The home office – home to my seedlings operation – smells delicious …
Today, I sowed five types of tomatoes (three each) and lettuce. The tomato varieties are: Green Zebra, Dr. Wyche’s Yellow, Paul Robson (I think), Break o’ Day, and Baker Family Heirloom. Two of them are mid-season tomatoes (Green Zebra, Dr. Wyche’s Yellow) and the other three are late. All tomato seeds were from 2019. The lettuce was Salad Bowl (from Sand Hill Preservation Center) for 2021.
I started my first seedlings today: hot Thai pepper, a mystery pepper that was a freebie from Sand Hill Preservation last year, Fairy Tale eggplant, Ping Tung eggplant, Dutch Darkibor kale, flat parsley, Genovese basil, Thai basil and cilantro. Sowed them in organic potting soil (Coast of Maine) and placed them under grow lights on a heat mat in my bedroom. So exciting!
Still eating from the garden: chilies and garlic. I even have a few last carrots in the fridge and still enjoy my potted thyme and rosmary that I brought into the kitchen from the back porch. Can’t wait to start my seeds (peppers, eggplant, basil will be first) in the next couple of weeks. Looking forward to spring.
I took inventory of my seeds today and placed an order with Sand Hill Preservation Center. There is a country-wide COVID-related seed shortage this season. Johnny’s for example is only selling to farmers at this moment and not to home gardeners like me. I should have enough seeds saved from previous years and should be fine with this order, fingers crossed. And I am counting on the Neighborhood Farm to provide me with seedlings this spring should I need them.
Time for another gardening year review and for laying out the plans for the next year. This year was like no other, as COVID-19 changed life as we know it for everyone. Thankfully, our family made it through the year healthy, though my high school senior/now college freshmen daughter and my now high school sophomore son had a hard time with remote learning and with missed milestones and cancelled school sport seasons. For our community garden, the pandemic meant that for a long time we did not know whether the gardens would open at all. Finally, at the end of May, we got the green light and our water was turned on, so I got a very late start in the garden. As the garden coordinator, I put rules and measures in place to keep our gardeners safe. Everyone had to wear a mask inside the garden as long as other people were around and wear gloves at all times. Also, everyone had to disinfect the garden gate before entering and the shed lock and the water spigot and nozzle before use. I put a bunch of cloth rags (that I took home to wash after use) and disinfectant in the shed so gardeners could disinfect tools and supplies. All gardeners adhered to the rules and our season went smoothly. The plots looked the best they ever have, with tons of veggies and very few weeds, in part thanks to the pandemic, because almost everyone worked from home and had to socially distance and therefore had extra time on their hands.
We had a very cold and wet spring, so the growing season was delayed in general. The spring rains were a blessing for our gardeners who had planted spring crops. Again, I had been cautious and apart from sowing radishes, carrots and peas, I did not plant anything in the spring.
Tomatoes, Peppers, Eggplant, Cucumbers. It was a good year for tomatoes, but unfortunately I did not keep a good record of the varieties I grew. I started with four different types from seed (Break O’Day, Dr. Wychee Yellow, Green Zebra, Eva Purple Ball) and bought a couple more plants from the Neighborhood Farm in June (Green Zebra and two other varieties). I lost a couple of plants, not sure which ones. Dr. Wychee and Green Zebra plus some other “red ones” did well in the plot. For peppers, I only grew Thai hot peppers, and they did well, both in the plot and on my back porch. Eggplants did well in my plot, for the first time. I grew both Ping Tung and also a regular variety (gifted by another gardener) and while they had a late start they did well. The eggplant on the porch (Ping Tung) remained very small-fruited, so I am not sure I will repeat this next year. The two cucumber plants (one pickling, the other one a slicer) had a stellar start but then quickly wilted, I am not sure what happened.
Root vegetables. The porch radishes were amazing; the radishes grown in the plot had some “damage”. They clearly were eaten by something. The carrots were delicious, but it took a few rounds of sowing before they came up successfully. As usual, the fall crop did much better than the spring crop. Beets did well, in particular the Chiogga beets – I planted two rounds of seedlings (one gifted, one bought). The ones I grew from seed (golden beets) did not do very well. They were small when I transplanted them and most of them were eaten by something. I did not plant potatoes this year.
