Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Those Wacky Cucurbits

There are few things better in the heat of the summer than sinking your teeth into a vine warmed muskmelon or the first creamy, smooth, bite of fresh cucumber salad. Mmmmm, it makes my mouth water just thinking about it. 

I have a problem though, I have never liked the taste, texture,or smell of squash or zucchini. Over my lifetime I've had lots of people try and change my  mind. Your grandma’s zucchini bread, your roommates frittered squash blossoms, your Aunt Edna’s award winning…

It Just. Doesn’t. Matter. 

I don’t like any of it. 

But I really really want to. Does that make any kind of sense at all? I know that they’re really easy to grow, they grow profusely, and they are really healthy. What’s not to like??

I’ve decided something. I’ve decided that this is gonna be my year. I have decided to devote a little space for one squash plant and one zucchini plant and I WILL figure out what to do with them. Even if the thought makes me gag just a little bit!

Having said that, here’s what’s in the plan for this year’s garden:

*Unless otherwise noted, all varieties are Heirlooms

Sweet Burpless Hybrid-Organic Cucumber 


An exceptional burpless slicing cucumber with sweet flavor. Medium green 10-12" long, cylindrical, smooth fruits on vigorous plants.

Marketmore 76 Cucumber

Marketmore 76

Dark green, 8”-9” fruit; great slicer! Good yields!
Excellent flavor. A real standard for superb eating cukes.

Fordhook Zucchini

Classic, cylindrical, dark-green straight to slightly curved zucchinis. Tender, creamy-white flesh freezes well. Vigorous and productive bush plants.

Straight Neck Yellow Squash

AAS Winner from 1938; uniform lemon-yellow, club-shaped fruit; firm flesh is of excellent quality, tasty.

White Scallop Summer Squash

A very ancient native American heirloom squash, grown by the northern Indians for hundreds of years. This type was depicted by Europeans back to 1591, and one of the best tasting and yielding varieties still around today! Great fried and baked. Flat fruit with scalloped edges-beautiful!

American Honey Rock Melon

An early heirloom melon, 3-4 lbs. with thick sweet firm deep-salmon flesh; good yields of quality fruit. An AAS winner for 1933. Good size for an early melon. 

Eden’s Gem Melon

An old heirloom variety from 1881. This old-timer is still a popular green flesh muskmelon with a heavily netted rind and smooth, sweet-flavored flesh. Fruits weigh 2-3 lbs. A good keeper with firm flesh. From Colorado.

Ambrosia Hybrid Cantaloupe


Burpee's Ambrosia has been our top-selling cantaloupe for over 20 years because of its luscious, extra-sweet taste, juiciness and nectarous aroma. The tick, firm, flesh is delicious right down to the rind. The 6" melons average 5 lb. each. Vines yield bumper crops and are mildew-resistant.

So there you have it. I have a few other melon plants that I may or may not wind up using. Last year I only grew the Ambrosia and it was fabulous. This year I’m trying really hard to branch out and try some new ones. I was gifted a seed order and wound up with some new varieties that I hadn’t heard of before. 

Regardless, I have lots of vertical space so it will depend on what my mood is at the time.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Salad and Roots

Perhaps one of the easiest (and gratifying) things that any new gardener can grow is lettuce. If you can grow grass you can probably have a better than average shot at growing a successful batch of lettuce. 

Lettuce is a cool weather crop that doesn’t mind a little shade. You can start your seeds indoors a few weeks before your last frost or you can direct seed them. Honestly, I do it both ways. I like to start a bunch ahead of time to give them a jump start on the growing season. Then, about two to three weeks later I’ll direct seed some more. By spacing out my planting times I can ensure that I always have lettuce ready for my dinner table. After all, who wants twenty heads of lettuce all in one week?  Not that I’ve ever done that…ahem…

I’ve been fortunate in that my biggest pest issues have come from the fuzzy varieties that seem to view my garden beds as their own personal salad bowls. Some cheap homemade fencing and judicious usage of a net has resolved the issue in the past. Hopefully it will prove successful again this year. 

Right now I’m getting ready to plant (or have already started):

Black Seeded Simpson

Black Seeded Simpson Lettuce is a very popular lettuce variety & is an early producer. This lettuce is high in vitamins & has a wonderful flavor & texture when home grown! Say goodbye to the lifeless & tasteless lettuce bought in stores. Lettuce prefers a rich, well drained soil & cool weather with lots of moisture. In extreme heat, lettuce will go to seed. 

