Growing My Way to Freedom

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Blog series by Radicalfarmergal consisting of 44 parts so far

Part 1: My thoughts and experiences in the radical act of growing and preparing my own food.

07-20-2009 11:16 AM by Radicalfarmergal | 6 comments »

Before writing about my own experiences, I want to give credit to the Dervaes family, which has inspired me along my path. This incredible family has done amazing things in Pasadena California, on just a quarter acre of land. If you haven’t ever heard of them and you are interested in growing your own food and increased self-sufficiency, check them out. Their website is and they have a video at Today I have been think...

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Part 2: Raspberry Pie

07-23-2009 08:25 PM by Radicalfarmergal | 15 comments »

Harvesting time is the sweet pay-off for all the hard work we do in the garden. This afternoon, I went with my boys (ages five and seven) out into the vegetable garden to pick raspberries. They have eaten so many raspberries that they are no longer excited about eating them straight off the bushes. Now I have to tempt them with promises of delicious baked treats to motivate them to help me. The promise of a raspberry pie did the trick and they were both out helping me fill up a bowl. M...

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Part 3: Sea Buckthorn Berry Jelly

08-28-2009 07:48 PM by Radicalfarmergal | 42 comments »

This morning I decided that my Sea Buckthorn berries were ripe and ready to pick. I have been eagerly waiting for this day because this is the first year we have had enough of a harvest to do anything and it looks like a bumper crop! Initially, I had two wonderful helpers with me. They love to go blueberry, raspberry, currant and apple picking so they were quite excited by the idea. Unfortunately, they quickly became discouraged and I was soon the only one picking. Picking the berries is...

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Part 4: Wild Grape Jelly

09-24-2009 05:06 PM by Radicalfarmergal | 18 comments »

Yesterday morning my sons and I climbed the tall ladder to reach the wild Concord grapes growing up the Red Maples in the wild portion of our yard. We refer to this area as “the swamp” because it is very close to the water table and stays wet for a good part of the year. Right now it is dry and getting to the ripe grapes was no trouble. We came back up the hill and made some wild grape jelly. Just three pints, but we had lots of fun. The boys’ favorite part was climbing up Dad̵...

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Part 5: Making Cheese from Goat Milk

10-24-2009 02:21 PM by Radicalfarmergal | 11 comments »

I am now regularly milking our Nigerian dwarf doe and we are getting a quart of milk a day. I made some mistakes in the beginning (not starting to milk her soon enough because I did not have a milking stand ready) or I probably would be getting even more. In any case, we are getting plenty for our family’s needs. Nigerian dwarf dairy goat milk is sweet and creamy, containing a high percentage of butterfat. From an efficiency perspective, Nigerian dwarf goats convert food into milk more ef...

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Part 6: Making Pectin from Apples

10-29-2009 06:34 PM by Radicalfarmergal | 18 comments »

Buying boxes of pectin from the store can become expensive. I found several websites offering bulk pectin; however, none of the businesses were geographically close to me. A locally-sustainable solution I found is to make my own pectin from apples. The recipe came from a wonderful book, The Big Book of Preserving the Harvest: 150 Recipes for Freezing, Canning, Drying and Pickling Fruits and Vegetables by Carol Costenbader. I also gained additional information from the book, Stocking Up II...

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Part 7: New Apple Trees

11-15-2009 09:45 AM by Radicalfarmergal | 20 comments »

Friday I planted three small, dormant apple trees around the perimeter of the goat pasture. Someday, we will enjoy lots of apple pies and the goats will appreciate the additional shade as well as any apples that fall inside the fence. I ordered them bare root from Stark Bro’s because I find that they are much less expensive than if I buy them in pots from our local nurseries. Knowing they were coming, I dug deep, generous holes over a month ago and re-filled them with a mixture of my...

