We’ve had a ton of rain this week, which was great because I didn’t have to water the plants. But when I when out to rescue them from this weekend’s beautiful sunshine, I found a ridiculous, and very tangled, jungle. So I pulled them all apart and surveyed what exactly was going on where.When I pulled them apart, it turned out that some of them were being held up by the others, so that giants like this Sweet 100 cherry tomato dramatically threw themselves all over the parking lot. But an hour of tying vines with plant tie tape and dragging massive containers around to new positions resulted in a much happier and better-looking parking lot jungle.
I also harvested all of the bok choy last week, which really should have been done quite a while ago. It actually started to bolt immediately after I planted it. I don’t think it was too hot – it was mid-May, and we had a cold-ish start to summer – but it might have been too cold? I’ve read that cold temperatures can stress it into bolting. I just let it keep going though, in the hopes it would get to a reasonable size, but at this point it was getting a bit ridiculous.
It was delicious in a stir fry though, and I might even say the flower stalks were the best part!
And, cutest for last, the watermelons have started to appear. I’ve grown these in a container once before, and they’re really not meant for such a small space, but I thought I’d try it again this year just for fun.
Almost any garden, if you see it at the right moment, can be confused with paradise.
~Henry Mitchell, The Essential Earthman
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.
Every Saturday morning in the summer I find myself waking up at something like 6:30am, hopping out of bed, and making a beeline for the garden. Weekdays I get to spend a bleary half hour in the morning or late evening making sure everything gets watered, but on Saturdays I’m dying to get my hands dirty and see what’s happened over the past week.
I’ve been negligent on the blogging, so since the last post, the sugar snap peas have grown, been harvested, eaten, and as of this morning, cut down to make room for cucumbers! I didn’t get a huge yield – 32 pods in total – but they were grown in a tiny tiny container and I only planted a few seeds. Next year I’ll do more – they were delicious!
In the meantime, 2 varieties of cucumbers have started growing out of this slightly less tiny, but still tiny, bucket container.
So I cut down the dying snap pea vines and will train the cucumber vines up the same space. Since (breaking news) the garden and I will be moving *again* in a month, I stuck a portable trellis in the container instead of using the string trellis tied to the deck. One of the vines must have grown 6 feet in the past week – it already reaches to the top of the trellis!
In front of the cucumber plants are some Gazania flowers. I’d never seen these before this year, and I’m not sure what I think. They’re finicky – they don’t like being planted with other plants, and the flowers won’t open unless there is really bright sun. When they do open it’s very briefly, and as soon as a cloud covers the sun they shut right back up again. I think they are the indifferent, haughty, housecats of the plant world. That said, when they do open up, they’re really pretty.
The broccoli has also come and gone. I got to eat some of it, but was too slow for a couple of heads and instead created giant broccoli flowers which were very interesting, but not overly edible. I also got a few tiny side shoots on those plants that I harvested the main shoots from, so I picked the last of those today and cut down all the plants.
I also harvested the last of the spinach, which was a bit ragged, but when you blend it in a smoothie you can’t tell at all. 🙂
The herbs are still doing well, and I’ve been harvesting enough basil this summer that the plants have become very strong and full. They were starting to develop flowers, so this morning I cut the tops off them all, and I’ll have to do another good harvest later this weekend. I also gave the chives a haircut, since they were getting pretty unruly (though honestly, unruly is kind of appealing, especially when it comes to hair.)
The zucchini plants all appear to be doing well, although it seems to me they are somewhat behind last year’s development. But it looks like at least some of the flowers are getting pollinated, and small zucchinis are starting to appear.
The cheater purple peppers are also doing well – that biggest one hasn’t been getting any bigger, so I might harvest it soon. Whenever I’ve grown peppers in the past I always find the flesh is very thin compared to those you buy at the grocery store. I’m curious to see how these supposedly magical peppers compare.
And last but not least, the many, many tomatoes. 🙂 All of the plants have fruited now, some quite heavily. They seem to be very happy in their little parking lot garden, despite that they don’t get as much direct sun as they should. Most of them are taller than me, and some of them I can’t even reach the tops! Moving them to the new apartment a few blocks away is going to be a very interesting challenge…
Of course it wouldn’t be tomato season without the return of my second-favorite nemeses, the aphids. I’ve been keeping an eye on them, and so far it looks like they’re not getting too out of control, though I haven’t seen any ladybugs (aka aphid killers) yet, so I’m considering going and buying some.
Basically, I believe the world is a jungle, and if it’s not a bit of a jungle in the home, a child cannot possibly be fit to enter the outside world.
The sugar snap peas are starting to bloom – I didn’t realize how pretty they would be. This is quickly becoming one of my favorite things in the garden :).
I’m so interested to see how this pepper plant progresses. It’s kind of a ‘cheater’ plant – it’s a purple bell pepper grafted onto ‘supernatural’ root stock, which gives it the vigor of the rootstock with the flavor and quality of the scion (the upper plant). It has tons of flowers, and a few peppers starting already, which are so dark purple they almost look black.
A worm’s-eye view of the Jaune Flammé tomato.
I don’t often see the chives from this angle…guess I really should do something about those blooms!
