Fight Back Against Winter’ Dreary Grip

seed saver exchange catalog, 2014, seeds

2014 Seed Savers Exchange Catalog Cover

The seed catalogs are coming! Thumbing through the pages of these vibrant catalogs of cheer is a great way to push back against the cold, grey clutches of Old Man Winter.

Don’t forget our very own Edible Garden Planning Guide to help get your garden planning off on the right path. It includes garden planning worksheets for sketching out garden planting diagrams. Plan your garden, garden your plan!

book cover

Book Front Cover

What are you planning to grow in 2015?

Stay tuned for The DIY Backyard Farm’s top seed picks for gardening with kids.

raspberries

part of the daily golden raspberry harvest

Can you “beet” this?

I often write about ways to engage children with healthy, fresh foods. More specifically, I like to help parents get their kids to eat their veggies!

Here on the DIY Backyard Farm we believe in hands on learning. Plus, not all of our gardening “chores” are a bore. Remember, it may be zen-like for adults to weed or water. However, kids need shorter term and immediately rewarding tasks to keep them interested.

Interested in seeing what I am talking about? Grab your flashlights and come along for a two-minute video starring our youngest backyard farmer and I. We will take you night hunting for fall beets. After all, they are the “Candy of the Garden”!

Great Ways to Get Through Winter

cold,plants,protection

Burr it’s getting cold outside!

For me winter is more than a season. I do not even follow the official start and end dates of the winter season. When it gets cold I call it winter!

Most winters in the Northeastern US are lifeless, cold months filled with a few fun holiday events. The short days, winter jackets and lack of warm sun drive me to the edge each year. This backyard farmer would hibernate like a chipmunk if I could. Since long winter naps are out of the question I needed to find something else. I looked to my edible gardens for the answer.

Sure there is not much going on in the garden these days, except for some kale, broccoli and hearty carrots. However, our edible gardens have more to offer than meets the eye.

There are memories in the forms of photos, dried herbs and preserved foods. There is also future planning!
So, I have come up with a scheme to keep myself away from the winter blues. Here is what helps me:

1) Regularly viewing photos from seasons past.

edible garden collage

Photos can be “harvested” year round

 

2) Making sure each month has something gardening related for me to do. Seed ordering is the highlight of my winter. My family and I spend most of December and part of January planning our upcoming gardening season and ordering the seeds.

garden,plan,example,illustration,edible

Garden Planning Worksheet from my book

3) Enjoying foods from the previous season. It is amazing how sentimental a few frozen pesto cubes can make me!

basil,pesto,freeze,save,preserve

Left are frozen basil leaves and right are pesto basil ice cubes

4) Sharing or gifting the herbs we carefully dried during the previous season. We like to get creative as a family and package up our dried herbs for holiday gifts, housewarming items or just because someone else deserves our organic recipe helpers.

sage leaves,gifts

picking and packing dried sage leaves for gifts

5) Plan a vacation to someplace warm! There is nothing better than a trip to one of the warmer parts of California or Southern Florida to thaw out my Mediterranean soul. The minute I get off the plane I begin to feel better. Then the sights, sounds and smells of lush, green nature take over. I feel good again!

Big Sur,California,Sunny

Big Sur, California. Sunny and upper 80’s!!!

 

I hope some or all of these tips can help others make it through the cold. How do you shake off the wintertime blues?

When Mother Nature Throws A Curve

cold,plants,protection

My quick & dirty approach to dealing with a cold weather snap

I was part in denial and part in disbelief that we were going to get into the “teens” on the thermometer. I had every intention of finally building some DIY cold frames, but just did not get around to it.

A cold snap like this will kill the fall veggies and herbs before I am ready to say good-bye! What is a DIY Backyard Farmer to do? Improvise!

