Gardening Tips: When to Harvest?

July 11, 2013 at 10:00 amBY Joanna
I’ve been asked by a few friends recently ‘when should I be picking these?’ And so I thought I’d share some pretty universal rules for harvesting from the veggie garden since it’s getting to be that time of year.
Brussels Sprouts – Trim the lowest leaves from the stalk to improve the individual sprout sizes.  Harvest sprouts from the bottom.  You can harvest late as the first frost sweetens the flavor.
Chard – Harvest throughout the season by trimming outer leaves through to the first frost.Cucumbers – Best when picked at a slightly immature level. Anywhere from 1.5″ – 2.5″ in width when 5″-8″ long.  Pickling varieties with be about half the length.  When in doubt pick earlier than later to get the best flavor.
Eggplant -Harvest when eggplants are bright in color and shiny, but not overripe.  They will begin dulling in color when they’re past their prime.
Hot Peppers -Pick as needed throughout the season.  Immature green peppers are hottest.  The pepper sweetens as it turns red.
Tomatoes -Best when the fruit is uniformly red (or colored), but before the ends get soft.  Tip – ripe fruits will sink in water.  To ripen green tomatoes off the vine – wrap them in newspaper and store in a room between 55F and 70F.  Green tomatoes stored this way should last 3-4 weeks.
Zucchini – Harvest when fruit is young and tender.  They will continue to grow large and become bitter when left too long.  Skin should easily be punctured by a fingernail.
These are general rules of thumb, and there’s so many more veggies I haven’t included, but I think I’ve covered some basics.  I’d love to see what you’re harvesting.  Take pics and share using #getalongandgoharvest and follow
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Garden Update: Heirloom Tomatoes

June 5, 2013 at 10:00 amBY Joanna


I’m so excited to watch my tomato plants grow this season.  I’ve selected a diverse variety of heirlooms that I think together make the perfect tomato salad.  That’s right – I’m growing a garden based on one dish, but it is the perfect dish, right?  Add a little olive oil, sea salt and basil – it’s good to go.  And I’ll have my own personal supply.  I just love the ridiculous number of varieties that are out there, and I consistently plant too many tomatoes because I have a hard time deciding on just a few.  I’ve even started a pinterest board just for tomatoes.  Here’s what I’ve planted this year:

  • Sprite – super productive grape tomatoes.  Super sweet and they’ll grow right up to the frost
  • Red Zebra – another high producer providing a season’s supply of 2″ red and yellow striped sweet tomatoes.
  • Paul Robeson – originating in Russia these plants produce the most amazing sweet and acidic dark red/black fruit.
  • Roman Candle – sweet and meaty, these 2″ wide and 4″ long banana shaped fruits also make great sauces.
  • Speckled Roman – a paste tomato, this variety gets to 6″ long and makes a great sauce.
  • Green Zebra – lemon/lime flavored, amazing 2″ fruits are perfect for summer salads.
  • Hazel Mae – a large beefstake variety great for slicing and salads

Do you have favorites?

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Garden Update: Trellis Veggies

May 29, 2013 at 1:21 amBY Joanna


One of the best solutions to a tiny garden is a trellis.  My little garden is only 12 ft x 12 ft, but I’m able to produce a fairly big crop by growing vertically (it may only be 12 ft square, but its nearly 12 ft tall).  For many plants this is the preferred method of growing too – so it’s a win-win.  Certain vine-like veggies will rot on the ground, so the added height gives them a chance to keep their leaves dry, and reach better sun.  My little garden is almost entirely on giant trellis.  If you have limited space I recommend trying these vertical plants:


Pole Bean: If you’re growing beans, I recommend a pole bean over a bush bean.  You’ll get the same yield, but use a fraction of the space (fresh beans off the vine are unlike any store bought bean).  Just plant near a trellis or bamboo pole – they won’t need much guidance.  They will grow in spirals around the support.

Snap Pea:  These spring treats need no help.  Give them a net to climb on and they’ll find their own way.  When they’re finish blooming you can grow beans on the same trellis.

