The Blank Slate

Last week our family did some dog-sitting for a dog who loves to be outside.  Since our current home is such that I don’t feel we could just put her out on a cable by herself and she’d be happy, I took advantage of  “mandatory” outside time and spent the week pulling weeds out of the existing garden bed.

It wasn’t quite as much work as I’d anticipated.  We’d had quite a bit of rain, so the ground was soft and the weeds came out easily.  I got as many of the roots as I could as well, so hopefully  those big bad nasty weeds won’t be back.

It is nice that we moved into a place with an existing garden space.  It already had a small perimeter fence even, so that’s a little less work I have to do.  When Andy moved the garden beds over, one of them broke, so right now there are five garden boxes.  I may just make do with that amount, because I think I like how I have them laid out at the moment.  There’s not a huge space to view, but I did take pictures.

This picture below is a straight on view.  The garden shed on the right is actually outside the garden space. I’m debating extending the garden out to the shed.  The hose box right at the front will be coming out of the space, as will the garbage cans on the left.  That left corner has an existing compost bin- but it needs to be expanded a bit.

Also, if you squint and look very closely in the picture, way in the back you can see a tiny red stop sign.  To the right of that is a tiny white blob the size of a pinhead.  THAT is the community garden that I am on the waiting list for.  I am number six on the list, and they are planning on adding more gardens next year,  so I have a good chance of getting in.

garden 3

Here you can see a little better how I have the gardens laid out at the moment.  There’s enough room between the beds to work, and then it also leaves a nice space at the front of the garden for some in-ground tomato plants.  If I don’t get my community plot I will have to drastically reduce the number tomatoes I grow next year.  Also, if I decide to extend the plot in this direction towards the shed, that space will also be a couple of raised beds specifically for eggplants and peppers this coming year.

garden 1

And then here is the view from the other side.  You can see my raspberry bush on the outside of the garden over here.

garden 2


It’s a decent enough space.  There is also a small raised bed off the back of the house by the deck.  There were everbearing strawberries growing in it, but the rabbits ate those down to nubs, so we’ll have to see if they come back.  If they do, I plan to fence it off and see what kind of a strawberry harvest might be possible.

The next step is to have Andy level the beds and actually get them ready to receive compost.  Then I plan to line them with cardboard or newspaper, and then he’ll fill them up with compost.  My ultimate goal is have at least three of the beds ready to plant for when the spring thaw comes.

As for the upcoming dormant season, I’m making my plans for seed starting.  I don’t have any southern facing exposure here- except one small window on the upper level.  I plan to re-pot my fatalii pepper in a hanging pot and give him that spot.   I do have some nice east and west facing windows with ledges below them, so I’m thinking about starting a pair of dwarf tomatoes in pots, and see if I can manage to find them enough sunshine there.

For seed starting I have a small spot in our downstairs bathroom that one of my plant racks will fit in.  Andy can hang some lights on there- and that will be good for some of my seed starting.  The other plan is  a little drastic.  On our sleeping level in our home (split level, so the layout is wonky) we have a solid security door that goes out to the deck and the backyard.   This door is south-facing.   Andy is keeping an eye on our local Habitat for Humanity Re-Store to see if anyone brings in a single-paned glass door that he could put in instead of the security door.  If he finds one, that will let a TON of sunshine into the house, AND I can put my green growing rack in that spot in front of a sunny window.  Between that and the smaller rack in the lower level bathroom, I can get a good head start on next year’s growing season.

Plans are exciting.   It’s way to early to really start planning what I ‘m planting, but it’s exciting to think about!  I do know that I have some seed stock I need to refresh and new things I want to try.  One difficulty with the planning is that I don’t really know when I will know about the community plot.  I gave my notice to my current garden that I won’t be back.   It’s mostly cleaned out now except that I want to head back over there and pull up a patch of mint to put in my garden here at home.  So right now I have to plan as though the only garden space I’ll have is the one in front of me.  That makes it a little challenging to figure in everything that I want to grow.

But it will work out.  I’m just thrilled to have the space in the first place.  It is amazing how much I came to love my time in the garden at the last house.  Every morning I would take my coffee and wander through the garden slowly.  Looking at every plant, pulling weeds, adjusting trellises and support systems.  I’ve missed that time, and I can’t wait for spring to get back at it.

Too bad tomorrow is only October 1st!



I’ve gone back and forth on doing this post for some time now.  But I figure since the whole point of this blog is note-taking on the garden, I better get these notes down before I forget.

Nine days after my last posting, we were informed by our landlord that we needed to move.   It was a blow we definitely were not expecting.  Our plan had been to purchase that home.   And as I looked at my garden that very next day I was so torn between crying and cheering.  Because my garden really was spectacular.  I have never had a garden grow like this one!  Everything I planted was growing, and growing well.   I started planning and preparing, and 19 days after that, there was no more garden.

