Friday, August 21, 2009

It's Friday Night - Rock out! [um, not]

Believe me when I say, no one would confuse me with a party girl. Those days are behind me.

No, no, this is my idea of a fabulous late summer Friday evening, peeps:

Knee deep in foliage and finding all kinds of wonderful surprises hiding in the greenery. I'm drooling at all of the weekend's cooking options....

Oh, and having these to wander amongst doesn't hurt the mood either:

Summer, how I love thee.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Finally, some heat, and the tomatoes go wild.

At long last, my heirloom tomatoes are coming into their own. Woo hoo!

My very favorites - Black Cherries. They were sketchy last year (blight got them early on), but they're fabulously prolific this year. Complex, smokey flavor with beautiful mahogany coloring.

Matt's Wild Cherry - one amazing little cherry bursting with flavor, one seriously crazy plant. I only grew one (fortunately) - it's over 14 feet tall and 6 feet wide, creeping up the side of my house like ivy. I can't even harvest half of the tomatoes. But the ones I can reach are perfect, perfect little red globes, completely unblemished. A real centerpiece fruit.

Flamme - gorgeous and prolific, this plum-sized tomato is a brilliant orange with a delightful, tangy flavor. It's a keeper.

Orange Strawberry - ain't she sweet, all heart-shaped and such? This tomato was a shocker. The grower described it as strawberry-shaped, and about the size of a small oxheart tomato. Well, this baby was 1 lb 4 oz. They're strawberry-shaped while they're small and green, but by the time they ripen, they're huge. The fruit is so heavy that the plant, although well-staked, actually pulled itself over on top of the plant next to it.

Limony - very pretty yellow tomato, perfectly sized for slicing and sandwiches.

More to come, as the tomatoes are really just getting started....

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

This is July?

They're few and far between at this point in this chilly July, but they couldn't be more perfect. Welcome to the world, Brandywine Red, 1 lb 3 oz. (P.S. You'll be the centerpiece of my lunch tomorrow [nom nom nom].)

I don't know about ya'll, but this is some weird summer weather we've been having. Here in Cincinnati, it's barely topped 80° for more than a day or two over the last couple of weeks. Nice sleeping weather for the humans. Not so much for the tomatoes. They're ripening, but, one at a time. Even the cherry tomatoes. A truss stuffed with green cherries will go red one tomato at a time, one day at a time. I checked my Black Cherry on Monday, which has many, many fruit-filled trusses, top to bottom. One ripe tomato [pluck!] Tuesday: one ripe tomato [pluck!]. Tonight: one ripe tomato [Grrr. pluck!] Maybe by Saturday, I'll have enough to make a salad. And maybe August will finally bring some heat. (I know, I know, be careful what I wish for....)

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Lots of Alliums

I had a real "duh" moment this Spring. Trying to be a little bit too clever with the space in my yard, I planted red onion starts in one of the tulip beds. While the tulip leaves were winding down and feeding the bulbs, I reasoned, the starts could grow in between, and by the time the spent tulip leaves were ready to be cut back, the onions would be in full swing, and there would be no gap in the plant growth in that bed.

Sounded good in theory. But, when this is the bed, in partial bloom (the tall late bloomers just coming into view in the back rows):

... well, that adds up to an awful lot of greenery for little onion starts to compete with. So, long story short, the red onions didn't have the environment they really needed to thrive. Say it with me: "Duh."

Oh well. They're small (above photo, bottom half), but they'll still be delicious. This was my first year growing shallots (above photo, top half), and I'm pretty pleased with how they turned out.

Now, back to the garlic from my previous post. I did some research, as I said I would, and I've concluded two things. First, I should've done more foliar feedings in the Spring. I'm not actually sure that I did any, which was a huge oversight on my part. Second, the soil probably wasn't friable enough. Bulbs will not grow as they should in soil that does not let them expand. I've seen signs of this in years past, when my onions pushed their way out of the soil sooner than they really should have.

Both of these issues are easily fixed for next year's crop. I'm already working on improving the soil, and it should be ready by October's planting. But, in the meantime, as I was hanging my garlic to cure, I gave them all a second look. They're really not as small as I first thought. Some are, but some are pretty big, and most are perfectly acceptable.

