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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Preparing for Alt Summit: Business Cards

June 20, 2013 at 10:00 amBY Joanna

business-card-04 business-card-02business-cards-03business-card-05 business-card-01

We’re at Alt Summit this week! It’s our second year attending and we’re psyched to return.  Last year felt like training wheels.  We were slightly overwhelmed with all the amazing talent and wealth of knowledge.  It took weeks to fully absorb everything we’d taken in…and I’m not sure we’ve even digested it all yet, but he we go again…we’re off to Alt!  One thing Lorien and I agreed on right away was our need to better present our business cards.  Given that we’re in the unique position of having two blogs that are completely different – our challenge was to simplify the delivery system this year.  Right away I thought it would be nice to package the two cards into some sort of bundle.  These kraft paper envelopes perfectly fit the bill.  After some deliberation, we decided on the message for the outside of the envelope, ‘nice to meet you’!  Really…that’s what we’re thinking when we deliver our business cards to new acquaintances.  And to add a little more interest, we thought…how can we make one of our posts come to life?  We write about cooking and gardening so much, it seemed like a no-brainer to throw in some of our favorite cucumber seeds and a quick pickle recipe (super simple).  So here you have it – our bundled business cards for Alt NYC 2013.  We hope you get to grow some cucumbers and make pickles (and if you do we’d love to see!).

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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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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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Four Tips: For Starting Seeds

February 20, 2013 at 7:30 amBY Joanna

seed starting

Having planted my own veggie garden for years, the process of starting up my spring seeds is second nature at this point.  I have a a shelf in my front hall where I store all of my supplies during the winter, and come February, I pull out the trays, the pots, the soil…I even have special light bulbs.  It’s nice having a stocked supply, and not having to run out to the garden supply store in the winter.  There’s something a little dismal about the garden center in the dark of winter.  It just seems a bit off.

All that being said, I know it can be intimidating to get started with seeds.  There are so many products out there claiming to magically improve the growth of seedlings.  I’ve fallen victim to many, so I thought I’d share some basics that should get any seed to seedling.

• The container.  I highly recommend cowpots for a few reasons.  They are inexpensive, so you can feel free to buy extra.  More importantly though, they are completely biodegradable and there’s no need for transplanting.  You just plant the entire pot right into your garden bed.  This is time saving, but also reduces the shock due to transplanting.  As an added bonus, as the pot breaks down in your garden, adding nutrients to the soil.  Cowpots all the way.

• The soil.  Unlike potting soil, or garden soil, seeds starting solution is fine in texture and holds onto moisture better.  The best seed starting mediums are actually considered ‘soil-less’.  I’ve had great luck with this Organic Seed Starting Mix, but you can find similar mixtures at your local greenhouse.  I would avoid Miracle Grow products at all costs.  Even the ‘organic potting soil’.  It’s full of sticks and there’s nothing fine about it.

• The light.  Once sprouted, seedlings like sun.  Particularly veggies.  That being said, find a south facing window that’s not too drafty and you should be all set.  If you don’t have any southern exposure, you might want to consider one of these artificial full spectrum florescent blubs.  They should be placed no more than 3 inches from the plants.  Regular light bulbs produce more heat than light, not benefiting the plant.  The proper amount of light will keep your plants hearty and not leggy (tall and thin with no leaves).  These lights can be used in low light situations, or even basements.

• The moisture.  There’s two phases of moisture requirements for seedlings.  The first, before the seeds sprout, requires a plastic cover to keep the soil very moist.  If you’re using cowpots, just cover each planter with plastic wrap and an elastic to secure.  As soon as the seeds sprout, remove the plastic, otherwise mildew and rot can form.  Once sprouted, you’ll want to make sure the soil is constantly moist.  This will likely mean daily watering.  I find it’s best to fill your watering can the night before and let the water come to room temp.  Seedlings are sensitive, and ice cold tap water can shock them.

With these four tips, I think you’ll be good to go.  Pick out some seeds you’re excited about and check this planting guide for the right timetable.  Have fun, Spring is just around the corner!

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In the Details: Garden Tools

February 10, 2013 at 2:37 amBY Joanna


I’m so glad I discovered these beautiful gardening tools at Williams-Sonoma (I had no idea they sold this type of thing).  Since I’ve just started properly caring for all my tools, I’m allowing myself to spend a little more for something really special.  I’m likely not going to spring for the copper shovel (it’s beautiful, but $199), but these small handtools will make the upcoming gardening season much more enjoyable.  I love the hooked vegetable harvester, and the Hori Hori knife.

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A Well Planned Garden: Seed Starting

February 1, 2013 at 10:00 amBY Joanna


Looking for a fun project this weekend?  In RI we’re 10 weeks out from the last frost date.  That means it’s time to get started on some of the indoor early spring veggies.  Four I’ll be starting this weekend are broccoli, cabbage, kale and collards.  A few of my faves really.  ( I directly seed some of the more delicate leafy vegetables like lettuce and spinach later in the season).  For the first time I’ll be planting in these cool velcro pots to reduce transplant shock (in the past I’ve always used small ‘cowpots‘).  I love how they’re reusable year to year!

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A Well Planned Garden: Where to Start?

January 11, 2013 at 8:00 amBY Joanna

soilIn January, I start taking the simple, but necessary steps to prepare for the upcoming season of vegetable gardening.  If you’re interested in having your own garden, I’d suggest doing the same.  Testing your soil is as simple as taking a sample and mailing it to a lab.  In Rhode Island I send it to this lab.  With shipping it comes to about $20, but well worth it.  The test results will guide you in the early spring when you fertilize your soil. You’ll learn about your PH levels, nutrients, and any toxins in your soil.



The next thing you’ll want to do is identify your planting zone.  Here in RI I’m a 6B.  Your planting zone will help when deciding what to grow.  All seeds and seedlings identify their zones for growing.  You can easily find your zone year I sketch out my veggie garden.  It’s super helpful when buying seedlings and seeds.  It’s so easy to go overboard and buy more than I have space for.  This site has a great interactive feature to help layout your garden beds.  Remember to check which direction is South facing.  You’ll want the lower height plants like herbs and root veggies on the South wall, and the taller vines like cucumbers, beans, and tomatoes toward to North back wall.  This grid is in square feet, so my veggie garden is 7′x5′.  It’s amazing what kind of yield you can get out of such a small space.  If you have good soil and sun, you really only need a few of each plant to feed a small family.

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Eat Your Vegetables: Sunchokes

December 14, 2012 at 8:26 amBY Joanna


The Sunchoke has always been a bit of a mystery to me.  I’ve only just started cooking with it, and I’m glad I did.  This little tuber is sweeter than a potato, and has a slight resemblance to an artichoke in taste.  They grow like weeds (up to 10 feet tall), are native to North America (discovered by the French in Cape Cod but a staple of Native cooking long before then), and have sunflower like flowers.  But what to do with them in the kitchen??  Here are a few great recipes to try out:

Simple Roasted Sunchokes from the Kitchn.  It doesn’t get easier than this.  Slice, drizzle with salt and oil, and let the oven do the work.

Sunchoke Pickles from Bon Appetit.  If you know me, I love just about anything with vinegar.

Celery, Sunchoke and Apple Salad from Martha Stewart.  With the mustard vinaigrette this sounds so tasty.

Sunchoke and Kale Hash with Farro from Food and Wine.  Everything about this one sounds like the perfect winter comfort food.


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