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I wrote a book about preserving food. The same step-by-step instruction and full-color photos you find in my blog. Buy it at Yes, You Can 

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Sprouts

Amazon.com is a terrific source for certified organic seeds intended for home sprouting. Dress up salads, stir-fry, sandwiches, spreads, and other dishes with homegrown sprouts of all kinds. Follow this link to order your sampler or to find home sprouting kits.

 

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Posts Tagged ‘winter’

Sunflowers in Winter

Sunflowers in bloom

A farmer’s field of sunflowers in bloom in 2015. This is one of three fields the farmer uses for sunflowers, planting only one field each year.

If you like to take photographs—and, I think, particularly if you think of yourself as a photographer—you might find it difficult simply to drive past a field of sunflowers. I’ve seen dozens of gorgeous photographs taken by other photographers of these magnificent fields. What’s more, I’ve stopped two or three times a year for, perhaps, seven years to try to capture the quintessential sunflower field photograph.

I haven’t gotten close. Turns out, I’m not all that skilled a photographer. Still, I’ve nabbed a few decent photos of sunflower fields, and I’ll continue to stop and shoot whenever the opportunity arises.

Just three days ago I had such an opportunity. Never mind it’s mid-winter in central Pennsylvania. I took a side road to the grocery store, turned onto a side road of the side road to photograph a stately oak tree in a farmer’s field, and unexpectedly came upon a field of sunflowers.

In the spirit of raising spirits (seems to be a thing this time of year), I decided to photograph the sunflowers and share them on my blog. Mid-winter sunflowers can be quite striking. I hope you agree. So nice that only six weeks remain until spring.

Sunflowers in winter

A field of sunflowers in winter isn’t particularly eye-catching. I was surprised to see the farmer hadn’t harvested the seed heads from this field; there were plenty there for song birds. I captured many photos and left longing just a bit more for spring.

 
Small Kitchen Garden – Sunflowers in Winter

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Winter Not Here, Too

Typical mid-December snow in central PA

For contrast, behold December 14, 2014. This wasn’t the first snow of that season. In fact, we’d had an otherworldly freeze in November that foreshadowed the miserable sustained cold to come.

Nearly every gardener in the United States in winter of 2014-2015 marveled at the crazy weather. Some areas—the Pacific Northwest, for example—experienced crazy, spring-and summer-like weather in what are typically the coldest months. In the Northeast, we had an unbroken string of days so cold that perennials thought they’d moved two hardiness zones north.

Here we go again. But this winter’s reports are different. Gardeners everywhere have been reporting on annuals going strong well into December—annuals that would typically wither and die in October and November. Gardeners have also reported perennials in bloom either way later than they should be, or way earlier.

It’s my turn!

Hardy perennials in a mild winter

While I garden to grow food, I’m paying more and more attention to ornamental plants. In the past few years, my wife and I have added quite a few. My flowering perennials have been just as confused by the weather as so many other perennials across the country. Photos tell the story.

Early winter viola bud

This year, eight days farther into December than last year’s snowy photo above, the newest variety of viola I set in the garden in autumn was still producing buds.

Early winter viola blossom

On December 27, my three-year-old viola patch sported blossoms. It didn’t give up until biting cold arrived in early January.

Jolt Pink Dianthus blooming in winter

The All-America Selections winner I acquired at a trade show in 2015 is a dianthus (Jolt Pink F1) that didn’t come with a cold hardiness rating. It looked good in the garden all summer and fall, and had a few blossoms on December 27. Even after low temperatures in the teens, it is holding onto blossoms. I suspect it will continue producing in 2016.

Early-blooming hellebore

Not a late blossom, but rather a very early blossom. I started with hellebores three seasons ago and added two new plants last summer. In my experience, hellebores (you might know them as Lenten Rose or Christmas Rose) bloom about when crocuses bloom—perhaps lagging by a few days. However, I’ve seen hellebore blossoms poking out from snow banks with no crocuses in site. I’d guess different varieties of hellebores blossom at different times. Seeing mine in bloom on December 27 was a surprise. One of my older plants has already put out a dozen or so pink buds, but it did that last winter as well and none opened until March.

