Tag Archives: urban gardening

A Summer Well Spent


It’s a warm, sunny, October day here in Wisconsin.  Cooler temperatures are on the horizon, but for today we will enjoy the warmth and sunshine for yet another day.

As I reflect on my summer (which I realize remains a mystery to readers as it’s been months since I’ve posted) I feel thankful and satisfied with what was accomplished.  I set out with a vague goal of preserving more food this year than I ever have before.  I knew that I would grow some of that food.  And that I would buy some of that food from farmers.

You might be wondering what has been grown, purchased and preserved this year.  As a matter of fact, I was wondering that same thing this morning as I pulled out a jar of peaches and thought how nice it would be to have an inventory of some sort.  Here is a list–with and without amounts–of what I worked on this summer.  I hope it inspires other urban gardeners to try some preserving.  Nothing here is exotic or difficult to do, just good ol’ jars of food and stuff in my freezer.

60-ish jars of jam:  rhubarb-vanilla, strawberry, strawberry-rhubarb, peach, peach-vanilla, blueberry
6 cups chopped frozen rhubarb
12 quarts of peaches in medium syrup (my son’s favorite!)
2 gallon bags of frozen blueberries
8 quarts frozen strawberries
strawberry fruit leathers and dried strawberries (these were gobbled up a while ago, I don’t remember exactly how much we made)
5 quarts cherries in almond syrup
4 pints cherries in wine
2 pints dried cherries
1/2 gallon cherry wine
several bags chopped, blanched kale (for winter soups)
4 pint jars dehydrated chocolate mint (for tea)
6 pints mint syrup (for mixed drinks, sweetener)
3 pints cherry wine syrup (to pour over a pound cake)
pesto (we keep eating this, I’m not sure how many we made)
kale pesto
1/2 pint jar dried chamomile (for tea)
several containers cream of broccoli soup
several containers creamy carrot soup
several containers eggplant supper soup
dried thyme
dried oregano
dried parsley
6 quarts garlic and honey dill pickles
7 pints bread and butter pickles
6 pints spicy classic dill pickles
4 pints tomato sauce
4 pints marinara sauce
4 pints tomato salsa
6 pints peach salsa
dehydrated apple rings
dehydrated tomatoes
8 pints applesauce
3 pints cinnamon applesauce
8 loaves zucchini bread
12 heads of garlic
gallon bag of frozen kale cubes (to throw in smoothies)
gallon bag of frozen beet green cubes (to throw in smoothies)

Meanwhile, we’ve eaten countless salads and tomato dishes out of garden.  We’ve eaten mountains of kale chips.  My kids have a habit of eating raw beans, peas and carrots straight out of the garden… in fact these things never make it in the house.  Every day we look forward to our raspberry snack, straight off the canes outside.  We put fresh herbs on all of our meat and fish, make salad dressing with our herbs and use them in mixed drinks.

This year we enjoyed fresh garden onions for the first time.  We made fresh juices with our celery, cucumbers, kale, parsley and other fresh garden goods.

It’s the second week of October and we still have much to look forward to.  There are tomatoes on the vine.  If a frost threatens, I can pull off the green ones and let them ripen indoors.  Until then, bruschetta and salsa awaits!  And probably a few more BLT dinners (our favorite).  Celeriac is ready to harvest and be transformed into a delicious soup.  Leeks are large this year and ready to be used in a leek and potato soup, as well as other applications, such as our Christmas ravioli filling as we’ve done in the past.  There is plenty of swiss chard and kale, the latter of which will continue to grow until it gets very cold.  Raspberries continue to ripen each day and the eggplant has hit a stride that I find hard to keep up with at this point.  I have such good luck with eggplant.

Perhaps the most interesting thing in this year’s garden is the lemon tree.  So many big, beautiful lemons!  They are turning yellow now and will be perfect stuffed into a chicken for roasting or in salad dressing, on fish, in tea, or on my favorite lemon garlic pasta recipe.  What a blessing to finally get some lemons off that little tree.

I garden in a small city sized lot.  I squeeze a lot in to my small space.  Not everything grows, not everything is a success.  That’s okay.  I’ve learned much from my garden failures.

