Sunday, May 20, 2018

What's happening in the late May garden

Chives and sage in bloom
Sunday, May 20, 2018

In late May, the summer veggies are growing strong and the spring veggies are at the end.  There are still greens for salads or steaming.  Herbs are growing robustly.  By this time of year, we no longer need to purchase produce from the grocery store and can get fresh herbs to add to ordinary dishes that make them taste wonderful.

The greens we are eating-French sorrel, chard, spinach, dandelion greens, salad burnet, corn salad, chick weed, sweet clover, green onions, tyfon, Giant Red mustard, sprouting broccoli leaves, snow peas, turnip greens, kale, cabbage.  Growing fabulous lettuce and greens

Herbs to add to dishes and salads-chives, cilantro, parsley, rosemary, oregano, thyme, horseradish, overwintered leeks, Egyptian onions, tarragon, sage, dill, young garlic. 
The fruits and veggies-turnips, beets, strawberries, baby carrots.

The flowers that are blooming-irises, spiderwort, marigolds, petunias, roses, snapdragons, alyssum and the herbs and veggies going to seed-white flowers on the cilantro, the sage has beautiful purple flowers, the white, red and pink flowers of thyme, lavender chive flowers.  All veggie and herb flowers are edible.  A fun way to add flavor and beauty to salads or other dishes.

The lettuce is in full bolt so soon there will be the white, yellow and blue flowers from the different kinds of lettuce.  Carrots will bolt, too.  If not pulled, they will have beautiful flowers resembling Queen Ann's Lace, which they are from the same family.  

The tomatoes and peppers have flowers so tiny fruits should be appearing soon!  Peppers typically can be harvested in June and tomatoes around the 4th of July. 

This week end, I'll weed in the garden and pots.  Everything was fertilized when planted.  I'll do another round when the fruits appear on the tomatoes.

There has been an insect feeding on my tomato leaves and something chewing off a few of my transplants at the ground.  I sprinkled diatomaceous earth (de) on and around only the plants that were being bothered.  De is not discriminate between good insects and bad insects so I use sparingly.  I would not use on a plant that is flowering to avoid killing pollinators.  

Once the plants get up to a decent size, they will no longer be at risk of being killed or stunted from being an insect's meal.   Natural, organic pest strategies and how to make your own bug sprays


I have also had a very enterprising mole in the garden over the winter.  The good part of this is that they do a great job of loosening up the soil.  The bad part is that if there tunnels go under your plant, there is a good chance, the plant will die.  I got out the mole deterrent and put it in the garden.  It is just a round metal tube that vibrates and makes a buzzing noise a few times a minute.  Hopefully, it will keep the mole from the garden!

I have been harvesting the extra greens and freezing them to use when needed.  By harvesting, it stimulates the plant to grow even more leaves.  My spinach did much better this year in the pot.  I was very generous with the fertilizer!  Preservation garden

I start seeds indoors and outdoors throughout the season.  I started my squash, tomatoes, peppers, and basil indoors a week ago.  Most came up.  I keep my seeds in the refrigerator for years.  This keeps them fresh enough to germinate even though they are not this year's seed.  I had to replant 3 squash seeds and 3 cardinal basil.  I have the sprouted seedlings on the deck to harden off.  The sun is very intense this time of year so if you start seeds indoors be sure to let them get used to the sun before planting in the garden.  I'll transplant them later this week.

I also put flower seeds in a pot on the deck- red hummingbird vine, blue morning glory and white moonflower to have the red, white and blue flowers trained up the covered deck.  2 of the 3 have come up.  Moonflower can take a while to sprout.

Potted lettuce bolting
On the back patio, I have re-seeded summer lettuces.  Lettuce in general likes cooler temps.  When it gets up in the 80's, they bolt, sending up a stalk that then flowers.  You can let them go to seed and then save seed for re-sowing.  Most lettuces start to get bitter when they bolt.  Red Sails is one of the few that stays fairly sweet even after bolting.  This time of year, re-sow every 3 weeks to keep in lettuce.  Also, sow the most heat tolerant varieties you can find to extend how long you can harvest.  Bolt-free, sweet summer lettuces
Lettuce seedlings

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Peppers are for every taste and garden


Saturday, May 19, 2018


No matter your taste buds, your style of cooking or the type of food you love, there is a pepper for you!  Besides that, peppers are pest free, come in beautiful colors, are easy to grow, and look great on the patio.
There are hot peppers, there are sweet peppers, there are smokey peppers.  There are peppers of a multitude of colors-white, yellow, orange, red, purple, brown, black, green.  They come in all shapes from the size of a blueberry to 6”, straight, crooked, puckered.

