A Tale of Two Gardens

It’s absolutely amazing to me how my two gardens, that are only a few hundred feet apart, are completely different micro-climates.

My home garden gets a significant amount of shade every day.  Not too much, but the orientation of the garden, along with neighboring trees and houses provides quite a bit of shade as the day moves along.

The tomatoes in my home garden are giving me a ripe one here and there.  The cherries are giving me quite a few, but for the most part, the tomatoes in the home garden are staying green for a long time, growing in size and quantity, but not seeing an urge to ripen.

The Sunset Garden, on the other hand, is like a furnace.  Direct sun all day long, not a spot of shade from sun up to sun down.  The garden also receives the full brunt of the elements- wind especially.  I have been harvesting armloads of tomatoes there since we came home from our vacation on the 1st of August.  I made my first batch of homemade salsa yesterday because I have so many tomatoes!  I think a lack of rain is contributing to the fact that the plot is feeling like it wants to ripen.  The tomatoes are on the smaller side, but still delicious and welcome.

We hardly ever have tomatoes before Labor Day.  In fact, when we go visit Minnesota’s garden Labor Day weekend, we always have the first BLT’s of the season, because the tomatoes are just starting to produce in earnest.  We’re a full month early this year, and it’s been great fun already!

The wheels are already turning for next year though, because on top of trying to combat the weeds over there, I also am going to attempt to plan more thoughtfully.   I think I have to put some of the peppers over there- I think they will LOVE the all sun, all the time.  I will have to give careful thought to how best to do the tomatoes.  Having all these early ones are wonderful, but there’s a definite difference in size with the fruit at home.  I think I will want cherries, earlies and more plum/roma types at the plot, while I keep my favorite slicers and canners here at home.  I may move the eggplants out of the raised bed and into the pepper bed.

So many things to consider for next year. Fortunately, though, I have lots of this year left to play with and give me time for planning.


When Things Are Not What They Seem

I’ve mentioned a few times, and shared pictures of the little strawberry patch in my Sunset Garden.   I’ve been rather perplexed about their slow-seeming growth.  Admittedly, I know very little about growing strawberries, but when I am harvesting strawberries elsewhere, my plants at least should have had some kind of blossom on them.

Well, I was working over there the other day, and I kept glancing over at the strawberries, wondering if moving them caused them to not blossom this year when I spied something I hadn’t noticed before.  On the very tip of one of the plants, there WAS a blossom.  Only it was yellow, and didn’t look anything like a strawberry flower.  I rushed home, and checked in with google, only to confirm that I was, in fact, duped.   My strawberry plants were actually potentilla, and were actually a weed.

I immediately headed to the garden center where I picked up eight new herb plants and a rhubarb, and then I went over in-between raindrops to yank those imposters out and plant something useful.  I planted Thyme, Greek Oregano, Chocolate Mint, Lemon Balm, French Tarragon, Marjoram and two Parsley plants, along with a Red Rhubarb plant.  This is what that corner now looks like.

So while I’m a little bummed about not having the fresh strawberries, at least I was able to make lemonade out of the lemons and get some more herbs planted.

I also now have all kinds of sprouts where I didn’t have them before!   My Buttercup Squash in a cage has sprouted!

As has my Bush Baby watermelons!

My tomatillos are doing great and sporting their first flowers.

The pole beans are up and getting ready to do business!

And finally, I found baby tomatoes on my Besser Cherry plant.

All of the tomato plants over there are thriving, and I have now managed to give all of them a cage to climb on.  Pretty much it is now a matter of weed management over there.  I have seen several rabbits when I’m walking over to the gardens, but I have not noticed any damage yet to my garden, so perhaps they are contenting themselves with the dandelion and clover.

Tomorrow I’ll update the home garden, as there have, of course, been changes in the last week.

One Week Later

I love how things change this time of year.  One day you’re harvesting your first radish of the season, the next week you’re pulling the rest of them out because they’ve decided to bolt.  While Andy will miss the radishes, it gave me space to sprinkle another patch of scallion seed.  I love having scallions on hand in the garden, and am looking forward to some getting large enough to use.

Here at the home garden, the beans and cucumbers are sprouting.

