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Posts Tagged ‘gardening’

Visit in Brenda Haas’s Garden

Along the pumpkin path

It’s hard to decide where a tour of Brenda Haas’s ranch should begin! In a gorgeous border beside her house, a volunteer pumpkin plant capriciously cavorts among the ornamentals. One of the surest ways to my heart: grow food in your show garden.

Remember Cultivate ’14? I wrote about it here: Horticulture Conference for Industry Geeks. I saw and learned so many cool things at that conference, but the trip gave me an opportunity to do something even more awesome: I spent the day after Cultivate ’14 visiting with Brenda Haas in northern Ohio.

Who is Brenda Haas?

To me, first and foremost, Brenda is a friend from my early days on social media. I got to know her as @BG_Garden on Twitter, and later as Bren… pretty much also on Twitter. I hope you also already know Brenda but if you don’t, let me encourage you to change that.

Bren is the curator of #gardenchat.

What is #gardenchat?

If I understand correctly, #gardenchat started on Superbowl Sunday with a group of gardening enthusiasts on Twitter. They had casually organized to tweet with each other while planting seeds instead of watching football.

Bird bath in a shaded garden

Not far from the pumpkin path, a bird bath holds promise of avian visitors in a shady garden spot. The view is across a lawn toward the road concealed by a hedgerow.

Participants enjoyed this first gardening-specific twitter chat and several turned #gardenchat into a weekly event. They tweeted about #gardenchat to their Twitter friends, and over the course of several months participation increased.

To be honest, I kept hearing about #gardenchat, but took about 6 months finally to tune in. The chat hooked me instantly.

During the #gardenchat hour, there may be twenty, thirty, or more conversations happening all at once, with one main conversation tying them together. New participants often comment about how impossible it is to follow what’s going on. Fortunately, Bren posts recaps. There is a supertanker load of gardening wisdom (and a lot of other interesting banter) in the #gardenchat archives.

How to #gardenchat

All you need to participate in #gardenchat is a Twitter account and a working Internet connection. On Monday nights at 9PM Eastern time, you can navigate to tweetchat.com, log in with your Twitter credentials, and type in the hash tag #gardenchat. Every tweet anyone posts that includes the #gardenchat hash tag will scroll by on your screen.

If you type a tweet into the box at the top of the screen, tweetchat.com automatically adds the hash tag at the end of the tweet.

Things move quickly during #gardenchat so hold onto your teeth. Follow @bg_garden on Twitter and watch for announcements about upcoming topics, giveaways, and other news related to the garden industry. Most of all, have fun! I hope to see you on the Chat!

Tweetchat

A screen capture of www.tweetchat.com provides an idea of what you’ll see during the #gardenchat hour on Monday nights. Click the image to see it full-sized.

The box titled, How to #gardenchat will help you participate. This is one of the most important destinations for gardeners online; several times over the years, the #gardenchat has ranked among the most active topics on Twitter. Please check it out a few times before you make up your mind about it; you’ll never meet so many like-minded gardening enthusiasts so easily.

One more time: Who is Bren?

So, Bren organizes #gardenchat and has expanded the #gardenchat experience onto many social media platforms. You can find #gardenchat on Facebook, Google+, and Tumblr. As well, Bren manages some #gardenchat activity on her personal website, and she manages a second website specifically dedicated to the #gardenchat community.

Bren was a garden photographer until all this social media stuff came around. Now she’s a wizard with social media… and she’s also a garden photographer. I learned when I visited her that she’s a talented gardener, and that she has boundless drive and energy. I already knew that she’s a warm, generous person—we’ve met several times over the years.

Colors and textures in Bren's garden

Bren’s gardens displayed layers of colors and textures that encouraged me to linger. Now and again, I spotted plants I recognized, but mostly I just enjoyed the scenery.

I love that Bren opened her home to me and that I got to meet her family. I love that she took time to give me a thorough tour of her ranch. I love that we started yapping when I arrived and paused only when sleep became inevitable… and continued the next morning pretty much until I had to head home. We talked about gardening & social media, and maybe even a bit about family.

For me it was the perfect punctuation to a terrific gardening-focused week in Ohio. Photos provide some insight into Bren’s gardening style. I have more to share; in the next month or so, I’ll post again about visiting in Brenda Haas’s garden.

Complementary plantings in Bren's garden

An eye-catching combo that includes hostas, heucheras, and ivy.