Peppers originated in South America.  Their use goes back to at least 7500 BCE and were domesticated at least 8000 years ago.  

Pepper’s heat is measured in Scoville heat units.  Some of the hottest peppers measured was a Trinidad Scorpion Butch T at 1,463,700 and a Naga Viper, at 1,382,118 SHU’s.  Now that is smokin’ hot!

Quick reference Scoville values:
*0 Sweet peppers like the classic bell and Italian sweet peppers.  
*100-900 Mild peppers such as pimento, banana and pepperoncini peppers
*1,000-2,500 Anaheim, Poblano, Peppadew peppers
*3,500-8,000 Jalapeño, Anaheim peppers
*10,000-23,000 Serrano, Peter peppers
*30,000-50,000 Tabasco, Cayenne peppers
*100,000-350,000 Habanero/Scotch bonnet peppers

One thing to keep in mind, peppers are natural plants and their heat can vary widely based on growing conditions and their pepper neighbor in the garden.  If you place a hot pepper and a sweet pepper next to each other, the sweet pepper can become a spicy pepper through cross pollination.

Once you get in the range of cayenne peppers, you should use gloves when handling.  Washing your hands with water after handling the pepper does not wash away the heat!  Transferring some of the pepper’s heat to the eyes can be extremely painful!  The best way to cool the heat is to use whole milk.  

The center of a pepper’s heat is in its seeds and ribs.  If you want a milder dish, clean the seeds and ribs from the pepper before using.

We typically grow our hot peppers in pots as they seem to do best in a container.  I try to grow enough peppers to last us all winter for salads, chili, salsa, and pepper seasonings.  The hot peppers like Jalapeños and Cayenne are prolific in pots.  One plant of the hot, smaller varieties is all we need.  We have found that the smaller sweet pepper plants like banana peppers and Nikita did equally well in pots.  The large sweet peppers like California bell and Pimento seemed to do better in the garden bed.

For planting in the pots, we just use a good organic potting soil purchased from our local garden center and place one plant per pot along with a petunia or nasturtium for additional color.  To help maintain moisture, I mulch around the peppers after planted in the pot.  I water them once/week in the summer.  Converting your favorite pot to a self watering container really helps in cutting down how often watering is required.

If you want to give your pepper plants an extra boost, they favor phosphorous (bulb food or bone meal works well), sulfur (a book of matches in the hole does the trick), calcium to prevent blossom end rot (a half dozen crushed egg shells works well), and magnesium (which is contained in epson salts, a diluted spray when the flowers appear).  Some say if the leaves pucker, this is a sign that phosphorous is needed.  Tomato fertilizer is also good for peppers as both are fruiting plants.

You should put out pepper plants after it is nice and warm.  Peppers are in the nightshade family with tomatoes and eggplant.  They should be planted outside when night time temps are above 55 and daytime temps in the 70’s consistently.  If you buy pepper plants with peppers already on them, remove them before planting so the plant can focus its energy on developing a strong root system. 

If you are going to grow your peppers from seeds, start them indoors 6-8 weeks before you will transplant outside.  You can get unusual varieties not at your local nursery in seed catalogues.  Baker Creek Heirloom Seed company has some very unique varieties from around the world.  Although the spectrum available today in stores is quite nice.  You can also order plants as well from most seed catalogues.

Surprisingly, peppers don’t like extremely hot weather.  They get sunburned when the temps get into the 90’s consistently.  Their sunburn looks like dark spots on the exposed fruits.  If you can, move them into the shade when temps are extreme.  They won’t croak, but they are stressed during periods of high heat.

Almost all veggies love fertile soil and consistent watering.  Peppers are no exception.  Some swear that stressing the plant will increase the heat of the pepper.  Now, a recent Guinness winner thinks the secret to getting the world’s hottest pepper was run off from a worm farm.


