Sunday, October 11, 2009

Un-gardening

Today was a depressing, yet almost inspiring day for a gardener. It was the day when all of the plants get uprooted and removed from the garden. Many of my plants had frozen/wilted after the bitter temperatures and snow we had on Saturday. So, I removed everything but the carrots, parsnips, and chives, which are all still thriving.

My Roma tomato plant had about 100 green tomatoes on it- incredible! I picked about half of them, selecting the ones that looked the least damaged from the cold, and brought them inside to hopefully use them for something- not sure how much flavor they'll have being that they froze while green, but we'll see what time brings.

I also managed to recover 2 bell peppers and 2 cucumbers from the garden before disposing of the rest of the wilted greenery and vines.

Now is the time when we start thinking about our successes and failures of the current garden season and start looking towards the future. So here are some of the verdicts on the 2009 garden season.

Stars of the 2009 garden: Roma, Lemon Boy, Brandywine, and Earl's Faux Tomatoes. Leaf lettuce, carrots, green beans, and fresh cucumbers. Zinnias, Jaguar Marigolds.

Dislikes from 2009: fewer cucumbers and use a burpless/seedless variety. Todd County Amish, Kellogg's Breakfast, and Giant Syrian tomatoes were not as tasty/useable as the other varieties- for whatever reason, disease susceptibility, fruit shape/size, flavor or texture. Dahlias were a waste of space as they did not bloom until mid-September, Chameleon Marigolds were ugly. Pansies were overshadowed by the larger flowers- probably best served for pots. No artichokes this year- you win some, you lose some. Snapdragons were better when grown from seed than the garden store's varieties. My leeks were completely shaded by the cucumbers, so I didn't get any of decent size -thumb width at the maxiumum. I also didn't get any Serrano chilies this year due to my mis-labeling. Must be more careful with that next year.

The verdict on the 2009 tomatoes:
Big Beef- a staple. Tasty and beautiful tomatoes.
Lemon Boy- the winner of the garden this year. Consistently produced the best tasting, flaw- and disease-free tomatoes.
Brandywine- best tasting tomato. A perennial variety in my garden.
Earl's Faux- very good flavor and texture. Worth re-growing.
Cherokee Purple- great flavor and texture, unfortunately a disease of some sort killed the plant before the fruit could be thoroughly enjoyed. Worth a re-try.
Kellogg's Breakfast- tasted like dirt, very slow to mature. Good looking tomatoes otherwise.
Roma- Awesome producer, great flavor, a kitchen essential.
Todd County Amish- questionable. Rather bland flavor, grainy/mushy texture, un-even ripening and a lot of blemishes.
Giant Syrian- hit or miss, inconsistent producer. Lots of irregularities/some blemishes.

So the varieties I will grow again next year: Big Beef, Lemon Boy, Brandywine, Earl's Faux, Cherokee Purple, and Roma. This will leave room for perhaps one or two more new varieties although my husband would like to stick to 6 or fewer plants, so perhaps we are stable at this number.

Even though many of my tomatoes were plagued by some sort of disease, it was a good year for gardening. I froze lots of haricot verts, made 20+ quarts of pickles (questionable as to how they all turned out however since my recipe fluctuated from one batch to the next), made about 2 gallons of tomato basil soup, and enjoyed Caprese salad 1-2 times per day for about 2 months! Planning to make my parsnip soup tomorrow- the hubby will just have to eat something else if he doesn't like it. haha.

Well it is nice to know that the garden has been taken down for the year, all of the tools and supplies neatly stowed in the garage until next season, and a few treasures still waiting in the ground to be picked! Cheers!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Late in the Season

It's a sad thing for a gardener to admit, but we're reaching the end of our growing season here in Minnesota. The tomato leaves have been stripped, the cucumers are growing without restraint, and the green beans are pretty much done producing. The edemame is past its prime, but I did get to enjoy a small amount of it. Not worth the effort for the amount I actually wanted to eat.

We tried a new variety of tomato last week- Kellogg's Breakfast. It was a large beautiful tomato, but we weren't thrilled with the flavor, tasted a little bit like dirt to me, haha. So I've got several of those ripe on the vine that I don't really want to eat when I've got good alternatives like Brandywines or Lemon Boys.

