Saturday, February 28, 2009


I had to stop in and show you what greeted me in the greenhouse this week. This is the bloom from a plant called "Devils Backbone". It is a succulent that has little plantlets develop on the edges of the leaves. They drop off and grow just about anywhere. I have a few plants that were really ragged from being left outside too long this fall. They nearly died because of the cold. I brought them in and almost threw them out (I have young ones that I can get new plants off of). They were put in the corner of the small heated green house and have been totally ignored. Needless to say they will not be a plant that is on the back burner this year.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


I am the automated temp control in our greenhouse. Sometimes I wonder if we shouldn't invest in an automated system. I have to run down to the green house at least three times in the day. That should be a literal statement. The exercise would do me good. It is an 1/8 of a mile to the garden. Downhill is not bad, but the slope coming back is at least a 45 degree one. When you get the last 200 feet it changes to almost a 60 degree slope. Quite a workout, a stair master is not needed here. Yesterday the day was overcast and never got above 35 degrees. It started with 20 degrees. The wind was gusting in a knock you over wind. The humidity was high. It felt like your flesh was being ripped from your face. The green house was kept closed all day and it never went above 55. The small inner green house (it was kept closed too), which at night the heaters keep around 55-6o, never got above 60 degrees. The heaters were off but there was no heat gain from the sun. The only thing that happened was it did loose any heat. Today is a totally different situation. The low this morning at 6 am was 5 degrees. At 8 it reached 10 degrees. This is always at least 10 degrees below what ever the Chesterfield Area temperatures are. Down at the garden it is another 5 degrees cooler. The green house when it is that cold has at least 1/8 to 1/4 of an inch of ice on the inside of the plastic. It's from the condensation of the humidity in the green house. As I mentioned in earlier post the green house floor never freezes. Two inches above the floor the air can be anywhere from 18 degrees and higher. This morning it was 24 in the main green house. The sun is shinning brightly, by 9 o'clock it was 85 degrees in the main green house and 100 in the small green house. One of the space heaters does not have a thermostat on it had continued to heat the house. With the sun shining the heat was compounded. I opened the window and door in the small green house, turned on the window fan. I turned on the main green house's inside circulatory fans and opened the back door 6 inches. I went to do the farm chores and checked the temps after I finished. The main green house stayed at 85 degrees and the small green house had dropped to 85 degrees from 100 in 7 minutes. I will check it in an hour and do some watering of the beds. I need to get them nice and moist for when we transplant the lettuce to them in 2-4 weeks. Two hours had past when I got back down to the green house. The main green house with the back door open was 85 degrees. The inner green house with the door, and window open (the window fan on) had reduced to 74 degrees. The window is located about 10 feet from the back door. The fan has a strong enough pull to pull the cool air into the smaller house. the houses should be fine until late afternoon when the sun drops behind the hill to the west. I need to go down just before this and close everything up. The temps quickly drop to with in ten degrees of the outside temps.

Spring Has Sprung

Spring has sprung, at least here at Valley View Farm. That is the name of our farmette. The Lettuce seeds I planted on Valentines were up in two days. The same with the seeds planted the 15. The packages said we would have a 7-10 day wait. This is not the first year that happened either. It happened the last two years. My deduction is if you give them a really nice warm damp spot they will sprout. The Styrofoam ice chest with the yogurt makers live up to our expectations every time. There were 3 varieties, of the 10 I planted, that have not sprouted yet. A Buttercrunch from 2006. Focea, a Green butterhead from Johnnies 2007. Valdor, a butterhead from Bountiful Gardens 2007. I see a couple of sprouts so I have faith the rest will come up (If they don't I will replant later 7 days are up with a different variety.) A hint for New gardeners, when your seeds sprout, if you use a peat vermiculite starting mix, Transplant them when they get true leaves. Watering them with some manure tea at this time really helps to give them a vigorous start. Peat and vermiculite do not have any nutrients to help the plants grow. The plants are drawing their sustenance from the seed coat. Even though spring is inside our house, it is a very cold 10 degrees outside the house. The green house is down the hill about 1/8 of a mile. In this valley the temps are another 5-10 degrees below what I have up here at the house. There is a bright sun out so I need to head to the green house to adjust the heaters. It will already be 70 degrees or more in there with this sun.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


This is the raised bed of our 2008 sweet potatoes. The previous years we have made raised beds that are not permanent ones. It seems the dirt just keeps washing away, we decided to make a permanent box to hold it in. In our Valley we have yellow clay. Two inches down it is solid clay and when water hits it it turns liquid and when the sun comes out it bakes it as if it is a piece of pottery in an oven. This was the day they were planted out.