Peppers will get flowers on them that, if pollinated, will grow into a pepper.  If you look into the center of a flower, you can see the emerging baby pepper.
Pepper flower with baby pepper forming
Anything that produces a seed or fruit needs a visit from a friendly pollinator, like the honey bee, mason bee, bumble bee, predatory wasps, hover flies, butterflies, moths, beetles, and many other insects.  It is important to not use insecticides as they kill the pollinators along with the bad bugs or to use very sparingly and not on the flowers themselves.

I plant the peppers in a pot with nasturtium or petunias to attract the pollinators and to look good on the patio.
Pepper plant with petunias
This year I am growing several peppers:
*Chocolate and red sweet peppers for the salsa and snacking
*Cayenne for salsa and making hot sauce
*Jalapeno for salsa.  You can also smoke them to make chipotle seasoning
*Pimento peppers to add dice and add to salads
*Poblano to dry for chili powder  (the dried pepper is called ancho)
*One I have grown in the past is Pasilla bajio for mole sauces.  It is also called chile negro because of its black color.
                                  Pimento at top, jalapeño on bottom      Red and green cayennes

I have a Chipetin pepper I overwinter in the garage that is already producing small, very hot peppers.  Some are ready to eat size!  Peppers are a tropical perennial so can be overwintered in the garage or house to get a jump start on the next season.  Plus, if you have a pepper plant that was just outstanding the previous year, you know you will get a repeat show.

Peppers all start out green.  It is as they ripen that they turn colors.  Jalapeño will turn red if left to ripen on the vine.  The sweet peppers I am growing from seed this year will turn chocolate, red or orange.  They can be eaten either when green or after they have turned.  Their flavor, and heat, will intensify as they ripen.

The trick to keeping the pepper crop going is to harvest often.  It’s like the plant knows when it has its quota of peppers.  The blossoms will fall off until more are picked.

Here are some ways to preserve your pepper harvest if you have more than you can eat  Preserving peppers

Peppers have many great nutritional benefits.  They contain high amounts of vitamins C, A (carotene), K, potassium, manganese, B6 as well as a good source of fiber.  Its antioxidants help the body combat free radicals.  For more details, SELF magazine has a nice compilation of nutritional information of fruits and vegetables:  pepper nutritional info

The hotter the pepper, the more capsaicin it contains.  A tablespoon of ground chili pepper would contain between 0.8 to 480 mg of capsaicin.  In Ayurvedic medicine, capsaicin is used for digestive and circulatory health support. 

Peppers come in so many different flavors and heat intensity.  There is a pepper out there for everyone.  Combined with their carefree horticulture, they make a great plant to add to your garden this year.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

It's summer veggie planting time!

Sage in bloom in mid May garden

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Mother's Day is when old timers say it is the best time to plant your summer garden.  Prior to May 1, there is still a good chance of poor weather, chilly temps, and frost in our Zone 6 garden.  This can be catastrophic for tomatoes, eggplants, basil and other heat lovers.

Today, we have the added advantage of the 15 day forecast!  I checked out ours and it showed warm temperatures for the next 15 days.  Warm temperatures and weekly rain is the perfect recipe to get the summer lovers off to a good start.  Planting earlier is not necessarily better.  Summer lovers will shiver in their holes in the garden bed if the soil and air temperatures are chilly.  I like mulching right before planting summer veggies as the heat from the mulch helps warm the earth and keep the transplants toasty.

Summer vegetables include tomatoes, peppers, basil, summer squash (zucchini), winter squash (pumpkins, butternut squash), cucumbers, melons, watermelons, corn, okra, and eggplant.

So, what did we plant this year?  

So, what are we planting this year?  Of course, we planted the number one veggie in the USA-tomatoes!   This year, I bought most of them as plants.  There is a great selection of heirlooms at local nurseries these days.  There are a few I am growing from seed.  We are planting a variety of heirloom, chocolate types, paste tomatoes, small and large tomatoes and a couple of new varieties.  Choosing which tomatoes to grow  Loving the purple tomatoes with all their fantastic antioxidants!   I am trying a new multicolor and purple variety, too.  Different colors in tomatoes give different nutrition

I have planted several varieties in the garden bed: Brandywine True Black and the traditional pink Brandywine, Cherokee Purple which always does well in our garden, Black Krim, Box Car Willie, Costoluto Genovese, San Marzano, and Amish Paste.    Am growing Boronia in a pot as it is an heirloom compact type.  Tomatoes 101, everything you need to know to grow great tomatoes

