Sunday, August 12, 2012

Vegetable Garden Minutiae Hell, Summer 2012

 In this post I will go into painful detail about my Summer vegetable garden. If you find this kind of thing bores you, then go ahead and skip to the end where you will find photos of our Summer vacation and the alarming new shoes I bought for my birthday.

This week the foothills have been experiencing the worst heat wave of the Summer. It's been around 105F for 4 days now and the forecast is about the same for the rest of the week. It's a good time to round up the photos I've taken and put the information together in a way that will be useful later. This is a shot of the vegetable garden this morning looking West. You might notice the sunflower in the bed on the right. It's a seedling from the 'Sunzilla' sunflowers I grew last year. It's about 15' tall. I don't know why I left it there to grow and shade out the tomatoes again. It's pretty magnificent, don't you think?
Learned: transplant sunflower volunteers well away from vegetable garden.

'Early Jersey Wakefield' cabbage
Speaking of giant things, here's some of the cabbage I harvested back in June. I planted it in January thinking it would grow over the Winter and be ready to harvest early in the Spring. What actually happened was a bit different. It didn't even start growing until Spring, and when it did, it got so enormous that there was hardly any room to squeeze in the pepper plants when it was time. 
Learned: cabbage is huge. Plant it around the edges.

The next thing to come along were bush beans in July. I planted them down the hot South sides of two beds, half a bed at a time at 3 week intervals. This worked out really well to stagger the harvest a bit.

'Dragon Tongue' and 'Roma II' bush beans.
'Dragon Tongue' is my favorite bean. I've been saving these seeds for nearly 15 years. What I like best about them is that you can let them get pretty big and they still cook up tender. I grew 'Roma II' for the first time this year. It's a good one too. 'Cherokee Wax' is another bean that does well here, but you have to pick them small.
Learned: All bean seeds need to be sown by the 1st of July. After that the weather gets too hot for them to germinate well and if they do, the sowbugs get them. I'll try sowing beans for early Fall harvest into pony packs when the heat breaks and transplanting them with a collar.

Well-behaved sowbugs eating decaying plant material and ignoring lettuce seedling.

Speaking of sowbugs, in July the garden experienced a population explosion. This happened when I sifted some compost from the big pile to give the beds a Summer boost. Apparently several thousand of these little crustaceans hitched a ride in my wheelbarrow. Usually sowbugs are beneficial and serve as decomposers in the garden much like earthworms. In the heat, and in too large a population, they will eat anything. I should state here that this garden is organic, but not only that, it's part of the larger ecosystem that exists all around it.  For years I've been planting nectar plants for beneficial insects and making my own (buggy) compost. The photos of the resulting produce should be testament enough for anyone.  
Learned: just buy a few bags of bug free compost in the Summer.

I set traps for them in straight sided containers using a bit of cucumber as bait. I could no sooner kill roly polys than I could polywogs or any little creatures from happy childhood memories.

There you go little fellas. Back into the compost from whence you came.

'Agnes' cucumbers

Also in July were cucumbers. Lots and lots of cucumbers.

I made pickles, both dill and sweet. I'm still getting more cucumbers than we can eat. 'Agnes' is a great all-around cucumber for us here. It's still growing and producing right through the heat and we haven't had a bitter one yet.
Learned: even though it's nice to have enough cucumbers all at once to make pickles, you get pickled-out after a while. I'll just plant one row next year.

Over the years I've had lots of disappointments with tomatoes and peppers from seed. Our short growing season and crazy weather fluctuations early in the Spring and late in the Fall really mess things up. This year I had decided just to buy transplants and was resigned to growing 'Better Boys' and 'Romas'.  In April I was at the hardware store and found a nice selection of "heirloom" tomatoes, well grown, in quart size coco fiber pots. I bought a bunch of them and our first tomato was 'Jet Setter'.  I don't know why this hybrid was with them, but I'm glad it was. It's much better than 'Early Girl'. I'll be looking for these next year.

