Is it just me, or is this tomato giving me the finger?
Is it just me, or is this tomato giving me the finger?
As you can see, I’m still collecting beans and zucchini, while the broccoli plants I harvested from in early summer have rewarded me with a second flush of petite heads. I love that.
I’m also harvesting tomatoes, scallions, herbs and cucumbers, and am still eating potatoes from last month’s harvest. I’ve planted most of my winter garden, so hopefully will be seeing greens back in rotation within a couple weeks.
What are you harvesting now?
I’d like to introduce you to some of the tomatoes I’ve been harvesting this year.
I grow tomatoes every year, without fail. They are a must-have, even though they take up a significant portion of my growing space. For me, the major problem with growing tomatoes isn’t blight or blossom end rot. It’s choosing only four or five varieties to grow out of the many hundreds available. I agonize over my tomato selections. Do I grow a favourite from last year’s harvest? Or try something new? Usually, I opt for new—always on the search for the Best Performing, Best Tasting tomato. This year, I grew five varieties, two of which I’d grown before.
This is one of my new ones. ‘Sasha’s Pride,’ also known as ‘Sasha’s Altai,’ is a Russian heirloom with a great story. It’s an indeterminate (vining) early-ripening tomato with clusters of golf ball-sized fruit. Though I think it’s a beautiful plant, with its velvety stems and pagoda-shaped fruit, I find the flavour a little mild for my taste and probably won’t grow it again. Apparently I’m unusual, however, because Organic Gardening magazine rated it one of the top 10 early ripening tomatoes.
‘Odessa’ isn’t going to win any beauty contests, but it makes up for the cracks it always seem to develop by ripening extra early and performing well. This is the second year I’ve grown this variety, though I think I’ll skip it next year in favour of looking for another early season tom that doesn’t split. ‘Odessa’ is also an indeterminate heirloom. Its fruits range from the size of golf to tennis balls.
Every year I grow one large-fruited tomato variety. Something wrinkly and any colour but red. You know, something that screams “heirloom!” This year it was ‘Pruden’s Purple,’ but in the past I’ve grown possibly every readily-available type of Brandywine, ‘Purple Calabash,’ ‘Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter’ and more. And because I’ve grown all these tomatoes, you would think that I would know that they just don’t work in my climate. They ripen too late. They want more heat, and they want it to last longer. So let it be known: this is the last year I will attempt to grow such elusive beauties. From now on, I’ll stick with smaller, early-season varieties. Sure, I got four or maybe even six toms off ‘Pruden’s Purple,’ but for the size of this plant (it’d reached 6′ by the time I lopped off the top) I wanted bushels.
I wasn’t planning on planting ‘Sweet Baby Girl,’ but when my mom brought over an extra seedling that was already miles ahead of what I had growing, I had to find a space for it. I’m so glad I did. ‘Sweet Baby Girl’ is a hybrid determinate (bush) cherry tomato that has the absolute sweetest tomatoes I’ve ever tasted. Seriously, they’re like sugar: there’s no hint of acid. Will I grow it again? Absolutely. As long as my mom buys the seed again!
Finally, I grew ‘Tumbler.’ Known as the hanging basket tomato, I picked up a ‘Tumbler’ seedling on a whim and tucked it into the basket I was making. ‘Tumbler’ is a hybrid bush tomato that produces small (1′-2′) fruits in clusters. This is the second year I’ve grown it, but the ones I started from seed last year did far better than this year’s, purchased at a nursery. I love the novelty of growing a tomato in a hanging basket, but the flavour of ‘Tumbler’ (bland) doesn’t cut it. I won’t grow this again.
What are your tomato stand-outs this year? Any suggestions for early-season tomatoes I should try next year?
My tomato plants, post end-of-summer pruning.
It’s not quite time for the annual winter garden clean up (just typing that made me feel a little ill), but it’s a good idea to start to prepare for fall by planting your winter garden, and by pruning your tomato plants.
Why prune? Two reasons: to focus the plant’s energy on ripening its existing fruit, rather than on producing new flowers and starting new fruit, which won’t have time to grow and ripen before the first frost, and to allow light to reach and ripen still-green fruit. Now you know.
Prune off flower and leaf brachs, leaving just the fruit and the main stalk(s). And if that doesn’t work and frost is imminent, you can always harvest and ripen your green tomatoes indoors.
