My Seedling Set-up (upstairs)

This years seedlings are sprouting! Here’s my greenhouse set up in our living room. (I also have a greenhouse area in the basement, but, due to recent knee surgery, I can’t get down there enough to baby new plants.)

Currently, my Dahlia seeds are up and going, as are a several others:

Seed Starting 2021–First Batch

So I did my first real batch of seedling planting this past weekend! (Technically, I had started a batch of leeks and decorative peppers in the basement before we realized my knee surgery would keep me upstairs for six weeks; they did not far well.) But my first really big batch of seeds went into the dirt this weekend.

I based my seed starting chart on a variety of other calendars. I tried to use to Moon Dates from the Farmer’s Almanac chart for my zone (5b) along with the sow dates on the various seed packages. It was a huge headache to put the calendar together, especially as this is the first time I’m starting the vast majority of these plants from seed. I’m hoping next year it will be easier; at that point I’ll hopefully have some experience to draw from.

The planting medium I’m using for this first set of seeds is Black Gold’s seed starting mix. You can get a great price on an 8qt bag at Pinetree Seeds. Don’t buy it from Amazon–I haven’t seen any seller selling these exact same bags for less than twice as much on Amazon.

My first round of planting included mostly flowers, with a few herbs that I intend to keep indoors.

Flowers: Autumn Colors Rudbeckia; Dwarf Cactus Dahlia and Redskin Mix Dahlia; Lobelia (Crystal Palace); Sugar Stars Phlox; Rainbow Loveliness (dianthus); Pink Carnations (also a dianthus); Arena Red Lisianthus; Peach Melba Nasturtium and Single Blend Trailing Nasturtium.

Autumn Colors Rudbeckia

Herbs/Veggies: Listada de Gandia Eggplant; Lettuce Leaf Basil; Holy Basil; Pennyroyal; Mild Microgreens Mix; and Bull’s Blood Microgreens.

Listada de Gandia Eggplant

The Rudbeckia (black-eyed susans) I know for a fact grows very well in my climate–the garden I inherited already has several bunches of the Indian Summer rudbeckias that have survived many a cold, frozen IL winter. I’m not a fan of that color, however, so I’m trying to grow the “Autumn Colors” instead. They should turn out to be a lovely mix of oranges and russet colors. And I have grown Nasturtiums from seed, and in my experience they take forever to get big. But once they are full-sized, they put out and endless supply of tasty, peppery flowers. I’ve never grown these varieties of Nasturtium, though; last year, I grew the Alaska Dwarf Mix–they have lovely variegated leaves, but true to its name, the plant stays very small).

Every other type of flower I’ll be growing this year is new to me. I’ve seen carnations, obviously, but I’ve never grown one from seed. And I’d never heard of any of the other varieties until I started browsing seed catalogues and Gardening channels on YouTube. I’ve seen enough videos to know that growing Lisianthus is a massive pain in the ass–they take forever to germinate/grow, and they are very sensitive to temperature and humidity fluctuations—but people also say that despite this, they are worth it, so I figured I’d give at least one a try this year.

This is my first year using any kind of heat mat/humidity dome/LED light set up. I had to jerry rig a temporary greenhouse in my living room as I can’t get into the basement, but it appears to be working well! My dahlia seeds popped up in two days (!) and my beet/mixed microgreens mix was not far behind. Currently my rubeckia (black-eyed susans) are also showing their little green heads, as is my lettuce leaf basil (which will be kept indoors). Even one of my carnation seeds has popped up! Apparently this heating pad/humidity dome thing really works.

I’m actually a tad worried about the dahlias as they were not supposed to pop up for at least a week or two. They may need to be potted up before I’m able to put them out, as they’re huge and also frost-tender, iirc (the bulbs are, at least, so the flowers from seed are likely frost-tender as well.) So it may get a bit crowded in the house by mid-April. But still! Seeds are growing! There may still be a foot of snow on the ground in some places, but my garden is finally started.

