting, and cutting and cutting. The more we cut down, or cut up with the large downed trees that were blocking the area, the more dead trees we found. The small area we thought we were clearing turned out to be a bit larger with a lot more trees on it that we had expected.

Cutting down the dead trees with chain saw

Cutting down the dead trees with chain saw

The good thing was since a lot of the trees were dead dragging them around out of the way of the next work area was not too hard. So that is how we worked. Hubby on the chain saw and me dragging the trees, and taking the photos (hence no photos or me). Some trees were too heavy for me to drag and the largest ones we had to cut into pieces. Some of the trunks were large enough to put aside and hopefully find a different project to use them in. This part took a long time. Cutting down trees is pretty fast but dragging them clear is hard work and very time consuming.

Dragging the downed trees out of the work area.
Dragging the downed trees out of the work area.

Once the trees were all down, we hired a chipper and spent the weekend dragging them over and chipping them up. Dragging all the trees to the chipper was a monumental task and certainly gives you a workout. However it’s a pretty satisfying feeling to drag a tree over to that machine and watch it eat it up and spit out a lot of useful chips. Our chip pile grew to about 9 feet tall and 16 feet across. Wood chips have a lot of great uses on the farm for the most part I use them in the aisles between the crop rows to keep the soil protected and stop moisture loss and erosion but they have lots of other uses too.

Chipping up the trees to make useful woodchips.
Chipping up the trees to make useful woodchips.

Now these kind of balsam fir trees are VERY messy, they drop all kinds of little branches and bits of twig, even the live ones are messy. So the ground was covered with a couple of inches at least of little twigs, bits of branch and all kinds of other junk. That had to be raked up and removed. If we left it and ploughed it in the bacteria would love it but it would suck all the nitrogen out of the soil and any crop we planted would fail.
This task fell to me. It took me two weeks going out every day that the weather was good enough, raking and barrowing the frass out of the way. I thought the job would never end, and its not one I would choose to repeat.

Twigs and other mess left after the main clearing is completed.
Twigs and other mess left after the main clearing is completed.

Once it was finally completed I went out and marked all the tree stumps. When I counted them up we had 117! That’s a lot of darn trees!

Cleared area with tree stumps marked all 117 of them.
Cleared area with tree stumps marked all 117 of them.

We hired a guy to come in with a backhoe and dig out the stumps for us. He was delighted to do it and Hubby stood and salivated over the machine. Yes I know he wants one but they are pretty expensive.

The guy was very helpful and moved all the stumps to one side out of the area we had designated as a field before he left. However the cleared area was all rutted and a total mess, not suitable in that state for planting. We had to get our little tractor out and plough and flatten the area for many hours before it was in any shape to consider being called a field. The final flattening and leveling had to be done by hand with rakes. Fortunately we had help with that but it took a whole weekend of moving soil before I was happy with it.

The backhoe and some of the stumps that were removed. The field in a rutted mess now.
The backhoe and some of the stumps that were removed. The field in a rutted mess now.

Once that was done we had to measure it and figure out the spacing of the rows that we wanted to put in. We used string to show where the rows would go. Then it was compost moving time.
Our soil is sandy loam, its not particularly rich and has almost no organic material in it at all. This area which had had these trees on it most likely for about 20 years was going to be in very poor shape. So we knew we had to load it up with compost.

We buy mushroom compost by the truckload. We are fortunate to be relatively close to the Pennsylvania mushroom farms so a truckload of organic compost is not as costly as it would be elsewhere. Like everything if you buy in bulk it costs less. We had a truckload delivered but then we had to get it from the drop spot to the field. That meant manual labor. We had to dig it out of the pile, put it in our cart and drive it to the field, drop it on the row. Then repeat, and repeat and repeat. We hired help for this job. A lovely young women who was only too delighted to come shovel heavy compost. It was still several days work to get sufficient compost to the rows as I wanted a much higher amount in this new field than we use in our other fields since it was a first time around. We put compost only on the areas of the rows not in the aisles as this would have been a waste of compost and it increases the no till aspect of the farm. This is a method we have been using for years but is now being widely acknowledged as a more efficient method of farming.

Once the compost was in place it was rototilled in, then rows were shaped by hand using a rake to ensure they were exactly where we wanted them.
After that is was just a matter of adding the drip irrigation tape to each row and covering it with plastic mulch. We have found this essential for our soil type. The sandy soil does not hold water very well if left uncovered, plus its so fine that it will blow away in the wind. So the mulch ensures that the moisture says near the plant and the soil is protected.

Row preparation. The far row already has white mulch applied. The next rows have their drip tape and all have been rototilled.
Row preparation. The far row already has white mulch applied. The next rows have their drip tape and all have been rototilled.

We also use ground cover fabric between the rows to keep the soil covered and prevent erosion. This is where the wood chips come in. They get spread over the aisles before the ground cover goes down. This helps protect the soil and keeps it more moist, plus it fills in any holes and makes the aisle flatter and thus easier and safer to walk on.

With so much work required the field was not completed until mid way through the summer so a lot of the plants went in far later than I would have liked. We had underestimated just how large the task was and how much time it was going to take us to complete. But all the plants thrived and the field is doing wonderfully as you can see from our final photo which was taken in late September. Its year one so many of the plants are still small but they all survived even though they got transplanted late. The row in the foreground has already been harvested as have a couple in the center. Those wonderful yellow flowers in the background are part of our Hibiscus manihot row and as you can see the giant flowers are visible all the way across the field. I love this plant.

Completed field with crop rows.
Completed field with crop rows.

But the field is not finished. Right from the beginning we had decided to put our new production greenhouse on the first four rows of the field. That’s the four in the foreground. Hence the importance of making sure the field was flat and level. As you can see the greenhouse is not there yet. That project was not completed until the beginning of December, but that is story for another day.

So it’s been a busy year!

Showers And Thunderstorms Are Great Planting Weather.

So was memorial day weekend.