'Cherokee Purple' was the next to ripen. These are so wonderful! Best I've ever tasted. Very early and still going strong. If transplants aren't available next Spring, I'll start these from seed. I also bought: 'Black Krim', pretty color, just okay taste,
''Nebraska Wedding', same as above,
'Hillbilly', still waiting ...
'Old German', still waiting ...
It's really nice to have the opportunity to try these different heirlooms all at once. This cuts out years of trial and error and I really appreciate that.

'Black Krim' and 'Nebraska Wedding'

'Mexican Midget' cherry tomato

'Green Zebra' blossoms

A few more heirlooms I started from seed this year.

 For cooking tomatoes, I bought 'San Marzano' in 4 inch pots. I grew them last year from seed. They didn't start to ripen until late in August. In October, they were just covered in green tomatoes. I had to bring them all in green one afternoon before the first frost. We had tomatoes covering every windowsill, table, and counter top for weeks as they ripened. I was so happy to see these plants in April. I've already made several batches of salsa and put up the first gallon of diced tomatoes today.

'San Marzanos' ripen in waves.

An easy way to deal with them is to pick a basket or so. Dead ripe ones are easiest to handle.

Cut off the stem end and freeze them on a cookie sheet. After that you can peel and dice them at your leisure. If you're not going to peel them right away, just pack them away in a gallon freezer bag for later.

When you want to peel them, set them out on the counter for a half hour or so. You want the skin thawed but the inside still frozen. The skins will slip right off.

I like to dice the frozen tomatoes up and pack them into quart freezer bags. I think the fresh tomato flavor is so nice when the tomatoes only get cooked once.

There's the first gallon all ready to go. It only took a half hour or so and the kitchen stayed cool on a hot day. I'll keep doing this all Summer, I hope! Those are frozen pesto balls on top. I made those yesterday.
Learned: plant 2 rows of 'San Marzano' next year, and most important, 'Cherokee Purple' is the tomato Holy Grail I've been searching for.

Also at the hardware store were 'Sweet Banana' peppers. I've grown these from seed for many years. They're always wonderful. My kids say they taste like flowers. It's so nice to have so many so early. I've just been slicing them for salads. I bought 16 plants. 

I bought 6 'Giant Marconi' sweet peppers too. These are great! They're the first pepper I've grown that actually has a juicy crunch to it.  

Bought a few little 'Jalapenos' too.
Learned: 16 is just the right number of 'Sweet Banana', must have at least 24 'Giant Marconi' next year so I can roast them red and freeze some, 'Jalapenos' aren't hot enough, need lots more hot peppers.

'Horn of Plenty' crookneck
What's Summer without too much squash? Nice! I really tried hard to limit the squash this year and things are working out well.

'Salman' squash

'Sunburst' scallop squash

'Benning Green Tint' scallop squash

Here are the fearsome four squashes for the year. We've had more than enough with just a few plants of each planted at the short ends of the garden beds.
Learned: 'Benning Green Tint' is masterful at hiding its squashes under leaves until they are giant and the plants themselves are incredibly giant, 'Sunburst' is not a bit prolific, 'Salman' and 'Horn of Plenty' crookneck more than make up for that.

'Early Rose' and 'La Rata' potatoes

Old standbys. I tried planting them in January this year.
Learned: after being frozen to the ground twice in the Spring, then fried to a crisp early in the Summer, this wasn't a good idea. Next year plant them in March but grow something on their South side to shade them.

'Dr. Wyche's Yellow' tomatillo

'Jersey Knight' asparagus

'Eden's Gem' melon
Some pretty new faces in my garden this year. I have high hopes for all of them!

My little garden has been incredibly generous this year and I've spent many happy hours working and learning. 

For those of you non-gardening folk who skipped down, shame on you!

This year for our 25th anniversary we rented a shack on the Mendocino coast. This is "Sea Pines" cottage. While the foothills were enduring a heat wave, the temperatures here were in the high 60's. My husband built a little fire every morning and evening and we listened to seals barking.

