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.

My Apologies, But…

Comments have been turned off for a while here at Garden Notes.  My spamcatcher is not working for some reason, and I need some time to attend to it.

If you have a pressing need or concern, a quick search about my site will net you the e-mail address.

Hope to have this fixed soon!

Variety Notes

Off the top of my head this morning, I have to make some notes about some keepers from the garden, and some that I will never grow again.

Tomatoes: Black Cherry and Lemon Drops will be garden staples.  They are both prolific and tasty. I knew the BC were good, but the Lemon Drops surprised me.

I will not grow Purple Calabash or Romas again.  Blech.  The Purple Calabash are just plain awful.  I have some sitting on the counter that I don’t know what to do with.  They have a sour, almost fermented flavor that is really unpleasant.  The romas taste like styrofoam.

Purple Cherokee is on my waffle list.  Mine have had a sweetness that I don’t care for.  There are enough other good tomatoes, that this one probably won’t make the list.

Aunt Ruby’s German Green is a keeper!  This ranks right up there with the Malakite tomato.  The flavor is spectacular, and the plants have put out great effort.

Hot Peppers: Aji Crystal is awesome!  It has this amazing crisp texture, and it definitely added a fruitiness to the salsa I made with it.  The heat level is up there, but it’s not the hottest I’ve grown this year.  Definitely a keeper.

I don’t think I’ll grow the Bulgarian Carrot Pepper again.  They are stunning to look at, and the flavor profile is good, but they’re tough.  It is difficult to chop them up for cooking with.  The only thing I could really see doing with them is making a fermented hot sauce, where you need to grind them up and let them sit and do their thing.   I would consider growing them if I was doing market gardening, because they are gorgeous in color and unique.  But for home use, not so much.

Greens: Arugula has to be one of the worst tasting things ever.  Escarole is close to that, though I may give the escarole another chance in some cool spring weather next year.  I’m annoyed that I bought all these seed packets for unusual greens, because most of them are simply awful.

Mizuna, though is a gem of a green.  It’s got a slight peppery-ness to it, but none of the bitterness that the other greens have.  It made a fabulous addition to sandwiches and salads, and the plants never bolted.  It’s cousin, the Ruby Streaks was also tasty, though that variety bolted once it got hot out.

And no more Salad Mix.  I must hunt down more romain varieties, because tha’s our preference.  These floppy greens are not desireable for a tossed green salad.

That’s the beginning of my list for the year.   Every time I walk out to the garden, these things roll through my head.  I decided to get them down in the notes so that I can focus my attentions elsewhere and make other discoveries.   There is still plenty chugging in from the garden!

Peppers and Tomatoes

All my seeds are planted for peppers and tomatoes, and I think all the peppers that are going to sprout have done so. I really scaled back from what I started last year. Between giving tomato plants away and what I planted in the garden myself I had more than double what I needed. I planted 62 seeds late on the 16th, and I need 38 total plants for what I am planning on putting in the garden and plants I am starting for other people. This is what I planted:

• 4 – Black Cherry
• 5 – Sungold
• 4 – Yellow Submarine
• 5 – Carbon
• 6 – Purple Russian
• 3 – Vorlon
• 3 – Orange Icicle
• 5 – Golden Sunray
• 5 – Chernomor
• 6 – Cherokee Purple
• 5 – German Red Strawberry
• 5 – Cuor Di Bue
• 3 – Pantano Romanesco
• 3 – Black Icicle

Quite a few of those are new to me this year; Yellow Submarine, Orange Icicle, Chernomor, Cherokee Purple, German Red Strawberry, and Black Icicle.

Yellow Submarine is supposed to be a better tasting version of Yellow Pear. I liked the yellow pear until I tasted the Black Cherry and the Sungold. After that they just tasted bland to me, the only reason I picked them (and I did leave a lot to just fall off) was to give away in my tomato “gift baskets.” I am doing 4 cherry tomato plants this year, and all 4 of them will be front and center (four rows of tomato plants planted 6 deep) so we can reach them from the yard and pick them easier. The 4th one is Reisentraube from Erika, and I am looking forward to that one too.

