All posts by Jose Sola

About Jose Sola

Realtor by day, gardener at dawn, experimental cook in the eve and weekends. Explorer at heart living a wonderful life.

On Your Mark…

We have reached mid winter, and there is plenty of snow outside to prove it. The view of our garden from my office window today is stunning all dressed in the white powder we got last night. This has been an interesting season for us on Long Island. We have had our fair share of days with mild temperature, already forgotten by most, framed by bone chilling temperatures brought by the now famous Polar Vortex.


I admit I am somewhat impulsive.   I usually dedicated a couple of weeks to planning my garden just before tilling and planting, and most of the thinking is done while looking at seedling flats at the garden centers. Nonetheless, 2013 was a great year for us, we had many abundant crops, we met and visited many fellow gardeners, and learned a lot by interacting and sharing with you, the readers of this blog. So for 2014 I decided to do things in a little more organized manner.

Just before it got too cold to work outside comfortably, I started building a few raised beds which I plan to finish  in the spring. The decision to use raised beds this year is just because I want to experiment with square foot gardening. The idea is very interesting and the methodology seem simple and allows me to space production to lengthen the gardening season to suit our needs.


Nonetheless, I still have about 500 sqft of ground garden space where I plan to grow sweet potatoes, corn, and perhaps some perennial fruit or berry bushes, which I have left mulched and covered with straw. Since I completed that work, I have dedicated some time to thinking what other things I really want to try this year. I have not only decided what plants to grow, but also decided I will be experimenting with vermiculture and more intensive composting as a means to improve our production and crop quality.

As I become more involved with gardening I have come to realize it is not just a late spring and summer thing. Many tasks have to be completed at specific times while it is still cold out, specially if you intend on avoiding buying seedlings at the garden centers. In order to organize myself through the early planting process, I compiled a chart from information available from online garden sites, seed catalogs and gardening books. The chart originally had specific dates when I needed to start seeds, whether indoors or outdoors, or when to bring the seedlings out based on where we live. However, as soon as I had finished it I realized it was of little use to anyone outside our county, so I modified it so it can be used by anyone in a temperate area as long as you know the expected date of last freeze-frost in your particular area. My current Spring Planting Guide can be viewed by clicking the bold links.

The guide designates the week after date of last frost, which is when I would put most veggies in the ground in most areas, as Week 0 (zero). The weeks leading to Week 0 are designated increasingly from Week -12 through Week -1. Subsequently, the weeks after Week 0 are also designated increasingly from Week 1 onwards.

By studying this guide and knowing the last freeze date in your particular area (there are many sites that give you this information, but I found this one to be on target for the US ), anyone can plug in the information in a calendar to display specific week or date by when to start seeds indoors or outdoors, or by when to transfer seedlings to the garden.

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Since I am working this year with the square foot garden method, my guide also included suggested density per square foot section, whether a trellis or cage support is needed, as well as some other useful reminders and information.

I hope this guide reaches you in time to be of use in your area. I know it will be useful to me to keep me on track with my gardening tasks, but I am also sure this may not be the last version I compile. I welcome all constructive criticism and advice on how to improve it. I am sorry it may not be of much use to people in tropical and subtropical areas, but you guys do not have to deal with snow and our short growing seasons.

Three, two, one…

What am I thankful for?
CFor the three that carry a part of me, you are my blessings, my joy and my pride, you are the ones that give meaning to my passage through this world.

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For the two that brought me here, for your immense love, for teaching me the value of hard work, for showing me right from wrong and planting in me a sense of pride, the backbone on which I continue to mold my life.

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For the one that walks next to me,  for sharing your life with me, for f lsf lsyour smiles and warm embrace, for always letting me fly as far as I can, and for showing me the ground when I have gone too high, for giving me the 3 greatest gifts of my life.


For the many that have been and still are part of my life, for the good memories, for the beers, for the laughs, and even for the tears, for your teachings, for the jokes and the songs that still remind me of you.

For the few that have tried to break me, for you have just made me stronger.

Happy Thanksgiving.


Planting our 2014 garlic crop.

She arrived with her mom wearing the apron Beth had made for her when she took over our garden last summer. She came to the kitchen, gave us a hug and asked if she could help me toss the salad I was getting ready for dinner. She pulled over a step stool to reach over the large bowl on the counter. Once the salad was all ready, she made me change into a different apron, because the one I was wearing was “a cooking apron, not a gardening one”. I had invited B (my 6 year old garden helper) to come a week ago so we could plant together next year’s garlic crop, and she was definitely ready for business.

