Sunday, November 14, 2010

Adventures in Gardening

When we moved into the house in December I couldn’t wait to start planning my summer vegetable garden.  At the apartment I tried to grow tomatoes and peppers but never get enough sun to grow anything edible.  I was heartbroken that I couldn’t have a balcony garden that I wanted, but my hydrangeas, morning glories and vine moonflowers grew without a problem.  During the winter I read up on all different types of gardening and decided that I would try a raised bed this season.  As soon as the seeds started to appear at my local hardware store I picked up two seed starting flats, a packet of Roma tomatoes, Big Boy Beefstake tomatoes, Jalapenos, Black Beauty Eggplants and a packet of baby carrots.  My goal for the season was to grow enough jalapenos to last all winter with my many pots of chili, fajitas and tacos, enough tomatoes to satisfy my craving for grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches.

As soon as the seeds appeared at my local home improvement store I grabbed a small greenhouse on wheels, two seed starting kits and some Roma tomatoes, Big Boy Beefstake, jalapenos, black beauty eggplant, and some baby carrots. I jumped the gun a bit because I was impatient and started my seedling a little too early in March, not realizing how late Memorial Day was this year. My grandfather always started his tomatoes Memorial Day weekend and I thought I should follow suit. I know that the odds of a late frost on Long Island are slim but better safe than sorry! At first I had problems with moister control in the greenhouse and a tray of tomatoes and eggplants developed a fuzzy white fungus. I put that tray into another room and replanted a new set.


The fungus didn’t kill the seeds and disappeared so I moved that tray back to my greenhouse with the rest. Nearly everything germinated and was looking good until I started to notice my tomato seedlings becoming very long and thin. After some research I discovered that they were not getting nearly enough light by the window so I attached two grow lights to the greenhouse frame. Placing the lights inches above the seedlings I left them on for 14-16 hours a day and saw a vast improvement! They were still very tall but not nearly as thin stemmed as before. I didn’t take any photos of the seedlings, I’m not sure why, but next year I’ll make sure I document the process better.

Memorial Day weekend I set up my raised bed and with Scott’s help mixed up some Mel’s Miracle mix from the Square Foot Gardening book to put in the bed. Scott built me the trellis from that same book and I planted the seedlings. I trenched the tomato plants just inches below their first leaves. The great thing about tomatoes is that all those little hairs on their stems will become roots if close enough to the soil.  I planted the beefstakes against the trellis since those are vine tomatoes and the romas in the next row because they are a bush variety.  I had no clue before this season that there are indeterminate and determinate varieties which grow very differently.  Indeterminate continue to grow and produce throughout the season while determinate will bear one large crop at one time.  The indeterminate need more support since they grow more like a vine while the determinate are more like a bush.  I remember the difference by thinking i is for ivy. 

raised bed

The far right row against the trellis are four beefstake plants, then four roma plants, then I planted three jalapeno plants and a mucho nacho (larger jalapeno like pepper, good for stuffing) at the top of that row.  This is where I made a mistake.  I did not realize how large eggplants actually get and how broad their leaves are; I should have planted them directly next to the tomatoes and left the jalapenos on the far left.  Live and learn!  The bottom square I planted carrots. 


A week later we removed the swing set in the yard and wasn’t sure what to do with the big patch of dirt. I have plenty more seedlings that needed a home so I planted four more beefstakes, four more romas, four eggplants, eight jalapenos, the rest of the carrot seed pouch and twelve mammoth sunflowers.

My first tomato!

By late June I had my first tomato blooms and fruit.

Jalapeno crop

By August first I had a bumper crop of jalapenos.

getting there

The pinking of the first tomatoes…

raised bed


and a small jungle in my backyard.

Busy as a....
My sunflowers were a favorite spot for bees….


and grew to be about 8ft tall!


The eggplant was delicious! The best we’ve ever had. Out of seven plants I managed to get 5-8 edible eggplants. I have photographic proof of five, I think there might have been one or two more that I didn’t photograph. There were some plants that I don’t recall picking any fruit from while others had multiple fruits.  I’ll play with the positioning next year, maybe some didn’t get enough sunlight.



There were plenty of tomatoes this season.  I froze six good size Ziploc bags of roma tomatoes for sauce during the winter along with making a few pots with the eggplant parm I made all summer.  The beefstakes were delicious on grilled cheese sandwiches, which were consumed throughout the summer. 


baby carrots


Carrots were pulled out by the handful, washed and put into the freezer for soups.


By late September late blight hit and after trying to be one step ahead I had to finally concede and pull the most of the tomatoes. The few in the raised bed were left out of desperation and delusion that I could beat the blight and get a few more tomatoes. They all were pulled not to long after that photo.

last of the jalapano peppers

By October 14 I still had several jalapeno fruit and blooms left on the plants. It was now just a game of chicken between me and the frost. I knew that once the first hard frost hit that I would loose whatever peppers I had left in the garden.  I decided to pick the largest and leave the small ones on a bit longer.  I’m glad I did because I was able to get another dozen a few days before Halloween. 

My biggest disappointment of the season was my sunflower seeds; the flowers themselves were big and beautiful but the seeds became infested with worms. I was able to collect some of the seeds to roast, maybe half a pint. The ones that weren’t worm ridden I soaked in a salt water solution for 24 hours and then roasted them for a few hours in my oven on its lowest setting.

Next season I think I’ll expand the garden a bit more and try some heirloom tomato varieties along with some onions. I’ll also start a raspberry bed so I can start making my own jam!

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