(March Garden Update Pt 1 here)
I’ve gotten really good at growing both tomatoes and peppers from seed. The biggest hassle is that they have to be started well ahead of when you plant them into the garden, which means getting the seeds into soil in February or even earlier, and then growing the plants indoors for a while under lights.
I always start some extra plants for both tomatoes and peppers as a hedge against disaster. I’ve had more than one year where rodents or late snow or early heat struck my seedlings and I was left having to fork over cash for store-grown tomato and pepper plants. This offends me. I try not to buy plants.
A couple of years ago when I had extra plants I started giving them away to the neighbors. And then I figured that it’s not that much more work to grow 60 plants than it is to grow 15, and my neighbors have all turned into tomato gardeners. I figure since I keep a rooster who starts shouting about how awesome he is at 5AM every day, it’s the least I can do.
Over the last week I moved the tomatoes and peppers out from under the lights onto the porch and I’ve been busily repotting them — Solo cups for the giveaways, and gallon pots for me. The weather has been nice and from the forecast it looks like it won’t drop below 50 degrees overnight for the next week, at least. Neither tomatoes or peppers like the cold so if the temperature drops again I’ll bring them back inside.
I usually grow two beds of tomatoes – one for the canners (eight plants) and one for the eaters (six plants). That’s usually more than enough tomatoes for us to eat and put away, with some extras to share.
Tomato varieties for this year:
- San Marzano, San Marzano Lungo: My standby canning tomato. I prefer the larger and more vigorous Lungo variety — fewer tomatoes to peel for the cans — but I have seeds for plain San Marzano that I’m trying to use up.
- Sungold: My standby cherry tomato, super productive. Tons of tiny sweet orange tomatoes. If I could only grow one tomato, it would be this one.
- Reisentraube: Red cherry tomatoes, and lots of them. Very reliable.
- Costoluto Genovese: A big lobed red tomato with really good flavor. One of the prettiest red tomatoes.
- Marmande: A big beefsteak tomato, one of the best tasting ones I grow, but not all that productive.
- Glacier: cold-tolerant, will bear small tomatoes early and well into winter. The tomatoes themselves are kind of boring but it’s nice to still have tomatoes after everything else is done.
- “stripe”: I don’t know what variety this actually is. I bought a red and orange striped tomato from the farmer’s market last year because it was so pretty, and I saved the seeds. I haven’t been able to figure out what variety it is no matter how much googling I do. If it’s a hybrid it likely won’t grow the same tomato I bought, and it could be something else altogether (but still a tomato.) We’ll see.
This year I’m also trying an experiment with dry-farmed tomatoes, and I have two early girl plants set aside for that purpose. I’m going to just stick them in the ground and see what happens. I expect this will be a short-lived adventure in the fastest method of killing a tomato plant, but I’ll save that adventure for another post.
I grew a lot of peppers last year, and I’m growing a lot of peppers this year. This is another case where I had too much of something last year, so I figure I’ll grow more this year because, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
I have 24 plants ready to go, although some of my seeds didn’t germinate that well. Pepper seeds get too old faster than I expect them to, and I’m left without pepper plants that I really wanted. I had to supplement with extras from the garden center.
- Jalafuego: A dumb name for a good Jalapeno hybrid. Grows lots and lots of really big fat jalapenos. I’m almost definitely growing too many of these this year because I’m still working through the frozen ones from two years ago, but Jalapenos are easily give-away-able.
- Tiburon: A poblano hybrid. Poblanos are my favourite peppers, and we eat a lot of chile rellenos in the summer when they’re ready. This variety grows extra large peppers that are more abundant and wider at the stem than normal poblanos, so they’re better for stuffing.
- Pimiento di Padron: super popular foodie frying peppers. I stopped growing these for a while because if you don’t pick them tiny they turn super hot. I actually prefer a frying pepper called Melrose but I’m using up the seeds.
- Marconi: The standard italian red and yellow sweet pepper you get in the jars of roasted peppers. I grew these a few years back and they didn’t bear very well, but I have some enormous number of seeds so I’ll try again.
- Sweet Red Bell Peppers: My usual spanish mammoth peppers did not germinate at all so I bought a six-pack of completely ordinary red bell peppers to replace them this year.
You may notice that the Japalenos are the hottest chiles I grow. There are no Habaneros or Scotch Bonnets or Bhut Jolokias here. This is mostly because I just can’t take super hot chiles (I recognize and accept this weakness). If I change my mind and want a super hot chile there are lots of them in the farmer’s markets. I may plant too much of a lot of things, but I’m hesitant to give over garden space to something I can’t actually eat.