Earlier that afternoon, before B’s arrival, I had separated two pounds of organic garlic that I had bought at D Acres Farm in our last visit to New Hampshire in early October.


The cloves all felt firm and were much better than average in size. I had gotten a nice assortment of garlic, some purple, some white, but all apparently the hard neck type. 



My previous attempt to grow garlic in my garden using store bought garlic a couple of years ago was not successful at all, so besides getting better seed, I prepared one of my newly built raised beds  with a nice 2” top layer of rock dust enriched compost on top of a fluffy layer of compost/vermiculite/peat moss prepared following the traditional Mel’s Mix recipe.


When B arrived in the garden she was surprised to see how different it was from when she last saw it in the summer. She was concerned that the side of the raised bed we were going to work at was a bit too close to the edge of our garden, but once she sat on the ground she was no longer worried. I explained what we were going to do, and showed her how plant the cloves with the pointy side up inside the holes I had previously made about a finger deep and 4” apart.


In order to keep track of our work progress, I had marked the whole bed with a grid made out of cording. We planted one square at a time, before going to the next square, and we marked the planted area by spreading some of the garlic peelings on top of the dirt. 


B caught on what was needed to be done immediately, she did not miss planting any of the cloves in the correct place, and truly enjoyed beating me at planting each our designated squares.



In total, we planted 135 cloves, if we get them all to produce a full head we will be set with garlic for next winter, and will feel much safer should vampires start attacking. 

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Sharing some of my gardening chores with B is truly an enjoyable experience. She may be too young to completely understand many of the reasons why things are done one way or another, but it seems she also finds enjoyment at  getting her hands dirty working the ground. It is hard to tell if she will still be interested in gardening as she grows up, but I will be happy to nurture her curiosity in this field while she is.

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Do you garden with your children? What activities do you share with them? 

My 2013 Garden is pretty much come to a rest. In the past few weeks I have spent most of the time clearing and preparing beds for the winter than harvesting anything. IMG_1931

We were lucky this year to have considerably extended our growing season, the decision to plant again mid summer turned out very fruitful t:-] … We still have a few spinach, arugula and lettuce left on the ground (even enjoyed a tasty salad this eve), but everything else is gone until 2014.


I have shared many of my garden fun stories and photographs in previous posts, but there were just as many times in which I scratched my head and questioned myself “…what was I thinking???…”  Today I look back at my 2013 season and can identify a couple major mistakes (character flaws??), I want to share them because otherwise I may forget them and end up repeating them next year.

I pride myself on being a great planner. I truly enjoy planning what to plant weeks before it is warm enough to work outside. I carefully figure out how many and what types of plants I want to grow, and where they will be placed. However, I am also very impulsive, at the garden center my eyes always prove to be bigger, much bigger than my yard and brains. This year, as in the past I got excited looking at new plants I had never grown and ended up buying multiple trays of unplanned seedlings which of course I ended up squeezing all in the garden. In order to fit them all in the area I had prepared I not only grew the plants much closer to each other than recommended, but also had to re-form the rows tighter together to gain space. IMG_0945

At the beginning I saw no problem, in fact it did not bother me until the plants were half grown. At that time walking between rows  to prune, weed or simply collect fruit was almost impossible, it got even harder as they grew bigger.IMG_0199

I recall having to crawl under a tunnel made up by tomato plants to reach some of the zucchinis that grew in between. IMG_0205IMG_1154

There was such little room that I could not use my wheelbarrow to carry stuff across my garden.

I guess all impulsive people also lack a very important virtue, patience. Check!! I always want all my plants in the ground by Mother’s Day (official start of garden season on Long Island). I itch with anticipation the days leading to the 2nd Sunday in May.  Nothing more rewarding than looking at perfectly straight rows of miniature plants all planted and watered at the end of the day.IMG_1035 IMG_1034

However, since all go in the same day, all reach peak production at the same time. This can be overwhelming, even though I shared my production with friends and neighbors, a couple of times I felt they were not eating their share fast enough… YES, you can have way too many cherry tomatoes when they come all at once.IMG_0240IMG_1304

In order to control any desire to over plant and to control production to a more manageable and steady level in 2014 I have started making raised beds to utilize the space more effectively, and to make it easy for me to work around my plants.IMG_1588IMG_1929IMG_1930IMG_1917

I even created extra  100 square ft of garden space to make up for the wider access aisles I have left between beds. The use of raised beds will also make it easier for me to space out the planting over a few weeks to stagger production over a longer period of time. I am even thinking that at least one raised bed could be planted much earlier by fitting it with a greenhouse canopy, that will calm my impatience.