Cucumber:  The fruit stays cleaner and is less prone to bugs and rot when elevated on a trellis.  Cucumber vines need little guidance, they have plenty of curly feelers seeking out a pole to grow on.  Netting may not be strong enough – they can get heavy.  I recommend a more solid structure with bamboo poles.

Squash:  Like cucumbers, squash do better growing vertical, but they may need a little guidance.  Keep a spool of garden twine handy and you can tie new growth to the trellis as the plant matures.  If the fruits get big you may want to provide additional cradle support by tying the fruit itself to the trellis.

Tomato:  Most people use round tiered cages to support tomato plants.  They will also do just fine on a more traditional wall-like trellis, but they will need additional guidance.  Get out that twine.

Pepper:  Some pepper plants can get quite tall, and with guidance (twine) they will grow right up a trellis.  The added support is helpful as pepper plants can get weighed down by their own fruits.

Melon: Like squash and cucumbers, melons are a vine, and do best on a trellis.  They will need little guidance, as they seek out poles with their little curly feelers.  As the fruits develop they may need additional support to keep from weighing down the plant.  Use your twine to cradle the melon to a support post.




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That’s What She Said: Shopping Excursion to Benny’s

May 9, 2013 at 10:40 amBY Joanna and Lorien


Lorien and I were in need of some retail therapy, and where better to go than Benny’s??  Their tagline is ‘your favorite store’, and I think they’re right.  We love Benny’s.  It’s got that old school hardware store feel, reminiscent of times before the giant Home Depots.  They have everything from paint supplies, to gardening tools, to kitchen supplies and camping gear…plus other more obscure knick knacks.  Just what we were looking for.


Joanna’s finds:  After much deliberation, and poking around, I settled on some awesome accessories for gardening this season (I had to have restraint to not fill my carriage).  I’ve done a fair amount of research on gardening hoses, and was so shocked to find out most of them contain lead that seeps into the water over time and grows into vegetables (gross).  After many unsuccessful searches for a ‘drinking water safe’ hose at the bigger garden centers, I found what I was looking for at Benny’s (this happens all the time – they have all the good brands).  This never-kink hose is made for boats and campers and is safe for watering veggies.  Plus – it never kinks…..or so it says.


I also found these replacement lids for Ball canning jars.  I suppose I could have ordered them online, but I kept forgetting to do it.  The lids always rust after being used, so you need to replace them each time you use the glass for pickling.  Of course they had them at Benny’s.  I finished of my shopping with some natural bamboo stakes for the garden.  Believe it or not the bigger garden center only had the died green stakes, which I think are kind of terrible looking, so score again at Benny’s.  I’m not exaggerating (and they’re not paying me) when I say that I always leave this place pleasantly surprised with their inventory.  Cheers to a successful shopping trip!


Lorien’s Finds: One can spend hours in Benny’s and find a million of reasons to buy pretty much everything in the store…. all of a sudden I found myself wanting a dart board, to paint my walls, to buy tons of tupperware, beach chairs, a grill….you really can find everything you want at Benny’s. But once I started to focus, I realized they had a lot of things for my kitchen, I’ve been needing to put the finishing touches on the corner that surrounds our large hutch…..

First up, I found a nice collection of frames that were the perfect size for two prints I’ve been wanting to hang up FOREVER, one from Craftland and the other from Jill Bliss. Most of the frames at Benny’s were black, but that worked out for me since most of the frames I have in my home are also black. And for $7.99 and $10.99, the prices are hard to beat ( We totally sound like Benny’s salespeople but it’s so easy to get on the Benny’s bandwagon once you’ve been).


Then I actually found a bicycle basket for $10 that I want to use for storage for knick knacks. It’s a little weird and unconventional, but it’s actually perfect size for my kitchen. The part that would go over the handles is perfect for hanging up, I just have to get a little handy and a little DIY. There is actually a larger basket that I want to go back for, it will be great to hold my magazines and books for the family room.


Who knew Benny’s would be the place to go for cutting boards? They have such a selection of sizes and prices of cutting boards… which was fantastic since I needed a large cutting board to cover the surface of our hutch, we basically needed something to act like a big coaster. Since it’s a good size, it will also act as tray when we eat outside on our porch…and as the perfect cheese platter.. gotta love Benny’s.