Amazingly, we got some harvests.  I managed to harvest all the garlic, although it was a little on the small side.   We had several bunches of carrots, scallions, beets, a nice pile of green beans, the celery and the swiss chard.  We’d enjoyed the lettuce until it bolted- and had so much I was giving it away left and right!   We harvested and fully enjoyed three nice sized heads of broccoli as well- those were a real treat!

The tomatoes I dug up and transplanted to two separate growing spaces.   Amazingly, all 52 plants survived the transplant process, despite their maturity.  I had dug up plants that were bearing fruit already! But I was determined to not leave a scrap of plant behind for someone else to benefit from my labor.  That really showed the resilience of tomato plants!  Transplanting them did seem to set them back a few weeks though, and I won’t get the spectacular harvest I’d have gotten had they stayed where they were.  And of course, I can’t save seed from a single plant this year.  They were all bunched together as they traveled to their new homes in the back of my van.

What I especially was excited about seeing in my garden was the progress of the winter squash.  My plan to get them to grow up a ladder and trellis worked perfectly- and it was very clear that had we stayed, that blue hubbard squash would have taken over the entire garden.  But it was growing exactly how I’d hoped- and there were dozens of baby squashes on those plants.   Next year, we will revisit the winter squash using the things I learned growing them this year.  The biggest thing was that I did have to continually attempt to manipulate the plants.  I needed to coax them to grow where I wanted them to grow- moving and adjusting gently daily.  That paid off after a while, and then I could just let them grow and tangle themselves on the growing mediums I had for them.

My gardens were producing WEEKS before anyone else’s was in the area.  Part of that was my quick sowing of seed as soon as I could get in.  But part of that, I really feel, was the fact that my growing medium was solely compost.  I didn’t get fancy and mix anything it.  It was just compost from the local composting facility.  When we tore the gardens out it was clear that the compost had settled a lot, and had we had another growing season, we would have needed quite a bit more to fill the boxes back up.  But using the compost straight up produced amazing results as far as growth.

My nemesis (other than the landlord, lol) were the squirrels, of course.  They dug and dug and tried to dig some more.  My method to foil them was multi-faceted.  Initially when I planted the seeds, I covered the beds with bird netting.  That keeps all animals out, and I would leave the netting on until the sprouts were a good inch above the netting.  Then I would carefully lift it off.  Later on, as the plants grew and there was more space in the dirt, the squirrels came back.   The first thing I tried doing was spraying my plants with a hot pepper spray.  I took the hottest hot sauce I had and mixed it with water in a spray bottle and sprayed that everywhere.  That seemed to deter the squirrels, but it wasn’t perfect, and I thought it could get tedious spraying everywhere everytime it rained.   So instead I went and bought an institutional sized bottle of cayenne pepper and sprinkled that everywhere.  That seemed to work well also- but again, every time it rained I needed to go out and reapply.  A little time consuming, but it saved my plants from the squirrels.

In the end, we completely tore the garden out.  We didn’t leave a scrap of anything growing.  We harvested what we could, and ripped up what had yet to come to fruition.  Someone else was not going to get to harvest the fruits of my labor…

Anyway, we move on.  We have a garden space here at our new home, which, while still a rental, we have no danger of being asked to leave.   Andy moved my raised beds over here, and the next few months are going to be spent re-arranging, filling, and preparing the beds for spring planting.  I am also eyeing a community garden that I can literally see from my backyard.  I will be seeing if I can rent a space there next year for a tomato trial I wish to do.

The best thing?  With a garden, there’s always next year.  Armed with the knowledge I obtained this year, I cannot wait to see how next year’s garden works out.  I am already looking forward to it.

Ten Days Later

Wow!  Looking at the pictures from my last post, and looking at today’s garden- so much growth and change in just ten days!  Gardening is incredible!  Since I last posted, we’ve had salad after salad from the assorted lettuces, spinach, and baby chard in the garden.  Good thing we did, because the spinach is bolting.  For now, I’m letting it go to seed- I’ve never done so, and am curious how long that process takes.   Andy also enjoyed all the radishes, so lettuce has been sown in that spot, and the turnips were also pulled out.  I had pulled two baby turnips to see how they were doing… wow, they were hot and bitter and unpleasant.  With it warming up outside, I decided to give that real estate to someone else.  So I pulled what was there, and sowed a mesclun salad blend.   I may try turnips again as a fall crop.

But the biggest change in ten days is that Andy brought me some fresh straw to mulch between the beds with.  It looks incredible, as you’ll see in the picture tour below.  I have not been to the community plot once this week.  I really need to get over there, but the weather has not been cooperating.

Today’s pictures have not uploaded in order.