D Acres Farm, waking up to homesteading

It seems we get drawn more and more to New Hampshire whenever we have a little time off or we need to decompress… This time it was Beth who suggested we head up for  few days during Columbus Day weekend. Our initial intention was to hike with our son and his girlfriend while enjoying the Fall change of colors.

Since we came up with the idea at the last minute, we had a hard time finding accommodations in traditional and not so traditional places, I even looked into staying in a yurt, without much luck. Beth then remembered a website our son had recommended where you can find less known places to stay. She called me midday three days before our planned departure to ask me, “How would you like staying at an educational farm?”. I guess she already knew the answer, because immediately after I responded, she said “We are already booked”.

The name of the place is D Acres, and it is located in Dorchester, New Hampshire. It is a homestead developed and run on the basic principles of permaculture. The farm occupies a small section of a 200 acre property. It is surrounded by wilderness and has a fantastic view of the foothills of the White Mountains from several vantage points.


There are several buildings on the farm, the most prominent is the main house, that serves as a combination B&B-hostel and general meeting place for all guests.

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This building also houses a great kitchen and dining hall, a library well stocked with books pertaining to farming, gardening, permaculture, sustainability and other related themes, a fully functional wood workshop, and of course a root cellar and produce storage facility. The farm is not off the grid, but it boasts solar photovoltaic panels, solar heat collectors, and other sensible technology to help it run efficiently leaving less of a footprint on the environment.


The other buildings on the property, although fully functional for their intended uses (greenhouses, chicken coop, temporary staff residence, outhouses, etc), are less conventional in looks and are happily decorated with hand painted signs and or sculptures.

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The structures and equipment at D Acres are mostly built with locally sourced materials. True to the focus of the farm, they find use for  commonly discarded items which they keep out of sight in a somewhat neat “Resource Pile” until needed.

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In the farm they currently have 2 oxen that help with weed control in the developed area and with muscle power whenever needed.

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They also have several pigs which are entrusted with plowing and preparing newly developed growing fields as they turn up the soil in their constant search for food.

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During our visit, we had a chance to feed the pigs with several cases of vegetables that would no longer be sellable at the local supermarket, and with buckets of kitchen scraps collected in local restaurants. They were all out of chickens at present, as they will be starting a new  flock soon, but they did have ducks in some of their ponds.

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Their farming fields were certainly impressive, they are oriented to make best use of the vital resources, soil, water and sun. Tree stumps are left in the field to decay and in turn return nutrients to the ground, their presence is not inconvenient as the ground is only worked by hand with pitchforks.

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Farming fields are heavily mulched with straw during the growing season to prevent weeds, control water and improve the soils. In the off season, the fields are planted with cover crops to further promote soil enrichment through natural processes of nitrogen fixation and composting.

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Crops are rotated to maximize production, all crops are grown organically. The farm produces all of its vegetables (except for grains and oils), and all of their meat. Surplus are offered for sale locally.

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The areas that are not dedicated to farming have been left in their natural state, with only a few well marked trails that loop around the forest and comeback to Base Camp, where visitors can elect to pitch a tent or hang a hammock.


The most amazing aspect of the farm is how at ease one feels immediately upon arrival. Josh and Regina really make sure everyone feels at home. The food is fantastic, and is served family style in a very cordial atmosphere. The kitchen is also shared with guests that chose to prepare their own meals.


There are just two house rules, no smoking, and no shoes upstairs. It is perhaps because of that that all guests feel compelled to maintain the harmony of the farm as if we were all invested in this great project. In future trips to NH we are most likely to stay again at D Acres, perhaps next time we can catch one of their educational programs, or get a chance to learn more about homesteading working side by side with them.

To learn more about D Acres Farm, visit their site at .


A new kind of busy

My late season plantings are growing very slowly, the chilly spell is not really helping at all. I guess I have to be happy with the three cucumbers and a few spaghetti squash that are now growing on the plants. I am not sure if I will see another zucchini this year, but have to report that my last hybrid tasted delicious in a fritata my wife made with some of our giant tomatoes too.


