February and March 2022: The Gardening Frenzy

As often happens in spring, I’m so busy doing the gardening that I don’t have the time or energy to write about the gardening I’m doing. So, here’s a summary of that’s all gone on the last few weeks.

All spring crops and spring flowers have now been sown. I’ve built two new small raised beds close to the back deck which will serve as my greens bed–several types of lettuce, spinach, and chard, as well as leeks and green onions. Herbs have been planted in my smaller greenstalk, also near the back deck. I planted some broccoli seedlings as well, but the snow/hard freeze we had at the end of March killed them off.) I also broke down and ordered some onions starts from Dixondale Farms when my leeks and other onion seedlings did not seem to be faring well; those are all now planted in my large raised beds farther back in the yard. My various onion, leek, and shallot seedlings are still coming along, and will hopefully be ready to plant out later this month.

As for spring flowers, I’ve had a lot of success with my sweet peas and pansies/violas, as well as my lobelia. My snapdragons, not so much. I put a few out before what turned out ot be a hard freeze, and they did not survive. 😦 On to round 2 of sowing snapdragons.

I also ended up purchasing a bunch of tubers/bare root plants, because I was inundated with a million garden catalogues and I only have so much restraint. I received a great looking bunch of purple viking potatoes from Gurney, but they were so fresh and juicy that when I cut them up, they all got very moldy and I had to toss them. Still chitting up are some french fingerling potatoes and red gold potatoes. Still to arrive are two types of raspberry bushes (most of mine died last year, due to some kind of disease); a trio of blueberry bushes; and some thornless blackberry bushes as well. As none of my asparagus seems to have survived the winter, despite growing very well last year, I also had put in another order of asparagus crowns.

I also picked up a new dwarf Fuji apple tree (“Reachables” variety, from Gurney) because I was finally able to find one in stock! The full-size Fuji apple I’ve tended since last spring will go to a friend with a much bigger yard. I also picked up two bare root yellow roses from Costco at $15 or so a pop, which was a great deal. (The red roses I picked up there last year are all thriving.) And my dahlia tubers are all ordered, but not shipped yet as I’m in Zone 5a/b.

Still to sow are my warm weather crops. This weekend I will finally get my tomatoes, peppers, and tomatillos sown. The flowers and all of my curcurbita crops (melons, cucumbers, squash) will get direct sown in May, as they don’t like to have their roots messed with. Also, I only have so much space left in my grown room in the basement!

Spring is definitely here, and I’m swamped. Hopefully I’ll be able to keep up with the blogging this summer, but no promises. Happy gardening!

One Seed Challenge, 2022

One of the things I picked up from Nicole over at Flower Hill Farm is the idea of the One Seed Challenge (#oneseedchallenge). The main idea with this being that, yes, seeds are cheap, and we usually have many more than we could ever use, but it’s easy in the midst of that to lose the value of the seed itself. Any and every seed could be the start of a beautiful or nourishing plant. One seed could, in time, grow a tree strong enough to take down stone walls, or provide the underlying root structure to that could prevent acres of valuable topsoil from blowing away. Seeds, though many, are powerful on their own.

The seed I’m using for this challenge was very generously sent to me from a member of the Flower Hill Farm 2022 Grow-Along FB group. He had a bunch of Floret seeds to pass out, and I received a few Moonstone Aster seeds. I have one planted up now, in the hopes that it will pull through (and not get lost in the hundreds of other seeds I’ll be sowing this spring!) As it is, though I thought I had an almost full packet of aster seeds fromBaker Creek, the packet is missing, so this will be the only aster plant I’m growing this year. The variety–Moonstone–is my favorite color of aster, a dusky lavender. I can’t wait to see it grow!

Seed Sowing, February 2022

Well, this month has almost gotten away with me. I’ve gotten a lot done–the basement greenhouse is finished, and I’ve sown over 50 varieties of plants at last count. I don’t have as much time or energy to blog now that I’m not laid up with a knee surgery. Hopefully this extra mobility will make sowing spring crops much easier!

Here’s what I’ve sown this month:

2/6/22:

Ranunculus, Tomer PurpleLongfield Gardens
Ranunculus, Tomer RedLongfield Gardens
Ranunculus, Tomer WhiteLongfield Gardens

2/8/22:

Poppy, Icelandic–Pastel MeadowsFloret Flowers

2/10/22:

Snapdragon, Madame Butterfly MixedJohnny’s Seeds
Snapdragon, Madame Butterfly B w/ WhiteJohnny’s Seeds
Snapdragon, Night and DayBotanical Interests
Snapdragon, Magic Carpet Blend Botanical Interests
Poppy, Iceland–Pastel MeadowsFloret Flowers
Pepper, Black Pearl (decorative)Botanical Interests
Pepper, Sugar Rush Peach (hot)Baker Creek

2/14/22:

Pansy, Lake of ThunBaker Creek
Pansy, Berna Velvet Blue Baker Creek
Pansy, Swiss Giants Mix Baker Creek
Viola, King Henry Botanical Interests
Viola, Johnny-Jump-Up ViolaBotanical Interests
Viola, Brush Strokes Baker Creek
Viola, Cool Summer BreezeBotanical Interests
Lobelia, Crystal PalaceBotanical Interests
Thyme, GardenSustainable Seeds
Mint, Green Lemon BalmBaker Creek
Mint, CatnipBaker Creek
Cilantro, Slo-BoltMI Gardener
Cilantro, SantoJohnny’s Seeds
Bok Choy, Purple Lady Baker Creek
Cabbage, KalibosBaker Creek
Lettuce, NancyJohnny’s Seeds
Lettuce, Parris Island Cos (Romaine)Baker Creek
Lettuce, Salanova Red ButterJohnny’s Seeds
Spinach, AurochsJohnny’s Seeds
Celery, Chinese Pink CuttingBaker Creek