First a close up of Mr. Fatalii.  Peppers galore.  I still have a quart of these in the freezer from last fall.


And then a bowl of garlic scapes.  This is my second harvest of these this week.  The first round I turned into pesto and tossed with homemade noodles.  So delicious.  This is a bigger bunch than what I harvested earlier this week.



The basil and dill.  Not dead, but not thriving either.  Today I fed them some Tomato Tone.  Ideally I should get some compost worked in here.  But at least they’re still growing.



The tomatillos are doing great!! One of my plants has flowers, and at least a dozen more buds waiting to blossom.



They’re still pretty small plants, but they took to their new home instantly.



Ah.  A nice view of the home tomato patch.  You can see my straw in here- as well as the healthy green tomato plants.  Quite a few are sporting blossoms already!   So far they also all have very strong main stems.  Nothing is flopping over looking for support.  I’ll need to get on that soon, but so far, the patch is doing amazing!



The garlic patch, sans the scapes.  Some of the very bottoms are just starting to turn brown.  That means the countdown begins for the garlic harvest!  I expect to pull the bulbs sometime in July.



Let’s see.  This is the bean bed.  With the eggplant in the front right corner there.  Something keeps nibbling on the eggplants- I suspect mice, as we had some in the garage.  But keeping them sprayed with hot pepper spray and cayenne pepper powder seems to be helping a lot.   If only it would stop raining and washing those off!  Some of the beans have been slow to germinate, but they’re doing well for the most part.  One of the purple jalapenos in here is loaded with buds about to blossom.



Here you can see where the turnips were.  Hopefully pulling those turnips out will encourage the scrawny carrots.  This was where I planted the mesclun mix.   You can also see the blue hubbard squash on the far left really taking off.  I think I need to go out and actually tie some of the plants to the support to encourage them to grow in that direction.  The lima beans are also doing well- I have a close-up a little further on.



The patch that almost wasn’t.  On the left you see the scallions, then the celery, then some leeks, and then the monster broccoli plants.  behind the broccoli are a few red kale plants that are chugging along as well.



But what’s this?  Actual broccoli!!  Three of the plants are sporting heads- one of them looks about ready to harvest.



And here are one of the zucchini plants- doing great!



Ah, the snap peas.  We are treading a fine line here with these.  They finally have started putting out blossoms, but the bottoms are starting to turn brown.  It will be a race to see if we can get a taste of peas before the vines succumb to the heat.  Fortunately, we’ve had a cool couple of days here, so that should help a bit.  The chard, carrots and beets in front of the peas are doing great.  Still no bulbs on the beets though, I’m watching for that.



Here you can see where the radishes were.  Some of the lettuce I put in here this week is just starting to sprout.  The spinach is in the middle- already sporting flowers on some of the plants.  That didn’t last long.  The carrots in this bed are doing well- as is the butternut squash on the far left end.



A backside view of the same bed.  You can see the cucumbers there along this edge next to the trellis.  Every 12 inches is a different variety of cucumber.  This is been a battle with squirrels to keep here.  They keep wanting to dig here, so I keep sprinkling the cayenne.  I think I’m winning…



And here is the back of the pea bed.  You can see the beginning browning of the peas with this angle.  Also, to the left of the peas are three more varieties of cucumber.  I sure hope they do well this year!  I have some really unique varieties that I am dying to try out.



Tomato blossoms.  :)  This just happens to be my German Red Strawberry plant.  Loaded!



Oh, here is the close-up of the lima beans next to the hubbard squash.  The lima bean plants are putting out these long tendrils… The package said they were a bush habit variety, and I’m leaning towards not believing that.  I have to decide quick what to do.  The first step will be to tie the squash to its trellis- I will use some of my daughters dance tights that are full of holes.  Super strong, but gentle on the plant.  Then I think I’m going to need to get some poles or something in for the lima beans- I’d really like to see them do something!



And it looks like we wrap up today’s tour with another shot of Mr. Fatalii.  The leaves don’t look this yellow in person.  There are probably hundreds of buds on here waiting to open up.  It’s turning into a tree!




I love how fast everything changes this time of year.  :)  And it’s been pretty incredible to be eating salads from the garden that has only been growing for a little over a month now.  It’s amazing how nature catches up to where it’s supposed to be growth wise.

Early June And All Is Growing

We may have been delayed in our spring here in the north, but the growth in the garden is more than making up for it!  I’ve never had a beginning to the growing season like this year, and I sure have high hopes that it continues.  Every single tomato plant that I’ve put in the ground this year is thriving and looking amazingly well- I’ve never had that happen.  I always assume that a handful are not going to like being transplanted.  That is not the case this year.  In fact, one tomato that I didn’t plant because it was harmed a few weeks ago and was on it’s way out has surprised me this week by sprouting leaves on a pathetic stem.  I’m keeping an eye on him and will find ground space in the next week or so if he continues making a comeback.

