I can only hope that there is some gardening DNA in my genes. My aunt and uncle have created an amazing garden that gives me great inspiration. I wanted to share it so you could all be equally inspired. All photos are courtesy of Ernie Olson.
I don't know if it was the cool, wet weather in 2009 but it was the best bean year I've ever had. My deep freeze has about 25 bags of frozen beans in it and we probably had beans every night for dinner from July until October. Not only was Provider an outstanding provider of beans it also had fantastic disease resistance. Even when the plant was going on 3 months old it just kept tossing of great new beans. I planted a second batch in mid July but I probably would not have needed to because the old plants just kept chugging along. The basket of beans pictured was the average harvest every day from maybe 20 plants. Needless to say my friends and neighbors had a bounty of beans coming from the garden.
Early Dividend SG Broccoli (F1 hybrid, 43 days)
Again, I think the weather had more to do with my broccoli success than anything I contributed. These plants were almost unstoppable. Many times I had forgot to cut a head off and it went to flower but once I cut the flowering head off it gave lots of large side shoots and even smaller heads. They were in the garden the longest of any plant from early April until late October.
Graffiti Cauliflower(F1 hybrid,75 days)
Here's the winner for most beautiful vegetable in my garden. The weather certainly is responsible for her. There are some years when I just cannot get her to grow. I think the cool weather again was just to her liking as I had about 8 of these beauties in the garden. Unfortunately, she started to look her best when I was on vacation in September so I didn't get to see her until I came home and my neighbor has placed all 8 of her heads in my fridge. This is a great vegetable for a crudite plate and will take your breath away paired with carrots.
I confess that I love to grow this plant because it's so pretty but I hardly eat any of them except for a few in coleslaw. It's got great disease resistance and holds in the garden for a very long time. I think there are actually some frozen ones out there right now.
Gonzales Mini Cabbage(Hybrid)
A great small cabbage that makes a perfect large bowl of coleslaw from one head. My only complaint is that it seems to be a magnet for cabbage moths. I end up leaving it in the garden too long and it gets full of holes from them. Still, I prefer this size cabbage to huge ones.
Dusky Eggplant(F1 Hybrid, 63 days)
This is a good smaller eggplant. The lack of heat this year made it only grow to about 6 inches but it was still great for grilling. The leaves get lots of flea beetles but it doesn't seem to affect the fruits too much.
Pinetree Lettuce Mix
I like this lettuce mix because it's all leaf and sweet lettuce with no bitter or spicy varieties in it. Also you can start cutting it at about 40 days. It does get bitter when the weather starts to heat up. I made additional sowings in July and August but for some reason they didn't sprout. Next year I'll start some seeds inside in early June and plant out as starts for a summer harvest. I usually sow directly in early May and have lots of lettuce in mid to late June.
The 2010 Pinetree Garden Seed catalog has arrived and I hope to get my seeds ordered before the end of the year. Before I do that I want to review last year's garden successes and failures. By the way, all of last years seeds were ordered from Pinetree Garden Seeds 2009 catalog.
TOMATOES: Ultimate Opener(F1 Hybrid, 57 days) This was the first tomato of the season but it was only about a week earlier than Tigerella. It had average flavor and good disease resistance.
Tigerella(English Heirloom, 55-65 days) This was my favorite tomato this year. It was quite pretty with it's subtle stripes and had great flavor. The fruits were small at 2 inches but were great for quartering for a salad or pasta. It was very prolific. Now that I see that it was an English heirloom I know why it did well in our strangely cool summer. Tigerella was also the last of the tomatoes to succumb to early blight and by mid September even they died.
Manyel(heirloom) This was a great tomato to layer in a Caprese Salad along with Tigerella. So beautiful! Surprisingly tart and not weak flavored at all. Probably the most prolific of all the tomatoes until it was struck down by late blight in early September. It grows in clusters of 5 and had a good mid-size fruit.
