They can Wiggle their Toes now

tomatoes survived the trip

The garden committee was texting back and forth about the very issue of the last post of what to do with the ever growing plants and the limited headroom in the car for a lot of tall plants as I wrote the last post. Turns out, we had 2 inches of room left. The committee decided to make a quasi-emergency run up to the garden to get the largest plants up there. I am happy to report that not only did they survive the trip well, but that they also survived the week fine. They were stashed in an area protected from wind and potential frost, and because they were hooked up to temporary irrigation, they faired perfectly fine, and were even larger a week later.

transporting tallest tomatoes

Because of the limited room, we only transported the 6 or so tallest tomatillos and tomatoes. That left another 30 or so plants getting too large to transport the following week, aka, last weekend. So, most of the rest of the tomatoes and tomatillos were whisked up to the garden and promptly planted. Some of those plants were even larger than the ones the week before, but, with some gentle bending of the tops, seemed to survive mostly unscathed. Last weekend was by far the earliest we have planted the frost tender plants in the garden. It is a good six weeks earlier than last year; but, last year was a ridiculous weather year.

one of the first tomatoes

Because my backyard functions as a greenhouse every spring until the plants are moved up to the garden, they had been enduring the Phoenix sun for a couple of months, so they were well used to intense and constant sunshine. That conditioning combined with the healthiest root system of any of my seedings so far, resulted in minimal transplant shock. All the plants were upright and perky later in the afternoon. This is always a relief and never really happened last year. The further good news is that a number of the cherry and even beefsteak tomatoes have little tomatoes on them. Assuming nothing untoward happens, we should have an early harvest this year.

That leaves only what is still at my house. I have the various sweet and hot peppers, but they live in pots now and generally don’t get too large until September. They can also endure the heat a bit better than tomatoes, at least for a couple of weeks, so I have time to move them up. I also still have the eggplants, which I have already started harvesting from. While they will be planted when they make it up to the garden, they stay small enough to fit in the car and don’t seem to mind warmer weather. I also have a few tomatoes left, but they grew slow so they will fit also. I just don’t know where they will find a home in the garden as most locations are already spoken for. Maybe some will have to double up.

cucumbers and banana squash seedlings

The last plants I start every year are the cucumbers and squash. I am happy that they are doing very well. They were moved outside this morning so I can keep an eye on them as they acclimate to more the intense light of being outside.

Overall, I am very happy with how things are starting. This narrows down potential concerns to a failure of the irrigation and/or predation by the ever present deer. Hopefully they will move into the forest soon and leave the garden alone. If not, we will have to monitor the fencing to make sure it is up and strong.

Here’s to hoping all of your gardens produce well.

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YIKES! Can I plant these yet?

plants waiting to be planted in the garden
Garden plants over ready for the garden, April 28, 2018

It is amazing what a difference seemingly small changes can make. This time last year my little plants were still little and not doing well. Some of that was my fault with cutting too many corners, some was crazy inconsistent weather that went from too cool to way too hot in the span of a week. Regardless of the cause, it made me reevaluate what I was doing and how I was doing things. It is also amazing what a difference 4 weeks make, as highlighted in comparing these two photos of the same plants.
up-potted garden plants
Garden plants recently up-potted, April 1, 2018

That is why I changed overhead lighting for the initial seed starting and growing, and made me up my game in the soil preparations to include a lot more peat and vermiculite, and not to use any old bags of dirt. Now I am wondering when I can trust the weather enough, which looks like next weekend, to move the plants up to the garden and hope the plants will still fit in the car without having to rent a van to gain the height.
Japanese eggplants getting larger

The tomatillos and a number of tomatoes are entirely too tall (43″ ground to top) and healthy (a good thing) for this time of year. Because there have been blossoms for almost a month now, I am sure there are both tomatoes and tomatillos in there somewhere, if only I could see through the dense growth. The rest of the plants should remain small enough to move to the garden another weekend.
tomatillo blossoms

I anticipate being able to harvest eggplant within the month, which will be a good month before normal. They may even like the heat at my house, as long as it doesn’t get too hot too early. Timing is further complicated by a trip I have to take, but one thing at a time.

So, until the wheels come completely off and the tomatillos become trees instead of bushes, I will appreciate the success of the seed starting this year while secretly, or really not so secretly, hoping for mild weather until I can get everything to the garden. And put in my calendar to start some of this a month later in 2019.

rain drops on kale, eggplant, and basil seedlings

2018 Garden Started

rain drops on kale, eggplant, and basil seedlings

Hi everyone. It is hard to believe that spring is (almost) here. By this time last year spring was definitely here; not this year. As snow melted in parts of the garden, we prepared the initial garden bed for the beets and onions. Although it was quite a bit colder than a year ago, hopefully it was warm enough to plant beet seedlings, seeds, and onion sets. Hopefully, because they were all planted.

