Trellising and Suckers (aka Keeping Tomato Plants Under Control)

Caged Tomato

By the end of June, most gardens are fully planted and have had several weeks to settle in and start to grow.  If your rows were fully weeded when you planted, you’ve probably had a few weeks of vacation from this ongoing garden chore.  Pests can start to be a nuisance, praying on small vulnerable leaves and stems (read more about pest control here).

Right about now is a great time to get ahead of the game and create a plan to sucker, trellis, or stake any plant that will likely grow tall and may become top-heavy with fruit.  In our garden, I tie pepper plants to stakes; make sure beans, peas, and cucumbers have a trellis to climb on; and sucker and cage my tomato plants.  Most of this makes sense to the average person, except: what the heck is suckering?!

tomato sucker

Plants that are naturally bushy and sprawling, like tomatoes and tomatillos, grow new “heads” (or “suckers”) at every point where a leaf grows from the main stem.  When I worked in school gardens, I would tell the kids that suckers grow out of the armpits of the plants.  If you want a huge sprawling bush, that’s great!  BUT, if you want to be able to find all your mature fruits, keep the plant from sprawling all over the row and plant neighbors, and want to keep it off the ground to avoid disease, you’ll need to take action.

caged tomatoes

There are many trellising techniques for tomatoes.  What you choose should be based on the amount of space you have, the number of plants you want to grow, and how many extra supplies you’ll need to invest in.  Feel free to let me know if you want my thoughts on your specific circumstance!  In general, I recommend starting with a large tomato cage, and suckering your plant to keep it airy, growing up, and focused on producing fruit off its main stem.

Now that my tomato plants are over a foot high, they’ve started to grow suckers.  At this age, I can simply pinch them off with my fingers.  If suckers get very large, you’ll want to use snippers or scissors so you don’t rip the main stalk of the plant.  By removing suckers when they are small, I encourage the plant to focus on growing up rather than out.  In August, this will result in a more orderly tomato row with plants that are (mostly) growing within their cages.  This makes for easy harvesting, less spread of disease (which usually happens when rain splashes dirt up onto your plant or when leaves are densely packed together), and less breakage if there are high winds.

Suckering tomato copy

Suckering is an ongoing chore throughout the season, but is quick and easy, and fits into walks through the garden when you can also keep an eye out for maturing fruit, find new pests before they cause much damage, and take a moment to pluck a few weeds.

IMG_6824Want to get creative?  Let a few suckers grow in a strategic way.  Tomato espalier anyone?  Last year in my garden I planted a single plant at the base of a trellis.  I let one sucker grow up each wire, and then removed the rest.  I used string to periodically tie each branch to it’s assigned wire – tomatoes don’t send out tendrils or curl around wires like peas, beans, and cucumbers. My yield per plant was very high because I was essentially growing multiple “trunks” from one plant.

Happy Gardening!

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Our House Named “Greenest Building!”

house 2

More good news from the home front: our house won 2016’s “Vermont’s Greenest Residential Building” award from Vermont Green Building Network!  Two years after moving in, we still feel incredibly lucky to call it our home.

Since I’m on the topic of the house, we have two other exciting updates.  Solar panels have been installed, and we’re moving forward with finishing the second floor!  Because we use so little energy, we’ll be sending the electricity produced up to Evan’s business to offset the electricity needed to run a busy screen printing shop.

We were so happy that Lynn at The Charlotte News captured our feelings so well in the story below.  Our main message: efficiency does not necessarily mean expensive!  Anyone building a new home should definitely prioritize efficiency for many long term savings – for the home, the family, and our planet.

Check out the article below, or click here to read it on The Charlotte News’ website:

house 1

Charlotte home dubbed greenest in the state

JUNE 2, 2017

Lynn Monty | Editor in Chief

A Charlotte home built by Ken Ruddy of Fiddlehead Construction for Tai Dinnan and Evan Webster has won 2016’s “Vermont’s Greenest Residential Building” award from Vermont Green Building Network. The only house to measure more efficient in the history of this annual award was another Charlotte house, designed and owned by David Pill and Hillary Maharam.

Rather than buy an existing house Dinnan and Webster decided to create a modest, energy-efficient home using current technology and techniques. “We hope this attention brought by this award will help others realize that efficiency can be affordable and should be part of every new home’s construction,” Dinnan said.

Ruddy has developed a streamlined and cost-effective approach to building this type of high-performance home that incorporates enhanced energy efficiency but also utilizes best building practices and focuses on durable detailing, he said.

The award-winning, single-family residence on the southern slope of Mt. Philo has walls built with air barriers, vented roofs with cathedral ceilings, wastewater heat recovery for both baths and kitchen, and ventilation driven by indoor air quality monitoring, among other special features. It’s an electric home with supplemental solar and a woodstove.

After Dinnan and Webster had been living in the house for a year to prove its energy efficiency, Ruddy applied for the award. It makes sense from both a financial and sustainability perspective to build this way, Ruddy said. Not only did investing in this new home reduce Dinnan and Webster’s impact on the environment, they also experienced short-term savings.

