End of July Status

The Ramapo tomato plant we’ve been growing in a container had been doing incredibly well and had burst outside the tomato cage and was touching the roof of the porch. And then it wasn’t.

We think the weight of the tomatoes pulled it down. It doesn’t look like a stalk has snapped, so we are hoping all the tomatoes will turn red nicely. But the lesson for next year is to plant cherry-sized tomatoes. We also want to go with an early variety in the hope of having fruit in early (or even mid) July.

But yes, we’re starting to harvest more, and we’re also replanting some of our squares (we’re square-foot gardeners, remember?): Lettuce we’d started under the lights, plus the last of the spinach seeds, some arugula and parsnip seeds. We’ll see what takes.

We’ve been slow in harvesting chard, but we finally did a bit today. Plus we also got some salad greens and tomatoes. That all contributed to a good dinner, and lime basil added some zing!

Swiss chard

tomatoes, salad greens, basil

How the Garden Looks Today

Have a day off so am finally getting some shots of the garden. Black-eyed Susans are in bloom and this year we’ve got them scattered throughout the front bed, most prominently at the start of the walk.

Some Alma Potschke asters are starting to pop through:

Caught a butterfly enjoying the garden:


All the coneflowers this year really surprised us. They’ve probably been in bloom for close to a month.

coneflowersSome other flowers:


In the vegetable garden … am wondering where the beans are hiding in this wall of leaves (I have spotted two melons; how to tell when they’re ripe?):


But the first Ramapo tomato is just about ready for eating:

ramapo tomato

Buffalo Lessons

We aren’t going to make the giant Buffalo garden tour this weekend, but luckily the greater Buffalo area has many weeks of garden festivities, including smaller garden tours each weekend. So we went up this past weekend, saw gardens in two communities and came away inspired. These people did great things in small spaces, created rooms and in some cases filled in their lawns with flowers. (OK, that’s a harder one for us, since we have more land. But we can go bigger on the beds!) When we saw one with just perimeter plantings, it looked, well, boring, neatly kept as it was. No features to draw you in. That was a big lesson.

The bottom line: We need to come out of our comfort zone and if we mess up, we can always change. Nothing is permanent. And we’re lucky to have so much sun, as a neighbor pointed out this evening.

I’m definitely becoming a fan of local tours that are open to all who want to share their garden, rather than those that showcase fancy ones. I want to see something that’s attainable!

Among the ideas we’ve brought back:

– Put in a proper path in the front bed that goes diagonally from the front walkway, so we (and others) can walk through the flowers and have an easier time seeing the garden from both sides. We pretty much know where it will go. We’ll just have to move a few plants (easy!) and get some paving stones to make it work. I’ve thought about whether we also should bump out that part of the bed to make the curve more pronounced and make the path a bit longer, but I’m not sure whether that will happen this fall.

– Expand the bed against the back of the house that includes the air conditioner and is otherwise full of hostas. Prep work will be done this fall (strip the grass on the lowest lawnmower setting, borrow a rototiller if needed and haven’t run out of time, cover with newspaper or cardboard to smother the grass and weeds, cover with compost/mulch and let it all rot down over the winter). It will have a curve and will mix in walkers’s low and black-eyed susans with the hostas, which are pretty crowded. The area is half-sun, and you already see that the hostas there are lighter than the ones in full shade. Amazingly, the deer don’t touch these. Maybe I’ll add another deer-resistant plant to help make sure they stay away. That bed will be one side of the path from the deck to the raised beds. The other half may have to wait a year. Wonder if a berm would work for that one?

bowling balls in the garden
Maybe not quite this many...

– Rather than buying glass gazing balls as ornamental sculpture, we will look for free/cheap bowling balls and bird-bath stands that can serve the same purpose. I’ve just left a post on Freecycle, so we’ll see what happens. If you know of anyone tossing one out, let us know! More broadly, I came away with an appreciation for eye-catching garden sculpture, like a metal dahlia that spins in the wind (though not all who left online reviews were happy). One of the garden tours had a night session, and that got me thinking about decorative lighting. A friend we visited on the way up had Japanese lanterns hanging from a tree, which was another look I liked, even if there are no lights in them.

– We will stop talking and finally finish (or at least do more of) the lavender fencing of the raised beds that we have envisioned. Prep work can be done in the fall (same as with back bed), and we can buy lavender in May (and move some that we have that needs a home). I’m hoping for a tall variety, like the one by the front door. Hopefully that will make the raised beds even more deer-proof. We could add an archway to the entrance of the raised beds, creating a nice transition to the room, but maybe we’ll wait til we see how we like the lavender wall.

