Welcome to Bepa's Garden!
This blog is about organic gardening, healthy eating and healthy living.
Each month I will be posting Garden To-Do Lists, Tips & Techniques, Garden Project Plans, Photos from the Garden, Recipes and Book Reviews.
I hope you enjoy reading and I hope I can inspire others to start a backyard garden!
Happy Gardening!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Blocking up

94 degrees in the greenhouse!

Today I spent the morning blocking up some of the seedlings I started on Tuesday and enjoying the warmth of the greenhouse. As the sun rose higher it became so warm I had to open the vents to cool it off a bit.

The seeds seem to have germinated extremely fast, I started these just 5 days ago and most are ready to be blocked up to the larger soil blocks. I like to block them up as soon as they have two leaves so they don't get leggy.

Zinnias - Benary's Giant Mix 
Ageratum - Dondo Blue

This year I started mostly heirlooms and regional seeds and am getting almost 100% germination rates from each variety. They seem to be growing much faster than the seeds I started last year.

Cosmo seedling
Now the logistical game comes into play as I try to juggle the seedlings into the greenhouse during the day and back into the basement at night, until the nighttime temps stay above 50.

I was hoping to have the new shed and greenhouse built last fall, with electricity for the heating mats, so I could start and leave the seedlings right in the greenhouse. Hopefully this spring I can get them both built.

On Tuesday I started 10 mini trays using the 3/4" soil block maker. The small tool makes 20 blocks at a time and I can fit four of them into each mini tray, 80 blocks each x 10 = 800 seedlings. When I block up to the next size, which is 1-1/2", I can fit 40 blocks in each of the seedling trays, so I will end up with about 20 trays to maneuver around the greenhouse. That's just the flowers, herbs, early and cold crops, I still need to start the squash, pumpkins, more herbs and flowers, so you can see why I need a larger greenhouse!

Of course Bert had to come in to see what was going on before heading out to take a bath in the pool that I just refilled!

Now it is beginning to feel like spring,

The greenhouse is starting to fill with seedlings and will soon be overflowing with plants waiting to move into the gardens.


"A seed is sleepy,
but only until is it has found 
a place in the sun 
and it has had its breakfast 
and a drink of water.t
Then a seed is ...

Dianna Hutts Aston

Friday, April 4, 2014

Starting Seeds

I'm about a month late, but I was finally able to find time this week to start some seeds for the garden.

Heirloom sweet corn seeds saved from last year.

This year I am planning several new growing projects including putting in a cutting flower garden and a medicinal herb garden as well as starting to grow mostly regional heirlooms.

The Medicinal Herb Garden

I have been intrigued with herbal remedies for quite some time now and over this past winter became even more inspired to put in a medicinal herb garden after reading Homegrown Herbs, by Tammy Hartung Grow It Heal It, by Christopher Hobbs and Leslie Gardner,  and Medicinal Herbs, a beginner's Guide and Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health both by Rosemary Gladstar.

I plan on making my own herbal teas and salves using organically grown herbs from my garden, so I purchased some medicinal herb seeds from Horizon Herbs. Some of the varieties I purchased are: Sweet Basil, Holy Basil, Burdock, Calendula, Chamomile, Echinacea, Elecampane, Evening Primrose, Flax, Lemon Balm, Licorice, Marshmello, Mint, Motherwort, Passionflower, and Cayenne Pepper just to name a few.

The Flower Garden

I am also planning on putting in a cut flower garden so I purchased some flower seeds from Fedco Seeds to get started.

I purchased varieties like Ageratum, Amaranth, Cockscomb, Cosmos, Rudbeckia, Salvia, Snapdragon, Sunflower and Yarrow. Not only would it be nice to have a steady supply of fresh cut flowers, but hopefully I will be able to grow enough to sell at the local farmers market.

The Heirloom Garden

One of my biggest goals for gardening is to be able to sustainably grow as much of our own food as possible. Part of that is saving seeds for nutritional value and adaptability to my region. After reading The Seed Underground, by Janisse Ray (an excellent book I need to do a review on very soon!) and learning about Sylvia Davatz of Solstice Seeds in Vermont, who grows and sells heirloom seeds, I immediately contacted her to see if I could order some of her regionally grown seeds for my garden.

