September 2, 2010

Summertime Treats

I love this tomato! It is a heirloom tomato called Pineapple. I was starting to wonder if I was ever going to get any ripe tomatoes from this plant but in the last 10 days it has really started to put out a bunch of gorgeous ripe tomatoes. The inside is also gold and red which makes it a real beauty in a salad. I confess that I didn't make this salad but my husband did one night for dinner. I think I've ate at least a pound of tomatoes in one form or another every day. One of my quickest dishes is to toast sourdough bread, drizzle with a bit of olive oil, add a thick slice of tomato that's lightly salted and then top with a perfectly poached egg. It's a great breakfast and very filling.

I also dug of part of my potato crop and since most of the potatoes were small I made a new twist on potato salad. I used just a few spices and mayonnaise and adapted a recipe from a cookbook. Here are the few spices that I used. I think the Adobo was the  key and gave a great flavor to the salad.
I was pretty disappointed in the flowering potatoes that I planted. I only got a few small potatoes from them and they never did flower. I may have to take part of the blame because I think I may have watered them too much. I had them in a raised bed that had the water timer set to daily watering and I think that it was just too wet for them. Also I planted them with beans and I don't think that worked very well. The potatoes fell over the beans and I kind of forgot about them until the bean pod was too big. The idea of companion planting probably works great in a normal garden in the ground but in a 4X8 bed there is just too much competition for space and neither one of them came out a winner.

August 2, 2010

Harvest Cat

My neighbor cat Stripey seems to like the veggies as much as I do! The eggplants have really started to come on with all the heat we've had this summer. It's been the best eggplant harvest I've had. The Lavender Touch eggplants are doing the best but Dusky is catching up. I've had about a dozen Tigerella tomatoes so far. There are lots of big green ones still waiting to ripen. Even though my Lemon cucumbers are a tiny plant they have knocked out 3 cucumbers so far. Stripey is laying on my one Diva green cucumber. The beans have done ok but I won't plant them with potatoes again. The potatoes have just taken over too much of the bed. I may get motivated to put in a few more bean seeds to get a late harvest. Last week I planted a few lettuce,carrot and beet seeds. It's hard to know with all the heat if they'll even sprout but I'll give them a few weeks before I seed some more.

July 29, 2010

Black Swallowtail In the Caterpillar Stage

Today as I was watering my parsley I found this interesting caterpillar. I did a little research on the web and found out that it's a black swallowtail butterfly in the full grown caterpillar stage. There are about 5 of these caterpillars on one small parsley plant. I've never seen them on any of my parsley plants before. I don't even mind if they eat the whole parsley plant. What a gorgeous creature and it will only be more beautiful when it morphs into the black swallowtail butterfly. Here's a link to the metamorphosis of a black swallowtail. Hopefully in a few weeks I'll see the caterpillar turn into a butterfly that will look like this.

July 21, 2010

July 7, 2010

Raspberries Galore

The raspberries are here! Thankfully my neighbor called and told me that my raspberries were ripe. I don't usually have to get a voicemail to tell me when to harvest my raspberries but I had just got back from a lovely family reunion in Oregon and I still hadn't been out in the garden yet. Her timing was spot on and I immediately went out and picked some. I wish I could tell you what varieties I have but I don't remember. I do know that the ones I transplanted from my mother's garden in Washington are much better than the ones I had. Strangely enough those also seem to not be bothered as much by the dreaded Japanese beetles. Oh, they are still eating a few but at least I'm harvesting more berries than beetles. I'm eating lots of them fresh but I also am freezing some for raspberry sorbet.

Wordless Wednesday

May 31, 2010

Let's Get It Started!

If this isn't just a party in a box I don't know what is. These little gems are going to be flowering potatoes and they just made me smile when I opened the box. Hopefully the potatoes will be as good to eat as the packaging looks.

This is the week that as a gardener I look forward to all year. The end of May is the official last frost date in Chicagoland and all the vegetables can safely be planted out. This is actually the latest I've planted out but it was a busy month with work so although I feel off track a bit I'm really right on schedule.

I planted the flowering potatoes with three types of beans. In "Great Garden Companions" by Sally Jean Cunningham she claims that planting potatoes and bean together helps to reduces the number of Colorado potato beetles and Mexican bean beetles. We'll see, but I think the flowering potatoes will look pretty with green, purple and yellow beans.

I also got all the tomatoes planted even though they we're looking pretty leggy. I just end up digging a trench and planting the stems horizontally. This helps give the tomatoes a good root system and allegedly an earlier harvest.

My eggplants were the largest that I've ever planted out so I'm hoping for a productive and early harvest from them. I am starting to see some flea beetle holes in the leaves but I'm hoping that they're large enough to not let that damage them too much.

I put in four peppers so far with several more to add. I hope to plant more carrots ,lettuce and beets this week as well.