At the beginning of the season I prayed over my garden as I planted it.  “Dear Lord, if it is your will let this garden nourish us this year.  Make it grow!”  God delivered.  I’m not a perfect steward of these blessings (oops, I’ve had to toss a few things I let go past their prime in the compost), but thankfully God doesn’t withhold His blessing just because I make some human mistakes.  I’m so glad He gives me the opportunity to keep trying and keep learning.

So, for now, my larder is full!  Praise God.

Dwarf Meyer lemon tree has been working on growing these lemons all summer.

Dwarf Meyer lemon tree has been working on growing these lemons all summer.

The lemons are beginning to turn from green to yellow.

The lemons are beginning to turn from green to yellow.

I picked these today--October 8th--our tomatoes continue to produce late into the season.

I picked these today–October 8th–our tomatoes continue to produce late into the season.

Celery root (celeriac) is ready for the soup.

Celery root (celeriac) is ready for the soup.

In this part of the garden, I have (from left to right) celery root, leeks and Swiss chard.

In this part of the garden, I have (from left to right) celery root, leeks and Swiss chard.

Marigolds and nasturtiums finishing out the season.  They have added so much color.

Marigolds and nasturtiums finishing out the season. They have added so much color.

My daughter is picking raspberries.  As you can see, my garden is still full.

My daughter is picking raspberries. As you can see, my garden is still full.

Plenty of herbs are available for flavoring meats, soups and sauces.

Plenty of herbs are available for flavoring meats, soups and sauces.

This garden bed is still going strong with strawberries (I admit they've taken over a bit), walking onions, celery, broccoli, carrots, kale and tomatoes.  October 8th and it is all still looking great.

This garden bed is still going strong with strawberries (I admit they’ve taken over a bit), walking onions, celery, broccoli, carrots, kale and tomatoes. October 8th and it is all still looking great.

The strawberries have really multiplied, as you can see from this view.

The strawberries have really multiplied, as you can see from this view.

Every day we enjoy raspberries.

Every day we enjoy raspberries.

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Photos from June & July


I’m feeling very blessed over here as I process the fruits and veggies we’ve purchased as well as the bounty from our garden. God is providing for our earthly needs in a very lavish way this year! I’m working around the clock on peaches and blueberries, dehydrating chamomile and mint teas, eating out of the garden every day and sending my kids out for hours of snacking fun in their own backyard.

Here is a glimpse of the garden. These photos have been taken over the last month or so.

The lettuce patch in mid-June.

The lettuce patch in mid-June.

The lemon tree in mid-June, full of big, healthy, growing lemons!

The lemon tree in mid-June, full of big, healthy, growing lemons!

When my pak choy bolted instead of developing a head, I used the flowers to decorate the dinner table.

When my pak choy bolted instead of developing a head, I used the flowers to decorate the dinner table.

Making strawberry mint water.

Making strawberry mint water.

The finished strawberry mint infused water was completely refreshing.

The finished strawberry mint infused water was completely refreshing.

Making flower confetti in the dehydrator.  Will use this to top salads, appetizers or even ice cream.

Making flower confetti in the dehydrator. Will use this to top salads, appetizers or even ice cream.

The lettuce patch on July 8th.  Big, beautiful heads of romaine and butter lettuce.  Now I have to eat them before they bolt.

The lettuce patch on July 8th. Big, beautiful heads of romaine and butter lettuce. Now I have to eat them before they bolt.

My experiment with these buckets is a complete success.  Amish paste tomatoes, purple runner beans and fava beans are thriving.

My experiment with these buckets is a complete success. Amish paste tomatoes, purple runner beans and fava beans are thriving.

Everything is growing so well in this warm weather with near daily bursts of well-timed rain.

Everything is growing so well in this warm weather with near daily bursts of well-timed rain.

A view of the patio garden area.

A view of the patio garden area.

Nasturtiums spill into the yard while fennel and tomatoes are getting very tall.

Nasturtiums spill into the yard while fennel and tomatoes are getting very tall.

My first attempt at growing broccoli seems to be going well.

My first attempt at growing broccoli seems to be going well.

A healthy crop of chamomile.

A healthy crop of chamomile.

An Italian heirloom tomato.

An Italian heirloom tomato.

The purple clematis vine I planted after my daughter was born almost four years ago has really taken over the space--in a good way!  The view from the window in the nursery is so pretty.