2020 Garden Recap: Squash

By far my most successful crop this year were my winter squashes. This group surprised me considerably, because I realized i didn’t know a thing about which type would vine and which wouldn’t. I hadn’t grown any squash since I was a kid, which was part of the problem, and I was working off of hazy 30-year-old memories of the garden we had when I was young. So I planted a bunch of different types, and learned a lot as I went.

Things I learned:

Zucchini and Yellow Crookneck are not vining squashes. It’s a huge, sprawling, bush plant that, next year, will be planted by its lonesome in a container. Also, the zucchini plants I bought at the local big box store did not produce at all, so I ended up buy seeds and planting them again right before fall for a quick harvest. Again, I did n’t get much zucchini (or yellow crookneck squash). I’m highly tempted not to plant any next year, but I did just pick up some seeds for a cute Patty Pan-type of zucchini, so I may have to give that one a go.

Butternut Squash is a vining squash. And how. This was by far my most productive squash, which is surprising as I had to toss my original batch of seedlings from the local nursery due to powdery mildew, and started from scratch with Waltham Butternut Squash seeds (Baker Creek) in mid-June. These seeds took off and never looked back. I ended up with eight mature squash, six of which were full-sized (two of them didn’t have time to finish growing before fall kicked in). Unfortunately, though they grew wonderfully, their taste turned out to be very mild. I wasn’t overwhelmed by it at all. So, despite my luck with them, I don’t think I’ll be growing this variety next year.

i also picked up a few acorn squash plants from the local nursery. These, apparently, are not vining plants despite being winter squash. (A friend who received seedlings from the same pack had hers sprawl rather dramatically over her garden, but I’m not sure if it was actually vining or just a really big bush.) Either way, I only harvested one squash per plant, and they were not that tasty either, though it may just have been that I picked them too early.

A new squash I experimented with was the Red Kuri Winter Squash (seeds, Botanical Interests). I’d seen it on several websites where it was touted as being one of the most tasty of all winter squashes. I had good germination, but my plants all kept having what looked like sawdust build up around the base of the stem. It wasn’t until after I had pulled up one and was able to pull up another that I realized that they were suffering from the dreaded Squash Vine Borer. I did save my third (and final) plant by dissecting the stem and removing the grub, but alas, the lone Red Kuri squash did not fully ripen. I’m up in the air about planting this again next year, as it seemed especially susceptible to the vine borers–none of my other varieties of squash plants were affected. And yes, this is a vining variety, though it doesn’t get past 8′ as far as I can tell.

Last, but not least, is my all-time favorite squash from this year’s garden: the Musque de Provence pumpkin, and heirloom variety from southern France. I can’t say enough about this pumpkin. It’s absolutely gorgeous–it looks exactly the way Disney’s Cinderella’s pumpkin looked, deeply lobed with lovely curly tendrils. And the foliage is strikingly varigated–massive heart-shaped sage green leaves with white inkspots dotted throughout. The pumpkin can also be used for soups–the flesh is a deep orange and is slightly sweet, the flavor slightly reminiscent of cantaloupe. As the flesh is sweet and mildly stringy, I recommend it for soups and pies rather than roasting. Baker Creek states that you could even slice it thin and eat it fresh. (I tried this–it’s okay, but leaves a bit of a dry, powdery aftertaste.) If you have the room, I highly recommend planting this one. Be warned, though, it will grow at least 20′, if not longer, and will spread widely if you don’t keep it in check. I harvested four pumpkins off of one plant, though only one was large enough to decorate with (15.6 lbs.)

2020 Garden Recap: The Nightshades

The holidays have passed, time to start planning for next year’s garden! But before we do that, time to analyze how last year’s garden went.

Last year was my first year to have a full, real garden and not a tiny container garden on an apartment patio. We bought our house in May 2020 and moved in at the end of May, smack dab in the middle of prime planting season. Luckily we knew the previous owners (my parents) and I was able to get in mid-May to get some of my seedings planted (tomatoes, mostly). But in general, with the move, most everything got started at least a month later than I would have liked. Still, I was gung ho to plant pretty much anything i could get my hands on. And so I did.