Here you can see bean sprouts in the bed right in front of us, and then as you look down the row at the next two boxes, you can see the lone row of cucumber sprouts.  Time is now ticking and I need to figure out what I want to do for a cucumber trellis this year.  I need to get the trellis up before I leave for ten days at the end of the month.

When I planted the cucumbers last week, I kept looking at the two packages of pickling cucumbers I had and wished I had the space to plant them.  I’ve been really pleased with the pickling cukes I get from the farmstand, but it sure would be nice to grow my own for a change.  I looked around, and found a corner to tuck them into.

See that wet line of dirt up there to the left?  Over which is placed a bright red trellis?  Yep, that’s where I’ve put a row of pickling cucumbers.  With that planting, I was utterly and completely out of space here at the home garden.

The tomatoes are doing very well here at home- there are blossoms on a few now, and I need to start making my plan for supporting them.  All the sudden I’m up against a deadline!  I don’t want to come home from our trip and find everything’s gone awry while I’m gone.

Oh!  Here’s the potato and bean patch.  It’s looking fabulous!

You can see some of the bean leaves along on the outside edges as the potatoes just get bigger and bigger in the middle.  We have a little bit of the compost pile left yet, and I plan to use that to bury the potato plants a little more.   This bed doesn’t have a fence, but my mom gave me a bag of dog hair that I plan to use as a natural bunny repellent.

Things have changed at The Sunset Garden as well.  I spent my morning over there with a hedge trimmers trimming away all the weeds around the edge of the garden.  I went back and forth on doing that, as it was mostly just clover and grasses, and I thought it might hide my plants from animals.  I decided to trim it all this once and see what happens.  I’m sure they’ll grow back, and I can decide if I want to trim again or leave things be.  For now, I am glad I took the time to do so, and it also enabled me to weed the onions very thoroughly.

Last week I did end up going to the garden center and picking up 12 heirloom tomatoes to replace the ones that had died.  I now have 65 tomato plants over there, and they all are looking great!

I noticed a few of the pole beans starting to just poke out, but no sign yet of the squash or watermelon.   When I was picking up the tomatoes last week, I was also enticed by celery, leeks, and a few more brussels sprout plants to replace a few that didn’t make it here.

I really had to get creative with the leeks, and now it’s safe to say there is no more room in this garden either!

As my plants are getting bigger in both gardens, it’s time for me to start thinking about mulching with some straw.  I have the straw, I’m just waiting on a little more growth before I use it.   Last night we enjoyed our first spinach and kale tossed with pasta, and over the weekend we discovered we liked collard greens as well, so we’re already enjoying the fruits of my labor.  Have to keep an eye on that spinach though, as it’s suddenly quite warm out, and it looks like it’s thinking about going to seed just as we’re finally enjoying it.

Busy In The Sunset Garden

It’s really been a great week in the gardens.  🙂  I think I am almost to the point where I can safely say the gardens are planted.  There may be a few things going in yet, but for the most part, now we just grow.

Here is a good overall picture of The Sunset Garden.

It’s definitely different from my last pictures!  My tomato plants really suffered right after I got them planted.  We had wind and rain all weekend, and I did lose several to the elements.  My initial plan for this garden was to use the Florida Weave to trellis the tomatoes, as that’s my favorite method for doing so.  But when we returned from a weekend away and I found tomatoes on their sides from the wind, I had to quickly change direction and started carrying over my portable trellis panels.

Here’s a good view of the tomatoes.

I think overall I lost about a dozen plants total, which isn’t bad considering I started with 100.   Later today I may stop by the garden center and see if they have any treasure left to fill the holes with, but as it stands, I’m pleased with how the tomatoes are doing.  I need to pick up some Tomato Tone to feed them, but other than that, they seem adjusted and ready to grow.

Back to the other side of the garden.

The fluffy green plants there on the bottom are the strawberries that were in the garden when I got it.  They are growing nicely, but don’t have blossoms yet.  I have no idea what kind they are, but if they were June-bearing I think I would be seeing some blossoms attempting to form.

To the left of the strawberries you can see my pole bean towers that I put in yesterday.  I used the tall red supports, and then push some bamboo poles into the ground inside the supports, and plant the beans around those.  I also added a layer of fencing around the outside of the red towers.  I just have no idea what to expect from critters.  I see veteran gardeners planting greens and lettuces with no barriers, so maybe the critters aren’t really a problem here?