May Queen

Early maturing butter head lettuce for the earliest spring plantings. Pale green heads are tinged with red, and the sweet, pale yellow hearts have a pink blush to them. A wonderful 19th century heirloom.

Giant Caesar

The taste of a romaine and the texture of a butter head.
Dark green, 16" long by 6" wide leaves combine the taste of a romaine and the texture of a butter head for a whole new eating experience.

Red Romaine

Delicious, flavorful lettuce brings color and zest to salads. The red coloring develops best in cool weather. A good variety for specialty markets.

Little Gem


Very small, green, romaine-type. One of the very best-tasting lettuces. A superb heat-tolerant variety that is sure to please!

Loose-leaf Blend

Blend Lettuce

Five classic lettuce types and textures in a range of colors: Black Seeded Simpson, Lolla Rossa, Green Ice, Buttercrunch and Mighty Red Oak. These lettuces are all as beautiful as they are delicious and make for delightful salads, rich in color, flavor and texture.

Detroit Dark Red Beets


This classic variety produces early, very dark red and extremely sweet roots up to 3" across. It's good fresh, canned or frozen.

Chantenay Red Core Carrots


One of the sweetest, this variety was introduced in 1929 and is a large, stump-rooted carrot with a deep red-orange center; great for juicing or fresh eating. A good market variety that is smooth and refined in shape.

Cosmic Purple Carrot

This one is causing excitement at farmers’ markets. Carrots have bright purple skin and flesh that comes in shades of yellow and orange. Spicy and sweet-tasting roots are great for marketing.


Small, round carrots that are so popular in France. Tender, orange globes are superb lightly steamed. Easy to grow even in heavy soils. This little carrot is great for home and market gardens, as this variety is fairly uniform.

Danvers Half Long Carrot

The original Danvers Half Long dates back to the 1870's. This strain 126" was improved in the 1940's. The old standard American carrot, adaptable and dependable. Thick 7-inch roots have good flavor.

Early Scarlet Globe Radish

One of the most popular home garden varieties of the past 100 years. Early, high-yielding, this favorite produces uniform, bright red globes with crisp, tender, juicy and mild white flesh.

Cherry Bell Radish

The classic, round red radish with crisp white flesh that is mild and tasty. Has better warm weather tolerance than many.

 So there you have it. Listing all of this out makes it sound like an awful lot; but really, it isn't. In my perfect garden I would have a lot more. 

Fingers crossed that I can resolve my soil issues and get my veggies to bulb up this year. 


Friday, February 22, 2013

2013 Peppers

What good would all of those fabulous tomatoes be without a little peppery-goodness to round it all out?
I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t had the best luck growing peppers in my yard. I’m not sure what it is, it could be that something that I’m doing stresses them out and stunts their development from an early point, it could be my soil – something in it or lacking or too much, or whatever. I don’t know.  What I do know is that I have historically had very low yields. They blossom and they fruit- just not a whole heckuva lot.
I am a lot of things but scared to try and try again has never been one of them! In that vein I’m adjusting a few things each year that I grow them in the hopes that eventually I’ll stumble on the magic combination and have peppers coming out of my ears.
I’ll talk more about what amendments I’m making to my soil later, that’s a hefty subject that deserves it’s own post. And frankly, more investigation and research from me. Oye!
Anyway, as of right now (and subject to change in the future) I am planning on growing the following peppers this season:

Corno di Toro Rosso
Long 8-inch tapered, bull-horn shaped, red peppers are sweet and spicy. They are great fresh or roasted. Large plants yield well. Among the best peppers you can grow and so delicious. Pure Italian seed. Great for market growers and home gardeners alike.
Leutschauer Paprika

A lovely drying pepper that comes from Matrafured, Hungary. It has been grown there since the 1800s when it was brought from Leutschau (Slovakia). The medium-hot paprikas have great flavor, are terrific for drying, and make a delicious spicy powder. Very rare!
Tam JalapeƱo

A very tasty mild Jalapeno type, with the same delicious flavor, but a lot less heat. Great yields.