2/16/22:

Leek, King Richard (organic)Johnny’s Seeds
Onion, Sierra Blanca F1 (white, bulb)Johnny’s Seeds
Onion, Rossa di Milano (red, bulb)Johnny’s Seeds
Lettuce, Winter DensityPinetree Seeds
Broccoli, BurgundyGurney’s Seeds
Gomphrena, Salmon Pastel Baker Creek
Gomphrena, CarmineJohnny’s Seeds
Aster, MoonstoneFloret Flowers

Seed Planning, 2022: What I Learned from Last Year’s Seed Starts

Lat year I started a bunch of seeds. I followed the seed packets to the letter, erring on the side of longer when seed packets gave a range of days. I use my expected last frost date as the first week of May, which, according to both the local weatherman and many online sources, was correct. I didn’t give much extra fertilizer to my starts–in fact, most didn’t get any fertilizer until I planted them out.

That said, I still ended up with a nearly unmanageable jungle of oversized starts in my basement and living room by mid-April. It was a massive hassle up-potting and moving pots in and out doors in May, waiting for that final frost to hit. And then, after the plants were finally outside, at the end of May we had a few days of light frost. Augh!

It was a massive hassle that I am determined to avoid this year. This year I’l planning on a last frost date of May 15, with the reminder that I’m in 5a/b; I have enough time to grow pretty much anything before my first frost date, around early October, sets in.

Things I learned from last year:

Some hot peppers take forever to grow. Like, 12 weeks before they start to put on any significant growth. So, it’s okay to start those early. However, most mild or sweet peppers take about as long as the seed packets state, so 6-8 weeks or so. That said, peppers are EXTREMELY frost sensitive. There’s no point to putting them out until all chance of frost is a distant memory. So this year, I won’t be starting any but my hottest peppers until the beginning of April, at the earliest, with the plan of transplanting my peppers out around early June.

Tomatoes, however, grow really fast. Especially the cherry tomatoes. These were some of my biggest culprits last year. I still have nightmares about them constantly outgrowing their pots. I’m not even going to think about starting these until early April and transplanting them mid-May. (Again, there’s no real rush. I live in 5 a/b. I have a decently long growing season.)

Tomatillos also grow really fast. They are just as bad as the tomatoes, if not worse. I’m not starting them until April. Eggplants, the last of the nightshades I grew, took a while to get going. I put them in the same category with the peppers. If I were growing eggplants this year, I’d start them in early to Mid-March, depending on variety.

Another plant that grows extremely fast is Napa (or Chinese) cabbage. Do not start this one until you have thawed ground and a bed to put it in. When the seed seller says it hits maturity in 60 days, they are not lying.

Some plants I’m not planning on starting at all–I’m just going to wait until the weather is right and sow them in situ. I’ve found that a winter squash sown in plans in May will grow just as fast as a winter squash sown inside in April and them put outside to start hardening off in May. And, if you sow it directly, there’s no need to harden off starts! Other plants that this works well for are peas, beans, nasturtiums, and moonflowers. Essentially, anything with a large seed should work well for this.

Some plants that did not germinate and grow as fast as I’d like are beets, chard, and rutabagas, so I’m going to start these this week, as I like to be able to put out sizable starts. I’m hoping the ground will be thawed by mid-April. I also had no luck with my sweet peas last year, so even though, as peas, they will likely grow quickly, I am starting them early just in case. And as they are a cold-tolerant plant, I should be able to put them out pretty early.

Garden Update, 2/8/22

So far, all of my alliums have germinated–the shallots broke the surfaces the quickest, with the leeks and Alisa Craig bringing up the rear. Also, while I was waiting a good week or so for my root trainers (they got caught up in the massive snowstorm in the East last week), my sweet peas sprouted. The High Scent and Perfume Delight had the best germination–100%. Two days ago, I potted them up into the root trainers and two seeds have already broken the surface as well. The lisianthus, as expected, has not yet made a showing.

This past weekend I also planted my ranunculus–three Tomer varieties from Longfield Gardens. I soaked them for four hours and them planted them into Bootstrap Farmer’s 5″x5″ grow trays, set in the usual 10″x20″ bottom watering trays. I had no luck with my ranunculus last year, so here’s hoping these sprout! I also attempted to plant the snowdrops that I didn’t get around to planting last fall, but the ground is still frozen solid–solid as a rock 😦 Maybe in March.

Next up: snapdragons and some of my slowest-growing hot peppers.

Seed Starting: January 2022

Yes! I have started my first set of seeds. Yes, I’m in zone 5a/b. No, I’m not crazy (as far as I know!). Here’s what I’ve started so far:

First sowing: 1/31/22

Veggies:

Leek, King Richard (organic)Johnny’s Seeds
Onion, Alisa Craig (yellow, bulb)Seed Savers Exchange
Onion, Sierra Blanca F1 (white, bulb)Johnny’s Seeds
Onion, Rossa di Milano (red, bulb)Johnny’s Seeds
Onion, Yellow of Parma (yellow, bulb)Baker Creek
Onion, Zebrune Shallot Baker Creek

I grew onions and leeks last year, mostly as starts from Dixondale Farms. Due to health reasons I didn’t get the starts put into the ground until very late, and that, plus our horribly hot, dry summer, made for a mediocre onion and leek crop. This year I’m not buying starts–I’m going to try to grow all of my alliums from seed. What I remember from the few alliums I did attempt to grow from seed last year is that they took a long time to get big enough to transplant out into the yard, so I’m starting really early. It’s not like they are going to take up a lot of space in my basement greenhouse even if they do get big, and they are pretty sturdy and easy to pot up, so I’m not worried about them getting damaged or rootbound. (Unlike tomatoes and tomatillos, which I’m not even going to think about sowing until at least late April.)