Yellow Currant If you want TONS of tiny thumbnail size tomatoes this is the plant for you. I literally could not pick all of these. They are prone to cracking especially after heavy rain. They are quite vining and took over a whole 6 foot concrete reinforcing wire cage from top to bottom and up the other cage. I actually prefer the taste of Sun Gold or Yellow Pear when it comes to small tomatoes.
Cuostralee(French Heirloom) I wish I actually could show you a picture of the fruits but just as they were starting to ripen within 3 days the entire plant succumbed to late blight disease. They would have been my largest tomatoes because they were about 2-3 pounds each.
It was a very challenging year for tomatoes. Most of July was cool in the mid to low 70's. Perfect for me but the tomatoes were slow to ripen. The first one ripened around the 3rd week in July. At the end of August we had cold, wet rains which I think helped lead to late blight. By the middle of September I had to pull up all the tomatoes because they were rotten from the late blight. Also, most of the tomatoes I planted this year were heirlooms and I don't think they had much disease resistance. I'll try most of them again though because they were all great tasting and I think they would do fine with regular summer heat.
This is not my plants dressing up for Halloween as ghosts. Last night( October 10) we had our first freeze of the fall season. I was attempting to eek out a few more days with the annuals on the deck but I think I'll concede defeat and let nature take it's course. Some of the most tender annuals such as the begonias are already looking much worse for wear. I did manage to get in all the tender plants that I'll try and overwinter as houseplants. The whole south side of the house is floor to ceiling windows so I get a lot of light. I may even get a bit too much sunshine as sometimes the plants tend to burn and scorch. I'm going to make a valiant attempt to keep the bugs off the houseplants this year. I've sprayed them once with Organocide and watered them with a mixture of water with a few drops of dish soap. If anyone has advice on overwintering annuals as houseplants I'd appreciate it.
The dining room gets a tropical look when I bring in the plants. I had some trouble last year with scale on the orange tree but I still managed to get 3 oranges from it.
I really hope I can manage to keep this 3 foot tall Angel Wing Begonia from losing all it's beautiful large leaves. My mom bought it for me because the nursery was going to throw it out soon(too pot bound) and we couldn't bear to see such a beauty destroyed.
Also thank you to My Chicago Garden for the heads up last week about the coming frost. I appreciate the early warning so I could get my plants in the house before the frost/freeze.
I'd like to tell you about the tale of Gardenia. First, let's go back to about 1978 in a hot Chrysler Chevrolet with the windows rolled down. It was 100 degrees and we were on the flat plains of Northwestern Minnesota coming home from our 2 week family vacation at Grandma's house. I don't know why we were told this tale of Gardenia. Maybe my parents were tired of us asking, "Are we there yet." All I know is that my dad told us that if we were good(meaning no fighting and stay silent for the next 3 days)we would go to Gardenia when we got back to our home in Washington State. Oh boy, Gardenia! My parents wouldn't tell us where it was and I remember us kids guessing the whole way home. Maybe it's in California! Maybe it's an amusement park! We were so excited that after spending 2 weeks visiting with old relatives on farms we were finally going to go somewhere cool. We were perfect the rest of the drive home so we could make sure that we could go to Gardenia. The sad end to this story is that we were TRICKED!! When we got back home the truth of Gardenia's location was told. Gardenia, the place of our dreams, was really a trip to the garden to pull weeds. From that moment on I vowed never to have a garden. Gardens were stupid! They were lots of work and meant no fun all summer till I weeded the corn or whatever crop needed weeding that week. I would never willingly look at a garden again!
Fast forward 31 years later and gardening is one of the great joys in my life. I guess it was in my genes,although pretty regressive. I didn't have any interest in gardening until I was almost 30. My parents were visiting my home in Illinois and somehow we ended up planting a very tiny garden in the backyard. Those 3 tomato plants and 2 peppers didn't do all that well as I recall but it did get me started on this obsession. Now, when I look back on Gardenia, I'm grateful that it wasn't an amusement park after all but a life long lesson in nurturing, patience and the joy of gardening.