The Giant Syrian has not produce as good a tomato as that first one, and the Todd County Amish is an okay tomato, but doesn't match up to some of the others in the flavor department. Big Beef is a classic old standby, and the Lemon Boy is emerging as one of our stars this year- consistently beautiful fruit and awesome flavor- definately a must grow for next year. The Cherokee Purple was really good, but it appears as though some of my plants (that one included) were stricken with some sort of illness and many of the fruit are not looking worthy of eating. The Earl's Faux is also one of our favorites this year- consistently producing useable, tasty fruit. And of course the Brandywine- one of my favorites. The Romas have also been great- separated from the rest of the garden and growing in a barrel, they have been bountiful and very good as usual.

I've got lots of tomatoes to use up, so it's time to look for tomato soup and sauce recipes.

The cukes are still producing faster than we can eat them, but I've stopped making pickles as we're beyond the amount of pickles I can eat and give away in a year, lol. Still working on finding that perfect recipe.

The Zinnias are blooming and are just beautiful, even though I think they have some powdery mildew or the like. The leeks are burried under the giant cucumber mass and I doubt they'll be much to write home about having not had a fighting chance at sunlight this year.

The peppers are doing great, although I mislabeled a few of my seedlings and instead of ending up with 1 serrano and 1 bell pepper, I got 2 bell peppers. Of course the horses are happy with their continuous supply of carrots- Louie loves the greens but doesn't eat the carrots, so there's left overs to share. :)

Some clean up is needed in the garden to remove dead plants and fruit and prepare for fall. I plan to harvest the parsnips this fall before the ground freezes solid. For now, we're relaxing and enjoying the hassle-free endless supply of fresh garden veggies! Cheers!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Giant Syrian- A GREAT BIG Tomato!

For all of you tomato lovers out there, I'd highly recommend this variety. This was recommended to me by one of my colleagues at the ER, and it is a fabulous tomato! We ate our first one last night (and today) and it was huge. I am quite certain this is the largest tomato I've ever grown- we estimate that it weighed between 3 and 4 pounds (we don't have a kitchen scale, so we compared it to dumbells weighing 3 and 5 pounds). We ate half of it last night for dinner, and I ate the other half today as my entire lunch- and I was stuffed. This is one LARGE tomato! And the taste, well that is just fabulous- great texture, fresh tomato flavor, the right amount of acidity- excellent flavor. My husband actually liked it better than the Cherokee Purple (the tomato of tomatoes according to many people in the tomato community) we ate the night before. And at that size, I was really pleased at its flavor, as well as its disease and crack resistance, and the plant's overall production. We've probably got another 20 pounds of tomatoes on that vine! Wow! Can't wait!

Here it is, the star of the week, the Giant Syrian Tomato (and you can see why it gets its name):
Another photo of the tomatoes we harvested yesterday (some only because they fell off the vine while picking others)- it is not as impressive here because you don't have the perecption of just how tall this tomato also was, but you can see its size compared to some fairly sizeable brandywines and other beefsteaks (incase you can't tell, the tomato in question is on the bottom left, heart shaped one- top left was also the same variety that fell off the vine prematurely when picking this monster).
Here's to many more Giant Tomatoes!! Cheers!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Cherokee Purple- the Envy of Tomato Culture

We ate our first Cherokee Purple, the long awaited tomato- topping growers' lists for quality and flavor everywhere. It was excellent, had a very fresh zippy taste to it. Very large, nice texture and flavor, and pretty color. I do hear that its production is sub par, but I'm all for quality over quantity. Overall an excellent tomato- I highly recommend it.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Todd County Amish

We tried our first Todd County Amish tomato tonight. It was huge- probably almost 2 pounds! Very meaty, few seeds. The flavor was just average, I'd have to say, but not bad as a fresh sliced tomato. This may be a decent one for canning with how meaty it is. Here it is next to the Prosperosa Eggplant we also ate for dinner. We are sure getting our share of fresh veggies here in our Minnesota garden! Cheers!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

First Tomato!

I have made 15 quarts of pickles already. . . plus given away and eaten a bunch of cucumbers already! And they're still going like gangbusters!