Delicious mildly hot flavor, excellent for roasting or frying; good yields of very large chili peppers.
Jimmy Nardello

This fine Italian pepper was grown each year by Giuseppe and Angella Nardiello, at their garden in the village of Ruoti, in Southern Italy. In 1887 they set sail with their one-year-old daughter Anna for a new life in the USA. When they reached these shores, they settled and gardened in Naugatuck, Connecticut, and grew this same pepper that was named for their fourth son Jimmy. This long, thin-skinned frying pepper dries easily and has such a rich flavor that this variety has been placed in "The Ark of Taste" by the Slow Food organization. Ripens a deep red, is very prolific, and does well in most areas.
California Wonder Sweet Bell

The standard bell pepper for many decades, this 1928 introduction is still the largest open-pollinated, heirloom bell you can grow, and a big improvement over the earlier bells. Consistently produces 3" X 4", thick 4-lobed, glossy deep green fruit turning to red of left on the vine. It is excellent for roasting, stuffing, pickling and salsa's.
Hot Mariachi Hybrid
(My one Hybrid)

2006 All-America Winner. Perfect when you want a blast of color but just a hint of heat, the compact 18-24" plants yield loads of 4", coned shaped fruits that change brilliantly from creamy yellow to bright red all summer, yet taste spicy but only mildly hot. Freeze to provide fresh spicy peppers all winter. Early and continuously productive.
I have a few others that I’m playing around with so I may be adding to these. Peppers are a relatively new addition to my garden so I’m still learning what types my family and I prefer, how we want to use them (and thus, how many we need). My goal now is to have plenty to roast and store, plenty to dry and crush, and enough to make lots of salsa. It would be nice to have some left over to just chop and freeze for use in future dinners.
I’ve recently had a 4X7 bed open up that until last month was devoted to just strawberry growing. I finally decided that it was silly to devote that much gardening real estate to a fruit that only produces for just a small part of the growing season. My problem now is in figuring out how I want to change my planning.
It’s a wonderful (and stressful), and delightful problem to have. Did I mention that it’s a full sun bed?

Oh yes it is!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The 2013 Tomato Line Up

Anyone that knows me knows how infatuated I am with heirloom garden tomatoes. If I had to only grow one thing it would be tomatoes and because of this, the majority of prime real estate in my garden is designated for this wonderful plant.

Heirloom seeds are those whose ancestry can be traced back at least fifty years or more. The seeds that I’m growing in my garden provide more than just interesting flavors that can’t be found in modern day grocery stores, they provide a connection to history. That matters to me.

So without further adieu, I present to you this year’s tomatoes:

First up are the Reds.

Costoluto Genovese


Also known as the Ugly Tomato these offer sharply ribbed flesh and a tangy flavor that takes any sauce or sandwich you make up to the next level. Baker Creek’s page says “The fluted, old Italian favorite that has been around since the early 19th century. Fruit are rather flattened and quite attractive with their deep ribbing. This variety is a standard in Italy for both fresh eating and preserving; known for its intensely flavorful, deep red flesh. This variety has also became very popular with chefs in this country. “

Bonny Best

Bonnie's Best


The famous old canning tomato that was introduced in 1908 by Bonnie Plant Farm in Union Spring, Alabama. It became one of the most respected canning varieties in America in the first half of the twentieth century. Medium-sized fruit are round, red, meaty and loaded with flavor. A good producer that makes a fine slicer too.

Arkansas Traveler (Actually a pink)

arkansas traveler


A medium-sized pink tomato that is smooth and a beautiful rose color. An excellent variety from Arkansas, tolerant to heat and humidity; crack and disease resistant. Good flavor, an excellent hillbilly favorite.

Cuor di Bue

Cuor Di Bue


This Oxheart type Italian heirloom has been a favorite in Italy for many years. Beautiful 12-oz. fruit have a delicious sweet taste; similar to the shape of a heart; great for fresh eating or cooking. Large vigorous vines.




Fruits are large averaging 8-12 oz. each and are round, globe shaped and deep red in color. Fruits have a wonderful flavor and a good balance of acid and juiciness which makes them great for canning or for eating fresh. This is a very dependable variety and typically does well where other varieties fail. Manalucie is one of the older heirlooms that originated from Florida where heat and humidity are common. Plants set fruit well even during heat spells and very high humidity!