The purple clematis vine I planted after my daughter was born almost four years ago has really taken over the space–in a good way! The view from the window in the nursery is so pretty.

Mint in the left foreground, eggplant in right foreground and raspberries in the background.

Mint in the left foreground, eggplant in right foreground and raspberries in the background.

Food preservation projects abound!

Food preservation projects abound!

Cherries gleaned from the neighbor's tree.  Aren't they beautiful?

Cherries gleaned from the neighbor’s tree. Aren’t they beautiful?

Variety, Quality and Quantity in a Small Garden


My garden space is limited.  I only have so much usable space, so I’m careful to make the most of it throughout the growing season.  I keep three goals in mind for my garden: variety, quality, quantity.

Now I know I could plant all my space with peppers and tomatoes and I’d surely have quantity.  But I wouldn’t have variety.  Or I could always plant the tomatoes in the one space that I really like to put them, but that might risk quality because tomatoes (and most other crops) benefit from being rotated to different spots in the garden–that way pests and diseases are deterred.

To maintain my three goals I really need to plan for a full season of growing in which my space is used wisely.  Most of my spaces are planted twice–once early in the season (or in the fall, depending) and again later on when the first crop is harvested and the space becomes available.

In the two photos you can see the difference between the early season in this garden bed, and how it currently looks.  Earlier this season I had it planted with radishes, lettuce, peas and garlic.  The tomatoes were also in the garden at the time I took the first photo.

The second photo shows that all but the tomatoes are now gone, and instead it is filled with corn, beans, squash and cucumbers.

Other areas of my yard get the same treatment.  Where I had beets in May and June I’m now growing ground cherries.  Where I had arugula this spring I’ve now got basil, dill and cilantro.  The bed that had tulips for cutting is now filled with tomatoes, fennel, cabbage, leeks, beets, carrots, beans, celeriac and peppers.  Earlier in the season that same bed had radishes, arugula and spinach.  And in a week or so when the fennel is harvested I’ll be planting kale and more spinach.

In my garden I’ve planted spinach twice already this year and plan to do it again!  Pots with nasturtiums will soon be planted with lettuce.

My garden definately has variety.  I garden organically, so the quality of my produce is high… maybe things have a few holes in them from sharing them with the insects that are in the garden, but nutritionally this homegrown stuff can’t be beat.  And quantity?  Well, I don’t get too much of one thing.  I don’t always get to “put up” produce for later.  But there is plenty to eat from the garden and it’s in a rainbow of colors and flavors.

Photos from the last week of July.


Colorful peppers. These are the Chinese Five Color, but apparently we are only going to get purple ones. They are lovely though!

Beans hang from their vine, ready for pickin'.

A look at my monster cherry tomatoes through the trellis.

Rose of Sharon puts on a nice show.

My attempt at growing the Three Sisters--corn, beans, squash--has been semi-successful. Very few corn survived my planting conditions and children trampling on them.

The first eggplant begins to take shape.

I put the chair there to show the enormity of these cherry tomato plants. From left to right: Tommy Toe, Black Cherry, Sun Gold. These are in regular potting mix--no added plant food of any kind. I believe they like the heat that radiates off the house.

It's been perfect weather for basil, which means pesto is for dinner tonight!

Photos from the third week of June.


Lavender is beginning to flower. Soon it will be attracting beneficial insects to the garden.

My honeysuckle has been attacked by aphids.

Garlic scapes are the flower stem of garlic. I harvest them and use them for pesto and salads. They have a light garlicky flavor.

Beet greens with water beads after a rain.

Fennel fronds hold beads of water after a rain.

Nasturtium leaves also make a nice resting place for water beads.

This rosemary plant is getting bigger by the minute, I've already harvested from it too! I'm so happy I decided to replace the rosemary I overwintered in the house. This one is much healthier.

I use this veggie bed to rotate crops during the season. Currently it has lettuce, tomatoes, peas, corn (which gets eaten every night, I wonder if we'll get any of it), beans, squash and garlic. Seem like alot? The peas, lettuce and garlic will soon be pulled to make more room for the other plants.

A look at the final baby robin to leave the nest as he contemplates taking the leap.

