Disappointing tomatoes, crazy lemon cucumbers and more from the garden

Still life with lemon cucumbers

Way too many 90+-degree days and way too little rain this summer. Is that why there is no tomato glut? Or is it more because this is the first year in a long time that we haven’t planted sungold cherry tomatoes?

The Early Girl tomatoes have been a disappointment. We planted various tomato plants in early May, had to protect them from that surprise killer frost just before Mother’s Day .. and what happened to that claim of fruit 50 days after planting?? Not even the first to ripen. Three months in, and the plant is still a disappointment, to be honest, as is the baby boomer cherry tomato.

The first tomatoes

Surprisingly, the beefsteak may be doing best of all. Thank goodness for the volunteer plants in last year’s tomato bed (now mostly peas, kale and chard) — we should have some generous cherry tomatoes later this month.

What’s gone crazy is this lemon cucumber plant. It’s taken over the cuke area and refuses to be confined. Not just to its section of the raised bed but to the raised bed, period. Only now are the deer starting to munch a bit, but it’s still sprawling outside and yellow flowers are everywhere. For all that flowering activity, though, there’s not as many cukes as I’d expect.

Bursting out of the raised bed

The cucumbers look like oranges as much as lemons, but there’s no citrusy zing to them. And there are too many seeds. Not a repeat in 2021.

Bush beans have been a winner this year. The pole beans, using seeds from a few years ago, struggled to germinate — maybe I should have started them inside? But now we are getting plenty of purple ones.

Kale is getting eaten by bugs, but chard has been abundant. We’ve even gotten some nice beets. Maybe the horse manure is really improving the soil?


I thinned out the black-eyed Susans in the fall and then the deer did some munching this summer. So that’s surprisingly tame.

Deer also munched day lilies. Oh well. I’ll divide them this fall and fill in gaps left by black-eyed Susans.

What I’ve loved, loved, loved this summer is the cluster of crocosmia along the front porch railing. I’m going to stretch it out this fall, all the way behind the lavender.

Some rose campion (another favorite) and coreopsis from earlier in the summer:

What’s blooming at the end of May

The garden has definitely moved into its purple phase, dominated by so many clumps of Siberian irises. One photo can’t do it justice. So here’s another.

A few white Siberian irises pop up intermittently … they may get divided this fall to spread the contrast.

We’ve got more big peony flowers, both white and pink. This is the most impressive they’ve ever been — such big blooms! Some are as wide as my hand with fingers spread out! Glad WFH meant we actually staked them early. Usually we only think about just as they’re ready to bloom and it’s pretty hopeless. Now I need to work on getting them next to each other for some contrast. One more for the fall garden to-do list?

The red, far less frilly peony that bloomed only a week ago is already spent, unfortunately. I wonder if the rapid shift from cool to 80s and full sun cut short the bloom period.

That fabulous amsonia is in full bloom. It really is bluer than it looks here.

Another favorite — rose campion — has started to bloom. And the first of red hot pokers are starting to get that red-orange-yellow coloring.

Walker’s low is out too!

I can’t remember the name of these yellow flowers. Were they a clearance purchase at Lowe’s several years ago? Anyone know their name?

And then there are the hostas, or those that didn’t get munched early by the deer and are only now coming back. These giant blue leaves now dwarf a big clump of Lenten roses by the back door. And I like the blue-green and cream-green combinations too. I know, the photo doesn’t do that last one justice.

The last of the daffodils and the first of the irises

We’re heading into the purple (and pink) phase of the garden: Siberian irises are starting to bloom.

I got two clumps from a gardening colleague in the fall of 2008. They have really taken off here — I have given many away as I divide and divide. The plants are now everywhere, both in the front and back yards, and I could divide many again.

Thank you, Charlie!

They pair with some allium bulgaricum, these pendants of pink and white bells that are just starting to unfurl, and the peonies that I divided last fall and spread out in the front yard. (Note to self: move those being overshadowed by a shrub in the back yard.) Can’t wait to see how they look (and how well I did in spreading out the pink, white and magenta varieties.)

A lesson in patience

Last Friday night temperatures were going down toward freezing and we had a fire going inside. Yes, on May 8! A week later, on Friday night, we are grilling and eating outside after temperatures topped 80 during the day and we got light sunburns while biking.

It was also hot two weekends ago, though not quite as hot as today. And we all figured winter was over, we are now zone 7a, not 6b thanks to climate change, so last frost isn’t as late as Mother’s Day. So why not plant the tomatoes, the peppers, zucchini, basil and whatever else we had?

