Monday, January 30, 2012

Why Did The Chicken Cross the Road?

We are lucky to have some wonderful sources of locally grown foods in the area I live. There are also several markets nearby. Recently, a menu arrived in the mail from New Gloucester Village Store tempting us with its bakery, hot and cold sandwiches, salads, soups, and wood-fired brick oven pizza.

Once we visited the store we discovered that they also stock a wide variety of wine, beer, groceries, local produce, meats, cheeses, eggs, and other specialty foods. Their menu offers a variety of home made meals made from locally sourced meats and vegetables and they also have plenty of room to sit down for a bite to eat. You can grab coffee, breakfast egg sandwiches, and omelets during the week and sit down for a nice brunch on the weekends. We've been back several times and have enjoyed the food, friendliness, and the atmosphere.

I immediately became a Facebook Fan of the New Gloucester Village Store where they post daily soups, special events (wine tasting!), and was amused with the frequent posts that included photos of a chicken posing in the store.

Last week wcsh6, a local TV station broadcasted a segment on L.C. the chicken and the New Gloucester Village Store.

Today, L.C. was featured in two local newspapers. The Portland Press Herald and the Sun Journal: Why L.C. the Chicken Crossed the Road.

If you are in the New Gloucester, Maine area be sure to stop on in the New Gloucester Village Store! They are located on 405 Intervale Road, New Gloucester, Maine.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Seed Starting: Onions and Leeks

Finally! It's Time to Sow Something!!

This weekend it is time to start some onion seeds. Onions take a long time to develop from seed. Sowing inside in January or February under growing lights then transplanting to the garden in early spring is the only way that I can grow onion from seed and have them mature in my zone 5 garden.

I mass plant onions and leek seeds into recycled berry containers. The containers are about 4 inches deep and already have plenty of holes for drainage. This weekend I sowed White Sweet Spanish Onions, Evergreen Bunching Onions, and American Flag Leeks.

Onions and Leeks Sowed in Recycled Berry Trays

The containers are filled will pre-moistened seed starting mix. The seeds are sprinkled on top of the soil, covered with a small amount of seed starting mix, and pressed down gently to be sure the seeds are in contact with the moist soil. The containers are labeled, placed in a flat, covered with a humidity dome, and placed on a heat mat until the seeds sprout.

Once the onions emerge from the soil, the humidity dome is removed and the seedlings are placed under lights.

Onion Seedlings Growing Under Lights from 2011

I trim the onions to keep them around 3-inches high. The trimmings are added to soups, salads, or used as a pizza topping.  

Onion Trimmings

Even though the seedlings seem crowded in their containers, with a little additional fertilizer they are happy until they are transplanted to their new home in the garden. 

Onion Seedlings Ready to be Transplanted in the Garden

The seedlings are separated when transplanted and spaced out 3 to 4 inches apart depending on the variety.

Onion Seedlings Transplanted to the Garden

Onions Ready for Harvest Fall 2011

I look forward to sowing the first seeds of the year. I think about it often during the long and cold winter.  All during the plotting and planning of the garden I obsess about planting something. The miracle of growing food is still amazing to me no matter how often I prepare a growing medium, sprinkle seeds, add water, and watch it grow to produce something that we can eat.

Friday, January 27, 2012

2012 Garden Planning: The Layout

Winter has finally arrived. Snow in the past few weeks has covered the garden and insulated it from the cold temperatures that followed. Since the winters are long here in Maine, garden planning continues at a slow and thoughtful pace.

Planning begins with a blank garden plan, a list of plants that provide well for us, and a list of new things to try. Then I try to fit everything in the garden plan, determine how many plants of each are needed, and plan out my seed-starting schedule.

Some things to consider in this preparation are:
  • Crop Rotation: The Solanaceae family (tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, and eggplant) represents the majority of what is grown in the garden making crop rotation a challenge. 
  • Growing Vertical: Tall trellised plants such as pole beans, indeterminate tomatoes are limited to the north end of the garden beds so they don't shade other plants.
  • Spring Planting: Early planting is mostly limited to the raised garden beds because they warm up and drain quicker in early spring than the in-ground beds. It is also easier to use hoop protection because the edges of the box helps hold them secure.
Fresh vegetables that mature quickly in spring is essential as we wait for the others to grow and produce. Fresh spinach, lettuce, herbs, and other various greens are extremely desirable after the long winter.

An inventory of the preserved garden bounty from last year also factors into the amount of plants in the plan. I don't weigh my harvests, but keep notes on the number of plants grown from year to year.

We rely heavily on canned tomato sauce, canned salsa, and frozen tomatoes to use in soups and stews. So tomatoes, peppers, onions, and garlic are considered staples in the garden and take priority on the garden space.  So far last year's inventory is still plentiful and I think it will last us until the garden produces this summer. So little will be changed as far as the amount of plants.

A garden plan has been developed for 2012. A larger version can be seen here in my sidebar. It's a starting point and provides a general idea of what the 2012 garden will look like and the number of plants I will need to grow to fill it. I will probably adjust and tweak it as I go along. The seed-starting schedule will soon follow.

Monday, January 2, 2012

2012 Garden Planning: Starting With a Blank Slate

A day off from work for the New Year holiday provided some time to sit down and begin planning the 2012 garden. Improvements and expansions made over the past few years have really made gardening easier and more productive. I am not planning any major changes or digging any new beds this year, but there will be some expansion of existing beds. Below is a blank layout of the garden spot for 2012:

Bed A is an in-ground bed and will gain 2-feet on the north end. In 2011, this ground was covered with a layer of cardboard, mulch, and containers growing Roma tomatoes.

Containers growing at the north end of bed A in 2011.
By the end of the season, the grass was gone and the soil is ready to be amended and cultivated with the rest of the bed adding 16 square feet of growing space. Overall Bed A will measure 8x21 feet.

Bed B is also an in-ground bed that measures 8x19 feet. The two 4x4 beds from C and D will be moved to the south end of Bed B so the trellis can be utilized.

The largest change to the garden spot this year will involve the Square Foot Garden (SFG) beds. The area of beds C and D originally held six 4x4 SFGs, two rows of three 4x4 SFGs with 2.5-foot grassy paths in between.

Square Foot Gardens from Spring 2011

The frames of the two center SFG beds will be moved to Bed B and the grassy paths on either side will be dug up and combined into an in-ground gardening space. So from left to right will be a 4x4 SFG, a 9-foot in-ground garden bed, then another 4x4 SFG.

This change will make watering much easier and more efficient because I can string soaker hoses all the way across the beds. There will also be less grass trimming in between the paths and I will gain 40 square feet of additional growing space. In addition, I will still be able to reap the benefits of the raised beds warming quicker in the Spring. The two modified beds will measure 17.5x4 each.

Bed E is the newest bed dug last year. It measures 19x5 feet and will grow mostly potatoes this year.

My seed box is organized, I have a rough list of what I want to grow, and a blank slate to work with.... Now on to mapping out the garden and developing a seed starting schedule.