2020 Tomato List

Tomato seed starting in spring

Greetings, friends! I’ve been deep in garden-planning mode and thought I’d poke my head up from the mess of seed packets surrounding me to share my 2020 tomato list. I grew about 30 different varieties last year and canned some delicious tomato sauce, and I’m prepared to grow even more this year in an effort to can enough sauce to last us all winter. We use it as both a pasta sauce and pizza sauce, so I have my work cut out for me!

The bulk of my garden will be tomatoes this year, which is just fine since the dahlias are getting their own plot in 2020. In total I plan on growing about 40 varieties this year, some new and some old. I sow multiples of each variety, ensuring I’ll have extra plants to give to family members and friends, or backups in the event some seeds don’t germinate or a hungry slug devours a few seedlings.

So without further ado, here is my 2020 tomato variety list:

  • Millionaire
  • Mortgage Lifter
  • Kellogg’s Breakfast
  • Dr. Wyche’s Yellow
  • Vintage Wine
  • Sunrise Sauce
  • Behemoth King
  • Amish Paste
  • Hillbilly
  • Mushroom Basket
  • Alice’s Dream
  • Northern Lights
  • Marzipan Gold
  • Texwine
  • Beauty Lottringa
  • Slankard’s
  • Shuntuk Giant
  • Fleur De Reagir
  • Peter Glazebrooks
  • Uncle Mark Bagby
  • Mr. Stripey
  • Aunt Ruby’s German Green
  • Black From Tula
  • German Pink
  • Red Rosso Sicilian
  • Dark Galaxy
  • Paul Robeson
  • Brandywine (red and black)
  • Pineapple
  • Stump of the World
  • Ceylon
  • Mountain Princess
  • Jersey Giant
  • Old Ivory Egg
  • Sungold Cherry
  • Sweet Pea Currant
  • Brad’s Atomic Grape
  • Chocolate Cherry
  • Tomatillo (purple, pineapple)

Have you grown any of these varieties before? If so, which are your favorites?

Happy spring!

Winter Sowing — Was It Worth It? Some Pros and Cons

Winter sown mustard greens seedlings

Hello, everyone! I hope 2020 has been treating you well so far. I’m back from an unintended hiatus, and it feels good to be occupying this space again! I can already tell that 2020 is going to be a great year.

As I embark on my second year of winter sowing, I’ve come to the realization I that never wrote up a recap of my thoughts on how my first year went, and if the whole process was even worth it.

If you’re not familiar with the concept of winter sowing, it’s essentially planting seeds inside a container that will act like a mini greenhouse and then leaving the container outside over the winter. The seeds will then germinate when the conditions are right. The most popular container for this method is a milk jug, but many other containers will also work. You can check out a whole slew of posts I wrote last year if you’re curious!

winter sowing containers outside
2020 winter sowing underway

But now you might be thinking, sounds cool, but does it work? Is it worth it? And I am here to tell you that yes it does, and yes it’s absolutely worth it — last year I was able to grow a huge variety of vegetables and flowers that I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to grow since I don’t have a greenhouse or a grow-light setup. And it really wasn’t a whole lot of work. Plus, it’s a great opportunity to get your hands in the dirt in the middle of winter — a time when many of us are craving some garden therapy the most.

But enough of my rambling. Let’s break down the pros and cons.

Pros:

  • Minimal work — prep the containers, plant your seeds, and leave them alone (outside) until they sprout
  • No expensive equipment needed
  • No remembering to turn grow lights on or off
  • No watering needed until containers start to dry out in the spring
  • You can use other containers aside from milk jugs, thereby recycling plastic that otherwise would have ended up in a landfill
  • You can reuse your containers year after year
  • Seeds that need cold stratification can be sown outside in the containers, rather than putting them in the refrigerator for a period of time before sowing them
  • No need to harden off seedlings since they’ve been growing outside since they germinated

Cons:

  • In all honesty, a group of milk jugs can look a little trashy in your yard
  • Not every container will work well (I will not be using salad containers again, they were too shallow)
  • Some seeds prefer to be started indoors, so not everything should be winter sown
  • Once things start sprouting, you need to keep a close eye on the weather in the event of a late frost or hail storm
  • Squirrels might dig in the containers once they’ve been opened, uprooting your seedlings

In my opinion, the pros far outweigh the cons, and I’ve already started 10+ containers this winter and intend to start more this weekend.

If this has piqued your interest, feel free to browse my previous posts or join the Winter Sowers Facebook group, where there’s a wealth of information to peruse. And if you end up trying this method, let me know how it goes for you!

Happy winter sowing!

Pumpkin Sourdough Quick Bread

Pumpkin Sourdough Quick Bread

Fall is in full swing here — the leaves glimmer gold and red, rain drums on the windowpanes, and a heavy mist shrouds our field every morning. My trusty pumpkin-shaped mug is back in rotation, and I thought it was about time I whipped up something pumpkin flavored to go along with it.

The sourdough banana bread I typically make for parties is always a big hit, so I decided to tweak the recipe and make it a little more autumnal. It’s great paired with a hot cup of coffee in the morning and would be amazing slathered with some cream cheese frosting. My husband and I like this bread so much that I’ve already made it three times this month!

Pumpkin Sourdough Quick Bread

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg, large
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 cup sourdough starter (can be discard, but I prefer to use starter that’s been fed sometime in the last 24 hours)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground allspice

Directions:

  1. Cream together shortening, sugar, and egg. Stir in pumpkin puree and starter. Add vanilla.
  2. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, soda, salt, and the spices. Add to the wet mixture and combine.
  3. Pour into a greased loaf pan and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for one hour, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  4. Let cool for one hour before cutting.

