Susan BerryOne of my favorite early spring veggies to grow is peas. Easy to grow and abundant producers, this wonderful legume will provide lots of peas for fresh spring eating and many more for freezing to enjoy all year.

Pea Varieties

Peas, like lettuce, are a cooler season crop. To grow peas, the plants must flower and start bearing fruit prior to 80 degree Fahrenheit temperatures. Remember to plant your peas in your vegetable garden early to beat the heat.

Peas are grouped into three basic categories: garden peas, snap peas, and snow peas. Garden peas, also called English peas or Green peas, are to be shelled. The Garden pea, itself, can be wrinkled or smooth. The smooth ones are better to be used as dried peas or soup peas. The wrinkled textured Garden peas are popular for home vegetable gardens, because they are sweeter. With Snap peas, you eat the pod, too, like with Snap beans. And Snow peas, also called Sugar peas, are the very tender, flat pea pods.


Popular pea varieties

Garden Peas

Eclipse, Dakota, Tom Thumb, Knight, Canoe, Caseload, Alaska, Green Arrow, Little Marvel, Thomas Laxton, Wando.

Snap Peas

Sugar Snap Pole, Sugar Ann, Snappy, Sugar Bon, Sugar Daddy, Sugar Snap, Sugar Sprint, Amish Snap, Cascadia.

Snow Peas

Oregon Sugar Pod II, Oregon Giant, Dwarf Grey Sugar, Mammoth Melting Sugar, Snowflake, Snow Sweet.

Dwarf varieties are great for container gardening!

Preferred Growing Conditions

Peas do like full sun. But, because peas are a cooler season crop, they can stand a little shade as the temperatures start to climb.

Garden soil for peas should have around a 6.5 pH level. Compost is the best advice I can give to make your soil the healthiest. It fills your soil with nutrients, and organic matter that helps water retention for moist soil that peas love.

How to Plant Peas

Plant peas in early spring from seed. Peas do not transplant well, so don’t even try to start pea seeds indoors. Plant seeds 1 1/2 inches deep with about 3 inches between each seed. Rows should be about 18 inches apart.

Looking to get more peas into a smaller gardening space? Plant a double row of peas, but leave about 8 inches of space in between the double row. That way, you can get your trellis in between the rows for support for tall varieties. Short growing varieties of double rows can support themselves, making double pea rows even cooler!

Want peas for the fall season crop, too? There are heat tolerant varieties that can be planted in the late summer, and harvested in the fall.

Here’s a tip for planting peas from seeds: Use an inoculant on the seeds for nitrogen fixation, this can be found in most seed catalogs or at garden centers.

Companion Plants for Peas

Growing these companion plants around pea plants will be helpful: carrots, turnips, radishes, cucumbers, corn, and beans. Corn grown by pea plants can be a trellis for support, too!

Some plants actually are bad to the health of pea plants. Avoid these plants around pea plants: garlic, onions, leeks, and shallots. Here are my peas around the edges of my asparagus beds. With a short fence trellis, these Green Arrow peas add nitrogen to the soil, which asparagus loves. 


Maintaining Pea Plants

Vine pea plants will need to grow on something for support. You can stake or trellis these, or just plant in front of your fence. Pea plants will easily grab onto a trellis with very little effort. Don’t worry, it won’t be another scene from Little Shop of Horrors! Just give them something to grow on – trellis, fence, chicken wire, strings, tomato cages, or get creative!

When to Use Organic Fertilizer

Steer clear of high nitrogen fertilizers for peas. Over fertilization of pea plants, gives you great looking green plants. But, you will not have many peas. Stick with low nitrogen organic fertilizers for your peas, please.

Harvesting Peas

Don’t forget what kind of pea is growing in your vegetable garden. The pea type will determine when it should be harvested. Some pods you eat before the peas inside grow. Some pods are meant to be shelled, and you want a fully grown pea inside. Other peas, like the Snap peas, you eat the pod, but you want a tender pea inside the pod.


Harvest tips based on type of pea:

Garden Peas

Remember these are your shell peas. You want these peas mature, but still tender. Pop open the pod, and taste right in the garden if you are unsure. They should be sweet and tender, and have a round, waxy pod.

Snap Peas

Harvest Snap peas when they have a full pod. Remember, the pod is edible with Snap peas. The peas inside should be still tender.

Snow Peas

The pods will be flat. With Snow peas, you don’t want them to fill out, and don’t want the pea to develop.