 
Small Kitchen Garden – Winter Not Here, Too

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Don’t Freeze Ya Freesias

NOT Freesia season

The coldest days of winter and a typical central Pennsylvania snow reaffirm the area’s USDA hardiness zone rating. Freesias would not survive this winter outdoors.

Freesias! I took a flier last spring and bought a package of freesia bulbs on closeout. I’ve never grown freesias. I couldn’t have identified them had someone led me to a freesia patch to harvest a few for a bouquet.

Knowing so little about them, I planted twelve freesia bulbs according to instructions on the package: buried many inches deep in a 12-inch container. In a few weeks, exactly two plants emerged. Eventually they blossomed and I fell in love with their fragrance; freesias smell like flowers, but not like any I’d sniffed previously.

By summer’s end, the two freesia plants were done. The temperature dropped, a few weeds sprouted in the freesia planter, and one day three new freesia sprouts appeared. This was an aha moment! Freesias, apparently, draw motivation to sprout from a mild cold spell. The package had identified freesias as annuals in my hardiness zone, so I suspect a freeze would have killed the bulbs. But they were far from dead; there had been no freeze.

Still knowing little about freesias (you’d think I could read something), I guessed that sprouting in autumn and then being put into cold storage would overtax the bulbs. Now that they’d sprouted, I figured they’d need to mature and recharge themselves to make it through a dormant period.

Being uncommitted to ornamental plants, the most I was willing to offer was a place on the sill of a south-facing window. The freesias have persevered! Seven bulbs sprouted and have grown gangly leaves that hardly hold themselves upright.

I’ve watered occasionally and broken off a dandelion whose tap root has a death grip in the soil. Other than that, I paid no mind.

Until last week.

Freesia blossom

It’s so dark in the basement where my freesia pot sits on a windowsill that there’s barely enough light to take photographs. Still, the plants are abloom and the basement room is redolent of spring.

Freesias in Winter

Two weeks ago I brought an assortment of plants back from MANTS, a horticulture industry trade show in Baltimore. I set the plants on our ping-pong table which catches some light from the south-facing window where the freesias sit. As I was setting up electric lights for those plants about five days ago, I noticed the scent of spring! Sure enough, there was a blossom on one of the freesia plants.

My freesia planter sports two sun-starved flower stalks laden with buds. Five days after the first bud opened, a second is about to burst. It seems likely the blooms will continue until it’s safe to move the planter outside.

The lifecycles of my freesia plants, I’m sure, are severely screwed up, but that will remain their problem. I’ll move the planter outside in spring and back in autumn. If the plants eventually synch with the seasons, I’ll give them a cool, dark corner to winter over next year. Otherwise, I suppose they’re doomed each year to grow gangly and watch from my south-facing window while the snows fall.

http://www.smallkitchengarden.net/gardening/dont-freeze-ya-freesias

 

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Thanks to Readers of Your Small Kitchen Garden

What may have been the last significant snow of this winter clung to branches, closed schools, and made it hard to believe it’s almost time to start seeds indoors.

Your Small Kitchen Garden’s 2011 seed giveaway is done; it closed on Sunday the 13th. and seeds went in the mail on the 22nd. Why the delay? It had to do with an ear and sinus infection. I’m feeling better, thanks, and finally getting back in stride.

Comments on Your Small Kitchen Garden

One great pleasure of running a giveaway is that it usually results in visitors leaving more than the typical number of comments on my blog. For this year’s giveaway, I included in the instruction …and make me laugh. I’m so pleased to report that some of the participants succeeded!

Had I been healthy, I’d have commented on comments as they came in. To make up for the dereliction, I thought I’d offer responses here:

Leslie (aka feralchick) – I’m sorry the squirrels beat up your garden last year and am pleased to be able to resupply you with seeds this year. Good luck with the squirrel-deterrent system. Are they using lasers in those things yet?

Renee – I loved the woodchuck photos… they made me laugh. I hope I find time this year to post the woodchuck videos I shot two seasons ago. Such persistent critters!