The problem with farm work is that it has its own timetable and it does not care about weekends or holidays. Spring is a very important time to get all the plants in the ground so they can get growing and flourishing. Memorial day weekend and other holidays often does not exist for farmers its too busy a time especially in the spring and the fall when there is so much to do.
For most people in the North eastern United state memorial day weather probably sucked, this past weekend was not that great either if you want to hang in the great outdoors. Memorial day weekend it was cool cloudy and rained a lot. Saturday night into Sunday we got nearly three inches of rain! It rained quite a bit on Sunday morning and then light rain for most of the rest of the day.
Perfect weather for planting. – at least on our soil.
When the heavy rain was over we were outside and hard at work. Our seedlings get transplanted into their own individual pots and grown on then planted in the ground as soon as we can. Cloudy days are perfect since it allows the plants to get acclimatized to their new surrounding without being blasted by hot sunshine.
We first cover or permanent beds with black/white plastic mulch. This keeps the weeds down and keeps the soil most and stops erosion. It also helps to keep down any soil borne problems from splashing on the plants. We put ours down by hand since our rows are too close together to use a bed forming machine. We use every inch of space we have since we don’t have a huge farm.

All the little plants have been transplanted to their new homes.
All the little plants have been transplanted to their new homes.

Then we have to hand punch the plastic and plant the plant. Memorial Day weekend was just the two of us, no one else wanted to miss their weekend even if the weather was not great. So hubby did the plastic replacement and I put the plants in. We replaced the plastic on all to-be-planted rows in one of our fields and got as many plants in the ground as possible. That was just under 700 plants! That’s only part of the planting there is a lot more to do yet.
This past weekend was a little different. Its put in plants until it rains so hard that you have to run for shelter. Then hang out in the hoop house which is the closest shelter we have. Oh and while we are there lets pull some weeds out of the pots in here too shall we. Then when the rain goes over its back out and more planting. Its not cold so the rain is not a bother and it really waters in the little plants.

It gets you in the back and the legs since its all bending over, but the weather was great. Sorry if others don’t think so but there are some people who do like cloudy and rainy weather. The plants certainly do. Just look at your lawn bet that growing tall and fast.


We have hardy kiwi vines. A whole row of them. Now its time for them to flower. When in bloom they look magnificent totally festooned with flowers and the scent is intoxicating.
There is just one problem

We don’t have any male vines!

When we put in the row I purchased two females and one male. We put them in, marked which was which and watched them grow. I pruned them and waited for them to flower. That takes three years at least from planting.
Ours took five years because the frost hit them the first two and killed all the flowers off.
Next year they bloomed wonderfully and we were delighted. Then sad since we got no fruit.
Next year I looked more closely at the flowers when they arrived and discovered to my horror that we had all females! The idiot who sold us the vines (who will remain nameless) sold us all females NOT a male.

It was too late to order males for that year but they went in the ground first thing the next spring. The trouble is they will take three years to flower too. We had already waited six years with no fruit now we had to wait another three!
This really sucked.
Then I attended a session on hardy kiwis at a farm conference and the speaker told us that you could buy male kiwi pollen! Wonderful. It’s not at all cheap, which is no surprise but you can get it. So we bought some pollen.

kiwi_flowersThen I had to go out and pollinate all the flowers by hand.
So for two days I was the bee. Armed with a little bottle of pollen on a strap around my neck and a paint brush I painstakingly worked my way up the row of vines trying to pollinate as many of the hundreds and hundreds of flowers that I could.
It really makes you appreciate bees after a day pretending to be one.

The really sad thing was that in the whole time I was working on the vines I saw only two bees. One bumble bee and one honey bee. I hope it was from my hive it was so fat with female pollen from the vines it could hardly fly. But it never brought its buddies back to reap the harvest. I have no idea where my bees are going but they are not working my field this year. There were no native bees, and no bumble bees. These all got devastated by a neighboring farmer in the last couple of years when they insist on spraying those toxic chemicals that kill all the insects good and bad. This killed off the large populations of pollinators that we had so carefully encouraged and cultivated on our farm.
So the really sad thing is that even if we had had male vines we would have had no fruit without me because there are no bees to pollinate them

There are a number of vegetables farms around us and they must all be having the same problem. No bees so fruits no peppers, peas, beans no anything much except salad greens.
Save the bees and save our food.


Last year we put up a new hoop house, it’s mostly to protect all the trees we still have in pots from the winter freeze but I decided we had enough space to try growing some early vegetables. So back in early February we moved some pots around, cleared an area added some compost and planted some peas and fava beans. Watered in and went off to a couple of farm conferences.
When we came back about 10 days later I was expecting the seeds to be up. The weather had been pretty much OK and the temperatures inside the hoop house would have risen quite a bit. The willows and hazelnut trees in there were flowering nicely.
When I went to look I was disappointed. There were no sprouts. What there was however was a vole tunnel. You could see where the little bugger had burrowed all the way along the pea row. There were in fact a couple of pea sprouts on the ground. Just the green tops, the vole had eaten the pea seed out and left the green bit.
The tunnel reached the end of the pea row, then doubled back right down the bean row. Everything was gone!

To say I was PO’ed would be putting it mildly. I was looking forward to those early peas. Course they would not be quite as early as I had hoped since the temperatures in the last 10 days have plummeted and we had 10″ of snow last week which is still hanging around on the ground in large clumps. Today we are expecting another 5″ with 7-12″ forecast for tomorrow.

But I refused to be beaten by a damn rodent. So yesterday I marched across the snow to the hoop house and set to work. I am determined to get my early peas. I went in armed with a roll of chicken wire and digging tools. After stripping down to shorts and T-shirt because it’s hot in the hoop house when the sun is out, I got to work.

First I dug out the row where the peas should be, not one was left. I dug a much deeper trench that I would if I was just planting more peas.
Then I cut the chicken wire to the length of the row. Next I bent the wire over double so that the holes of one side were overlapped by the folded side making the hole diameter half what it would be on normal chicken wire.

Diagram of chicken wire.
Diagram of chicken wire. Fold one edge about 2/3 way up a couple of hole past the central wire.

That done I bent the folded section in half and laid the wire in the trench I had dug.

after folding in half 2/3 way up. Then fold the already folded half in half again to make a V with a cap on it.
After folding in half 2/3 way up. Then fold the already folded half in half again to make a V with a cap on it.

Then filled the V shaped wire section with soil and planted the peas near the top. Finally I covered the seeds and folded the last third of the chicken wire over the top of the peas so they are now encased in a cage of chicken wire. I then wired the top in place so it won’t spring back up and expose the peas. I then added just a light covering over the whole chicken wire concoction.

Chicken wire in ground diagram.
End on diagram of chicken wire in the ground.

Then I did the same thing for the bean row. Finally it was all watered in and I stood back happily tired from my exertions.

