Ok, it wasn’t actually very magical at all – as my sore muscles will attest. But it has (finally) reappeared – got a late start this year since I was away for most of May, but I’m making up for that by planting an even crazier amount of veggies than last year.
Hard to believe that tiny box of plants turned into this chaotic pile, much less that it will turn into the ridiculous jungle that I know (yet don’t quite believe) will be here in a month.
For anyone in the New Haven area, I can’t resist a shout out to my favorite place to get plants. River Crest Farm has an amazing selection of tomato varieties, and almost anything else you might want to plant, plus donkeys, pigs, rabbits, cows, ponies, and these crazy crazy peacocks! (Must be one hot peahen…)
I’ll leave the details of this year’s plantings til my next post.
The beginning is the most important part of the work.
SUN GOLD CHERRY
ITALIAN ICE CHERRY
It looks a bit sad, but at the same time this means the commencement of winter gardening, which is exciting because this year I have a greenhouse window (actually 2!) to experiment with. Along with the christmas cacti and poinsettias, I brought in some parsley, sage, basil, and oregano, and we’ll see how they do in an uninsulated, heat-blasted, extremely dry greenhouse window. (There’s a radiator right underneath it which will keep things interesting – wouldn’t want winter gardening to be *too* easy…)
It is said that in a certain faraway land the cold is so intense that words freeze as soon as they are uttered, and after some time thaw and become audible, so that words spoken in winter go unheard until the next summer.
Sometimes I think the garden is the coolest in the fall, despite that (or probably because) it becomes desperate and unseemly in its last ditch efforts to survive and reproduce. The tomato plants have lost most of their leaves, and those that are left are lacy, yellow, and barely hanging on. But there are still a ton of tomatoes, and I think if anything there are more this time of year, although fewer of them end up being edible. Huge clusters of tomatoes at the end of completely dead branches are a tomato mom’s ultimately self-sacrifice for the sake of her children.
This crazy strawberry plant is still giving me a few strawberries here and there – in November! They weren’t kidding about everbearing. But looking closer, I noticed it was also starting to produce some great-looking cherry tomatoes. Now that’s a fancy strawberry plant! (Some seeds from dropped tomatoes must have fallen into the strawberry pot, and it’s grown quite a robust tomato plant of its own.)
The purple peppers are also still producing more peppers than I can eat…actually, I’ve pretty much given up on eating these, since they’re not very tasty. The squirrels can have them.
Speaking of squirrels, I’m just starting to have issues with them. The zucchini harvest was abysmal this year, but I found one last fall zucchini. Unfortunately a squirrel also found it and took a little squirrel bite. Guess he didn’t like it though…
Autumn wins you best by this its mute appeal to sympathy for its decay.
Though you wouldn’t know if from how much I’ve posted about the garden in the last 2 months, it’s done pretty well since the move. I have managed to take some pics as I’ve been harvesting this summer & fall, so here is an assortment to capture a bit of the bounty of the last few months.
I only got a handful of zucchinis this year, which I finally determined was because there was an infestation of (wait for it) millipedes in my pots! But all the heirloom tomatoes just keep coming and coming. I’ve given away a few handfuls here and there, but mostly I’ve just eaten pounds and pounds of tomatoes this summer! You might notice a couple of strawberries in the harvest below – my everbearing strawberry suddenly started producing again. I love this variety – I think I’ll replace all the other ones with this type next year.
I planted these beets super early, and waited until August to harvest them, but they were still really tiny. I’ll have to try again next year – I might try some golden beets because while I was waiting for these I kept buying beets at the farmer’s market, and the golden ones are just as awesome but don’t stain everything in sight when you cook them.
The cheater (grafted) purple peppers also continue to produce, despite fairly serious neglect and a small pot, but I have to say although they’re really pretty, I don’t love the taste. They’re not very sweet, and still pretty thin flesh. I think I’ll permanently cross peppers off the container gardening list.
I got a few of the regular cucumbers, and none of the lemon cukes. Next year I’ll see what I can do with a bigger container and more sun.
…but a female flower ain’t one.
In order to make a zucchini, the zucchini plant makes male flowers (left) and female flowers with baby zucchinis attached (right). The flowers need to get their stuff mixed up (i.e. they need to be pollinated) in order for the baby zucchini to keep growing. I’ve only had a couple of zucchinis grow to full size, even though there seem to be plenty of pollinators flying around. So I’ve decided to take matters into my own hands, and every morning this week I’ve gone out with Q-tips to pollinate them myself. But there just haven’t been any female flowers! There are lots of buds, like the one above, but none of them are ever blooming. So this morning I tried prying apart the tightly closed female flower and spreading the male pollen inside. (Ok, I’m just going to say it – it was zucchini rape :s )
The cucumbers are starting to do well – if you look closely you can see 2 nearly full grown cucumbers in this photo. These vines & I fight an epic (and somewhat comic) battle every day, since it *really* wants to attach itself to the wood fence behind the trellis (or the nearby tomato plants, or random leaves, tree branches, or whatever else hangs near it). But we are moving in 10 days, and so I really need it to detach itself from the rest of the world and be happily self-contained on its own little trellis. So far I think I’m winning, but we’ll see when I try to tear it away!
Cucumbers, like zucchinis, have male & female flowers, and the females come with tiny fruits that only mature if they get pollinated. (Can you imagine if humans worked this way?) The standard variety I planted has had lots of flowers for a while now.
But I also planted a “lemon” variety, which is supposed to produce tennis-ball-sized yellow cucumbers. It finally started flowering (or I finally noticed it flowering?), and for some reason it flowers in a ginormous clump! I have no idea what to make of this!