Gaining perspective in Bren's garden

A gorgeous flowering succulent grew in a pot near the “water feature” at Bren’s ranch.

On the deck in Bren's garden

Across the pond at Bren’s, you might glimpse horses through the fence. A gorgeous willow tree adds drama.

Water lily in Brenda Haas's pond

If there are water lilies, this photographer must capture at least one in a photo. Bren reported the unusually cold winter killed back her water lilies, but it’s clear they’re recovering.

 

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Visit the PA Farm Show

Sure, you can see fresh produce all winter in any local grocery store… but can you see vegetables that have been awarded blue ribbons?

Winter owns central Pennsylvania, but even for a kitchen gardener there is respite: The Pennsylvania Farm Show opens to the public in Harrisburg on January 9. I wrote several posts about the 2009 Farm Show in Your Small Kitchen Garden last January. It won’t look much different this year… and that’s a good thing.

Kitchen Gardener’s Haven

The Pennsylvania Farm Show is all about agriculture. Sure, there’s a preponderance of exhibits and competitions involving farming: tractors, horse livestock trailers, cultivators, and harvesters. There are horses, cows, chickens, ducks, geese, rabbits, sheep, goats, and pigs… there are even llamas. If none of these appeal to you; if you’re interested only on growing and eating your own produce; the PA Farm Show still delivers.

You’ll find exhibits of gorgeous vegetables, mushrooms, fruits, and nuts. You’ll find honey products and demonstrations by apiarists. You’ll find gardening gear and supplies, exhibits of cut flowers and potted plants, and even “box gardens;” table-top displays assembled to resemble full-sized courtyards and backyard patios.

At the 2009 Pennsylvania Farm Show, there were dozens of tiny gardens planted in wooden boxes. It’s a compelling idea: can a landscaper create a miniature yard or courtyard using live plants, and pass it off as a full-sized garden in photos or video?

Food at the Farm Show

For a kitchen gardener, gardening and produce aren’t the whole story. The Pennsylvania Farm Show understand this and includes exhibits and vendors of all kinds of cooking-related products. You’ll find terrific cookware, hundreds of bottles sauces and seasonings, and a whole bunch of free samples of foods you might want to use in your own kitchen.

Even if your garden has suffered because of a pesky wabbit, it’s hard not to enjoy a stroll among the rabbit cages at the Pennsylvania Farm Show. This rabbit looked capable of devouring a 14 foot row of carrots in a single sitting.

The Farm Show has a Kitchen Stage where area chefs and culinary students perform cooking demonstrations… and even Iron-Chef-style cooking competitions. You can relax and leave the kitchen stage area with ideas to apply in your own kitchen.

Finally, the food court at the Pennsylvania Farm Show features food that’s produced in Pennsylvania: Honey ice cream and waffles; potato donuts, fries, and baked potatoes; milkshakes, ice cream, and fried mozzarella… the list is too big to include all of it here. I like to grab good eats at the food court and carry them to one of the livestock arenas where I can enjoy a horse show or competition while munching the local fare.

Join me at the Farm Show

I’ll be at the Pennsylvania Farm Show the afternoon of Tuesday, January 12. I expect to attend at least one other day as well… and I’d love to have company. So, if you have any interest in meeting up at the Pennsylvania Farm Show, please contact me. Use this blog’s Contact Us form, or send a tweet to @cityslipper.

Did I mention? IT’S FREE! There’s no charge to attend the Pennsylvania Farm Show, though to park anywhere near it, you’ll pay $10 per car… so take a family of five (or a bunch of friends), and get a day’s entertainment for $2 per person.

Follow this link to the full schedule of Pennsylvania Farm Show events.

More information from the PA Farm Show:

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The 2009 PA Farm Show – 3

If your garden tractor looks like this, why are you visiting a web site called Your Small Kitchen Garden? One large hall at the Pennsylvania Farm Show features all kinds of lawn, garden, and farming equipment.

I’ll get off of this Farm Show kick and back into purely small kitchen garden topics in the next few days. This is the last post I’ll do this year that’s about the Pennsylvania Farm Show in general. I have several topics to cover that arose from my time at the Farm Show, and several will become themes in this and my Home Kitchen Garden blog in the coming months.

I owe you answers to questions you suggested you’d ask of a master gardener, so I’ll try to get that post together soon. As well, I attended several presentations by certified master gardeners at the Farm Show, and each deserves at least one blog post.