Let the little buggers get through that lot to my seeds!

Now I just have to wait and see if it works. It should not bother the pea seeds their roots can easily get through the wire holes. While voles can be quite small I doubt that they can get through those small holes so my seeds should be safe. Now I just have to hope that the mice don’t come along and eat off the shoots when they emerge.

The hoop house is covered in white plastic not clear.  This is to stop the plants inside frying over the winter.  The plastic is there to stop the plant pots from freezing not to make them grow.  White plastic is also useful to ensure that the hoop house does not get too hot for other plants like cool season peas and beans.  Clear plastic would be much too hot and they seeds would most likely fry.  White plastic keeps is warmer but not enough to cook the plants inside.

Spring Is Here With A Bang.

So it’s time for spring garden cleanup.

Spring never comes slowly and quietly in the northeast. One day its winter next day the temperatures soar and its suddenly spring. For gardeners and farmers it can be a real pain. One day you are going along fine thinking you are getting ready for spring. Next moment it IS spring and there is suddenly a huge amount to do.

It’s time to get out there and clean up the garden or, for us, the fields.
First thing to do is pruning of any shrubs and fruit bushes before they come too much into bud. This includes all summer flowering shrubs like hydrangea, NOT azalea or spring flowering shrubs or you wont get any flowers. Pruning is a whole separate topic that I will write about at a later date. We have been pruning back our gooseberries, hardy kiwi vines and cutting out all the deadwood on our raspberries. Pruning back hydrangeas and the few other shrubs that were left over from the last owner and I can’t bear to dig out. At this time of the year prune back shrubs that will flower in summer. DO NOT prune ones that flower in the spring or you will be pruning off the flowers. These shrubs need to be pruned after they have flowered. If unsure on a particular plant checking for your specific plant online will usually tell you the best time to prune it.

Ice plants (sedum spp.) before spring cleanup
Ice plants (sedum spp.) before spring cleanup

The main project is to get all the perennial plants cut down to ground level before the new growth gets too strong. While it is true that a lot of this can be done in the fall there are many reasons why we don’t do this.

1. It gives overwintering beneficial insects somewhere to hang out. Many beneficials overwinter in hollow stems of dead perennials, if you cut all these down and take them away to the compost heap in the fall then you are destroying all those nice insects that are going to help your garden next spring. Others lay their overwintering eggs or egg sacks on such material and again removing them destroys any hope that your garden can protect itself from aphids and other pests in the coming year.
Every year I find many praying mantis egg sacs when I clean up the spring garden. I try to leave these stalks standing or if I accidentally cut one down I stick the stem into another patch of twigs to allow some protection until the babies hatch. Keep your eyes pealed for such egg cases before you clean them away.

Praying Mantis Egg case on silver shade cloth
Praying Mantis Egg case on silver shade cloth

2. For those plants with seeds remaining like Echinacea it gives the overwintering birds a food source for a while at least. Often they much prefer to use ‘locally grown’ food sources than bird feeders.

Ice plants one week after winter cleanup
Ice plants one week after winter cleanup

3. It makes the garden look a lot nicer. Cutting everything down in the fall leaves an unpleasant barren landscape especially when its snowed. Leaving plants standing gives a lot of ‘winter interest’ to the garden rather than barren nothingness. It gives the garden a much warmer look even in the winter months.

4. Leaving material until the springtime often makes it much easier to clean up. While in fall the roots and stems of these plants still have some strength in them making it harder to either cut them down or to pull them from the ground. In spring all that resilience has gone and plants can either be pulled out easily or often snapped off at ground level with a hand rather than using secateurs or other cutting blades. I soon discovered that trying to remove okra stalks in fall was a very hard job and that they needed to be dug from the ground. If left until spring they can just be pulled out by hand. Anything that makes my job easier is a benefit as far as I am concerned. Why make more work for yourself.

If you have any ornamental grasses these need to be cut down to ground level to remove all the old dead grass stalks before the new shoots begin to form. If you are slightly late in cutting them down don’t worry, they are grasses after all. They may flower slightly later but that can also be an advantage, it means that the seeds don’t blow all over the yard and seed themselves. This is especially true of Chinese silvergrass which can turn into a menace rather than a delight.

Any leaves that remain from the winter or if you have pin oaks this is the time when they usually decide to shed their leaves, just when you have the garden all nice those leaves come down and make you do even more work! Leaves can easily get caught under low growing perennials such as lavender or hyssop and may need to be removed. Use a shrub rake if you can find one. Its like a leaf rake but thinner so you can get into tight spots. Sadly they don’t often sell them in big box stores or at least not good ones. I got this one in Rite Aid! I would have liked a longer handle but it works fine for what I need.

This year the challenge is getting everything cleaned up before the plants overtake us. The weather is so warm this spring that the plants are shooting up fast making it harder to remove some of the old plant material before the new stuff comes through.

Spring cleanup can be a very satisfying task. There is a great feeling of accomplishment when you can look at a newly cleaned area and see all the progress you have made. Its also great exercise and good fresh air. Just don’t get over enthusiastic. Overdoing it will cause muscle stiffness which you will regret the next day and may keep you from going out again to enjoy your garden more.

Happy Gardening!

Ice plants before cleanup
Ice plants before cleanup
Ice plants one week after cleanup.  Boy have they grown!
Ice plants one week after cleanup. Boy have they grown!

How to Protect your plant from late winter cold snaps.

Unusually early plant growth is susceptible to changes in the weather.

It’s been an usual winter, the temperatures have been high across quite a bit of the country. Here in the northeast its been in the high 60’s low 70’s for almost a week.

The plants think its spring!

Warm weather brought the lovely Japanese Apricot tree into bloom way to early.
Warm weather brought the lovely Japanese Apricot tree into bloom way to early.

Lots of plants are starting to come out of their winter hibernation and starting to show growth. Others are even flowering. For us our beautiful Japanese Apricots are in full bloom. If you have never seen one of these fairly rare trees you are missing out. Their blooms are wonderful. Trouble is this year they think its spring and its not. Blooming in the sunshine of 70° weather is one thing but then the temperatures are going to drop down below freezing overnight. You may have the same problem.

What to do about it?

Low Ground plants. Close to the ground and showing shoots early can be covered in mulch to keep them warm during the cold temperatures. You may want to move the mulch back again if the temperatures rise again or it will force them higher sooner to get around it. Then you will need more mulch for the next cold snap, it’s a vicious cycle.

