The newest immigrants in our garden come from Mississippi and Maine

tomato plants from MississippiOnce again, we have used our travels to help stock the vegetable garden.

Four of our 15 (!) tomato plants (and it’s NOT my fault this time) are Brandywines we picked up at a farmers market in Jackson, Miss., in March. Four for $1.50 and the potential to get a jump on the tomato season was just too irresistible. (And for the record, you can take plants on an airplane as carry-on. I have done it several times.) I had expected one of the Brit’s colleagues would have wanted one or two in a trade, but nope. All the better for us.

It’s been a rainy and generally cool May and June, and the plants aren’t the tallest tomato plants we have. (That would be one of the sungolds we grew from seed.) But all four have yellow flowers, compared to just three of the others.

And when we were visiting friends in Maine last weekend, we stopped at a garden center that we had mail-ordered from many, many years ago. The prices were great then and still are attractive. Best of all, we found three varieties of leeks at 16 cents a tiny plug. Not that there was only one leek in each plug! So we have bigger, more established plants than the ones I had bought in Indiana last March that were perhaps as thin as a strand of angel hair pasta and which didn’t fare that well. (OK, I could have watered those more.)

leek seedlings from maineWe bought 18 plugs (six of each variety), so less than $3 before tax; we have more than twice that many plants. There’s the Megaton, which it seems should be harvested in the fall, rather than left to cope with snow; the Gervaria, which a seed company describes as a mid-season harvest; and the Lexton, which that same company describes as very frost-hardy. It will be an interesting experiment and taste test.

We also picked up a robust Canada Red rhubarb plant that looks like it could be three. I decided not to stress it by trying to divide it.

This is to make up for a frustrating experience with a national mail-order company. We ordered eight bare-root plants at the end of March; the lone Canada Red bare root in our order is now out of stock, as is our order of purple potato seedlings, and we’ve been told we won’t get them and had that portion of our order refunded. We’re still waiting on the Glaskin’s Purpetual (two sets of three bareroots — but worryingly, the website lists them as now out of stock, though our order is still listed) and the Crimson Red jumbo bareroot. The shipping date has been pushed back time after time, and I’ve been oh so tempted to cancel the whole thing. We will never use them again.

Our Maine friends also gave us some flowers that they are constantly dividing and moving. If they can survive the deer and the rabbits (and one has already been attacked by something), I’m going to let them fight it out with the Black-Eyed Susans. And I’ll post some photos.

Adding to the garden

Our flower beds are packed… but that doesn’t keep me from thinking about additions.

So far I’ve kept it pretty much to just an idea — except for this Weigela “Prince Red” that is supposed to bloom all summer long. Love the burgundy! We’ve put it in the backyard where we are thinking of creating a private “room”, and this could be a wall. We’ll see what happens as it expands. And yes, it’s not a deer favorite.

weigelia red prince

I’d like to add more red to the front garden — blanket flower or helenium or … I’d have to subtract a bit first to make room. Or maybe the red day lilies will be more prolific and visible in their new home (at least I think I moved them out of the sea of black-eyed Susans last year).

Amazingly, the lenten roses are still blooming in May. The daffodils unfortunately are long gone.

lenten rose in may

And we’re starting to plant the vegetable beds. One of the leek containers imported from Indiana went in this weekend (about two dozen seedlings), as did the Yukon Gold seed potatoes I found there. Got to put in the other leek container in the coming days.

Carrots, kale, lettuce are in. Lemon basil is ready for planting.

Tomatoes will go in soon too. We’ve snared one of the new Rutgers 250 variety, and we have a mystery variety from an Indiana friend. Sun golds are growing … and who knows how we’ll fill the remaining space? We are limiting ourselves to no more than 10 plants this year. Famous last words!

The last of 2013

december vegetables 001A sunny day, so the Brit cleared out the raised beds today. Our final harvest of 2013: About two dozen stubby orange carrots no longer than 4 1/2 inches (but more often the length of baby carrots), oversized, foot-and-a-half leeks that came to us as seedlings from Ohio and a bowl full of kale.

The beds are now empty (aside from where we planted garlic for 2014 a month ago) and covered with leaves to keep the soil from getting compacted and to restore some nutrients to the mix as they break down.

With winter here, it’s time to flip through the seed catalogs that have started arriving and coming up with a plan for 2014. Any favorites to recommend?

Our Seventh Raised Bed Wasn’t My Idea!

The Brit has decided we need a new bed for salad greens and herbs with an easy-off top that will make the plants more easily accessible than in Fort Knox.