The word harvest takes on new significance at this time of year, as the garden really steps it up. Right now I’m harvesting tomatoes, fresh herbs and beans daily, with cucumbers, peppers, and zucchinis making a semi-regular appearance. Pulled up my crop of ‘Ambition’ shallots today, too, and was impressed with how they’d multiplied. If you’re looking for an onion-family member to plant, shallots make a great container option (and I love their mild flavour).
‘Blue Lake’ pole beans and purple bush beans.
What are you harvesting now?
Lacinato kale, leeks, and cabbage: the makings of a great winter garden!
One of the best ways to reap the most from a small-space food garden is to have something growing in your garden all year round. Don’t let plots or containers sit vacant after you harvest your tomatoes and squash! Make ‘em work by planting a winter garden (or let them rest and recuperate by sowing a cover crop).
Planting hardy and fast-maturing crops in summer or early fall for fall-through-spring harvesting is often known as winter gardening. (It also has a close cousin, overwintering, which is defined as planting in summer for harvest the next spring.)
For both, you’ll want to start now. (Actually, you might want to have started a month or more ago, but if you’re anything like me, you’re just getting around to it. Good news: there’s still time to sow many winter crops.)
‘Sorrento’ broccoli raab
In general, you’ll want to plant quick-maturing, cool-season crops that are tolerant of frosts. The aim is to have your plants reach almost full-size by Halloween. That’s when, due to dwindling daylight hours, plants pretty much stop their growth. They’ll stay in hibernation mode until the days start to lengthen again in early spring (unless you eat them first!).
Surprisingly, there are quite a few edibles you can start from seed now.
Great winter-garden edibles to start from seed:
Arugula. A fabulous, peppery cool-season green that adds zing to salads. (I especially love it stirred into pasta, though. Just cook up some orzo or capellini, and toss in a few handfuls of arugula after draining. Add olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and grated Parmesan. Toss until the arugula is wilted. Simple, and lovely.) Direct sow through to early September. Use crop protection, such as a cold frame or row covers, for a longer harvest.
Asian and mustard greens. Sow these hardy, versatile greens—including komatsuna, mibuna, mizuna, komatsuna, and the many mustards that fall under Brassica juncea—until the end of September.
Broad beans. Broad beans, also known as fava beans, are an oddity amongst their peers. While snap, pole, and soy beans are warm-season staples, broad beans are super hardy. Plant in September or October for spring harvest.
Broccoli raab. It’s a little late to start regular (full-head-size) broccoli from seed (though feel free to transplant starts into the garden now if you started them indoors last month, or are lucky enough to find some at your local nursery) but broccoli raab, or rapini, matures more quickly, so squeeze in a late sowing before the end of August.
Carrots. They’re often thought of as a summer crop, but carrots are actually one of the hardiest garden vegetables. It’s almost too late to sow now (ideally, a winter sowing should occur in the first two weeks of August) but go ahead, try your luck. Row covers or cold frames will sway success in your favour.
Cilantro. Super cold tolerant, cilantro can be direct sown until mid-September.
Green onions (scallions). Another very cold hardy crop, green onions will easily overwinter. Plant now through the end of August.
Corn salad (mache or lamb’s lettuce). Add this mild, nutty green to your repertoire for salad greens all year round. Corn salad is the hardiest salad green, and can be sown until mid-September.
Endive. Yet another hardy salad green, endive can be sown as late as mid-September.
Kohlrabi. Oddly beautiful kohlrabi gets sweeter after a frost. Ideally, it should have been sown by mid-August, so plant it today, and cross your fingers.
Lettuces. Many lettuces are tolerant of light frost and can be planted now for fall harvest, or use a row cover or cold frame for protection and harvest into winter and spring. Look for hardy varieties such as ‘Cimmaron,’ ‘Continuity,’ ‘Red Deer Tongue,’ ‘Rouge d’Hiver,’ ‘Valdor,’ ‘Winter Crop,’ or ‘Winter Density.’
Spinach. Spinach thrives in cool weather. Plant it now through November (though you might want to use a cold frame or row cover as we move into winter if you live in a cold climate).
Turnips. Sow until the end of August for harvests all winter long. You can also eat the greens!