Gathering Greens & A Few Other Things


Washed, bagged salad greens are perhaps one of the greatest inventions of our modern times.  Sort of.  It’s completely convenient and easy to dump them into a bowl and dress them for a salad, or into a skillet to saute for dinner.  They are clean and crisp, and relatively inexpensive.  But when I think of the gross amount of water and energy used to bring those greens to my table, I cringe a little bit.

Somewhere out in California or Mexico, depending on the season, those greens were grown, washed, bagged, loaded on a refrigerated truck, driven to Wisconsin, kept cold by refrigeration until they made their way to my house and ultimately my mouth.

It seems ridiculous because it’s so easy to just plant a few seeds out in my yard and eat fresh(er) greens anytime I want (as the season permits) using virtually a fraction of a fraction of the amount of energy used to bring me those bagged, washed grocery store varieties.

Don’t get me wrong: I do occasionally treat myself to box or bag of grocery store salad in the dead of winter.  I’m not a purist by any stretch of the imagination.

But I am thoughtful about my greens, and thankful I can grow ’em myself 7 months out of the year.

I like to grow spinach, arugula, head lettuce, leaf lettuce, swiss chard and will be adding kale to the lineup this year.  In addition we also eat the tops of our radishes and beets.

When I’m ready to make a salad or saute something green, I head outside.  Using a kitchen scissors I make quick work of gathering what I need.  As I cut, I put everything directly into my salad spinner.

I take the salad spinner insert outside to harvest greens.

Arugula fresh from the garden, prior to washing.

Once inside I use the salad spinner to bathe the greens in very cold water… this perks them right up and brings them to the perfect temperature for serving.  At the same time they are getting nice and clean without the use of machinery or bleach or anything else those big salad growers out West are using.

I spin them dry in the spinner and we are ready to use them.

When I want to prep the greens in advance of using them or I just have more than I can eat at one time, I store them in a plastic bag with a paper towel in it.  This seems to keep them crisp and they usually last at least a week in the refrigerator, sometimes longer.

Bagged arugula is ready for the refrigerator.

If I discover a more earth-friendly way to do this that doesn’t involve plastic or paper towels I’ll be happy.  But for now this works marvelously for me.

Now on to a few other items.  This time of year tomato plants are growing very quickly and putting new leaves, branches and blossoms every day.  I am in the habit and pinching off the “suckers” that grow between the stem and branches.  It helps to develop a stronger plant.

"Suckers" grow at the point where the stem meets the branch. At this size they are easy to pinch off.

We’ve also had some excellent bird viewing around the garden these last few days.  Our robins have been carefully guarding their eggs.  I’ve noticed that they take turns, one of them tends to sit on the nest most of the time and when it’s the second one’s turn to be on guard duty he prefers to sit on the edge of the nest or in a nearby location.  The fence that hides our air conditioner seems to be a favorite location.

This nest is so sweet. It's getting more difficult to see and photograph it as the honeysuckle has filled in.

Mr. Robin on his favorite perch at night. He's noticed me taking his picture.

Here is Mr. Robin in the background and the trellis where the nest sits in the foreground. He never lets the nest out of his sight and is quick to run other birds such as cardinals out of the yard.

Mrs. Robin dutifully sits. I wonder if these lights surprised her the first night they came on.

A yellow finch stopped by for a drink at the honeysuckle. I've also spotted hummingbirds here.

And finally, I’ve been very busy putting all the starts and seeds into the garden beds this last week.  I’m happy to report that (for now) everything is in!  There will be some successive planting and late season planting later on, but the big spring dig is done and I’m very pleased with how it’s come together so far.

Herb bed and trellis with honeysuckle.

Vegetable bed with the grid still in place. I've planted using a square foot approach this year.

Repotting the Lemon Tree


My dwarf meyer lemon tree came with the instructions to repot annually.  This being the tree’s third spring with us, we are on our third pot.  The pot is big this time!  One more size up and I’ll have to hire movers to haul the thing in and out of the house for me.

I’ve reported on this lemon tree before:  When life hands you one lemon…  and suffice to say the lemon tree and I have had our ups and downs.

But I’ve been looking forward to this annual tradition of repotting.  For one, I wanted to put them lemon tree in a more attractive pot.  I found a very nice brick red pot at my favorite gardening store, Stein Gardens and Gifts.  It’s a Wisconsin chain, so you won’t find them elsewhere.  But if you do come to Wisconsin it’s worth checking out.