It's been a hot spring so far and I hope that this bodes well for the coming summer so that I'll have lots of heat loving veggies to share.

May 6, 2010

Batavia Plain Dirt Gardener's Plant Sale

Don't forget that the Batavia Plain Dirt Garden Plant Sale is this Saturday May 8th from 9am-12pm at the Bethany Lutheran Church near Route 31 and Wilson Street in Batavia Illinois. There will be thousands of nursery grown and member grown plants have been dug from members gardens. They always have a great selection of native plants and because they come from local gardens they are adapted to our local climate. Proceeds go to the Wild Flower Sanctuary and fund scholarships given by the Batavia Plain Dirt Gardener Club. I'll give you fair warning that the line starts outside early around 8am and most plants are gone earlier than the noon cut off. This is a great opportunity to support the club and get great native plants for an inexpensive price.

May 2, 2010

Lettuce and Broccoli and Cauliflower, Oh My!

The lettuce in my "Salad Bowl" bed is looking good despite my best efforts to impede it's growth. I have to admit I'm not very good with the hardening off stage of gardening. Yes, I did acclimate the lettuce seedlings by putting them outside for two weeks but I left them on the shaded front porch and didn't get them used to the sun a few hours at a time. All of a sudden they were getting too big for the APS pots and had to go in the ground now! I pried them apart as best I could, stuck them in the bed with lots of compost, watered gently, covered them with row covers to shade them and then left for San Francisco for three days. Thankfully they forgave me and after looking near death and tattered they have staged a surprising come back. I call this my "Salad Bowl" bed because in addition to the lettuce I just planted onion and shallot bulbs here and will plant parsley shortly. That way I can just walk off the deck and grab what I need for a salad.

I've also had the broccoli, pak choi and purple cauliflower sitting on the shady front porch and with a few days of forecasted clouds decided to get them into the ground as well without fully adapting them to the sun's strong rays. I don't really recommend this to anyone unless they use row covers or shade cloth. It's an experiment for this lazy gardener that so far seems to be working out well. I mean who really has the time to be trotting your plants in and out of the sun every few hours for a week? Certainly not me!

April 29, 2010

Batavia Green Walk Friday April 30th 5-8pm

Come on out and enjoy the Batavia Green Walk this Friday April 30th from 5-8pm in downtown Batavia. Check out the link at for more information. There will be plants available for sale and many local businesses will be hosting information on conservation, the new Batavia Community Garden and worm composting.

April 28, 2010

Wordless Wednesday

The Butchart Gardens in Victoria B.C.

April 21, 2010

April 3, 2010

Tomato Seeds Planted

I've really had to sit on my hands and delay the tomato seed planting. Every year I start them in mid March and by the time I can plant them out around mid May they are a bit too leggy and I really have to bury them deep. This year I was going to show a bit more self restraint and hold off on seed planting until early April. Today, I had to deliberate over which seeds to plant and I looked back on the last 10 years of garden notes. Funny enough it seemed like each year has been challenging for tomatoes. Granted, I do like to plant mostly heirlooms so maybe that's my issue. I figure why plant a tomato that has no diseases if it means it has no taste. I compromised by planting one F1 hybrid Polfast just in case we have another "challenging" summer for tomatoes.

I really like tomatoes with different colors so I think that turned out to be this year's tomato theme. I planted Golden Queen tomato which is an heirloom with golden orange color. I last planted this 2 years ago and had a bumper crop. They're not the prettiest in shape because they tend to split into twins but the taste is excellent and they have huge fruits. Tigerella was my favorite tomato last year because of it's red and yellow-orange stripped fruits. It was prolific last year and even though they're only about 3 inches around they are great for salads. A fun yellow tomato is Manyel. I like to alternate this one with orange tomatoes in a Caprese salad. Beautiful! I'm going to give Pineapple another chance because the few that I got last year were big beefsteak type tomatoes that were blemish free with orange and yellow stripes. I guess I really prefer the taste of orange tomatoes to the almost too sweet red ones. I am going to try one large red heirloom, Coustralle. It is supposed to have 3 lb fruits with great flavor however last year it succumbed to the late blight first so I never got to see if this variety lives up to its great ratings. I'm hoping for a relatively hot summer with no late blight and maybe I'll get the chance to try this variety which is the latest to ripen at 85 days from transplanting.

The seeds are in and I'll keep you posted on their progress.

April 2, 2010

Scilla Blooming

I wish this was my woods but this is the scilla blooming at the Fabayan Gardens in Batavia IL. They have obviously colonized for many years. I am going to dig up some of my neighbors scilla(with her permission of course) and try and get my woods to look like this in a few years. I love that it looks like water is flowing between the trees.