Storing Peas

The best way to eat peas is raw! Edible pod peas are great on a salad or to dip in salad dressing. Most of our peas are eaten in the garden, and don’t always make it to the refrigerator, or even the kitchen for that matter. What peas do make it inside, should be stored in the refrigerator, keeping them crisp and less starchy. For later use, blanche and freeze peas.



Susan BerryI went on a search last year for a "gray" corned beef like my mother use to get. I never really knew why she preferred gray corned beef but all I knew was I couldn't find one. All I could find were red brisket in cryovac packs with a packet of spices in it. I tried one of those and, well, let's just say THEN I knew why my mother always insisted on gray corned beef. I still did not understand what made them gray but I knew I needed to find one or there would be no corned beef and cabbage dinner for St Patrick's Day. Being half Irish that was NOT an option. The other thing I discovered about the cryovac briskets is they are loaded with preservatives and chemicals. Well, being an organic farmer, that also was not an option.

I knew that to cure a ham took months, so as I sat down with my laptop to Google how to make a corned beef, I was pleasantly surprised to discover this is not the case with corning beef.


After reading a few articles on the procedure and getting an idea of a curing brine recipe I set out to create an ideal corned beef. If you have never corned your own beef brisket you have no idea what you are missing. It is incredible!

Corned Beef Recipe


1 1/2 cups kosher salt*

1/2 cup sugar

3 cloves garlic, minced

4 tablespoons pickling spice, divided

1 5-pound beef brisket*


brisket brineIn pot large enough to hold brisket, combine 1 gallon water with kosher salt, sugar, garlic and 2 tablespoons pickling spice. Bring to a simmer, stirring until salt and sugar are dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until chilled.

Place brisket in brine, weighted with a plate to keep it submerged; cover. Refrigerate for 5 days.

After day five I removed the cover from the pot and lifted the plate off. The aroma of the brine was so yummy, I could have drank it. As I lifted the brisket out ... Voila!! It was GRAY! Now I knew what made it gray.


Remove brisket from brine and rinse thoroughly. Place in a pot just large enough to hold it and vegetables that will be added later. Cover with water and add remaining pickling spice. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat to low and cover. Simmer gently until brisket is fork-tender, about 3 hours, adding water if needed to cover brisket. After first 2 hours, add potatoes, carrots and cabbage and cook with vegetables for last hour or until veggies are cooked.

I hope you will try this and enjoy homemade, preservative free corned beef.

* I was not able to get one brisket that was five pounds so I got two smaller ones that equaled five pounds, roughly.


Susan BerryWith all the discussion of GMO's and increased pesticide and chemical fertilizer use in commercial crop production homegardeners and even small farmers selling their produce are returning to old fashioned gardening methods.

After growing crops on 2 acres in ground/row crop method and plowing and tilling for eight years I was downsized to 21 raised beds. The first thing I noticed was I wasn't working as hard growing in raised beds. 

The second thing is I was saving lots of money since I wasn't buying gas for tractors and tillers. 

Victory Garden poster 

When families were growing their own veggies in their back yards during the Depression era and during the world wars, they utilized small spaces and grew kitchen gardens. Kitchen gardens were small gardens that were conveniently located close to the house for quick accessibility and small yards. Edible landscaping was implemented also due to minimal space, tomatoes and marigolds grew side by side for space conservation as well as aesthetics. 

Hand tools were the most important farm equipment, hand spades, long handled hoes, garden forks and a harvesting basket. 


I find these have become my mainstay tools too. In this day of computerized mega-tractors I like knowing I am keeping it simple, not polluting the air with gas-run equipment, and I am getting a lot more exercise moving, walking and bending to care for my gardens rather than sitting on a tractor. 

When I am turning the soil with a garden fork or adding organic soil supplements like bone meal to my beds, I love smelling the rich soil. The feel of warm dirt in my hands makes me feel a kinship to those people who gardened out of necessity and were the fiber of sustainability in a time when they knew the absolute meaning of self sustainability. 

vintage gardenI have met elderly folks who have shared their stories with me of growing vegetables in their tiny urban and city gardens in times when they couldn't afford to buy groceries and how those vegetables tasted so good to them and carried them through those lean years. Now, as they live in a time that in hindsight is not as tumultuous as the old days and they go to the store for their vegetables, you can see in their eyes how they long for those days when they grew their food because they had to. I hear the pride and fondness in their voice and words as they share about their gardening successes and failures. I love it. I have learned so much from these folks about gardening. 

Gardening is not just about growing food, it is a commitment that brings, satisfaction and rewards in our mind, our bodies and our spirit. Accomplishment and challenges are a great character builder and nothing brings more accomplishment then sowing a seed or planting a plant for the first time and watching it produce a harvest. 

