Gardening Stops and Starts

I can’t decide if I take one step forward and two steps back, two steps forward and one step back, or if I’m just running in place. For everything that goes right in the garden, there is at least one thing that goes wrong.

Yet, I love it. I absolutely love being in the garden, tending to the plants, figuring out how to fix problems, and especially picking all the veggies!

Yesterday I picked our first cucumber. It was perfect.

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Grace and I split it and ate it like we hadn’t eaten in weeks. There is nothing like the taste of freshly picked, home-grown vegetables.

Last year I harvested about 200 cucumbers from the A-frame which was far less than the 300+ I’d gotten the year before. I moved the A-frame to a new location this year in hopes of returning to the 300+ again, but at the moment it doesn’t appear I have too many female flowers on the vines.

I’ll keep checking and pollinate when the bees aren’t so we can get as many as possible. Last year, practically every cucumber went into jars of pickles. This year I’d like to have a few more to enjoy fresh.

Other than the cucumber, I haven’t harvested anything else recently. Rather I’ve been dealing with slugs in my fruit trees and splitting tomato plants. Check out these posts at Simply Grateful Gardener for more information: Tomato Plant Woes – Splitting Down the Middle and The Cherry Slug.

It’s raining cats and dogs outside right now, filling the rain barrels and watering the garden. Tomorrow I’ll harvest the rest of the first crop of peas, possibly the remaining first crop of beets, and maybe I’ll even find another cucumber. Oh, and yeah I do have some blight to deal with in the tomato garden…the bad with the good, and still I am — Simply Grateful.

Gadget Crazy

It doesn’t matter if it’s a kitchen gadget, a gardening gadget, a scrapbooking gadget, a house cleaning gadget, or really any sort of gadget — I love them all. So when I came across this little gadget to help figure out if I was watering my tomato plants too much or too little, I had to have it.

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It was cheap enough, compared to some that I saw online for over $30 and the one they had at Home Depot for $24.99, so I snatched it up when I found it at Wal-Mart for around $6.

Don’t know if it will be a tomato-saver, but along with some new pertinent information about my tomato plants, I’m hopeful that tomato leaf curl will become yet another stepping stone along my gardening journey. Check out my post at Simply Grateful Gardener Tomato Leaf Curl Epiphany.

Some gadgets are bought and then get lost in a drawer or forgotten in a cupboard. This is one I think will be worth it’s weight in — let’s go with TOMATOES here — and for this I am, Simply Grateful.

The Year of the Tomato — NOT!

The color of my thumb is truly in question this summer. You know the old saying, “If you didn’t have bad luck, you wouldn’t have any luck at all?” Well that is my gardening, specifically tomato gardening life this year.

From prematurely transplanting seedlings and killing them all to not hardening the second planting of seedlings off before putting in the garden to dealing with sun scald and wind damage — things just couldn’t get any worse. Or so I thought.

The latest in my tomato garden saga is tomato leaf curl. What fun! Check out my latest post at Simply Grateful Gardener Tomato Leaf Curl Quandary.

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I can’t tell if I’m watering too much, too little, or with my luck it’s probably a combination of the two and now I’m left trying to sort out when to water and how much.

What’s left? Early blight, tomato worms, hurricane, wild-fire, earth quake?

Well I say, BRING IT ON! This has definitely been a challenging year for growing these supposedly easy plants, but with challenge comes new-found knowledge which hopefully means next year I can rise above all this and have a true Year of the Tomato.

For now I’ll keep struggling away until every last plant either produces fruit or withers and dies. In the end I’m going to be the foremost expert on what not to do when growing tomatoes, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Serbian Peppers & Onions In Tomato Sauce

Today I posted a recipe for Satarasch, a Serbian side dish/condiment consisting of peppers, onions, and tomato sauce on Simply Grateful Canning.

Satarasch – Peppers & Onions in Tomato Sauce

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This is a staple at nearly every Serbian picnic we go to every summer and now I’ve canned it for the pantry shelves, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Staking Tomatoes – A Near Devastating Mistake

Several weeks ago my tomato plants finally started to take off after being transplanted from the plastic cups they’d been grown in to the garden.  They had nearly doubled in size so I decided to secure the stalks to the stakes that were set in the ground beside them when planted.

First I removed the first couple rows of leaves along the bottom of each plant. These leaves are not necessary and snipping them off would allow the plants to absorb more nutrients.  Second, all the suckers were removed.  The plants were still pretty young, but surprisingly already suckers had started growing between the branches. Finally, I took a twist tie and secured the stalk to the stake, just below the first row of leaves.

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Before we left on vacation, all the tomato plants were staked and given a good dose of fertilizer. On our return, the plants had at least doubled in size and were again in need of staking.