We are trying two different tacts with the beets this year. We are testing whether beets transplant well into the garden as compared to direct sowing of seeds and we erected a protective barrier over the beets. The last couple of years something eats the baby beet greens. My guess is that a lizard eats the tops, but I am not sure. My hope now is that the predicted snow is not too heavy for the cover.

freshly planted onions and beets with protective cover

The last two years we have planted red onions. This year we branched out and planted red, white, and yellow. I read a review on the grower’s website suggesting the white and yellow grow better in mountain desert areas. We will see. But, the onions looked healthy and larger than last year so I am hopeful.

As for the rest of the garden, many of the seeds have been started. So far the kale and basil are growing well. I need to up-pot the eggplant. All three are enjoying a bit of unexpected rain. And most of the tomatoes and tomatillos are just getting going. So far I am happy with how the garden is progressing and the seeds are starting. A new soil mixture seems to be working well and the new LED lights seem to work also.

That Spring in Your Step

kale seedlings

It is hard to believe spring is here, at least where I am. Those of you still in the cold, it’s time to come on into a warmer location. We made a quick trip up to the garden last weekend and finished some of the early spring clean-up. There is still more to do, but I want to wait until I know warmer weather is there to stay until raking leaves and such. However, bulbs are coming up, lemon balm is starting to stick its little head up to see if it is safe, and the hummingbirds are back (although we don’t know what they eat this time of year).

I have started the first of the seeds at my house. The eggplant, kale, basil, beets, and some flowers are all growing. This is the first year I will be trying to transplant beets. For some reason, beets have not done well for us the last few years and this is one step towards correcting that.

basil seedlings

Every spring I start most of the seeds in my house under lights. I am experimenting with new lights this year. One of my old fluorescent fixtures stopped working so I had to replace at least that one. I also wanted new bulbs. Last year many things went awry and my goal is to rectify that this year; I think one of those things was the lights I had. Instead of getting a new fluorescent fixture and all new bulbs I went with new LED lights. Not the fancy grow lights; because, let’s face it, it would take me years to come close to justifying those for my seeds. Nope, I went with ordinary 4′ LED shop lights. They do not produce the full spectrum of light for true indoor growing, but all I do inside is start seeds and wait for them to grow large enough to move outside. Because of the stage of growth I need the lights for, the super bright, blue (5000k) spectrum lights should work. So far they seem to be. The kale did great and grew enough to move outside. The beets and eggplant seem to be doing ok, but they have not been under the lights that long. I am a bit worried about how bright they are and damaging the leaves, but hopefully moving the lights higher will solve that potential issue.

The garden is launched. Here’s to hoping this year is more successful than last year.

End of Summer

Tomatoes ready to roast
I know, I know, I’ve been very absent this summer. It was a very weird summer up by the garden. The timing of nearly everything was off, from when plants were transplanted to when the birds showed up to when the deer left. It was hot, the hottest we have had. It was the driest we have had, with only very small monsoon rains materializing. I had trouble with soil, both with seed starting and in the garden. All of this led to significant disappointments, interspersed with some successes.

Excessive and prolonged deer predation meant a number of plants, mostly tomatoes and kale, got off to a slow start on top of what was already a late start. The kale never really recovered but many of the tomatoes did. The only tomatoes that did grow reasonably well for us this year were the hybrid cherry tomatoes, Sunrise Bumblebee and Purple Bumblebee. Without them we would have had almost no tomatoes. Many of the tomatoes were roasted and will eventually be made into a homemade roasted tomato marinara sauce which goes very nicely with the eggplant bites and eggplant Parmesan. The beefsteak tomatoes that are actually healthy and doing ok are volunteers.

Soil issues plagued me with stunted seedling growth then again with uncontrollable issues with tomatoes and cucumbers and squash. Eventually the issues, I think a powdery mildew, killed the squash and cucumbers, and the cantaloupe were stunted then rotted before ripening. I had high hopes for all of those but those hopes were not to be.

Apple and Pear HarvestOk, enough of what didn’t work. What did work? Although it was cool late into the summer, we transplanted the seedlings about five weeks later than last year, we did not have any frosts last spring. This led to banner harvests of cherries, apples, and pears (at least those the deer could not reach). We were not geared up for the amount of cherries we harvested, six-times our previous largest harvest. Some were dried and most were frozen. The apples largely became apple sauce. The pears were eaten fresh or are being made into pear brandy and pear infused vodka (you had to know alcohol would show up somewhere).

The eggplant did very well. They were planted in a sunnier location than last year and seemed to thrive in the hot weather. I grow a Japanese variety. We made cabonatina, eggplant Parmesan, and roasted and froze a lot for enjoying this winter.

Another thing that did very well were many of the flowers. Some of the perennials we planted over the years came into their own this summer. This provided a nice cutting garden and attracted a lot of butterflies, which are always fun to watch.

Butterfly on garden flowers

Next year will be a rebuilding year. I will need to get back to basics with seed starting and soil management. I will need to be more ruthless with volunteer plants taking over the garden. Many of the pots will be moved and/or redone. New flowers will be selected for the pots. We have already moved some of the horseradish to a pot to see if it does better in loose soil. Hopefully the irrigation system will work consistently next year (can’t someone design a more full-proof version for household use?). We will hope for better weather. So, basically the same as usual.