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Part 8: Jerusalem Artichokes or Sunchokes (Helianthus tuberosus)

12-09-2009 01:33 PM by Radicalfarmergal | 18 comments »

Every year I try to increase my knowledge and experience in growing nutritious and tasty food for my family. This year, I grew Sunchokes. When I chose them, I was intrigued by several things I had read: - They are a native plant, consumed by Native Americans long before the arrival of Europeans. They are easy to grow in New England and are relatively free from destructive pests and diseases. - They are nutritious and can remain in the ground until you are ready to eat them, exten...

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Part 9: 2010 Planning Overview

02-19-2010 04:59 PM by Radicalfarmergal | 12 comments »

Thanks to Debbie’s instructions and a Google Earth map, I was able to make this map showing most of our property. It was really fun to see how everything ties together. Although you cannot tell from the map, the land behind our house is quite sloped. There is a 40 foot change in elevation from the house to the ponds. Because the map is from Google, it is oriented so that north is straight up. Map Legend: Dark Purple circle – Mature Heartnut tree Light Purple circles – H...

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Part 10: I can't wait any longer!

03-05-2010 08:21 PM by Radicalfarmergal | 5 comments »

I went outside today and noticed the soil in the garden right behind the barn was starting to thaw. At least the top two inches has thawed. Even though most of our yard is still covered in snow, the southern barn wall reflects the sun onto the beds, warming it faster than the rest of the yard. Last fall, I prepared one of the beds so that it would be ready to use in the spring as soon as the ground thawed. Tomorrow, my sons and I plan to plant some peas, lettuce and spinach seeds. If t...

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Part 11: Planting Nanking Bush Cherries

03-31-2010 07:08 PM by Radicalfarmergal | 24 comments »

Today the rain let up to a light, steady mist. Everything is wet and the lowest parts of the yard are underwater. I watched a Mallard Duck couple making itself at home; I hope they will stay and raise a family. After being cooped up in the house due to several days of constant, heavy rainfall, it was nice to get outside. Too wet and muddy to plant potatoes and onions in the garden, I decided I could at least get my three Nanking Bush Cherries into the ground. When the ground is this satu...

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Part 12: Gardening and Bartering

04-21-2010 10:35 AM by Radicalfarmergal | 12 comments »

I feel that there is something wonderful about using bartering as part of the gardening experience. Perhaps it is because both bartering and gardening can strengthen local communities. Bartering tends to be a more local transaction than cash transactions because money is so much easier to exchange (particularly electronic debits and credits). I am trying to mulch my garden paths to both reduce earth compaction and make grass mowing an easier task. I have LOTS of paths, so I started look...

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Part 13: 2010 Spring Planting – Apple Tree Guild Beginnings

04-27-2010 08:06 PM by Radicalfarmergal | 34 comments »

Today was a wet, cool day, just the right weather for planting the shrubs that arrived from Raintree Nursery yesterday afternoon. My muscles are aching, but I feel great because the plants already look wonderful! Of the nine bushes I planted, I am most excited about three Sweet Scarlet Goumi bushes (Elaeagnus multiflora). As members of my nascent apple tree guilds, the Goumi bushes will serve multiple functions: They will provide food for my family. In late summer, bright-red berries w...

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Part 14: Strawberries to Strawberry Jam

06-15-2010 07:34 PM by Radicalfarmergal | 17 comments »

Today I preserved some of our 2010 harvest. My sons and I picked strawberries in the morning and I was able to put up three pints of strawberry jam in the afternoon. We still have a little strawberry jam left over from the double batch I made last year, so the rest of our strawberries will be enjoyed fresh.

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Part 15: Happy Father's Day Cherry Pie

06-20-2010 06:28 PM by Radicalfarmergal | 16 comments »

Happy Father’s Day to all the wonderful Dads out there! Three years ago, I planted two dwarf North Star pie cherry trees. I chose the North Star cherry because it is hardy, cold tolerant and prolific. It does not grow larger than four meters high, making it relatively easy to harvest. Last summer, one of the trees mysteriously died right after we harvested a few cherries ( We might have eaten one cherry each); this year the remaining tree provided us with enough cherries to make a...