If you planned ahead, you’ll have started hardy vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and leeks indoors ages ago. You didn’t? Me neither. Thankfully, more and more nurseries are carrying vegetable starts (transplants) for fall and winter gardening. Here are some great choices for winter-garden edibles to transplant now. With the exception of chard, which is only marginally hardy, the following edibles can be grown all winter long (though they may benefit from protection from winter rains and frosts in very cold climates). Look for overwintering and hardy varieties of:
Finally, there’s garlic. For those of you who can’t bear the thought of planting a winter garden now, garlic should be planted in October or November—just about the time you’ll start pining for a day in the garden.
How’s your winter garden shaping up?
When I got back from holidays, it was pretty clear that my potatoes were done. The leafy tops had been dying for a while, and I’d been sneaking the odd new potato here and there, but until last week, you could still pretend the tops were green. No longer.
Have you ever harvested potatoes? No? May I suggest you try growing them next year, simply for the pleasure of the treasure hunt that is a potato harvest? At first, I found spuds just by brushing aside the top inch or two of soil. Once the easy pickings were, well, picked, I dug down, uncovering plump tubers with every spadeful. In total, I harvested 20lbs of two types of potatoes (from about 12 sq.ft.!).
Exhibit A: Russian Banana fingerling.
Exhibit B: Sieglinde.
Aside from the obvious difference in shape, these two potatoes actually taste quite similar. And thankfully, that means both are delicious, tender, and buttery, with thin skins and yellow flesh. But not all the spuds I harvested were quite as perfect as these two samples. No. Check out these suckers:
The modernist sculpture.
The premature babies.
The conjoined twins.
What are you harvesting now?
Potatoes: it doesn’t get much easier.
I don’t have hours a week to spend in the garden. I wish I could say that I do daily rounds of all my garden spaces, carrying a big wicker basket and leisurely harvesting things that need picking, casually plucking the occasional weed, and generally doing a lot of flower smelling.
But I don’t. More often than not, I’m running to the salad garden to quickly harvest a side for that night’s dinner, or stopping at the community garden on my way home from work to provide a cursory watering. Too often I am surprised by big changes in my garden — beans that needed staking three days ago, or tomatoes that would have been perfect yesterday.
Something tells me I’m not the only time-crunched gardener out there. But what can we downtime-deprived green thumbs do? Well, we can start by planting low-maintenance edibles.
“Low-maintenance” is a term often bandied about in gardening magazines and in the landscaping biz. Whether or not a garden can be low maintenance is a debate for another day, but right now, let’s look at what makes a low(er) maintenance edible.
In my mind, there are two different ways you can look at plants to assess their maintenance factor.
1. There are plants – often perennials – that involve an initial time investment (preparing the site, staking, pruning) and then, aside from a bit of annual preventative maintenance, require little in the way of care.
2. There are edibles that are just generally pretty care free. That resist pests and diseases, don’t need staking or spraying or coddling, hold well in the garden (i.e. don’t need frequent picking to avoid over-maturity), or self-seed, reducing the need for yearly replanting.
Here are my picks for the best of both:
Arugula and other cool-season leafy greens. Like lettuce, arugula and other cool-season salad greens often bolt (set seed) when the weather changes. Take advantage of this natural tendency by allowing them to self-sow. They’ll reappear next year with no help from you. Others include corn salad (mache), kale, radicchio, purple orach, and parcel. (Note: this “technique” works better in an unstructured or natural garden. Those seeds aren’t gonna fall into neat little rows.)
Let arugula and other self-seeders flower and sow seeds—so you don’t have to.
Asparagus. Definitely in the “initial time investment” category, asparagus takes three years before it gets to a point where you can harvest it. Like other perennials, it requires some up-front attention in the form of proper soil preparation, yearly mulching, and fall frond-removal, but is otherwise pretty easy going.
Beets and chard. If you seed these closely-related edibles in the appropriate (cool) season, you won’t have to contend with bolting—pretty much the main challenge with these guys. Provide the rich, moist, well-drained soil they like and they’ll produce plump roots and glossy greens until you get around to harvesting.
Blueberries. Blueberries are easy, requiring minimal annual maintenance. All they really ask is that you provide very acidic soil. If you live on the West Coast like me, acidic soil is the norm. In other locales, you might have to work a bit harder to maintain acidity, but that kind of makes them not so low maintenance, doesn’t it?
