A DIRTY GIRL'S GARDEN, VIDEO

Garden Minute: Visit To Blue Moon Acres

Blue Moon Acres is a 63- acre certified organic farm in Buckingham, Pennsylvania and Pennington, New Jersey. It is the result of Jim Lyons’ hard work and dedication for farming and agriculture and his willingness to change the way people eat and think about food.

I recently had the pleasure of talking with Mr. Lyons at his beautiful Pennington, New Jersey farm to discuss his interest in farming, family and his philosophies on organic food production.

According to Mr. Lyons, food became an interest in the early 1980’s while studying ancient Chinese medicine and working in the natural food industry. He soon realized farming and agriculture was his true passion. Owning a farm that produces certified organic produce simply made sense, especially with the understanding of “how food effects not only how we feel but how we behave.”

But it didn’t start out that way. In the early 1990’s he purchased five acres “by rubbing two nickels together.”

It included a house in Buckingham, Pennsylvania, where they continue to live today. “The main goal was to put food on the table and pay the mortgage.” They began growing only micro greens and reached out to local restaurants in the New York and Philadelphia area and now locally in Princeton, New Jersey and New Hope, Pennsylvania.

He is not alone in his journey. His wife Kathy manages the micro green production. She also manages the herb production, which has resulted in a bath and body line. Eldest daughter Ashley manages all the marketing and social media for the farm.

As production increased so did the farm. Later on they acquired the Pennington, New Jersey location allowing them to grow a diverse selection of food crops ranging from tomatoes, peppers and squash, during the height of the summer growing season, to baby leaf, spinach, cole crops and even rice, which is dedicated to three acres.

All produce is sold upon harvest at their on-site market. Rice, on the other hand is planted in the spring and harvested late summer, cleaned and stored, allowing it to be sold later on during the season. In addition to being sold by the pound they are also made into rice cakes and are looking to produce rice-based pasta. They are in talks at the moment with Triumph Brewery to possibly use their black rice to brew a dark beer.

As the demand for organically grown produce increases so does the evolution of the process of growing. Lyons states that right now they are transitioning for the better through better soil management by creating their own soil and specialized compost. “When you really improve your soil health your plants are less disease and bug prone. It is the solution to the problem of world hunger. I don’t think genetic modification is the way to go. The same cannot be true for conventional farming where you become dependent on the chemicals you are using.”

For Jim Lyons, his family and Blue Moon Acres the process of growing organically has becomes easier through time and innovation.

A DIRTY GIRL'S GARDEN, VIDEO

Garden Minute: Saving Seeds

Saving seeds has been a long time tradition for gardeners throughout centuries. Passed down from generation to generation their goal was to save seeds from their favorite varieties of fruits, flowers and vegetables so they may be grown year after year. These are are know as heirloom varieties and are open-pollinated, meaning they reproduce identical offspring.

By the early 20th century hybridization of plants and seeds were available and inexpensive with new and improved varieties. Gardeners were not saving seeds, but relying on commercial seed companies. In more recent years, a new generation of gardeners are seeking out the fruits, flowers and vegetables that our grandparents and great-grandparents enjoyed for their high yield and rich flavor. Seed saving is a great way keep the heirloom varieties alive, save money and share with other gardeners.

Seed Saving is not as difficult as it sounds. In fact, it is quite easy. All that’s required is a little patience. To find out exactly how easy, I went straight to the source, Fordhook Farm, home of the Burpee Seed Co. trial gardens. Burpee is one of the oldest seed companies in America. There I spoke with the Farm Manager, Sharon Kaszan about some of the methods and techniques that they us to save seeds on the farm. You should begin harvesting seeds late summer through the fall. Resist the urge to pick every last fruit or vegetable that remains on the plant. Kaszan says, “ You want to start with ripe fruit, very ripe fruit, the kind you don’t want to eat.” Fruit that sits on the plant and becomes soft and shriveled is best. Harvesting before the fruit has ripened will leave you with seed that has not matured thus, resulting in poor germination. For example peppers are the easiest to harvest and should be picked when they have completely turned red and begin to shrivel. Tomatoes are a little tougher since it has a thick mucus like membrane. You have to soak the seeds in warm water and set aside at room temperature. I recommend letting them sit overnight to ferment. Seeds will separate and will sink to the bottom. Any seed floating is not viable and should be discarded.