Cindy Scott Day – Good luck with the squash this year. Bugs were amazing last summer, but I’m surprised you didn’t have any luck with the neck pumpkins; they seem as hardy as butternut.

shala_darkstone – I hope you find room for winter squash this season. They tend to take a lot more space than summer squashes, but they’re so much squashier I can’t imagine my small kitchen garden without them.

Diana – Nice to see you back. Sorry, I’ve sent tomato, neck pumpkin, and blue Hubbard squash seeds… just got carried away. If you can’t use them all, I hope you know other local kitchen gardeners who might.

Nell – I hope you have great luck with blue Hubbard; they are truly amazing when they grow up. Blue Hubbard are very susceptible to squash vine borers, so planting late or keeping the plants under row covers may be necessary.

A lone tree stands in a winter-chilled cornfield. It’s nice to package vegetable seeds and muse about spring.

Justine – Sounds as though your first garden was quite ambitious. I’m so glad to hear that you garden to preserve… my book about preserving produce should be in distribution in a matter of days—I put up many gallons of produce every year. Good luck with the tomato seeds; they produce tomatoes ideal for saucing.

Sherry – I’m touched to hear that you have my blog’s feed posted on your blog. I’m sorry I don’t keep it more lively… frequency ought to improve a bit this year as I don’t expect to be writing a book. I never found a “contact us” form with your mailing address in it… I sent a note via email, but I’m mentioning it here in case you missed the email. Please drop me your mailing address so I can send along your seeds!

Salman – I would love to see photos of squash growing in your garden. Alas, I explained in the original post: I won’t ship seeds to other countries (there are usually restrictions on importing agricultural products). I hope you find a local source for winter squash seeds and that you grow a terrific crop.

Jenna Z – If you’ve poked around in my various blogs, you might have discovered my great enthusiasm for squashes. I like ornamental gourds as well, but I can’t admit in a public forum that I actually plant stuff I’m not going to eat. I hope you have good luck with the seeds and I’ll look forward to any reports you might post.

Tom M – I hope that at least the neck pumpkins perform the way you’d like. I’m also frustrated by squash’s susceptibility to disease and insects—especially to insects. Here’s hoping we both have a great winter squash year.

nicky – Hey, you! Grow squash and tomatoes. The only decision will be where to plant them. I hope you’ll share your experiences as the season rolls along. Good luck!

meemsnyc – Romas! Funny they didn’t work out for you. I always thought Romas were a no-brainer of the tomato family. Perhaps these weird paste tomatoes will give you better luck. Please drop by in the fall and let me know how things worked out.

Doe you find time for recreation when your cornfield is under snow? Maybe a little, but farmers use the winter months to repair equipment, do maintenance on their buildings, and plan for the upcoming season.

Bren – I’ll try the spray bottle thing this year. Last year I stopped aphids with a spray bottle of garlic oil, water, and soap; why not Squash Vine Borers? Was your story silly? The question was, and that’ll do just fine

Annie Haven/Authentic Haven Brand – You’re far enough up the list to get a complete set of seeds. I hope you have great luck with them… the tomatoes and neck pumpkins have been cake for me; the blue Hubbard is challenging. Good luck!

TZ – Depending on the weather, it seems squash and pumpkins are eager to die those horrible deaths. Butternut and Neck Pumpkin remain the hardiest, most pest-resistant varieties I’ve seen. I hope yours do well. That’s a nice sequence of photos explaining how you collect tomato seeds over on Flickr.

erynia – How nice to meet another fan of Gardenmom29! One strategy I tried for “expanding” my garden last year was to plant the space hogs near one end. I trained the squash vines over and through the garden fence and onto the compost heap. I may plant squash this year where a vegetable bed abuts one of my wife’s ornamental beds. The squash vines could serve as “mulch” around long-stemmed flowers.

Dakota – Thank you for the fire ants story. I really wanted to laugh, but instead I felt the deep despair of human tragedy. I feel self-conscious at Buster Keaton flicks because while the rest of the audience laughs, I choke up at all the horrible things he endures. Those AFV videos in which someone rides a bike off a cliff or faceplants off a trampoline? I don’t laugh, I cringe. So, I thought somber thoughts about your toosh as I packaged and mailed your seeds. I’m a simple person; I look for humor in corny garden jokes.

robbie – I hope you have great success growing tomatoes from seed. I’ll be starting mine indoors in about 2 weeks.