Flowers:

Sweet Pea, Bouquet Blend Botanical Interests
Sweet Pea, High Scent Botanical Interests
Sweet Pea, Knee-Hi Blend Botanical Interests
Sweet Pea, Little SweetheartBotanical Interests
Sweet Pea, Perfume Delight Botanical Interests
Lisianthus, Echo Double MixSeeds ‘n Such

Sweet peas are another plant that I started too late last year, and had very low germination rates and low success with those plants that did germinate. Everyone raves about how amazing they smell, so I am determined to be successful with mine this year. Unfortunately, the root trainer I ordered from Gardener’s Supply is unexpectedly running late (even through FedEx, not USPS) and so, after a day of soaking the seeds, I’ve had to temporarily store them in wet paper towels. If nothing else, this should help me find out which seeds are viable or not.

The lisianthus is, honestly, pretty much a crapshoot–the seed packet arrived smashed, with all of the pelleted coating broken off. As lisianthus are almost impossible to germinate and grow as it is, I will be pleasantly surprised if I get even one viable plant out of the 100 seeds I planted. But who knows? It may work.

I should be sowing my next set of seeds around mid-February, I think.

Garden Review 2021: Warm-Weather Vegetables

This past year I grew a variety of warm-weather vegetables as well. My favorites are the winter squash and watermelons.

Cucumber, Baby Persian–My second year growing these, and still no luck 😦 I’ll keep trying. These are my favorite cukes to snack on during the summer.
Cucumber, Silver Slicer–I grew this variety mainly due to Jess from Roots and Refuge. It grew well, but the skin was thinker than I’d like and it was slightly bitter. (To be fair, I’m highly sensitive to bitter foods.)
Cucumber, Snow’s Fancy Pickling–Grew pretty well. The variety originated in my hometown, which is why I decided to try it. It’s a basic pickling cucumber, and grew pretty well.
Melon, Delice de la Table–I only harvested one of these, and it was right after a big rain and the melon had split. Very tasty lobed cantaloupe variety with a matte orange rind. I’ll grow again this year.
Melon, Kajari–Another variety I grew mainly due to Jess’s ravings about how good it was. Like my other melon, though I only harvested one, right after it split. It tasted like a basic small honeydew melon, imho, though the rind is a pretty orange with green stripes. Will not be growing this year.
Watermelon, Mini Love–I picked this one up on Amazon and tried it because I had not have a lot of luck with larger watermelons, and I’m the only one who likes watermelons in my house in any event. I planted it late in the season and only harvested one fruit, but that fruit was amazing–perfectly sweet, firm flesh, not too many seeds, and just the right size for one person. Upon doing more research I found it was a Johnny’s Seeds F1 variety, and an All American Select winter. It’s also one of Johnny’s most expense varieties. I fully understand why. I will definitely be growing this one again next year.

Summer would not be the same without the nightshade family. I really went overboard in this category as I’m trying to find the varieties that are worth the acid reflux that they usually bring.

Eggplant, Listada de Gandia–This was my first year trying eggplants. This eggplant produced cute, 4″ long purple and white striped eggplants. Very pretty, but as I found out, most eggplants are covered in thick spikes. Probably will not be growing eggplants again this year as I rarely cook with them.
Pepper, Alma Paprika (sweet)–This variety was productive, but unfortunately not as spicy as I had hoped.
Pepper, Aurora (hot, decorative)–This was a decorative pepper that produced yellow, orange, red, and purple 2″ long peppers on a small plant. It made for a nice decorative plant until the peppers started to get overripe, at which point they turned from purple to a grayish-violet color that was pretty gross looking.
Pepper, Bangles Blend–This variety is meant to be a stuffing pepper. It was very prolific but the peppers were small which very thick flesh and a hard skin–no one who I gave them to liked them.
Pepper, Biquinho Yellow (hot)–Cute, small novelty pepper. Moderately hot, slightly lemony taste. This variety took the longest to mature by far–at least five months. Once the plants were up and running, though, they were very productive.
Pepper, Black Pearl (decorative)–The longest growing decorative pepper I’ve grown yet; took four months before it set some fruit. Very cute pepper plant–black-purple leave sand little black berries. I’d actually recommend this one as a nice medium-height decorative plant for a garden.
Pepper, Fish (hot)–Grew relatively fast but took forever to bear fruit. Did not become very prolific until the very end of the season. The varigation was on the leaves and peppers, but it was very slight.
Pepper, Pasilla Bajio Chile Chilaca (mild/hot)–Received this one from Botanical Interests as part of my “black plants” buying spree. I’m pretty sure the seeds they sent were not this variety at all; they look more like Shishito peppers. The peppers never turned black and were smaller that they should have been. That said, I really loved the flavor–mild and sweet with the perfect level of heat for my tastes of heat. Great for stir-frys for the flavor only, as the peppers themselves are not more that 4″ long and think skinned. This variety also grew very fast and started putting out fruit early and often.
Tomatillo, Grande Rio Verde–All of my tomatillos grew a lot faster and a lot taller than the seed packets stated. This one, in particular, grew really tall. Both of them ended up toppling over several times b/c I had them in grow pots that were too small. Because of this they both got some kind of bumpy growth on the stems and started to wilt, and neither produced fruit. Will try again this year.
Tomatillo, Purple–Same as above.
Tomato, Barry’s Crazy Cherry–These took a while to start fruiting, but once they did it was relentless. The pale yellow fruit was moderately sweet and had a hard, spiky end.
Tomato, Carbon–Moderatley productive. Tasted less complex than a Paul Robeson.
Tomato, Paul Robeson–Moderately productive. Due to our really dry summer, many of the tomatoes had catfacing. Still, the ones I harvested tasted amazing fresh, especially sprinkled with salt. A must-grow for this season.
Tomato, Sun Gold Pole Cherry–A very profilic and tasty orange-yellow cherry tomato. Very sweet, think skinned. Everyone seemed to like them.  
Tomato, Thornburn’s Terracotta–This one was moderately productive, with an interestingly matte red/orange color. t was not very tasty, however.
Tomato, White Tomesol–This was a free seed packed I received from Baker Creek. It was by far the most prolific tomato I grew that wasn’t a cherry tomato. The medium-sized tomatoes turn a slight slickly yellow when ripe. The taste reminded me of a watered-down Paul Robeson. 