It was also my birthday so we visited the Gualala Nursery. You can't miss it. Just look for the dinosaurs. I bought several pretty colors of Agastache. Thanks girls! 

Dinner at St. Orres

My birthday shoes.

Will be laughing about this for a long, long time. Thanks Mom!


  1. That is one heck of a lot of veggies. You have been one very busy lady, even canning. Sounds like a nice little vacation you had. Happy Anniversary. Some great shoes too.

    Cher Sunray Gardens

    1. Thanks Cher!
      I have been busy, but happy!

  2. What a great harvest you are getting from your garden; my best potatoes were planted in Jan. I planted them about 8 inches deep then covered with a pile of leaves. They were just coming through when we had a late freeze/snow, so just dumped some more leaves over them. Thanks for sharing about how you do your tomatoes, that looks like a winner for making chopped tomatoes. For sauce I use my squeezo strainer, just chop and turn the crank; it makes puree and spits out seeds and skins at the other end.

    1. Hey, I have one of those cool old machines too! My mother-in-law gave it to me. I've cranked many gallons of tomatoes through it, mostly for soup. I don't have enough tomatoes at a time to make digging that thing out of the closet and putting it together worthwhile. Maybe next year! Potatoes shouldn't be this hard, should they?

  3. I love the idea for slipping the skins off tomatoes without cooking, and I love the idea of dicing them raw and re-freezing so that they will only be cooked once.

    1. Hi Cristy!
      You should definitely try it and see what you think. If you keep them frozen, you don't lose all that good juice.

  4. We call sowbugs slaters, fortunately I've never had them do much, if any, real damage. Love your shoes by the way - great colour, almost as good as your superb harvests.

    1. Thanks Liz!
      Slaters? Cute. They've never been as destructive as this year. I wonder what their natural predator is? Glad you like the shoes. I do too ... and that worries me a bit!

  5. I had a comment already formulating in my head and then I saw the shoes and the made in Italy inscription....hilarious!

    At any rate, great harvest post from the sowbugs to the compost and everything that's coming out of your little garden. Wow, if your's is little than mine must be teeny tiny, as I could never produce anywhere near what you've got growing. Also, thanks for the tip on freezing the tomatoes and slipping the skins off later. Perhaps next year if we don't get rained out in June, my young seedlings will have a chance instead of rotting away in the cool, wet weather.

    1. Hi Rowena!
      Once the shoes came and I saw what was written in them, I didn't stop laughing for a long time. I'm sorry you're having different bad weather than us. Not really sure which is worse.

  6. What a wonderful post! It sounds as though the garden is a wonderful (learning) space for you, just as it is for me! Thanks for the tip about freezing tomatoes and then slipping their skins off...brilliant!!! I will definitely be giving that a try! Happy harvesting!

    1. You're welcome Bee Girl! Glad to help. I am learning, from my own mistakes for sure, but also from other gardeners blogging away. It's a great thing.

  7. OMG Kate you have your own farmers' market out there! I love the frozen tomato idea--never heard of doing that before. And clearly sunflowers have your number-- But to be honest, the shoes are my favorite part...

    1. Oh, no! I didn't think of it that way. Those sunflowers are walking all over me! They are happy shoes, aren't they?

  8. what a great harvest - you are keeping very busy!

    1. Falling behind now! It's much too hot to work outside. By the time the weather cools off everything will be a mess.

  9. Wow your counters are covered up! Impressive. My counters are nearly bare. Maybe later in the fall...

    1. I'm just glad they're not covered in squash! I'd give anything for some lettuce. You're right, there's always Fall!

  10. Great post and bountiful harvest. The garden teaches and gives us so much. I too love your shoes and the color.

    1. Thanks Norma! I sure like gardening years when the lessons learned aren't too out of balance with the harvests you reap.

  11. A beautiful harvest and a really great garden. Thanks for the fun post, i enjoyed your lessons learned. I need to make some lessons learned notes for myself this year.