Medium sized plants that are flowering or budding.
If they are small enough cover them with plastic grocery bags. I had to do this one year when we had a late cold snap and all my impatiens were in. The garden was festooned with plastic bags, but hey the plants survived. You can do the same, just cover the plant with the bag weigh it down with a few stones and presto a mini greenhouse. Remove the bags when the temperatures rise.

Larger plants can be treated the same way if you have a bag that is big enough. Use plastic garbage bags. Its best to use white or light colored ones DON’T use black ones unless you get the bag off early the next morning. Black will heat up fast and can fry the plants inside if they are not removed. Same will go for transparent ones if they are left in full sunshine.

Trees and other large plants.
Well if it’s a big tree there is nothing you can do. Our maple trees are flowering but they just have to take their chances there is nothing to do for a big tree.
Smaller trees can be covered in fabric. You can buy row covering fabric sometimes called floating row cover. Don’t get the really thin stuff it tears easily and is a waste of money. Get something a little tougher and either wrap the tree or if you have a sewing machine turn it into a large bag that can be dropped over the tree and tied around the trunk. That’s what we did for our apricots. It was a two man job to get the things sown as there was so much fabric it keep trying to pull out of the sowing machine, but with one person holding and the other sewing it was pretty easy. If you are a sewer and intend to do this, use clothes pegs to hold the fabric together not sewing pins, it’s a lot easier to work with.

Japanese Apricot tree covered in bag made of plant protection fabric
Japanese Apricot tree covered in bag made of plant protection fabric

Floating row fabric is fairly inexpensive but you need to buy it in advance so you are ready to use it. Greenhouse megastore has a nice selection. You may need to buy more than you need as it comes in fixed lengths but its fairly inexpensive. Once you have some its easy to get out and use every year and you will be happy you did, its got all kinds of uses to keep the plants warmer in cold snaps or extend the season a little in the fall. Its always good to have some on hand. We buy it by the roll so we have enough to do any job on the farm in a hurry.

If you don’t have any row cover any kind of fairly lightweight fabric will do. Old sheets, curtains and such like can be put to use. Its never a good idea to throw out old sheets they can be easily pressed into service as plant covers. We used to do this all the time before we bought real row cover. If you have nothing on hand see if there is an inexpensive fabric store near you. Some Wal-Mart’s still have cheap fabric available. So it might have transformers or ninja turtles on it the plants don’t care. Keep the fabric around it will last for years and keep your plants warm and cozy during cold snaps. Fabric needs to be tightly woven if you can see through it or it has an open weave then it wont do the job. If possible pick a lighter color but any color will do. If you buy a bolt of it you can just wrap it around the tree to cover it all up. I used fabric and old sheets for years before we bought row cover its more expensive to buy fabric but if you need it in a hurry it’s the best option. Now I have too much that needs protection to use fabric and buy row cover by the roll.

If it gets REALLY cold.

Japanese Apricot tree now wrapped in white plastic to protect it from the late snowfalls and frigid temperatures.
Japanese Apricot tree now wrapped in white plastic to protect it from the late snowfalls and frigid temperatures.

Most of the time once plants have begun to flower the temperatures just go down a little below freezing. However if the temperatures go down a LOT then the fabric might not be enough to keep those precious plants warm. Then you certainly need plastic for the job. If you live in an area where there are commercial nurseries you will notice that their hoop houses are all covered in white plastic for the winter months. This is to keep their plant pots from freezing. This is the kind of thing you need to do for your plants. The same methods described above can be used to cover plants in plastic rather than fabric.
You need white or light colored plastic to let the light in. Not black the poor plant gets no light, and not clear. Putting the plant in a transparent plastic bag will get it really hot in the sunshine and encourage it to grow and bloom even more. Then it will be really out of sync with the ‘real’ world temperatures and may go into shock if you take the bag off at the wrong time.
We use the white plastic left over from our winter hoop house to cover individual trees. This was our first year doing this and our design needs a little more work but it’s a good start. Most years hopefully we wont get such massive swings in temperature as to need to do this.

If you are in a hurry.
Head to home depot and pick up some of their thin white plastic drop cloths. These are ideal for short term plastic fabric. Ideally you need something a little thicker but they will work well for a while. The major problem is that they are very thin so if the wind blows you could get holes poked in them by plant twigs and branches.

If you are covering bushes or small trees make sure that you either take the coverings off when the sun comes out and the temperatures rise or at least open the bags up so that the air can get in and the plant does not get too hot. While white plastic will keep plants a lot cooler than transparent it can still get hot under there when the full sun is hitting it. Remove the covering when temperatures rise to a reasonable night time level, but be ready to put them back on again if the temperatures fall again.
With a little care plants can be coddled through this strange weather and come out in spring with no harm done.

How to Protect your plant from late winter cold snaps.
How to Protect your plant from late winter cold snaps.

Its Time To Start Your Seeds!

How to start seeds to get the best possible plants.

Getting a head start on winter is important when starting seeds. Most people dont realize just how soon they need to start them. IN most cases thats around the end of February to Early March. It may be later if you live in zone 5 or above and earlier if you live in zone 8 or more.

Always read the label.
Good seed companies will print important instructions about each seed on the seed packet. Excellent seed companies will send you an general instruction sheet and specific ones for seeds that need special care or treatment. Its very important to always read the instructions before you plant a seed. This way you wont be disappointed when the seed fails to come up. If you have a seed that needs light to germinate and you cover it then nothing is going to happen. If it needs soaking or roughing up first and you dont do this you may get some germination but not that much. If it needs stratifying and you dont carry this out then all you get is bare soil. So read the instructions before you start. Good seed companies let you know before you buy the seed if it needs special treatment so make sure you read any information on the website about how to grow the seeds before you buy it so you dont get a nasty shock when the instructions arrive.

Preparing to plant your seeds.
How the seed is treated is going to depend on several factors one of which is how large the seed is. Large seeds like beans, peas and such like will either need their own individual pot to start in or will be planted directly in the ground. Things like beans and peas do well sown directly other large seeds may need a little more help and need to be sown indoors first. Small to very tiny seeds will need extra care since handling them is a much tougher job. For this reason there are several different ways to grow seeds.