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Part 16: Red Currants

06-23-2010 08:19 PM by Radicalfarmergal | 17 comments »

Red Currants have had an interesting history here in Massachusetts. Red Currants were native to the area and European colonists brought European varieties to North American on early trade ships in the 1600s and 1700s. Red currants thrived in the New England environment and became quite popular. In the late 1890s, the devastating fungus that causes White Pine Blister Rust “Rust” was inadvertently imported on some infected pine seedlings. Rust needs two alternating hosts to complete its l...

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Part 17: red, black and blue things in my yellow colander...

07-03-2010 08:03 AM by Radicalfarmergal | 14 comments »

July arrived riding a blast of hot, dry air. These days are perfect for swimming, tree climbing and picnics. Yesterday my sons and I serendipitously went blueberry picking in the nearby town of Westminster, Massachusetts. Exploring along some railroad tracks near my cousin’s house, we discovered a trail meandering through the woods down to a little stream. On the way we found fields of sweet, wild, low-bush blueberries. We ate our fill and then collected some in our shirts to take ...

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Part 18: Dwarf Meyer Lemon Tree

07-25-2010 07:04 AM by Radicalfarmergal | 22 comments »

I do not garden in containers extensively. I find that plants in containers dry out faster than the plants in the ground and I don’t always find time to water them, with disappointing results. I have made exceptions for special plants that must come in for the winter (e.g. our dwarf pomegranate and avocado trees) or in temporary situations while a plant grows big enough to go into the ground (tree seedlings). Recently, I have acquired more plants that have ended up in containers so I have ...

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Part 19: Sweet Crab Apple Jelly

08-25-2010 07:38 AM by Radicalfarmergal | 16 comments »

Every year I like to try something new. This year I thought I would use some of the crab apples growing behind our house to make jelly. It was raining gently when my sons and I went down to pick the crab apples so I did not bring my camera. In between splashing in puddles, we filled a large bowl. The most fun for the boys was climbing the ladder. They also found the temptation to drop crab apples on someone’s head very difficult to resist. They ate so many of the little apples, I wasn’...

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Part 20: Sweet Peppers

09-04-2010 07:22 AM by Radicalfarmergal | 42 comments »

This has been the year of the sweet peppers for us. Usually we get lots of small, green peppers and one, maybe two, red peppers off our half dozen plants in a summer. This year, our plants were loaded with good-sized, sweet, flavorful red peppers. They must have really loved this unusually hot, sunny summer! According to the weather station, we have had more than forty days when the temperatures reached ninety degrees or higher this year. In my experience, peppers demand warm sunny weath...

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Part 21: Baking up the Harvest

09-09-2010 07:31 AM by Radicalfarmergal | 14 comments »

What do you do when you have run out of ways to consume or preserve your vegetables? Try baking! When I mentioned that I was enjoying an over-abundant harvest of zucchini, some Garden Tenders reminded me that I could be baking the zucchini in bread and cakes for freezing. Thanks! Here is a photo of one of the loaves we ate right away rather than freezing: Then I thought of something I do when I have extra tomatoes. I turn the tomatoes into bread as well. I put my extra tomato...

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Part 22: Watermelon Rind Pickles

09-11-2010 07:48 PM by Radicalfarmergal | 9 comments »

We have had a wonderful summer for growing watermelons. Almost a dozen watermelons are still growing on the vines, some small like softballs and some huge ones that I estimate are around twenty pounds. With a little help from a neighbor, we decided one of the big watermelons was ripe. We harvested it at its peak and enjoyed sweet, juicy melon as a special end of the summer treat. Here is a photo of my youngest son, proudly bringing his harvest into the kitchen: And here is a bit of...