But lets get to the pictures, shall we?

gardensHere’s an overview of the six beds from the gate.  This makes me so happy!! Just over a week ago we had company visiting and they asked what I had in the garden this year.  My simple answer was “Food!”  Look at all this luscious green stuff just beckoning to be eaten.   I have lettuces, spinach and radishes that are ready to eat now- the lettuces in baby stage.  In the next few days we will enjoy the first salad from the garden.

Next, I had to get creative in the garden when I realized I forgot to plant some summer squash or zucchini.  Last year I tried planting those in my community plot where they were quickly eaten by critters.  I’d already filled my beds- and really, I didn’t want to put a large zucchini plant in the beds to take up that valuable real estate.  So instead, I put two mounds between two different beds towards the ends.  There’s enough room for them to grow, and I can still get around them.  Both mounds have sprouts, so I’m very hopeful of a nice harvest this year.  I have two different varieties that are supposed to trend toward the bush size.  We’ll see how that works out. I put cages around the mounds simply so that no one accidentally steps on the mounds as they’re growing.  You can also see some of the many weeds growing between the beds.  One of these days I need to do some work there, and next year I’m hoping for a nice layer of mulch.  But in the meantime, they’re really not harming anything.




Next, here on the right you can see how the garlic patch has exploded!  Our family is very, very excited about this piece of garden.  A little later I have a picture of a garlic scape, as they’re starting to peek out. On the left is the first bed I planted.  Guess my broccoli, kale, leeks and celery have survived after all!  The scallions are slow to grow, but they are making the effort.



This next bed is the bean bed.  Five varieties of bush beans are planted, and most of them have come up.  There are also four eggplant and three jalapenos close to us.  Most of my peppers went to the community plot, but I wanted a few jalapenos here at home for ease at getting them when I just want one for a dish.  Something was nibbling on my eggplants when I first planted them, but I’ve been spraying them with a lovely super hot pepper spray and they haven’t been nibbled since.

*Note: When spraying a homemade super hot pepper spray, be sure to stand upwind when spraying plants.

beans and eggplant


Next I have my wintered-over fatalii enjoying the deck.  He needs some TLC, but is doing well.

fatalii 1


See?  Super hot Fatalii peppers!  I also have 3 red versions of this plant in the commuity plot.

fatalii 2


Here is my impromtu herb bed.  This is in front of our deck, and has been the home to Andy’s grills since we moved in.  Last week I took the time to pull out most of the weeds, and since I had these basil plants that needed a home, it seemed like a natural place.  Ultimately, I would love to fill in with all kinds of herbs, I just am short on resources to do so now.  It also needs some compost worked in, but I am happy with what I have.  The ferny-fluffy looking plant is some bouquet dill that had been languising in a pot.   I do have more herbs in planters on the deck.  I have mint, parsley, pineapple sage and chives growing up there.



Back to the garden.  :)  Here is the bed that has my lettuce in it.  Three varities of lettuce, some turnips, some carrots that are not doing so hot, and lima beans towards the left.  On the very far left are my Blue Hubbard Squash.  You can see a hint of the red trellis that leans onto the garage for the squash to climb up.  I’m really hopeful that this experiment works out!  The turnips are turning out to be a little large to be with the lettuces, but so far everything is doing okay.



Next, two different views of the tomato patch.  They ended up spaced together a little closer than I had originally planned, but once I started putting them out, it just kind of happened.  52 plants total here at home.  I plan to use the Florida Weave to support them as they grow.  I’ll start working on that in the next few weeks.  Every plant is looking healthy and happy to be in the ground.

mater patch

mater patch 2


This garden bed is home to my snap peas, swiss chard, beets and some carrots.  Oh, and several varieties of cucumber, which are growing by the trellis to the right of the peas.  Overall, I’m disappointed with the carrots in my gardens.  None of them are really doing great.  We’ll get some, but not the abundance I had actually planted.  Not sure why that is- I’m thinking I need to sow a little more heavily.

peas and beets


Here is a garlic scape.  I am waiting for a few more to poke out and then I am going to clip them and make a garlic scape pesto to toss with homemade pasta.  Removing the scape encourages the garlic to concentrate its growing efforts on the bulb under the ground.