Jennifer – And you actually got squash off of last year’s Blue Hubbard plants! I’m quite jealous. This year, I will vanquish the Squash Vine Borers and bring Blue Hubbards out of the battle zone: mature and ready for the kitchen!

Mika – I hope you haven’t cried yourself to sleep over vegetable seeds. Thank goodness for the footnote in your comment… I was feeling all teary that my seed giveaway caused you such stress, but the footnote at least gave me hope that you might have been kidding.

Sonya – I laughed, I cried, I relived the terror of Boston in February, 2011. To borrow a line from VA Nuresmy: And, the fishing episode! We missed all but about 14 inches of the snow you folks hoarded. Even so, I’m hankering for some time with the soil. That wilty grayish powdery thing you described sounds like a damp growing season… or so many squash bugs that their activity promoted mold (which might have appeared about the time the leaves crossed over anyway). With a lot of bugs chomping on the leaves, sap can accumulate and provide a great breeding medium for mold. Sorry you had problems last year; I hope things work out better this year.

Jennie – I love your tomato-growing experience! I plant 8-foot stakes, leaving about 7 feet of vertical support. The plants usually grow 3 or 4 feet beyond the supports; they’d easily reach a first floor roof. Visitors from NY watched me setting my 8-foot stakes and were incredulous that I’d need anything so tall. I guess the shorter growing season up there means shorter tomato plants.

circulating – I recommend not growing vegetables out of any wazoo. Of course, they’re your vegetables, and it’s your wazoo, so do what makes you happy. Whatever planter you use, I wish you good luck with the seeds!

Hedgerows often mark propery lines or provide windblocks for farmers’ fields. A pair of hedgerows can conceal a farm road. I’m sure this road will see much more traffic once the snow melts.

Joyce Pinson – I hope you have better luck with the Blue Hubbard than I had last year. They are such awesome vegetables! Thanks for your comment about my book. I learned today that it’s being bound so copies should be in circulation later this week. So cool!

Marsha Hubler – That first year of wrestling with rocky soil would lead me either to experiment extensively with potatoes and tomatoes, or to establish raised beds and make a whole bunch of compost. Even a few 5-gallon planters on a deck or along a walkway could provide a steady supply of fresh veggies. These days, people set up hay or straw bales and plant veggies in them—apparently adequate to raise all kinds of foods to maturity.

Trent – I so hope that when you say “hanging tomato planters” you don’t mean “upside down tomato planters.” OK… we can still be friends, but it saddens me a bit to think the progeny of my tomato plants may grow up hanging from their toes. I hope you have better luck with your torture planters than I had when I grew tomatoes upside down.

lauranot – I’m glad you got in on time for the giveaway. “Sugar Snacker” is an awesome name for a tomato. I decided to stop growing cherry tomatoes after the 8th or 9th generation descended from plants I set some 12 years ago failed to reseed themselves.

Thank you so much for participating in my seed giveaway. I hope all you kitchen gardeners harvest lots of awesome produce this season.

 

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Readying for Go in my Small Kitchen Garden

We got a little snow in early January, and later a second storm added several more inches. Rain at the end of the last snowfall turned it all into a four-inch layer of crust.

For nearly a month my small kitchen garden and all the land surrounding it has been covered in a four-inch thick iced-snow permafrost kind of thingy. There was snow, then there was rain, and then there was cold. For a while, the crust wouldn’t hold my dog’s weight and she was obviously distressed by it. Eventually, sunny but very cold days extended the crust through to the ground; we have been walking on ice.

Today, on the closing day of my seed giveaway, the temperature pushed above 40F degrees! That was enough to soften the ice cap all the way to the ground… and it was enough to bring the rabbits out of their holes. As Cocoa and I stepped out the door, we spotted one just beyond the blueberry scrubs at the edge of the yard.