For my part with the critters, my onions are coming up nicely all around the bed.

I keep accidentally stepping on them, but they are pretty resilient and spring back most of the time.  I need to give the onions some weeding TLC soon.  See that wet dirt pile there in the picture?  Today I planted some Bush Baby Watermelon seeds.  I was going through my seeds looking for what else I could put in the garden when I got to the melons.  This particular variety says they only put out 3 1/2 foot vines.  I think I can get that to run on the outside of my tomato plants and we could be in business.  There is another of these mounds on the opposite side of the garden.

One more picture from over there.

In this one you can see the second wet dirt pile that holds watermelon seeds.  In the landscape fabric closest to us you can also see the three brussels sprouts plants at the very end there.  At the far end of that row, if you look closely you can see my two tomatillo plants close to the strawberries- they are doing VERY well and are happy to be there.   Now look a little closely and you can see one lone circle of fencing between the tomatillos and the brussels sprouts.  THIS is a fun experiment, I hope.  I planted Buttercup squash in the exposed dirt there.  Then I stapled a “barrel” made out of fencing over the squash seeds.  The idea being that when the squash grows, it will grow up the fencing, and then down the fencing, and what grows on the ground from there will be a manageable amount of vines.  We’ll see.  Buttercup squash are my absolute favorite winter squash, so I’d love to find a way to grow them in a smaller space.

As you can see, I do have a small bit of room there yet that I could put a few things in.  We’ll see if the garden center has anything interesting yet to add.  Otherwise, I can always throw in a zucchini or summer squash plant.

Survived The Cold Snap!

My garden amazes me daily.  This past weekend we dipped very close to freezing, and it was quite cold over the weekend.  And yet… my garden is thriving.  I swear my plants actually liked the cool weather and the rain that came with it!  Let’s check out some incredible changes, shall we?

The herbs are doing well on the deck.  The dill has been expanding every day!

I love that large rosemary plant.  That was a steal of a find at the Minneapolis farmer’s market for only $5.00.  Sadly, I lost my parsley.  I forgot to punch holes in the bottom of the tray I’d started the seeds in, and a rainy weekend while we were away drowned every last one of them.  I’ll figure out a replacement soon.

The pepper patch is hanging in there.

Every single pepper I planted is thriving.  Most of them are here in this patch, but I also have a dozen of them planted in buckets as well.  It should be a great year for peppers!  The last two days have brought me some incredible surprises:

That is a Cherry Bomb pepper growing!  Next door to the cherry bomb my Purple Jalapeno is also sporting two baby peppers and a whole handful of blossoms.  He didn’t cooperate for a picture.  But this pepper plant did:

That is one of my Feher Ohon Paprika plants.  Both plants have baby peppers, as well as my Yellow Cheese Pimento plant.   It’s absolutely amazing to see so early in the year!  We’ll be enjoying our first tastes of peppers very soon, I think.

Let’s move into the garden a bit.  Here is a shot of one of the beds in the back.

I have lettuces planted along the back, and carrots in the two feet in front.  The carrots took forever to spring up, but now they are there, and it looks like I’ll get a nice harvest there this year.  Some of the lettuces either haven’t come up, or were scattered by critters.  I’ll replant a few in the next day or two, I think.

Here is the other back bed.

Again, I have lettuces planted in the back.  The Mizuna popped right up, as did one of the mesclun mixes, but the other lettuces are slow going.  The spinach and beets are doing well though!  The snap peas on the end continue to do their thing as well.

Here is the eggplant bed:

My big note for next year is that eggplants do NOT like being out in the garden in the cool spring weather.  They’re all still there, but they’re not doing very well.  Next year I will start them later than everything else, so that they get planted out mid-June, I think.  To the left of the eggplants in this bed I planted five varieties of cucumber today.  To the right of the eggplants I have four small basil plants, and today I also added a few lettuce seeds to maximize the space.  Again, snap peas on the end of this bed.

This next bed has six more varieties of cucumber planted at the back of it.