Summer and Winter squash. First time planting zucchini. Because I grew them from seed (late) and planted them late, I had a late harvest (August through October) but it was a great one. I really enjoyed harvesting zucchini this late in the season. The butternut squash did alright, I harvested three pretty big ones, the Delicata squash sadly died along the way. Somehow the stem was cut/chewed. Anyway, I love them and will definitely plant both summer and winter squash next year.
Legumes. A disaster. Both peas (I sowed three rounds) and pole beans (also three rounds) never made it past the tiny seedling stage before the resident rabbit got the better of them. The porch peas did well, but it wasn’t a big amount, just a small bowl for snacking.
Greens. The lettuces did amazing this year. I planted a lot of lettuce in the spring (grown from seed and transplanted) and then fall greens (direct-sowed in August), which I harvested well into December as baby greens. The Swiss chard had a stellar year as well. I could hardly keep up with harvesting. They did have some leaf miner damage, but it was manageable.
Alliums. Great year for garlic (51 heads)! Some of those heads were humongous. The leeks did well too, I left an entire row for overwintering. And I have those Egyptian walking onions that show up all over my plot. They always do well and are delicious, shallot-type onions.
Brassicas. The only brassica I grew this year was kale. I started with three varieties: curly, Tuscan and Red Russian. I pulled the Red Russian because it was infested with flea beetles but the other ones did well. I only had one plant each in my plot, which was enough for my family’s needs as with my daughter now in college I am the only kale eater. There were some aphids, but very manageable. The Tuscan kale on my back porch stayed very small, I guess it need a bigger pot.
Herbs. I had basil and parsley (and borage) in my plot. The parsley turned yellow after a while and died. This is the second year in a row this happened and I really want to know why. Another community gardener had the same experience. The porch herbs did great as usual, I had a ton of parsley and all the other common herbs. In late fall, I moved the two rosemary plants and the thyme inside to my kitchen and I still use them in my cooking.
Perennials. There are only two: asparagus and rhubarb. I have only a tiny asparagus patch but it did well. The rhubarb was very anemic and I did not dare to harvest any. I am not sure what is happening.
Porch. This year, as in previous years, I grew a lot of herbs on my porch. It is so nice to have your culinary herbs just a few steps away when you make dinner. I grew parsley (underplanted in two big pots growing tomatoes and peppers), sage, thyme oregano, rosemary, nasturtium (did not use them in cooking though), mint, chives. I also had radishes (which were amazing), lettuces (good), kale (not so great), hot peppers (great), eggplant (meh), Swiss chard (meh), tomatoes (meh). Next year, I will focus on herbs, greens, hot peppers and flowers.
Flowers. Dahlias, cosmos, nasturtiums, marigolds in the garden; some dianthus and nasturtium on the porch. The dahlias were really late this year, so I was not able to enjoy them as long as in previous years. I will definitely plant more flowers next year.
Plans for 2021. I had a total of 8 tomato plants and that was a great number. I picked the varieties so they were fruiting at different times and that seemed to have worked well. I do need to amend the soil as some of the plants only had a few fruit. I will definitely plant more hot peppers next year, maybe some shishitos as well. Definitely Thai and jalapeno and perhaps some other varieties. I love eggplant, and I will have another two to four plants in the garden next year, maybe two Asian and two Mediterranean varieties. Definitely will be planting cucumber again, one slicing variety and one or two pickling (those pickles were delicious!). Definitely carrots and radishes next year. The porch radishes were great, so I will do those again, maybe more and in a bigger container. For carrots, definitely rainbow. One zucchini plant was enough, so that is what will happen next year, plus two or three winter squash. I love sugar snap peas and pole beans, so I will try them again next year. Fingers crossed the resident rabbit has moved on. Lettuces from seed and transplanting them worked well, I should try to stagger them better so I have a constant supply. One row of Swiss chard is plenty. The garlic is in the ground, the Egyptian walking onions are doing their thing. So, I will plant one or two rows of leeks in the spring, from purchased seedlings. Two or three kale plants are enough. I will likely not grow any other brassicas because of the aphid problem, but maybe I will change my mind. I will have the usual assortment of herbs on the porch, but would really love to have more parsley in the garden. I will research the yellowing issue and hopefully find a solution. Also, as always, tons of basil in the plot, and this year I will make pesto again. I am hoping, the rhubarb will recover but I think it has to do with my pill bug infestation. They just are having a feast eating all the roots. I am not mulching with straw this year and over the winter and hopefully that will make them go away. The asparagus will just give me a few handful of spears as every year and that will be fine. On the porch, I will have culinary herbs, hot peppers, flowers and lettuces. That just seems to be the best use of the space and my pot sizes. As for flowers, there will be more dahlias in the plot, I will try sunflowers again and cosmos (maybe zinnias?), and of course nasturtium and marigold.