If you look at my list I have an abundance of purple tomatoes. I could not believe the flavor I got from the purple tomatoes. If you ever get a chance to grow Purple Russian I highly recommend it. I think it is the best tasting tomato I have ever had in my life, and there are a lot of fabulous tomatoes. Chernomor is another Russian tomato, and this one is a potato leaf plant. It has gotten very good ratings, and everything that I grew last year from Russia/Siberia/Ukraine grew fabulously in our climate. Essentially this is replacing Black Krim in my garden which did not grow well for me.

Everyone raves about Cherokee Purple so I had to order some seeds for it. Black Icicle was just a new offering from Baker Creek and I loved Purple Russian so much I had to try another roman candle type of tomato. I figured if I am going to try the purple version of it I might as well give the Orange Icicle a try too.

I ordered and planted German Red Strawberry based on Erika’s recommendation, and I am trusting it is good as I am starting some for two other people as well.

This is what sprouted for peppers:
• 6 – Chocolate Habanero (1 questionable)
• 11 – Red Habanero
• 5 – Suave
• 5 – Serrano (1 questionable)
• 2 – Fresno
• 3 – Sunrise/Sunset
• 4 – Jalmundo
• 8 – Grande Jalapeno (2 questionable)
• 6 – Purple Jalapeno (3 questionable)

Now I am planning on growing two each of the Habaneros, two Suave, two Serrano, one Fresno, one Sunrise/Sunset, three Purple Jalapenos, two Grande Jalapenos, and two Jalmundos. 6 of those are for hot sauce, the rest are for salsa. There really isn’t much difference between the Jalmundo and the Grande jalapeno. Both of them are productive producers with larger than average jalapeno pods.

The Purple Jalapenos are my favorite pepper. I will need to get more seed for next year as I used what I had left. I hope the seedlings perk up and pick up or I will not have any to share.

I love this time of year!

2010 Garden Report

First off, I apologize for not posting more once the garden started producing. We were pregnant with our first child, and once the garden had ripe fruit it produced like crazy until mid-October. I was running solo on all garden work and post garden work (processing all the wonderful proceeds). At its height I was picking between 10 and 15 pounds of tomatoes every time I went into the garden (tried to limit myself to every other day for my wife’s sake).

I made a lot of salsa.

I made 170 or so jars of salsa this year (52? when Erika was here), but we gave away a ton for Christmas presents. I think we made a decent amount, but I was ready to be done when I was making the last batch. Even with all that salsa we had plenty of tomatoes, and sent home a ton with Erika and family at Labor day. That was from 23 plants (had to yank one, and one other I did not get anything edible from). It was also a perfect growing season here in Minnesota, so everything was very productive.

Some thoughts on the salsas.

Zesty – This recipe is from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. This is my favorite recipe, and each batch tastes a little different with different levels of heat depending on which tomatoes and which peppers were ripe. Usually this ends up on the stronger side of medium, and one batch I would consider a mild hot.

Anna’s – This is actually the “Annie’s Salsa” recipe from online somewhere. We do not add any tomato paste or sugar (makes the salsa taste like tomato sauce). This is my wife’s favorite recipe, and the cumin adds a smoky flavor to the salsa.

Jalapeno – This is also from the Ball book, and is one of my favorites. This recipe is quite spicy, and is great cooked into other foods. My favorite is to put a tablespoon or two into my scrambled eggs as I am cooking them.

Roasted Chipotle – This recipe (from Ball book) is supposed to be made with Chipotles (dried, smoked jalapenos) but I could not find any. So I used dried pablano and ancho peppers instead. Then I roasted the garlic, tomatoes, and peppers. This one has an interesting taste, and I will try it again next year with the right ingredients. Erika did make one batch with actual Chipotles, and I can’t wait to dig into that jar of salsa.

Spicy Tomato – Another recipe (from Ball book) that calls for dried peppers. I am only so-so on this one. I might try it again next year with chipotle peppers instead.

Mango salsa – I am not really into the sweet salsas as a general rule. This recipe (Online recipe. Make sure you check the source for online recipes as canned goods need to have a very specific acid content to be canned safely) calls for green mangos (the ripe mangos have too low of an acidic value to be used). At first I was only so-so on this one but it has been growing on me. It is excellent on fish tacos, and my wife informs me it was wonderful on warm brie.

