Garden 2021 Wrap up: Successes

So if you’ve been reading any posts in this blog, you’ll know that I planted way too much this past year. Such is the way of life during Covid.

I planted during only two seasons this year–Summer and Fall–due to my knee surgery in the spring, Even so, I was able to get a large amount of new-to-me species in the ground. This was my first year planting many tyes of plants: leeks and onions; tomatillos and eggplants; dahlias, snapdragons, and a variety of other annuals; rudbeckias, echinaceas, and other perennial flowers; and turnips, rutabegas; and apples and lilac trees. I also grew the usual: tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, herbs, lettuce, winter squash.

Successes: Flowers

Madame Butterfly Bronze snapdragon

Probably the biggest surprise this past year were my snapdragons (Madame Butterfly Bronze; Rocket mix). The seeds of the snapdragon are as small as grains of ground pepper, and they took a while to germinate and grow. Once they were established, though, it seemed like nothing could kill them. They have long, strong stems; bright , frilly flowers; and they are easy to clean for flower arrangements. They also seem impervious to the heat (we had a record-breaking hot, dry summer this past year) and they were my last flower to die off this fall. I hear that you can plant them early spring, which is my plan this coming year–I should have snapdragons for flower arrangements from May until November.

My second pleasant surprise were my bachelor buttons. I planted the basic “Blue Boy” variety and wasn’t expecting much just from looking at the picture on the seed packet, However, I was very pleasantly surprised to find that they grow fast and tall and bloomed quickly. And the color–an electric, true “blue” which is so rare in plants–is absolutely gorgeous. The color is practically fluorescent. I finally understand why describing someone as having “cornflower-blue” eyes is a compliment.

Bachelor Buttons

I was also successful in growing both rudbeckias and echinaceas–specifically Autumn Colors rudbeckia and White Swan and Purple Cornflower echinaceas. They were all really slow to germinate and really slow to grow past seedling size. However they did eventually grow! The rudbeckias grew the fastest, and ended up having a really fascinating texture–the petals are almost velvety. And echinacea flowers are unexpectedly hard and spiky. But still, all in all, they were a success.

Another plant that was hugely and surprisingly successful was my nicotania plant (Indian Peace Pipe). The seeds took easily and grew fast–spreading out a 3′ wide diameter within a month before shooting up to 6′ tall with tall spikes and massive leaves. Apparently the seed pack wasn’t lying when it said that the plant could get 6′ tall! It is a huge space hog, however, so I don’t think I’ll grow it next year.

Indian Peace Pipe (Nicotiana)

Successes: Vegetables

My tomatoes, as usual, grew very well this year. (Honestly, I don’t know of any area in North America where it is hard to grow tomatoes.) This year’s new tomato varieties were Paul Robeson, Carbon, Terracotta, Sun Gold, and Barry’s Crazy Cherry, all of which grew well. I was particularly happy with the taste of the Paul Robeson and Sun Gold tomatoes; I will definitely growing those next year. (Fresh Paul Robeson tomatoes sliced and sprinkled with salt are amazing. And this is coming from someone whose acid reflux prevents her from eating fresh tomatoes!) The Sungolds were sweet and made great gifts to friends and family.

All of the many peppers I grew this year were successful as well. My favorites were pimento peppers, which I picked up as starts from the local nursery, and the Pasilla Bajio Chile Chilaca pepper, which was considerably milder than expected and extremely prolific. It was a great pepper to cook with eggs or fajitas.

The only other veg that was really successful this past year was the garlic. I grew Chesnok red and Duganski, both hardnecks. I ended up harvesting them mid-June as the greens had already started to turn brown and shrivel due to our extremely early summer heat. At first, I thought the crop had failed as bulbs were small, but later I found out that these varieties are just small by nature. Given that, they were both successful!

Successes: Trees and Bushes

This year I purchased three apple trees–Haralson, Fuji, and Honeycrisp. The Fuji was supposed to be a dwarf tree but ended up being a standard sized tree. I got a refund but ended up keeping it. All three have thrived and the Haralson even put out an apple! So far so good.