A pergola in our yard?– Use old tomato cages, turned upside down and with the parts that go in the ground chopped off, as ways to stake flowers that tend to flop over. Actually, I bet you could use cages right-side up. And we certainly have some that have seen better days.

– I’m still thinking an island bed (on a berm?) in the front would be nice. It could echo the curves of the bed that hugs the front path and could be wide enough for one pass with the mower, and eliminate a lot of lawn. But that is a lower priority. I’d like to have more flowers and pizzazz in the backyard, which is also incredibly sunny. I’m probably more likely to connect two small beds along the driveway first.

– A pergola would be lovely. Imagine one covered with wisteria! The question is where to put it and how to deal with the slope of the yard. That might be one for a few years from now, when we decide how to expand the deck or how to add a patio.

Some other photos from the weekend:

metal dahlia
The metal dahlia (sorry, no video)
white dragon flowers
They called the white flowers dragon flowers
tall artemisia
I want some of this tall artemisia, variety unknown
Nice pattern on this homemade trellis. Looks easy to copy!
path that crosses at a water feature
a path!

New Potatoes

potatoes in the groundWe’ve started the potato harvest.

Today, the Brit and I emptied out the (storage) container in which we’d grown banana fingerling potatoes. We found about four dozen, though most seem pretty small (did we not hill well enough?). Thought they’d be sweeter.

Still, boiled, dressed with mint, with homegrown Thai salad greens and tomatoes, with grilled eggplant from the garden on the side, plus the last of the sausage from our half pig, purchased last fall, and the last of some golden cauliflower, spiced and grilled too. Yum.

Can’t Wait for My Tomatoes

Ramapo tomatoes on the vine
Ramapo tomatoes on the vine

I may have to grow Early Girl or Early Boy tomatoes next year because I am getting impatient for garden tomatoes.

Yes, I’ve had a couple from the neighbors’ raised bed that only made me want more, and we have a couple of orange cherry tomatoes that are just about ripe, but we really need a lot to pair with our glut of salad greens. So I broke down and went to our farmers’ market. Only one stand had them — and two tomatoes cost me $2!! (It really was $2 and change, but the employee cut me a break when I expressed shock.) I have no idea if these are organic and that’s why they are more than $4 a pound, or just because it’s a few weeks til tomato season really hits; the stand had no sign or price for all to see (one of my complaints about my local market).

How was the taste? Just OK. Not really mealy like the tomatoes I bought at the store the other week, but certainly not that wonderful juice-dripping, sun-kissed taste of August. To be honest, there wasn’t much (time to add salt).

So I went and picked one of the orange cherry tomatoes. Sweeter. Hands down, it won the taste test.

My $1 apiece tomatoes
My $1 apiece tomatoes
cherry tomatoes
That front tomato is now gone

Great Garlic Festival

Our garlic harvest, out to dry

We’ve decided it’s time to harvest all the garlic, and yes, we have enough to ward off quite a few vampires! By my count, we have 79 bulbs drying on a table on the deck, some big and fat, some pretty tiny. Not that we’re surprised, because we knew we planted some fat cloves as well as some that were pretty shriveled up. So we’re thrilled that every clove produced!

We definitely have at least two varieties — a white one and a rose-tinged one. We’ll save the best-looking ones to plant in the fall; I’m guessing we’ll once again cram in about that many in the raised bed we built just for garlic, and the rest will keep us from consuming much in the way of garlic from China for many months, hopefully well into 2012.

As we tell anyone who’ll listen, garlic has to be the easiest thing to grow. Go to your local farmers’ market, buy a bulb of organic garlic and plant each clove standing up a few inches deep in a nice sunny spot during the fall. Come May or June, you’ll need to cut back those curly scapes at the top before they straighten out and flower, taking energy from the bulb. Use the scapes as you would garlic, or make a garlic scape pesto. Once the garlic stalk dies back by 2/3 or so, pull out your crop, let the bulbs dry outside in the shade and enjoy!

As for our garlic bed, the Brit couldn’t resist admiring his soil one year later and running his hands through it. He’d filled it with a 50-50 mix of soil (piled in the back after we’d dug up grass a few years ago while expanding flower beds) and compost, so now, it’s incredibly light and fluffy. We debated sowing buckwheat as a cover crop until it’s time to plant the next garlic crop (return  nitrogen to the soil, keep down weeds), but we decided we really needed to get those leeks out of window boxes. Plus, this way we’ll have to harvest in the fall, rather than dilly-dally til the snow comes and it’s too late.

Garlic, fresh from the ground