Category Archives: Sustainable Living

Presented For Your Amusement,

the evolution (not yet complete) of the vegetable garden:

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Looking forward to improving this every year!



Filed under Gardening, Sustainable Living

FINALLY, A Real Vegetable Garden!

We moved to the Garden In The Woods in 2009, and it’s take this long to clear, build, dig, mulch and plant the vegetable garden I planned on.  It’s not quite complete, but the end is in sight!

A variety of things slowed us down:  a broken ankle, health issues, three school age children, and that pesky job that pay for all the lovely plants.  The Chief of Implementation has had to help handle all those things AND work too.

Last fall, the Chief of Implementation built an additional 4 raised beds built for a total of 8 central beds.  This spring, I dug those beds over with my new Miraculous Broadfork from Meadow Creature, and mulched them heavily.  The 6 previously unplanted beds were set up for sheet composting with about a foot of garden debris and a sheet of cardboard under 8 to 12 inches of mulch.  Four of these were seeded with clover as a green mulch to prepare for warm season vegetables.

We also worked together to create 8 side beds.  Four are finished and planted; the other four will need to be raised beds, which the Chief of Implementation will build when the weather cools down.  These side beds contain reseeding or perennial plants and are  NOT rotated.

Here’s a diagram of the beds followed by what’s currently planted in those beds:

Bed Plants
Rotating Bed A Bed 2
Spring Planting
Cascadia Sugar Snap Peas – short variety, devoured by deer
Super Sugar Snap Peas – tall variety, devoured by deer
Overseeded with

  • Jericho lettuce
  • Lollo Rosso lettuce
  • Merveille de Quatre Saisons lettuce
  • Pinetree Seeds spinach mix
  • Bright Lights chard

Summer Planting
Day Neutral Winged beans (Psophocarpus tetragonolobus) – started inside
Asparagus pea (Tetragoholobus Purpureus) – started inside, devoured by deer

Rotating Bed B Bed 3
Spring Planting
Clover – poor germination and growth; add inoculant next time

Summer Planting
Miniature White Cucumber – yummy!
Vegetable Spaghetti winter squash
Buttercup winter squash
Horn of Plenty summer squash
Caserta summer squash

Rotating Bed C Bed 4
Spring Planting
Tyfon Holland greens
Seedling peas
Barefoot Farmer kale
Harris Model parsnips
Large Prague? celeriac
Neon calendula – direct seeded
Rossia, Carioca & Soprano Batavian lettuce
Rattail radish
Calypso cilantro

Summer Planting
Malabar spinach
New Zealand spinach
Cranberry Hibiscus (Hibiscus acetosella)
Neon calendula – started inside

Rotating Bed D

Bed 1
Spring Planting
Clover – poor germination and growth; add inoculant next time

Summer Planting
Yellow Currant tomato
Red Currant tomato
Yellow Brandywine tomato
Sugar Plum tomato
Bloody Butcher tomato
Opalka tomato
Red Mini Bell pepper – devoured by deer
Yellow Mini bell pepper – devoured by deer
hot pepper – purchased transplant
hot pepper – purchased transplant
hot pepper – purchased transplant
hot pepper – purchased transplant
marigolds – purchased transplants
Lettuce Leaf basil
Cinnamon basil – purchased transplant

Stationary Bed A Spring Planting
Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium)
Chinese Temple Bells (Moricandia arvensis)

Summer Planting
Physalis peruviana – devoured by deer

Stationary Bed B Spring Planting
Ladybird poppy (Papaver commutatum)
Blue Pimpernel (Anagallis monelli)
Ammi majus

Borage – direct seeded and started inside
Verbena bonariensis – direct seeded and started inside
Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) – direct seeded, started inside and purchased
Kurrat perennial leeks

Summer Planting
Physalis peruviana – devoured by deer
Prezzemolo Gigante d Italia flat parsley

Verbena bonariensis – started inside

Stationary Bed E Spring Planting
Miner’s Lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata)
Cilantro – reseeded late spring & midsummer
Crimson Forest bunching onion – no survivors
Nigella bucharica – no survivors