It is snowing today. A cold and wet day in the middle of spring. The forsythia bloom is almost over as are the daffodils. My seedlings are doing well under the grow lights and with the heat mat underneath. I currently have going: 4 tomato varieties (2 each), 2 basil, 2 parsley, a dozen or so head lettuces in different stages (half of them sown two weeks ago, the other half four weeks ago with the majority of the seedlings), 5 Tuscan kale, 2 hot Thai peppers, 1 eggplant (reseeded two weeks ago, only one of those plants came up and there may be a second one just poking out).
It is close to the end of March and I am starting to plan the gardening season. We had frost last night and will have more tonight and I am planning to get my peas in the ground in two days when it is a bit warmer again. I also started seedlings yesterday with my daughter. So far, so normal. However, the schools here in Boston have been closed for a week now because of Covid-19. The governor declared a state of emergency five days ago, restaurants are closed or do take-out only, people are encouraged to work from home, grocery stores now only allow a certain number of shoppers inside. The world is a very different place than just a week ago. Everyone is asked to stay home, which is hard for my two teenagers. My 17 year-old daughter copes with exercising, reading and asking me to teach her how to bake bread and how to grow your own food (she never showed much interest in gardening), and become more self-sufficient. So, we started by sowing seeds. For now, we started two types of lettuce (Bronze Beauty and Kagran Summer), eggplant (Ping Tung), Thai hot pepper (should have started those about a month ago, but alas), flat parsley (should also have been started earlier), basil, four types of tomato (Break O’ Day, Dr. Wychee Yellow, Green Zebra, Eva Purple Ball). We set them up under grow lights and with a heat mat in my bedroom.
We will need to adjust our community garden season as well. We will of course not have our annual spring meeting or our spring work day this year. We will need to think about disinfecting shared gardening tools and other surfaces.
So far, gardening has not been restricted by the city or the state, but should there be a “shelter in place” order in the future, we will likely not be able to tend to our plots. On the other hand, growing some of your own food will be more important this year than ever. The borders are shutting down, and migrant workers who pick most of our produce will not be able to enter the country and we will likely experience some sort of food shortage.
I will try to move as much as I can to container gardening at home, as this seems a feasible and safe option. For now, I am planning to grow herbs, tomatoes, lettuce, kale, chard, eggplant, hot peppers.
We are in that slow time between Christmas and New Year’s when people reminisce about the year that was and make plans for the year to come. Time for me to recap 2019 in my garden.
Tomatoes, cucumber, peppers, eggplant: I had a good (not great) and long run of tomatoes from my 6 plants. I loved the varieties I selected (in particular the new-to-me Pineapple tasted delicious) and will plant the same or similar ones next year. Mixing early (Paul Robeson, Cosmonaut), mid-season (Dr. Wychee Yellow) and late varieties (Pineapple, 2 Green Zebras) worked well. In hindsight, I think the home-grown Paul Robeson (labeled Poll Robson by Sand Hill Preservation Center as they were not sure) was a different tomato as it produced heavily but only small and very even fruit, so I think it was some sort of hybrid. The porch tomato (true Paul Robeson) sadly died because I think I over-fertilized. The blossoms just shriveled and fell off. I got a total of two tomatoes of it. I had one plant each of pickling and slicing cucumbers. They both did very well, the slicer more so than the pickling. Sadly, I never got around to pickle them and we just ate them like is. I will need to rethink my preserving goals for next year. The peppers in my plot did not do very well (I think they were shaded out by the tomatoes), the Jedi jalapenos on my porch on the other hand took off. I will either need to plant peppers in a fully sunny spot in my plot or plant them only on the porch. The baby eggplant on my porch did very well. I’d like to repeat that next year with a not-so-baby variety such as Ping Tung.