Finally, while we're on the topic of faults, I thought I'd share some results of my efforts to reverse one of my stranger ones. I hate to cut plants back. Dead-heading, thinning, suckering ... gah! It just seems so ... so ... mean. I've had as many as 3 tomato seedlings [accidentally] growing in one tiny little peat cell this Spring. Thin them out? No way. And just look at them now (Black Cherry heirlooms):

That's a seven foot wooden fence with three more feet of welded wire attached to the top. Okay, I'm digressing. I'm supposed to show how I've improved on this behavior.

My dreams of a big, lush basil bed can only come true if I'm willing to consistently, brutally keep the basil trimmed back. Unlike a lot of edibles that bolt, flowering does not mean the death knell for basil, as long as the flowers are removed down to the next node. They will, in fact, keep bushing out all summer long. I'll admit it's been a challenge, cutting the plants back by half sometimes, but, here it is, almost August, and my basil is still going strong (although I've got some more flower removing to do there...). Woo hoo - progress is good!

Sweet basil (left) and Red Rubin Basil

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Other good stuff

While I wait impatiently for my tomatoes to kick into gear and get ripening, other yummies have emerged here and there.

One soft neck garlic, one hard neck garlic (with the purple tinge), and one Danvers carrot.

The hard neck garlic produced lovely, absolutely delicious scapes this Spring (see photo, two paragraphs down).

There's more than just one carrot that's ready (or beyond ready) to pick, but, I enjoy the carrot foliage so much, that I put off harvesting until the last possible minute.

Beautiful carrot foliage.

One disappointment, I have to admit, has been the garlic. The plants were gorgeous; the bulbs are small (in the photos above, the carrot is actually quite large, but, still, the bulbs are smaller than I thought they'd be). Clearly, I neglected something as far as feeding goes. The bulbs look good; they're just small. They need to be cured for a couple of weeks before they can go through a proper taste test, but, I need to do some research to see where I went wrong. I'll post what I find here - or, if anyone has tips, please feel free to share! - because garlic planting season is coming up in a few months (can you believe it? It's mid-July already!), and I don't want to make the same mistake for next year's crop.

Garlic scapes (above left and middle) and oregano, cilantro, and the first jalapeno pepper (above right, from the top down), some heavenly-scented dill, below. The oregano, bless its little heart, just grows year after year after year, no matter what I do to it, giving me a fresh supply of the lovely dried herb. I go through so much fresh cilantro, it's not even funny. I reseed every week, and even then, I usually end up buying transplants now and then at the farmer's market, just to keep up with the need. Wait until the tomatoes ripen! Let the salsa fest begin.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Season's first tomatoes

We're heading into my favorite time of year: hot July followed by hotter August, and just when you think you can't take one more day of 90+ heat, September comes and soothes your summer aches with cool breezes and just a hint of changing leaves.

But, let's not rush it. Pull up a seat, July, and make yourself comfortable.

I got a late start this year, getting everything into the ground. In May, we had an unexpectedly large amount of rain, so on each dry day, it was a race to get whatever I could into the ground. The rain also kept the weather fairly cool in June. Tomatoes love heat, and deprived of such, they're not above showing their disapproval by taking their good ole time going from green to ripe. They're over 8 feet tall at this point (photos to come shortly, if I can find my wide-angle lens), stuffed full of green globes and yellow blooms, so you can imagine my impatience.

The heat eventually showed up, however, and the tomatoes kicked into gear. One day, seemingly overnight, the first three tomatoes ripened. I practically cried when I spied them hidden behind their curtains of leaves. After vogueing for the camera, they went into a spectacularly yummy and long-awaited Tomato, Basil and Mozzarella salad. Ah, Summer. How I love you so.