The really good news is that we finally had our first tomato! August 15th, nothing like having early tomatoes ;) (just kidding). We have had a really cool, dry summer so far, so I can't blame them too much for being late, but I did start them a couple of weeks early. Then again, most of the varieties I'm growing are late season varieties, and they did have a hard time getting the growth they needed earlier this spring.

Anyhow, I picked a small, ripe Earl's Faux tomato from the garden this afternoon and we consumed it within about 5 minutes of leaving its vine. We had never tried this variety, so I was anxious to see how it was. The Earl's Faux tomato is a pink tomato with some variation in shape and striations (not perfectly round). When we cut it open we discovered a very meaty, fleshy tomato- hardly any seeds or juice at all- would be a great sandwich tomato. Its taste is quite sweet, and pretty mild as far as acidity. We liked it! Yum!

I want to keep a chart on each tomato so I can compare for future years and decide which varieties to grow. There are several ripening tomatoes out there of almost every variety, but I must say, the Todd County Amish tomato that is ripening (pink currently) looks amazing. I hope it tastes as good as it looks! So happy it's finally tomato season in Minnesota- Cheers!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Giant Cucumbers

I had been waiting to harvest some of these next cucumbers until I tried the pickles I made 2 weeks ago so I could make changes to the recipe or decide the fate of the next harvest. Well, the pickles were delicious! So I left the cukes on the vine just a bit longer so that I would have a bit bigger, plumper cukes to use for pickles. Well there's a fine balance in cuke size as they do grow rapidly, and sometimes cucumbers are too big to make pickles from. Today I picked 13 cucumbers, 1 posperosa eggplant (which we had for dinner, pictured below sweating before grilling- yum!), and about a pound of haricot verts.
I'm planning to make more pickles with these cukes, I've got 6 quart-sized jars sterilizing as I type. I'm going to start with the smaller cukes, and as I get to cutting up the larger ones, monitor the seed size/texture as I am suspicious that these giant cukes will have more developed seeds, which isn't desirable for pickles. So, here come a few more quarts of kosher dills! Cheers!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Garden is Growing! A Photo Update

My garden has been growing like crazy lately. We got a lot of rain a week or two ago, and now everything has just been growing beyond control. So, I thought it was time for a photo update, since it's been a while. Things have really grown since the last update. . . So here goes!
The garden:

Bed E (eggplant, haricot verts, snaps, marigolds, one rogue onion, and Giant Cactus Zinnias in the back):

Bed T (parsnips, snaps, chilly chili peppers, edamame, and State Fair Zinnias in front. Tomatoes left to right: Cherokee Purple, Earl's Faux, Brandywine, Kellogg's Breakfast in front):

Bed C (big early bell peppers, chives, chilly chili peppers, carrots, marigolds, snaps. Tomatoes left to right: Giant Syrian, Todd County Amish, Big Beef, and Lemon Boy in front. Note the curly leaves on some of the plants- I'm not sure what this is, but I'm going to do some investigating):

And some of the individual crops- cukes!

Edamame- these have been basically taken over by the aphids, so I'm not sure if this will actually produce anything for us humans to eat, but we'll see.

Prosperosa Eggplant- SOOOO beautiful and just about ready to eat!

I thought I had planted Serrano Chilies here but maybe I got my crops mixed up? I'm not sure, but they look pretty similar to the bell peppers I'm growing:

Zinnias- Giant Cactus variety- love them!

And finally, the stars of the garden, the tomatoes:

Big Beef (always a staple- great producer and nice size fruits! too bad we're getting a lot of blossom end scarring this year, but I think they'll be good nonetheless):

Brandywine (mmm, my mouth is watering just looking at them):

Todd County Amish (big hearty tomatoes here!):

And Giant Syrian (I'm hoping these taste as good as they look- I can see why they're a favorite!):

I think it will just be another week or two before we get fresh home grown tomatoes, as the Big Beefs look like they're getting ready to turn on us. Of course I don't have anything written down about when we had our first ripe tomatoes last year, but in 2007, we had ripe tomatoes before July was out, granted they were store-bought plants, but we can't be too far behind! Cheers!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Pickles!

We've had enough cucumbers now that we have male flowers, that I've been making pickles! I made 5 quarts last week, and I still had 7 cukes left over. Now I've got 3 more cukes in the fridge, and about 10 sitting on the vine waiting for a job.