Ditto for the broccoli – blooms are no good! This being my first time growing broccoli, I’ve only recently learned that the part of the broccoli plant that we eat is actually the flower. (This gives a whole new meaning to ‘cauliflower’.) Each little green thingee is a bud, that turns into a yellow flower if you wait too long to harvest your broccoli. So I harvested this one today, and will have to eat the rest very soon, though they are not as close to flowering. I steamed the broccoli and some of the leaves, but left the rest of the plant which should grow additional side shoots and make me some more broccolis!
And for dessert, a harvest of strawberries so sweet it makes my mouth water just to remember them, and a bit of mint for tea.
If you keep my secret, this strawberry is yours.
~Tsugumi Ohba, Death Note Box Set
I recently had a friend ask me for advice on growing her very first tomato plant. She has a small balcony, and thought she might grow “one tomato, and maybe one other plant?”, and was looking for a recommendation about what to buy.
Few requests could have excited me as much. I dashed off a several-hundred-word response detailing the many options and suggesting several of my favorite varieties from recent years, as well as a wealth of tips for a bountiful harvest, from fertilizer to pests to container size. Needless to say, I completely overwhelmed the poor girl! So I thought I’d try to do better with this post, starting with one simple principle: If you have at least 6 hours of direct sunlight, anyone can grow a tomato plant, anywhere*.
Here’s the simple version, with one sincere plea, and 3 decisions.
If you’ve never tasted a tomato fresh from the garden, please do whatever you can to taste one at least once this summer. I’ve had friends who “don’t like tomatoes” have life-altering experiences picking one out of my garden. The taste is so incredibly different from the bland cardboard-y tomatoes in the grocery store, you’d swear it was a different fruit. [Warning: you may never be able to eat a grocery store tomato again.]
That’s true of the most generic, “boring” tomato – like the Better Bush or Sweet 100s below.
But it’s especially true of the many heirloom varieties you can grow that you can’t get in the store, and that sell for something like $8/lb at farmers markets. This, to me, is the joy of growing your own vegetables. It’s a ridiculously well-kept secret how much variety there is in the vegetable world.
There are more than 7500 varieties of tomatoes grown in the world (guess which country grows the most?), so you’ll have to make some decisions. Three decisions, in fact.
Decision 1: Fruit type
The main fruit types are classified based on size & shape, and generally fall into one of the following categories:
- Globe: the ordinary type you’d find in the grocery store.
- Beefsteak: larger, more irregularly shaped, good for slicing on sandwiches or burgers.
- Oxheart: similar to beefsteak, shaped like large strawberries.
- Plum/Pear: less liquid & more flesh, usually oblong, and good for use in sauces & pastes.
- Cherry/Grape: small, round or oblong, usually sweet.
- Campari: sweet, juicy, with low acidity, and lack of mealiness. Often sold “on-the-vine” in grocery stores.
Decision 2: Plant type
Determinate: bear fruit all at one time, tend to be more compact
Indeterminate: bear fruit throughout the season, and tend to grow long & sometimes scraggly vines.
Conventional wisdom is that if you are growing tomatoes in containers, you should stick to determinate varieties, since they are smaller and need less staking, etc. However, I actually prefer indeterminate for a few reasons:
- I’m only one person! There are only so many tomatoes I can give away! Interdeterminate tomatoes win the slow-and-steady race, which is perfect for continuous eating throughout the summer, and for not going broke at the farmer’s market.
- Most heirloom varieties (see below) are indeterminate
- I don’t actually find much difference in the support needs of the two types when they’re in containers: I cage both types, and tie up any straggling vines using velcro ties.
Decision 3: Variety!
This is the fun part! Thousands of varieties fall into two categories: heirloom or hybrid. All tomatoes (except the few wild tomatoes in Central & South American) have been bred by humans. The difference between heirloom and hybrid is only how, and how recently, the breeding occurred.
- Heirloom tomatoes are varieties that have been grown for many years, and seed is collected from growers and passed down over generations. Heirlooms have been bred through the process of selecting seed from plants with the most favorable features. Heirlooms are stable – that is, the seed can be saved and will produce plants identical to the parent. The weird and wonderful purple, pink, white, and green tomatoes you’ve seen are typically all heirlooms, and many argue the flavor is incomparable.
- Hybrid tomatoes occur when breeders cross-breed two different varieties of tomatoes by pollinating the flowers of one variety with the pollen of a second variety. Seeds from these plants will not reliably produce the same type of tomato, and hybrid tomatoes are usually re-created each season by cross breeding the same two original plants. Many hybrids are more resistant to diseases and cracking, and more readily available as small plants from your local big box garden center. But they have often been bred for toughness, rather than flavor, and container gardeners can afford to be fairly unconcerned about disease resistance.
Here are a few of my favorites to get you started (drooling):
Each variety has slightly different specifications for how much sun it requires and how long it takes to start producing fruit, so check the labels and consider how long your growing season is. Keep in mind that the larger the container you plant them in, the better your plants will do, and the more tomatoes you will reap. I try to use at least 16″ pots.
Happy tomato growing!
The federal government has sponsored research that has produced a tomato that is perfect in every respect, except that you can’t eat it. We should make every effort to make sure this disease, often referred to as ‘progress’, doesn’t spread.
~ Andy Rooney