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Part 23: Red Cabbage to Sauerkraut

09-16-2010 06:10 PM by Radicalfarmergal | 14 comments »

We harvested our vegetables early in the morning, when they were at their peak. We found three medium sized cabbages to bring into the house. I was lucky; I had a great helper. We removed the loose and damaged leaves until we came to the tightly wrapped leaves. We rinsed the outside of the cabbage well to remove any dirt or “hitchhikers” we might have brought in with us from the garden. We cut off any damaged sections and were left with beautiful looking vegetables. I cut my c...

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Part 24: Making Salsa

09-26-2010 07:14 AM by Radicalfarmergal | 22 comments »

Even though it is September, our garden is still generously providing tomatoes, peppers and onions, so I decided to try to make salsa using the lacto-fermentation method recipe described by Sally Fallon in her book Nourishing Traditions. I had enough produce, so I doubled the recipe. Salsa (makes one quart jar):4 medium tomatoes, peeled and diced 2 small onions, finely chopped¾ cup chopped hot peppers6-8 cloves of minced garlic Bunch of chopped cilantro 1 teaspoons dried oregano3 to 4 tab...

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Part 25: Preserving Root Vegetables

10-05-2010 07:55 PM by Radicalfarmergal | 17 comments »

I don’t have a cold cellar for storing root vegetables yet, but it is on my three year plan to build one. This year I am still in the researching phase, trying to figure out how to isolate a northern corner of our dirt floor, fieldstone-walled basement so that it will remain cold enough in the winter, have good air circulation to reduce spoilage and provide protection from unwanted hungry critters. Do any of you have any experience constructing a root cellar? To get started, I found a book...

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Part 26: Thankful for a Bountiful 2010 Harvest

10-15-2010 10:12 AM by Radicalfarmergal | 32 comments »

This year our garden gave us our best harvest for several reasons: - I improve the garden soil every year.- Our food producing trees and shrubs are becoming more established and I add more all the time. - I am learning and becoming a better gardener.- My participation in the wintersowing challenge and all the plants I started from seeds in the spring allowed me to grow many more plants than in previous years. Here are a few photos from the late summer/early fall of our bountiful gr...

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Part 27: Winter Gardening – Sprouts in the Kitchen

01-19-2011 01:50 PM by Radicalfarmergal | 29 comments »

Other winters, I have keenly felt the lack of gardening. Last year, the GT winter sowing project kept me busy. This year, I started to grow sprouts in the kitchen. They taste fresh and delicious and they seem to be helping me get through this season of snow, ice and frozen ground. I think I will continue growing sprouts at least until the first edible greens spring up in our outside garden. I am amazed how easy it is to grow them. When I was a child, my father grew sprouts in a specia...

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Part 28: Lovage (Levisticum officinale)

04-25-2011 09:06 PM by Radicalfarmergal | 8 comments »

Last year I read a wonderful book, Perennial Vegetables by Eric Toensmeier (see my book review) and decided that I would like to include more perennial vegetables in my garden, particularly in the guild areas around my fruit trees. My long-term goal is to create gardens that take care of themselves for the most part, providing me with healthy, tasty food but not requiring more work than I have time and energy to spend on them. Perennial vegetables will help me reach that goal because once t...

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Part 29: French Sorrel (Rumex acetosa)

05-06-2011 01:07 PM by Radicalfarmergal | 9 comments »

Another perennial vegetable I planted last year (2010) that I consider a successful addition to my garden and diet was French Sorrel. Sorrel is a versatile, reliable and tasty little herb that grows well in temperate climates (zones 3 to 9). The leaves have a strong lemony taste and the leaves are delicate, not tough. My favorite way to eat the leaves is in a salad of mixed greens but they also make a nice addition to soup as well. Although we have had a late, cold spring, I am noticing t...