Fruit trees. Yes, fruit trees. (With one big caveat: fruit trees that are appropriate to your climate. So if you live in zone three, no fig trees for you, unless you want to haul them indoors for the winter, and gardeners in Southern California and the Deep South will want to avoid trees – such as apples – that require a winter chill period.) Of course, fruit trees do require some up-front prep: dig a good hole and provide staking, if necessary. Most also do better with some light annual pruning, thinning of fruit, and preventative spraying with a horticultural oil – though that’s all optional.
Herbs. There’s a reason herbs make every “easiest edible” list (mine included). Starting some herbs from seed can be challenging, but if you buy transplants, herbs such as rosemary, sage, thyme, mint, oregano, parsley, dill, and chives are the most carefree of edibles. In general, they prefer average soil, and many are drought tolerant once established. And because of the pungent quality of their leaves, most pests avoid them. Awesome!
Garlic. Plant bulbs in late fall, harvest the next summer. And in between? Nothing. Though you could could harvest the scapes if you felt up to it.
‘Red Russian’ garlic
Potatoes. Aside from some initial prep (potatoes like loose, fertile soil with lots of organic matter, which you’ll want to provide), potatoes are just about the easiest annual edible. Plant the seed potatoes, mound up soil as the plants emerge (once a week or less) and … wait. Steal the odd baby potato here and there after the plants begin to flower, or just wait until the foliage begins to die back and harvest the lot.
Raspberries and blackberries. These cane fruits need a bit of planning at the outset; you’ll need to invest time in setting up wires or other support system. And when the fruit ripens, it’s best to pick at least every three days for maximum tastiness (I have a hard time thinking of picking ripe berries as a chore, but if you can’t spare the time, I’m sure you won’t have trouble finding a friend willing to help out). Finally, in fall, you’ll have to cut down canes that produced fruit that year, a task that, depending on the size of your berry patch, can take anywhere from minutes to less than an hour.
Rhubarb. It’s hard to think of a more undemanding edible than rhubarb. Once established, this very cold-hardy, long-lived perennial happily withstands neglect. Truly, this is one tough plant.
If rhubarb can take salt and sea spray, it can handle whatever you’ve got to throw at it.
Scallions, shallots, and onions. Like garlic, another member of the allium family, these onions are in the set-and-forget category. They don’t need amazing soil, nor do they have to be hovered over in order to thrive. They do, however, repel many pest insects, making them great additions to any veggie garden.
I struggled to stop the list here. There are many edibles that are fairly low maintenance once transplanted outside (peppers, for example) but I didn’t include those because starting seeds indoors is definitely not for the time-crunched. Also bear in mind that ALL edibles need regular watering. Make that easy on yourself by using drip irrigation (set it on a timer for the ultimate in low-maintenance watering). What do you think? Is my list complete? What have I missed?
I love coming home from holiday. Sleeping in my own bed. Unpacking. Airing out the house. Watering.
This homecoming was even sweeter because the garden had treats waiting for me. The first tomatoes – ripe n’ ready. Cucumbers – perfect. Potatoes – SO ready (so ready, in fact, that they warrant a whole ‘nother post).
The winners in the tomato race were the ‘Sweet Baby Girl’ cherries, followed closely by ‘Odessa.’ The cucumbers are ‘Sweet Slice.’
Thanks to my square-foot salad garden, which is in part shade, I’m still harvesting an abundance of lettuce.
What are you harvesting now?
The last few years I’ve grown tomatoes, they’ve come down with the blight (kind of the tomato equivalent of bubonic plague). What to do?
I had dinner with some Italian friends, and we had a rousing discussion of how to prevent/cure tomato blight, which dissolved into conflicting “true stories” involving home remedies and nylon stockings.
- Grow tomatoes in a warm, dry, sunny area. If you have had blight previously, move to a different area if possible, or replace the upper soil layer since “oospores” will carry over in soil.
- Water only underneath the plants, not the leaves or fruit. Drip irrigation is preferable to watering with a hose, to reduce water splash. Don’t overfertilize or overwater.
- Grow on a light sandy soil if possible or cover soil with a white plastic mulch to increase soil and air temperatures around the plants and reduce humidity.
- Growing plants under an overhang* or a clear plastic shelter will help prevent spores from being deposited on plants by wind and rain. But plants must be covered before infection has occured. Covering the plants after they are infected may raise humidity and make the disease worse.
*Update July 25, 2010: I now grow my tomatoes under an overhang and use drip irrigation. I’ve never had late blight again!
Heavy Petal is on vacation until August 9. This article originally posted September 29, 2005.