If fruit becomes moldy the spores can form on the seed as well, leaving the seed less viable.

Flowers should be harvested when they are completely finished blooming. “Wait until petals have dropped off and before the birds get to it.” said Kaszan. Place a baggie around the flower head to catch any loose seed. Be sure the seed is completely dry, harvesting during the fall when the air is cool and dry is key. Some examples of plants to save seeds from include annual cosmos, snapdragons, zinnia, perennials, Rudbeckia hurt, Black Eyed Susan, Echinacea, Purple Coneflower.

Once you’ve harvested and dried your seeds you want to store them properly. Find a cool dry location. Avoid a damp basement or a room that gets too warm, Kaszan suggests a pantry.

Keep seeds in a container, I like to use a mason jar with a little rice inside to keep moisture out. Always label seeds with variety and the date. Seeds should last up to a year in storage. Saving seeds from your garden this year gives you a jumpstart on planning your garden next year.

A DIRTY GIRL'S GARDEN, VIDEO

Garden Minute: Overwintering Tropical Plants

tropical

As a horticulturist and grower I love to collect many types of plants, especially during the summer. Once the threat of frost or hard freeze approaches during the month of October I am always sad to see the end of the growing season. Now is the time to take inventory of my tropical plant collection, since I don’t have a greenhouse, or a sunroom, and prepare the indoors for the many plants that are going to spend the wintertime indoors.

Follow the Sun, and take note of where the sun plays upon the rooms in your home. Most tropicals prefer warm, bright surroundings, but some can do well in moderate indirect and even low light, depending on the variety of plant.  Temperatures in the 60 -70 degree range during the day are ideal.  Temperatures above 80 degrees can cause poor air circulation, which can lead to insect problems down the road.

hibiscusTry and be selective when deciding what plants you want to over winter. Take serious inventory of your potted tropicals and bring in only what you have room for.  If you want to overwinter a flowering tropical such as hibiscus decide you have enough light for the plant to continue actively growing and flowering during the winter.  If not, consider cutting the plant back approximately 1/3 and let it go dormant. Do the same for tropical vines, Dipladenia and Mandevilla vines.  If you are considering bringing in annuals, like geraniums, lantana, or coleus, find the sunniest location and modestly cut back, and or take cuttings from them. Tropical foliage plants such as Boston Ferns, Peace Lily and varieties of Palm are great to over winter, because they enhance the beauty aa well as the air quality in your home.  Succulents aside from being a strong trend in home design are the easiest to maintain and can adapt to, not only bright indirect light, but moderate light as well and require little care and water.

IMG_0085Transplant any plants that have outgrown their pots over the summer.  Select a container with proper drainage holes and a slightly larger diameter than the pot the plant is currently in. Keep plants away from any forced hot air, like heating vents and any severely drafty windows.  You also want to increase humidity in your home.  Don’t worry it sound a lot more complicated than it actually is.  Simple take a saucer filled with crushed stones and keep the stones moist. Another trick I use often is grouping my plants together if space allows.

Allow plants to dry thoroughly between each watering, this helps to minimize fungus gnat problems that may arise from the soil.  Be sure to hose down the plants with water and an insecticidal soap before you bring them indoors. You want to be sure to clean off insects that may be hiding out on your plants.  Add a granular systemic insect control to the soil every 4-6 weeks to ensure your plants stay insect free and healthy.

Overwintering tropicals can be a fun project for the winter months.  It will keep your hands in the soil and your passion for gardening all year long.