My lemon tree has suffered from a few issues.  For one, it sets blooms but then they all fall off and I am left with no lemons.  I’m not sure why this happens, but I’ve heard that this is a problem for many indoor lemon tree growers.  The other problem is that it sheds it leaves a few times a year.  I’m not sure it can get the energy it needs from the sun with so few leaves to soak it in. 

To address the blossom problem I’ve decided to beef up the tree’s food supply.  As I put potting mix into the new pot, I added several cups of organic fruit fertilizer.  I am hoping that this will strengthen stem development because it seems that the stems supporting the blossoms just wimp out and break.

Just so you all know, this is my non-scientific totally untested solution to this problem.  As I’ve said before I work more on a “feel” basis.  I have no idea if this will work or not.   But after months of watching blossoms fall off my plant, it seems like the right thing to do.

As for the leaves, all I can hope is that the weather around here warms up and the tree can go back outside.  I know how this tree feels–cooped up in this house all winter getting a fraction of the sunlight it needs or desires.  I understand wanting to just sadly drop your leaves and look pathetic.  And it does look pathetic.  I’ve been taking it outside when weather permits.  I’m hoping soon it can just stay out there.  Especially since this new pot is so heavy!

I used an organic fertilizer in conjunction with some “moisture plus” potting mix.

I used Dr. Earth organic fruit fertilizer.

I blended the fertilizer with some fresh potting mix to fill the new pot, leaving some room for the lemon trees root system.

When I took the tree out of its current container I noticed a lack of large roots.  There was a system of smaller roots, but as I moved the plant out of the pot many of them broke free of the tree.  I hope I did not cause too much stress to the tree.  I tried to be gentle!

Perhaps the new pot, fertilizer and potting mix will invigorate the root system.

My son waters in the lemon tree.

My new pot is a few inches wider in diameter than the old one.

This new brick red pot is certainly an upgrade!

Something that bothers me about my lemon tree is a lack of a central trunk.  Maybe this is normal?  Leave a comment if you know anything about this.

I’m hopeful that the blossoms that are on the tree now will turn into lemons, at least a few of them!  They will certainly benefit from being outside where the bees can help them along, the sun can warm them and the breeze can make them strong.  The new pot with its healthier blend of potting mix should certainly be a help as well.  And now that the tree has more room to grow, it can support more fruit. 

Im cheering these blossoms on!

Well, little lemon tree… it’s up to you now!

Looking happier already, the lemon tree is getting settled into its new home.

 

With any luck well have some lemons in a few months. (Here is our lemon "crop" of 2010.)

Planning my garden, graciously.


Working a small urban garden requires creativity and planning.  With limited space and sometimes odd sun and shade patterns, a gardener needs to have a strategy for working the space.

My 2010 garden was the first garden I planned in which I purposely planted early and late crops, tall and small crops, quick growers and slow growers together but in harmony with one another in order to make the most of my space.  For a first timer, I did pretty well! 

Before and after, the vegetables filled in the entire space.

In one raised bed I started the season with peas, lettuces, arugula and radishes.  As those were being harvested, the cucumbers began to take precedence in the space, happily climbing up trellis in the middle of loose leaf lettuce.  I was picking the cucumbers by the time the pumpkins really needed to sprawl out, and was able to pull out the cucumber vines when they were done producing so that the pumpkins could have the whole bed to themselves for the end of the season.  When pumpkins were done in October, I planted garlic.  The garlic will kick off the 2011 season when it shoots out of ground in about a month.

Peas and lettuces fill this bed in May and June.

By the end of June, cucumbers are climbing up the trellises.

Pumpkins take over the space to close out the season.

 

In the other bed, things got even crazier.  Carrots were planted in a line down the entire length of the bed, dividing it.  They took a break in the middle of the bed to give the leeks a 1′ x 1′ space to grow.  I only grew 8 small leeks in that space, but they did grow!

Beneath tomato plants, I planted beets; next to those, marigolds.  Cabbages and radicchio were neighbors to the spinach.  Beans grew on both sides of the bed, and in the last remaining space I put fennel seedlings. 

Close quarters for the fennel and beans.

Leeks filling a small space.

Marigolds, tomatoes and beets.