For me, improvising is all about rustling through our home to find things I can re-purpose for the task at hand. My wife locked up all our sheets and blankets. She must have been expecting my linen closet raid. “Honey, I really need a bunch of sheets and blankets to protect our veggies and herbs! I promise they won’t get too dirty!” No response…

My wife was not buying it for a minute. I was forced to pull together a couple of old sheets, a few plastic table cloths and some large buckets and pots. Anything to protect the plants from the wicked wind chills. Off into the early, but dark evening I went. A plant protecting I will go, armed with warm cloths and a headlamp.

The next day revealed plants that were still alive and not frozen!

The next day revealed plants that were still alive and not frozen!

As one can see from the photos, my efforts paid off. The makeshift protection was just enough to keep the plants alive. Even better news, warmer weather is on the way! Hang in there little veggies! Daddy will protect you!

Getting More From Your Edible Garden

Edible gardening does not have to be a 2-season endeavor. Sure, spring and summer are the traditional seasons most people thing of when they decide to grow fruits, vegetables and herbs. However, the fall is a great time to extend the usefulness of your edible gardens.

Unfortunately, most gardeners I speak with close up shop after the last tomatoes, peppers and eggplants are picked. Here in NJ that is late September to early October. In fact, when I show people my fall gardens they look at me like I am the all mighty and powerful Magic Plant Whisperer or someone like that. I often hear things like, “How do you do it? or “That is amazing!”

Growing your own produce is easy to do if you plan ahead and choose plants that grow well in your zone during the fall months (early winter too). I agree growing your own in the “off months” is amazing, but for different reasons. Fall & even early winter home-grown produce is amazingly delicious, amazingly healthy, amazingly cost-effective and amazingly beautiful.

Enough words! Check out the DIY Backyard Farm Fall Garden Tour Video below. In a few minutes you will be intrigued enough to start planning next years gardens today! Plan your gardens and garden your plan!

 

Everyone Loves a 2-4-1 Deal!!!

blueberry bush,fall colors

blueberry bush in fall hues

We still have a garden full of wonderful edibles, but I am already thinking about what to grow next season. As I walk around our edible gardens I cannot help myself from stopping and staring at the blueberry bushes in their fall glory. These amazingly gorgeous bushes gave up their berries to us (and the birds) over the summer. However, their true beauty is revealed each fall in the form of their colorful foliage. The leaves are an impossible to imagine fire of reds and oranges! Herein lies the 2-4-1 deal…blueberries give you berries and beauty!

I would grow blueberry bushes even if they did not yield a single berry. In fact, I feel they are much more attractive than virtually any ornamental bush I have seen. Do you grow blueberries? If so, is it because of the berries or the beauty of the foliage???

blueberry bush,fall color

another example of the beautiful fall colors of blueberry bushes

 

Edible Gardening Word of the Day is “Beneficial”

This post will provide invaluable advice on keeping a thriving organic edible garden with minimal time. Of course, I prefer to wander the garden for hours, but I do not get such a chance very often.

For example,these past 3 days have been super busy here at the DIY Backyard Farm. My day job (the one that pays the bills) has crept into my evening hours. Couple that with the shorter days and I have had little time in the gardens. In the past 3 days I have strolled the gardens for a total of maybe 30 minutes.

Ten minutes per day is not much, but it is enough to keep the garden chugging along and turning out great produce. If I only have a few minutes to spend in the garden then I will use those precious minutes to observe. I check soil moisture, general condition of plants and I look for pests. Finding problems before they get out of control is one of the best ways to grow great produce without chemicals. If you catch a problem early you can seek natural remedies or remove a problem plant before the problem spreads. I try to imagine myself as a beneficial insect patrolling the garden. My radar is on and searching for plants in need of help!

In the photos below you can see an example of a young (and tender) broccoli plant. Such plants are really vulnerable to pests because they only have a few leaves. If those leave get eaten the plant usually dies. Remember, leaves are like solar panels for plants. The leaves soak up sun and allow for sufficient amounts of photosynthesis to occur.

baby broccoli

Hey Broccoli, What’s Eatin’ You?