Potatoes: Super disappointing. For two years in the row now, I harvested only a couple of handfuls of potatoes. My back porch experiment failed as well. I had high hopes for that one as there are no pests in the soil that I could have blamed for a meager harvest.
Squash: Exceptional! One plant of butternut squash gave me 14 (34 pounds total of) squash. A great side effect was that the squash foliage completely covered the soil inhibiting weeds without hindering the growth of the other well-established plants. A great success.
Legumes: Great year for pole beans. I also planted them late, which was a good idea as I was able to harvest well into the fall and the beans did grow a bit slower, which prevented them from ripening to fast. The bush beans were okay. I just don’t like the flavor as much and will not grow them again next year. Peas did well.
Greens: I had a great harvest of butterhead lettuce. The leaf lettuce did not do as well and my fall greens mix was sown too late so I did not get to enjoy the greens. I had a great Swiss chard harvest despite the leaf miner problem. No kale this year, which will need to change in 2020.
Root vegetables: This year, I planted radishes, carrots and golden beets. The beets were great, the radishes were eaten by something. They showed a lot of bite marks and were woody, the carrots were an absolute no-show. Very disappointing.
Alliums: Good but not great garlic harvest. I harvested a total of about 40 heads, half of them softnecks (Transsylvania), which I braided and the other half hardnecks (Red Russian). Such a difference compared to store-bought garlic. They are very fresh and juicy and have a much stronger taste. The leeks stayed small this year. I think they did not have enough sun, as I planted them too lose to the chard. I decided to overwinter them. I still had volunteer onions and shallots all over the garden and enjoyed them throughout the year.
Brassicas: I planted purple cauliflower but it bolted and had bug issues so I sadly had to compost them. Never had much luck with brassicas.
Herbs: In my plot, I planted parsley and basil. The parsley died and the basil never took off for some reason. It stayed tiny. I heard from other gardeners that they had a very bad basil year as well. I also had a ton of volunteer mint and lemon balm. The herbs on my porch did much better except the basil, which also never took off. The parsley was great as was the sage. The thyme was great in the beginning and then grew leggy and dry despite watering. I also had mint, lavender and rosemary on my porch.
Perennials: My rhubarb looked very weak and small and I did not harvest any this year allowing the plant to recover from whatever ailment it is suffering. The asparagus did well given the small amount of plants I have in my plot.
Porch containers: This year I grew potatoes, mini eggplant, tomato, lettuce, jalapeno, chard and herbs on my porch. The eggplant did very well, the tomato did flower but did not set fruit (I probably over-fertilized), the lettuce and jalapeno did great. The chard was sown too late I think and the container too small, so it stayed small. I harvested almost no potatoes. The grapefruit had a lot of health issues from a mealy bug infestation to black spots on the leaves. I decided to get rid of it.
Flowers: Of the four (or three?) dahlias I planted, only one flowered. Luckily it was my favorite one. On the porch, I grew Astilbe, osteospermum, lavender and mums. It is nice to have flowers on the porch, definitely will do more of it next year.