Peach Knouk-Out Rose Bush

I also picked up five rose bushes–one Peach Knock-Out and four Double-Red Knock Out roses. All five thrived. Three of the red ones are now lining my side fence, and the fourth is in front of my detached garage. I ended up potting the peach one and giving it to my mother for Mother’s Day–she brought it inside for the winter, and it’s still growing and putting out a ton of blooms.

However, I also purchased a bunch of raspberry bushes, which all died (except for one Ann Gold raspberry) due to some kind of leaf blight. The Japanese maple I bought also died (nursery issue, I believe). One of the lilacs I bought died, and all but two of my hydrangeas also died from some kind of leaf blight. Half of my strawberry pants also died of some kind of unknown issue. In general, it was not a great year for putting live plants into my garden 😦

Garden Update, 5/9/21: Tomatoes

Tomatoes. Tomatoes are my bane.

We’re past the last average frost date, which my local weatherman says is 4/30/21, but despite most days being above 40, we’ve had a few nights that are flirting with frost. This week alone we’ve had (or will have) two nights near 34F. Augh! I’ve had to bring in my nasturtiums and tomatoes that I’ve been hardening off. The calendulas and zinnias would have liked to have gone inside as well, but they are already scattered throughout the garden, as well as the basils. Luckily I have plenty of back-ups of the basils and zinnias and calendulas are not hard to grow from seed outside.

My tomatoes, however, are another story. (Sigh. Tomatoes.) I can’t even eat fresh tomatoes due to acid reflux issues (cooked tomatoes are easier on my stomach) but I’m determine to grow tomatoes, as they are easy to grow in my climate and I want to be able to put up some sauce for winter. I’ve also got tomatillos growing, but they won’t be put outside until June at the earliest.

Today I went to check in my greenhouse downstairs, and found that the pots are drying out almost every day and many of my tomatoes are 8″ or taller–way too big for their 2″ pots. They are fine standing upright when smooshed in with 20 other plants but when I take one out of the tray to check on it, the stems, though thick, are a bit limp. As the weatherman is not recommending any planting until next week, I decided that I’ll go ahead and up-pop the tomatoes into much larger pots now.

I have several sowings of 9 different varieties b/c some seedings either were burned from over-fertilizing or were eaten by my cat, or whatever, and at this point I’ve lost track of how many of which variety I have, so I just keep sowing back-ups. Today I’ve brought up most of my oldest seedlings, which are the ones that need to be up-potted. The tomato bed is almost ready for them, and should be completely ready come this weekend. It’s built and 75% filled with soil–as it is 3×9′ long, that’s a lot of soil. Once I get them up-potted, I can harden them off; then, some this weekend, I should finally be able to put them into the bed. What a relief!

These are the varieties I’m planting this year:

Tomato, Barry’s Crazy CherryBaker Creek
Tomato, Bonnie’s BestMI Gardener
Tomato, CarbonBaker Creek
Tomato, Dad’s SunsetBaker Creek
Tomato, Paul RobesonBaker Creek
Tomato, Sun Gold Pole Cherry Botanical Interests
Tomato, Thornburn’s TerracottaBaker Creek
Tomato, White Tomesol Baker Creek

The white tomato was a freebie from Baker Creek; if it grows, great; if not, oh well. It’s mainly a novelty. The two large orange slicers (Thornburn’s and Sunset) were from a list I read on a blog somewhere, and as I’ve never grown orange tomatoes, I thought I’d give it a try. The purple slicers (Paul Robeson, Carbon) are supposedly the best tasting tomatoes, and they are my main plan for making sauce. (I tried San Marzanos last year; in my opinion the flavor does not make up for the fact that they are small and it takes a ton of prep work to make a good amount of sauce.) Bonnie’s Best is also supposedly a good sauce tomato. The cherry tomatoes (Barry’s, Sun Gold) are both yellow cherry tomatoes that are supposedly very tasty. I’ll mainly give these away to friends and family.

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.