Summer Planting
Physalis pubescens – devoured by deer

Stationary Bed F Spring Planting
Black Swan poppy (Papaver lacinatum)
Linaria maroccana ‘Licilia Peach’
Ambrosia (Chenopodium botrys) – no survivors

Summer Planting
Physalis pubescens – devoured by deer
Petra curly parsley



Filed under Gardening, Sustainable Living

Checking In On Our Girls

Some beekeepers wait longer than just one week before they check in on their bees, but we’re excited and impatient, so we’re checking our hives today!  Here’s the Chief of Implementation in his bee jacket and hood, wearing light colored clothes. He’s smoking the top of the hive where the feeder is.  Once again, he’s done an excellent job with the smoker and it’s producing dense white smoke that is COOL so we don’t blow hot thin smoke on the bees.

Wearing Bee Gear and Smoking the Hive to Calm the Bees

Wearing Bee Gear and Smoking the Hive to Calm the Bees

We’ll be checking each frame on each hive looking for several things.  First, how full is the hive?


The top super isn’t very busy, so the frames may not be filled.  It’s important that the queen has enough room to lay eggs, and the workers have enough room to raise brood, store honey, bee bread, and pollen.  If the bees are crowded, they’re more likely to swarm.

Sure enough, there’s NO honeycomb on this drone frame.  Drone eggs are usually laid in slightly larger cells, and encouraging the queen to lay all her drone eggs together makes it easier to control varroa mites.


There is some new comb hanging off the bottom of this frame.  When bees build comb outside of frames, it’s called burr comb.  Our bees are a race within the bee species (Apis mellifera) called Carniolian, and are are especially prone to making burr comb.  The big advantage of Carniolian bees is that they are VERY gentle.  Here’s are a couple of pictures that show just how gentle they are.



Next, we look for brood at a variety of stages of development and plenty of comb being used for food storage.


This is freshly drawn comb, which is why is SO pretty and white.  The lower left quarter has eggs.  They look like tiny strings standing in the bottom of the cells.  The center and the upper right quarter shows yellowish pollen or bee bread.  This provides protein for hungry bees.  The upper right quarter also shows honey.  It’s a very light colored liquid because the bees are spending most of their time drawing comb and are eating sugar water rather than flying out for nectar.  They’ll fan this with their wings until enough water has evaporated to make honey.  They they’ll cap the honey cells.


This is older comb, so it’s a darker color since at least a generations of bees have hatched, grown up and emerged from it with all the attendant mess.  There are whitish C shaped grubs visible in some cells in a variety of sizes.  There are also capped cells with a slightly convex yellowish cap.  These contain pupae which will metamorphose and tear the caps off to emerge.

There are a nice variety of stages, so the queen has been laying well.


Speaking of the queen, we do look for her, but we don’t worry if we can’t find her.  There are THOUSANDS of bees in a hive, and it’s easy to miss the one bee that’s a bit bigger than the others.  Many beekeepers mark the queen with a dot of paint for visibility.  We were lucky and found the queen in one of the hives.  She has a green dot.


We were a little concerned that we didn’t find eggs or a queen in the other hive, but also noticed what may be queen cells. Near the center of the picture a cell sticks up high above the other cells.   There were several similar cells in this hive.  It may have lost its queen when we installed it, and started feeding up a few candidate queens, so we’ll be watching it closely.

We also kept our eyes open for any sign of pest damage or illness.  We paid attention to the brood pattern.  When a colony is healthy, brood cells form a fairly dense sphere centered on the available frames.  Honey is stored on outer frames and upper frames generally.

Our girls are doing well!


Filed under Gardening, Sustainable Living

Piled Higher and Deeper

Three cheers for the Chief of Implementation! He built a new compost setup with four bins. Here’s the plan:

Bin 1 (on the right) contains “brown” stuff — high carbon material to balance the composition of the pile.  We’ll stockpile leaves in the fall here and add any leftover straw too.

Bin 2 (second from the right) contains the current year’s compost.  After every two inch layer of food scraps and garden waste are added, we’ll add a six inch layer of brown stuff.  Food scraps and garden waste are considered “green” compost materials that are high in nitrogen.