Those should be more than enough for all our needs, but there are a few more that I can't resist growing from seed.  There is an Italian Paste heirloom that always does great in the garden.  I save seed from it every year.  There are two purple tomatoes that I saved seed from that I bought from Whole Foods, a medium black and a very large black tomato.  There is also an heirloom, compact paste tomato that I wanted to try Little Napoli.  Then there was this multicolor small tomato that I bought seed for Indigo Pear Drops that would be great for salads.  I have settled on the medium black, Italian Paste and Indigo Pear Drops.  There are just so many choices!   The Power of Purple

The new varieties for my garden are the black Brandywine, Box Car Willie, Costoluto Genovese, Boronia, the medium black tomato from Whole Foods seed, and Indigo Pear Drops.

If you have limited space, look for the dwarf/bush types like Bush Early Girl (only 54 days till ripe tomatoes), Patio, Husky Red, Lizzano, and Tumbling Tom. Typically, you can expect to have your first ripe tomatoes around the 4th of July.  The earliest tomato bearing variety I have grown is Yellow Tumbling Tom that gave me tomatoes in June.  They grow great in the garden or pots.  Compact tomato plants for small spaces   Typically, you can expect to have your first ripe tomatoes around the 4th of July.  The smaller tomatoes are the first to ripen.  

We also planted several peppers-Cayenne, Jalapeño, Pimento, Chipetin, Poblano, Lipstick and some sweet peppers I grew from seed from last year.  The Chipetin pepper is one that I overwinter in the garage every year.  It is an ancient pepper with tiny, hot peppers.   Peppers are for every taste and garden

I am doing 2 eggplants this year, a white one "White Star" and one that is advertised to stay sweet, even in the heat "AO Daimaru".   Eggplant-add this native from India to your garden

I started from seed 2 kinds of zucchini-Cocozelle and Early Prolific Straight Neck.  They are susceptible to being killed by the squash vine borer if planted before June 1.  You can protect the vine to keep the insect from boring into the vine by wrapping the vine or just replant if they do get infected.  Zucchini grows fast!  Growing zucchini and summer squash  This may seem like overkill on the zucchini as one plant produces as much as a typical family needs during the summer.  I didn't have the greatest luck with zucchini last year.  Too much rain caused disease and insect pressure.  I also found some great ways to use and preserve zucchini that any extra will be stored for many new ways of using.  What to do with all that zucchini?!  I really liked shredding the zucchini and using in place of spaghetti.  I'll shred and put into freezer bags so I have a low carb, nutritious option anytime.
Trellis in background for the cucumbers

 I planted extra cucumbers this year to make green smoothies.  Grow your own juice garden   I planted seeds for a yellow that can weigh up to 5 pounds (Jaune Dickfleishige), a red (Hmong Red), and 1 white cucumber "Miniature White" that is a good container variety that's good for a single salad.  Cucumber info and tips for growing.  Cukes are tropical plants so they grow best when the temperatures are hot.

The summer herbs I am planting this year are basil, rosemary, oregano, parsley, garlic chives, lavender, thyme and stevia so far.  I overwinter my bay trees.   Start a kitchen herb garden!  I planted 3 types of basil-Cardinal, Lettuce Leaf, and Sweet Genovese.  Cardinal basil has a beautiful garnet flower top.  Lettuce Leaf has large leaves that are perfect for making pesto.  Basil basics-harvesting, preserving, growing basil

It is also time for another round of lettuce.  The first planting of lettuce is bolting.  We planted Bloomsdale Longstanding spinach which lasts about two weeks longer in the heat than other types of spinach so the spinach, but doesn't last for long after the temperatures hit the 80's.  For lettuce, I am trying a heat resistant variety pack as well as Red Romaine, Red Sails and Simpson Elite.  Growing summer salads

We had already fertilized, added compost, and mulched a month ago.  I will add Azomite around each plant along with fertilizer in another month.  Azomite has lots of trace minerals.  If you notice your plants really taking off after using it, you know they were missing some needed minerals.  Plants are like us, they need trace minerals.  When your plants have them, you will, too!  