We pott culture our sweet potato plants when we receive them.  It seems to give them a head start to grow some newleaves before putting in the garden.
This is after they have been growing for about 3 weeks.
This last picture is the Bed at about 6 weeks.
Sweet potatoes at our house are a luxury item that should be simple to grow but seem to attract pests. Pest not in the insect family but in the mammalian family. When we raised sheep it was a likely hood that at least three times in a season the sheep would get in the garden and mow them flat. We would bemoan the fact every time. The sad fact is if people would close the gate behind them securely the sheep wouldn't get in. After the sheep left 3 years ago we breathed a sigh of relief that we wouldn't have to contend with that problem anymore.
How wrong we were. Our neighbors started invading the garden. At times we wondered if we had been blaming the sheep for what the neighbors did. Deer absolutely love sweet potatoes. We spent the summer learning to outwit the deer. We now have 8-10 foot fencing around the gardens. (It is not unsightly). We used 10 ft, 1 inch conduit every 8 feet around the garden. This is all you see. We tied netting, which is used to bale hay, on the poles. It is four foot wide and we made two courses high and wove, where they meet, together with baling twine. Is the old adage, you can fix anything if you have baling twine and duck tape. After totally fencing the upper garden we found the deer had been stumped, Hurrah!
We surveyed the garden before we left it in the evening, everything seemed to be in order.
The next morning I took a stroll through the garden to check what needed to be watered and if mulch was needed. I walked around the west end of the Hobbit house and gasp. My raised bed of sweet potatoes was devastated, it was mowed down to 6 inches high. I searched for evidence the deer had compromised the fence. There was nothing. Not a deer print to be seen. What in the world could have done that. Two days latter I spied the culprit, a ground hog. He had to be 35 lbs. He was enormous. He was waddling across the drive leaving the garden, hanging from his mouth was a sweet potato leaf.
Last summer the monster destroyed the patch 3 times. We tried to live trap him. He was so large the trap for raccoons was too small. He was able to steal the bait, spring the trap and back out the side his rump was holding open.

I suppose by now you were wondering when we were getting around to "The art of raising Sweets".
You can buy your starts from a seed company. They will be guaranteed to be virus free. But I have found you can't taste the pages. You don't have any idea what the description will taste like. So last year I started raising my own starts. I bought sweets and tasted them and when I found one that was the shape, all the ones in the pile the same general size, and if they were sweet, dark orange and dry fleshed, that's the ones I went back and bought 2 of. Last year I only bought one and only retrieved about a dozen slips from it. So this year I bought two.

This week is about 3 weeks too early to start the sweet potatoes but they have little teensie leaves peeking out. I retrieved an older rectangle aluminum cake pan from the pantry. It had sides about two inches high. I filled it 3/4 full of clean sand box sand. (it is a finer sand than plain old sand). I made two troughs in the sand and placed the potatoes in the troughs. I proceeded to gently pour water on the sand until there was a 1/4 inch of water glistening on the surface. Every morning I re-add water.
When your slips start growing and get at least 3 substantial leaves on each slip, (the books say twist them off. ) I give them a twist with the assistance of the point of a sharp paring knife inserted in the flesh under where they are growing from. Then I plant each slip in their own 3 inch pot, till they develop nice roots. They are placed under grow lights and kept at 60-70 degree temp. Sweets do not like to get chilled. When they are well filled out and graduate to the next size pot, if the green house is keeping a temp at night above 45 degrees I will move them out to the green house. They can't be planted out till the night time temps outside are warm. In our Valley that can be well into the first of June.
Will keep you posted on the When the slips start developing. The last picture above I didn't mention was taken the night before the ground hog devastated the bed.