I’m not a huge summer squash fan, so I didn’t try to grow many. That said, I haven’t had much luck with them–either from seed or seedling. No buckets full of zuchinni–I feel like a failed Midwesterner 😦 Maybe this year.

Summer Squash, Fordhook Zucchini–Not much luck. Small plants.
Summer Squash, Yellow Scallop–Plants were good sized–bushy, and produced pretty well. I didn’t start this one until late summer so it did not have a long harvest season.

Winter squash, however, are definitely my favorites. I always try to grow more that my city lot can handle. Usually I’m pretty successful, but this past year was not a great squash year overall. Here are the varieties I tried this past year:

Pumpkin, Musquee de Provence (c. moschata)–My favorite pumpkin by far. It looks exactly like an antique Cinderella pumpkin–in fact , in many seed catalogues label this the “Cinderella pumpkin”. It is absolutely gorgeous. Unfortunately it’s a full-sized pumpkin (15-20lbs average) grown on a long, vigorous vine, and I have a moderately-big city yard to grow in. The first year I grew it I let it take over my back fence and grow into the alley behind us, and I harvested one big pumpkin (and several smaller ones). This past year, however, I tried to limit the vines to one main vine and put it in a less sunny area, my blossoms never seemed to get fertilized and I did not get any pumpkins.
Pumpkin, Casparita (c. pepo, F1 hybrid)–This is an adorable small white pumpkin–it’s abotu as wide as a Jack-be Little pumpkin and twice as tall. They ended up being smaller than I had hoped, but they are still very cute–and given that it has a bush habit, I can grow it in a grow bag anywhere with no issues with space. Definitely growing this again next year.
Pumpkin, Jack Be Little (c. pepo)–This is that tiny little orange decorative pumpkin that you see in every store come fall. The vines for this one turned out to be longer and more vigorous than many full-sized squashes I grew. It was cute but not worth the space it took in my yard, especially when you can buy it anywhere.
Winter Squash, Blue Hubbard (c. maxmia)–This is our favorite winter squash–firm, dry orange flesh with no strings. This is a hard variety to get ahold of; the only place I can find it locally is at an apple orchard about 30 min away. My own plants grew pretty well at first, but then the squash vine borers took down 90%b of my winter squash plants. I did a second sowing in late July, which avoided the vine borers but did not give the fruit enough time to ripen. I ended up buying a few from the local apple orchard.
Winter Squash, Honeynut (hybrid, moschata/maxima)–This variety is one I got from Botanical Interests. It’s meant to be a baby butternut squash. I hoped that the vines would be shorter than the massive Waltham Butternut squash plants I grew last year. I had to re-sow these pants due to vine borers. I had plenty of time to do so but even so the squash did not get bigger than 4″ long, and remained mostly green. When we ate them, they were pretty stringy and the taste was eh. Not recommended.
Winter Squash, Butterscotch  (F1 Hybrid)–We got this variety from Johnny’s Seeds–I believe they bred it but I’m not sure. These squash had a medium sized vine and produced pale orange mini-butternut squashes which were 6″ or so long. I had to resow these due to the vine borers as well, and still got a decent harvest of them. They tasted fine.
Winter Squash, Jester F1 (Delicata) (c. pepo)–This ended up being my partner’s favorite squash this year. As with every other winter squash, the vine borers got to it. It has a nice bush habit, so it should fit in the garden fine next year. I ended up buying mine from the local orchard. This squash does not store well–ours were dried out by December. Until then they are very sweet and tender.
Winter Squash, Red Kuri (c. maxmia)–I had not luck growing this my first year, but I did have luck this past year. I did a second sowing in July, and I was able to harvest a few squash by October. These squash store pretty well–I cut into the last one this week as hte rind was starting to go, but the interior was as juicy as a newly harvested squash and showed no damage at all. Vines are medium length.
Winter Squash, Starry Night (Acorn) (c. pepo)–Again, the vine borers got it. I was able to harvest one from my second sowing. Bush habit.
Winter Squash, Thelma Sanders’ Sweet Potato (Acorn)–I planted these later in the summer and avoided the vine borers. The vines were very vigorous and grew medium length–I can see them goring longer given the chance, however. These vines were very prolific. I either harvested the squash too soon, or the flesh itself is very pale, but none of the squash I harvested stored very well or looked very appetizing when I cut into them. Probably not going to grow again.

So, 2021’s gardens was moderately successful, on the whole. I’m excited to see how 2022’s garden will turn out!