Black Krim


Amish Paste

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Time for Flowers

A couple of weekends ago, I popped in to my favorite local garden center, just to do a little browsing. I didn't expect them to have much in the way of stock. I almost didn't even bring my purse in. It was, afterall, only April 18th. I turned the corner into the main plant display, and holay guacamolay! The place was filled to the brim with flowers and veggies of every kind. I grabbed a cart and practically jogged up and down every aisle, wild-eyed and hyperventilating a little. (I think you could safely say I was a little greenery starved. :) And from the way the other folks were being all grabby-handed about things, I think the feeling was wide-spread.) I crammed that cart full of marigolds and impatiens and petunias, plus some unusual stuff like the gorgeous Lilac Spoon (below, upper left) that I had never seen before in my life, and the Spiral Rush (below, upper right, planted in front of the garlic), which is actually a water plant but will survive in the ground if watered well and consistently. The photo to the right shows just a portion of what I purchased - I don't have a wide-enough angled lens to capture it all!
My tulip beds are winding down, but I'm still enjoying the beautiful blooms. "World's Favorite" (below, lower left) and, my favorite this year, Crispion Sweet. Ahhhh. Flowers.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Tomatoes are Growing Up

I find myself in a kind of odd holding pattern at the moment. Spring garden is self-sustaining. Too early to plant much new outside. I got a late start on my tomato and pepper seed sowing, so while everything is doing great, they're not ready for the big outdoors. (Actually, it wasn't really a late start, as I timed everything to coincide with zone 6's last frost date (May 15), but the weather has been so utterly fantastic this Spring, I feel like I'm running late.) Flowers are ready to go in, but I need to plant the veggies first, as the flowers will be placed around them. (Part of my master "landscaping with vegetables" plan....)

One practice I've embraced in reducing the frustrations of waiting for seeds to germinate is maintaining a rather aggressive reseeding schedule. I sow everything in individually labeled cells (whether it's Jiffy strips or peat pots or seed pellets) — can't do the broadcast method in a large flat; I'm the world's wimpiest seedling thinner-outer, ever ("No, no, I can't kill it ...") — so, I know exactly what has and hasn't sprouted. If a seed doesn't sprout within its germination guidelines, I'll stick another seed in the same cell and make slight adjustments to the environment. I'd rather have too many seedlings than not enough!

I sowed 12 varieties of heirloom tomatoes, and now, at the end of April, have ended up with at least 2 of everything. For some reason I don't really understand, the original seed will often sprout at the same time as the reseeded seeds. Weird, but, right now, I have Black Cherry triplets that needed 2 reseedings, spread out over 3 weeks, that all sprouted at the same time, and are cutely shoving out identical leaves in the same directions. (I'm resisting the urge to dress them all in matching onesies.)

For me, personally, there is no downside to this practice. Yes, my tomatoes are at different stages of growth — I have several that are past due being ready to go in the ground ... d'oh! (this weekend, for sure) — but a seedling well-cared for is amazingly prolific and will grow like gangbusters once it settles in to its earthy home. By July, you won't be able to tell which tomatoes sprang from the original sowing versus the third sowing. And I have yet to have any difficulty finding homes for the extras.  :^)

Three Radiator Charlie's Mortgage Lifters on the left; a variety of other yummy heirlooms on the right, all graduating to their 4" Cow Pots.

Summer garlic wonderfully tall and lush (left). Spring radishes poking their shoulders through the soil (right).

Monday, April 20, 2009

Planting Onions

If there's anything I love as much as heirloom tomatoes, it's anything from the Allium family. Onions, garlic, leeks — me likey. Me likey a lot. One of my favorite parts of making soup (although, to be honest, they're all my favorite parts) is the first 8 minutes when the aromatics are simmering in their butter bath. Mm mmm mmmm.

Last year, I was mighty sad when I used up my last onion long before it even had time to go rotten or sprout — cleary, I didn't grow enough. Not the case this year. No sir. I've committed considerable area in my gardens to alliums: 3 varieties and over 4 dozen onions, 2 varieties and 6 dozen garlics, a dozen shallots, 2 varieties and 2 dozen leeks. (And actually, I'm not done — as I mentioned in a previous post, I secured a spot in a community garden, where I'll be planting even more onions and shallots. I ordered onion plants, which come in bundles of 50-75, so, I have plenty leftover from the Spring planting.)

In the meantime, I thought I'd share my photos of how I plant my onions. Most folks, I imagine, dig skinny trenches, line the plants in the trenches, then scrunch together the soil in the trench to fill in the gap. But since I don't plant things in rows, I have to improvise.