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Part 30: Good King Henry (Chenopodium bonus-henricus)

05-16-2011 03:43 PM by Radicalfarmergal | 8 comments »

According to Eric Toensmeier in his book Perennial Vegetables, Good King Henry grows easily from seed. I must be doing something wrong. After two failed tries, I decided to purchase three plants from Richters Seeds instead. In five years or so, I can separate them at the roots and have more plants; I may never have to try to grow them from seed again. My plants are still tiny, having just planted them this spring, so I have not actually tasted this plant. Everything I am reporting below ...

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Part 31: Sea Kale (Crambe maritime)

05-18-2011 07:54 AM by Radicalfarmergal | 15 comments »

Last spring I planted nine Sea Kale seeds. They have a thick shell that needs to be heavily scored or even removed prior to planting. Almost all of the seeds germinated but escapee dairy goats, foraging chickens and a very hot, dry summer took a mortal toll on the little plants. I had sort of given up on the sea kale, deciding that they had all died, when I noticed a silvery, gray plant growing in front of my Lovage plants. Evidently, one did survive and is thriving. Sea Kale is a ...

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Part 32: Elderberry and Sea Buckthorn Pie

08-16-2011 02:00 PM by Radicalfarmergal | 14 comments »

I chose to include elderberry bushes (Sambucus canadensis) in my food forest because of the many functions they can perform within the ecosystem. First, they don’t mind growing in very wet conditions. The lower part of my food forest is very wet for several months of the year. The elderberries thrive in the wet earth and help utilize the extra moisture, allowing other plants that require less moisture to live there as well. I find them to be quite beautiful, particularly when th...

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Part 33: American Passion Flower (Passiflora incarnate)

09-04-2011 12:43 PM by Radicalfarmergal | 16 comments »

This lovely, vigorous vine is also known as a Maypop. I am growing it primarily for its edible fruit based on a wonderful recommendation from GT member IceFlower. My understanding is that it tastes good right off the plant and it also works well for making jam and juice. It is hardy in zones 6 – 9, so I know I am taking a risk by planting it here. I plan to mulch it well and hope for the best. It is flowering and I have found my first fruit tucked in between the leaves which is pretty exc...

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Part 34: Scarlet Runner and Jacob's Cattle Beans

11-22-2011 09:09 PM by Radicalfarmergal | 9 comments »

One of my goals for 2011 was to grow beans that I could dry and keep through the winter. Previously we had only grown pole beans and eaten them fresh in the summer. I also wanted to be able to save the seeds for future years so I chose two heirloom varieties: I chose Scarlet Runner Beans for their beautiful red flowers and the fact that they could be eaten both green during the summer (if harvested when young and tender) and dried over the winter months. These beans are climbers and I ...

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Part 35: Measuring the Harvest (A new toy!)

07-14-2012 11:47 AM by Radicalfarmergal | 8 comments »

Do you remember the post by Agricultura when she posted her harvest log? Well, I finally purchased a scale to help me record the harvest and bake better. Baking by weight tends to be more accurate than by than volume, particularly when using home ground flour. Here is my new scale holding our first ripe zucchini!

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Part 36: Aronia melanocarpa

08-19-2012 10:55 AM by Radicalfarmergal | 23 comments »

In spring 2010, I planted two Aronia melanocarpa seedlings just outside the goat pasture. I had never heard of Aronia bushes before but this is the Raintree Nursery description about Aronia that caught my attention: “Beautiful, very productive and easy to grow, this shrub is bound to become a staple in American backyards, as it has in Eastern Europe, where it is widely used in delicious juices, soft drinks, jams and wine. The handsome, disease resistant bushes have dark green, oval ...

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Part 37: Harvesting Hazelnuts

09-30-2012 12:12 PM by Radicalfarmergal | 10 comments »

We gathered hazelnuts today. Many had fallen off the branches and others fell after we shook the branches gently. The outside leaves protecting the nuts had started to turn brown and the nuts easily separated from their casings. We have learned from experience that if the nuts stick to the outside leaves, they are not ready to harvest. For a little history, we planted two Fingerlakes Filbert Super Hardy hazelnut bushes in the Spring of 2006, purchased from Miller Nurseries. The catalog...

