Tag Archives: tomatoes

Back in the Blogging Saddle

It’s been nearly two years since I last posted. TWO YEARS! I haven’t forgotten about my little blog. It’s been quietly nagging me in the back of my mind. For two years I’ve been thinking about and meaning to get back to it, but life has been so busy. In those two years I increased the amount of hours I am at work and our two kids are now school age and involved in more activities (soccer, swimming, gymnastics, piano). I value our quiet time and we all enjoy just hanging out at home and playing in the back yard. We aren’t usually involved in that many things at one time. However, in an effort to try different things and see what the kids really enjoy (in addition to wanting the kids to learn how to swim), it feels like we’ve been overdoing it. My son informed me last night that he’s ready to take a break from swimming. Right on. He’s been doing great and has really progressed since he started winter lessons in January, but a break is definitely due.

One of the highlights of the last year is that we now have backyard chickens! I plan to write a whole post on that, but in short: husband built a coop and a run, and in March 2015 we got six Golden Comet chicks (red sexlinks). The kids loved watching them grow from chicks and have continued to love and care for them. They even gave them names. The chickens deserve a blog post of their own, so we’ll cover all that next time around.

In the meantime, it’s April and the weather has been gorgeous (except for the last few days of heavy rain). We’ve gotten our garden started, and since my garden is the topic I blog about most (aside from my kids, maybe), I wanted to share a few pics of what we’ve got going. I’m also home today with a sick kindergartener, so while she’s resting and watching The Land Before Time (a favorite movie series around here), I decided to finally bring back the blog. 🙂

IMG_3653-1

Our new chicken coop and run along the side of the garden. Also, last year Mr. L. added a fence around the garden to keep the chickens, dogs and deer out. It’s been working great!

 

IMG_3661-1

This is late afternoon and as you can see, the garden gets a good bit of shade then. I usually try to start planting in the far end and save the sunniest parts of the garden for tomatoes.

 

IMG_3659-1

The first transplants include cabbage, broccoli, kale and Brussels sprouts. I will need to keep an eye on them so I can see when the cabbage worms start to show up, then take action.

 

IMG_3655-1

Our “walking onions” popping through! My dad gave me a bunch of these a few years ago and I save the bulbs to replant each year. They develop a flower at the top with a bunch of new bulbs that get heavy and plop over, starting a new plant, which is how they “walk”.

 

IMG_3203-1

These two were really into helping garden this month, so we harnessed that enthusiasm! They helped plant onions, potatoes, and green beans. Miss D. also helped transplant the Brassicas one afternoon when her brother was at soccer practice. We still have lots to do!

At the recommendation of my Uncle Joe, I’m currently reading Growing Great Tomatoes in preparation of planting our own tomatoes in the next week or so. I’m also checking out Straw Bale Gardens and am thinking of giving that technique a try at some point. There’s always so much to learn!

To be continued…

 

 

Advertisements

Turnip or Not Turnip? That is the question.

Look at these two beauties that I pulled from different parts of the garden on Saturday. The one on top was in my turnip patch… so that’s definitely a turnip. The bottom one showed up in my radish and carrot patch, but it looks more like a turnip than a radish. The leaves on the two are practically identical, but the radish-turnip was starting to flower. I pulled them both but I’m not quite sure what I’ll do with them. I am thinking of just roasting them with some carrots and potatoes. I’m hoping they both are actually turnips; I don’t think roasted radish would taste very good.

In other garden-related news, I started to lose faith in the tomato and pepper plants that I started from seed. Some are doing okay, but many of them are not looking great and I started to worry that this year’s tomato harvest would be as disappointing as last year’s. This past weekend I decided I would go to the garden store and buy some new pepper and tomato plants to at least supplement the plants I grew myself, in case mine were a bust. I also got a couple of large pottery planters. I didn’t pull out all of my tomato and pepper plants, but I pulled out the weakest-looking half of them and replaced them with the much-more-robust-looking nursery plants. I also put a few plants in the planters. I’d say a full 1/4 of my garden is dedicated to tomatoes and peppers, so I’m hoping for a good harvest. Last year was my first try at canning, so I hope to do a lot more of that this year, especially using tomatoes.