Even if you have acreage and you still till and use machinery, I encourage you to plan some small beds or gardens. The kind that force you to get on your knees and bury your hands in the earth. Then breath deep and take in the aroma of warm soil. I guarantee it will be intoxicating.


Susan BerryDo you have a dream?

My dream is to have 2-5 acres to homestead again and raise pork, turkeys, more chickens, a dairy cow and of course grow vegetables. After eight years of farming on 3 acres in NC, we had to move up North and are on 1/4 acre. I have downsized considerably. 


It is very important to have dreams and hope and faith. Life would be so empty without a vision. As I get older it sometimes gets harder to wait for a dream to become reality. I find myself fretting that it will happen too late in life and I will be too old to fulfill the dream. Dreams are in our hearts and spirit. Fear and insecurities are in our minds and emotions, so it is best to stay out of our emotions. When I find myself getting sad and disappointed that my dreams are not coming true fast enough, I go to my gardens.

Somehow seeing plants growing and fulfilling their purpose gives me peace and occupies my emotions, carrying them from sadness to delight, from disappointment to wonder, and a contentment washes over me that seems to make the wait a bit easier. I remember the end of the Summer I walked around my gardens and looked at my sad, tired looking potato plants. I felt bad that the excessive heat we had endured for a week appeared to have taken its toll, and I worried that the potatoes had not had enough time to take nutrition from the plants and develop fully. I thought I might give them a boost of fertilizer and lots of water, but I knew they were past reviving so I decided to clean out the bed and harvest what they managed to make.


To my surprise, the plants produced abundantly, even better than I expected. They had completed their journey and my dream of a successful potato crop was realized.


As the end of the year approaches that is when I find myself dreaming more. Of next Spring and what a new year will bring. Yes, it will bring another birthday and I will be a year older, but I try not to think about that. I find the passion in me for homesteading seems to give me a youthful spark. New energy surges through me and I start planning, just in case that acreage comes along and my dream is realized. 

So don’t be afraid to dream and hold onto a vision that you have for your life. Dreams gives us hope and hope can carry us through very difficult and disappointing times.  Like a new day dawning, so our dreams bring hope for a new day.


When it comes, you are all invited to come by and visit us. 

Sweet Dreams,

Susan ~ Itzy Bitzy Farm


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Susan BerryWhen I was a child more than the lights and sounds at Christmas time, the aromas were the most wonderful. The delicious scents coming from our kitchen meant it was Christmas time and those scents seem to be the frame that held all the other wonderful traditions in our home together.

One of those aromas that always came from the kitchen on Thanksgiving and Christmas was the smell of a mincemeat pie baking in the oven. My Mother was of Irish descent and she had her Grandfather in her life until she was in her mid twenty's and he into his 80's. He immigrated with his family from Tipperary Ireland straight to Boston when he was a young boy. I imagine that is where her introduction to mincemeat stemmed from and at an early age. I don't remember my Father eating the pie my Mom made on the holidays, he was Italian. But I do remember my older siblings eating it and yes, my Mom. I, as a child, hated it. I confess. I was never one to take to raisins and even though mincemeat has many other fruits in it, as a child it seemed all I could taste was the raisins, BLUKK!

Mincemeat has a very old history. There are recipes dating back to the 15th century that can still be found in records or in historical prints. It is believed mincemeat originated in England, Ireland and other British countries. The original purpose of mincemeat was to preserve meat and stretch the meat available to last through the Winter by mixing it in vinegar and spices with suet added to this. The meat was minced very fine and combined with figs, currants, raisins, beef suet, sugar, spices and vinegar.

As the centuries passed and recipes were passed down from one generation to the next, preserving meats became less of a necessity and the meat was eventually taken out of many mincemeat recipes. Though suet did remain a constant ingredient mostly fruits were used with spices. Vinegar was also replaced in recipes by brandy or rum.

Original mincemeat pies were made in hand held size for portability and freezing. In the 17th & 18th centuries Victorian homes made fruit mincemeat sweet as a desert rather than as a savory dish with meat in it. It was then that the pies were made larger to be served to many people at one time and presented with other deserts. Mincemeat was often reserved for Christmas time only.

I can remember my Mom telling me about the suet and that being the trigger that also made the pie unappealing to me. Many years passed as I became an adult without mincemeat pie in my holidays, my fondness was for apple or pecan and so those were my traditional pies that I made during the holidays for my family.