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Part 38: Planning for 2013: Seed Purchases

12-13-2012 02:29 PM by Radicalfarmergal | 13 comments »

2012 was our best year for actually eating the majority of what we grew. I am finding that it isn’t just growing healthy and delicious fruit and vegetables. I am also changing my planning, cooking and eating habits so that our harvest is efficiently eaten and/or preserved. Using my successes and failures, I have ordered or gathered together the following annuals seeds to plant in 2013. These include vegetable seeds I saved from this year’s crop and seeds I have left over from p...

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Part 39: 2013 Planting Schedule

03-22-2013 12:42 PM by Radicalfarmergal | 8 comments »

This is a record of my 2013 annual vegetable planting schedule. I will try to update it each time I plant seeds. I am hoping that I can use it to compare planting experiences (timing and success rates) over the years. Right now my thoughts are focused on the weather. The ground is covered in snow and the soil and ponds are still frozen. Where is the spring? Seeds Starting Schedule (indoors) March 22, 2013 Tray One:A. Pak Choi (sprouted March 25)B. Brussel sprouts – Falsta...

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Part 40: Asparagus Pea (Tetragonolobus Purpureus)

06-19-2013 04:32 PM by Radicalfarmergal | 6 comments »

One of my experiments this year is the asparagus pea. Pinetree described the plant as such: ”...12 to 18 inch tall plant with pea-like foliage is covered with interesting little winged pods. They are best harvested at about an inch in length and are delicious steamed or stir fried. The whole plant, roots, shoots, and pods are edible. Bright red flowers make it quite ornamental as well.” Intrigued I ordered seeds and started them inside. When they were a few inches long, I transp...

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Part 41: Fruit from the Gardens on the Summer Solstice

06-24-2013 07:43 AM by Radicalfarmergal | 13 comments »

Our gardens are reaching their peak of productivity. Everywhere I look, plants are converting the sun’s energy and the abundant rains into delicious, healthy food. We have never had such an abundant year. In addition to the weather, I think the soil has much to do with our success. When I dig down under the mulch, I come away with handfuls of beautiful soil. We are seeing more animals in the garden. (I hope the birds leave enough cherries for us!) We have had so many strawberries,...

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Part 42: Vegetables in the Garden on the Summer Solstice

06-27-2013 08:12 AM by Radicalfarmergal | 11 comments »

In my previous post, I concentrated on the bright, showy fruits of summer that capture our attention with their sweetness and bright colors. Maybe even more important are the vegetables which should make up the majority of our food. So this post is dedicated to our hard working vegetables, with a few grains and starches to round out the abundance. Our Strawberry Spinach vigorously self-seeded itself in a corner of the garden and we have been enjoying it regularly in our summer salads. T...

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Part 43: Potatoes

01-01-2014 08:29 AM by Radicalfarmergal | 19 comments »

We had a good potato harvest in 2013. Here is a photo of one-third of our total harvest: In 2013, I ordered our Burbank Russet seed potatoes from Pinetree Seeds. We picked the Burbank Russets for several reasons: - We enjoy their taste, baked and mashed- Luther Burbank lived and developed this potato not far from where we live so it fits well in our climate- It is a late season producer so that we can wait to harvest it until our cellar is almost cool enough for storage- In the ri...

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Part 44: Hopi Blue Dent Corn

01-29-2014 05:15 PM by Radicalfarmergal | 9 comments »

In 2013, I grew Hopi Blue Dent corn. I ordered one package from a small company in Maine, Pinetree Seeds. I planted the corn in the garden area at the top of sunny southern slope, in the piece of land where my sons had grown potatoes last year. At the end of the season, we had covered the ground in cardboard and a thick layer of goat hay bedding mulch. Given the thick covering we had created, I thought that starting them indoors and transplanting them outside would be a good idea. The on...

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