I ordered varieties like Cannelini Beans, Dark Red Kidney Beans, Black Turtle Beans, Beets, Vermont Red Kernal Popcorn, Athens Cucumber, Scotland Leeks, Rouge d'Hiver Lettuce, Tango Lettuce, North Pole Lettuce, Drunken Woman Fringed Head Lettuce, Guernsey Parsnips, Early Champagne Rhubarb and Monnopa Spinach. 

I also have several varieties saved from my own garden from last year. Slowly but surely I am building my own heirloom seed inventory that I hope to be able to share soon.

All these seeds mentioned above will be planted in our home garden as well as the school garden.

Starting Seeds

Sweet Basil.

On April 1st I finally decided to take some time off from what seems like an unbelievable busy year to get some seeds started. I usually start my seeds on March 7th, which gives me plenty of time to grow early tomatoes and lettuce, but this year I have been so busy that I am almost a month behind. Hopefully the weather cooperates and it doesn't warm up too quick like last spring. 

I start my seeds in soil blocks, a method that has worked out very well. You can read more about starting seeds using soil blocks here.

 I started over 800 seeds on Tuesday, including Basil, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Brussels Sprouts, Swiss Chard, Rhubarb, Kale, several varieties of Lettuce, Bell Peppers, Tomatoes, Sunflowers, Ageratum, Amaranth, Cosmos, Zinnias, Calendula, Rosemary, Thyme, Sage, Chamomile, Lemon Balm, Evening Primrose and Mint. 

My chart for keeping track of the soil blocks.

I haven't mastered starting the correct amount and I always end up with way more seedlings than I can fit in my garden, but between the school garden and giving them away they always all seem to end up in somebody's garden.

Most of the seeds this year are from the sources listed above and it is my first year growing them. So far I am very pleased with the germination rates. After only a few days just about everything has begun to grow and some of the trays have 100% germination!

Sunflowers beginning to grow.

In the cold frame

Last fall was also extremely busy so I wasn't able to get much planted in the cold frames. I did put in some extra Leeks, Garlic, and Onions that we had planted in the school garden as well as seeding in some Lettuce and Kale. 

The plants took a beating because we had so many below freezing days during the winter, but now that it is warming up it is growing nicely and it looks like we will have some early greens to enjoy!

Red Russian Kale
Blue Curled Scotch Kale
Greens, Mustard Red Giant
Greens, Ruby Streaks
This year is shaping up to be very busy with many exciting projects and events planned.
I vowed to get outside more often and spend more time doing and less time dreaming, so I may not be posting as much as I would like, as you can tell by the lack of posts this year. I will however try to post weekly photos of the gardens and share my experience with the new gardens and projects.

"Life is short, live your dream and share your passion!"


Sunday, February 16, 2014

The morning walk to the greenhouse...

This winter has been especially cold here in New England. 
Usually by now I am already thinking about starting seeds, laying out the garden plans and going through my seed supply pulling out the varieties that will be started soon, but instead I have been busy running my business and spending my free time sitting by the wood stove reading gardening and farming books.

Last fall I built a duck house for our two Pekin ducks so I could leave them outside at night instead of putting them up in the garage in the portable coop. It has worked out extremely well protecting them from both predators and the elements. It is cozy and spacious, and they really seem comfortable in it. Each night at dusk, they would stand on the ramp and quack until I came out and put them up for the night.

(Unfortunately we lost one of our ducks last summer so we now only have one, Bert, who I am hoping to find a mate for come spring)

The winter nights have been extremely cold, so I packed the duck house with hay for extra warmth. The ducks usually aren't bothered by the cold or snow, but this year Bert doesn't seem to like it too much.

Our morning routine had become me filling up a tub with warm water in the greenhouse...

letting Bert out at sunrise...

having him follow me along the shoveled path...
(although on really cold days I need to carry him because he'll sit down in the middle of the path and quack)

and into the greenhouse 
we he immediately heads for the tub of warm water to drink and take a bath.

He'll spend the day basking in the warmth of the greenhouse until dusk, when it's time to head back to his duck house.

Hopefully the temps will begin to warm and the greenhouse will soon be filled with seedlings waiting to go into the garden!