It was about mid-season when I realized how much the sun was affecting one corner of that bed.  A tree was keeping it shaded for a few hours more than the rest of the garden, so the beans on that side did poorly.  And the insects really liked the damp microclimate that was created by the shade.  This was compounded by the fact that things were planted closely together, essentially shading each other.  This year I will know this and plant accordingly. 

There are many ways to plan a garden, I prefer to sketch things out beforehand, making sure I’ve got a spot for everything.  Besides the raised beds, I use pots and flower beds along my house as well.  All of these end up on my sketches, labeled with the intended occupant.

Once I’m out in the garden putting the plants in, I often make changes to my plan.  It’s the gardener’s prerogative I suppose.  Sometimes something doesn’t feel right, or look right.  I change it.  Sometimes what seemed like a good idea during a February planning session turns out to be a ridiculous idea in reality.  I’m open to that.

Last year I wanted to grow celeriac–arguably the ugliest vegetable.  I love soup made with celeriac, onions, apples and potatoes in the fall.  It didn’t work out though.  Turns out celeriac needs to be started really early, and my plan didn’t call for that.  When I realized this I had to make some changes.  No big deal though.  A garden is a very fluid thing.  It ebbs and flows.  It changes itself depending on sun, water and other weather conditions.  The gardener takes a cue from the garden itself and adjusts accordingly.

I’m working on my 2011 plan right now.  It looks like I’ll need to buy some new supports for beans.  I also need to think about how many vining plants I can realistically grow in a small space.  I’m so tempted to try melons and squash as well as cucumbers, but how to manage so many vines?  It really does require a plan, and probably some prudence as well.

I’m reminded of The Parable of the Sower (Matthew, chapter 13)  in which the farmer scattered seed over various surfaces with equally varied results.  We all know you can’t grow a seed on a path, a rock or among the thorns.  Good soil produces good results.  Likewise, God’s Word works on the soil that is ready to receive it.  My heart needs to be a vessel of good soil, ready for God to work it.  I can’t let the thorns take over my heart or let someone or something steal the Word from me because I’ve covered my heart with a path.  And I certainly don’t want God to find a rocky place when he comes to sow his seed. 

I’m making my garden plans, and I’m also preparing my heart for God.  It’s something I am reminded of when I think of my garden and the act of sowing seeds.  I know my heart can be a beautiful garden filled with the scent and beauty of God’s love.  “But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it.  He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”  Matthew 13:23

I hope my garden here at home is as abundant as that in the parable!

An "abundance" of eggplant grows next to the house.

Tomato Picks


 

So many tomato transplants, so little space.

We live in the city which can be very convenient.  Who wouldn’t want to be 5 minutes from downtown dining, professional sports, museums and theatre?  Not to mention our proximity to Lake Michigan… I can walk there in ten minutes!  But what city dwelling lacks is gardening space, and for a gardener that can be kind of annoying. 

I am learning to work with my space.  And I’m learning restraint.  It’s time to order tomato seeds, and while I am drooling over the gorgeous photos in the seed catalogs, I’m reminding myself that my garden can only handle 4-6 tomato plants.  So don’t go ordering all those tomato seeds!  It’s hard to resist the countless varieties that all hold their own promises of flavor, texture and beauty.  I want them all.

Here’s the plan for 2011, which is (as always when it comes to gardening) subject to change at any time.  I will put four plants into my raised vegetable bed as I did last year.  It’s easy to access the plants on the corners of the raised bed.  I will put two additional plants in nearby pots, and hope for the best.  I’ve planted in pots before with mixed results.  The key is consistent watering.  Same thing with the Topsy Turvy, but I’m not going there this year.

These descriptions are straight off the websites from which I’ve purchased the seeds.

Italian Heirloom (Seed Savers Exchange)
Outstanding heirloom from Italy. Plants are loaded with red fruits weighing over a pound. One of the most productive varieties we have grown at Heritage Farm. Excellent full tomato flavor. Ideal for slicing and canning—very little waste and easy to peel. Indeterminate, 70-80 days from transplant.

Nebraska Wedding (Seed Savers Exchange)
The “ultimate love apple” according to Amy Goldman’s colorful story in The Heirloom Tomato. Nebraskan brides reportedly still receive these seeds as a wedding gift. Listed in the 1983 SSE Yearbook by Dorothy Beiswenger of Crookston, Minnesota. Reliable producer of stunning 4″ round fruits with glowing orange skin. Well-balanced flavor. Plants typically grow less than 36″ tall, but benefit from staking. Determinate, 85-90 days from transplant.