May Garden Update

I did better this year with the plants I started from seed, but I still don’t have a system down and don’t completely know what I’m doing; I left some plants in the trays for much too long and it seems to have stunted their growth. The plants that I re-potted first were clearly the most happy.

Miss D helping me move tomato plants around while claiming a few of them as her own. “Mine!”

I waited a couple of extra weeks past our last frost date to plant tomatoes and peppers and, with the cold nights we had in late April, I carried these plants in and out of the garage each day for about a week. It was only within the last couple of weeks that I started to put them in the ground, and the garden began to look complete.

The warmer weather coupled with the plentiful rain we received over the last few weeks has really given the garden a boost. Here’s the garden on April 26th.

April 26

Here it is just two weeks later, on May 10th.

May 10

Don’t my potatoes (left middle) look great? The beans got a cold and soggy start and weren’t looking great, so I pulled some of them and replanted. I also planted a row of sweet potatoes last Sunday. I ordered them through a mail-order catalog and would you believe this is what they looked like when they came?

The instructions that came with the plants mentioned that they might be wilted and that I should not be concerned; they are resilient plants and should recover “under the right conditions”. I guess we’ll see if we have the right conditions.

Lastly, there has already been a visitor in the garden foraging on my plants and it appears to enjoy eating the entire plant! It leaves nothing behind but a small hole in the ground where the plant used to be. So far I’ve lost a tomato plant, a Brussels sprout plant, and a sweet potato plant. I don’t remember this happening last year–entire plants disappearing. Based on the hoof print in the fresh mud that I saw the other day, I suspect its deer. I’ll have to start mixing up a home-made deer deterrent. Last year I tried Deer Scram, which seemed to work, but it’s pricey. If you have a tried-and-true deer deterrent that doesn’t involve chemicals or firearms, I’d love to hear it!

By the way, did you notice the children’s garden in the photos above? It’s growing like mad! All of the plants in there are far outperforming the crops in the main garden! I’m not sure what their secret is but I’ve got a lot of work to do!

The Waiting Game

I have a large part of our garden planted already…. probably too much for having not even reached the average date of last frost yet, which is April 18th. I’m running out of room and have a ridiculous amount of plants growing in my seed trays!

Patience is the key at this point, though. Last year I don’t think I hardened off my tomato plants properly, so they didn’t get a good start. My plants are looking much better this year, though, and I’m really looking forward to transplanting! Yesterday my daughter grabbed a package of store-bought grape tomatoes out of the refrigerator that weren’t their freshest. They were fine to eat, but starting to get a little wrinkly. After she popped one in her mouth she turned her nose up and declined seconds. Remembering how last year she loved to pick cherry tomatoes right off the vine and eat them, I just thought “Soon, baby… soon.”

Our seedlings have come a long way since we started them at the end of February. The photo below was taken a couple of weeks ago. The tray in the foreground has strawberry plants that I started from seed, but they’re doing pretty poorly (unless they’re supposed to grow at a glacial pace). All of the other plants are quite happy, though. I am planning to buy a grow light system soon (or rigging up a DIY version) so my plants will grow more stout and sturdy rather than being so “leggy”. The fennel plants I’m growing in the trays can barely hold their little leaves up!

I have a whole collection of tomato varieties growing too. I couldn’t resist. I grew some from seeds that I bought last year, as well as several new seeds I bought this year. I even saved some tomato seeds from an organic roma tomato I bought at the grocery store that I overlooked until it was too ripe to eat. You can see how they are doing in the photo below, taken about a week ago. I actually moved some of these plants into bigger containers this past week.