Peach salsa – This was a very pleasant surprise. This one was also from the Ball book of canning. I hated making this recipe, as slicing up slippery, wet peaches is a real pain. The flavor makes up for it though. It is fabulous. I rate my friendships on whether I would give them a jar of peach salsa or not. It is precious to me.

I will not be growing Dr Wyche’s, Black Krim, Brave General, and Brandywine for sure, and probably not Yellow Pear. I might try and find Yellow Submarine and see if that is an improvement at all.

I was very disappointed in my Black Cherry production for having two plants. I only got 127 fruit vs 300 yellow pear (one plant) before I stopped picking them.

The Malakite was the king of the garden again, though Golden King of Siberia almost supplanted it.

Seeing saladette sized tomatoes on my Sungold plant was very disappointing, though to be fair they weren’t bad tasting tomatoes.

So here is the tomato count!
Yellow Pear – 307
Black Cherry – 127
Unknown Saladette – 127
Cuor Di Bue (2 plants) – 70
Pantano Romanesco (2 plants) – 32
Carbon (2 plants) – 39
Golden King of Siberia – 23
Cosmonaut Volkov – 33
Sungold (in a pot) – 34
Monomahk’s Hat – 12
Malakite – 40
Brave General – 27
Purple Russian – 36
Vorlon – 14
Golden Sunray – 18
Cowlick Brandy – 11
Dr Wyche’s – 6
Green Zebra – 56
Black Krim – 11
Pink Ponderosa – 32

A few notes about each variety –

Yellow Pear – 70 DTM – The tomatoes aren’t bad, but I hate how it tries to take over everywhere, it is very hard to manage this plant.

Black Cherry – 76 DTM – My favorite tasting tomato. I didn’t get enough of these to satisfy my desire for them, so I bought them from the farmers market as well.

Unknown Saladette – 71 DTM – This was supposed to be Sungold Select II. I guess I will need a different seed source for these next year. I had 3 out of 4 produce true to form, but two went to friends and the third was in a 5 gallon pail.

Cuor Di Bue – 72 DTM – Red oxheart that produced well. Flavor was decent and this one was also great for making soup and salsa.

Pantano Romanesco – 78 DTM – These all came out ribbed for me, very pretty tomato. Good for slicing, salsa, and pretty much anything else you wanted to use it for.

Carbon – 77 DTM – A true jewel of the garden this year. One of the best tasting tomatoes I have ever tried. Most of these were over a pound, and I had two over two pounds.

Golden King of Siberia – 70 DTM – A real surprise this year. These giant yellow fruit were bursting with flavor. I may have only gotten 23 fruit, but 2/3 of them were over a pound. You can see which batches of salsa have this tomato in them.

Cosmonaut Volkov – 70 DTM – A nice tasting pink beauty. This one will keep going in the garden as long as I have room.

Sungold (pot) – 71 DTM – A very sweet tasting tomato. My wife’s favorite, though I would take 1 black cherry over 10 sungolds any day.

Monomahk’s Hat – 71 DTM – A well balanced tomato for any use. I would take up valuable garden space with it again.

Malakite – 73 DTM – This plant produces loads of medium to large great tasting fruit. One of the first to start and the last to stop. This is a must grow.

Brave General – 77 DTM – This one will not make it back into my garden. I had optimal growing conditions yet this one was still watery and kind of mealy tasting.

Purple Russian – 79 DTM – THE find of the year. I could not believe it when I bit into this tomato for the first time. This one might actually taste better than black cherry, but it is hard to tell. It made the best everything we used it for. I will never go without growing this tomato if I have space for a garden.

Vorlon – 81 DTM – A great tasting tomato, but not very productive. I will give it another try in a better location to see if I can get more productivity out of it.

Golden Sunray – 81 DTM – Stunning orange fruit with a decent flavor. Very pretty to slice up and good for eating or salsa.

Cowlick Brandy – 86 DTM – Very disappointed with this tomato. It had been so hyped up to me but I thought it was just ok. I will not grow this one again.

Dr Wyche’s – 86 DTM – Nothing special to speak of. Wilty plant and not very productive.

Green Zebra – 85 DTM – Tart tasty tomatoes that are very productive. This one will go in every year until I can find something better to replace it.

Black Krim – The least favorite of the purple tomatoes I grew, but still pretty flavorful. If the plants were more productive I would add this to the yearly grow list.