This weekend c I started consolidating my compost pile, and I also moved a small fig tree and a few flowering bushes to different areas of my yard in hope of having a larger garden next year.


However, these days I find myself spending more time planning what I want to do next season. I have reconfigured my 2014 garden in my head many times in the past few weeks in response to good ideas taken from cool videos or blogs. I have made long mental lists of the things that I want to try, as well as of the mistakes I don’t want to repeat, I will try to put them on paper to share with all in the near future.

Where did the summer go?

It’s funny, August just ended but it already feels like the summer is over. The sun does not shine as high in the sky, and its passage through our garden gets narrower and narrower every day. Our garden plants are starting to look tired, some are still producing fruit, but not at the same pace they kept just a couple of weeks ago.

Last week our cherry tomato plants  were looking very scraggly, we were still getting quite a good production every day (1.5-2 lbs/day), but we noticed the tomatoes were not ripening to a deep red, and the fabulous midsummer flavor was no longer there. At the end of last week, I decided to cut all our cherry tomato plants and put them in the compost pile.


Of the vegetables that we planted in the spring, we still have in production: broccoli, eggplant, hot and cubanele peppers, and of course basil. We are also getting a few green peppers (no bigger than a plum), and some giant tomatoes that volunteered from seed left on the ground the past year.



Back in July when the original lettuce, cucumber and zucchini production had started to dwindle, I had made a decision to continue gardening until it was no longer possible. I had then started seeds in newspaper pots which I had later put into the ground. With the cherries now gone, a large space opened up in our garden so I turned up and prepared a 6’ X4’ section and planted several varieties of lettuce and spinach, with the hope of having good tasty salads far into the fall.




From the seedlings I had planted at the end of July, we are now getting some cucumber, even though I fear it may be getting a bit too cool for them. The turnips look decent so far, but will not know how they really are until I dig them up later in the fall. The chard and spinach are both doing well, but the Kholrabi keep getting chewed by bugs and/or rabbits (it is amazing how large a population of wild rabbits and deer we have on Long Island).




In July I had also started 2 plants each of spaghetti squash, pumpkin and zucchini. I had figured out that their production was going to be more than enough for us and perhaps to give some away… One day I noticed one of the zucchini plants had stopped growing. I tried different things to help it, but in the end it wilted and died. It turns out my garden also obeys Murphy’s Law.


At that point I started to get concerned about my zucchini production, as I remembered having to scramble from plant to plant looking for suitable flowers to gather pollen from, or to pollinate at any one time. My concern escalated the morning I got up and saw one female zucchini flower in the garden, and no male flowers in sight. Next to it, however, was a spaghetti squash plant with a couple smaller male flowers that closely resembled those of the zucchini.



I thought about the implications, and soon realized that If I had been a bee, I would have already done what I was thinking about doing, so I used the pollen of the spaghetti squash to pollinate the zucchini flower. As of this morning, seven days later, my hybrid is still growing, but I do notice that the growth is not as rapid as that of a regular zucchini. I don’t know what it is going to be like, but with genes from zucchini and spaghetti it is already destined for an Italian dish. The lonely zucchini plant has not produced any other female flowers since then, but I see some tiny embryos forming now.



Of my late plantings, the spaghetti squash has two small fruit slowly growing, and the pumpkin plants so far keep on producing only male flowers, so at this rate I guess I am buying for Halloween…


How hot do you like it?

Growing up in Venezuela, I remember my father kept an old and very ornate cognac bottle in the refrigerator filled with peppers, onions, and herbs suspended in a clear liquid. He would take it out on occasions and add a few drops of the liquid to one of his favorite dishes, and would brag about it as he offered it to friends that came for lunch or dinner.

Unlike the hot sauces sold commercially, or those that leave you sweating, with swollen lips and a destroyed digestive tract, Venezuelan picante (also known as ají, pronounced ah-he) focuses on adding extra flavor as it adds a bit of heat to the food. There is not one specific recipe, as with many traditional foods every family changes it to make chdp Continue reading How hot do you like it?

Meet B our interim farmer

When we came home from our vacation, my older son had one question for me, “where did you find a six year old farmer girl to take care of your garden?”. I explained that B is my friend’s daughter, and how she had offered at one point to help me with my chores. I related how excited she was to learn that she had been chosen to be totally in charge for a whole week while we were going away.