For more blogs by me, visit at:
A blog mostly about quilting,
but cooking, poetry, prose and a little gardening,
New blog, tutorial on how to make 5 panel Boxer Shorts.
New Blog about dolls.
Not a garden blog.
There are articles which have nothing to do
with creating or gardening.
There are blogs on the new born baby kittens
we found and mothered.
It is a blog where I voice my opinions which will always be environmentally friendly.
As always, any pictures or writings are my own.
Credit has been given to contributions not my own.
Please do not use without permission.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


This is a seed starting blog.  The information begins the 6th paragraph down. 
I have been ask more times this past week, than I want to count; "What are you going to do for Valentines day? Or what Do you want for Valentines?" Romance has always happened around nature for Hunny and I. Bird watching, Hiking, camping, gardening, and of course cooking. Our most romantic times have been the unexpected ones when we have been physically exhausted from a day of endeavors.
If you bring me chocolate covered strawberries, I am not impressed but to see a package of strawberry plants thrills me no end. (We prefer our chocolate dark and unadulterated) In this economy the thought of going out and spending money for a dinner with an exorbitant price tag floors me. Technically the idea of getting overdressed for the occasion and then the long drive to and from the place leaves me cold...and knocks the romance out of the occasion. (It seems the meal served is not what it is purported to be.)
Friday night I retrieved a leg of Lamb out of the freezer. It was left to thaw (wrapped) in the kitchen sink. Saturday morning I deboned it. This is an arduous task. Not one that I enjoy. If it had been purchased, the butcher could have done the dirty work. It wasn't, it is one of our farm raised lambs.
The reason I debone the leg is to make a butterflied leg of lamb. It's preparation is one learned from a Julia Child cook book. After all the hard preparation work the finishing is a breeze. You run to the green house for enough rosemary to make about 3 TBS when the leaves are stripped from the stems. Chop them on the fine side. Put 3 large cloves of garlic through a garlic press and mix with the Rosemary. I tweak her recipe a little, I add more of some of the ingredients. Place the herbs in a gallon plastic bag and add 2 TBS lemon juice, 3 TBS olive oil, 2 TBS soy sauce, and mix well. Place your lamb in the bag and squeeze the marinade around it. Store in the refrigerator and turn every hour. (this step can be done the day before.)
The Lamb will be served with garlic mashed potatoes. We are not fond of dirty mashed potatoes so these will be peeled. Lamb says spring. Spring isn't quite here so it is into the freezer I head for asparagus harvested last spring. One hour before you are to cook your lamb, remove it from the fridge. This allows the meat to come to room temp. Forty minutes before the lamb is to be served preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Prepare the broiler pan (spray with a cooking spray). Put marinated lamb, skin side up on the pan. Arrange the lumpy meat as much as you can the same thickness. (I use a meat pounder on the huge muscles before I put it in the plastic bag. It helps a little.) Put lamb in the oven, immediately turning the temp down to 375F. Cook for 20-25 minutes. I do 25 for medium rare. When the timer rings remove the lamb from the oven. Set the rack for broiler use. Set the temp on Broil (leave the door ajar). While the broiler is preheating, Baste the top of the lamb with 1 TBS Olive oil. Place under the broiler for 3-4 minutes to brown. When finished set on the side for 15 minutes before carving. While the meat is resting you can use the pan juices to make a wonderful gravy .
This was a Blog on Seed Starting which I haven't even addressed yet. That is what we spent Valentine's afternoon doing. Seed starting is a fairly rudimentary proposition at our house. We use recycled take out containers for propagation chambers. Ones with domed lids are the best. We also use the plastic trays from cookies and cover them with plastic wrap (don't use the multi-pack trays it is hard to extract seedlings from them). Another hint; Plant varieties that are the same in each tray I.E. lettuces with lettuces. Make sure all varieties have the same maturation times, you disturb the roots of the adjoining rows when one type sprouts before another one and you try to remove them.
For starting seeds you can purchase a seed starting mix but we usually mix our own if we can't be sure of the contents of the mix. We use a mix of 3/4 peat and 1/4 vermiculite. When you open your mix bag or mix your own you need to moisten it. DON'T dump cold water in it. The peat in the mixture will just float around on top of the water, not absorbing it. We heat the water very hot in the microwave. (Hot water from the tap can have copper leached from the pipes in it).  When the water is heated the peat absorbs it immediately.  Stir until it is absorbed.  I usually prepare my potting medium the day before  I need it so it can cool down. 
We put at least 1 inch to 1 1/2 inches in the container depending on how deep the container is.  After planting we place them in our fancy propagation chamber.
Fancy propagation chamber directions:
We use Styrofoam cooler. Inside you will find a yogurt maker. Remember the ones that were the rage in the 70's (I find them for a dollar or less at the resale store). They are put in the bottom of the cooler and a piece of heavy cardboard with slots cut in it(for heat circulation) is placed over the "maker" for a shelf. We place the small take out containers on this. A word of caution. Test your homemade propagation chamber to make sure the temps stay under 80 degrees. If the heat is higher than this you need to open the lid a scosh.  Different seeds have a different preference for sprouting temps.
When seed starting beware that some seeds need light and moisture to germinate. There are books, but the net is perfect to look up the requirements for the seed you are planting. Remember different varieties of the same plant may have different needs. I.E. some lettuces require light and some require being covered with 1/4 in. of medium.
Lettuces we planted:
Prizehead lettuce, a wonderful loose leaf lettuce. It is lime green inside, blooming to a beautiful burgundy on the tips. It stays sweet far longer than most varieties we've tried. It seems to have a longer storage in the refrigerator. Flavor, If you are looking for a lettuce with taste, this is one you will want to try. It is a large leaved lettuce with a mildly frilly edge. We purchased our seed from Shumway.
Revolution, This is an extremely dark red lettuce with a heavy fleshed frilly edged leaf. We thought it would be great when the heat came on but not! It turned bitter with the first hot day. We are trying it again planting it earlier to try to miss the hot days. It's flavor is not sweet but not bland either. Nice addition to a salad, definitely a treat for the eye. I recommend planting this one for accent in the flower garden even if you don't eat it. When it bolts it is a gorgeous 1 1/2 ft tower of deep red burgundy, verging on black red. We purchased our seed from Thompson and Morgan seed company.
Tropicana, a new variety for us purchased from Johnny's Seeds.