The most popular heirloom vegetable! A favorite of many gardeners; large fruit with superb flavor. A great potato-leafed variety from 1885! Beautiful pink fruit up to 1-1/2 lbs. each!




A popular old standard variety, deep red and very large, fine flavor, rich old time tomato taste.


Next we have the can’t-be-denied flavor beasts of my garden, the Purple’s:

Purple Cherokee



An old Cherokee Indian heirloom, pre-1890 variety; beautiful deep dusky purple-pink color, superb sweet flavor, and very large sized fruit. Try this one for real old-time tomato flavor.




Winner of the 2005 “Heirloom Garden Show” best tasting tomato award. These have won taste awards coast to coast in the last few years, so we were proud to locate a small supply of seed. The fruit are smooth, large, and beautiful, being one of the darkest and prettiest of the purple types we have seen. They seem to have an extra dose of the complex flavor that makes dark tomatoes famous.

Chocolate Stripes

chocolate stripes


One of the most amazing tomatoes we have ever grown. For both color and taste, this variety excels. Fruit is deep reddish-brown inside; the outside is covered with beautiful orange and lime colored stripes. One of the most unique looking tomatoes we have ever tried. It is very sweet and yet has a full-rich flavor, and this is the reason this tomato places very high in taste tests.

Pink Berkeley Tie Dye

Pink Berkeley


Compact plants produce beautiful 8-12 ounce fruit with a very sweet, rich, dark tomato flavor. 10 out of 10 people liked the port wine colored beefsteak with metallic green stripes better than Cherokee Purple in a farmers market taste off.

Paul Robeson



This famous tomato has almost a cult following among seed collectors and tomato connoisseurs. They simply cannot get enough of this variety’s amazing flavor that is so distinctive, sweet and smoky. 7-10 oz. fruit are a black-brick color. Named in honor of the famous opera singer star of ‘King Solomon's Mines’, 1937. Paul Robeson was an Equal Rights Advocate for Blacksin Russia as well as all around the world. This Russian heirloom was lovingly named in his honor.

Last but not least, the smaller tomatoes, a real saucy bunch:

Hungarian Paste

Hungarian Paste


Definitely one of the best varieties for making salsas, sauces, or for canning. Hearty determinate plants produce heavy yields of 2-3oz fruits that are borne in clusters of 4 near the center of the plant. Fruits hold well on the vine and keep well after picking, which is perfect if you want to make your sauces all at once. Plants are very hearty and show some disease resistance as well as tolerate adverse weather conditions.

Amish Paste

amish paste


Many seeds savers believe this is the ultimate paste tomato. Giant, blocky Roma-type tomatoes have delicious red flesh that is perfect for paste and canning. World class flavor and comes from an Amish community in Wisconsin.

San Marzano



This is a newer selection of this famous Italian cooking tomato. Long, cylindrical fruit are filled with thick, dry flesh and few seeds. This heavy producing variety is a standard for many Italian farmers and chefs.

Riesentraube Cherry

riesentraube cherry


This old German heirloom was offered in Philadelphia by the mid-1800's. The sweet red 1-oz. fruit grow in large clusters and the name means "Giant Bunch of Grapes" in German. It is probably the most popular small tomato with seed collectors, as many enjoy the rich, full tomato flavor that is missing in today's cherry types. Large plants produce massive yields.


I’m still determining how many of each type I will wind up growing. Many of these are new to my garden so I’m looking forward to seeing how they turn out. Last year I grew (among others) Amish Paste, Brandywine, Beefsteak, Cherokee Purple, and San Marzano tomatoes. This year I wanted to try out some that were more geared specifically for the Southern weather we have here as well as some new purple varieties that I wanted to try out for comparisons sake. We loved the Purple Cherokee so much last year I can hardly wait to see how these new ones turn out.

With any luck I’ll get enough tomatoes out of these plants to put up enough salsa, sauce, dried tomatoes, roasted tomatoes, and pizza sauce to last us until the  2014 season. Here’s to hoping!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Seed Starting

When I first begun gardening I scoured every blog that I could find for advise. It all seemed so overwhelming. I knew that I if I was going to be able to start the volume of seeds that I wanted that I wouldn’t be able to afford to purchase the pricey seed starting mixes that are so popular these days. I wanted something that would be both economical and healthy for my seeds. Oh, and I didn’t want to spend too much.