Just a few more days until the last frost date! Since it’s just an average, I may wait an additional week or two on the tomato and pepper plants, just to be safe. It would be such a disappointment to see these guys this far only to lose them.

Happy gardening!

Simple Things Sunday: Our Seedlings

I’ve been following several photography blogs and there are many that do 52-week photo projects. The idea is that you work on improving your photography by submitting a photo that you took that fits the theme that the host has chosen for that week. These projects seem really fun, but kind of daunting to me. So, I haven’t participated in any yet.

This past week, however, I revisited one of these blogs, Simple As That, and decided I would try to start doing her “Simple Things Sunday” project. You post one image every Sunday that represents “the simple things” and, as Rebecca said, it’s “all about celebrating the simple things and simple joys that make you smile each week”. I like that. That’s totally my speed and it’s the way I like to photograph my family, anyway. In fact, I’d like to improve how I photograph life’s little moments.

So here’s my first Simple Things Sunday post, and it’s people-less. But I assure you, at least two of us have been smiling all week about the subject of this photo! My son and I planted two seed trays last weekend, and every day new sprouts have been popping up. In fact, we check the trays multiple times a day to see what’s going on with our sprouts. The seedlings are so small and fragile; it’s hard to imagine that some of them will turn into plants that are taller than we are within a few months!

Here are our “Sweetie” cherry tomato plant seedlings reaching for the sky! They were one of my daughter’s favorite tomatoes last year and I hope she enjoys them just as much this year!

"Sweetie" cherry tomato seedlings outdoing their neighbors

First Year with My Big Girl Garden

The days are getting longer and the weather is starting to warm. That means it’s time for me to talk about my garden.

In the spring of 2010 we moved to from the DC suburbs to central Virginia, where your hard-earned money gets you a lot more real estate. We were excited about the additional space that our new place afforded us and looked forward to making some improvements to the property. At the top of my husband’s list was a garage and at the top of my list was a garden. Our second child was due late that spring and, hard as I tried to talk my husband into it, putting in a garden that first spring or summer just wasn’t realistic. However, I was determined to get a head start on the garden the following year!

The contractors broke ground on the garage late in the fall and, since they were making several deliveries of building materials, we took advantage of the situation and ordered some additional supplies for our future garden… namely a truckload of topsoil and several lengths of 16-feet-long 6″x6″ boards, so that we could make a raised bed. The soil here is laden with red clay and doesn’t have a lot of organic matter, so bringing in good topsoil was essential. While Shane watched the construction of the garage out the side windows of our house, dreaming of the fun he’d eventually have in there, I stared out the back window at the giant mound of dirt in the yard, dreaming of the fun I’d eventually have in there.

I couldn’t wait to get started. My husband got annoyed at me on several occasions because I had big plans for putting the garden to use as soon as we were past the average date of last frost which, around here, is April 15th, and I kept insisting we get to work on the garden bed… ASAP! He finally gave in and in early March he installed the 6″x6″ boards for the raised bed frame and we began spreading the topsoil. (I know that it looks from the photo below that he was doing most of the work, but I assure you that I was out there getting just as dirty!)

If we expected to have a good garden, bringing in good topsoil was a must! (Note: From what I've read--after the fact--we should have removed the existing sod before spreading the topsoil in order to minimize weeds. Chalk one up for the weeds.)

I was so excited to get a head start on the garden that I bought a heated germination station so that I could grow my own plants from seed. (This is really just a covered seed tray that acts like a mini greenhouse.) I thought it would be a fun project to do with my son, so we planted the seeds in the tray together in early March, the same time we started prepping the garden. Unfortunately, I decided to start with tomato and pepper seeds, which I now realize aren’t the easiest to grow. I had six varieties of tomato and two types of peppers in the tray. Most of the tomatoes grew, though not very vigorously, and only one of the two varieties of peppers grew. Nonetheless, the majority of the seeds did actually sprout and we had fun watching them grow.

tomato and pepper plants sprouting in the germination station (Another note: I used regular potting soil here. Apparently, to start seeds you should use a seed-starting mix, which doesn't have fertilizer in it. My seeds still grew, but they might not have been so "leggy" if I used the seed starting mix.)