Green Ice, This is an old time lettuce which doesn't have a good shelf life so it is not usually grown for commercial production. It has a fragile leaf, but a taste that makes up for it's fragility. The leaf is frillier than most but not as frilly as a Lolla rossa type. It is a large leafed type which makes it great for sandwiches and lining trays for a party. Purchased from Shumway. I will be starting more lettuces today.
The photo is Cimmeron lettuce, a reddish cos type lettuce that could be considered a miniature vegetable. It's maximum growth is about 8 inches at most. These are just ready to transplant to the garden. They are about 4 weeks old.
On Valentines day Hunny and I did what we love most, gardening.

For more blogs by me, visit at:
 A blog mostly about quilting,
but cooking, poetry, prose and a little gardening,
New blog, tutorial on how to make 5 panel Boxer Shorts.
New Blog about dolls.
Not a garden blog.
There are articles which have nothing to do
with creating or gardening.
There are blogs on the new born baby kittens
we found and mothered.
It is a blog where I voice my opinions which will always be environmentally friendly.
As always, any pictures or writings are my own.
Credit has been given to contributions not my own.
Please do not use without permission.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Green house Pictures

We are getting ready to start working in the green house. These are a couple of looks back at the last two months of 2008. These are the snow peas we raised. The center of the green house is at least 13 feet tall. The top board you see peeking in the peas is 4 feet tall. The peas were trained on netting that is normally used for rolled baled hay. We only received a couple of meals from them even though they were covered with blooms. The zero days that hit the last of December froze the top half of the plants. They flopped over and suffocated the bottom of the row. In order to raise them we would have to have enough heat to keep the upper feet of the green house above freezing. This is not economically feasible.
This is our resident Yellow garden spider. Argiope auranita Typical Orb Weavers, Family Araneidae. They are considered common, but we hardly ever find one. This has to be the spider Charlotte was. They are fantastic weavers. She wove webs all over the green house and finally decided the potting rack was where she would hang her nest. We are hoping this will be the start of a whole squad of these delightful spiders.
I looked through the files for a better pix of the inner green house but was unable to find any. We still haven't found a way that is acceptable to anchor the plastic. Till we do, it will hang over. This coming spring we have to make sure there is west and overhead shade for it. The heat gets intense. We do have plenty of fan ventilation but what is a plus in winter, having the small green house inside the big green house, is a minus in the summer.
Thanks for stopping by, I have to head down to the green house to adjust the openings. the bright sun just came out and the sage and rosemary will be steamed (no we don't have an automated ventilation system...I am the automation).