If planting in pots, be sure to recharge the potting soil for this year's growing season  Re-energize your potting soil!
Overwintered Egyptian walking onions

When we planted the summer veggies, I powdered the roots of each plant with plant starter.  It contains mycorrhizal microbes and root support.  Mycorrhizal fixes nitrogen to the roots of the plant, helping it to grow sturdier, bigger and faster.  Once added to the soil, mycorrhizal will continue in the soil in that spot.

Before you send your new transplants into the garden, insure they have been sufficiently "hardened off."  If you started your own seeds indoors, take your plants out daily over a week or so into a partially shady spot, letting them get used to the strong sun.

If you purchased your transplants and they were already outdoors, they are ready to be plopped into the ground and grow!

I also planted summer loving flowers I started from seed, Moonflower vine, Hummingbird vine, Cock's Comb, Morning Glories, alyssium, and zinnias.

Now it is time to watch everything grow, water and fertilize as needed, and eat!

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Choosing which tomatoes to grow

Potted volunteer tomato plant
Saturday, May 12, 2018

There are hundreds of tomatoes to choose from.  There are whole catalogues devoted just to America’s favorite home garden vegetable.  There really is nothing like a homegrown tomato, fresh off the vine!  With so many to choose from, how do you decide which is best for your garden?

Some consideration for deciding what to plant-space you have, flavor, how you use tomatoes, and which types grow best and give the biggest yields in your area.  Ask your neighbors or farmers market sellers which types they have found grow the best for them.  For heirloom and open pollinated types you buy from the farmers market, save the seeds from the ones you like and you can grow them in your garden!

I prefer heirloom and open pollinated, organic veggies.  I love the idea of seeds being handed down from generation to generation with loving care, through good times and bad.  Back in the day, every vegetable  and vegetable seed was precious.  You should save the seeds from your very best tasting, performing plant with the biggest fruits.  It was a sacrifice to take the biggest, juiciest fruit for its seeds.  Seeds were like gold back then.

Today, we save seeds from the best performers in our garden so year after year our veggies are better adapted to our specific garden conditions and tastes.  Seed saving-fun, easy and a cost saver

Chocolate cherry tomatoes

Family lore has it that my great grandfather killed a man in self defense when one of my great uncles stole some seeds the neighbor had ordered.  The neighbor came with a gun and confronted my great grandfather for the theft of his seeds.  The family had to leave the state, worried that the law would come after him.  At least, that is a story I heard told.........

This year I have told myself I am going to stick with 3 tomato plants.  2 for canning and salads and one for slicing tomatoes.  I say that every year and usually end up with at least 5 because I see ones I just can't resist.

You may be surprised with my canning tomato choices.  I can all types of tomatoes.
I plant tomatoes that give lots with great taste and preserve all that we can't eat.   I have recently been growing the darker tomatoes since they are so healthy!  For more on the benefits of darker veggies, The Power of Purple  If you are curious on how the color of tomatoes affect its health benefits, 
Different colors in tomatoes give different nutrition or just a ranking on overall health benefits by type, 
Most nutritious heirloom tomatoes  They even have tomatoes today that are bred specifically to increase the healthiness of the tomato!

 I get the best yields from the smaller tomatoes.  
In the past, I used to get loads of tomatoes with Juliet (a hybrid, 1999 All American) and Yellow Pear (a heirloom from pre-1800).  Both are indeterminate, meaning they produce from summer through frost.  The Juliet is a mini Roma, great taste.  The last couple of years, the Juliet and pear tomatoes have not been doing well in our garden.  Small tomatoes Sun Chocolate, Indigo Rose, and Baby Boomer all did well in our garden last season.

The smaller tomatoes are great for drying as well.  I like using my electric dehydrator for "sun dried" tomatoes as it is usually just too humid in the Midwest to dry tomatoes in the sun.  
Large heirloom Italian Red Pear tomato, good for sauce and slicing

For slicers, the heirloom Brandywine, dates back to 1885, is a taste favorite which we have grown many times and is on our garden this year.  It continues to win taste tests to this day.  I tried a grafted tomato from Territorial Seed Co.  and it did very well.  A graft is an age-old technique of taking a strong root stock and grafting a tasty plant on to it.  Lately, we have been trying different chocolate varieties, an early variety and a winter storage variety.  Cherokee Purple slicer, Glacier for early tomatoes, and Red October as a storage tomato we have good luck with in our garden. 