Once mid-April rolled around, I was ready to start planting. We got some cauliflower, cabbage and broccoli plants and put them in first, along with some yellow and red onions. Then we sowed some rows of seed: spinach, kale, arugula, and some mixed lettuces.  Next we planted three rows of yukon gold and red potatoes. In the middle of the garden we put in a row of posts and ran some string between the posts. There we planted sugar snap peas, which would climb the posts and strings. Next we sowed two rows of carrot seed. After the carrots we planted two rows of tomatoes, both the six varieties we grew from seed and four roma tomato plants we bought. We also had some pepper plants (bell, jalapeno, and poblano) in with the carrots and tomatoes. Lastly, we planted a couple of rows of green beans in among squash (yellow, acorn, butternut, spaghetti, and pattypan), pumpkin, cucumber, and melon (watermelon, sprite, and cantaloupe) all from seed. There were also a couple of patches at the far end of the garden where we planted some sweet corn and some strawberries.

I didn’t really lay out what would go where before sowing and planting. We basically just started from one end of the garden and kept sowing and planting until we got to the other end. This was all over the course of several weeks, based on what was appropriate to plant at particular times. As the growing season went on, I found it helpful to refer to the Mother Earth News website. They have a section titled “What to Plant Now”, where you select your region and the month and it lists which plants are good to grow at that time and how (sowing, transplanting, or growing indoors).

We also spread some compost into the garden from our compost bin. We hadn’t had a compost bin for very long, so there wasn’t a lot to spread. However, the compost we did spread gave us numerous “volunteer” plants from seeds that must have been in there. We grew several tomato, squash, and melon plants in random spots in the garden, based on where we put compost. If they popped up and I recognized what they were, I left them there, while a little voice in my head cheered “bonus!”

When the garden first started growing, it looked very orderly… all of the plants in nice neat rows among rich brown weed-free soil. As the weeks passed, some plants grew better than others, weeds filled many of the spaces in between the plants, and I started to plant little sections of additional crops I wanted to try, breaking up my orderly rows: a few radishes here… some okra there… turnips, chard, beans, etc.  I also sowed marigold, nasturtium, cosmos, and sunflower seeds in  small patches throughout the garden. These flowers would (hopefully) attract beneficial insects that would help control the unwanted insects. By the end of the season the garden was very much a patchwork of fruits, vegetables, flowers, and herbs.

Our garden, mid-summer. That's a 10-foot sunflower towering over everything in the middle and some butternut squash vines trailing out the left side.

If you grew tomatoes yourself this past year, you probably know it wasn’t a good year for them. Most of my tomatoes would begin to rot before they were ripe. We got a lot of rain early in the season, which might have been partly to blame. It was a big bummer, really, because I was looking forward to another garden-related first: canning tomatoes! The tomato plants that did the best for us were the cherry tomatoes we grew from seed and the roma tomato plants that we bought at a local farmers market. I was able to can 8 or 10 quarts of tomatoes, and most of those were the romas. If you want to grow (and maybe even can) tomatoes, you can’t beat romas!

In fact, my 1-year-old daughter’s favorite treat from the garden were tomatoes. I was in the garden daily, even if it was just for a moment after work to simply look at it and enjoy it. My daughter wasn’t walking yet, so I’d often pick her up and take her for a little stroll around the garden. Every time we were out there she would pick a tomato and bite into it right there… red juice dribbling down her chin and all. If we were inside and she spotted a bowl of them on the counter, she’d point to let me know she wanted one for a snack.