Monday, February 9, 2009

Introducing Our Garden and Us

Heading home today from the state of Florida. I have told the Grands that it will probably be the last trip down here till Late fall. Gardening in St. Louis occupies me 24/7 during growing season.
This week in it was very cold here. I left very cold in St. Louis. In fact it was extremely cold. I believe this January is the coldest in at least 10 years.
We have a Green house that is 48 X 24. It is a hoop house with double poly. A small fan keeps it inflated with an insulating layer of air. We found a small thermometer that is battery operated at Walmart. It records the high, low temps and the current Temp. It also records the high, low and current reading of humidity. Each day twice a day we remove the battery to reset it.
We have found when the temps are at 20 to 32 degrees outside, the double poly only keeps the temps inside about 10 degrees difference through the night. When the temps dropped to 0 and the two days we had -12 and a week of -'s the temps inside never dropped lower than 18. During the day if it is bright sunshine outside the temps can reach 100 degrees inside. Wind does not seem to be a factor in the temps inside. On an very cold cloudy day when it is preparing for snow the temp can be counted on to be at least 50 degrees during the day with no auxiliary heat source. I believe the stored heat in the earth keeps the temps up during the night. The ground inside the green house never freezes. We have had at least a 1/4 inch thick layer of ice on the inside of the green house plastic due to the humidity accumulating.
Growing prolifically in the empty beds are those hated winter weeds, Henbit and Chickweed. We don't mind the chickweed in the green house because we pull some every day to feed to the 6 Hens we have. They have done quite well in this cold weather. Producing 4-5 eggs almost every day. The Henbit though, geepers, does anyone know of a natural eradication of either one of these plants. Henbit is a perennial pain in the back side. Chickweed gets out of hand so quickly and even though it is an annual it seeds and grows in all weather. The only time I have seen it thwarted is in hot and dry, but those seeds stay sleeping till more advantageous living conditions come around.
I haven't access to pictures till I return home. Or I would post some now.
We have a smaller hoop house inside the large green house. It is 9X16. It is not a double poly. It is on a 2 ft high base that is insulated. The base walls are constructed with out door plywood, which is painted with enamel outdoor paint. There is batt insulation in the walls. We used a heavy gauge plastic to cover the hoops with. The end walls are a baffled plastic. We made it removable and put screens on the inside so we will have an environment that would be bug-less as it can be. Also so we would have summer ventilation. There is a fan in the north end to help pull in cool air.
We have been keeping my over flow of house plants in the small house. Things like Hibiscuses, crotons and avocado trees. There is a 6 ft row of 2 feet high rosemary which is over 6 years old and still growing fabulously (I have had trouble with powdery mildew on it. We keep a fan blowing on it constantly.) If anyone has a cure or preventative let me know. I tried spraying baking soda water on some rosemary that I had outside this summer and it turned black within 24 hours and died. (I use baking soda to prevent black spot and powdery mildew on my roses.)
We are using space heaters to heat the small green house. I don't know if it is economical but we had no other planned source of heat. We didn't even now if the little house inside the big house would be able to retain enough heat to have the house plants in. This is our first year with the inner house. We will have another heating set up by next year. It was a rush job at the end of last year.
The rosemary that is 6 years old has been previously only covered with heavy covers and three lamps underneath to keep the area from freezing. being our last few winters were on the warmish side it suffice to keep it alive. When spring came it recuperated toute suite. This year in the new inner green house it is acting like it is in the Mediterranean. Growing fabulously.
I planted some tricolor sage in the smaller house (I haven't been able to winter it over in the st. Louis area.) So far it is doing great, hope I will be able to take cuttings from it when I get home this week. There is also a plant of Bergarten sage in there and I will be treated to some beautiful sage blooms soon.
Have to run to catch a plane. Hope to return with pictures tomorrow.