Yesterday I harvested some radishes for the first time, and I noticed today that my other variety of radish is looking good, so I’ll pluck those out for Andy tomorrow.  You can see my scallions are doing nicely, though the collard green plant is providing them with a bit too much shade.  The collard green may come out.  I think I don’t care for it, but I have one more thing to try with it before I have a solid verdict.  The rest of the brassicas are doing well there.  The kale plants are vibrant and healthy, and the broccoli and cauliflower seem happy as well.

At the bottom of that last picture you can see my bed with the Swiss Chard in it.  That bed’s been at a standstill for a bit.  I suspect rabbits dined on the Chard before I fortified the fencing.  The bare patch in that bed is where I planted three varieties of bush beans yesterday.

Check out this tomato plant!

Color me surprised when I walked out yesterday and found that my Sun Sugar plant already had blossoms on it!  Kind of hard to see in the picture, but it’s the second plant from the right at the top.   The tomatoes have been put through the wringer with excessive wind, rain and cold, but they have proved their resilience this year by hanging in there.

And one more picture of the bonus potato patch.  Check out what’s going on there!

I have potato leaves!  They’re coming up nicely from the rotting potatoes I tucked in the dirt.  We’ll see if we get a potato harvest this year.  The other day I also planted bush beans on either side of the potatoes- I think they’ll be a decent companion crop for each other.

I think tomorrow I have to spend time over at The Sunset Garden pulling weeds and putting up a few more trellises for the tomatoes over there.  I’ve lost a few over there, but overall I’m pleased with how things are going.  Hopefully all the cold weather is now behind us and we have no more dangers of frost in the mix.

The Sunset Garden

I decided I needed to come up with a name for my community garden plot.  Saying I’m “going to the plot” just sounds dull, and when I’m having a conversation, or typing up a blog post, mentioning my community garden plot is wordy and unimaginative.  So I’m calling my community plot The Sunset Garden.  It is directly to our west, and I didn’t want to call it just The West Garden, so sunset it is, since that’s where the sun goes down at the end of the day.

Spring has left us for a day here in Wisconsin.  Last night after work, Andy lugged 26 pails of compost over to The Sunset Garden and this morning I thought I’d go work that in and prepare for planting tomatoes later this week.  It’s cold out!  I wore layers to go work with the hoe, and when I came back in a few moments ago, my ears were feeling a little numb from the chilly wind.  I had originally planned on also laying my landscape fabric over there, but it is so windy, I cannot imagine that project going very well for me.  It will have to wait.  But what I did do was work in the compost and mark my rows with my feet, and figure out how many plants will be going over there.  Later today I am going to take the time to flag my tomatoes.  Since it’s too cold for them out today, I may as well take advantage of them being inside and do their labels.  It will be one less thing to do on planting day.

Anyway, here’s a picture of The Sunset Garden today.

It seems I already need to re-do my very outside border, but you can sort of see two rows of mulch around the garden.  In between the rows of mulch are where I’ve planted about 500 onion sets, as well as chives and garlic chives.  Hopefully they start growing soon- those are my protection against critters over here.

In the bottom right hand corner where the pink ribbons are, is a patch of strawberries that were already in the garden when I claimed it.  That needs to be weeded, and I’m not sure how many of them will grow, as I moved a lot of them a few weeks ago.  In the corner closest to me you can see my tiny lovage plant, and to the right of that is the peppermint.  You can at least see the label for the peppermint plant.

At the far back corner you can see my compost bin. It’s full, full, full. The one thing I’ve been told about this garden is that weeds are a problem.  You think?  I’m hoping to combat that with the landscape fabric.  There is mulch on site that I am welcome to use, but I discovered when I put the mulch border around my garden that I am quite allergic to it.  It’s a lot of pine- I suspect the curbside Christmas tree collection contributes to our mulch pile over there, and I am definitely allergic to pine trees.  So I’m not sure yet what I’ll do with regards to a mulch.  Straw is a possibility as long as it’s fresh, as I’m also allergic to the mold that can develop in old straw bales.

My current plan is to plant peppers and tomatoes here in the home garden tomorrow, and then the sunset garden on Thursday.  I’m running out of time to get them in the ground.  Sure hope the weather cooperates with me!  We actually have a frost/freeze warning for tonight, so I’ll need to get things covered that are already out.  Sure hope that sun comes out early tomorrow and warms things up!