I love the Candy Hybrid and Walla Walla varieties. They're sweet, so they don't store well, but frankly, they won't be around long enough to overwinter....
I found a piece of doweling in my garage, just the right width to "drill" some holes. A conveniently placed bar code on the dowel provides a visual guide for the correct depth.
I had previously turned over and amended this bed, so the soil was quite fluffy and diggable — creating all the holes across the entire bed was quick work, especially with the bar code depth guide.
I dug the holes first so I could eyeball the layout and make sure everything is nicely spaced before committing the plants to their homes.
A Candy Hybrid prepares to get all snuggly in his new home.
Voilá! Some 2 dozen onions went into this bed. Cayenne and de Arbol peppers (for making ristras) will also share this sunny, front yard spot once the last frost date (May 15) passes.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Little Red Grows Up - Why I Find Gardening So Amazing

For many years, gardening was just an after-thought for me. Something everyone did every May: you plant some petunias, some impatiens. You plant some tomatoes and peppers. Maybe some cucumbers, if you're feeling ambitious with a trellis. Things get watered now and then; fertilized maybe once. You feel oddly proud when you get a dozen fruits, even though it was more luck than anything.

It wasn't until I started growing things indoors from seed that it — "It" — really kicked in. "It" - you know what I'm talkin' 'bout, or you wouldn't have made it this far down in this blog. It. The click of the lightbulb - the "Oh, that's what gardening's all about."

I think "It" must come from the same area in your brain where your feelings about, and the compulsion to care for, your children, and family, and friends, and pets reside. That need to nurture, and the amazement that comes from the result of that nurturing.

Whoa. That's more philosophical than I usually get. But, that's the conclusion I must draw, because something compels me to drag myself upstairs to my finished attic at the end of a long day of work to check the moisture levels and growth progress of my seedlings (juicy, drippy, succulent tomatoes ... and that heady scent of tomato leaves on your skin ... seem very far away in the dreary twilight of a late March evening, so I know it's not that. It must be something more primal).

Seeing your efforts come to such vivid life makes it all worthwhile. Observe this season's basil starts. The very, very first seedling to emerge this year was a Red Rubin basil. Shocking, it was, because he sprouted a mere two days after sowing, and basil is notorious for having a spotty germination record. He was so cute, so insistent on thriving, that I decided to photograph Little Red's progress through the season. The first picture was taken on February 18th; the most recent, April 4th.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Gardening in Cincinnati

Hi Everyone!

I'm so happy to be participating in The Tasteful Garden's blog!  My name is Karen, and I live in Cincinnati, Ohio, zone 6. I'm an avid (rabid, even) vegetable gardener (and, as you can tell from my screenname, a soup fanatic - a nice outlet for vegetables, don't you think ;^).  

2009 is promising to be an amazing year for the Ohio Valley zone 6 gardener.  Spring arrived early and, except for an oddly-out-of-place snowy day on Thursday, Apr. 9, there has been a lovely balance of rainy and sunny, warmish days.  For the first year in a long, long time, it actually feels like a real Spring! Everything's in bloom, and my gardens are off to a strong start.

Double Rip Van Winkle Narcissus
Wendy Love Tulips

I have an oddly configured and shaded yard that makes the traditional big-rectangle vegetable garden impractical.  So, I spread my plantings over seven different plots scattered here and there, along with some container gardening on my deck.  I love the idea of landscaping with vegetables — flowers and rocks have a home in the same bed as peppers, or tomatoes, or basil, or cucumbers.  As the season progresses, you'll see this in practice in my photos :^).

I also secured a plot this year in the local community garden (below), which happily and oh-so-conveniently borders my property.  I'm running out of sun-drenched land to grow my beloved heirloom tomatoes (these things grow like crazy in good soil — last year they climbed up and over a 7 foot fence and then stretched back down to the ground.  That's 14 feet of tomato vines (and 14 feet worth of tomatoes!).  I need the elbow room.  :^)

Lots to catch you up on in the coming posts, as seed-starting is in full swing, and the Spring cool-weather vegetables are already in the ground. Stay tuned....