“Because we never needed to get infrastructure such as radiators, propane, oil or gas lines and tanks, investing in efficiency didn’t end up costing more money,” Dinnan said.

When you include energy costs along with the mortgage, these homes are less expensive on a monthly basis than a new home built to code standard, Ruddy said. “Tai and Evan sized the home for their current and future needs and no more, so it is smaller, but functional,” he said. “Efficiency Vermont’s High Performance Homes standard, which this home used as a starting point, was not only developed to hit the sweet spot with regard to cost effectiveness to reach net zero, but also incorporates safeguards to ensure the homes are comfortable and durable.”

Net Zero is a term used to describe a building with zero net energy consumption.

Lindsay Jones from Efficiency Vermont was the energy consultant on the project. The house also won Efficiency Vermont’s 2016 “Best of the Best” in New Residential Construction. “The home was built with insulation levels approximately twice that of Vermont’s baseline residential building code, has exceptionally low air leakage, and energy efficient heating and ventilation systems,” Jones said.

Efficiency Vermont initiatives allowed Dinnan and Webster to save money and receive rebates. “Their work in the state really helps encourage homeowners like us to make choices that are good for the environment,” Dinnan said.

See the original article by clicking here

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Ahhhh, The Garden is Planted

Every spring as the ground thaws, my list of things to do in the garden grows longer and faster than my weeds.  I can generally be found wondering: why does it keep on raining, making garden tasks impossible?  How are those weeds growing SO fast?!  And don’t even get me started about how much grass grows when it’s drizzly and un-mowable.

Luckily I’ve gotten some amazing help weeding (thanks Mom and Dad!) and a Memorial Day Weekend of amazing warm dry weather.  Because I’m spending most free moments outside, I’ll fill you in on the garden progress with a few photos.  Happy Gardening!

Weeded Garden

This was the moment when the last wheelbarrow load of weeds was rolled down to the the compost.  Finally I felt victorious (surely temporarily) in our battle with the horsetail forest that grows vigorously in our garden plot.  I clearly didn’t want to remember my weed forest because I didn’t take any photos.  The good news was that the grass, parsnip, and dandelions we battled last year didn’t come back nearly as much.  Slowly we will succeed in turning a fertile field into a bountiful garden!

Planted Garde

Planted Garden2

And then, we got to work planting.  It’s now warm enough to plant nearly everything, especially if you keep your eye on the forecast.  What a relief to see those seedlings happily settling into their homes!

asperagus grilled

Since May is coming to a close, I shouldn’t forget to mention that we’ve been enjoying our first harvests of the year: young greens, tender asparagus shoots, and a variety of rhubarb desserts.  Evan’s determined to have as many grill days as possible this summer, and I’m certainly not going to get in his way!

sunset

Of course, good things do come from all those spring showers.  We’ve been blessed by many rainbows this spring, including this one: the most vibrant double rainbow I’ve ever seen.  We live in a truly beautiful bountiful place!

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Snack Attack

snack food!

If you’re anything like me, you try to cook from scratch and eat whole foods.  When you do end up buying packaged food from the store, you check out the ingredients list and try to find something that’s pretty simple and made from things you can pronounce.  Well, last week I just really wanted goldfish!  Or some other cheesy crunchy orange snack from the middle aisles of the grocery store.

goldfish ingredients

The ingredients in goldfish certainly aren’t the worst, but for someone who eats organic, savors grass-fed dairy, avoids highly processed vegetable oils, and soaks her grains and flours before baking, they’re pretty far from what I’d like to be eating on a daily basis.

What do do?  Make my own!

Here are a few recipes I’ve tried recently to add some fun snacky homemade foods into our lives:

homemade cheez its

Homemade Cheeze-Its
-The recipe I followed: Serious Eats Cheez-Its
   -Thoughts: Addictive!  Totally met my craving for goldfish, but probably wouldn’t want to have around the house all the time.
-How I tweaked it: I used whole plain yogurt + 3 tablespoons of melted butter (1 cup total volume) instead of cream.  I then mixed the yogurt, melted butter, and flour 24 hours ahead of time, allowing it to soak covered at room temperature (read more about soaking grains here).  When I was ready to bake, I mixed the dry ingredients first, dumped them into the wet ingredients, and kneaded the (very wet!) dough on a floured surface.  I followed some advice from the recipe’s comments and rolled out the dough directly onto my silicone pad (which I use instead of parchment paper).  The wet dough on the pad was super easy to slide on to a tray, cut into squares, and put in the oven.  I baked at a lower temperature (325) for a longer amount of time (until they were golden brown) to get them crispy without burning.  I put the tray back in a warm oven later that night (after I had baked something else) to help them dry out all the way.

homemade kind bars1

Homemade “Kind” Bars
-The recipe I followed: Fruit and Nut Bars from The Nourishing Home
   -Thoughts: It totally worked!  Mine are slightly more fragile (crumbly), but they do stay together as bars and have a great balance of salty and sweet.  Perfect for keeping at work for days that I didn’t pack quite enough for lunch.
-How I tweaked it:  I used maple syrup instead of raw honey – my preference when baking (raw honey loses its benefits when heated).  Molasses would also be a sweetener that would add an interesting twist to the flavor.  I also splashed in some vanilla.  In need of more “glue,” I added a bit more nut butter+coconut flour.  It would definitely be possible to change the ratio of fruit to nuts (or add something else, like chocolate chips or granola), as long as the total amount comes to just under 2 cups total.