This bed below has radishes, spinach, carrots, butternut squash to the far left, and the backside from here is end-to-end cucumbers.  Six different varieties in this bed, plus three in the other bed mean nine varieties of slicing cucumbers.  We cannot wait to start comparing them all!  Yesterday I had to pull out one of my varieties of radish, as they were starting to bolt with no radish growing underground.  The French Breakfast radishes are doing great, but for some reason the Cherry Belle’s have found it too warm.  I removed them and sowed a small patch of Romaine Lettuce instead.  The carrots in this bed are probably the healthiest that I’ve planted, but still not doing crazy well.  One of my spinach plants is also starting to flower.  I’m completely baffled, because it’s not been hot yet.  Unfortunately, I did not write down which variety I planted.

spinach and radish


And finally today, I have the tomatillo patch.  I have SIX tomatillo plants in the ground- half of them are green and half of them are the purple variety.  They were the happiest plants I had ever seen when I planted them in the dirt.  Almost instantly they started shooting up and producing more leaves.  We recently discovered that Zander loves green salsa, so he’s very excited to see these plants which will produce an abundance of tomatillos for salsa verde this summer.


Soon I’ll get the camera over to the community garden.  I still have space over there for planting, but am unsure what I am going to do with it.   I have 16 tomato plants there, all my pepppers, about ten cabbage plants, and my pole beans.  Onions may be a good choice if I can still find plants somewhere.  We’ll see.  I’m trying to avoid fencing my whole plot- we’ll see how that works this year.   It’s been a huge effort over there to get the weeds removed and get things planted, but it’s a work in progress.  I keep eyeing up the plot next to mine and wondering if I could keep up with two plots should the opportunity come up.

The New Beds

We’re finally starting to see things come together in the garden.  A few weeks ago The Hubby took advantage of some beautiful weather and started finishing up cleaning out the garden and getting my beds built.  When he hauled a load of brush to the city dumping site, he discovered a full pile of ready-to-use compost.  Hooray for me!  He quickly hurried home, hooked up the trailer and went and picked up a load.  It was a ton of work on his part, but two trailer loads later, I have six full garden beds.  I was really stressing about how we were going to find the funds to fill these beds this year.  Free city compost?  I’ll take it!  Here you can see four of the six beds.

new beds

I promptly took out my tray of WAY past needing to be planted leeks, broccoli, and celery and stuck them in the dirt.  They’re not doing very well, and I’m debating pulling them out.  I took time right away to sow seed for a bunch of lettuces, carrots, snap peas, scallions, turnips, beets, chard and radishes.  I left plenty of room for cucumbers, beans and another sowing of lettuce.   I’ve pretty much decided that all of my cole crops- the broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and kale are going to go in my community garden plot.  I’m hoping that the critters will leave them alone over there.   I still need to get over there and assess how much work I need to put in to get it ready for planting.  The road it is on is under construction and closed to thru traffic, so I’m not sure how best to get there.

My garlic is doing great!


I was worried that the cold winter was going to doom my garlic crop this year, but it seems that all is well.  I am having troubles with squirrels digging in here though.  The newly planted garden beds are covered with bird netting to keep the squirrels out, but I can’t put that on here without making a cage for it of sorts.   I’m seriously considering getting some of my hot fatalii peppers out of the freezer, blending some up and making a squirrel repellant spray.   Other than that, my only issue with the garlic is that I am very afraid that I may have lost my map.  I have ten different varieties in here… I would really like to know what is what when I harvest it.  I would say I have about 100% germination here- that is roughly 100 bulbs of garlic.  That may actually be enough for me for a year of garlic eating.  Maybe.

Cold weather is still in the area- there is a frost advisory tonight, I believe, so still to early to consider planting out the peppers and tomatoes.   They’re thriving in their sunny window though!  Perhaps next week I’ll start the process of hardening them off.

2014: Let’s Go!

Last year’s gardening season was… wonky at best.   We had to move suddenly- after I’d already planted a bed (thank goodness it was only one bed!) and I dove into the exploration of community garden.  Thank God for the community garden plot!  For a small pittance, I now have a 20×25 garden space for as long as I wish.  (And as long as I keep paying the annual fee, of course.)

As I’ve been starting seeds and making my plans- and watching my new home gardens come to fruition- I’m finding my memories of things are getting a little fuzzy.  Back when I grew 15 or 20 varieties of heirloom tomato, it was easy to keep track of my favorites.  Now I have seed for over 100 varieties- and they’re starting to blur together a bit.

Add to that a bizarre obsession with peppers too hot for anyone to eat. (40+ varieties of pepper seed, hot and sweet and everything inbetween.)

Plus a new affinity for eggplant.

And herbs.

And a sincere desire to really garden and produce food to put by this year.

I decided I needed to resurrect this blog.  It’s supposed to be my journal, so I can look back next year and see what was successful, and what was not.  See what I need to change- what varieties perform better than expected, and what I should never, ever grow again.

I hope some of these posts will be picture heavy, but more than that, I truly desire to be an inspiration.  Even if it’s a small pot of herbs on a back porch- gardening for food has so many rewards and benefits.