This is what all my rose buds look like right now. Seriously! The kamikaze attack by the Japanese Beetle is in full swing. I actually lowered my organic gardening standards and I've sprayed twice with Sevin and they still come back in hordes. I do go out and shake them into a bucket of soapy water twice a day but it looks like I won't have any roses until September when they diminish. I think they are in full reproductive mode and hopefully will slow down soon. I've applied Milky Spore Disease for the past 3 years but I think they just keep flying in. I read somewhere that they fly in from 5 miles away so unless everyone in your neighborhood is battling them you're bound to have some in your garden if you live east of the Mississippi River. In my experience they love roses, raspberries, hibiscus, dahlias, grapes and morning glories. In the no good deed goes unpunished category they were imported in the early 20th century to eat aphids. I have to admit I don't have an aphid problem so maybe that's the bright side.
The garlic has been harvested on August 2nd so it's safe to say that no vampires have been seen in the garden. I planted it last October so it definitely is a crop you have to have patience with. It had great big heads this year and a huge crop so I think we'll be eating garlic until next year's harvest. I have it drying in the shed on racks and will hang it in the basement later. I let the soil dry on them for a few days then just brush it off before I store them. I think it helps them last longer that way rather than hosing all the dirt off when you dig them up. That's the other pointer is to make sure you dig them up not pull them up because the stem will break off and you'll end up leaving your garlic in the ground.
I had the first tomatoes of the season today on July 28th. I had one medium sized Wayahead which kind of lived up to it's name. The stripped Tigerella tomatoes are also starting to ripen but are smaller than I expected. I'm getting a few tiny Yellow Currant tomatoes as well. All in all I'm just glad to get a few tomatoes before August. I have seen on other blogs that their tomatoes are late in ripening too.
I harvested 2 Japanese climbing cucumbers that I have climbing up a twine trellis as well as one small Bush cucumber. I'm really impressed with the bush beans which just keep on coming and have looked better than they ever have with no blemishes. I've been picking them daily and have frozen about 8 small bags already. The pattypan squash got a little big when I was out of town for 2 days but I sliced it up and threw it into pasta primervera.
The harvest season is finally starting in the garden. This week I've cut and ate most of the broccoli. I made a big cold salad with it using red onions, bacon, mayo, sunflower seeds and raisins. Yummy! This is what the broccoli looked like in the garden. I also dug up the first red potatoes of the season and added them to my tuna nicoise salad along with a few fresh green beans from the garden.
I can't believe how fast the garden changed in the last 6 weeks since I posted a blog. I really haven't been able to keep up with it all. Sometimes I'd like to freeze a moment in the garden like when it was all flowering in shades of purple then it's on to the next season of flowers. Now, I'm in the heart of the Lily season and then that becomes my favorite garden of the moment. I guess that the changes in the garden are a metaphor for life. You're at a certain spot where you think you want to stay forever but around the next corner you find that life is different but perhaps better than that moment that came before.
It's been a busy couple of weeks in the garden. Most of the mulch has been spread onto the raised vegetable beds and flower beds. I did talk my husband into building 2 more raised beds. We saw a great one from Sunset Magazine that I had him copy. I like it so much that when the rest of the beds need to be remade in a few years we'll definitely follow Sunset's example. Here's a picture of how ours turned out. I'm running out of full sun areas in the garden due to a neighbor's maple tree that started out as a weed seedling along the fence line and now has matured into a 30 foot behemoth. I squeezed this bed into a previously unused area behind my rhubarb plants. It gets about 6 hours of sun a day so hopefully the Coustralle tomatoes that I planted there will be able to grow and fruit.