Tommy Toe (Seed Savers Exchange)
Exceptionally vigorous plants yield hundreds of large red cherry tomatoes throughout the season. The superb flavor won it top billing over 100 other varieties in an Australian taste test. Indeterminate, 70 days from transplant.

Wisconsin 55 OG (Seed Savers Exchange)
Bred by JC Walker at the University of Wisconsin in the 1940s. Excellent all-purpose tomato, great for canning. Does best on rich soils. Remembered as one of the best home and market tomatoes in the Madison, Wisconsin area. Indeterminate, 80 days from transplant.

Green Zebra (Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds)
One of my favorite tomatoes. Beautiful chartreuse with deep lime-green stripes, very attractive. Flesh is bright green and very rich tasting, sweet with a sharp bite to it, (just too good to describe!). A favorite tomato of many high class chefs, specialty markets and home gardeners. Yield is excellent. The most striking tomato in our catalog, a real beauty. Around 3 ounces each.

Chocolate Stripes (Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds)
NEW! 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. A favorite here with the staff at Baker Creek. Fruit is medium to large and are of a slightly flattened globe shape.

Wow!  Sounds like a delicious summer is ahead.  These tomato descriptions make my mouth water.  I simply can’t wait for that first taste of a garden tomato. 

For quality seeds and incredible variety:  Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds or Seed Savers Exchange.

I say Tomato!


Cherokee Purple tomato prior to ripening.

Perhaps nothing says “summer garden” more in this country than that ubiquitous garden veggie–er, fruit–the tomato.  Even those who grow nothing else might consider a tomato plant in a container, because as we’ve been told a thousand and one times: There is nothing better than a fresh picked tomato right from the garden.

And as oft as that phrase has been spoken, it really is true.  Garden tomatoes are good.  Really good.

I only have room for four tomato plants in my raised beds, with a possible fifth or sixth plant lurking nearby in a pot.  Tomato plants can be big, and many of them have a tendency to sprawl and get really tall only to collapse onto themselves when the weight of their fruit becomes more than they can support.  Or they get all bent out of shape during a windy summer thunderstorm and suddenly what was once a well-formed plant occupying the planned space becomes a mass of leaning and reaching vines invading other garden territories.  A gardener with a small space must choose wisely.

And so now it’s decision time.  I’m carefully reading the tomato descriptions in my stack of seed catalogs, trying to find just the right mix of 4-6 plants that will grace our garden this year.  If only I had room for 20 plants!  We need something big and juicy for sandwiches and burgers.  We need perfect salad tomatoes to throw in with all the salads we eat from our garden, the ones made with lettuces, spinach and greens.  The other salads made with beans, grilled eggplant and peppers, or herbs. 

We need the ideal tomato for caprese salad.  It must sing on the plate with fresh mozzarella and basil.  Don’t forget the olive oil!

The kids will want something to pick and eat in the garden–a fun little cherry tomato.  Something that is sweet with just a bit of acidity that pops in your mouth with you bite down.

And then there is always the great experiment.  The variety that I grow simply because I haven’t grown it before.  Something unique, heirloom, loaded with promise.  This is the tomato for the gardener. 

Being 50% Italian, it grieves me to grow a garden void of paste tomatoes.  I long to grow enough tomatoes to make and bottle (or freeze) sauce.  Two years ago I attempted to grow a few paste tomato plants, only to have the weather thwart my plans.  I felt like I could have used my space more wisely, and so from now on I will.  But I will hold onto my dream of a large harvest of San Marzanos or Amish Pastes.  I have a feeling this is in my future someday.

So what am I growing this year?  I’ll let you know as soon as a final decision is made.  I won’t take too long to decide.  But in the meantime, I’ll share some tomato photos from gardens past.  (I only started photographing my garden in the last couple years, most photos are from 2009–a cold and dreary year–and 2010 which was wonderfully warm and sunny.)

Sapho tomatoes cascading on the vine.

 

A family of Gurney Girls making the transition from green to red.

 

A Beefsteak tomato plant of 2009.

 

These tomatoes are like the exclamation point on this bowl of garden veg.