March 28, 2010

My Best Garden Investment

Four years ago I made the best garden investment ever! I installed drip irrigation in my raised beds and all the flower beds. It has been not only a garden life saver but also a huge time saver for me. I had been spending about 6 hours a week hand watering the gardens and it was becoming a real chore. I travel quite a bit as a flight attendant and I couldn't always be home to water the garden or expect my husband or neighbor to do it either when I was out of town. I had been debating installing drip irrigation for a while and being neither handy or good with instructions I didn't think I could do it. It was a real surprise how easy installation was. Believe me that if I can do it anyone can do it! I used several starter kits from DIG Corp Drip Irrigation
and over a weekend my husband and I installed them in four different gardens and all twelve of my raised vegetable beds. We also installed water timers on the main spigots.
Each timer waters a different zone in the garden depending on what I have it set for. For the flower beds I have them automatically set to water 2-3 times a week in the morning. In the raised beds I have the timers running daily for about 20 minutes. I use micro sprinklers in the flower beds and drip soaker hose in the raised beds.
As the plants grow larger and when mulch is added the main hose is not really noticeable and the sprayers are not very obvious. The only problem I have is that there is no longer a local distributor for the DIG products and you'll have to order online. Home Depot does carry them on the West Coast but not in the Midwest. WalMart has it's own line of drip irrigation products and it's adequate but I prefer the sprayers from DIG.

I have become enamored of drip irrigation and I've installed it on all my patio pots as well as the hanging baskets on the front porch. I think once you try it you'll be a convert too. You may even find that you have time to spend relaxing in the garden. Now I just need to buy a bench!

For a quick guide to drip irrigation here's a link: DIG Corp Drip Irrigation Easy Guide

March 21, 2010

The Joy of Seeds

I've finally done some of my early seed starting and I'm having some success. I've learned the value of "fresh"aka new seeds. I started these new lettuce seeds inside in the APS growing system and 2 days later they had sprouted. I normally don't start lettuce inside but this year I'm wanting to plant them out in a pattern alternating some of the green and red lettuces in the raised beds. In one of the rows I planted Ruby lettuce seed from a few seasons ago and it has yet to sprout. Under optimum conditions lettuce seed viability could be about 5 years but since I keep mine in a cupboard in the basement and not in a fridge I'm not expecting them to last that long. Besides, when you compare the cost of buying a bag of the fancy lettuce with a few packets of seeds that will provide lettuce in the garden for 3 months it's a bargain to start with new seeds each year. Below is a list of the seeds that I have started so far.

Lettuce started inside on 3/10( all Pinetree Garden Seeds). Sprouted 3/12
New Red Fire
Tom Thumb
May Queen
Red Grendbloise
Ruby(not Pinetree Garden Seeds)

seeds started 3/10. Sprouted 3/13
Small Miracle
Early Dividend

started 3/10. Sprouted 3/13

started 3/14.
Lavender Touch-sprouted 3/20
Pingtung Long

started 3/14
Ancho Hot Pepper

started 3/14
Impatiens Accent Star Mix
Begonia Bronze Leaf Mix
Dahlia Red Skin Mix
Marigold Lemon Star
White Chrysanthemum Paludosum
Hollyhock Black
Hollyhock Queeny Purple
Rehmannia Chinese Foxglove
Aster Perser Mix
Datura Black Currant
Coleus Black Dragon
Streptocarpus Weismoor Formula

March 8, 2010

Time For A Trim

Here is my favorite Jackmanii Clematis in the garden in June/July.
It's not so lovely in March but if you want it to live up to its gorgeous potential you have to make some drastic cuts now. There are 3 different groups of clematis that are defined by when they bloom and each type needs a different approach when it comes to pruning. The Jackmanii is in Group 3(also called C) which means it blooms on new wood. Therefore it needs to be pruned to about 12-14 inches in the spring. I know it sounds drastic and the first time I pruned it this low after about 2 years I wanted to cry. I thought I had killed it. It made a spectacular return that year and grew about 8 feet. So get out your pruners and enforce some tough love on your clematis if it's the type that grows on new wood. You'll be thrilled with the results come July even if it's a bit hard to look at now.

A Fine Mess

I usually try and clean most of the garden debris up in the fall but I admit I didn't quite finish up in time before the snow started falling this year so I'm left with a fine mess.

Saturday, March 6th, the snow had finally melted enough on the south garden that I could start cleaning up. I still have the north, east and west gardens that need to be cleaned but this at least is a start. It's beginning to feel a bit like spring. Yippee!! I did notice that a few daffodils were beginning to sprout. There is also the small bits of sedum and mum that are always early in poking their green heads out of the ground. I had a good amount of snow covering the garden for most of the winter so I'm hoping that it did it's job as an insulator and I won't lose too many plants. It's always a bit of a surprise to me that as soon as the snow melts there is new growth happening in the garden. I've left some of the leaves on the garden for protection as March and April in the Chicago area can be a bit tricky and we still can see lots of snow. However, I did get the garden in a bit better shape.