Garden 2021 Review: Cold-Weather Vegetables

As with the flowers, this past year I grew a number of vegetables. Unlike with the flowers, I had grown several of these in the past and had been successful with them. Still, there were quite a few new varieties in the mix.

First up, brassicas. My first year growing veggies I grow almost exclusively brassicas, as we eat a lot of brassicas. I do NOT recommend that new gardeners try this. Back then, I didn’t know what cabbage worms were, nor did I realize that earwigs also attack brassicas. Now I do, but I have still not been successful and keeping any of them alive. 😦 This third year will hopefully be the winner–I have several small beds with clear plastic covers which will hopefully keep the bugs off.

Brassicas:
Bok Choy, Purple Lady--This is a cute little purple bok choy. Unfortunately, as with most of my brassicas, they were demolished by cabbage worms.
Broccoli, RUDOLPH (sprouting, December)–I started this one late in the year (September, I think), and by the time the first frost hit it was still too small. I may try it again next year.
Cabbage, Kalibos–Cute medium-sized purple cabbage; I grew it last year as well. Unfortunately, eaten by cabbage worms. May try again this year.
Cabbage, Napa One Kilo Slow Bolt–This is the first year growing this cabbage. I’ve always considered this kind of cabbage a Napa cabbage, but apparently it’s better known as a Chinese cabbage. This cabbage grows exceedingly fast–it was full size in two months. Unfortunately, it was decimated overnight by earwigs.
Cabbage, Nero di Toscana (Dinosaur Kale)–I’d seen this kale lauded by several youtube gardeners, so I thought I’d give it a try. It was the strongest growing of my kales, but even it succumbed to cabbage worms.
Cabbage, Violaceo di Verona–This was my first year growing this was well. It was one of my strongest cabbages, and the outer leaves were a lovely plum color which faded to green in the center. Even if you don’t successfully harvest a cabbage out of it, it’s still a great ornamental. Will definitely grow again this year.
Kale, Russian Red–This kale was pretty small, even after a few months. I hear it’s tasty but it never really thrived, so I never ended up trying it.
Radish, Miyashige White Daikon–This was such a tasty radish! Very cool and crisp, not spicy at all. I’ve definitely be growing this again next year.  
Rutabaga, American Purple Top–I had a few of these survive the cabbage worms, and cooked them up like I would potatoes or any other root veggie. The taste is a big different–a bit brassica-y and a bit fruity compared to potatoes. I’ll probably grow a few again this year, but I’m not obsessed with them.  

Next, legumes. I love snacking on sugar snap peas during the spring and summer, but I’ve found them difficult to grow for some reason. Again, I’m hoping the third year will do the trick. Also, I’ve finally tried fava banes, and I love them!

Fava, Aquadulce— I didn’t care much for fava beans (broad beans) until I started watching British gardeners. who absolutely love them. I was able to sneak in a small crop
Snap Pea, Royal Snap II (purple)–I grabbed a huge bag of these fro Johnny’s because I trust Johnny’s to have good crops and I thought it would be cool to grow a purple bean. As it turned out, the plants didn’t grow very high or produce very well, and the favor was just eh.
Snap Pea, Magnolia Blossom Tendril–I grew these my first year and was not very impressed–small plants, few flowers, blah taste. This past year, however, they really thrived in the top tiers of my greenstalk. They had a ton of really delicate pink flowers and I even enjoyed the peas! I will be growing this again next year.

One of the big motivations for growing a garden is to have good quality lettuces on hand, I tried maybe 10 (?) varieties of lettuce this year, but with everything else I was growing, it was hard to keep on top of them and they often died. Here are the ones I remember harvesting and eating.

Lettuce, Little Gem–Very cute, small romaine. Not enough for a salad.
Lettuce, Parris Island Cos (Romaine)–Soft romaine lettuce, did not grow that large. Tasty.
Lettuce, Salanova® Green Sweet Crisp–I love the Salanova series, but I was not a fan of this one. Too thin and pointy.
Lettuce, Salanova Red Butter–Soft, medium-sized head of lettuce. Tasty.

I also love beets and Swiss Chard, so I tried several of these as well. I had grown all of them except for Bolthardy Beets.

Beet, Bolthardy–Highly recommended by one of my favorite Youtubers, Charles Dowding. I picked this up at the end of the season and I don’t recall having much success with it.
Beet, Bull’s Blood–This variety is mostly intended for microgreens as the foliage is dark red. I grew it to full-sized; it was okay.
Beet, Cylindra–I had the most luck with this best. Full-grown, about half of it stuck out from the soil and half was buried. The oblong shape made it easier to peel, which is a benefit.
Swiss Chard, Ruby Red/Fordhook Giant Mix–I had a lot of luck with Swiss Chard as well, –it survived the heat pretty well as long as I ket it watered. I had one plant grow to 3′ tall–just one tall, wrist-thick stem with swiss chard leaves sprouting out of the top. I have no idea it could grow that big! Even so the leaves tasted fine.

Asparagus and alliums:

Asparagus, Purple Passion–Planted a few two-year-old crowns, have not tried any yet.
Asparagus, Jersey Knight–Planted a few two-year-old crowns, harvested a few skinny ones but let most grow. Both sets of asparagus seem to be thriving.
Chives, Common–Slow grower. Once I pulled it up to make way for other plants I found that it had spent most of its energy growing a massive root system. Will probably plant again this year and keep as a perennial.
Leek, King Richard–Planted a ton of these this year as I use a lot of leeks in my cooking. Germination was so-so; harvested maybe 30 skinny leeks from a good 100 or so seeds. Will try again next year.

