The Month Of April At Fernwood Nursery

It doesn’t matter that after a long day of potting in the greenhouse we sat with cups of tea and looked out at this…We are confident that any emerging plants are hearty enough to weather a little snow falling on them. The ground is warming and many plants are now able to utilize the water that’s being absorbed into the ground. This snow will melt quickly and provide some extra moisture for their new and rapid growth. No worries. It is the potential frigid temperatures we worry about, especially after new growth has started.
As you can tell, our pup Lucky finds that the greenhouse (at 88 degrees) is the perfect place for an afternoon nap. I must admit, that deep warmth does feel awfully good! Some early greens are on hold for just a bit longer before being transplanted into the hoop house. Of course, my favorite early green, tatsoi, will be the first to sink its roots into the warm hoop house soil. I wrote a post about tatsoi last year and you can read about it here if you would like. I can’t wait to be harvesting our very first bunches of this nutrient-rich green. The best!


The onions are coming along and the peppers and tomatoes are developing their first ‘true’ leaves which will provide them with an ability to photosynthesize. As many of you know, the first little leaves to appear are cotyledons or ‘seed leaves’. These are actually part of the seed and they provide a food source for the sprouting seedling.
During this time of year, we use the greenhouse for potting some of the plants that will go into the nursery this season, for sowing seeds that have been in winter storage, and for starting vegetable seedlings. It’s filling fast! Its a precarious time of year. The snow may fall, we are still walking planks that we’ve set down along the paths to the woodshed and the studio to keep from sinking into mud, and on some days all of the windows and doors in the greenhouse must be opened to keep it from getting too hot! April really does have a flavor of at least two seasons mixed into one month! We are so looking forward to our doors opening in the first of May… yet another nursery season! So many great plant selections, old and new. Some great classes scheduled (check here) and some in the works and waiting to be posted. A really fun and skilled based class on mending clothes is scheduled for April 22nd. A fine young textile artist will be on site to teach both traditional and sashiko mending methods. I’ll post this class in the upcoming week! Until then, enjoy this lovely (and somewhat unpredictable) April!

Peppers , Lots Of Peppers!

Picture 1655What’s coming in from the gardens at the moment? Lots and lots of peppers! Having a bounty of fresh sweet red, yellow, and green peppers is a treat. A large sweet red pepper can get pricey at the market.They are coming out of the garden in buckets , along with tomatoes, beets, cabbage, beans, and eggplant. We’re ignoring the squash. Roasting peppers over a charcoal fire is our favorite way to eat them. Everyone in the house loves the addition of roasted peppers on their burgers and in their sandwiches. We will freeze some, freshly chopped and frozen, as well as roasted and then frozen. The consistency of course is nothing like fresh, but the preserved peppers will be added to soups and dishes where they are not intended to be a main ingredient. We have canned roasted peppers. Being low acidity, they need to be processed in a pressure cooker. I’ll leave you with these instructions for canning or freezing peppers ( It is important to follow careful steps with canning, especially with vegetables that you aren’t going to pickle and are considered low acidity. Picture 1657
Oh, and what’s our favorite salad at the moment? The easiest cucumber salad that is quite divine ( yep, buckets of cucumbers, too).
Slice cucumbers quite thin, ( maybe 4 medium cukes)
Add about 2 tbls. minced fresh ginger ( or more if you’d like)
season with a ‘ seasoned’ rice vinegar
Let this sit for an hour or two in the fridge…….quite yummy, and lovely on sandwiches!