My plans for 2020: Tomatoes: I am going for 6 heirloom plants, a mix of early (such as Paul Robeson) mid-season (Dr. Wychee Yellow) and late (Pineapple, Green Zebra). I will likely also plant two hybrid tomatoes and make to prepare and monitor the soil better this year. Cucumbers: One plant of slicers is enough for my family, and I will rethink the pickling cucumber. Peppers: I will plant hot peppers on the back porch again, maybe two different varieties – a jalapeno type and a Thai hot pepper. I may plant a bell pepper as well. Eggplant: An Asian variety on the back porch. I will likely not be able to grow any of the fruiting plants from seed so I will keep my fingers crossed for the Neighborhood Farm seedlings from our farmers market come May. Potatoes: None in 2020. Squash: Two types, butternut and delicata. Legumes: I will plant pole beans again late in the season. No bush beans but I will definitely plant peas again. Greens: Mix of head lettuces and leaf lettuces. No spring greens, no arugula etc. because of the flea beetles. Maybe fall greens. Definitely two or three kale plants (I missed having kale this year) and a row of rainbow chard. Root vegetables: I will order different carrot seeds and/or test my existing seeds. I had not a single seed germinate in the soil, so there may have been an issue with my seed batch. I will plant golden beets again (more than one row), but probably no radishes. Alliums: I will plant a couple of rows of leeks again. I planted 2 rows of hardneck garlic (saved from my biggest heads of Red Russians of 2019) and 4 rows of softneck garlic (Inchelium Red from Johnny’s). I will definitely plant garlic in the fall again and maybe shallots. Brassicas: Not sure if I will grow cauliflower again this year. Herbs: In my plot, I will plant parsley and basil. I will also very likely have some mint and lemon balm. On the porch, I will have parsley, basil, rosemary, thyme, sage, lavender. Perennials: I will monitor the rhubarb hoping it will make a recovery. Fingers crossed. Porch: Hot peppers, one eggplant, one cherry (or small-fruiting) tomato, one or two pots with lettuce, plus herbs and flowers. Flowers: More in the plot and more on the porch. For the plot, I will go with dahlias and try sunflowers and Zinnias again. On the porch, I will have one or two flower pots. Let’s see if the lavender comes back.
Here are my actual spring planting dates for this season.
- March 16: started eggplant (Fairy Tale) and hot Thai pepper from seed indoors
- March 23: started eggplant (Ping Tung), tomatoes (Break O’Day, Paul Robeson, Dr. Wychee Yellow, Green Zebra, Baker Family Heirloom), curly kale (seeds from 2017) and head lettuce (Kagran Summer) from seed
- March 30: basil (sweet Italian) – six compartments in egg carton from seed
- April 8: shipment of seed potatoes arrived. I put them out to sprout.
- April 20: repotted tomatoes and some of the lettuce
- April 21: I lost most of my seedlings tonight. I still have some tomatoes (one each Break O’Day, Dr. Wychee, Green Zebra) and the basil. I re-sowed one pot each of pickling cucumber, and slicer cucumber as well as one Paul Robeson tomato. No home-grown eggplant or peppers this year. It is too late to reseed. I also still have some head lettuce and kale.
- March 19: started mâche in a big flat on our back porch
- March 31: sowed two rows of sugar snap peas, one row of spinach in between in plot; also two rows of carrots (Bolero) and one row of radishes in between (French breakfast)
- April 6: the mâche did not germinate. I sowed arugula and spring greens in the same big flat
- April 28: resowed carrots (rainbow) and sowed lettuce (Kagran Summer and Bronze Beauty) and some more peas in plot
- April 28: sowed Swiss chard and leaf lettuce “Great Salad Bowl” in two separate pots on the back porch
- May 7: trip to Allendale Farm. I purchased herbs for the plot and the back porch (basil, parsley, sage, thyme), cauliflower, head lettuce, lavender, dahlias and Osteospermum plus fertilizer and other supplies. I potted up the flowers, sage, thyme, 2 lettuce plants, 1 parsley and two basil cells for the back porch. The rest will go in the plot in the next couple of days.
- May 11: planted fingerling potatoes and sowed more carrots, Swiss chard and peas as well as sunflowers, zinnias and cosmos in plot. Also planted dahlia tubers (only 3, they were supposed to be two each, but one bag only had one bit tuber in it). Transplanted the 6 cauliflower plants, 4 lettuce plants and the parsley I bought a few days ago.
- May 18: planted eggplant (Fairy Tale), one tomato (Paul Robeson) and hot pepper (Jedi Jalapeno) in pots on the back porch
- May 23: planted potatoes in grow bags on the back porch
- May 24: transplanted seedlings into the plot: 6 tomatoes, 1 pepper, 2 cucumbers (1 pickling, 1 slicer), 1 butternut squash and a six-pack each of golden beets and leeks
- June 15: transplanted two cucumber plants (Marketmore, a slicer and Little Lemon, a pickling cucumber) into the plot