At the time my son would have told you that he liked tomatoes too, but he doesn’t. He likes POtatoes. (Only recently has he started to get the names of tomatoes and potatoes correct.) And by far his favorite thing about them was digging them up out of the garden! I would dig the pitchfork into the potato row, turn the ground over and he’d point and yell “There’s more! There’s more!”

Don't let the stern look fool you. He LOVED digging up the potatoes!

Not only was the garden a source of food, but it was also a source of creativity for me. I enjoyed taking pictures of the plants, especially when they were blooming.

onion blossom

squash blossom

lavender

"bright lights cosmos" grown from seed that my dad gave me from his garden

squash and tomato plants making a nice backdrop

I made this one into a 16x20 canvas wrap to hang on the wall. I love it.

It was hard to keep up with maintaining the garden, with two small kids keeping us busy. We pretty much took a plant-it-and-let-it-go approach. I don’t like to spray for bugs or weeds, so there were several times over the summer when the weeds got out of control…. especially around the onions. I’ll try to do better with keeping up with the weeding this year.

Nearing the end of the season.

Now that we’re heading into spring, I have a couple of goals for this year’s garden, most of which involve better planning. First, I’m going to lay out (on paper) what I’m planting where, with the aim to rotate the location of my crops every year. I also plan to orient my rows perpendicular to the way I had them last year to better take advantage of the sunnier and shadier parts of the garden, and I’m going to try to use the garden space more efficiently, probably by planting more in blocks or double rows, rather than in single rows.  Next, I need to keep track of when I plant certain plants, thin them to avoid overcrowding, and harvest when they’re at their peak. Last year several of our plants stagnated as they grew because they simply ran out of room; I sowed them from seed but didn’t thin them like I should have. Others did well, but I was afraid to pick them too soon, and before I knew it, it was too late. I had a beautiful row of spinach that I was happy to admire, until the weather got too warm and it bolted and became bitter. Then we couldn’t eat it. Finally, I plan to preserve more of the goods from the garden. I did a little canning, freezing, and dehydrating last year. This year I’m going to kick it up a notch and do more. We got a dehydrator for Christmas, so look forward to putting it to work!

I’ll end with a little summary of the “best of” and “worst of” our 2011 garden:

Best Performers:

roma and cherry tomatoes

kale

spinach

jalapeno peppers

bush beans

sugar snap peas

butternut squash

acorn squash

cucumbers

cabbage

okra

herbs (especially chives, rosemary, oregano, basil, and thyme)

Decent Performers:

carrots

onions

lettuce (including arugula)

bell peppers

melons

yellow, pattypan and spaghetti squash

Worst Performers:

cauliflower

broccoli

sweet corn (animals got to the cobs before we even had a chance!)

other tomatoes (it was just a bad year for tomatoes)

giant pumpkin

strawberries (these needed another year before they’d really produce)

sweet potatoes (my fault…. I planted them too late)

Pests we dealt with (or tolerated):

moles

cabbage worms and other caterpillars (mostly on the kale, cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli)

aphids (on the tomato plants)

squash bugs (on the… you guessed it… squash)

whatever animal ravaged our sweet corn (raccoons?)

ticks (on us!)

japanese beetles (though, they mostly ate weeds and the leaves of some morning glories I planted, which didn’t bother me all that much)

spiders (Okay, technically these are the good guys in the garden… but they were everywhere and they were HUGE. We coexisted peacefully, but a little more distance would be okay by me.)

deer

I can’t wait to get our 2012 garden under way! We’ve already started sowing some seeds in trays and I’m following through on my “resolution” to plan out my garden first to improve its efficiency. If you have been thinking of starting a garden–get to it! It can be intimidating, but it’s not rocket science. Really, all you need is soil, water, sun, and some seeds or plants. Pick some that you like, plant them in the ground (when the soil and air temperatures are warm enough) and see what happens! You have  nothing to lose. It’s actually great exercise, it gets you in touch with nature, and it allows you the gratification of knowing you grew some of your own food. And who knows… you may even love it!