And finally, carrots! Another garden snack. Unfortunately this year, my carrot harvest was abysmal. I’m prepared for this year with a good 7000 seeds as the seeds are pretty cheap and it’s so hard to get them to germinate. I’ve also added some celery for good measure.

Carrot, Kyoto Red–Was successful with a few of these. The red carrots are not as sweet as the orange or yellow ones, I’ve found.
Carrot, Sugarsnax 54–One of my most successful carrots. They are very long and very sweet. I’ll be growing a bunch of these this year.
Carrot, Uzbek Golden–I’ve grown these two years in a row now, with moderate success both times. The ones I’ve harvested have been sweet.
Celery, Chinese White Cutting–No luck germinating or growing this variety.
Celery, Chinese Pink Cutting–They variety grew well but I planted it too late in the season to get a good harvest out of it. I’ll be growing it again this year. Should be easier to grow than the usual full-sized European celery.

Garden 2021 Review: Flowers

This past year I successfully grew seventy (70) new-to-me varieties of flowers from seed, not including the dahlias seed mixes. (Typing it all up now, it seems ridiculous.) The plan was to try out as many different species and varieties as I could so that I could figure out which ones I liked so I didn’t waste my time next year. In this, I was pretty successful. However, I don’t recommend it–it’s a lot of work, and it’s hard to troubleshoot any pest or disease issues when they come up.

That said, I’m pretty thorough when it comes to documenting what I’m growing, so hopefully all of the angst of keeping everything alive in during our severe drought last summer was worth it. Here is my exhaustive list of non-dahlia flowers I grew in 2021. I grew everything on this list at my home garden from either seed or bulb.