So here are a few pictures illustrating the process- cutting the cukes and gathering the ingredients (nevermind the mess on the counter):
And the finished product. I followed a recipe for Kosher Dill Pickles, so we'll see how it turns out. The recipe was a bit confusing as I couldn't tell which quantities were "per jar" and which were for the whole recipe. Also, I'm using sweeter yet hybrid cukes, I think, which really are meant for fresh eating rather than pickling. They are supposed to be best at about 2 weeks, but ready to eat after 24 hours. I bet they're probably fine by now, can't wait to give them a try- I love pickles! Cheers!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Male vs. Female

I finally have some male flowers on my cucumbers- yippee! So you know what that means- cucumbers! For those who don't know much about cucumbers, they require pollination (at least this type does). Therefore, you must have both male and female flowers. I have mostly female, but I have recently seen 2-3 male flowers show up. So as long as you've got both genders and insects or bees to do the pollinating, you're in business. Of course you want to have mostly females, since males can pollinate more than one female, and the more female flowers you have, the more potential cucumbers you have! Now I've got cukes almost big enough to eat on the vines! Yay! Soon I'll be trying to give them away as I've done with my sugar snap peas and am now starting to approach with my haricot verts.

Here is a drawing of what male vs. female cucumber flowers look like. Note the teeny tiny undeveloped cucumber-shaped stem that the female flower has. This is what eventually turns into the part you eat. So now you know a little more about cucumbers. Cheers!

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Newest Addition

We added a new plant to the garden last weekend- a St. Croix Grape. This vine is planted on the trellace where one of the Japanese Honeysuckle did not come back from last year.

St. Croix Grape is a blue-fruited, hardy variety that was developed here in Minnesota. It produces clusters of medium sized grapes that ripen in early to mid-september. This variety is good for wine, as a fresh-eating table grape, as well as for making preserves.
I am excited to give them a try! Who knows, maybe I'll be doing this next year! ;) Cheers!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Aphid Wars

I discovered some aphids hanging out on the undersides of my soybean leaves a few days ago. . . and while they're not causing any major problems right now, I want them gone before they do. So, I've been chasing after them with soapy water in a spray bottle- but that hasn't been working very well. So today I got them good with my garden hose- I put it on one of the higher pressure spray settings and blasted those buggers. I think I got most of them off, but it's hard to tell- those things lurk around every corner! After the water blast, I applied another layer of soapy water. We shall see. . . . as long as they don't touch my tomatoes. ;)

The rest of the garden is doing great- I've got about 15 female cucumber flowers, but not a single male. . . I just need one. . . I think I remember having this problem 2 years ago with these cukes too.

Golf ball sized tomatoes on most of my plants, and so far no bacterial speck.

The leaf lettuce is still kicking.

Sugar snap peas are going gangbusters. I need to find some recipes to use them up.

Haricot verts- oooh, they're coming along. . . we will have tasty green beans on the table in a few days. yum!

Peppers and eggplant are starting to flower, and the Chilly Chili's have a few peppers even.

Carrots- wonderful greens, but nothing under the earth yet.

Marigolds- I love the jaguars, they look awesome.

Amber kiss and other violas are blooming too.

Giant Cactus zinnias are blooming and lots more buds coming! State Fair zinnias have buds

It's coming along! Can't wait 'til tomato season!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Garden Progress

Well, it has been 2 weeks since the last update, thus it is time for a new set of photos from the garden. Things have been growing nicely with the heat wave we just had, and now with the milder temps back in the area, the lettuce and peas are loving it. A few pictures are worth a few thousand words. . .

Here is Bed C- Giant Syrian, Todd County Amish, Big Beef, and Lemon Boy tomatoes in the back. Carrots, chives, snaps, marigolds, and chilly chili peppers in the front. The bell pepper is hiding behind the chives- see if you can find it.