Seeding containers.
Most people tend to grow all their seeds in flats. This can be fine but it has severe limitations.
Its very hard to remove some of the seedlings without disturbing the others.
1. If some seeds have germinated and others have not yet done so then the ungerminated ones get massively disturbed when the germinated ones are removed. This means the others may now never germinate and your seed count just went way down.
2. New seedlings often the roots get all tangled around each other so its hard to separate one seedling from another. This damages either the roots or the stem of the little plant. Once the stem of the seedling has been snapped its a goner. There is nothing you can do to save it. Lots of plants are killed this way because separating them is such a problem.

Cell or plug trays.

Small cell plug tray. This tray has 288 cells. Used for small to small-medium seeds.
Small cell plug tray. This tray has 288 cells. Used for small to small-medium seeds.

Using individual cell trays removes these problems. These trays are like flats but they are made up of small cells they are often called plug trays. Trays come in many different sizes so the correct size cell can be selected for different size seeds. Small cells can be used for tiny seeds and large cells for bigger seeds.
1. Each seed can have its own individual cell to grow in, or if the seeds are very tiny two or more per cell.
2. As seedlings grow they can be removed individually and potted on without disturbing the other seeds.
3. Lots of different seeds can be sown in the same tray without any problems with them getting mixed together.
4. trays are easy to work with and move around.
1. Cells dry out fairly quickly since there is only a small amount of soil in each one, especially in the tiny ones. This means that they need to be watered far more often. Cells at either end of the tray are very susceptible to drying out and its often best not to plant these end rows. Though they should be filled with seeding mix.

Seeding compost.
When starting seeds its important to use a good seed starting compost, not any old compost and certainly not the soil you scraped up from your garden. Its important to give your seeds the best possible start in life. That means a soil that is devoid of any weed seeds which would certainly be in soil you scraped up outside. You need something that it is easy for them to grow in that holds water well, does not dry out too fast and has small enough particles that the little seeds dont have to fight around large clumps or small rocks to get to the surface and grow.
Many places sell seeding compost. Look for one that has a balanced mix of components. You may need to try out several different ones before you find one that you like the best but then stick to that one.


Large seeds.
These are the really easy ones. If your seeds are the size of a pea then plant them in individual pots. Seeds this size dont need a really fine potting soil and regular potting soil can be used. Still dont use soil from outside as it will bring in weed seeds. There are two methods you can use.
1. Fill all the pots first
2. Water them and let them drain
3. Poke a small hole in the compost and drop the seed in, cover it. Dont plant too deeply!

1. Fill the pots less about  soil.
2. Put a seed in each pot
3. Add the rest of the compost
4. water well and let pots drain.

Personally I prefer the first method, I find it easier to do but its your choice.

Filling your seeding trays.

All other seeds need to be planted in seeding trays, flats or individual cell trays. Cell trays come in many different sizes with different size cells. We use two different ones, small cells for tiny seeds and ones with 2 cells for larger seeds. Whatever receptacle you use it needs to be filled properly with seeding mix.

1. Spread the seeding mix over the tray and push it into each individual cell. The best way to do this is to pile a good layer of the material on top of the tray then get a identical tray and fit it on top to press the mix down into the cells. You may need to use two or more trays together if the trays you use are flimsy to get enough strength.

Half filled seeding flat. Used identical tray to push seeding mix into the cells. Needs more mix and repeat.
Half filled seeding flat. Used identical tray to push seeding mix into the cells. Needs more mix and repeat.

Once the mix is pressed down, add a second layer and repeat. Then its time to get in with your hands and make sure that the soil is really firmed down well. Fingers are always the best judge of how much mix is pushed down into the tray.
2. Water the mix. Using the spray option on your kitchen facet is ideal. Allow the trays to drain and the water to be fully taken up by the mix before you proceed.
3. Firm the soil down again. Often its very fluffy until its wet then suddenly you find there is very little soil in the cell or tray at all. If there is not enough soil then add more and re-water it.
4. Fill trays to within  ( cm) of the top of each cell.
5. Plant the seeds. Seed details below.
6. Spread a light layer of soil over the top of the seeds. Before you do this make sure that the seeds you are planting dont need light to germinate if they do then leave this step out.

Adding that top layer of soil.
The best way to do this to ensure that you are not adding too much is to use a sieve. A simple metal one that can be purchased in any dollar store or market stand. Place the potting mix in the sieve then shake it gently over the seed tray like sifting flour. Cover the seeds in a fine gentle fluffy layer. This gives enough mix to cover the seeds without burying them too deeply that they cannot grow. After all in the wild they dont get buried in the ground they just have to hope that they get covered up a bit. So they dont want to be deep. Just lightly covered.

Use a sieve to shake a fine layer of seeding mix onto the top of seeds. This way they are not covered too deeply and you get a good even coating.
Use a sieve to shake a fine layer of seeding mix onto the top of seeds. This way they are not covered too deeply and you get a good even coating.


Medium seeds.
If the seeds are large enough to handle then they can be moved one by one into the cells or placed in rows in your seed tray. In seed trays make sure they are well spaced. Plug trays use one cell per seed. If you have difficulty moving the seeds use a pair of flat ended tweezers to move the seeds around. These are an invaluable tool for any gardener who is seeding.

Trays with larger cells can be used for medium seeds. One or two seeds per cell. These Echinacea seeds are waiting to be covered.
Trays with larger cells can be used for medium seeds. One or two seeds per cell. These Echinacea seeds are waiting to be covered.

Smaller seeds.

Use a stiff folded piece of paper. Seeds will line up in the fold and can easily be dropped exactly where you want them with just a gentle tap.
Use a stiff folded piece of paper. Seeds will line up in the fold and can easily be dropped exactly where you want them with just a gentle tap.

If the seeds are large enough to see but too small to handle then the best way to seed them is with a piece of stiff paper. Take the rectangular paper and fold it down the middle in the long direction. Then tip some of the seeds into the crease in the center of the paper and shake gently. The seeds will line up in a row along the crease. If you then gently tap the paper the seeds will move out one by one and drop into the cells as you move the paper across the tray. This method is pretty accurate and only occasionally does more than one seed fall into a cell. The tweezers can then be used to move it if desired. It can take a few moments practice to get the angle of the paper and the amount of tapping required to move the seeds along one at a time but its a very useful technique and we seed all our trays using this method.

Very small seeds.
Once seeds get to the almost dust like size its harder to use the paper method as they tend to clump together. Some people use the pinch method hoping that pinching and spreading like salt on food will distribute the seeds well but it can cause clumping.

