Late winter is prime time to think about seed starting, and with a big order coming from Pinetree there will be plenty of seeds to be started. While many seeds are direct seeded, others need a head start (and some seed starting tips from previous HeliosMonroe posts can be found right here).

I made two seed starting stands using a design created by my mother;  a diagram and her original instructions are here: Betsey’s Seedling Starting Stand (circa 1900’s). Each stand holds six seed starting trays. Yes, I start lots and lots of plants from seed.  And with a bit of wood, screws and hinges, some shop lights and a few tools (and some space) you can make a stand (or two). When seed starting season is over, the stand is easy to fold up and store out of the way until next seed starting seasons rolls around.

For one stand, you’ll need:

*  54′ of 1″ x 2″furring strip (choose pieces that are as straight as possible)
*  Two pieces of 1/4″ or 3/8″ plywood (exterior is better):  16″ x 48″ and 24″ x 48″ — Many stores will cut the plywood to size (although you usually need to buy the whole sheet of plywood)
*  Two strap hinges
*  Phillips head screws
*  Three 4′ shop lights (I use one cool and one warm florescent light per shop light)
*  2-3′ of chain and 6 ‘S’ hooks, or rope — chain and hooks are often included with shop lights

Tools:  Saw, drill with philips head screwdriver bit, measuring tape

  1. Cut the furring strips: 4 x 72″ for the legs, 6 x 54″ for the sides; also cut 8 x 3″ pieces for the shelves
  2. For each piece of 72″ wood, mark the following measurements: 1″ from top, 25″ from top, 50″ from top (hint:  use a dark color & mark all the way across the strip)
  3. Place two pieces of 72″ wood on the floor, 54″ apart and parallel to each other
  4. Place three pieces of 54″ wood across the legs to form the sides – one piece just below the 1″ mark, one just below the 25″ mark and the third just below the 50″ mark
  5. Drill two screws at each intersection to secure the wood together
  6. Form the other side of the stand by repeating steps 3 – 5
  7. Attach strap hinges to the top of each leg on the underside – the stand will open and close like a tent, or laptop computer
  8. Make the shelves by securing a 3″ piece lengthwise to all four corners of the bottom of each piece of plywood; use two screws (per 3″ piece)
  9. Open the stand and place the smaller piece of plywood across the sides at the top of the stand, the larger piece goes across the sides at the bottom of the stand; the small 3″ pieces you screwed to the bottom of the plywood will “catch” the sides and hold the shelves in place
  10. Use rope or chain to hang the lights, you can adjust the height as the plants grow; for the bottom lights, it may help to attach ‘S’ hooks to a short bar to keep them in place

Tip:  Take a look at the diagram linked to above, and here. It helps.

Having three bird feeders (two sunflower feeders plus a thistle feeder) and suet hanging by the farm kitchen door and window brings an endless stream of birds – chickadees, tufted titmice, cardinals, nuthatches, finches and lots of LBBs (little brown birds).  Ground feeders like morning doves and Chippy-Chippy the chipmunk enjoy the spillage; some of the sunflower seeds that survive will volunteer and turn into sunflower trees.

With all the inbound and outbound bird traffic, you’d expect occasional flight miscalculations would result in collisions with a windowpane or door pane but it just didn’t happen. Until a family member recently commented on the lack of bird/glass strikes — shortly after this comment was made a loud “BAM!” came from the kitchen door.

Just outside the door we could see a bird lying prone with it’s neck twisted in a way that seemed inconsistent with life. It was a juvenile male Cooper’s Hawk. After waiting a few minutes (and with no movement), I went out with a shovel and gloves to bury the body away from the house/dogs.

But when I rounded the corner, the bird was sitting up.  Not moving, but upright – a bird not a body – and definitely not dead yet! Wrapping a towel around Tommy (the Hawk) and taking him to a sheltered spot was the first step in getting him back on his feet. Or wings.

A quick Google search gave a few more suggestions:

*  Put the bird in a warm, dark spot and preferably in a container with a lid
*  Handle as little as possible
*  Keep the bird safe from children, pets, predators
*  Check on the bird periodically by taking the box outside and opening it – if the bird flies off then it has recovered
*  If the bird hasn’t recovered in a few hours, contact a nearby wildlife rehabilitator
— Rehabilitators are often listed under state Department of Natural Resources or in this Wildlife Rehab directory

Great suggestions on how to keep birds safe around windows is found on this excellent Cornell Lab of Ornithology web page.