Saturday, January 4, 2014

Scenes from the garden

I can't believe it is 2014 already, it seems like last year flew by so fast! 
It has been extremely busy around here these past few months, hence the lack of posts, but things are starting to settle back down a bit and I have begun planning the gardens and projects for this year! 

We had our first substantial snowfall yesterday and record low temps last night, dipping to -9°. The wood stove has been doing a great job keeping the house toasty but the wood pile seems to be going down much faster this year.

You can see Bert, just to the left of the birdbath, enjoying the 60° temp inside the greenhouse
I felt uneasy leaving Bert outside in his duck house with the blustery winds and below zero temps, so I filled the empty greenhouse with hay and locked him in these past two days.

 He seemed a little annoyed at first, but now that he has been enjoying the warmth, he refuses to come out!

The frosty temps have created some interesting designs on the cold frame walls.

Surprisingly, with the below zero temps and no row covers on the plants, the lettuce, kale, onions, beets and leeks seem to be doing just fine in the cold frame.

The seed catalogs have already started to trickle in and I can't wait to get my hands back into the soil! Until then all I can do is curl up in front of the wood stove and dream about this year's garden!


Thursday, November 7, 2013

A Gift from the Past

I've mentioned several times that my passion for gardening comes from time spent with my grandparents when I was growing up. I feel my strong connection to food and farming has been instilled in me at a young age, by working side by side in the greenhouse with my grandfather, and cooking in the kitchen with my grandmother.

Some of the fondest memories I have are of picking raspberries in the summer with my grandfather. Putting the ripe berries in pint containers to sell to the small grocery store in town, and setting aside the overripe ones so my grandmother could brew up a batch of her sweet raspberry syrup which she used to make the most delicious raspberry juice.
I also remember the smell of my grandfather's greenhouse, the tropical aroma of soil and plants in the humid air. I remember his prized lemon tree with lemons the size of grapefruits and the bird of paradise plant, with the most beautiful flowers, growing in the corner.

I can remember being nervous about starting a new grade in elementary school, scared because of rumors I heard about my teacher being really mean. To help me, Bepa cut a flower from his bird of paradise plant and told me to give it to my teacher on the first day. He told me to extend a gesture of kindness and everything would be okay. Turns out the teacher was really nice. Those flowers got me through many stressful situations.

My grandparents both passed away when I was about 14, but I always remembered working in the greenhouse and that beautiful bird of paradise plant. About 10 years ago I purchases a small plant to keep in my office. I was always hoping to get it to flower, but despite it growing over 4' tall, it never did. This past summer, my cousin Patty, who I haven't talked to in a really long time, surprised me by dropping off this gift with a note:

I was beyond thrilled to have an offspring from Bepa's original plant!
This gift meant so much to me.

I put the plant in my greenhouse over the summer, not sure if it would survive. I left it out there during the 100 degree days, and despite a few leaves dying, it seemed to be holding on. In September, I decided to swap it with the one in my office that never flowered. I re-potted it into a bigger pot and noticed that a large root had formed. There was hope that this plant would make it!

A few days later I noticed a new stalk coming up, but it just looked like another new leaf. I was very optimistic about the plant flowering because they are tropical plants, usually flowering in the high heat and humidity of summer. It was now October and we already had our first frost and daytime temps were dipping into the upper 40's.

By the beginning of November that stalk that I thought was a leaf started to take on a different shape. It began bending about 8" from the end and started to have light shades of orange and red. I was now positive that this was a flower! The thought of finally getting a flower from a plant that was divided just 6 months earlier was astounding. Over the next couple of days I watched with anticipation as the colors began to intensify as it looked like it was about to burst open.

Last night the pod finally opened! My wife and I both stood there in amazement and watched as the flower slowly emerged! I couldn't believe that this plant that came from Bepa's original was actually flowering!

This plant sits on my desk in my office next to a picture of Bepa that hangs on my wall. I always feel that he is watching over me, inspiring me and guiding me to move forward along my journey to farm.

My wife and I both said it would be funny if the plant flowered on Bepa's birthday. This morning we looked through our genealogy information and found out that Bepa's birthday was November 3rd, the day it started to flower! We both had goosebumps!

I always feel the presence of Bepa with me, but now I know for sure that he is there, watching over me and inspiring me to live the life I dream of.