Just before leaving on vacation, my wife thought that B was going to need an apron while working in the garden, one that would keep her from getting her clothes dirty, and with deep pockets where she could keep her tools, or collect fruit. She made her an apron that night and we left it with her mom just before leaving.


B’s work week at the farm went fantastic, she reminded her parents every day that she had to come and work. She was responsible, very gentle with the plants and extremely careful with her work.



B liked looking around our pond to find the elusive frogs that live in it.


Her favorite chore in the farm was watering the plants and getting wet wile doing it, she said laughing.


She was so good at making the water rain on the plants that she learned how to make rainbows.


Not everything was easy, though, B says one of the hardest thing she had to do was tasting a cherry tomato, yuck!! Also cutting eggplants off without getting pricked on the fingers by the green part was very difficult.


Spending a whole week caring for a garden gave B an insight on how fast plants do grow. She truly enjoyed the experience and  is even convincing her mom to plant a garden in their home so she can care for it. To feed B’s curiosity and interest in gardening, we will start a garlic and onion patch in her home this fall.


As for my garden, what can I say? It really looked better than when I left. The new plants grew quite a few inches, the tomatoes are producing so much the plants look like they need a rest (just this week I picked over 6 lbs of cherry tomatoes), the eggplants are shinny black and plump, and all the peppers are screaming to be picked off the plants.  This really proves that caring is more important than a green thumb.


When asked if she would do it again, she answered that whenever I go away I can always ask her to care for my farm. Would I hire her again? In a heartbeat!!

Thank you B, you are the best.

A walk on the wild sid

It’s been a week since we came back from vacation. It is really hard getting back to the full swing of life, but we find ourselves in a more serene state of mind. Our vacation was wonderful. My wife Beth and I spent a week hopping between New Hampshire and Maine hiking and kayaking. Following are highlights of our trip.


The Highland Center is located at the foothill of the White Mountains. Here you can get excellent bunk style accommodations and incredible food before hitting the trails. This or the center at Pinkham Notch are perfect stops for hikers venturing in the Whites who are  in need expert advise, directions, update on mountain weather, maps, etc.


That first evening, after dinner, we went for a short walk on a trail around the Ammonnoosuc Lake while waiting for the Perseid meteorite showers.


Back at the Lodge, students from the Carthage Institute of Astronomy had an array of high power telescopes and were giving great explanations on the what we were seeing. By far the most interesting thing I saw was the planet Saturn, the rings around it showing perfectly, just as if it was one of those glow in the dark cut-outs. The Perseid shower that night turned out to be no more than a trickle.


Early next morning we headed towards a section of the Appalachian Trail (AT) that we had not covered in our hike the previous year. We climbed the Crawford Path to the Mizpah Spring Hut, one of the AMC mountain huts located mid trail where hikers can take refuge, get some rest, food and water before continuing on their journey.

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From Mizpah we followed on the Webster Cliff Trail to summit Mount Jackson and Mount Webster where we got incredible views of the Presidential Mountain Range, and the ridge trail we had hiked in 2012.






We descended Mt Webster on the Webster Jackson Trail, which ended up being very steep and rocky. It was not an easy trail to hike down, but it went by a couple waterfalls well worth the extra strain on the knees…or maybe not.



At day 3 our original plans called for a start to our kayaking and camping trip down the Saco River. However, the day came in with copious rains, and since there was the chance of parts of the river getting shut down due to high water level, we decided to spend a day visiting Portland ME. The detour was well worthwhile, we walked around the city  harbor, had great chowder and lobster for lunch and visited some stores. That evening we were lucky to find a place to stay at a bed and breakfast in Naples ME. The Augustus Bove, a well kept and very comfortable B&B, attended by their owners Arlene and Dave. Great country atmosphere, fantastic breakfast, and you are sent off in the morning with a hug and a kiss, it does not get any better than that.


The fourth day came in and the sun was shinning high in the sky, a perfect day to the start of our kayak/camping experience. We drove back into NH to Center Conway, and after stopping for some last minute supplies, went to Saco Valley Canoe to leave our car and get transferred with our kayaks and camping gear to the put in place on the river at Swans Falls over the ME border.


With the boats fully loaded with gear, supplies and firewood we headed out towards the Broomfield Bridge, a point 19 miles down the river where we could be picked up from and transferred back to our car. The rules of the river are simple and reasonable, one can land and camp anywhere it is not posted as prohibited, campfires are only allowed on sandy beaches and after obtaining a permit, no out of state firewood and   pack in pack out rules apply.