Pink Ponderosa – 89 DTM – The freebie from a Baker Creek order last year. This tomato was decent and fairly productive, though late in the season. If I have room this one will end up in my garden again.

In the next couple of weeks here I will be starting my garden plan for 2011. I already have most of the peppers planned out, but am still unsure of a lot of the tomatoes. This last year I really missed the productive Serrano plant I had the year before. I will make sure I start my peppers early enough that I get a good harvest from all of them.

Catalog Sightings!

Today two more catalogs arrived in the mail, bringing my total up to six so far for the month of December.  My Baker Creek and Seed Savers Exchange will be late, as I had to re-request catalogs from them this year.  Moving does that.

But so far I have RH Shumways, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Totally Tomatoes, Seeds of Change, Botanical Interests, and Vermont Bean Seed Company.  The only one not pictured below is the Botanical Interests.

I’m not too impressed with Totally Tomatoes, as I prefer heirloom varieties over hybrids, but I am contemplating a few determinate tomatoes this year, and it’s at least a lovely catalog to look through.

Vermont Bean Seed is completely new to me- two pages in and I’m excited- I had no idea there were so many varieties of  beans.  I may be ordering from them for my beans and peas this year.

I’m anxiously awaiting the remaining few and then the real planning can begin.


That’s it.  The 2010 growing season is officially over.   The fact that we made it to October 28th is actually pretty remarkable.    What makes it officially over?

This is, or rather, was, my basil plant.  Last night the temps got down below freezing, and that was the end.  Of course, you can still see the parsley and the rosemary there next to the basil looking alive and vibrant, but the demise of the basil and any other tender growth is confirmation that the gardening year has drawn to a close.

I just went out and harvested my one lone butternut squash.  It’s still got a faint green tinge to it, but it feels solid.  I need to find out if it will ripen further now that it’s off the vine.  If not, it will be dinner tomorrow night with an amazing homegrown roasted chicken.

I’m getting anxious for those seed catalogs to start rolling in!

A Blank Slate

Our weather is beautiful right now! It’s Indian Summer all right, and it’s perfectly timed to get us out in the yard doing some leaf-raking and other yard work.

A week ago we had our first frost warnings of the season.  I went back and forth several times on whether or not to cover… and in the end I decided to cover just the basil and the tomatillo.  In anticipation of the frost, I went out and picked all the green tomatoes.

And then it didn’t frost here. :p

Apparently it stays a touch warmer here in the city, and there was frost on the roofs, but not on the ground.  With Indian Summer in full swing, there is a piece of me rolling my eyes at myself, wishing I wouldn’t have picked the green tomatoes.

Then again, had I left them, I could have gotten a few more ripe tomatoes, but not many.  So instead, I was able to take full advantage of the beautiful weather and rip all the plants out.  The sweet peppers I left- I’m really hoping the Red Marconis will turn red- but other than that, the tomato and pepper patch is gone.

The kids gardens are gone.

And Andy finally removed the large privet bush and grapevine- and look what we found! More sunshine. (And a seriously leaning fence…hope we can talk the neighbor into removing the tree that is pulling the fence over.)

My herbs are still chugging along in their strip of yard, and I actually have one butternut squash still defying the odds and managing to avoid being eaten by a bunny.

But I’m really excited about next year.  With my garden gone, I sat down in the yard last Friday and just relished my space.  While I had a terrible gardening year- it was not all for naught.  I learned quite  a bit about where we live.  Number one: there are no feral cats in our corner of the city.  Because of that, the critters and rodents are abundant.  Nothing I did this year kept the rabbits away, so we’re going to do the one thing I know to do to beat them.  And that is go up.

Andy is going to build me raised beds that are two feet tall- plenty of height to keep the rabbits out.   The raised beds will also be adaptable, so that we can make one or two a hoophouse and maybe get a jump start on growing season.  Fencing will be our friend, and I’m going to have to invest in floating row cover as well to keep the squirrels out when the seeds are first in the ground.

I’ve learned that next year I want to cut back on tomatoes.  Oh, I love them dearly, but I’d like to focus on the ones that I know taste delicious, as well as the more abundant ones.  I plan to trial one or two new varieties, but 20 new-to-me plants at once are a little silly.   Next year I will have an abundance of tomatoes.

Is it spring yet?

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