I don’t want much, do I?

Everyone has their own method and their own s0il philosophy. This is just what has worked for me so far. If you have any other suggestions or ideas I would love to hear them.

When I first start my seeds I start them in a straight up mix of Vermiculite and Peat Moss. Many people add Perlite or worm castings to the mix (and there is nothing wrong with doing that), but personally, I haven’t found it necessary. I wet my mix so that it holds together loosely when squeezed and I fill the cell trays from a large silver bowl I have. This allows me the ability to seed while sitting on my couch. Someday I’ll have a planting table, until then, a couple of trash bags on my coffee table and an abundance of caution work just fine for me, thankyouverymuch.


I put seeds to soil according to whatever the particular recommendations are for the plant, give it a topping of water (using a medicine dropper so as not to displace the seeds too much), and then I place it on a heat mat (if available) under my grow lights out in my garage. I leave them covered until they germinate and then remove the cover and turn the grow lights on (until they germinate they prefer darkness).

 Grow Lights

When the first true set of leaves appear I give them a little drink of fish emulsion fertilizer at 50% and turn on a small breeze fan at the end of the shelf to provide a little air movement and encourage the seedlings to grow muscles.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Garden (such as it is)

In my dreams I have a beautiful plot of perfectly flat land. There is an orchard towards the back and a place for chickens to hunt and peck in a moveable coup. I have a perfectly designed potager where flowers and kitchen vegetables and herbs live in perfect harmony. In this fantasy world I am a Master Gardener and I never have doubts or hesitations when it comes to dealing with any decision that has to be made.

My reality is somewhat different!

In truth I have about a third of an acre that is situated on the side of a fairly steep hill. I have a large cedar tree on one side of the rectangular backyard and a large hackberry tree on the other. On the opposite point in the back from the cedar sits a very large birch tree that is fighting a much smaller pink dogwood. Each of these two sit on a raised area just off my back patio- an area that that is sloped down to the yard and allows me to plant flowers. The whole thing is has a natural rock border and is surrounded by a wooden scalloped fence.

Salad Bowl

My dirt is mostly clay and rocks so raised bed gardening became my best option. I have three four by seven beds, one two by four, one three by three, and an area that runs along two different fences that totals about seven feet of eighteen inch strip of vertical growing area. Additionally there is a strip along the north side of my house that holds about a half dozen raspberry plants. Last year was the first year that I was able to get anything worth mentioning out of that bed. My raspberry philosophy thus far as been to ignore them. Something tells me thought that greater yields may be found with a little more attention (ahem: ANY attention!).

 Fence line

At any given point any one of these areas may be in shade though all of them usually get at least six hours of mostly full sun each summer day.

I have recently been gifted a greenhouse that is about 16 square feet. I’ve only just begun to figure out what to do with it. Let alone where it’s permanent resting place will be.

I have a shelving area in my garage where I have designed a grow light area using cheap shop lights from Lowes. I currently have enough grow light area for four flats of 72 cells at a time and last year was able to successfully grow all of my vegetables in this space. This year I have added one heat mat (I need more) and flower seeds to the mix.

It may sound like a lot but there is rarely a point in my gardening season where I am not trying to figure out how to juggle the space, heat, and light requirements of the seedlings that I’ve started.

Gardening for me is more than just a way to soak up sunlight, it’s a daily reminder of my place in the world. It cautions me to have patience, to bide my time until the moment is right. It makes me slow down and truly appreciate that good things take time and work and that it’s alright to not have instant gratification. It has taught me that what I can grow will always taste better than anything that the mainstream grocery stores have to offer. It gives me a purpose outside of my daily responsibilities and it reminds me not to take myself too seriously. It is therapy and it is the every essence of what it means to be alive.

Now if you’ll excuse me, my seeds are calling me.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The 2013 Gardening Season has begun!

The back and trunk of my car is filled with dirt, my hands are dry, and the grow lights have been turned on.

I've gotten four flats planted up so far and I haven't yet started on the tomatoes or peppers- it's gonna be a heckuva ride. I can hardly wait!

Now I've got to figure out how to get all that free horse and goat manure home in my Prius! Somehow, I doubt by husband would want me to haul it in the back!
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