From the point we put in to our destination the Saco is a gentle, wide river flowing at about 2.5 miles an hour. The water is super clear, the scenery is fantastic, and at least during the week you can get away from crowds. DSCF4426

That night we camped by a beach we had all to ourselves about 8.5 miles down river. At the time we set up camp the sun was about to go below the tree line so it started getting dark and chilly pretty fast.




In spite of the damp fire wood and kindling we managed to have a roaring fire on the beach. Our dinner that night was simply delicious, or should I say “simple but delicious”? Mac and cheese always tastes great when shared with right person and under the stars.


Next day after tearing down our camp we had some  breakfast, hot instant oatmeal. I had forgotten I do not really like oatmeal, “but it is good for you and  it fills you up for a long time” said Beth, so I went along.


We paddled and drifted for a few hours stopping to see whatever caught our attention that day, had lunch at another beautiful sandy beach, and ventured into two large ponds that connect with the Saco. In the latter, Lowell Pond we saw a bald eagle and a fledgling perching at our path.  DSCF4496 DSCF4515

Our intention to camp on the river a second night was abruptly changed when a post at mile 17 indicated that overnight camping was not permitted between that point and our destination at mile 19.

After being picked up and brought back to our car, that afternoon we headed Northwest towards Franconia Notch. The next morning we hiked up to the Lonesome Lake, where AMC has another mountain hut.


The trail takes you up from the parking area on a gentle switchback. At the top there is a beautiful lake encircled by high mountains, the view is certainly  incredible.


We had hoped to have lunch at the hut, but were not hungry then. To get back to our car we chose the longer way down following the Cascade Brook Trail, a very nice section of the AT with a very fit name.


We stopped several times to admire the dozens of cascades that form on this rapidly descending river, as well as the massive granite formations on which it flows.




That eve, tired but very happy, we started on our way South. We met with our friends Maureen and Brian had dinner with them, and spent the night at their beautiful cabin near Holderness NH. Next morning, we picked our son up from camp and spent the rest of the day driving around and sightseeing the lakes region of NH.

At the Lonesome Lake there is a memorial plaque that sums up how we feel about this week, it reads: “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the number of moments that take our breath away”. I don’t know about you, but I am already planning our next adventure.


B is the new farmer in charge

So we are finally getting ready to leave on vacation to beautiful New Hampshire and Maine. We have made plans for months in anticipation of this moment, having changed them quite a few times. I checked tons of websites and trail books, read dozens of trip reviews and watched quite a few videos to figure out how to best spend the few days we take off every summer.  I have spent many nights tracing possible trails and selecting daily destinations. This year we chose to combine hiking, kayaking and camping. With this in mind, I made lists of equipment we’d need on every leg of the trip, gathered most of it from our basement, custom built a few things to out rig our boats, and ordered whatever else we did not have but was on the list. Certainly if half of the fun is getting there, preparing for it is got to be at least a quarter.


Throughout all this preparation, the thought of leaving my garden in the middle of the summer was constantly on my mind. After all it is the middle of production. We are getting a few pounds of tomatoes every day, the peppers are ready to be collected, every couple of days one or two eggplants are ready to eat, and all my seedlings still need to be watched to guarantee harvesting in the early fall. I did the best I could at increasing irrigation intervals to prevent a bake like it happened when we went away for a few days in early July. My main concern was “Who would be picking the fruit?”. We definitely do not want it to rot or go to waste.


That is when B came to mind. I recalled she had offered to help me with my garden a few weeks ago. At the time I had offered to go pick her up and bring her over, but she declined because I did not have a booster seat in my car. B is my colleague’s daughter. She a  very bright 6 year old with beautiful brown eyes and an engaging personality. Who better than her  to take care of the place while we are gone?

Her appointment as farm tomato picker was sent to her  as a text  through her mom. B, jumped, danced and hollered “woohooo” as she was read that she had been chosen from among “hundreds of applicants”. That afternoon, she came to my house to learn the ropes and take the reigns of my “farm”. We met at the curb, and she skipped all the way from there to the backyard, stopping only to say hi to my wife Beth half way up. Once there we took time to touch and smell all the herbs, the scents and names of plants were all so new to her. She saw where the carrots are growing, and of course we spent some time picking cherry tomatoes, one of which she tasted but not liked. She learned that to pick eggplants you grab the fruit, not the prickly stem, and that some peppers can be very hot. She tasted fresh broccoli, and managed to walk in between narrowly planted rows of seedlings with some grace (this was the hardest thing for her, so this morning I planted a stick with orange blazing tape next to each seedling so she can see better where they are). Of all the things B got to try, I think watering the plants was the most fun, especially when we turned the hose in rain mode and she could get her head wet too.