Moving Right Along

I am at a standstill with the gardens today.  My tomato and pepper plants are very much ready to be in the ground.  I keep planning to do that, and then something comes up, which has turned out to be a very good thing, as we’re dipping close to freezing temperatures tomorrow evening.   So they wait for just a few more days.  They are all too big to fit under the lights anymore, so they’ve been going outside for the day, and coming in at night while cold and/or storms roll in.   Here they are, basking in the sun.

This year I’m using surveyors tape to label my plants as they grow in the ground.  The pepper plants get a bamboo skewer, the tomatoes will have the tape tied right to them when they go in the ground.  Hopefully I’ll be able to get everyone labeled correctly.

Since those are on hold, I turned my attention to some herbs this past weekend.  I filled a few pots for on the deck, and then tucked a lovage and peppermint plant into my community plot.   I have more herbs to add yet, but this is a nice start.

And now for some pictures of my main garden here at home.   We have discovered that Andy over-ordered the compost to fill the beds.  We’ve worked compost in everywhere, and still have a big pile.  He’s going to haul some over to my community garden tonight and tomorrow, which will be much needed over there.  We have so much, though, and he had lumber on hand, so he spontaneously built another bed for me.  This one is outside the fenced in garden, and we decided to put the sprouted potatoes in there from last fall.  I have no idea if they will actually grow- I have terrible luck with potatoes.  But if they don’t sprout soon I’ll figure something else out for the bed.  The main purpose of this though is for garlic in the fall.  Here you can see the new bed with the garden behind it.

See all those buckets filled with dirt?  Those are what he is going to take over to the plot, and THEN we will probably still have enough dirt to fill them again with.   I will then plant some extra peppers in the buckets- I’ve always wanted to try a few different things in buckets, so this is the perfect opportunity to try that.

Here’s another view looking down the length of the garden.

All that space in the ground is where I am going to plant some tomatoes.  The rest of the tomatoes are going in the community plot.  Today I plan to go out and staple down the landscape fabric in this space.  That bed to the right with the pink flags in it holds my eggplants and a row of snap peas.  I’ll have to cover that bed up for the next few nights.  Eggplants do not like it cold!  There is also plenty of space in this bed for cucumbers, and I’m thinking a row of bush beans right now.

And then one more view

You can see I’m going to have to do some serious weeding between the beds soon.  The bed here in the middle has cauliflower, kale, collards and broccoli in it, as well as scallions and radishes.  I am saving space in this bed for the cucumbers as well.   To the left, where you see more pink flags, are a few peppers, as well as some Swiss Chard sprouts, and then a whole bunch of blank space for bush beans.  The two beds in the back have lettuce, carrots, spinach and beets in them.  Those beds get some shade at the end of the day from the trees next to the garden, and I’m really hoping to extend the lettuce season that way.  Hopefully it works!


Constant Changes

Today I really, really wanted to go over to the community plot and do some damage with the weed removal over there.  However, after two days of working over there, my hands and forearms are feeling sore and tired, and with an upcoming conference weekend where I need my hands and arms for drumming… I have to lay off the hard garden prep until Monday.

In the meantime, I found a few things to do today.  🙂

After my brassica and celery plants spent the night outside, I decided it was time to get them in the garden.  I don’t have a ton of plants that made it to this stage, but I do have 3 cauliflower, 2 cabbages, 3 broccoli and 1 collards plant in the dirt.  I also sprinkled some lacinato kale seeds in there as well.  Here’s a close up of that bed.

The brassicas are along the front, and the celery ended up smack dab in the middle.  The radish seeds are to the right of the celery, the scallions to the left.  The dry row at that back of this bed is being saved for the cucumbers.

This morning I also decided to sow carrot seeds.  Overnight lows are going up and up, so I thought it was okay to do so now.  I planted seven varieties of carrot this year.  I have Cosmic Purple, Amarillo, Dragon, Kuroda, Imperator, Asita Black and Nantes.  The Asita Black is the darkest purple carrot I have ever seen.  I found it at Baker Creek, and the seed packet was over packed due to low germination.  I hope I get to sample a few of those!