Have you gone grocery shopping lately? Everything is going up and up- and showing no signs of slowing down.  Meat prices have skyrocketed, leading many people to at least partially explore meat-free eating.  I am all over that, but even the produce is going up in unexpected increments.  And for good reason.

As the state of California continues to experience a drought, it’s no wonder prices are climbing!  I read the other day that 40% of the state’s avocado farms are being told to allow their fields to go fallow this year for want of water.  Our country relies on California for much of our produce.  In particular, I know we get a lot of our celery, broccoli and salad greens from California year-round.   It’s the dust-bowl of the 1930’s people- real life and in front of us.

In a different direction, we rely heavily on Florida and Georgia for strawberries, peaches, citrus and tomatoes.  They are currently experiencing flooding that hasn’t been seen in ages.  Those beautiful Florida strawberries are going to be at a premium in no time!  Late frosts/freezes have been hampering the efforts of many orchards across the south.

I know here in my home state, the unrelenting cold this winter has not been kind.  Wineries are planning to spend 2014 attempting to coax growth out of severely damaged grapevines- putting the winemaking on hold this year.

So while all these food prices continue to climb for very valid reasons, a packet of seeds still costs a very small amount.  One packet of carrot seed, for example, has the potential to produce more carrots than my family could possibly eat in a year.   One packet of lettuce seed could produce enough lettuce to keep an entire village in lettuce for months on end.

If there was ever a year to consider a vegetable garden, this would be it.   Here in Central Wisconsin, we’re still looking at chilling temperatures- the real garden season is still weeks away.  I don’t expect to get much planted before Memorial Day this year- the threat of cold and frost is just still too much.

So I’ll leave you today with a picture of the most important part of my garden this time of year- The Growroom. Simply the patio door end of my dining room, there is JUST enough room for all my starts to bask in the sunshine.  Provided we get sunshine.

grow room

Here you see on the far left my Fatalii hot pepper plant that I wintered over this year.  That was a huge success, and I’ll detail more on that another time.  You can also see two different sets of wire shelving, holding all my flats of tomato, pepper and eggplant starts.  On the bottom there is my pop bottle garden.  This worked great for starting herbs- not sure it’s a good solution for greens though.  On the far right are my indoor tomato projects.  The one in the red cage is a dwarf-that-is-not that I’m growing out for a buddy.  The one on the bamboo pole is actually what is left of my WildThyme GWR plant from last year.  I accidentally snapped off a branch in the garden, so I brought it in the house and rooted it.  It gave me one small tomato over the winter, so I was going to let it die, but then it surprised me by suddenly starting to thrive, pushing blossoms, and now there’s a tomato growing on it.   It’s starting to really take over the space though.  Hopefully it will make it a few more weeks and I can get it outside and see how it does.

Soon it will be time to work outside.  Not soon enough for my taste, but it will happen, and I really can’t wait for it this year.


Tomato Standouts 2012

I’ve heard it said that it can take a good 3 or 4 years to really get new garden soil to where it needs to be for the most productive gardening.  This year was a glimpse of that.  While I didn’t have a great year, production wise, I got at least a taste of almost everything I planted this year.  There were a few that were particularly great for me- whether because they had a great taste, or they were productive, they likely earned a spot in next year’s garden.

I actually was able to start picking a few early tomatoes towards the end of July this year.  And by the second week in August, I was going out for daily pickings, and coming in with quite the handful.

I am happy to report that this year I did not need to purchase any tomatoes from elsewhere.  I made all my salsas with my own tomatoes, and also managed to get a few quarts and pints of plain old canned tomatoes on the shelves.

One of the first to really ripen up this year was my Black Krim tomatoes.

I have overlooked this one in the past, and will not do so again.   It was one of the first to ripen in the first days of August- and I still was harvesting from this plant at the end of September.   And this plant happened to be in my one tomato bed that had some kind of fungus problems.   I am anxious to see how Black Krim does next year in a better location.

Northern Lights is one I’ve wanted to try, but I’ve had terrible luck getting a plant in the ground the last few years.   Now I know what I was missing!

This gorgeous bi-color tomato was insanely productive!  It produced big fat slicers that we devoured on BLT’s and other sandwiches.  Nicely juicy, and they had a great tomato flavor.  I would frequently find myself snacking on these ones.

Black Ethipian was a huge stunner!

I got this plant from Minnesota, and promptly saved seed.  Apparently these were resistant to cracking, because there was literally none that cracked at the end of the season.  A deep purple, almost brown tomato, these had a lovely deep flavor, and were quite productive as well.  These are a plum sized tomato, but more juicy than an Amish Paste.  Delicious every way I ate them.

My cherry tomatoes did well this year too!