The story had a happy ending – after spending time in the Hawk Recovery Room (former chicken house), Tommy the Hawk flew into the branches of the nearby Sycamore, then flew away. Goodbye Tommy, and please do your hunting somewhere else.

And after all this, we were only a bit late for the family dinner (our mother would have approved).


There’s no need to empty a rain gauge or wonder if it’s too windy for spraying.  A new weather station was installed on December 25th at the farm and it has this information, and lots more. Outside of the typical temperature, wind speed and direction, humidity and barometric pressure, etc there are a number of other useful measures including:

  • Phase of the moon– important to know whether the moon is waxing (time to plant above ground crops) or waning (plant root crops)
  • UV index – check before heading out to the garden for the right level of sunscreen
  • Solar radiation– useful to track when we go solar
  • Length of days – tomorrow will be 1 min 37 seconds longer than today, a hopeful spring-is-(almost)-around-the corner kind of sign

Great to know what’s happening at the farm however it doesn’t much help here at HeliosMonroe.   There is an Weather Underground station in nearby Columbia Heights, but it  might be a very different micro-climate.  There’s really only one thing to do — buy my own station.


As happens every year, winter finally arrived which meant the real absolute final end of the growing season for warm weather vegetables and herbs. Arugula, chard and kale – you guys keep growing while we focus on preserving your less hardy brethren.

This photo shows some of my favorite ways to preserve the harvest which include drying, brining, canning, fermenting, and freezing:

  • Lacto-fermentation (red and green cabbage sauerkraut, Kim-Chi)
  • Brined cucumbers (aka pickles)Preservation Nov14
  • Hot packed tomatoes (and a bowl of soon-to-be frozen yellow tomato sauce)
  • Dried peppers, oven roasted/dehydrated cherry tomatoes
  • Herbed vinegar
  • Drying purple basil, lemon verbena, bowl of thyme/oregano/Mexican tarragon
  • Not sure whether it is rooting or pre-drying – green pepper basil

Take your pick of processes and produce – these are all quick and simple ways to enjoy summer’s bounty during cold winter months.

Even though the calendar says summer is winding has wound down, it seems like my garden is was kicking into high gear in the fall.

GardenAugust  Just look what I picked not long ago!  This harvest includes lots of varieties: 7 kinds of tomato, 5 types of cucumber, 3 different peppers, two types of kale, an assortment of beans, bouquet of basil and some bonus sunflowers.


The tomatoes deserved special mention – these are Pink Brandywines. They are large, hefty, juicy and just plain delicious. Everything a tomato should be.




What is the point of having a bike if not to carry your Shiitake mushroom spore-ed and waxed log home from a mushroom cultivation workshop? This was just one of the many great workshops offered at a nearby rec center through DC Parks and Recreation.

Turns out it’s easy –

*  Got a (fresh cut hardwood) log?
*  Got a drill to make the right sized holes in the log?
*  Got mushroom spawn (medium that holds the spores)?
*  Got a wax to seal the spore in the holes?

If the answer to these is yes, then you’re well on your way (in just a few months) to enjoying homegrown shiitake mushrooms.

Why mushrooms? They’re nutrient rich (Vitamin B, D, iron), low in calories, high in fiber – and isn’t it fun to eat fungi?

You can also check out this TED talk on 6 ways mushrooms can save the world.


We flirted with fermentation a few years back with less than stellar results – the fermented green beans were good-but-not-great. Fast forward four years and it’s time for another try.

The route to this reawakened interest was roundabout, as is often the case.
*  A PoPvillager posted about her fermented garlic and how it cures all ills including, I believe, the common cold.
*  I bought some kimchi from a vendor at the Mt Pleasant Farmer’s Market – not knowing what I would use it for but it’s always good to have a container of kimchi on hand, right?
*  Then the NY Times food section had an article on grain bowls including a recipe for kale, quinoa and kimchi (which is why it is good to have a container of kimchi on hand).  I made this recipe on a recent visit to the farm and it was rated “3 excellents.” It also reminded my father of the sauerkraut his mother made when he was growing up – she always had a crock of freshly fermented sauerkraut at the ready.

I had already looked up “how to make kimchi” (here’s how) when I realized sauerkraut would be a a logical first step back into lacto-fermentation. Especially since it requires only two ingredients – cabbage and salt (the 3rd ingredient, caraway seeds, is optional).

Easy sauerkraut recipe here –and check back in a few weeks to see if this experimentation will be rated “3 excellents.”