The tomato harvest continues, with a few more Purple Cherokees (and thankfully the worst of the blossom end rot seems to be done on that plant), and the first of the Purple Russian Plums. The Jaune Flamée continues to be awesome, and the cherries are all still producing like mad, especially the Sun Gold.
I also got 2 more peppers, but again there was a little hole in each one, and this weird black stuff inside. After the terrible bitter taste last time I didn’t even bother trying it, I just threw them out. There are still a few more peppers, but I’m not holding out high hopes…
The green thumb is equable in the face of nature’s uncertainties; he moves among her mysteries without feeling the need for control or explanations or once-and-for-all solutions. To garden well is to be happy amid the babble of the objective world, untroubled by its refusal to be reduced by our ideas of it, its indomitable rankness.
~Michael Pollan, Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education
tomatopalooza! tomatonucopia! tomatomania!
I tried to count the tomatoes growing in the garden right now, and lost count after about one jillion four hundred thirty-three bazillion five hundred sixty-two.
Italian Ice! They were advertised as white, but came out a very light yellow. They’re super hard to see though – this pic makes them look somewhat contrasty with the leaves, but in real life they are pretty much invisitomatoes.
Cherries! Sun Gold – probably my favorite cherry – it’s so ridiculously prolific and tolerant, and the orange cherries are pretty much candy. The Italian Ice are also really sweet & juicy, and so pretty! The chocolate cherries (purplish ones) are also fat and juicy, and a little more complex than sweet. And I’ve yet to try a ripe zebra cherry, but the bright red one with green stripes in the back is the first one! Also pictured is a Purple Cherokee, which are so far the only full sized tomato that have ripened, but which are also strangely smaller than they were last year. Fine by me, because I can just eat the whole thing at once! I’m tormented with conflict between wanting to make everyone I know taste this so they understand my passion, and keeping them a well-guarded secret so I don’t have to share!
…but sadly something happened to it while I was trying to be patient. I’m not sure if this was an insect of some sort or maybe it was just starting to go bad – it had strange black stuff on the inside.
I cut off the bad part and washed it out, and since I was so curious how it would be, tried to eat the good half. The good news is it was more substantial and thick-fleshed than my attempts at peppers in the past…but the bad news is it tasted TERRIBLE and I had to throw it out. Not quite sure what happened there…hopefully some of the others on the plant will fare better?
I’ve also managed to harvest one zucchini, but the plants are really not looking very healthy. It seems like they flowers are not getting pollinated, which is pretty strange considering all the bugs that are constantly flying around. But a lot of the zucchinis start out looking promising, and end up looking like this. One plant is looking especially sad. But there are still a bunch of new flowers and zucchinis that look healthy, so hopefully there are still abundant zucchinis in my future.
One of the most delightful things about a garden is the anticipation it provides.
~W.E. Johns, The Passing Show
After a whirlwind HOT, sunny, and dry weekend in Cape Cod, I came home to a crying mess of a garden. Two days in the full sun with no water was just a bit too much to hope for them to handle with grace. These days, I don’t even pause on my way into the house from wherever I’ve been – I just get out of the car and head straight for the hose.
Bad news first:
The romaine lettuce has bolted. Technically, it started to bolt a long time ago, but I’d been keeping it in the shade and trying to use it as fast as I could. Now I think it’s chop-it-down-and-cut-your-losses time.
I have two very small, seemingly identical bowls of basil. All summer long they’ve refused to be identical though, with the left one always taking huge offense to any negligence, while the right one is amazingly chill. After some water, lefty bounced back in a few hours though.
The other bunch of basil survived just fine too – probably because it was in a shadier spot. I’ve been using it all summer, and it just gets bushier and bushier each time I cut it. Time to make some pesto!
The tomato plants were all looking a little worse for wear – they were wilting, fighting off aphids, and trying to support their huge mass (some of them are over 8 feet tall!) in pots that are getting way too small.
The experimental cherry-tomatoes-in-a-window-box have not died yet, but they were definitely gasping for air after 2 days. That tiny amount of soil barely holds any water, and it’s totally exposed to the sun. I think it dries out about an hour after watering. The leaves seem to bounce back every time they wilt though, and I ate my first zebra cherry today (though admittedly it was not quite ripe and pretty tough. It’s hard to tell when to pick when the ripe version is still green and red!)
Some of the other cherries have started to ripen too – these are the chocolate cherries which are sweet and very fat!
I also came back to my first tiny tomato harvests – just a handful of chocolate cherries, sun gold cherries, and one jaune flammée. All were super sweet and flavorful, but so far the sun gold takes the sweetness cake.
A plum-sized Purple Cherokee was also ready for harvest…
…but very sadly, had blossom end rot. I’ve noticed a lot of this going on this year – possibly because there are just so many more tomatoes, but I wonder if it’s drought stress. I’ve tried to be vigilant about keeping a constant water supply, and other than this past weekend I don’t think there’s been too much stress, but I think the pots make it difficult to really keep an even moisture level.
But I harvested my first zucchini today too!
And one of the cheater purple bell peppers has started to turn a gorgeous shade of red! I had no idea they were going to do that, so I’m going to leave this one for another day or two and let it sweeten up.
this is the garden:colours come and go,
frail azures fluttering from night’s outer wing
strong silent greens silently lingering,
absolute lights like baths of golden snow.
This is the garden:pursed lips do blow
upon cool flutes within wide glooms,and sing
(of harps celestial to the quivering string)
invisible faces hauntingly and slow.
This is the garden. Time shall surely reap
and on Death’s blade lie many a flower curled,
in other lands where other songs be sung;
yet stand They here enraptured,as among
the slow deep trees perpetual of sleep
some silver-fingered fountain steals the world.