But First, Escape

Before I dig back into topics that will be more relevant in late winter and early spring, here’s one more encouragement for small kitchen gardeners to escape the winter. I’m sorry if you can’t head to tropical or sub-tropical climes, but at least find a farm show, a garden show, or home & garden show, and immerse yourself in it for a day or two or three. I’ve added a page to list upcoming shows in various cold places—Garden Shows—perhaps there’s one you can attend. And, if I’ve missed one you’re planning to attend, please share the details and I’ll add it.

The Pennsylvania Farm Show is the only conference I’ve attended that has a stand in the food court spcifically to sell mushrooms. There are also stands selling dairy products, vegetable dishes, potato dishes, and maple syrup products. The maple sugar cotton candy is unexpected and delicious.

I spent four days of the last week enjoying the Pennsylvania Farm Show. I’ve reported on my activities in several posts, and have prepared two videos to help tell the story. The second video appears below and covers events and exhibits that I visited on Wednesday and Thursday of this past week.

Flag Racing

While the Farm Show is all about agriculture in Pennsylvania, exhibits tend toward big-time agriculture. At the same time, the Farm Show is a state fair to which people take their crafts, baked goods, canned goods, and livestock for competition.

Having raised horses as a child, I particularly enjoyed equestrian events at the show. This was my first exposure to flag racing. In this sport, a contestant rides a horse past a barrel, grabbing a flag that sits in a bucket of sand on top of the barrel. The horse must continue down the length of the arena, around a second barrel, and then back past the first barrel where the contestant deposits the flag back in the bucket of sand. All this takes place in about ten seconds.

Here’s a simple project for a small kitchen garden. Find a nice basket and a pan to fit in it. Plant several small flower pots with a variety of herbs and set them in the pan. Distribute moss around the pots to help hold them in place (and to conceal them). Set in a warm, well-lighted place in or near your kitchen.

As simple and silly as it sounds, I found flag racing exciting, and laughed when one of the mounts kicked dirt from the arena up into my face.

Team Cattle Penning

This equestrian event features a herd of 30 young cattle pitted against teams of three horses and riders. Each cattle has a number—zero through nine—painted on its side. There are three cattle numbered zero, three number 1, and so on.

As the horses and riders approach the herd, an announcer calls out a number. The three-person team then chases the three corresponding cattle from the herd and into a paddock at the opposite end of the arena. If too many cattle head toward the other end of the arena, the team fails. And, if the team doesn’t pen at least one of the specified cattle within 76 seconds, they fail.

This event is action-packed. Cattle having minds of their own (and preferring to be with their herds), it takes quick reflexes, excellent teamwork, and a little luck to pen all three cattle. My daughter and I sat in the front row, and we both busted out laughing when we were hit in the faces with dirt kicked up by a charging horse.

Sheep to Shawl

At the opposite extreme from a high-speed running-horse event, the sheep to shawl competition’s liveliest moments came as the handlers guided their freshly-sheared sheep out of the arena. Teams set up spinning wheels and looms before the competition started, and each led its chosen sheep into the arena. Then, on the announcer’s “go,” the shearers harvested wool from their sheep.

After shearing, team members carded wool and spinners started drawing it into yarn. With enough yarn made, a team’s weaver worked the loom, eventually producing a shawl. The whole thing happens in two and a half hours. While the teams work at a furious pace, to a spectator the whole thing looks quite tame. Still, it draws a crowd.

After judges award the grand champion, contestants auction off the shawls. This year’s grand champion (the team’s weaver is from Lewisburg) drew a winning bid of $900. Amazingly, the 6th place finisher went for $3,400 at auction, setting a new sheep-to-shawl auction record.

Here’s a compelling off-season project for the small kitchen gardener: build a mini garden in a box. These were on display at the Pennsylvania Farm Show. The attention to detail makes them compelling, but a kitchen gardener might substitute herbs, vegetables, and dwarf citrus trees in place of the house plants.

For Gardeners

As I said earlier: I attended several talks by certified master gardeners, and all were informative and enjoyable. The topics: Pollinators, Rain Gardens, and Worm Composting. I’ll write blog posts about these in the coming weeks. In the meantime, check out the later photos on this page for projects you could undertake to ward off the winter gardening blues.

Here’s my latest video from the Pennsylvania Farm Show. Please enjoy it:

 

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The 2009 PA Farm Show – 2

Pennsylvania Farm Show poultry judge Paul Kroll holds a superior specimen.