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When I set to work on trimming the bottom branches and removing the suckers again, I noticed something. To my horror, the twist ties that I had used to tie the stalks of the plants to the stakes just a week ago had cut into the stalks, nearly cutting them in half.  I had twisted the ties too tight and forgotten to allow room for growth.  Every stalk had a huge cut in it where the twist tie was, threatening to sever the plant in half.

My first order of business was changed from trimming the plants to cutting lengths of material to use for staking.  I remembered my father used to cut up old bed sheets into strips and use that to tie his tomatoes when he had a garden.  I have lots of old sheets, so if it was good enough for my father, it would certainly be good enough for me.

Once the strips were cut and at least one was attached to each tomato plant I began loosening the plastic twist ties. Carefully I untwisted the ties, but didn’t try to remove them from the stalks.  I just wanted them loose enough to allow the stalks to grow. A few ties fell right off, but most of them had become part of the stalk, the plant having literally grown around the tie.

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What a mess!  This could have been such a disaster had the twist ties cut the stalks in half. Thankfully I caught my mistake before it was too late.

Gardening is definitely a learning process but I’d hate for the lessons I learn have to cost me this years harvest. Now I know better than to use plastic twist ties to stake tomatoes and won’t make that mistake again, and for this I am —Simply Grateful.

Seedling Update #4 – The Waiting Game

For more than a week now I’ve been working on transplanting the seeds I sowed nearly a month ago.  I have far more plants than I anticipated, but cannot bring myself to pulling any of them yet. Who knows if all my transplants will make it or if the other seeds I’ve sown are even going to sprout.  At this point I want to cushion the garden so I have enough plants, even if they are all tomato and pepper, to fill every square inch.

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My broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and pumpkin plants have all sprouted, but for now they are going to hang out in their original pots.  I’ve found lots of information online on how to transplant tomato and pepper seedlings into larger pots before planting them in the garden, but have not been so lucky when it comes to these other plants.  I figure I’ll wait until they have another week or two of growth and then try transplanting a few of them to see if they survive the shock and continue to grow.

This afternoon I planted three new varieties of peppers that I ordered online.  These peppers will be for canning.  For the past four years I have bought a bushel of peppers from a local farmer and canned them.  This year my goal is to grow my own.  I bought Szegedi, Romainian, and White Cloud peppers.  All are sweet and either yellow or white with a very thick flesh — perfect for pickling.

I am so excited for the weather to warm up so I can get out and start preparing the gardens for incoming plants.  Being in Michigan however, there is no telling when that might be.  Just to give you a little taste of what it’s like here:  Two days ago it was 54 degrees and sunny outside, one day ago we woke to 3″ of snow on the ground, and today it was 52 degrees and sunny again.  Not the best track record for getting outside and making any progress.

I have a few more plants that I will be able to transplant in a few days, but then it becomes the waiting game.  There won’t be a whole lot to do with the plants until they start growing and the leaves begin to multiply.  Already some of the tomato plants are getting a new set of leaves, giving me hope that perhaps some of these will actually make it to the garden.

I have big plans this spring/summer and truly hope my efforts will be rewarded.  For now, I am enjoying the smell the plants growing in the dining room and the dirt under my nails, for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Seedling Update #3 – Time To Transplant

The tomato seeds I planted a little over two weeks ago have grown to a point of being too tall for me to put the plastic cover over their trays at night.  If all the seedlings in these trays were as developed, I would opt to just leave the cover off, but seeing as not all the seeds have even sprouted, it is time to look at my other option – transplanting.

This afternoon after everyone was finally out of my hair and busy doing their own things, I decided to pull out my peat pots, potting soil, and plants and begin transplanting.  Trouble was, I really had no place to work.  Sure I could use the kitchen table or the corner of the dining room table that hadn’t yet been turned into a nursery for seedlings, but with every scoop I made into the bags of dirt, it seemed more dirt was ending up on the floor or carpet.  Not a pretty sight.

To make matters worse, all I kept thinking about was the potter’s bench out on the patio that I bought last summer and the fact that I wasn’t even using it.  The temperatures outside are still too cold to work outside but even if I did dress appropriately, exposing the little plants to the shock of the cold air while transplanting them would surely kill them or at the very least stunt their growth.

What to do?  What to do?

Well, seeing as Hubby wasn’t home to object, I did what every housewife determined to utilize the right tool for the job would do, I moved the potter’s bench into our great room.  Why not?  It’s not like it was dirty or anything.  Perhaps a bit weathered from the winter, but seeing as I bought the bench near the end of the summer, all I’d managed to do on/in it was to store supplies and trim the tops off some root vegetables before it was time to close it up for the season.

Grace and I carried the bench through the door wall and placed it against the windows in the great room overlooking the garden in the back of the house.  It’s perfect right where it is.  I lined the recessed work area with a plastic tarp, put a firm board across half of the bench so I’d have a work surface above the recessed area to work on, and then stocked the bench with pots, dirt, tools, seeds, gloves, water, and finally plants.