Oh how foolish we were. Impatient too.

The soil really hadn’t warmed up enough, so the plants would still feel chilly anyway and not do much. And then we got this Canadian invasion — a weather “cyclone bomb” from the north with not only dropping temperatures but strong winds to boot.

We scrambled to protect our warm-weather plants.

Where’s some tarp? Plastic? Could we use some hoops bought years ago and shelter the peppers if we pull out the tomato cages already around some of them? Empty little plastic flower pots to protect individual plants?

We kind of pulled it off, though the wind was fierce enough to shove off the wood holding down the tarps (almost decapitating a tomato plant!) and then scattering some of the tarps and plastics as well.

Saturday’s forecast was still grim. Back up went the tarps and plastic, this time with bricks on top of the wood and holding down edges of plastic at the bottom. We lit another fire.

It was already dark when our neighbor, who also had planted his warm-weather plants, and his 13-year-old son knocked on the door.

“Would you like some toe warmers?”

Turns out they had who-knows-how-many left over from the abbreviated ski season and they were about to expire (yeah, right, I don’t take expiration dates that seriously), and perhaps these could take the chill off our plants in our improvised tents.

We laughed. And then we grabbed some scissors, bundled up in our fleeces and went outside to open the packets and leave them next to a few pepper and tomato plants.

This time the plastic stayed in place. The toe warmers were still warm the next morning. And while a few leaves show evidence of frostbite, we only lost one plant, a wax bean that probably hadn’t been hardened off enough to withstand the nasty wind.

But next year? Remind me to read this. And then hold off until mid-May, if not Memorial Day weekend.

What’s blooming at the end of April

The daffodils have mostly faded in the past week (aside from those in the shade), but wow they looked fantastic for a good six weeks. The Lenten roses are still going strong, so I’m going to move some to the bed along the driveway to contrast with the daffodils next year. I think the mauve and darker purple will add a splash of contrast to the yellow and whites, kind of like above.

As we await the peony show, perhaps paired with Siberian irises, here’s what’s blooming now.

Some creeping phlox. We’ve got a light blue, this pink, a candy strip variety. Have we lost the white to inadvertent cross-breeding? The candy stripe too? I keep trying to start new sections along the walkway to the front door.

Bleeding heart. I’m going to divide and move a section of this shade lover by the herbs and the steps off the deck so we can enjoy it even more.

Columbine. This may be the off year for this biannual.

I don’t know what this is, but I like the foliage pattern. The friend who gave it to me said it can be thuggish. I’ll let it fight with the Black-eyed Susans.

The amsonia is close to blooming. OK, it technically shouldn’t be on the list then, but I love this plant.

Arnold pink. Our tree is looking mighty fine. Just wish the blooms lasted longer.

Prepping for vegetables: rebuilding the raised beds

We’ve had some of our raised vegetable beds for more than a decade, and the truth is, wood rots. So every once in a while, we rebuild.

In the past we’ve always used douglas fir, but this time we decided to go with “severe weather” treated wood. Unlike the old pressure-treated wood, this version has no arsenic, just a “non-metallic preservative.” Does it mean our vegetables won’t be organic? No idea, but we figure it’s a decent trade-off.

Of course it’s never that easy a job, but in this age of coronavirus we have fewer distractions.

Here’s what the beds were looking like:

And here’s how rotten the wood was from the inside:

While the soil stays in place when you pull away the wood, you can’t just slide a new piece in its place. We found we had to cut back an inch or so all around to be able to square up the corners. So we piled up the soil on top of the bed.

Once the frame was rebuilt, we could push the extra soil into the gaps.

Then we reattached the anti-deer defenses — green metal posts to hold the chicken wire, and then the mangled and somewhat rusted chicken wire we’ve been using as a barricade. It also keeps out the evil groundhog (though he did climb in one time), rabbits and hopefully chipmunks. We hold them snuggly in place with the help of a long 2×2.

Now we’re done: one 12-foot-by-4-foot bed, one 10-by-4 and two 8-by-4 beds. We’ve got some arugula seeds sprouting, some parsley plants planted and other seeds that will hopefully germinate. In a few weeks, it’ll be time to plant tomatoes — yay!

And when we next have to rebuild, hopefully we will know someone who is ripping out a deck made of Trex and we can replace wood with something more permanent.