One large tomato variety that has done surprising well over the last couple of years is Italian Red Pear.  It is a large heirloom paste tomato traditionally used for canning.  It does great all the way through late fall.  I am definitely growing it again this year.  It makes silky smooth tomato sauce and soups.  I saved the seeds from an heirloom tomato I bought at Whole Foods.  Any time you purchase an heirloom veggie, you can always save the seed and grow them in your own garden.

If you are short on space, there are many dwarf and patio varieties that can even be grown in pots!  We have had good luck with Bush Early Girl (only 54 days ‘till ripe tomatoes), Patio, Husky Red, while trying heirloom Lizzano and Tumbling Tom.  There are many more options!  
Compact tomatoes for small spaces and pots
Yellow Tumbling Tom, a dwarf variety

Just three tomato plants should give us (a family of 2) enough for eating, freezing for salsa, and canning that will last us until the next year.  You don't need many plants to get a whole lot of fruits!

For more on growing tomatoes, these blogs can help you get started growing your own tomatoes this season:

Sunday, May 6, 2018

What we are eating from the early May garden

Peonies in bloom in the garden

Saturday, May 6, 2018

May is a wonderful time in the garden.  Greens are sweet and juicy.  Herbs are growing robustly.  By this time of year, we no longer need to purchase produce from the grocery store and can get fresh herbs to add to ordinary dishes that make them taste wonderful.

We are eating a variety of greens-French sorrel, spinach, dandelion greens, salad burnet, blood veined sorrel, garden sorrel, sweet clover, green onions, kale, broccoli and cabbage leaves, celery, purple orach, mustard greens, corn salad, arugula, mache, chickweed and lettuce.

Potted kale, cabbage, and lettuce
The herbs from the garden to add to dishes and salads-chives, cilantro, parsley, rosemary, oregano, thyme, savory, horseradish, leeks, Egyptian walking onions, tarragon, sage, dill, horseradish, green onions, leeks, mint. 

The iris are beginning to bloom.  The peonies and tulips are still in flowering.  The roses are just beginning to bud.  The potted petunias are filling out.  The lawn is a lush, thick green carpet.

Iris in bloom
It is a good idea to fertilize any plants that are flowering.  Producing flowers takes a lot of energy from the plant so they appreciate an extra boost this time of year.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

May 2018 Edible Garden Planner

May garden

Saturday, May 5, 2018

May Day is when the old timers say is the best time to plant your summer garden in the Midwest.  Prior to May 1, there is still a good chance of poor weather, chilly temps, and frost in our Zone 6/7 gardens.  This can be catastrophic for tomatoes, eggplants, basil and other heat lovers.

Today, we have the added advantage of the 15 day forecast!  Check out your 15 day forecast to know if it looks safe to plant those tender summer veggies as it is possible to have chilly temps even into May.  If direct planting seeds, chilly and rainy conditions can cause the seeds to rot.  Warm, moist conditions are the best for seed success!

This spring has had below normal temperatures so the planting is behind previous years.  The greens that love the cooler weather have done great!  You just don't want to plant the summer lovers too early as they don't like being cold and you can lose them to frost.  Earlier is not always better.

May is the time to sow summer lover's seed and plant warm season crops.  The cold crops are at their peak at the beginning of the month with many bolting and going to seed by month's end like spinach, cilantro, lettuce, chard, kale, sprouting broccoli, and onions.
Mid-May garden
So, what are we planting this year?  Of course, we planted the number one veggie in the USA-tomatoes!   This year, I bought most of them as plants.  There is a great selection of heirlooms at local nurseries these days.  There are a few I will grow from seed.  We are planting a variety of heirloom, chocolate types, paste tomatoes, small and large tomatoes and a couple of new varieties.  Choosing which tomatoes to grow  Loving the purple tomatoes with all their fantastic antioxidants!   I am trying a new multicolor and purple variety, too.  Different colors in tomatoes give different nutrition

I have planted several varieties in the garden bed: Brandywine True Black and the traditional pink Brandywine, Cherokee Purple which always does well in our garden, Black Krim, Box Car Willie, Costoluto Genovese, San Marzano, and Amish Paste.    Am growing Boronia in a pot as it is an heirloom compact type.  Tomatoes 101, everything you need to know to grow great tomatoes