As I grew from a suburbanite to a homesteader my canning repertoire expanded and one day while browsing through a new canning book I had purchased I discovered a recipe for fruit mincemeat. Suddenly I found myself longing more for the aroma than the taste of a mincemeat pie. I had also discovered over the years other recipes that called for mincemeat such as bar cookies and a wonderful Italian fig cookie that would be suited to mincemeat filling as well. So I ventured into making my own version of mince-fruit, as I like to call it. My first attempt at mince-fruit was wonderful. The preparation was very nostalgic for me and I remember how it smelled while cooking on the stove. When I removed the first jars from the canner pot I was amazed at how it looked exactly like the mincemeat I remembered from my childhood. The taste was so wonderful and the knowledge that it had no suet in it made it even more delicious for me. My Mother would be proud; I had finally acquired a taste for mincemeat pie.

It is best to plan on making this recipe in September or October since it will taste better after having a few weeks or months to mellow and take on the flavor of the spices and brandy. This recipe is intended to be canned in a water bath canner and will make approx. 4-5 qts. One qt jar is the perfect amount for a nine inch pie shell. Mixture could be frozen in gallon freezer bags after completely cooled if canning is not preferred. To use, simply remove from freezer and allow to thaw at room temperature before making pie or using in other recipe. So, let's get started.

Here is what you will need:


4 lbs Granny Smith apples

4 lbs Bartlett Pears (ripe but still firm)

1 C Golden Raisins

1 C Currants

1 C Craisins

Grated rind and juice of one orange

1 C finely chopped walnuts

2 C Brown Sugar

1 C Apple Cider (juice, NOT vinegar)

1 C Brandy

1Tbsp cinnamon

1 tsp Allspice

2 tsp Nutmeg

1tsp Ginger

½ tsp Ground cloves


Measure out all spices, juice, brandy and sugar, set aside in separate measuring cups and bowls.

Grate orange rind and squeeze juice, set aside. Discard remaining orange.

Chop walnuts, set aside.

In large heavy bottom pot, pour apple cider, orange juice, orange rind, brown sugar, spices and ½ C brandy.

Peel, core and finely chop apples. Place immediately into pot and toss to coat with orange juice and brandy mixture.

Mincemeat 2

Remove core from pears by cutting in half first and cut core out. I do not peel the pears because I like the sweetness and texture the peels add to the recipe. Pears can be peeled also if you prefer. Dice pears same as apples and add to mixture in pot. Add chopped walnuts.

Mincemeat 3

Turn heat on to med high to bring mixture to a gentle boil. Lower heat to medium, stirring often and cook until mixture begins to darken, sugar is dissolved and fruit begins to break down and get tender. Some of the fruit will begin to come to an applesauce consistency with some chunks remaining. This is the point I stop the cooking process. Remove pot from heat and add remaining ½ C of brandy, stir to mix. Mixture should mound when dropped from spoon and have small amount of liquid.

While mixture in still hot fill cleaned and sterilized qt canning jars. Seal and process in hot water bath for 40 minutes.

Mincemeat 5

The jar on the left in this photo was last years mince-fruit and the jar on the right is this years. You can see how it darkens with time, though the color will vary depending on your fruit and spices. The flavors will blend beautifully in a couple of months. By Christmas you will have a delicious homemade mince-fruit worthy of our wonderful Colonial New England heritage.

Mincemeat 6

I hope you enjoy this recipe and make it one of your family traditions.

Susan Berry


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Susan BerryRecently I visited a craft store to get inspired. While I was browsing I noticed beads, jewelry making aisles, scrapbooking aisles, but where were the needlework crafts?

My grandmother crocheted intricate lacy doilies and bureau scarfs. She made arm rest covers and lacy tablecloths.

My aunt made lovely needlepoint gifts for many of us in the family.


Another aunt used to hand sew aprons out of whimsical materials trimmed in lace and ruffles. She also made all her own curtains, equal to any that could be purchased at the finest stores.


When you think about these vintage crafts, you may ask yourself why would they take the time to make such items? Or an even better question might be, where did they find the time to do these crafts?

My grandmother used her crochet talent as her “me time,” and even though she would often give her beautiful doilies as gifts, it was still the time she relaxed and rested. Back then they did not have television, or the internet or cell phones. For many years my grandmother didn't even have a radio. She would just sit and crochet while chatting with family members or waiting for dinner to cook.

The vintage crafts were a form of relaxation but also a time to express creativity and talent. Many times these crafts were also a necessity if one wanted to decorate their home or complete their desired décor. My aunt told me once that had she not made her curtains she would not have had any. Store bought curtains were costly for many families, and so they would purchase material which was less expensive or even use material they may have already had on hand. These were self-sufficient women who made their homes a castle for their families while living on a very modest budget.