Extreme cold has settled onto my small kitchen garden; cold to make me wonder whether my perennial herbs will survive through winter. We’re supposed to see temperatures below 10F degrees through the week, so I’m very glad I’ve scheduled two more days to attend the Pennsylvania Farm Show.

I went to the Show on both Saturday and Sunday—Saturday to get acquainted with a certified master gardener and learn about chickens, and Sunday for pure escape with my kids. Yep: yesterday my three kids and I drove to Harrisburg to lose ourselves in the unlikely winter elixir that is the Pennsylvania Farm Show.

Pure Winter Escape

The poultry room at the Farm Show features a pen where chickens eat from a trough at (their) head level, and eggs roll into another trough below them. Nearby, chicks hatch out in a larg incubator. The hatching chicks draw large crowds.

I’ve been encouraging readers of this blog to attend the Pennsylvania Farm Show or some more accessible indoor garden show. Every steward of a small kitchen garden deserves a mid-winter boost. Sure, you can get a lift from growing produce indoors, but unless indoor gardening is your only option year-round, you’re probably growing some anticipation for warmer days of spring. An indoor garden show or farm show provides some relief, and the kids and I got our fill on Sunday.

We went directly to the Main Hall where there was a demonstration of beekeeping methods underway. Unfortunately, the demo was on a raised stage, and we were too challenged to get close, so we wandered among the exhibitor booths. Exhibitors selling prepared foods at the PA Farm Show give out samples—ice cream; slushies; barbeque sauces, relishes, cheeses, and crackers and breads to hold them; maple syrup; soups; bologna and other sausages; candies; and more. You’d have to work hard to kill your appetite, but tasting is fun.

Clydesdale draft horses have the second-most attractive legs in the animal kingdom. This pair was on display at the Pennsylvania Farm Show.

My daughter’s interest in horses had us attending a performance by the State Police Mounted Drill Team, a popular show in an impressive arena. My sons had unspecific goals; they were there, I think, simply to experience the Farm Show. We visited all the critters: poultry, rabbits, horses, goats, cows, pigs, sheep, and goats.

Among the most memorable:

  • We petted an alpaca: indescribably soft wool, dense beyond description
  • We saw an angora rabbit: hair triples the size of the animal; the rabbit’s owner was wearing a scarf she’d knitted from the rabbit’s wool
  • We watched teams of gorgeous draft horses pull wagons
  • We reviewed dozens of homemade crafts and food products: furniture, picture frames, shawls, blankets, flower arrangements, canned goods, baked goods, gingerbread houses, needlepoint tapestries, and more.
  • Did you know that Pennsylvania produces the most mushrooms of any state in the US? Speaking of mushrooms, here’s a thought for a small kitchen garden: how about starting a mushroom farm in your basement? Click here to buy a starter kit.

  • We ate lunches of foods that originated in Pennsylvania.
  • We toured horse trailers that would make fine homes away from home for horse owners as well as their horses.
  • We saw a Farm Show livestock handler napping with pigs.
  • We watched chicks hatch from eggs, and duckies splashing in a pond.
  • We reviewed display upon display of homegrown vegetables, fruit, and fungus.

Interview a Master Gardener

I’m looking forward to two more days at the Farm Show. Tomorrow, I’ll watch some horse racing, some of the sheep-to-shawl competition (shave a sheep, spin the wool, and weave a shawl in 2.5 hours), and I’ll visit with a master gardener. If you have questions you’d like me to ask, leave them in a comment before 7:00 AM tomorrow (Wed, Jan 14), and I’ll add them to my list. In the meantime, please enjoy the video I’ve assembled for people who don’t have a farm show near them:

 

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Master Gardener for Your Small Kitchen Garden

Baskets of home-grown vegetables will be on display, as well as Christmas trees, nuts, fruits, honey, maple syrup, and, for those who confuse combine raising poutlry with gardening, chickens.

If you have a small kitchen garden, and you’re not a certified master gardener, here’s an opportunity to advance your skills: Penn State Master Gardeners will attend the Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg from January 10 through January 17. Get to the Farm Show, and you can probably bend the ear of at least one Certified Master Gardener. I’m planning to do just that.

If you can’t get to the Farm Show, but you’d still like to ask questions of a Certified Master Gardener, I offer my assistance: Toss me your questions in a comment, and I’ll take them with me to the Farm Show.