Acidanthera Murielae (bulb)–These were very slender and delicate, but about 90% of them died due to some kind of “rust” issue–it looked similar to what people in the UK were dealing with regarding their leek crop this year. I’m not sure if I’ll try it again as I don’t know how to troubleshoot the issue.
Aster, Giant Perfection Mix–Despite being annuals, asters take forever to grow. Once they do, though, the blooms are strong and last forever. This blend was a mix of white, pink, and purples–I thought they would look dated because their colors are somewhat washed-out looking, but they were actually quite pretty.
Bachelor’s Button, Blue Boy–These were gorgeous and one of the fastest growing flowers in my garden. I have several different mixes I’ll be growing in 2021. The only downside I’ve seen is that they get so tall that they have a tendency to flop over.
Calendula, Pacific Beauty Mix–All calendulas, I’ve found, have resinous stems and flowers, so expect sticky hands when you try to harvest them. This variety produced large yellow and orange blooms. If I grow them again, I’ll likely grow this variety.
Calendula, Zeolights–Steady, reliable blooms which were a faded orangey-pink color. Similar to the Pink Surprise variety, but with larger blooms.
Calendula, Pink Surprise–Small, light pink blooms. Not worth growing if you are harvesting the petals for tea. May or may not grow these again this year; we’ll see.
Calendula, Resina–Small yellow flowers, but supposedly the best for medicinal purposes.
Chamomile, Roman–Took forever to grow. I had no luck at all with these in 2020, where they were tucked in among my tomatoes. In 2021 I tucked them into a back shady area of my Moon Garden, where they did finally reach a decent size. Not prolific by any means, however.
Carnation, La France–Did not take off; plants grew a total of 6″. No blooms.
Cosmos, Sea Shells–Another slow grower, which I thought was unusual for an annual. These can get very tall by the end of the season. Pretty flowers, but the leaves/stems are sticky. I have a few other varieties I’ll be trying this year.
Daisy, African–A moderately slow grower, but once it was established it was quite prolific. It was a great addition to my Moon Garden. Medium-sized white flowers with pale blue centers; plants were about 1.5′ tall. Depending on space, I may grow it again this year.
Delphinium, Magic Fountains Sky Blue/White–Never took off.
ECHINACEA, GREEN TWISTER–All of my echinaceas took forever to grow. Once I realized that they were perennials, and that this is how perennials tended to act, I was appeased. This variety was the least successful one that I grew in 2021.
ECHINACEA, PRIMADONNA DEEP ROSE–Moderately successful.
ECHINACEA, WHITE SWAN–My most successful echinacea variety, pretty white flowers with spiky yellow centers.
Echincea, Purple Coneflower–The basic purple cornflower. I already had a few of these growing in my main flowerbed. The new ones grown from seed were moderately successful, and actually looked stronger and larger than the ones I had inherited with the garden.
Gaillardia, Lollipop Mix–This was a species I had never heard of until I saw it in a catalogue last spring. The yellow blooms were pretty, but I didn’t like the orange ones. All of my plants were successful. The plants averaged around 1′ tall and the blooms about 2″ wide and frilly. I didn’t like them enough to grow them again.
Hollyhock, Indian Spring–I actually loved these hollyhocks; they seemed to thrive no matter what type of soil I put them in. This mix had white and pink blooms. The white flowers were nice, but I really loved the bright pink ones; they really brightened up the garden. I collected seeds from the pink ones and will be growing them again this year. They all reached a good 4′ tall and were able to support themselves. From what I’ve heard, once you plant hollyhocks, you’ll always have hollyhocks, but I was pretty on top of collecting seed pods so hopefully they won’t have self-seeded.
Hollyhock, Nigra–Unfortunately I had no luck with this variety at all. I’ll try growing it again this year as it seems like it will be a very striking plant.
Hyssop, Apache Sunset–This pant was moderately successful, if slow-growing. The flowers were delicate and pink, but nothing showy, and the plant didn’t get taller than 8″. I’m not sure what I expected, but somehow I hadn’t made the connection that it would smell like anise/black licorice. While I like black licorice, I don’t like it enough to give it space in my garden.
Lobelia, Crystal Palace–I was pretty dubious of this plant based on the seed packet I received from Botanical Interests. I think I only picked it up b/c Laura on Garden Answer had done a video on “true blue” flowers, which apparently are pretty rare in nature. The seeds I planted were all very successful–probably moreso than any other flower I grew from seed last year–and once they were full grown and started putting out their delicate blue flowers, I was smitten. Really adorable little bushy plants with gorgeous color that thrived in lower levels of my Greenstalk. I imagine they would be a great border or ground cover as well; they reached about 8″ tall before they started bushing out. Will definitely be growing again next year. They grow well in part-shade; they didn’t seem to like full sun.
Malva, Snow White--I purchased this variety specifically for my Moon Garden, an all-white garden that I tucked in against my side fence. They grew well but by the time July hit they were overtaking the African daisies and Acidanthera and even giving the slow-growing Fleurel dahlias a run for their money By August I had decided that, despite having pretty white flowers, this plant really should have been labeled a weed. I will not be growing this flower this year.
Moonflower–This was another slow grower, and one I chose specifically for my Moon Garden. By August the vines had finally taken off, and by September they had started producing these beautiful, almost iridescent 5″ blooms. They had a low germination rate, unfortunately. I think next year I will sow them earlier and having them running up the main trellises in my veggie garden.
Nasturtium, Alaska Mix–I love nasturtiums, and had success growing them in 2020, so I purchased a ton of varieties. This mix was a pretty representative example of the species–bright orange and yellow flowers with emerald green leaves.
Nasturtium, Alaska Variegated–This is one of my favorite nasturtiums, as I really love the variated leaves. (The regular green leaves on most nasturtiums remind me too much of lily pads.)
Nasturtium, Black Velvet--This was another successful variety I grew this year. The flowers are an extremely dark red/black and do appear velvety. This is one of the shorter nasturtiums, topping out around 6″. Unlike the other varieties that I grew, this one did not seem to appreciate full sun.
Nasturtium, Bloody Mary Mix–Pretty, successful.
Nasturtium, Cherry Rose Jewel–Pretty, moderately successful.
Nasturtium, Dwarf Jewel Mix–Pretty much the same as the Alaska mix. Maybe a bit shorted but not noticeably so.
Nasturtium, Fiesta Blend–Similar to the Alaska mix.
Nasturtium, Peach Melba–Pretty, very successful.
Nasturtium, Single Blend Trailing–When I lived in California, many of the highways there were bordered with huge fields of trailing nasturtiums. When I bought some seeds to grow in IL I just assumed that all nasturtiums were vines. (This is partially why I have so many varieties.) However, this is one of the few that actually trails–most of the other ones are bushy and don’t seem to grow past 10″ tall. I’ll always grow this variety because I love the trailing look.
Nasturtium, Tall Trailing Mix–Essentially the same as the Single Blend mix.
Nasturtium, Tip Top Alaskan Salmon–Pretty, similar in color to the Peach Melba variety. 
Nicotiana, Indian Peace Pipe–Now THIS flower was a huge surprise. Almost 100% seed germination, and the plants grew extremely quickly, reaching 3′ wide within a few weeks and then growing to 6′ tall by the end of summer. It puts out huge spikey stems toped with a profusion of long, tubular white flowers and huge, foot-long leaves. This flower was extremely successful, but since it is a space hog, I likely won’t grow it again.
Pansy, Got the Blues–This is another one I likely picked up due to Laura’s “Blue flowers” episode. I was skeptical of any flower that was less than a foot tall, but these were very successful in my Greenstalk and they survived our record-breaking heat and dryness this past summer. Very adorable little plants that are happy growing in part-shade.
Phlox, Sugar Stars–No germination whatsoever. I tried several times with several different seed-starting mix, and no luck. All of the other species I planted using the same starting soil sprouted, so it must have been something to do with the seeds. These were bought from Baker Creek in winter 2020 or spring 2021.
Poppy, Amazing Grey–These were pretty and the slight gray coloring was a nice contrast in my Moon garden. However, as I found, poppy flowers are extremely delicate and only last a dew days. However, the plant survived and kept putting out blooms until September.
Poppy, Falling In Love–Lovely, delicate white flowers edges with pink. However, as with all poppies, the blooms did not last.
Poppy, Hungarian Blue Breadseed–These were planted in much fuller sun that the other two poppies, and they did not seem to grow as well. The germination rate was moderate. Pretty, vibrant purple blooms, though. I may try these again next year as I’m hoping to be able to make lemon poppy-seed muffins with home-grown poppy seeds.
Rudbeckia, Autumn Colors–These had good germination and grew quickly. I had been used to the scrawny basic yellow rudbeckias I had inherited with the garden. These did not grow tall–maybe 1.5′ maximum–but they put out a ton of yellow/orange blooms. The petals were surprisingly thick and velvety. Their color scheme was great for fall but seemed a bit out of place in the summer garden. As these are perennials, I wont need to sow them again this year.
Rudbeckia, Gloriosa Daisy Prairie Sun–Also pretty, with yellow petals and a green center, but not nearly as prolific as the Autumn Colors. I’ll need to grow them again this year.
SALVIA, ROSE QUEEN–Moderate germination and growth. I don’t see what all of the fuss is about regarding salvias, honestly. These were just eh.
SCABIOSA, FAMA DEEP BLUE–No luck with these The biggest only grew 6″ tall.
Snapdragon, Madame Butterfly Mixed Colors and Madame Butterfly Bronze w/ White–These were pretty, with delicate frilly blooms. Moderate germination; survived cold temperatures better than any of the other flowers. However, I preferred the look of the Rocket Mix variety I picked up at the local nursery.
Strawflower, Apricot–Not very successful. Only had 1 or 2 germinate and the largest one didn’t get taller than 6″.
Sunflower, ProCut® White Nite and ProCut® White Lite–These were moderately successful. O found that any sunflower seeds that were planted in the ground were eaten by chipmunks, and transplanting them out was only moderately successful. I’ll try a few again this year and see how it goes.
Sunflower, Evening Sun–This was by far my favorite sunflower this past year. They germinated well and grew huge and bushy. No issues with needing support, and the flowers were gorgeous.
Sunflower, Mammoth–This one was eh. Chipmunks stole most of my seeds. The one I did get to grow only grew 4′ tall and the head was so heavy that it faced downward completely. I may try it again in a better location if I have the room.
Sunflower, Sparky–This sunflower from Floret was my other favorite. Based on the photos, it looked spiky and thin and I only bought it b/c it was one of the few things Floret had in stock. When I grew it however I was very pleasantly surprised. The petals aren’t spiky per se–they just curl inward a bit. It adds depth and a nice range of color to the bloom. As with my Mammoth sunflower, it didn’t get more than 4′ high but put out multiple blooms. If a sunflower can ever be said to look elegant, this variety succeeds.
Sunflower, Valentine–Lemon-color sunflower, not memorable.
Sweet Pea, Bouquet Blend–None of my sweet peas were very successful. I’ll try again this year.
Sweet Pea, High Scent–This was the only variety that was even mildly successful and put out a few flowers. I’ll try again next year.
Sweet Pea, Knee-Hi Blend–Unsuccessful.
Sweet Pea, Little Sweetheart–Unsuccessful.
Sweet Pea, My Navy–Unsuccessful.
Sweet Pea, Perfume Delight–Unsuccessful. 
Sweet Pea, Royal Blend–Unsuccessful.
Viola, King Henry–Adorable.. Solid royal purple. Very short, but delicate-looking and somehow surived out dry, hot summer with no issues. Perfect  for lower levels of the Greenstalk or as a border/around taller flowers.
Viola, Johnny-Jump-Up Viola–My absolute favorite of my pansies/violas. Totally precious. I never understood why people bothered growing small flowers b/c the ones I bought at the local nursery weren’t very delicate looking and never lasted past July. However the ones I grew from seed were less bulky and smaller but still survived the heat so much better than the ones from the nursery. And they always brought a smile to my face. Not bad for 6″ tall plants. I picked up a few more varieties for this year and I’m excited to see how they turn out.
Zinnia, California Giant–Exactly as described. I had a few reach 5′ tall. Nice bright colors. As it turns out that my mom’s favorite flowers are zinnias, I’ll be growing a bunch more this year.
Zinnia, Canary Yellow–Turns out I love the color yellow, when it’s on flowers! Tall and healthy plants. Not bad for a free seed packet from Baker Creek.
Zinnia, Queeny Lime Orange–Shorter than other zinnias with smaller blooms. Delicate colors, but compared to the larger zinnias, they look a bit washed out.
Zinnia, Senora–Medium-sized zinnia with magenta flowers. It’s a color not included in the California Giant series.
2021’s Flowers