Bed E- mostly haricot verts. Eggplant in the middle, one renegade blooming onion from last year, along with a zinnia, a few snaps, some marigolds, and a dahlia in the front.Bed L- lettuce in front (note one variety is missing- went to seed). Cukes on the trellace, peas going like gangbusters in the background. Zinnia in the back, leeks on the left, marigolds, snaps, and peppers on the right. Bed T- Cherokee Purple, Earl's Faux, Brandywine, and Kellogg's Breakfast tomato varieties in the back. Parsnips on the left, zinnias on the right, Edamame scattered throughout. Chilly chili peppers and snaps in the front. Next, on to the individual photos:

Peas- going crazy right now. Finally.

Haricot verts- flowering means french beans on the dinner table will be right around the corner!
Cukes climbing their teepee trellace I made them.

My first tomato of the year, about the size of a small marble on my Big Beef plant:

Carrots. . . I love how delicate their greenery is.

And last but not least, Z is for zinnia. One of my favorite flowers in the garden budding. . .

Monday, June 15, 2009

We're Tiny but We're Mighty

That's Haelei's slogan as a big running pointing dog half the size of the rest of the breed. Haelei is also our little 4-legged garden helper. She is always so excited when I ask her if she wants to go outside to garden with me. For the most part, she stays out of trouble, but when the plants are small, she has occasionally tried to walk through the beds. And when the tomatoes are ripening, she thinks, "ooh thanks Mom for growing these tennis balls for me!" She has grabbed a few right off the vine, and she LOVES to munch on the cherry varieties. Haelei loves her tomatoes so much that she even went as far as to dig under the garden fence last fall to get one of the sweet million tomatoes that had fallen just inside the fence. She can be naughty at times, but she is a complete pocket puppy (well at least a wannabe), and always a fun garden companion! She starts by checking out the new cucumber trellace I built today. . .
then making sure I've pruned my tomatoes properly,and checking on the new edamame seedlings.
She makes sure each and every plant is just right. . .
. . . then moves on to the next.
Her artistic flare is better than mine as she points out what a beautiful sight the lettuce is today.And informs me that my marigolds are blooming.Thanks Haelei for all your help!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

I think I know why they call it "Sweet Million"

I have about a million volunteer tomatoes coming up in the be where my Sweet Million tomato plant was last year. They are coming up in bunches from where a few fruits had dropped. It is a pretty incredible sight.
The rest of the garden is coming along nicely. The greenhouse is put away, all my plants have been transplanted, and the extras given away. I have already pruned my tomatoes a bit, and have been enjoying lettuce and spinach for dinners. My chives are beautiful as well, blooming and very tasty. It shouldn't be long before I have sugar snap peas ready to eat. And not too long before I'll be ready to plant another round of seeds! Here is a tour of the garden and what is growing.
This is bed "E" for eggplant, right in the center. Haricot Verts all around it, spinach in the front, a few renegade onions in the back (must have come up from last year), and of course my snapdragons along the front left and other flowers throughout that are too small to notice right now.

This is Bed "L" for lettuce. Sugar snap peas in the background, leeks in the trench on the left, a few peppers on the right, cucumbers in the middle forming a circle amongst the grass weeds that need to be removed yet. Flowers scattered throughout, again too small to be seen right now.Next is Bed "T" for Tomatoes. You can see the millions of Sweet Million volunteers here, wow, taking over the Edamame beds. Also in need of some serious weeding! There are 4 tomatoes (intentional) in this bed, the Brandywine, Earl's Faux, Cherokee Purple, and Kellogg's Breakfast. Also in the front are parsnips, and the usual scattered small flowers.Finally, this bed had to be renamed this year. Last year it was bed "Z" for Zucchini, but I'm not growing that beast of a plant, so I'm sticking with the rhyme and calling it bed "C" for carrots. You can see the carrots with their very fine seedling leaves in the front, along with chives in the back, peppers, and 4 more tomatoes- Giant Syrian, Todd County Amish, Big Beef, and Lemon Boy. In this one you can actually see one of the marigolds in the front left corner. I'm pretty proud of these guys, I grew them from seed and I didn't even kill them in transplanting this year! (they snap easily). These ones have buds on them- I'm very excited to see them! And last but not least, the front perennial garden we planted last fall. This came out beautifully, with the help of the landscape designer at the garden center! The salvia is in full bloom and is so vibrant! The Peegee Hydrangea tree has a few missing branches from some strong winds we had this spring, but I think it should recover. I can't wait until it gets its blossoms!