B’s short training visit yesterday made me somewhat wish I was not leaving so soon. Not because I am afraid she will not take good care, nor because I am going to miss my garden terribly while hiking or paddling through some amazing wilderness. I guess I wish I could spend more time showing her fun things, like how cucumber plants lash on to things, or why flowers attract bees, or just how to name a few plants or birds. I am sure we will have a chance in the future to do some gardening together. This is her week to explore and to be the farmer in charge. With an attitude like hers, she can only succeed. Hopefully next post we will have some of B’s gardening photos.

Do you share your garden experience with your children? What intrigues children the most in a garden? When do your children start joining you in the garden?

Hobbs Farm, volunteers welcome

In our travels we are always looking to meet interesting people, or visit awesome places or operations to learn from or exchange ideas. Today I want to share my recent visits to one of my neighbors, the Bethel Hobbs Community Farm, a place with a fantastic history and and great mission.


The farm, which is located on Long Island in Centereach NY, sits on an 11 acre plot wedged among residential developments. The farm was donated by the Hobbs family in 1990 to the Bethel AME Church. In 2007 a group of concerned members of the church formed an organization to restore the farm house and the barn and created a two acre co-op garden. Their mission was simple, to provide fresh wholesome produce to those in need.


Since its rebirth, the farm has expanded considerably, and now also has a greenhouse and 4 different planting areas: The Son Shine Acres, where most of the food is grown, harvested and distributed to the needy through a network of local food pantries and food programs. Excess production is sold at the farm produce stand, the revenue being used to cover operational costs.


The Community Garden, a series of 24 5‘X20’ plots where members can grow their own flowers and veggies while helping with community tasks.


The Education Garden, an area where individuals and groups can participate in specific educational projects while at the same time helping grow produce for the hungry.


The last area was just recently developed with a grant from the Christopher Reeves Foundation, and the assistance of Stony Brook University and local patrons. I am not sure it has an official name yet, but I heard its main promoter and steam engine of the project, Ann Pellegrino,  calling it The Garden of Hope, a name that very well fits its purpose. This area  has a series of wheelchair-accessible raised beds, where persons with disabilities can not only learn to garden, but also may harvest and keep the production for their use.


This is not your regular backyard garden, it is a real farm, run in a very efficient and ecologically responsible manner. The crops are drip irrigated to conserve water, and are never treated with pesticides. Perhaps the most amazing aspect of this farm is the positive atmosphere that can be felt from the moment you are faced with the Volunteers Welcomed sign and are later warmly  and sincerely greeted  by a member who will proudly show you around.


The farm is open to individuals and groups looking to roll up their sleeves to make a significant difference in our community. To learn more about how you can become involved with the Bethel Hobbs Community Farm, or to donate to their program please visit their website at .

Ham perico in acorn squash boats

With the availability of free and plentiful produce, we usually feel more daring and tend to experiment with different dishes. We not only try new ones, but even enjoy combining two or more recipes  into something that otherwise would not have put together.



Last week we had prepared baked acorn squash for dinner, a dish we enjoy to accompany meat and poultry. After dinner we ended up with four pieces left that we kept in the fridge to have with a future meal.

The next morning, seeing all the fresh cherry tomatoes and onions from our garden, I decided to make a favorite version of a Venezuelan egg dish, “perico with ham”. We had all the ingredients for the perico, but had run out of corn meal, the basic ingredient to make “arepas”, the traditional bread that goes so well with perico.

Need, as my mom used to say, is the mother of all inventions. The realization that I was not going to be able to eat the perico the usual way, made me search what else I could accompany it with. That is when I found myself face to face with the leftover baked acorn squash in the fridge.

Ham perico in baked squash boats.  A delicious and hearty breakfast

Prepare the acorn squash by cutting in half and removing a small portion of the ends so each of the halves can stand flat on a dish. Remove the seeds from the center of the squash, place a small spat of butter and 3/4 tsp brown sugar in the center.



Bake at 400ºF for one hour or until the squash feels soft when poked with a fork. Brush the sides of the squash with the mixture of butter and brown sugar.