The best way to evenly distribute fine seed it is by using an old pepper shaker. Take a small portion of dry fine sand or loam – do not use beach sand unless you wash and dry it well first as the salt in the sand can affect the seedlings. Pick a sand or loam that is a different color from the seeding mix that you have chosen.

Mix the seeds with a portion of the sand and place in the pepper shaker. Shake well to ensure an even distribution of the seed throughout the sand. Then shake the mixture out across the tray. The sand will ensure a more even distribution and you can see where you have shaken by the sand color.
Make sure you buy a pepper shaker for this purpose dont use the one from the kitchen you wont get it clean again and the family will not be happy with you. Inexpensive shakers can often be found in dollar stores or market stalls.

Planting more than one species in a single tray.
The advantage of plug tray is that you can plant a lot of different seeds in the same tray. This means you can save space if you only have a few seeds. The small plug trays have 288 cells so thats a lot of seeds.
However there are some factors to consider before doing this.
1.Plant the same size seeds in the same tray. Dont put larger seeds with smaller ones.
The larger seeds will grow larger and faster and will shade out the small ones. This means that they may likely die. Plant all the same size seeds together. If using small plug trays it is often advisable to leave one row empty between each species to allow for them growing at different rates and reduce overshadowing.

2. If you have any experience with seeds or can find information on germination times then put all the seeds that germinate at the same rate together. If you have some seeds that germinate in 6 days next to some that dont come up for four weeks then the 6 day ones are going to be pretty big before the others even emerge. This will mean that they could easily be overshadowed for light and will not do anything like as well.

Make sure you label your seeds!
Using plastic plant labels is an excellent way to label seeds. This is especially important if you are planting more than one species in a tray, but even full trays should be labeled with the plant name and the date that it was seeded. This way you can monitor how long seeds take to germinate. Labeling is vitally important. It is surprising how easy it is to forget what you seeded and when especially if you are seeding many things at the same time. Always label your seeds so you dont have to guess what they are later.

Water with a misting spray bottle or the mist setting on a hose nozzle. If you have a lot of seeds but dont want to use a hose pipe purchase a chemical spray bottle. They are sold in almost all garden stores for spraying chemicals on your plants during the summer months. Fill it with plain water and use it to spray your seedlings. Make sure you have one that is dedicated ONLY to this purpose. NEVER use a bottle that has been used for any other reason or you could quickly kill off your plants. These bottles are fairly inexpensive and come in anything from one to 5 gallon sizes. They are ideal for those with quite a few seed trays. This is the method we have used for many years on our farm.

Use a spray bottle to mist seedlings once they are planted.
Use a spray bottle to mist seedlings once they are planted.

Seedlings will need to be sprayed at least once a day. If they are in the sunshine they may need more than this. Small plug trays dry out very quickly so ensure that the seeding mix is always moist, not saturated wet but moist.
We prefer to keep our seeds in open air not in a tent structure that some people recommend. This can often increase fungal growth and make the seeds very prone to damping off fungus.

Once the seedlings are started to grow they will need more water so longer spraying sessions will be needed. When the seedlings reach about one inch high those in cell trays can often be watered using a thin spouted house plant watering can. The roots have bound the soil together enough to stop it floating away and they need more water. Using this method far more water can be delivered to each seedling than with the mist sprayer. Take care however if you have several different species of seeds planted in one tray. If the seeds are not all grown at the same rate then this method is unsuitable.

Once the seedling have reached the second pair of leaf stage add some liquid fertilizer to the spray (or can). The amount of food in seed starting mix is very small and in individual cells it is used up very quickly. Extra feeding at this stage will ensure strong healthy seedlings.

While only some seeds need light to germinate it best to put all the trays in lighted areas immediately they have been seeded. This ensures that they seedlings will get light as soon as they germinate. There are many methods used for lighting.

1. By a window.
This is the most common and easiest method. Place the trays right next to the window as close as you can on a table or flat surface above the window bottom. Do not place them below the level of the window of they will not get enough light. If your table is not high enough find something to put under the legs to raise it up. Use a south or west facing window for the best light. Do not use a north facing window it will be too cold and have very poor light. If you are placing the trays narrow end to the window consider rotating them every few days so that the seeds at the back of the tray get as much light as the ones at the front.

Seed trays in window.
Seed trays in window.

2. Artificial light.
Many people now use grow lights and grow stations to grow their plants. This is an excellent use but if using lights remember that even though they look bright they are not really putting out as much light as you think. The trays need to be very close to the lights. Not more than 12- 18 above the tray. The best systems allow you to raise and lower the lights as the seedlings grow. Putting lights well above the level of the trays is very similar to placing a tray in the center of the room rather than next to the window. Plants see light very differently than we do so what we think is bright to us is not to a plant.

In a Greenhouse.
This of course is the best method of all, but not available to many people. If you have this luxury make sure that it stays warm enough for the seedlings but not so hot that it will fry them when the sun comes out. Greenhouse growing is a whole topic unto itself.

Once your seedlings have grow to a reasonable size you can start potting them on into larger pots. Potting on next month.

The frost is coming!

Frantic last harvesting of tender plants is in full swing.

It’s always tempting to leave things until the last moment, especially these days when the climate is so unpredictable. Used to be that frost date meant frost date but now it could be weeks or even a month later than the normal frost prediction date. The frost date is taken as a averages of when the frost has appeared in the past, its not totally accurate but for most years its been pretty close. However with the constant climate changes these predictions are becoming more of a guess and frost dates can be way off. This year the first frost date for our area should have been October 15th but we had weather in the 80’s after that. Moving plants to a ‘warmer’ location at that time would have fried the poor little guys.

It’s the same with vegetables. On our farm peppers are still flowering right up until the frost every year. There is no point harvesting them, ‘just in case’ it could be weeks before the frost hits and a lot more peppers could be enjoyed. Same with other crops. So we leave them.
Then the frost warning comes through the national weather service and there is a mad scramble to get everything harvested before the frost hits. From experience we know what plants will survive a mild frost and those that wont. All the peppers need to be harvested, the semi tropical leaf plants like Manihot and roots of things like Jewels of Opar. It’s a lot of work and our cold storage is stuffed to overflowing by time we have finished.