Small Kitchen Garden Doldrums

There’s nothing to do in the small kitchen garden I manage in my yard; it’s nearly a skating rink because of two days of freezing rain. My next outdoor gardening task will be to prune fruit trees in March, and to graft from my red apple tree onto my green apple tree. As well, I have my eye on a neighbor’s pear tree from which I hope to swipe a few tiny branches; I’ll graft those onto my own pear tree.

So, facing nearly two more months of indoor-only gardening, I seek gardening-related activities. As I explained in my last post, next up is The Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg.

This show celebrates all things agricultural in Pennsylvania. Because Pennsylvania is primarily rural, it hosts a huge variety of agricultural activity. The Farm Show presents many entertainment events such as rodeo competitions, livestock judging, cooking shows, sheep shearing and weaving, and honey and maple syrup production. As well, the show boasts several exhibition halls filled with vendors and displays having to do with agriculture.

The Penn State Master Gardeners appear on the Farm Show schedule every day of the show. I don’t know what they present, but I’ll attend on Saturday and find out. With a list of my own questions, questions gathered from this blog, and questions received on Twitter, I’ll respectfully request an interview with one or more of the master gardeners on-hand, and report back to you during or after the show (I’m attending 4 days of the 8 that the show is open to the public).

So, leave your questions. Let’s get enlightened by a master—or see whether we can stump one—and get a little gardening adrenalin flowing.

 

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Harvesting Pears: An Anecdote

In my yard there is a pear tree that was part of the small kitchen garden that came with our house. (If I’d started this blog then, it would have been called Your Small Home Orchard.) The first year I harvested pears from that tree, they were terrible. In an earlier blog post, Harvesting Pears, I explained a simple solution that I learned years ago, probably from an article in the local newspaper. But, before I learned the correct way to harvest pears, no way was I going to let those horrid fruits go to waste.

So, contrary to the spirit of Your Small Kitchen Garden, I harvested those horrid pears when they were dead-ripe, sliced them into little bits, cooked them till their juice ran free, and strained that juice through a tee shirt so I could make a few quarts of pear jelly.

Hot tip of the day:

  • If you grow fruit trees because you absolutely need to have fruit in your small kitchen garden

AND…

  • If you end up with way more fruit than you can possibly consume during the growing season OR You’d never actually eat the fruit because it’s ucky

AND…

  • You can rustle up the gear

Then Make Jelly

With pears, it’s a balancing act between what we’ll eat and what will simply be too much. I wait for the first pear to fall, then I pick several dozen of the nicest ones for cold-storage ripening. The rest, I leave on the tree to ripen naturally. These I’ll use to make jelly.

This year, Mother Nature has thrown a curve ball. Here’s where the anecdote starts:

It’s dinner time, and we’re all sitting on the screened porch chewing and chatting. Earlier in the day, I’ve learned that a lot of people have read my blog entry about harvesting pears, and I comment about it now; I mention that I plan to pick our pears when the first one drops from the tree.

With that statement, I look across the yard at the tree and see a squirrel jump from the ground onto the tree’s trunk. The squirrel scrambles into the branches, and moments later a pear falls to the ground! As I proclaim annoyance, the squirrel charges down the tree, pounces on the pear, spends a few seconds with it, and then romps back up into the tree.

The Thieving Varmint

On this trip up the tree, the squirrel (whom I can see clearly through the entire caper) squats on a branch on its hind legs, holds a pear with its front feet, and quickly gnaws through the pear’s stem. Moments later, the wily rodent charges down the tree and bounds across the lawn with my pear in its mouth; with its pear in its mouth.

By my measure, the first pear had dropped. The next morning, I picked all the pears I thought the family might eat, and left several dozen on the tree. And don’t you know? The squirrel returned for another pear during our next dinner on the screened porch. In fact, I’ve seen the squirrel steal pears many times since I posted that blog entry; it seems to be taunting me: plucking pears while I’m dining on the porch.

How to Stop a Squirrel

I understand that squirrels aren’t great connoisseurs of pears. Supposedly, they eat pears and other fruits when water isn’t available–and so it isn’t this growing season. We’re not in drought in central Pennsylvania, but I’d guess we’ve had less than an inch of rain in the past six weeks—maybe in more than two months.

I could divert the squirrel from its pilfering ways simply by leaving a dish of water for it someplace near the pear tree. But I won’t. I enjoy watching it during dinner, and a quart or two of jelly is a small price to pay.

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