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It took some time to get everything set up but it was definitely nice to have everything I needed in one place and an area to work in that would confine the mess where it should be, not all over the floor, and keep me dry and warm.

Today I transplanted 17 Beefsteak tomato plants into 3″ and 5″ peat pots.  I really wanted 4″ pots, but none of the stores with garden supplies in our area had them.  They all had 3″ pots and only one had 5″ pots.  I figure I’ll see if the pot size I transplant into will make much of a difference in the long run.

Seven plants went into 5″ pots and nine went into the 3″.  All the tomatoes were planted deep in the soil, covering most of the stem and leaving only the leaves above the dirt.  The plants were at least 3″ tall, some taller.  The taller ones went into the 5″ pots.

Tomatoes in 3" Peat Pots

Tomatoes in 3″ Peat Pots

Tomatoes in 5" Peat Pots

Tomatoes in 5″ Peat Pots

It’s nice to see my seeds growing.  Of the 44 Beefsteak tomato seeds I planted (2 seeds in each of 22 pots/pellets), 18 plants have emerged.  I have no idea if this is a good percentage or not, but if all 18 tomato plants survive and bear fruit, I shouldn’t have to buy any tomatoes for canning this year. Plus, I still have Better Boy tomatoes to transplant tomorrow and have about the same number of plants there.  Now my next problem is going to be finding room in the gardens for all these plants, but then I’m sure my neighbors wouldn’t turn down a free plant or two.

Even though the weather hasn’t been very spring-like yet this March, planting seeds, getting my hands covered with dirt, and watching the seedlings sprout fills me with the hope that Spring promises, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Seedling Update #2 – Day 7 & 11

Marigolds and tomatoes are sprouting!

I’m a bit behind in my posts, but I’ve been sure to keep up on taking pictures.

By day 7 after I planted marigolds, tomatoes, and peppers, all of the marigolds had sprouted and some of the tomatoes had begun.

In the Jiffy pots, once again the sprouting was not as fast.  Only three plants had emerged.

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The cardboard planters were far quicker with over a dozen sprouts.

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Even though the amount of tomato plants sprouting in the two mediums were different, the marigolds caught up, so I was hopeful that the tomatoes would too.

As you can see, by day 11, the tomatoes and marigolds in the Jiffy pots and the cardboard planters were nearly even.

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I’m getting anxious to transplant these into individual pots…but don’t want to get ahead of myself.  According to what I’ve read, I should wait until they have at least two sets of leaves.

A week and a half into my home-grown seedling experiment and so far, so good and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Taming The Jungle

This is what the back garden looked like just two weeks ago, August 26, 2014:

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Then we had a heat wave and I didn’t work in the garden other than to harvest.  I can’t take the heat and especially can’t take the humidity.

Here is what the garden looked like yesterday – September 7, 2014:

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The tomatoes grew to a point of bending or breaking their bamboo stakes and then the sweet potatoes grew right over them, nearly smothering them.

Note to self:  Don’t plant sweet potatoes around tomato plants for 2015 — they need their own garden, and a big one at that!

Seeing as the tomatoes were practically buried under the sweet potato vines, I had to do something.  I spent a couple of hours trimming the sweet potato vines and pruning and re-staking the tomato plants.  The tomato plants were so overgrown that I had to use shepherds hooks that Hubby cut down for me to hold the over flowing vines.  There were some plants that were more than five-feet tall.

This is what the pruned and trimmed garden looks like, September 8, 2014:

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I can actually see the dirt around the tomato plants now, not to mention I found a few plants that had been completely covered by the sweet potato vines that would have been lost forever had I not gotten in there to tame this nearly out-of-control jungle.

The hot and humid weather was great for the garden and gave it one last boost before the cooler weather of fall begins its reign, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Sunday Garden Harvest

The cucumbers keep coming.  Today Grace harvested 22 cucumbers and there are more on the vines, but I was too tired to go through the a-frame to pick them.  Tomorrow is another day.

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This is my favorite one -- nice a chubby.

This is my favorite one — nice a chubby.

The cherry, Roma, and patio tomato plants are starting to produce more tomatoes and pretty soon I should have  enough Roma tomatoes saved up to make my first batch of tomato puree.

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The big surprise when I went out to the garden today was the broccoli.  With all the cabbage butterflies flying around and all the cabbage worms that are decimating my Brussel sprouts, I thought for sure that the broccoli was doomed as well.  I guess I was wrong.  It looks wonderful.  Not sure how this grows or when to pick, so I’ll be doing a bit of reading tonight.  For now though I’m excited to have a little fresh broccoli with dinner in a few weeks.

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The plums continue to darken and turn purple.  They are still quite hard and tart, but I’m sure with the nice weather that is predicted for the coming week, we’ll be swimming in plums very shortly.

A glorious day for the garden.  I made another batch of pickles this morning and plan on making some sweet relish tomorrow.  The pantry is filling and for this I am — Simply Grateful.