Floating row cover over green bean crop

Any crops that we still want to hold onto after the frost need to be covered in floating row fabric. This can either be draped directly over the row or made into a kind of tent structure if the plants are tall.
You can do this yourself in your garden if you have crops or plants that you want to protect. Many places sell floating row cover or if you only have one or two plants you can cover them individually with plastic shopping bags. Weigh them down with stones or other heavy objects so they don’t blow away in the wind. Once the frost has gone the bags can be removed. This is only supposed to be a temporary measure to keep the plant alive until you can do something with it. Or in the case of crops for a few weeks to either extend the length of the growing season or to protect crops that have not yet finished fruiting.

This year for us its green beans. We planted a late set of green beans because we ate so many of them this year, and we sold some too. We realized we would not have enough for the family through until next season so planted a late crop. These have not yet finished maturing so they will be protected until the beans are ready.
Every year we protect the Cape Gooseberries. These plants grow tall and always continue to flower right into the frost. There are a lot of fruits that wont mature but a lot that will if give a little more time. Next year I want to put up a hoop house over them and extend the season even further, but we don’t have time this year.

Of course this is just a mild or light frost or freeze, down to 32°F (0°C). It will kill tender plants but most of the hardier ones will be fine until we get a hard or killing frost that goes down to about 24°F ( °C). This will kill off everything. Long range weather forecast is not predicting this for at least another month, maybe more so we have time to harvest the rest of the leafy greens and the root vegetables and herbs before the ground freezes.

Knowing when your first frost date is in important to any gardener. If not it can be really disappointing to go outside and find all your tender plants wilted down and dead. Keeping and eye on the weather and listening for reports of frost is always important. Learn when the frost dates are for your area. The Farmers Almanac has a nice clickable map to help you out.

Now is the time to plant garlic.

Part 1. Garlic Bed Preparation.

In the Northeast October is the month to plant your garlic. Usually I plant a little earlier in the month but this year has been so warm that I delayed it a little.

Garlic is like daffodils you plant it in the fall and harvest in the summer. The bulbs put down roots over the winter and create shoots in the spring. You don’t want to plant too early and have the bulbs create much in the way of shoots before the winter comes as they can get damaged by the cold weather and not perform as well in the spring. Last year this is what happened to my garlic. The weather was too warm right up until Christmas and the garlic grew too much. All my soft neck garlic was damaged and died in the winter snows. So plant as late as you can, but not too late that the ground is going to freeze and the plants don’t get time to establish. This used to be easy to do but with the constantly fluctuating weather theses days its more of difficult and luck than judgment.

The first thing to do is to prepare the bed where you want to plant your garlic.  This article will cover that in detail the next will explain how to choose the right garlic and how to plant it.

We don’t grow garlic commercially yet, mainly because we are not set up for processing. We just grow for our own consumption, and eat everything that we grow.


Location is important. It needs to have full sun especially in northern areas, in zones below 7b some afternoon shade is recommended to stop the tops scorching in the heat. Garlic needs a good rich soil to do well in so good bed preparation is very important. Adding a lot of organic material is essential for good garlic growth.

I will take you step by step through our garlic bed processing. For this you can adapt to suit your own personal plot of land.  This bed preparation process can be used for any vegetable at any time.

Location of garlic bed before any preparation
Location of garlic bed before any preparation

1. Clear the bed.
Since garlic goes in so late it can easily follow a crop you already had in the vegetable garden. Its still a good idea to plan ahead as to where you intend to plant it so you know which crop to put there before the garlic crop. As with any crop don’t plant it in the same location for at least four years. Rotation is very important in vegetable gardening.

In our case we had second batch of yin yang beans in this location. These were grown for dried beans. The bed has just been cleared of beans down to the bare earth but still needs some work.

Remove irrigation lines and rake up debris
Remove irrigation lines and rake up debris

2. Removed the irrigation lines and then raked up all the debris and removed any weeds that were left after the initial cleanup.

Adding compost to bed row.
Adding compost to bed row.

3. Add more compost! There can never be enough rich soil for garlic. So even though we had added compost to this row in the spring before we planted the beans we add more now for the garlic. This also helps to replenish anything that the beans took out of the soil during the summer months.

We use mushroom compost we get from a semi local mushroom farm.  In our area its cheap and very effective.

Rake compost out so its even on the row
Rake compost out so its even on the row

4. Rake the compost down along the row so that it is evenly distributed.

Rototill compost into bed
Rototill compost into bed

5. Rototill the compost into the row. This is a little tougher since rototillers are designed as a ‘walk behind’ machine but you really don’t want to walk on the bed that you have tilled. The soil needs to be as fluffy and aerated as possible. Never tread on the soil that you have tilled it defeats the object of tilling it. This is why we use beds three feet wide. That way we can work on the bed from both sides without ever treading on it. Some people say you can work a four foot, even six foot bed from both sides but I can’t. We experimented and decided that three feet is optimum for us.

walk beside rototiller
Walk beside rototiller to ensure bed soil stays fluffy and aerated

6. Walking beside the rototiller and getting it to work the bed is more challenging to hold it into place but its worth the effort. The tiller produces a nice flat top on the row and the only piece that needs ‘fixing’ is the start spot where the tiller was maneuvered into place.

Completed tilled row with compost well mixed into soil
Completed tilled row with compost well mixed into soil

7. The completed tilled row. A little tidying may be needed along the edges if any of the compost rolled off during the tilling process but for the most part its done. This stage can also be dug by hand especially if you only have a small section that you are working with. We often dig small sections or really narrow rows by hand but when we have a bed this long we now use the rototiller.

lay irrigation lines on bed row.
lay irrigation lines on bed row.

8. Replace or install irrigation lines. We use T-tape for all our irrigation. Its basically a drip tape with little emitters that slowly drip water onto the soil at specific intervals. We use 6 inch spaces, which is usually used for strawberry production but its perfect for garlic. Unfortunately this tape is only sold in large reels for commercial usage. However a soaker hose will work just as well and is ideal for a small garden. Lay your soaker hose out in lines down the rows.

9. Connecting up the irrigation lines – our case T-tape – to the water supply line. We have these running to all the rows in our fields. However its just as easy to connect up a soaker hose to a hosepipe or create your own irrigation system. Big box stores like Lowes and Home Depot sell connectors and pieces for you to create such irrigation systems if you desire. However they don’t sell T-tape.