I was able to get all the tomatoes planted just a day after we had a late frost(May17th). I ended up planting 14 tomato plants. Cuostralee is a large red French heirloom that supposedly grows 3 pound fruits. Manyel is a yellow heirloom that has a citrus flavor. Tigerella is an early English heirloom with orange and red stripes. Pineapple is a heirloom beefsteak tomato with yellow and oranges stripes on the inside and out. I'm also growing Yellow Currant tomatoes which are tiny and obviously yellow. I have some Ultimate Opener tomatoes that I still haven't decided whether to plant or just give away. The plants look a bit wimpy and yellow so they may just end up in the compost pile. Here's how it all looks.
I planted my six hanging baskets all with seeds I had sown earlier this spring. They have white begonias, black dragon coleus, butterfly mix impatiens, blue lobelia and a pink caladium in the center. They're small now but will fill out quickly. The best part though is knowing that instead of spending $40 for each basket at a nursery I probably spent $1 literally on each one. Here's a closer look. I also moved the rest of the plants to the shady north side of the house for a few days of acclimating themselves to the outdoors. Then they'll spend a few days on the south side getting some sunshine before I move them into the garden.
I have this sign posted on my garden shed door but so far I haven't received any inquiries for employment. This time of year I could really do with a few extra hands helping me out. Why does it seem like I wait and wait for spring and then all at once things are growing out of control, weeds need to be pulled, compost needs to be spread. I really thought I was on top of things this year but again the beginning of May comes and EVERYTHING HAS TO BE DONE NOW!!!! At least that seems like what the garden is saying. I probably feel this way because this was dumped in the driveway yesterday. By the end of the day I had shoveled maybe 1/4 of it(about 1 cubic yard) into my raised beds. This is mushroom compost, one of the best things you can add to your garden. Even though I make my own garden compost it seems like there is never enough to add to all the beds so I get some local mushroom compost. One of the best things about it is it's weed free and has been through a pasteurization process that kills pests and diseases. All this and it's a great low dose fertilizer too.
After all my hard work I had to get a little pleasure so I planted my broccoli, cabbage and pak choi in the amended beds. I had been hardening them off outside for the past week. Honestly, they probably could have used a bit more time getting used to the sun but I figured since clouds and rain were in the forecast I should get them out while I could. I'm doing a little experiment and have put a cold frame(open on the sides) over some of the broccoli and cabbage and left the others exposed. I'm going to see if the ones in the cold frame grow any quicker.
I just transplanted my tomatoes into the large APS system and bigger pots. They'll be ready to go outside in the ground hopefully around May 20th. Tomatoes like to be transplanted at least once before they go in the garden. This helps them develop larger and stronger roots. So far, the tomatoes are looking great- much healthier than ones you buy.
I'm also hardening off the caladium, artichokes, pansies, broccoli, cabbage and pak choi on the front porch on the north side of the house. It's nice and shady there and protected from the spring winds that have been blowing. Next week I'll introduce them to the sun slowly. By May 8th I'll try and get them in the raised beds. I still need to buy some composted manure and add to the beds. I also need to get a batch of worm compost tea brewing as that helps the new transplants adapt to the outdoors.
It's amazing how the garden seems to pop open all at once. We had our first thunderstorm of the spring last night with lightning and thunder. It really jump starts the garden as everything responds to the nitrogen in the atmosphere after a thunderstorm. In a way this time of spring is like grabbing onto the end of a kite in a wind storm as it seems like all the garden chores pile up in a hurry. The seedlings in the basement have become plants and they want to go out NOW! The garden beds need a layer of mushroom compost and cow manure before I start to plant. Cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower have to be hardened off before I set them into the garden. The tomatoes need to be re potted once more before setting out. It will all get done before long but I'm feeling the pressure of getting the garden season truly underway.
I'm not an expert gardener by a long stretch but I do enjoy growing my plants from seed. I mostly do this because I'm a frugal gardener but I also appreciate how it helps get me through a long Midwest winter.