Vintage Curtains

Many mothers and grandmothers would pass these talents on to their daughters and granddaughters and so share the gift of creativity, patience, relaxation and beauty.

Today families are rushing, stressed and getting instant gratification from many hobbies that are quick and easy. For me, winter is my favorite time to sit and crochet. I learned to crochet when I was 14 and though I do not seem to have the talent my grandmother had for intricate work, I do enjoy making afghans, mittens, hats and such. Working each individual stitch that when together create a lovely throw or wearable item is very gratifying. I hope to learn needlepoint one day and let each stitch take me back to a simpler, quieter, less hurried time. When you look at a framed needlepoint piece you can almost see the love, patience and relaxation within the picture.

Simpler days, simpler times. Crafts that share love, tradition and talent.

Here are some links to our favorite vintage crafts sites with patterns and ideas.

Vintage Crochet Patterns

Vintage Apron Patterns

Susan Berry is a Horticulturist/Farmer and Homesteader. Susan and her husband Don live on a ¼ acre homestead in Southeastern Massachusetts, aptly named Itzy Bitzy Farm, with their two dogs and twelve hens. Susan raises organically grown heirloom asparagus crowns till established at three years old and raspberry plants to sell to home gardeners, nationwide. You can follow Itzy Bitzy Farm's blog by signing up at www.itzybitzyfarm.com


Susan BerryHaving lived through many New England winters, I fancy myself an expert on comfort food. Being of Italian descent, I must admit I do lean toward pastas when the initial thought of comfort food crosses my mind. But, for me on a cold, snowy winter's eve, it has to be soup. There is nothing like a fire in the wood stove, the aroma of fresh-baked crusty bread and a pot of simmering soup on the stove.

Cooking a large pot of soup can last my husband and I a good five days, and there is no point in making soup if you don't cook a pot full. After a couple days of the same soup, though, the taste buds can get a little bored, so I would freeze the left over soup. This works fine for some soups, but not all of them freeze well. Also, after losing power during storms and losing my freezer full of food, I learned this was not always the  desired saving method for my soups. 

Having been a canner for over 30 years, I decided to learn how to can my soups. Chicken soup was my first attempt at canning. To my surprise, it was wonderful, even better than right out of the pot. The process of pressure canning made the chicken even more tender and moist. Keep in mind, though, it is not recommended to can pasta or rice in soups, so I add these when I open the jars to serve it.

chicken soup in canning jar

Chicken Soup in Canning Jars

While canning soup is easier than one might think, the process intimidated me at first. But after my first couple of batches, I was an expert and ventured into new and exciting territories of soup making.

At this juncture, I must advise you in the process of canning soups. Assuming you know some basics of canning, you know that low acid foods must be pressure canned and high acid foods can be processed through a water bath canner. BUT, I always process my canned soups through a pressure canner for safety’s sake. In this sharing of my experience canning soups, I must guide you in following to the letter the instructions and guidelines set by the USDA in the National Center for Home Food Preservation or by Ball Canning.

It is very important to correctly process canned food to assure safe-guarding against health risks caused by improper processing.

Now, on to the fun part ...

Favorite soups to have on hand in the pantry are my own – not store bought! I always make chicken soup. A simple recipe of chicken meat that I pre-cook by boiling with herbs. I then add carrots, celery and onion to the broth after I have removed the chicken from the bones.

A favorite of my husband’s is Minestrone Soup. Minestrone typically has small pasta in it, but I never get the chance to cook it and add it at serving time since Don just loves it the way it comes out of the jar.

minestrone soup in canning jars

Minestrone Soup in Canning Jars

Another one of my favorite soups is Potato Leek Soup

My favorite potato to use for canning is Yukon Gold potatoes because they keep their firmness well during processing. This is a very simple soup to make with just potatoes, leeks and vegetable broth. Another version is Cock-A-Leekie soup, made with chicken meat, leeks and chicken broth.

potato leek soup

Potato Leek Soup

Another great time saver is to make your own recipe for beef stew and can it in quart jars but DO NOT thicken it before canning. Leave it as broth, and when it is time to use, thicken it into stew or for a beef pot pie.

Once you can your first batch of your favorite soup, you will always have homemade soups ready to serve in your pantry. For those long, cold winters, there is nothing like soup – the ultimate comfort food.

For all of our favorite soup recipes, visit our blog.

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