Connecting t-tape irrigation lines to water supply line
Connecting t-tape irrigation lines to water supply line
Laying plastic mulch over newly prepared garlic bed
Laying plastic mulch over newly prepared garlic bed

10. Laying the plastic mulch. We use plastic mulch on all our crops. This serves several purposes. First it keeps down the weeds. This is the major reason that almost all vegetable farmers use plastic mulch. Weeding is a massive problem and can be extremely costly, using mulch keeps the weeds down and thus the cost of weeding. You only get weeds in the holes that are made in the plastic. This can still mean a lot of weeds but its easer to control and rows do not get out of hand. Garlic does not beat out weeds and needs constant attention so mulching with something is important.
The other reasons for using mulch is that it keeps the ground moist, the soil does not dry out as fast and the plants are able to access available water more readily. We use white plastic because it helps to keep the soil cooler in the summer months. Black plastic can make the soil very hot.
Downside of plastic is that rain cannot easily reach the crops. They must be irrigated. However this is a small price to pay for weed suppression.

Staking down the plastic mulch to keep it in place
Staking down the plastic mulch to keep it in place

11. Staking down the plastic.  While most commercial farms use a mulch laying machine and bed former this involves using a lot more land as the space between the rows must be mulch wider. We don’t have enough land to do this and we could not afford such a machine either. Thus we lay all our plastic by hand. These machines bury the edges of the plastic in the soil. We use ground fabric to keep the weeds down between the rows and stake it thorough the plastic to keep both in place. This works every effectively in most cases.

Mulching your plants.

Plastic mulch only comes in large rolls for commercial use, However there are several options available in garden centers for mulching around plants. For small areas you can also use a layer of leaves mixed with grass cuttings. Don’t use just grass cuttings they tend to mat and attract molds. Newspaper and other materials are also good mulch materials. If you are using a organic mulch such as leaves chopping them a little first is recommended so that they stay in place. Make sure that they layer is at least 2 inches thick or it will not suppress weeds.

Newly completed garlic bed ready for planting.
Newly completed garlic bed ready for planting.

The ideal mulch is a layer of leaves with a layer of grass cuttings on the top. The leaves are excellent mulch but can blow away in the wind. The grass cuttings spread to about ½ inch keeps the leaves in place by forming a mat. You need only enough grass cuttings to form a thin layer over the leaves or other material to keep it in place.

Don’t make the layer too thick or it forms a dense mat that will repel water and can encourage molds to form. It is easier to put the mulch down first, the pull small holes in the mulch where you are going to plant your garlic, or whatever else you choose to plant. If mulch is put in place after the garlic bulbs are planted it is often quite difficult to determine exactly where the bulbs are and where the spaces in the mulch should be.

Newspaper can also be used as a mulch but it is not recommended that you use pages with color as the dyes in the inks could be toxic to the soil.


Happy Gardening!

The roof is leaking!

This year we have to be ahead of he cleanup game.

It’s been leaking for a while now, but only a little bit. At first it leaked only a very small amount when the wind was from the south and a certain angle. We got a few drips once a year perhaps. We could live with that, we had to there was no money to fix the roof.

Then Hurricane Sandy came along and really shook things up a lot. During Sandy it managed to find its way down between the wall and produced a nice bulge on one of the walls which later of course all the plaster fell off of. Then fortunately it stopped again at least for a while. Then last winter it began to leak more and drips were coming down from the ceiling, creating a nasty pealing patch.  Not satisfied with that it decided to move the location of the drips around a bit, just to keep us on our toes I suppose. This meant that instead of having one drip tray in the room we had to have several located over several spots in one room. This room is of course the one we had chosen to keep all our books in. So we had to put plastic on top of the bookcases and drip trays along the top as well. Then it moved again and sneaked down the wall in the laundry room (only called that because the washing machine is in there, its more of a mud room come everything room really).

We agreed the time had come, we had to get the roof fixed. We got some quotes and decided on a roofer but got held up looking for someone to dismount our solar panels so we could have the roof redone. That was a bust. They wanted more to get the panels off and on again than it would cost for the roof! What a crock! Fortunately that portion of the roof is not leaking and is well protected by the solar panels so after calling around quite a few places and getting ridiculous quotes we have decided to go ahead and get the rest of the roof done, leave that portion and work on the panels ourselves later. Then get that portion done. The roofer has no problem with this either. It will cost a bit more but we cant wait around any longer and we don’t have time to do it ourselves this year.

So we signed the contracts, in celebration the heavens have opened and its been raining for two days, we have trays everywhere in the ‘library’ catching water.

Our main problem now is that we have to remove everything from around the house so that they can get to it. I use our patios especially the front one as nurseries for the plants that are not ready to go in the ground yet, or don’t have any space yet. We have a lot of plants crammed on our front patio. We are intended to move them to a temporary hoop house that we will be erecting to protect our larger pots of trees and shrubs, just make it a little bigger and put them in their too. However we had planned to have more time to do this. The roofers are coming in two weeks so we have to get the plants moved NOW.

Plants in patio nursery
Potted plants being moved from our patio nursery to winter protection area.

So before the big rain started we were out laying ground cover fabric where the hoop house is to go and moving some of the plants off the patio to the new area. I loaded up the small cart and we managed to get all the smaller plant pots moved over before the really heavy rain started. We got wet but not too badly.
Unfortunately there are still a lot of plants that are in pots that are too small to overwinter. So a mammoth repotting session was in order. We make up our own potting mixture using mushroom compost as our main base (because its cheap here) adding other elements like pearlite and vermiculite and other thing to get it more aerated and more attractive as yummy plant food. So Steve trekked in compost and made up the mix and I repotted. For six hours straight.

plant winter protection area
Laying ground cover to hold plants from patio in wintering area.

I actually like repotting and I love to do it when its raining. I work in our small ‘greenhouse’ not a real greenhouse yet (its on the wish list) but a screened in porch with plastic on the windows. There is a lot of ventilation available and its you can hear the rain pattering down creating a very pleasant atmosphere to work in. Of course every now and again you get wet dashing outside to either put plants on the patio or collect trays for repotting but it’s a small price to pay.

I finally finished around 7.30pm. All the small plants are now in larger pots and waiting transportation to the hoop house area. Then we just have to move all the other pots off the patio and into the greenhouse for the winter. We don’t usually do this until the end of October when the temperatures fall to freezing but this year with the roofers coming we have to be ahead of the game.