homemade gummies

Homemade Sour Watermelon Gummies
-The recipe I followed: Sour Watermelon Gummies from Meatified
   -Thoughts: Not as good a match to the real deal as the recipes above (adding more honey would likely get it closer), but a great way to enjoy a fruity snack and get some pastured gelatin into your diet (your skin, hair, nails, and joints will thank you).
-How I tweaked it: Didn’t!  I did end up adding a heaping tablespoon of honey.  This was the perfect use of the extra watermelon we threw in the freezer last summer.   If you don’t have silicone molds, it totally works to pour liquid into a flat-bottomed dish and then cut into squares when gelled.  A note: If you taste your liquid before cooling, it should be super tangy and sweet – it will become much more bland when cooled.

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Let the Foraging & Gardening Begin!

April from Philo

Our landscape is greening more and more every day.  Buds swell and flower, new birds arrive daily, and early greens are emerging.

Pussy Willows

The first cold hardy seeds and seedlings are planted in our garden.  Whenever it is dry enough, I try to get into the garden to stay ahead of weeding and garden bed preparation.  It’s best to work the soil when it’s not too wet, which can be tricky at this time of year!  By having several garden beds ready to go, there’s always space when I’m ready to plant the next thing.  Seeds and seedlings I plant in April include: peas, spinach, arugula, lettuce, kale, chard, cilantro, beets, radishes, and onions.  I’ve started most of our brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts) inside – they will be the next to go out.  Carrots and parsnips are also on my list to plant in the next few weeks.

nettles-growing

Stinging nettles and dandelion greens have emerged and are young, tender, and delicious at this time of year.  They also happen to be loaded with nutrients and are exactly what our bodies need as they awake for spring.  I love this post by Urban Moonshine about harvesting dandelions in early spring.   Dandelions’ bitter qualities are what make them health-giving but can also turn people off from foraging and eating wild plants.  Nettles, on the other hand, are quite mild and can be used instead of spinach when cooking.  Here is a post with harvesting instructions and numerous ideas for using nettles in your meals.  Check out this post if you’re interested in other yummy plants to forage in the early spring.

dandelion-familyHappy foraging, happy gardening, happy spring!

P.S. Our naturally dyed deviled eggs came out great!  This year’s notes: my green is in need of improvement, and I learned to be cautious when playing with salt, baking soda and vinegar for my blue dye…avoiding blue volcanos in the kitchen is generally a good idea 🙂

Natural Easter Eggs

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April in Vermont

april snow

April arrived in true Vermont style: with a blizzard.  Luckily, we live in a state where friends and neighbors revel in the snow.  We all enjoyed one more dose of sledding, skiing, snowshoeing, and snowball fights followed by a cozy night by the fire.

scilla

One week later, temperatures climbed past 75 degrees, we enjoyed the first blooms in our garden, and planted peas and spinach.  Ahhhh, April in VT.  After enjoying these mild days, I need to remind myself that a few more dramatic swings are likely before the weather turns truly springy.

colorful-egg-outsides

With Easter right around the corner, I’m getting ready to do another batch of naturally died deviled eggs.  Everyone’s backyard chickens increase production as the days grow longer, so there are always plenty of delicious eggs to play with at this time of year.  After hard boiling them and removing the shells, I’ll soak a few eggs in each of the following solutions:

-Yellow: Boil water and add 1T turmeric.  After solution has cooled, add a splash of apple cider vinegar and a dash of salt.
-Blue: Boil water and add 1/4 cup elderberries and 1 teaspoon baking soda.  (If adding apple cider vinegar and a dash of salt, do so slowly to avoid volcanoes 🙂
-Red: Boil water and add three slices of beet.  After solution has cooled, add a splash of apple cider vinegar and a dash of salt.
-Green, orange, purple…?: This year I’ll be experimenting with combining the brines above to see what other colors are possible.

After they’ve soaked several hours (or longer), I’ll slice my eggs in half and devil them.  Mix egg yolks, mustard, mayonnaise, lemon juice, finely diced red onions, salt, black pepper and relish to taste.  Mix until creamy and spoon filling into egg whites.

colorful-egg-platter

Happy Easter, Happy Passover, Happy Spring!

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Indoor Kitchen Projects

IMG_8239

Don’t open the back door!

We are finally enjoying a true blizzard in our new home!  Fluffy white drifts tip into the house each time I open the front door.   I’m excited to play in the snow – my first priority is sledding or cross country skiing down Mt. Philo.  I think I’ll wait, though, until I can confidently get back up the driveway when I return.  In the mean time, here are some fun indoor projects that are perfect for a snowy day:

salve-ingredinets

Soothing salves

homemade-crackers1

Homemade crackers

marmelade

Marmalade

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