Readying to Start Seeds in my Small Kitchen Garden

With rabbits out of their holes, it’s time for me to get my garden plans in line. I explained various seed-starting strategies and described my seed-starting shelf in a series of posts in February of 2010. For a thorough overview, visit each link listed in the box titled, Strategies for Starting Your Small Kitchen Garden… I’ve listed them in the order I posted them. Note that this year I’m not using peat pellets or peat pots on my seed-starting shelf.

What am I doing to prepare? I’ve four tasks:

1. Clear the seed-starting shelf—My larder is fuller this year than it was last year. That’s because I wrote a book about preserving garden produce, and I canned a lot more fruits and vegetables last year than I had in preceding years. So, with all the canned goods cluttering my shelves, it’ll take an hour or so to rearrange things and hang the light fixtures that will warm my planters and feed my seedlings.

With a light crust on the snow, Cocoa preferred to hunt rabbits from the safety of the sofa in front of the picture window. Today’s higher temperature loosened the snow pack, and finally Cocoa spotted her first rabbit of the year.

2. Collect seed- starting containers—I’m done with peat pellets, and I’m done with peat pots. This year I’m doing all my seed starts in cut-up plastic milk jugs. Reasons 1: Peat pellets are simple and convenient for starting seeds, but not so good for sustaining seedlings. Once a seedling’s roots fill the pellet, you must transplant to the garden, “pot-up” the seedlings, or fertilize them to keep them healthy. Reason 2: To start seeds in any kind of pot, you need soil as well… so I have to buy soil; I can reduce expenses by not buying pots.

3. Ordering seeds—Yikes! I’m on the late side for this little task. In fact, I’ve heard some popular vegetable seeds are already hard to find. I’m looking for a few varieties of heirloom tomatoes, and for brands of broccoli and cauliflower that perform better than what I planted last year. I’m also very tempted to start artichokes indoors, move them outdoors in April, and see whether I can harvest a few by season’s end.

4. Well… buy seed-starting soil—I have some left from last year, and the nursery where I shop won’t open until mid-March, so no hurry on this one.

 

 

 

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Sixty Rabbits from Your Small Kitchen Garden

I lack enthusiasm for weeding, so it might be hard to distinguish the food from the future compost in this photo. However, you can spot a spinach leaf in the foreground at the bottom of the frame under the rabbit’s eye; the rabbit is not eating it. This rabbit raised rabbit calves in my garden and left no evidence of munching on any of my vegetables.

How does this kitchen gardener amuse himself when his small kitchen garden is rock-hard frozen solid? For a day or two each year, he attends the Pennsylvania Farm Show. This year, he spent a lot of time among the rabbits. Rabbits?

Well… Your Small Kitchen Garden has quite a history with rabbits. In at least four of the sixteen springs I’ve grown produce in central Pennsylvania, rabbits have nested in my garden bed before I’ve started working it. Last spring I posted a photo of newborn rabbits I found while assessing my home kitchen garden.

Rabbits: Bane or Baloney?

Rabbits get bad raps from gardeners. I’m sure rabbits deserve their reputation, but I often speak in defense of the rabbits in my neighborhood. To begin, those rabbits are adorable. There are an awful lot of them, so I’ve had plenty of opportunity to watch them in my yard and garden.

I have never seen a rabbit eat any of my produce. I’ve had mother rabbits raise their puppies inside my rabbit fence and I’ve watched them sit among young lettuce and spinach plants without taking a nibble. I once watched a mature rabbit rest on my spinach as it devoured the flower stalks from a dandelion plant growing alongside the spinach plants.

In one day a woodchuck did more damage to my garden than all the rabbits have done in 16 years. Still, I don’t trust rabbits, so I’m glad that my woodchuck fence keeps them out. This one spent many minutes circling the garden and peering through the fence… it was adorable and entertaining.

My carrot tops have succumbed to rodents—in a single afternoon, something cut the greens to half their original heights in an entire 14 foot long row. I assumed rabbits were the culprits until I caught a woodchuck in the act the next day.

A Salute to Rabbits

I’m sure rabbits do an enormous amount of damage in kitchen gardens the world over… they have probably damaged my garden. However, as I said, I’ve never seen them eat my produce so I have no animosity toward them. And, since I find rabbits adorable to look at, it was great sport to hang out among the rabbits at the Farm Show.