2021 takeaways: Flowers

I love violas and pansies! Who knew? Very cute flowers, and they are pretty hardy as well. Mom loves zinnias, so I’ll grow a bunch more those. Bachelor Buttons are gorgeous but need some support. Hollyhocks are gorgeous and fun. Moonflowers are lovely but need a lot of room to vine out. Lobelias and cosmos are also gorgeous and low-maintenance. Asters are gorgeous but take a while to grow. I only need to grow one variety of calendula–the pollinators love them, but they love other, prettier flowers as well. On the whole, it’s better to grow your own flowers from seed as they tend to be healthier than those from the nursery.

Eating From the Garden: Melted Spinach

One of the main reasons I started expanding my garden this past year was to try to grow as much our food as possible. With finally owning a house with yard, and with the onset of Covid, it seemed the perfect time to do so!

Since I spent so much time and energy expanding and growing the garden, I was often at a loss as to what to do with thing things I grew. I came across the “Melting Greens” recipe from The Splendid Table and loved it. I was able to use my home-grown onions, garlic, peppers, and Swiss Chard. After trying a few variations, I found that I preferred Spinach in this recipe and the addition of onion really helps boost the mouthfeel. Here’s my adaption of that recipe:

Melted Spinach

  • 1 T olive oil
  • 5 cups (1 bunch or so) Spinach (you can substitute kale or Swiss Chard)
  • 1 dried chili pepper
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • ½ medium onion (white or yellow), chopped
  • 1 cup chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
  • salt and pepper as needed

Directions: sauté garlic, onions, and dried pepper briefly, then add in chicken stock and spinach. The spinach will cook down dramatically, so feel to pack your pot as full as it can handle. Cook everything until the spinach is completely wilted, remove the chili pepper, and serve.

I usually make a quadruple batch and freeze it. Today I had some for lunch as a main meal, added a tablespoon or so of fresh goat cheese, and it tasted amazing. If you cut down on the liquid, this plus the goat cheese would probably make a great tart.

I use this as a side dish, or to boost my immunity when I’m sick. I love the mouthfeel of sautéed spinach and the onions. And the chicken stock plus spinach and garlic is great for colds!