I have a lot of food restrictions due to various food intolerances and sensitivities. Tomatoes, peppers (both sweet and hot), citrus, mints, kiwis, and pineapples are all not great for me, sadly. But each year I’ll be trying try a few different types of tomatoes until I find a good sauce tomato, and I’ll grow a few peppers mainly because they grow well in my climate and look pretty.

Garden 2020: Tomatoes and Peppers

Tomatoes: This past year, I was determined that if I was going to grow food I really shouldn’t be eating, it would be the best type of that species that I could grow. So I did a bit of research and landed on San Marzano tomatoes (seeds, misc Amazon sellers). This is an heirloom Roma-type tomato that is supposedly highly prized by chefs. I started the seeds for these in April 2020 and planted them early June 2020. Out of the 20-30 seeds I planted, I got about 10 strong seedlings, and kept 8 of them. They were moderately productive through the season, and then decided to put out a ton of green fruit in mid Sept. I harvested all of the green ones that I could and finished ripening them in paper bags, and end up with about half of my San Marzanos being vine-ripened and half being paper-bag ripened.

I also lost least half of my total crop to blossom end-rot–apparently this is the bane of Roma-type tomatoes. I did end up making a small amount of sauce from them, which I haven’t tasted yet. However, given their small size (a lot of work for a small amount of tomato pulp per tomato) and their propensity for end-rot, I don’t plan on growing them next year.

I also grow a Yellow Brandywine tomato plant (seeds, Baker Creek), as I was hoping that a mild yellow tomato wouldn’t trigger my acid-reflux reaction as badly. The plant grew very slowly, had bad germination (hence only 1 plant), and only produced 1 tomato. It was a big, beautiful Brandywine-style tomato, and tasted juicy and amazing, but I’ve come to find it’s not the type of tomato but whether it is fresh or not that triggers the acid reflux. I can somewhat get away with small amounts of cooked tomatoes, but not fresh ones 😦 So, another no-go for next year’s garden.

A Yellow Brandywine tomato, shown here with a Musquee de Provence pumpkin

Peppers: I eat peppers even less than I eat tomatoes, but I wanted to try something new, so this year I grew Sugar Rush Peach Peppers (seeds, Baker Creek). I started them at the same time as the tomato seeds but then took considerably longer to germinate. I even had some seedings sprout two months after planting them, after I had already given up on them and reused the potting mix. All in all, I got three plants out of the 10 or so seeds I planted, and one of them was able to reach to full maturity before the end of summer and produce a ton of peppers. These are extremely hot peppers, and I made the mistake of harvesting and chopping a bunch of them without gloves on. I see now why Mace is a legitimate weapon–pepper juice is painful! I haven’t decided if I’ll grow this one again next year. The flavor is a very nice spicy-sweet, but I would only use two or three peppers in my cooking, total.

A friend gave me a Lilac Bell Pepper seedling to grow. It grew well and produced much fruit despite never growing very large (possibly the pot it was in was too small.) As I’m not an eater of bell peppers, I ended up giving most of them away 🙂

Lilac bell peppers, shown here with Trionfo Violetta pole beans

I also gave in and grabbed a bunch of pepper plants mid-summer from various big box stores. I ended up with poblanos, jalapeños, and banana peppers. They grew well, but after tasting each of them, I found that the poblano and banana peppers were mild but tasted just like green bell peppers (which I despise), and the jalapeño was too spicy and also tasted like raw green bell pepper. Ugh. So, not planning on growing any of those unless a friend or family member wants me to. (My fiancé Erik likes spicy food, but doesn’t regularly cook with peppers.)

Next year’s tomatoes and peppers: I’m going to stay away from Romas, despite them theoretically being the best sauce tomato. Instead I’m thinking of trying a Paul Robeson (Baker Creek) or Carbon (Baker Creek) or Bonnie’s Best (MIGardener), or an Italian Heirloom, if I can get ahold of the seeds from somebody. As for peppers, I’m still up in the air and haven’t bought any new pepper seeds yet. It’ll likely be something more ornamental than edible.