At one point when I walked outside I spied two baby bunnies who appeared to have made a home underneath our deck.  Since my pepper patch is going to be in the bed right below the deck, I decided to spend some time adding extra fencing to keep the bunnies away from my peppers.

Overall, I got a few things done today.  I also managed to snap a closer picture of the home garden.

One day at a time.  🙂

Compost Is In!

Andy had our load of dirt delivered last Friday, and he spent the weekend filling my beds up whenever he had a few spare minutes.

We still have a pile of dirt, and Andy has lumber, so he MAY build me one more raised bed for in the garden.  If he doesn’t, I’ll just plant in the ground, so either way works for me.

The community plot is turning out to be quite the project, but on the plus side, I have found a whole bunch of hidden strawberry plants in the plot!  I’ve been digging them up and moving them to one corner of the plot- I hope they like their new spot.  Tomorrow I plan on moving the rest and then mulching around them.

Also, yesterday, April 27th, I sowed seeds.  Snap peas were put in the dirt the day before, but yesterday I sowed lettuces, spinach, radishes, scallions and Swiss chard.  I’ve also been hardening off the brassicas, so they should hit the dirt sometime Thursday.

I think this is a full two weeks earlier than I sowed last year.  Come on warm temperatures!

Growth And Excitement

When I finally sat down this year to sow seeds, I faced a serious dilemma.  I had no idea if I would have extra space to garden this year, or if I’d have what was here in the backyard.  Obviously, I have plenty of space here at home for a decent garden, but I really want to trial all kinds of new tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant this year.  In the end I decided to just go for it.  If I didn’t get in at the community garden, this year’s garden would be devoted to these plants, with just a small space for a few lettuces and carrots.

Fortunately, that desperate planning was for nothing, as I was notified last weekend that I DO get a plot at the community garden across the street.  Across the street!!! My biggest problem with the last community garden plot was that I had to physically get in the car and drive to it several miles away.  It was hard for me to find the time to do it. But across the street?  All I need is a garden cart to haul things back and forth and I’ll be set for the season.  I finally got over yesterday to look at my plot.  Oy, I have some work ahead of me to get it ready to plant in, but I’m very excited to do so.  It’s wonderful knowing that all of my plants will have a home this year.

Speaking of plants.  Check this out!

The top shelf is still my peppers, first round of eggplant and a few brassicas that want to go outside.  They are really thriving up there, and not growing too fast either.  I’ve been watering an average of once a week. The light goes off overnight, and during the day the ceiling fan is also on.  I rotate the trays every couple of days as well so they all get a turn closer to the fan.

The second two rows are my tomato plants and the second round of eggplants.  You can tell the tomatoes on the middle shelf have had an extra week in the dirt over the bottom shelf of plants.  They’re coming along nicely.  For the first few weeks I kept the lights over the tomatoes on all the time, but now that the plants are healthy and established, I am turning the lights off overnight as well.

Of all the plants I transplanted out of the starter cells, I had one pepper plant die and only one tomato didn’t make it.  I even had one tomato that the stem snapped… I carefully tipped it over and tucked the separated part in the soil, and it must have rooted from there, because it’s alive and well.  The one tomato that didn’t make it I had a duplicate of, so all is well.

Germination was spectacular this year.  Out of the 62 varieties of tomato I sowed, only 2 varieties didn’t sprout at all.  Unfortunately, in my careful mapping and crossing off, a third variety never made it to get potted up.  The sprouts were there, but for some reason I’d crossed that one off, so when I did the final potting up, I assumed I already had that plant under the lights.  I didn’t realize my error until I was rearranging plants yesterday, and by then it was too late, as I’d composted the extras.

With the eggplants I had four varieties that never came up- and two of those were brand new seed, so that was disappointing, but I have high hopes for the 13 eggplants I do have.  I cannot wait to come up with new ways to use this vegetable.  It’s become a favorite of mine, and I’m especially hoping to figure out a way to freeze it to use year round.

Anyway, later today my dirt is arriving to fill the beds here at home, and then it gets really real!  I’m about to go put the brassicas on the deck for a few hours to start hardening off.  I’m hoping to find time this weekend to get some lettuce seeds in the dirt, but first we have to get the dirt IN the gardens.

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