I’m also pleased to know several rabbit owners through social networking. With them in mind, and as acknowledgement for the role rabbits play in so many kitchen gardener’s lives, I put together a video titled Sixty Rabbits. Long-time readers of this blog might remember last year’s Sixty Chickens video; this one is quite similar. It runs about three and a half minutes. I hope you enjoy it:

 

 

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Happy Holidays from Your Small Kitchen Garden

A Yard Bird posed for photos next to the Small Kitchen Garden family Christmas tree before shipping out to a customer the week before Christmas. Thanks to all who have purchased Yard Birds in 2009. The artist has some new ideas he plans to express in his 2010 creations.

While my small kitchen garden sleeps through the winter, I’m enjoying a laid back holiday. We’ve had various visitors at dinners or sleeping over, and we’ve had some terrific meals including beef fondue on Chirstmas eve, and a very Thanksgiving-like turkey dinner on Christmas day.

I, the kitchen gardener, have had an ear infection, and so have not been as productive as I’d like. However, I finally pulled together a holiday greeting for visitors to Your Small Kitchen Garden blog. It’s a one-minute-long video of scenes on a snowy day in the kitchen garden. I made the video with thoughts of my gardening friends who live in southern climates or coastal states and never get to experience the proverbial white Christmas.

Even more, I made this holiday video with all of my blog’s visitors in mind: Thank you for reading, for leaving comments, and for providing encouragement for me to continue the blog. As the growing season wound down, so did the blog entries… but I have plenty of material I hope to write about through the winter, and I anticipate new projects in the spring will produce a whole new series of posts. Please, keep gardening, and enjoy the season!

 

 

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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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The 2009 PA Farm Show – 1

The Pennsylvania Farm Show’s 700 pound butter sculpture sits in an air conditioned booth which makes capturing it in a single photograph impossible. Fortunately, you can make out the butter cow in this picture.

This morning I left my small kitchen garden behind and drove 60 miles south to the Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg. Snow had fallen overnight, so the first 12 miles of roads were buried. The deep winter weather made the Farm Show’s lure even greater. I wasn’t disappointed.

After a cold walk across the parking lot, I entered the complex and left winter behind. I bolted to the poultry building as judging had already started, but I learned that the judges would be working for three or four hours. So, I attended a presentation by a Penn State Master Gardener, Ginger Pryor who coordinates the Master Gardener program. Coincidentally, her presentation was about pollinator-friendly gardening, a topic I’d written about two weeks ago as a guest at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show blog. Actually, she emphasized all pollinators: bees, flies, butterflies, and hummingbirds.

Eye candy for the chicken enthusiasts. The birds at the Farm Show are intriguing, though there’s something it takes getting used to about a live poulry exhbit: Chickens smell unpleasant.

Afterward, I asked her for an interview during the week. Unfortunately, today was her last day at the show, but she assured me master gardeners would be on-hand and I’d be able to sit down with one to pass along the questions people have asked on Twitter (and any you post here).

A Farm Show Workout

The Farm Show Complex sprawls, and, while the Farm Show, itself, is on, you can take ten minutes to walk from one end to the other. I bounced from event-to-event, catching a demonstration by mounted police, English show-riding on draft horses, chicken judging (and egg hatching), vegetable displays, the legendary butter sculpture, amazing horse trailer/camper combos, and compelling exhibits about agricultural issues.

I wore myself out with all the walking, and along the way I lost track of winter; inside the complex is like a state fair, and my brain naturally assumes late summer or early fall when it’s at a fair.

Yes, there is a pumpkin at the Farm Show weighing more than 880 pounds.

I took a lot pictures, though the indoor lighting isn’t great for action photos. I also shot some video. With the packed day today, and another scheduled for tomorrow, I won’t get any video posted until Monday. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the photos I’ve included in this post.

Your Small Kitchen Garden Master Gardener

There’s still time for you to submit questions you’d like to put to a certified master gardener. It’ll be Wednesday or Thursday before I get to interview one of the master gardeners at the show. Post your questions here, or tweet them to the hash tag #pafarmshow or to @cityslipper on Twitter.

 

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