So, I was patrolling the garden and noticed all the young broccoli had leaves that looked eaten. On first glance there were no signs of pests. However, closer examination revealed the worms you see in the picture below. I simply removed and killed the worms and did a final check to ensure the plant was free of pests. I found at least one worm on each of my baby broccoli plants. Had I waited another day the broccoli would have been gonzo!

worm,broccoli

The Pest In Action

I rely on helpers to watch over the gardens when I do not have the time to play “beneficial” backyard farmer. My kids are great at garden care, but beneficial insects are even better. Unlike the kids, beneficial insect never stop working!

praying mantis

Praying Mantis Patrolling The DIY Backyard Farm

 

The big fella below was seen guarding our Kale early this morning. He was doing a great job! Always try to attract as many of these helpers as possible. You can also buy lady bugs, praying mantis and other beneficial insects to release into your gardens. This is a cool, interesting way to garden organically.

I hope you spend some “beneficial” time with your edible plants each and every day. They will pay it back 10 fold!

A Tomato for the Ages (or next season at least)

Today a friend gave me a magnificent tomato called Purple Haze. I had them this evening and quickly wrote them into my list of tomatoes to grow next year.

tomato,purple haze

A perfect Purple Haze Tomato

As soon as I finished my meal I began searching the net for information on this variety. After reading a number of sites I was satisfied that I had enough information to confidently add Purple Haze to my very short list of tomatoes to grow next year.

I liked the summary offered by a website call Tomato Dirt. This site does a nice job of providing background info on how the variety was created. I especially liked how they noted that Purple Haze is not yet stabilized. That means it is not producing reliable, consistent results. For example, it is meant to produce large cherry-sized fruit. However, it sometimes produces oblong or larger tomatoes.

Stabilized or not, I want to grow them next year. As I always say, “plan your garden and then garden your plan!” Start planning now when the experiences are fresh in you mind.

Fall Into A Great Opportunity

Fall offers a whole new season to grow your own healthy, organic produce. Like spring, the onset of fall offers a noticeable change of season. Fall even offers predictability. Conversely, spring doesn’t always deliver what we expect spring to bring. Sometimes it feels like spring never comes at all. On the other hand, fall never seems to disappoint.

The leaves will change, the evenings will get cooler and harvest will be in full swing. As I think of fall I imagine pumpkins and wild-looking gourds gracing the steps of many suburban homes. Soon we will all rejoice in stinging, “trick or treat”!

Fall has so much to offer to edible gardeners. Here on the DIY Backyard Farm we grow many wonderful, organic edibles. Right now we are picking the final tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and cucumbers. At times it is sad to know we are tasting the final flavors of summer. Then we begin to think of our kale, broccoli, swiss chard and beets. These are getting tastier by the day and will take us right through to December and maybe even January. In the words of the immortal Bob Marley, “everything gonna be alright!”

kale,plant

National Kale Day (10/2)

Fall is also the time to plant garlic. There is something exciting about planting garlic in the fall. Our anticipation of tasty garlic scapes and bulbs build with each bulb we sink into the ground. Heck, it is just plain nice to plant something at a time when much of nature is maturing or already on the finished for the season.

Finally, there is a lot less to do in the garden this time of year. In the summer weeds pop up with each passing second. Not so in the fall. Watering is usually less of a chore too. Rest assured, there will be plenty of time to plan your Halloween costume!

Are you growing your own produce this fall? If so, what are you growing?

 

Secret To A Successful Garage Sale

My friend Dave recently shared a story with me about the power of Sungold tomatoes. Maybe I should put pictures of my tomatoes on the signs for our next garage sale???

Here is the story as told by Dave:

Thought you would get a kick out of this story….

A friend was having a garage/moving sale and a guy was looking at some golf clubs that were up for sale. He noticed the guy was standing in the same spot for a long time. Then my friend noticed the guy was picking SUNGOLD cherry tomatoes off his plants. After seeing him eat 5 or so tomatoes he walked over and said, “those tomatoes are pretty good huh?” The guy said he has never had a tomato this good and wanted to know what the name of them was. He proceeded to pick 10 or 15 more to go!