Those should be more than enough for all our needs, but there are a few more that I can't resist growing from seed.  There is an Italian Paste heirloom that always does great in the garden.  I save seed from it every year.  There are two purple tomatoes that I saved seed from that I bought from Whole Foods, a medium black and a very large black tomato.  There is also an heirloom, compact paste tomato that I wanted to try Little Napoli.  Then there was this multicolor small tomato that I bought seed for Indigo Pear Drops that would be great for salads.  I may need to make some choices here or just wait to see if some of the early tomatoes don't do well and substitute some of these later in the season.  There are just so many choices!   The Power of Purple

If you have limited space, look for the dwarf/bush types like Bush Early Girl (only 54 days till ripe tomatoes), Patio, Husky Red, Lizzano and Tumbling Tom. Typically, you can expect to have your first ripe tomatoes around the 4th of July.  The earliest tomato bearing variety I have grown is Yellow Tumbling Tom that gave me tomatoes in June.  They grow great in the garden or pots.  Compact tomato plants for small spaces

I'll plant the green bean seeds likely next week end, giving the ground time to get really warm.  I like the vining, pole type.  They produce all season and they grow up so using a trellis maximizes the garden space.  We like the flavor from the flat Italian type of green beans.  The green bean types I am growing are Purple Podded, Romano II, Blauhilde which is a purple green bean.  All three did great in the garden last year.  I have quarts and quarts of beans in the freezer.  Legumes-peas for spring, beans for summer  

Last year, I also planted 3 kinds of storage beans, King of the Garden Lima, Fort Portal Jade and Good Mother Stollard beans.  They were fun to try, but you just don't get many beans for the time and space in the garden.  I got one quart jar total of dried beans from all 12 plants.  I don't think I will grow them this year.

Pepper plant in August garden last year
I planted several types of peppers.  I am growing both sweet and hot peppers this season.  I grow Cayenne for hot sauce, to dry for Red Pepper spice and to put in salsa.  Homemade hot sauce wings with homegrown celery   Jalapeño's for salsa.  Quick, homemade salsa  I have planted Poblano for chili powder.  I planted Pimento for chopping up and using in Pasta House salads.  Yum!  Homemade salad dressing recipes with garden herbs   

I overwintered an ancient hot pepper in the garage called Chipetin.  It is thought to be the ancestor of all hot peppers.  This is its second winter and it did great.  It produces very small, very hot round red peppers.  I dry them and use them in my grilling spice mix.  Using herbs, flowers and fruit for flavored sugars and salts

Lastly, there are the sweet peppers to snack on and for salsa.  I am trying a new sweet pepper this year Lipstick that is supposed to be prolific along with plants I'll grow from seed that I have saved from last year.  The ones I grew last year were very sweet, crunchy and prolific.  This year I am going to plant all my peppers in pots.  It just seems that my peppers do better in a pot than in the ground.  I just refreshed the potting soil and fertilized them well.  Re-energize your potting soil!   Peppers are for every taste and garden


I am growing two eggplants White Star and AO Daimaru.  We loved Casper, but it is very hard to sprout from seed and not a variety that is easy to find as a plant.  We'll try the White Star this year and maybe get lucky that it tastes similar to Casper.  Our summers get so hot here that eggplant skins can get tough and the fruits bitter so I always look for the varieties that are good for our temps.  Eggplant-add this native from India to your garden

I will plant 2 kinds of summer squash-Cocozelle and Early Prolific Straight Neck.  They are susceptible to being killed by the squash vine borer if planted before June 1.  You can protect the vine to keep the insect from boring into the vine by wrapping the vine or just replant if they do get infected.  Zucchini grows fast!  Growing zucchini and summer squash  This may seem like overkill on the zucchini as one plant produces as much as a typical family needs during the summer.  I found some great ways to use and preserve zucchini that any extra will be stored for many new ways of using.  What to do with all that zucchini?!  I really liked shredding the zucchini and using in place of spaghetti.  I'll shred and put into freezer bags so I have a low carb, nutritious option anytime.

I am also planting a winter squash-Spaghetti squash.  It is a low carb substitute for spaghetti, too.  These vines don't produce many fruits, so I will plant a few vines.  I am going to train them up a trellis to maximize my garden space.  I grew them last year and they did pretty well until our chickens discovered them and decided they were a great snack.