    1. I'm just hoping that writing stuff down helps me remember all the dumb things I've done and don't want to do again. We will see!

  12. Oooh, orange shoes, I love them! And I did check out the garden bits. The Cherokee Purple is huge! I hope the Hillbilly does well for you, that used to be one of my favorites, but it doesn't do as well for me now that I'm gardening in a cooler spot. For all the wild fluctuations in your weather you still get ripe tomatoes and peppers before I do.

  13. Hi Michelle!
    It's taken me a very long time to feel the "girls just gotta have shoes" thing. It hit me like a slap to the head this year. That tomato was giant! It was hard to hold up even. I just picked an equally giant Hillbilly this evening. I'm sure it will be wonderful.

    1. I hope that Hillbilly was yummy. I miss them!

    2. Oh, man! Sooo good. Pretty too. The slices look like red and pink and yellow tie die.

  14. That is a fantastic looking harvest! Love the squashes and peppers.

  15. Wonderful, you made my day as well!

  16. It was so fun reading the detail about your summer garden. All your pictures of vegetables are absolutely stunning. And "sunflowers" are my favorite. I do love their energetic and strong hold on life.
    By the way, though I have never make compost by myself, there also are a great deal of sowbugs in my garden. When I move a flower pot or planter, I very often find their crowd under the planter or pot. They are troubles. I on rare occasions spray insecticide, but in most case I overlook them.
    so,if I get a great deal of tomatoes in my garden, I often frozen them like you. but I didn't know the easy way to peel them. Your tips are very useful,I think. Thank you so much.
    And your dinner looks so colorful and delicious. The heart shape is cute,isnt't it?
    Oh,I also want your lovely sandal. The color is very nice. But I can't see the punch line. I felt a little bit sad....
    The Mendocino coast is very wonderful place,isn't it? I have just googled there.
    I enjoyed your blog a lot. HAPPY YOUR 25 ANNIVERSARY!

  17. Thank you Kumittyi!
    Your English has improved so much in the short time you've been blogging! You're becoming so fluent now. The inside of the sandals say "because life is a dancefloor". It's funny because I am the least elegant, and most unstylish person who ever was. The only style and color of shoes I've ever had are black, brown, and clumpy and I never, ever dance. Maybe things will be different now!

    1. Your warm word about my English was a great encouragement to me. Thanks a million Kate. But I am not able to write and read English without an English-japanese dictionary and a Japanese-English dictionary even now.
      I hope I could speak and read English with fluency without a dictionary.
      But I have poor memory lately ,and that is my problem.
      Kate, Tahnk you so much for telling me about the punch line. I've got it now.
      And yet I do think that the elegant orange sandal will surely suit you very well.

  18. Your garden is lovely as ever, Kate - and inspiring in its productivity. Love those sunflowers stretching up and spreading out in the sky. Sounds like a great way to spend your anniversary and birthday. And... sweet sandals :)

    1. Thank you, Zoe!
      There's something especially fun about standing under really tall sunflowers and looking up. Makes you feel very, very small.

  19. Enjoyed reading about your summer garden. Cool shoes you have there for summer.

    1. Glad to see you back! Best wishes to you and your growing family.

  20. Wow, those sunzilla sunflowers are impressive! Our native long-horned bees would think they'd died and gone to heaven if I planted those :P

    Looks like Cherokee Purple does better for you than for us. We've had good years with it, but mostly not so good. I think it wants the weather a little warmer in summer, and we tend to get a bit too much fog some years.

    I never thought to freeze tomatoes whole! If you're going to sauce them, why not? Makes perfect sense. You may have just spared me from a bowlful of mushy toms, thanks!

    1. You are welcome and glad to help! Sunzilla is a hybrid with a single huge seed head. I grew it last year. The seedling that volunteered this year has all the height of its mother but instead has a zillion little flowers. You never know what you're going to get, I guess! I'll plant the seeds next year and hope they stay bushy. I'm sorry Cherokee Purple doesn't do well for you, it really is the best tomato I've ever tasted.


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