Bin 3 (second from the left) contains the previous year’s compost.  Once a year, we’ll turn Bin 2 over into Bin 3 and restart in Bin 2.

Bin 4 (on the left) contains compost from two years ago, which is ready to use.  Once a year, before turning Bin 2 over into Bin 3, we’ll turn Bin 3 over into Bin 4.

Here’s a picture of how it looks now.  The trash can is full of wood chips and leaves which are brown material from our old compost setup.  The orange wheel barrow contains the last of our old compost heap ready to be added.

Compost Bins, 31 May 2012

No glamorous pictures in this post, but I’m VERY excited about this setup.  Our old composter was overflowing and smelly because we weren’t careful about adding brown stuff to it.  This should be a much better setup.  This was inspired by the Urban Farm Handbook Challenge for February.  I’m late, but still game!

May your compost heat quickly, rot odorlessly and enrich your life.

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Re-Learning How to Can

Grammy & Greenhouse Tomatoes

My paternal grandmother canned, and my husband and I visited a few summers after we were married and canned with her.  That was over 20 years ago, and we haven’t done any canning since.  Until two days ago.

May 13 was our twenty-sixth wedding anniversary in addition to being Mother’s Day.  Our long standing tradition is to celebrate holidays that involve going out to dinner either well before or well after the actual day to avoid crowds.  Since we knew every restaurant on the planet would be mobbed all weekend, we found other things to do.

The highlight of our weekend was canning together.  The Chief of Implementation and I collaborated on a batch of Onion Maple Conserve.  We’re fond of sweet & savory together and this new recipe turned out extremely well.  We’ve already opened the second jar so another batch or two may happen.  We cooked 2-1/2 pounds of onions down to six 4 oz jars of maple and onion goodness.

Onion Maple Conserve, 13 May 2012

The recipe is from a Better Homes and Gardens special interest publication and I’m hoping that’s a safe source for recipes.

I also made two herb vinegars–rice vinegar with chive flowers and apple cider vinegar with tarragon.  They’re stored at the front of the peanut butter and snack cabinet for 4-6 weeks of aging in a warm dark spot where I’ll remember to turn them every day or so.  After that, I’ll filter them thoroughly and bottle them attractively.  I’ll watch the chive flower rice vinegar very carefully because it’s 4.3% acidity instead of the needed 5% for safe food.  I figured that out AFTER I’d put every available chive flower from the garden into it.  (Oops!)

Herbal Vinegars, 13 May 2012

We’re off to a small but happy start preserving our harvests.  Hope everyone is starting to enjoy garden bounty.


Filed under Cooking, Gardening, Sustainable Living

2012 Vegetable Garden Plans

At this point, I’m actually not too far behind in gardening.  The Chief of Implementation has been tremendously helpful along with Cricketwerks and her significant other.  We started the vegetable garden last year with the first two beds which were planted with tomatoes.  The deer were very grateful, but we harvested zilch.  THIS year, we’ll be fencing the garden as soon as possible after the other six beds are built.  Since they get planted at different times, we can spread the construction out.

Last year’s tomato beds are this year’s legume beds and I’m hoping to plant peas this weekend and transplant perennial green onions.  I’ll add some vermiculite to the beds before we plant and mulch afterward.  I’ve been reading that vermiculite is a good permanent amendment to improve drainage and the soil here is heavy clay.  Since this is the legume bed and it was thoroughly amended last year with compost and thoroughly mulched with shredded wood, I won’t add any fertilizer.  I’ve missed the first two planned plantings for this year, but planting outside during March is always a gamble, so I’m not too stressed.  I’m grateful to get ANY spring gardening done with a broken ankle.

The Chief of implementation has built the next pair of beds which will be planted with greens this year.  This weekend we’ll amend them with a couple of wheelbarrows of compost each and also with vermiculite.  I’ll plant out a few seedlings and direct seed a wide variety of cool season and long season greens.

Before mid May, he’ll build a pair for tomatoes and another pair for squash.  In addition to compost and vermiculite, we’ll amend those with homemade fertilizer.  We’ll also fence the whole bed with 7′ tall deer netting hoping to cut down on their depredations.