Note that the acorn squash should be fully cooked before the next step. If prepared the day ahead, store it refrigerated, and warm it up in the microwave prior to serving.

To prepare ham perico for two people combine one half minced onion, three thin slices of Virginia ham finely chopped, and a handful of halved cherry tomatoes in a frying pan with a small amount of olive oil. Cook stirring occasionally until the onion starts looking translucent.



Add three eggs to the pan, notice that in Venezuela eggs are not always beaten prior to cooking. As soon as some of the egg starts cooking on the pan, start stirring and scrambling all ingredient until it is fully cooked.


Fill the warm acorn squash halves with the perico, and sprinkle with coarse salt and freshly crushed pepper to taste.


The resulting dish was fabulous and very filling. It is a far version of the traditional dish, but it still had that special combination of sweet and salty that I tend to associate with Venezuelan cuisine. Try it and let me know how you like it.

Mid summer garden update

As I have been reporting all along, we are having a fantastic production of cherry tomatoes, the only variety we grew this year. We finally have reached the point at which our daily harvest is much larger than what our family can eat in salads in one day, so we have started to incorporate them in our usual recipes, and have shared our surplus with friends and neighbors.


Last week was really bountiful, we also collected, onions, not very big, but very tasty, acorn squash, beautiful eggplants, and of course lettuce and basil. The latter seems now to grow much faster than my son can eat as pesto. Our hot peppers started to turn red, and so far I have collected a couple that I will be using to make hot sauce.





The rains here on Long Island last week were a real blessing. All the plants look happy and are producing fruit regularly. By the end of the week, after the torrential rains subsided, I planted our next crops (lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, cucumber, spaghetti squash, zucchini, carrot, a funky looking heirloom pumpkin, and Kohlrabi which I am trying for the first time). I find that by starting to plant again at this time we can substantially increase our garden production as we have fair weather until at least mid to end of October on Long Island.



Do you become a more daring cook when you have excess produce? In my next post I will share a simple but delicious recipe of a traditional Venezuelan breakfast with a twist.

Keeping them fresH2O

I have spent part of this summer trying to figure out how to preserve the two most perishable vegetables I grow. Lettuce, and zucchini (courgette) flowers.



It is fairly easy to keep fresh one, or perhaps a couple heads of lettuce in the crisper section of the refrigerator. However, when you end up harvesting more than you can fit in the whole fridge, you know you need to try something different. The solution came to me simply, but out of necessity.


Right after collecting a batch of lettuce leaves, I thoroughly rinse them in the sink in cold water to get rid of sand any other stuff still on them. I put them stem end down in a bowl keeping the larger leaves on the outside. I then fill the bowl up with cold water to keep the lettuce fresh. In this manner, the lettuce keeps very crispy, without drying up or browning for at least a day and a half right on the kitchen counter, without the need for refrigeration.


Whatever lettuce we want to give away, we tie lightly in a bundle with a cord and put it in a plastic bag. I have been able to keep and transport lettuce like this for a few hours. When I have different types of lettuce available I make bundles with assorted leaves for an instant salad mix.


Now, if figuring out how to keep lettuce came easy, zucchini flowers, on the other hand,  were a real challenge. The flowers comes up very early in the morning and if left on the plant they will close up and start wilting by early morning. As much as they are delicious for breakfast, we had seen some great recipes that we wanted to try for dinner. We had also offered flowers to friends who would not come over early enough to get them fresh off the plants.


I tried everything: keeping the flowers on the counter; keeping them in the fridge; putting the flowers  in a vase; keeping the vase in the fridge, etc. The results were at least consistent, in the afternoon the flowers always looked somewhat sad, petals starting to curl, a little bit soft and dull yellow.


My final try was last week. I cut the stems at the base, removing everything and leaving only the petals as a hollow tube. I rinsed the flowers and refrigerated them immersed in a bowl of water. It was not until the next evening that my wife took them out of the fridge and declared “this is it”. After more than 30 hours, the flowers were still firm, bright yellow and open all the way. We decided to eat them following Nonna’s recipe, they were delicious.


Unfortunately, I got these promising results with the last flowers I collected before discarding and mulching the spent zucchini plants. My next batch of zucchini plants is still germinating, and will not be available for me to try again for a few weeks. If you are still getting flowers, and happen to try this, please leave me a note below, I would like to know what kind of results you get.

try some awesome zucchini/courgette flower recipes