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Making It: Outdoor Light Canopy

May 3, 2013 at 10:00 amBY Joanna

light-canopy-03Happy Friday!  I can’t say why, but some weeks just feel long, and for me, this was a very long week.  I’m looking forward to at least one free day this weekend to finish up a new outdoor project.  This one is pretty simple, but finding the time has been a struggle.  I’m building a light canopy for my back deck.  There’s so many ways to go about this, but I’ve decided to build a wire frame for the lights to hang over.  I’m far from finished, but I thought it would be good to share in two posts, so consider this post phase one.  light-canopy-01light-canopy-02The materials are simple….3 ten foot wooden posts (the height is important), 60 ft. of 3/32 gauge galvanized wire, 6 wire clamp sets, and 6 snap clips.  I bought it all at the hardware store for under $60.  The idea is to anchor the tall posts to my existing fence to give the canopy structure height (I’m short, but tall people will hit their heads on the lights if the posts are too low).  Each post has an eye hook at the top, and a reciprocal eye hook has been anchored to the house on the opposite side of the deck.  I’m building three strands of wire to connect each post to the hooks on the house. light-canopy-04To build the wire pieces I’ve used these interesting clamps that pinch the wire around a metal ring to create a secure loop – who designs these things?  I love discovering solutions like these…so clever.  From there I attach a snap clip to each end of the wire.  So far – the most difficult seems to be measuring the wire pieces to make sure they will be taught when clipped to the post and house. I’ll probably have trouble getting this right (exact measurements aren’t my thing).  The end result should be a three row wire canopy ready for lights to be strung.  I’ve bought commercial grade outdoor lights that can hold a full sized bulb.  I like the effect of the larger lights (instead of the christmas light strands).  Now everyone cross their fingers for me.  I’ll post the outcome next week.  Have a great weekend!



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Gardening Tips: Growing in Shade

May 1, 2013 at 10:00 amBY Joanna


* photo of the Montreal Jardin Botanique shade garden

I’m very fortunate to have a raised bed vegetable garden in full sun.  It just happens to be that my side of the street is south facing and I have a vegetable patch in my front yard (not ideal for privacy though).  Now that I’ve successfully planted the veggies for a few years, I’m attempting to tackle the back garden, which has raised beds as well, but unfortunately, they only get a few hours of sun a day.  This partial shade situation has been tricky.  I’ve made a few attempts in years past that didn’t quite work out.  I wanted to grow veggies in back, but I’ve found the rumors to be true, not many vegetables thrive in shade (I was in denial and being stubborn)…so it’s time to adjust some of my expectations.  The good news is, I’ve discovered plenty of plants do very well in shaded areas – even some edible varieties.

I’ve found a good number of edible plants that will tolerate partial shade (mainly leafy greens and not ‘fruiting’ vegetables), and even more exciting, I’ve discovered really beautiful flowering plants that will grow well in shade.  My favorite flowering plants are hardy enough for cutting (for taking inside) – and luckily, many shade tolerant flowering plants are also perfect for cut flowers.

If you’re questioning what to do in your shade garden, here are a few more tips:

  • Plants in shady areas shouldn’t be over-crowded.  The leaves need space to spread out and capture as much light as they can.
  • For that same reason, large leafy plants do better in shade.
  • Paint fences and walls near-by the garden white.  This will help to maximize your available light (you can cover boards with aluminum foil too, but I’m not that interested in aluminum foil in my garden).
  • Don’t mulch or add compost until well into the hot dry season, otherwise you risk too much moisture.
  • You may have a slug problem (gross I know), but the easiest solution is to pour a beer into an upside down frisbee and leave it out next to the garden.  Strange, I know, but beer is a slug magnet and it kills them…poor slugs.


Edible plants to try in partial shade: mint, parsley, wild ginger, lettuce, swiss chard, spinach, arugula, endive, radicchio, mustard greens, kale.


Flowering Plants to try in partial shade: bleeding hearts, astilbe, foxglove, lambs ears, begonias, larkspur, snap dragons, cleome

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