Here’s a diagram of the plan for this year.

2012 Veg Garden Plan

The entire garden is eight raised beds 8′ x 4′.  There’s a tree stump in the middle of the second row that’s not shown which probably cuts four to six square feet out of the bed.  I plant each bed with one or more botanical families and rotate each year so the same family is in the same bed every four years.

For more details, check out the Vegetable Garden Journal page.  It includes an overview of the location, snapshots of the garden so far and links to detailed information on each of the beds including specific varieties I’m planting. this year.

Here’s hoping for good harvests for everyone!


Filed under Gardening, Sustainable Living

It’s Not Easy Being Green..Or Is It?

With apologies to Kermit the Frog,my garden is fairly Green, and it’s been fairly easy.  I’ve been thinking a lot recently about “living Greener,” and decided to summarize my progress so far.

The Garden in the Woods is not strictly organic, but it’s close.  Compost is my soil amendment of choice, and I order a truckload once or twice a year in addition to composting everything in sight.  I keep other soil amendments to a minimum and choose organic options when I do amend.  As an example, I added greensand and soil acidifier from Espoma to the blueberry beds when I installed them last year.  I avoid pesticides like the plague.  On the other hand, some of the raised beds are built with treated timbers and the containers are filled with commercial, fertilizer enriched potting soil.  I’ve also fed roses and houseplants with Osmocote or Schultz African Violet food.

The garden is almost entirely pesticide free.  I plead guilty to using really scary poisons to kill wasps when they build a nest in the window frame .  Otherwise, I can say (with a straight face) that I use integrated pest management.  It goes something like this:

  1. Plant lots of flowers, claiming that they attract beneficial insects  (What do you mean butterflies aren’t beneficial?!)
  2. Admire all insects (especially butterflies) until there is significant damage to a plant I care about
  3. Frantically research in books and online to identify the perpetrator
  4. If it’s deer or rabbits, swear to fence everything next year
  5. If it’s an insect, spray forcibly with a hose or handpick and drop perpetrators into soapy water, gleefully watching them drown

The garden isn’t sustainable and isn’t an example of permaculture.  I’m working toward minimizing the outside materials that need to be added, and working toward establishing a stable system that mimics nature, but those goals are a long way off.  On the other hand, I water responsibly; I use minimal fertilizer; I compost everything in sight; I’ve started mulching with wood chips since I can get a pile when we have a tree cut down.  I’m learning to save seeds.  Sustainability is a very important goal for me, even if I never reach it.  I keep threatening to add chickens and beehives…

I’m not much of a plant snob.  I love many native plants, but I also love many non-native plants.  When I buy plants, they are nursery propagated.  Plants gathered from the wild can severely damage populations of fragile natives, and I don’t want my plant dollars to support that.

I avoid anything identified as invasive on the list for my STATE, and rip out any offenders that appear in my yard.  I also pay close attention to how much anything I plant spreads and remove anything that’s truly invasive.  I consider my mint collection very aggressive, but NOT invasive.

There’s definitely room for improvement.  I’m very serious about growing vegetables this year, picking fruit locally and shopping at farmer’s markets to improve our household intake of local, organic fruits and vegetables.  I’ve compiled a long list of canning recipes to try, part of a plan to stockpile homemade spaghetti sauce, tomatoes, salsa, ketchup, jam, chutney, preserves, and frozen and canned fruits and berries, and I’m researching organic, local meat, milk and eggs.  I considered joining a CSA, but as Ed said, “We’re our own CSA.”  We’ll be eating much more local food, and much more organic food this year.

I have plans to expand my composting and build a set of good sized bins for a multi-year composting arrangement.  I have PLENTY of straw and leaves for “brown” materials.  It may even reach the point where enough compost is generated from the house and yard to maintain a bed or two.

In closing, here’s a gallery of the wildlife here in the Garden in the Woods.  This is how I know I’m fairly Green, and its your reward for reading all the way through this post.  Photo credits go to my daughter who posts at

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Here’s to greener gardening as part of a greener planet!


Filed under Gardening, Sustainable Living