Where We’re At

barn waste spread into the field

barn waste spread into the field

Now that the greenhouse is being heated, it provides a space that at least feels like we’re working outdoors. This weekend we had another snow squall. A few inches perhaps, nothing too serious. Being able to work in the greenhouse, beginning to smell warm soil and carefully placing tiny seeds into flats, certainly helps to tolerate this prolonged winter weather. Still, we have our sights on what’s to come, and we glean every opportunity to tackle any “spring’ chore that can be done even while there is still snow on the ground. For instance, all the bedding that has come out of the barn through the winter and piled up is spread around one of the large vegetable gardens. I get very excited thinking about all this soil enriching goodness that accumulates during the winter and will slowly breakdown into the soil. It’s like money in the bank… the way of poop in a pile, that is. The leeks and peppers and eggplant have all been started. Trays and trays of both sweet and hot peppers. King Of The North, Jimmy Nardelo’s, Cubanelle Semi- Sweet, and Falvorburst are a few of our favorite sweet pepper varieties. On the hot side, we grow Anaheim, Czech Black, Long Red Narrow Cayenne, Hidalgo Serrano, Thai Hot, and lots of Early Jalapeno.Picture 782 This morning, once again, I will bring down more of the winter squash that is stored in a cool upstairs loft. These winter vegetables are a staple throughout the non growing months, and we love them, but we sure look forward to those first greens of the season. Just as soon as we can turn the soil in the hoop house, in go plugs of spinach, chard, kale, lettuce, and beets. Soon enough. The sun at the moment is peeking out from the east, a possible promise for the day. We hope you are all finding ways to greet the coming season…..planting a few seeds, forcing some spring bulbs, or designing your vegetable plots. Spring and warmth are bound to come!

This Time Of Year……..

Anemone vitifolia 'Robustissima'

Anemone vitifolia ‘Robustissima’

Fall is approaching, and we begin to see some of the foliage around us taking on their autumn hues. Along with the harvesting of ripe seeds from the display beds for propagating, and continuing to gather ripe fruits from the vegetable garden for processing, we are also beginning to put some of the beds( vegetable) to rest. The ornamental display beds are still glorious in growth and many fall blooming plants are just coming into their own.
Clethra alnifolia 'Compacta'

Clethra alnifolia ‘Compacta’

Picture 038The Clethra (Clethra alnfolia ‘compacta’) is blooming profusely and the sweet scent of its blooms are a delight in the garden right now. Anemone vitifolia , Kirengeshoma koreana, Kirengeshoma palmata, and Lycoris squamigera are all in full bloom. Cardnial flower ( Lobelia cardinalis ), gentian ( Gentiana asclepiadea), and the Helianthus( Helianthus divaricatus) are bringing great color to the landscape. Our native turtleheads ( Chelone), with both pink and white blooms, are just beginning to open.
Lobelia cardinalis 'Black truffles'

Lobelia cardinalis ‘Black truffles’

Gentiana asclepiadea

Gentiana asclepiadea

Gentiana asclepiadea

Gentiana asclepiadea

Helianthus divaricatus

Helianthus divaricatus

The fall gardens bring a new surprise each day, and many visitors to the nursery are using this time to add unique and special plants to their landscape. The ornamentals continue to do their thing as we begin to tend to the chores of the fall vegetable garden. Aside from the asparagus and herbs, the spent annual plants are pulled out, the soil turned over, and an amendment of compost or manure is applied. In some beds a green manure, like winter rye or buckwheat may be sown, and this will be turned under in the spring. Green manures are a great way to replenish the soil with some of the nutrients it may need. We are still collecting lots of food from these gardens, and will continue to do so through the fall, though some areas are ready for cleaning up. Two rows of green beans have pretty much exhausted themselves, several areas where lettuce and various greens are growing can be turned over, and the garlic beds are empty. The hoop house will soon be rid of its summer residents ( peppers, eggplant, and tomatoes)and replanted with a fall crop of kale, broccoli, and greens. I have to admit, this little bit of clean up helps to bring some order to the lush jungle appearance of the gardens. These tasks of both seasons, summer’s end and the fast approaching fall, merge together right about now. Yes, tomatoes are still being picked and canned, the lawn needs mowing, seed is still being harvested and sown, but the firewood is also being cut and stacked and we have our sights on cooler weather and what it entails. Tomorrow, I will begin bushogging the lower pastures at the farm , moving the ewes once again, and adding an anxious ram to the mix. All fall related tasks. For a while, we will feel like we’re living between seasons. Perhaps this overlap brings a flurry of work……ending some tasks and starting new, but I love that we so intimately witness and partake in the seasons transitions. We are a part of this change, we have our hand in it. It will happen regardless, but our lives which are so connected to the natural world, keep us rooted in observation and paticipation. Here are a few more photos of the fall bloomers we are enjoying at the moment:
Lycoris squamigera