Well, sort of.  I had some serious problems with mutations in some of my plants.  My green cherry threw all kinds of non-tasty clunkers, and I never did get the delicious green cherries that Minnesota had in his garden.  My Sweet Beverly, while delicious, looked a lot like the Yellow Pear tomatoes, instead of the bright orange jewels they were supposed to be.  My Reisentraube did spectacularly well- tasting great right up to the frost.  Black Cherry, as always, was a delicious addition to everything.  My reliable Lemon Drop tomato tantalized my taste buds with their sweetness every time I went out to the garden.  The only one I really did not care for this year was the Snow White Cherry.  My tastebuds must just be strange, because I thought they tasted off to me.  I far prefer the Lemon Drop over the Snow White for flavor.

Another standout I didn’t actually grow this year, but I have seed and will grow next year is the Golden Cherokee.  Minnesota grew this one, and it was absolutely delicious.

I am anxious to see if my seeds produce the same tomato next year.  The Golden Cherokee is the bright yellow one on this plate. So sweet and full of tomato flavor, this was a winner.  I don’t remember which green we had on this plate, but the one below it is the Chocolate Stripes tomato.  Another good one, very pretty to look at.  However, it was really unfair to Chocolate Stripes to have it sitting next to that Golden Cherokee- the flavor really paled in comparison.

There were other standouts too, but I don’t have pictures of them.  :)  Ananas Noire turned out to also be a delicious bi-color tomato, and quite productive, especially late in the season.   The Kamatis Tagalog- a tomato from the Philippines, turned out as delicious as I’d anticipated.  Southern Night was a great early purple tomato.  Not the most flavorful, but it was good enough to grow again. Owen’s Purple was a tomato I’d traded for, and I wasn’t disappointed.  A deep flavored purple, it produced very large fruits, it just didn’t produce in quantity for me.  I plan to grow it next year and give it another chance to really blow me away.  Aunt Ruby’s German Green reminded me how delicious it was, and Humph also impressed me as another “green when ripe” tomato.

I did have a few that I won’t be growing again, I don’t think.  I know things change, but Pink Grapefruit was such a disappointment.  It was a pretty bi-color, but it was really bland taste-wise.  Pilcer Vesey was another blander yellow tomato, and yet it produced some of my largest tomatoes, so I’m not totally sure of it.  I was not a fan of any of the dwarf plants that I grew.  I may try more in the future, and they make a fun winter growing project, but their flavors really paled in comparison to the more traditional tomatoes.

I had one garden bed that really didn’t do well this year, and unfortunately, that was where half of my tomatoes were.  Last year I had ONE plant that had some kind of wilt in that garden.  This year, all the plants in that bed were stunted in one way or another.  Next year I will be planting legumes in that patch to try and get the soil corrected, and will move the tomatoes to the next bed over.   So as a result of that, I didn’t get to taste many of my favorites.  I had just a few from the Malakite Box and Grace Lahman plants over there.  As I look at that list from that bed… so many I wished I’d had more than just one small taste of.  Next year will be better, and I have such a massive list of new tomatoes to try…  I wish I had more space!

On Ghost Peppers and Potatoes

*Hangs head in shame*

Overdue, because freezing overnight temperatures have pretty much brought gardening season to an end, and this sad garden journal has really been neglected.  I guess that means I’ve been too busy to sit down with my notes, but that’s not 100% the truth.  Anyway,  I have some thoughts and pictures to share about the gardening behind me this year.

First, Mr. Ghost Pepper.  I had to grow this one.  Had to!  Andy and I had watched a few episodes of Heat Seekers on the Food Network, and they were frequently encountering dishes with the ghost pepper in it.  They would eat these foods and end up in tears because they were so hot.  I was intrigued as to why anyone would want to eat these peppers.  And then, on an episode of Top Chef, a winning dish used one ghost pepper, and got huge raves from everyone tasting.  I instantly became curious about this pepper.  Surely it had some kind of flavors in it aside from the extreme heat.

I was gifted a small pack of seeds, and was very excited, but also afraid to see what all the fuss was about.  My plants grew well, and I found that these did well both in the ground and in a pot.  I could tell no difference, really between the two, as I had two plants in the garden and two in pots.  When I finally had red peppers, it was with serious trepidation that I harvested one to float in a batch of salsa.  Seriously.  I picked that pepper with rubber gloves on- and I used some tongs to handle it.  A knife cut a few slits and in it went to the salsa.  I was so worried about getting affected by the capsaicin in these things!

The first batch of salsa turned out great- really tasty, but suprisingly little heat.  Some, but I also used plenty of other hot peppers.   There was an underlying tropical flavor though that isn’t normally present in my salsa.  I was intrigued and wanted to take it a step further.  So I chopped up one ghost pepper very finely and made a batch of salsa with that.  That may be one of my best flavored salsas I’ve ever had.  There is still some heat, but it’s not the tear inducing heat that I was anticipating from this ghost pepper.  The flavor, though, is spectacular, there really is a reason people want to eat ghost peppers.  In fact, when you cut into one you can smell this amazing floral-tropical fragrance, and you really do want to bite into it.