So off we went to Lowe’s today to buy wood for a (small!) four-by-four bed, plus the plastic pipes that will support the chicken-wire cover (including a top). The frame is done, as you can see, and the rest will be done sometime in the next week or so, around work and travel. He’s got some elaborate plan for soil mixture, courtesy of Square-Foot Gardening, though he says he is looking for a more sustainable alternative to peat moss. Feel free to weigh in. I think it’s all yet another attempt to find a way to win against the squirrels with strawberry plants.

On Saturday, we harvested some leeks that had fattened up over the winter. Yum! They were skinny seedlings, about the thickness of a blade of grass, packed in a four-pack that he found in Michigan last May. Not bad…

 

Finally, the garden is looking very green, and I feel like we have filled in the flower beds even more than last year. A few bearded iris have bloomed, and I think the big pop is just a few days away. I’ve spotted a few tiny, bright yellow petticoat-like daffodils, but otherwise they are gone. The creeping phlox also is starting to fade. The big color right now is from the columbines:

purple and white winky-wink columbines

April Harvest

We left some Swiss chard and greens under the cold frame all winter and finally harvested them today to use in lasagna instead of frozen spinach. The Brit also pulled out some leeks, which he sauteed “low and slow” in butter, following a recipe from his new Nigel Slater vegetable cookbook. The result is tender leeks with a touch of sweetness, even if the amount of butter was a bit Paula Deen-esque.

Almost makes up for it being so dry that the peas we planted three weeks ago haven’t sprouted (and maybe have been baked in this heat).

Spring Planting, and the Search for Sun Golds

We are finally beginning to sow some seeds. It feels a bit late to be starting to get seedlings going under the grow lights, but somehow time keeps getting away from us. That, or the urge to attack all those white flowering weeds in the flower beds (never mind the lawn) that I have finally identified as bittercress. (I fear that will be a long battle, but that is another tale.)

leeks, tomatoes and more

So Sunday night I cleaned out all the old plastic planting cells and trays in bleach and water, hoping to kill anything bad. Tonight we started filling them up. Two sets of nine planting cells were packed with leek seeds, one Musselburgh and the other a Scottish heirloom from somewhere. (Two empty seed packets –yay!) If they all come up, we’ll need a new bed!

We’re planting only four cells per set of nine in the rest of the tray. I was only supposed to put in one tomato seed per cell, so don’t tell the Brit that I didn’t always stick to that rule! One went for Ramapos, another for Brandywines, yet another for black cherry tomatoes and a fourth for the unnamed orange golf-ball sized ones that add a nice mix of color to a summer salad. I finally used up all the gardeners delight cherry tomatoes. That’s already five varieties of tomatoes (and don’t ask how many other varieties of tomato seeds we have!) We also used up the pimento red pepper seeds (“produces a lot of small squat peppers,” said the friend who gave them to us). Maybe they will be this year’s pyramid peppers … more plants and peppers than we know what to do with!

tomatoes and more tomatoes

After all this, why do we think we need to buy sun gold tomato seeds? Worse, why are we making the effort to search them out when the usual suspects don’t have them? These don’t even have the cachet of heirloom seeds. It took calling a seed seller and asking what stores in the area carried the brand, and then calling them and finding one that was willing to include sun golds in his next order (or so he says, still waiting for confirmation. Paying postage that is more than the price of a packet of seeds crosses my pain threshold).

Botanical Interests, a family seed company with appealing packaging (drawings, rather than photos), gives this description:” Beautiful, plump, tangerine colored fruits are quite simply, very sweet and juicy! Provide support for vigorous vines that easily reach 6 feet long. Allow tomatoes to fully ripen for optimum flavor; fruits should almost fall off the vine when ready. You won’t find these gems in the grocery stores, since for the commercial market tomatoes must be picked under-ripe for shipping.”

Now do you understand? When I grew them a few years ago, I ate them like candy. And we’re not the only ones. We’ll be sharing seeds or seedlings with colleagues, and I’m thinking of a few family members who’d like them too.

Where am I going to find room in the beds for all these tomatoes, plus basil, greens, peas, beans and more? That’s something I’ll worry about in May!

A Really Late Harvest

Incredible but true: we’re still harvesting some of last year’s crops.

When the snow hit the day after Christmas, we hadn’t dug out the leeks. (Or harvested the Brussel sprouts and onions.) Between one snow storm or another or another, we had snow on the ground for about nine weeks. By time it had melted, the onions and sprouts were history, but the leeks looked great. A few dozen plants means we’re still eating them and will need to get the last of them out just in time to plant this year’s crop!

Arugula in mid-February

The Brit had planted some arugula late in the fall, protected by a cold frame. It, too, got buried in the snow, and we figured that if nothing else, the lack of light would have put an end to those greens. But, they, too survived and have thrived in the past month, with more light finally getting through. They are being mixed into our salads.

As for those mushrooms: the second crop was better, probably because I gave up on that little sprayer and just drenched them. But overall, I vote for buying them at the store.