This is always the busiest part of the year for me for gardening, and the time of the year I feel like I’m repotting tomatoes and digging up garden beds in my dreams. But it’s really gratifying to see trays and trays of happy seedlings out on the porch, and I know if I keep plugging away at it the work will get done. Only a couple more weeks now and everything will be planted in the garden and growing, and I can take a little rest before harvesting season.
The good news is that I am no longer behind in getting all my seeds and plants started or into the garden. The bad news is that I’ve started a new writing gig and I’ve fallen behind in blog posting instead. So here is the garden update for March, posted in April.
Onions, Garlic, Leeks
I ordered onion plants from Johnny’s in February. The variety is Patterson, a yellow onion, and they come in a bundle in a box in the mail. This is the same variety I grew last year, and they’re a good onion — they grow into big bulbs that keep a long time. I like mail-order onion plants a lot; they are easy to put into the ground (make hole, drop onion into hole) and seem to reliably take root and grow on their own.
I also bought a 6-pack of red onions when I was at the garden center, and planted those next to the yellow onions. There were more plants than I thought there were going to be in the one 6-pack, so I guess I’ll have a lot of red onions. I also impulsively bought a 6-pack of leeks on another garden center trip (I visit the garden center a lot at this time of year) and those need to be planted in this same bed as well. I don’t really eat that many leeks, but if I have leeks I’ll find a use for them. (I didn’t eat that many shallots either until I accidentally grew 20 lbs of them last year).
The garlic is still doing well and the garlic plants are now about a foot tall. I also filled up the remainder of the garlic bed with a couple shallots and some left over onion plants that I’ll use for scallions.
Broccoli & Other Brassicas
Last year’s broccoli has stopped forming little heads and the ones it does form go to flowers almost immediately. It’s time to pull those plants out and give them to the chickens. I got pounds and pounds of broccoli out of these plants right up until last month, so I’m OK with letting those go.
I never got around to planting broccoli seeds this year, so I bought some started plants on one of my garden center runs. I planted two varieties: Gypsy and Green Magic, both hybrids. I had 6 broccoli plants last year and nearly too much to eat, but this year there are 12. I’m figuring on freezing a lot.
Right now these plants are looking really purple, and I’m not sure why. My friend Google would indicate either a nutrient deficiency or it’s just been too cold. These plants are due for a dose of seaweed fertilizer and the weather’s getting a lot warmer, so we’ll see if I can’t green them up.
I did seed some brussels sprouts earlier last month and they came up very well, I planted those into the garden at the same time as the broccoli. Brussels sprouts are kind of troublesome for me — I can grow huge plants but get really small sprouts, and they’re plagued by bugs. But hope springs eternal and we’ll see if I can’t coax some real sprouts out of them this year.
I’m not growing cauliflower or romanesco. We eat a lot of cauliflower, but it needs a lot of space and water and you only get one head per plant. You also have to cover it in order for it to be white, and it has a lot of bug problems, and it’s picky about the weather. Too much trouble, better to just give over the space to more broccoli and buy cauliflower in the store.
Roots & Shoots
I’m still eating carrots and beets from last year (I planted too many of them, and have not been eating them fast enough). The carrots are starting to sprout flower stalks, and some of them are a good three inches across at the crown, but they’re still edible. (they are especially good as ginger pickles) The beets are large and woody but the greens are still good.
I started planting this year’s carrots and beets a week ago. These will be multicolored carrots (orange, white, purple), as well as chioggia (pink striped) and yellow beets.
I planted peas in just about every bed as a cover crop, to add more nutrition to the soil. Peas are a nitrogen fixer, which means they suck nitrogen out of the air and store it in little nodules in their roots. If you cut down the pea plants you get the benefit of that extra nitrogen in the soil, and you can compost the greens. I haven’t been very good about cover cropping in the past and it’s something I want to try to improve — it’s always better to grow better soil in place than to add stuff every year to improve it. I probably won’t get any actual peas out of these plants before I cut them down, but every little bit of benefit to the soil counts.
I also planted snap peas, but either they did not sprout or they did and birds got them. Could go either way. I’m thinking of planting more seeds but it’s getting late in the season — Snap peas don’t do well when the weather is too warm.
Sometimes when I read other people’s garden blogs I get depressed because it seems like everyone else has fabulous gardens and everything they plant grows well and looks terrific. It finally occurred to me that no one posts about their failures, so you get a rosier picture. So. I planted a whole bed full of spinach seeds and watered them and protected them from birds and none of them came up. This happens every year. I don’t know why everyone says say that spinach is one of the easiest vegetables to grow. I suck really hard at spinach.
Kale and chard are started and ready to plant, but I haven’t put them in the garden yet.
Up next: tomatoes and peppers!