Lycoris squamigera

Picture 024
Kirengeshoma palmata

Kirengeshoma palmata

Kirengeshoma koreana

Kirengeshoma koreana

A Sea of Sweet and Hot Red Peppers

Once again, we find ourselves hauling in baskets of sweet and hot peppers. Our favorite way to prepare them, aside from eating peppers fresh or in salads, is to roast them and preserve them in the refrigerator drenched in olive oil. We love using the roasted peppers in sandwiches, on pizza or in quiche, in sauce, or simply adding them to any dish that we think can benefit from the intense roasted flavor.

For storing I prefer not to can the peppers using the traditional pressure canning process. Instead, after roasting the peppers whole on the outdoor grill until the outer skins are blackened, I place them in a brown paper bag and close it tightly. This creates steam in the bag and makes peeling the skins off a much simpler task. After this, it’s easy to slice the peppers down the middle and scoop out the seeds.

At this point I put about two tablespoons of vinegar in the bottom of a quart jar and then fill it halfway with olive oil and add the peppers. This I store in the refrigerator and preserve them for up to a month. Of course, they hardly ever last that long in our house because we eat them all up!

I do the hot peppers this way as well but also dry most of our hot peppers for winter use or grinding to make a chili powder.

The varieties that we typically grow and the ones I find best lend themselves to roasting are Jimmy Nardello, Snapper, Semisweet Cubinellas, and King of the North. For hots, we love Joe’s Long Cayenne, Hot Portugal, Krimson Lee, and Red Rockets.

Once again, always follow specific directions and safety instructions for canning any of your produce.

I’d love to hear your ideas!

Tomato Glutton

This is the time of year when the tomatoes come on strong. Fortunately, we escaped any of the dreaded blight that has been plaguing farmers in the Northeast over the last few years. We plant approximately 60 tomato plants and find this truly meets our fresh tomato needs as well as providing an ample supply for the winter.

Our varieties this year included Martha Washingtons, Cherokee Purples, Soldack, New Girls, Cosmonaut Volkov, Black Krim, Hinez Paste, and a selection of our favorite cherry tomatoes.

Our winter supply is stored by canning, making sauce, salsa, and freezing. By mid-September, I feel less ambitious about standing at the stove stirring pots of tomatoes. To remedy this, I find roasting tomatoes not only frees up my time but also creates a versatile end product with a delicious and intensified tomato flavor.

I skip the traditional process of dipping tomatoes in hot water then cold to remove the skins and then seeding them. Instead I take my largest roasting pan, put a skim layer of good olive oil in the bottom, core all my tomatoes (still fresh), cut them into quarters and pile them into the pan. To this I add an ample amount of garlic, often two large heads, cored and seeded sweet red peppers and then sprinkle a little more olive oil over the top. Occasionally, I throw in some fresh oregano and basil. Then I put the whole pan, uncovered, in a 300 degree oven and roast for about three to four hours, without stirring. My goal is to reduce as much liquid from the tomatoes as possible.

I then use the tomatoes in a variety of ways:

  • Puree the whole pan and transfer into freezer bags for freezing.
  • Fill quart jars and follow traditional canning procedures for the vegetables included.
  • Add to the cheese I make.
  • Add to soups.

I do believe you’ll find that roasting the tomatoes brings out their sweetness. Of course, you can do this on a smaller scale as you bring in your harvest each day if you’re just looking for a fresh addition to your evening meal. This combination can even be roasted in foil on the grill. Try this over pasta and brown rice. Yum!

Come January when we’re craving the flavors of our summer’s bounty, we can satisfy this want by opening a jar of homemade sauce and delighting in the preserved tomato goodness.

REMEMBER: When canning, always follow recommended procedures for canning various vegetables.

I’d love to hear your ideas for using an overabundance of tomatoes.

Next up: A sea of sweet red and hot peppers!