I have not tasted a ghost straight up.  And I don’t intend to.  The plants themselves are very productive, and I ended the season with a pile of ghost peppers, and no plans for them.  In fact I easily ended up with about two gallons of hot peppers, and nothing to do with them.  It was a good year for peppers.  Overall, though, the ghost pepper is a keeper.  It should still be treated with care, after all the scoville units are through the roof, but it turns out there IS a way to tame the heat- and that’s what I was after.  I think I will always endeavor to have one ghost in the garden.

Potatoes, on the other hand, are a completely different story.  I was so excited to try potatoes this year, because I’ve heard that they are such an effortless vegetable.   I did everything I was supposed to, and my harvest was absolutely dismal.  I planted 12 plants, and ended up with this harvest:

No lie.  The tiniest handful of potatoes ever- and this was two varieties, Kennebec and Fingerlings.   I made a baked potato pizza with them- which turned out great, but all I could think was that this was a huge waste of growing space and good compost.  I don’t know what went wrong, and part of the problem could be the potatoes we started with.  I ordered them from a Wisconsin company- thinking that climate appropriate potatoes would be best.  But when they arrived, the potato pieces were covered with mold, along with a note saying that the mold was harmless.  Now, my plants did grow.  The plants themselves grew great- there were just no tubers in the dirt.  The two people I shared my potatoes with also had dismal crops, so I don’t know what to say about them.  According to what I’d read, the quantity of potatoes I’d planted should have amounted to a good fifty pounds of potatoes- which is about what we would go through in four months time.  To have one pizza to show for my efforts?

So I doubt I’ll be growing potatoes again.  At least while we are where we are with limited space.  As it is, right now I’m eyeballing the potato patch for an onion patch.  I’m determined to figure out how to grow those this next year.  This year for my salsa making, the only produce I needed to buy was onions and cilantro.  Now, growing cilantro is silly to me, when I can buy a ton of it for just sixty-nine cents.  And onions ARE inexpensive, but I’d love to be able to make my salsa with all homegrown vegetables.  I just haven’t had luck getting my onions to bulb up.

Though, I will confess, I have been reading up on SWEET potatoes, and am a little tempted in that direction too.

Garlic Harvest!

If this wasn’t the easiest thing I’ve ever grown, I don’t know what is!

Last fall I bought a large bag of organic garlic at a farmer’s market.  I brought it home with intentions that never matriculated, and in the end, decided it was time to try growing my own garlic.

Andy built me a long narrow bed, and I slid the cloves into the soil.  I covered them up with compost and began to wait.

And wait, and wait.

Come spring, shoots shot up, and I watched them eagerly, because that meant my garlic survived the winter just fine.

I watched them grow and grow, waited for the scapes to appear,  and when they finally did, the intense heat had arrived with them and the garlic plants quickly began browning.

I waited until about 2/3 of each stalk had browned- you want at least three green leaves yet for the longest storage abilities.

And last week I pulled up the garlic.  Just like that, I have about 24 beautiful bulbs of garlic.

Now they cure.  They literally sit and dry out. Once properly dried, the stalks will be braided, and I will have a few months worth of garlic anyway.   This process can take up to six weeks, but the garlic is totally able to be used right away.

In fact, I broke into one of those bulbs today for some fried rice for dinner.  Oh my, the garlic smelled heavenly.

I learned that I can space my garlic a little more snugly for next year, and I also learned that I am a huge fan of growing it.  It took no effort on my part, simply patience.   For next year I plan to add a second variety to the bed.  I can’t wait!

Lettuce Seed

It’s that time of summer where we’re suddenly out of lettuce.  Every plant that we’ve been harvesting off of has decided to flower and turn the leaves bitter.  The newer plantings of lettuce are not ready for eating yet.

I actually had to buy a small head of romaine today to make tacos.  Nuts.

Anyway, I’d been going back and forth on letting the lettuce go to seed or pulling it out and planting something else.  Well, it’s so blasted hot out that absolutely nothing is going to be sprouting and growing anyway, so for now, the lettuces are going to flower.

I was curious about the seeding process, and wondering what I was watching for. A quick Google search turned up a Youtube video that I thought I’d share here.

I’m rather excited about this.  Granted, lettuce seed is probably one of the ones I have an over-abundance of, but the variety I am growing right now is the perfect variety for us.  I’m hopeful the heat will make this a quick process and then I can get something else in the ground when it cools off a touch.  I want some more lettuce for fall, but I’m also thinking that I want to plant some turnips too.  We’ll see…