Baby zucchini in summer garden
  I am planting cucumbers, sprouting broccoli, lettuce, kale, and parsley this year to make green smoothies.  Grow your own juice garden  All except the cukes are planted in the garden.  I am planting interesting varieties of cucumber-Homemade Pickles, Mini White, Jaune Dickfleischige, a large cucumber that keeps for months, and Red Hmong.  The white is a small fruit.  It will be nice to have smaller ones so I can pick one for a single salad.    I will grow these onto a trellis as well.  Cucumber info and tips for growing

Other veggies I planted were red veined sorrel, carrots, Utah celery, salad burnet, Radish Rat's Tail, Red Italian dandelion, chard, cilantro, dill, Dwarf Moringa, Roselle Red hibiscus, Red Giant mustard, Regina Alpine strawberries, arugula, Corn Salad, parsley, purple orach, cabbage, kale, sprouting broccoli, and spinach.

For herbs, I added several to the garden this year.  I transplanted rosemary and garlic chives.  I overwintered our bay plants in the unheated garage.  Both are doing great and have many new leaves.  I started chervil from seed.  I love adding dried chervil leaves and lavender to add fragrance to body oil.  Make your own fragrant herbal body oil  I added another oregano-a variegated type that is a nice splash of color.  I planted several creeping thymes with different colors, textures, scents and flowers.  I'll start borage and basil from seed indoors this week end.  For more on herbs, see  Start a kitchen herb garden!

It was also time for another round of greens.  Resowing every 3 weeks will keep us in salads all through the summer and fall.  Want continuous harvests? Succession planting!  I'll look for greens that stand up to the heat for this next round of planting.  I'll start them in pots and then transplant to the garden when they are big enough. 

For lettuce,  I planted bedding plants of Red Romaine, Buttercrunch, Red Sails, Paris Island Cos Romaine, and Buttercrunch.  For the next round of lettuce sowings, I'll go with the more heat resistant varieties like Jericho Romaine which has been tested to last 3 months before bolting as well as Red Sails loose leaf lettuce which stays sweet after bolting.   Look for varieties that have heat tolerant in the descriptor.  Here are some varieties that are proven to do well in the summer   Bolt-free, sweet summer lettuces

Lettuce and spinach aren't the only greens you can use for salads, see more at  Growing summer salads
Potted lettuce and arugula
We fertilized and mulched at the end of April.  When planting, I like to powder the roots of each plant with plant starter as well as dig in some fertilizer in each hole.  Plant starter has mycorrhizal microbes which fixes nitrogen to the roots of the plant, helping it to grow sturdier, bigger and faster.  Once you have the microbes in the soil, they will stay year after year.  

Later this month, I will add Azomite around each of my transplants under the mulch with the next round of fertilizer.  During the growing season, you should fertilize monthly.  Azomite contains many minerals which can result in significantly improved growth for your plants and more minerals in your harvested plants for a healthier you.  A win-win for your garden and your family.  The next step in garden production and your nutrition-soil minerals

Before you send your new transplants into the garden, insure they have been sufficiently "hardened off."  If you started your own seeds indoors, take your plants out daily over a week or so into a partially shady spot, letting them get used to the strong sun and wind.  I put mine out on the deck to get used to the sun and wind for several days before planting out.

If you purchased your transplants and they were already outdoors, they are ready to be plopped into the ground or pot and grow!

Iris in background and celosia in foreground interplanted with lettuce and sorrel

I always interplant my garden with flowers.  This year, I am using 
zinnias, marigolds, petunias, snapdragons, old fashioned Cock's Comb which is ruby red and grows 4 feet tall, red flowering Hummingbird Vine, Moonflower vine, Blue morning glory vine, heirloom sunflowers, and alyssum for annuals.  For perennials, there are delphiniums, hollyhocks in a variety of colors-Summer Carnival and Peach, red hot poker, day-lilies, irises, and gladiolas.

May is an exciting time in the garden.  Every day you go out, you can see things growing.  The spring vegetables are in their prime, the summer veggies are just starting, and there are so many herbs ready for seasoning your favorite salads or dishes.  Just be sure to keep ahead of the weeds and provide even watering.