If you decide to make this recipe, please leave me a comment to let me know how it turns out! Happy baking!

 

September Racing By

margo's dahlia patch at sunset

The fall equinox has come and gone, and it’s been quite some time since I sat down and recorded the garden’s happenings in a proper blog post. The garden has grown exponentially in that time, and as I write this I see the signs it’s waning and nearly ready to be put to bed for the year: the squash has erupted with powdery mildew, the tomatoes are looking droopy, and the peppers have petered out.

I’ve had a few friends pop by and ask to see my garden this year, which is a moment of pride for me but also feels a little awkward because my garden is so personal and private that it feels so odd sharing it with someone. When I am out in the garden I am usually alone in my own thoughts — it’s a place where I can puzzle out my worries and shed the stress of the day. Sometimes the cat shows up, rustling through the dahlia jungle while on the prowl for a mouse. Sometimes the neighbor’s horse hangs her head over the fence and waits for me to pat her velvety nose. But usually it’s just me, and I’m content with that.

And now it is September, and the black walnut trees are starting to drop their leaves in a smattering of autumnal confetti over my garden. I’m acutely aware of the change in the air. The mornings and the evenings are chillier, while the days are still relatively warm. The pumpkins are turning orange, and the dahlias will be fading soon. I’m spending less time outside after work now, hurrying to pick tomatoes before night falls. If I’m lucky, the roses will offer one last vibrant flush before the frost settles in, wrapping our house in a thick blanket of fog that won’t lift until the first rays of spring arrive.

I’m trying not to think about the restlessness that accompanies this time. I appreciate autumn so much for the respite it brings, the chance to cozy up inside and dream about next year (which is a nicer way of saying “plan for next year,” but that doesn’t sound as relaxing, does it?), but the cold, gloomy days make me moody and unhappy, and I often wonder what I did before gardening. I am going to miss my little oasis so much, and I’m already mourning its inevitable death. How will I ponder life’s mysteries without the methodical snipping of my shears as I deadhead the dahlia patch? Without the drowsy hum of honey bees dipping around me as they nestle into the petals of cosmos and dahlias for the night?

Dreaming is what got me through last year, and I suppose dreaming will get me through again. So I will take my daily Vitamin D supplements to keep the winter blues away, and I will turn ideas over in my head like compost, and I will tuck bulbs into the ground to slumber sweetly until spring. And, hopefully, these small rituals will ease my restless nerves.

I can hardly wait for the first seed catalog to arrive.

Mid-July State of the Garden

The cat wanders through my vegetable garden

Greetings from an early morning stroll through my garden!

The last two months have brought unusually cool weather ranging from the mid sixties to low seventies, and plant growth is lagging behind what it should be for this time of year. We did receive intermittent rain over the past two weeks, though, so everything is starting to fill out nicely in the combined veggie garden/dahlia patch.

So far I’ve spotted a handful of unripe cherry tomatoes, some snap peas, a couple paste tomatoes, an itty-bitty tromboncino squash, and a plethora of small yellow squash growing. Not a lot is happening yet; it’s just finally starting to warm up after weeks of cool weather. The below picture was taken last week, but everything seems to have doubled in size since then, so unfortunately this isn’t a true representation of the current state of the garden. Somehow I keep taking pictures of the cat instead…

Early morning in the vegetable garden and dahlia patch

The dinnerplate dahlias are averaging 3.5 feet tall, and the dahlia patch is starting to look a little jungly (just the way I like it). One dahlia that I purchased as a rooted cutting is already so top heavy with buds that it was lying on the ground, and I had to secure it to a bamboo stake — it felt pretty silly sinking 6-foot stakes into the ground when I planted the dahlias out months ago, but they’re already coming in handy. I didn’t expect much from the rooted cuttings this year while they develop tubers, so I’m quite happy about it.

Out of 40+ dahlias in my garden, only two have bloomed so far: Sonic Bloom and Fuzzy Wuzzy (which was mislabeled as Center Court — I’m curious what will bloom in the spot I thought I planted Fuzzy Wuzzy in).

Sonic Bloom dahlia flowerFuzzy Wuzzy dahlia flower

I’m glad I planted so many roses this spring because the anticipation of waiting for the rest of the dahlias is  k i l l i n g  me. It was so nice to have some roses to enjoy in the meantime. And the cosmos and sweet peas are just starting to flower here and there, so that’s also tiding me over now that the roses have just about finished for the season.

Double-click bicolor violet cosmo flower

I find myself not doing much in the garden these days other than wandering and observing and doing the occasional staking and watering — the wood chip mulch has been excellent for retaining moisture in the soil, and I really only need to water once a week now, and less than that if it rains.

I would like to mention the one downside I’ve discovered about the wood chip mulch, and that is that it’s created the perfect feeding ground for the moles, presumably because the soil is kept moist and attracts many worms and insects. I have to walk through the garden every morning and survey for any damage — i.e. fresh hills and pushed up plants. We’re trying to trap them but have been largely unsuccessful. They’re evasive fellows.

Other than doing battle with the moles, I’m trying to enjoy this downtime, because soon enough the canner will be at a rolling boil day in and day out as I rush to preserve the bounty of the garden. I’ve already spotted a whopping seven yellow summer squash growing on one plant. Yowza. I think I’ll have to look in my Pickled Pantry book and see what I can do with whatever excess we won’t eat fresh.

How grows your garden?

June Garden Updates

Hi, everyone!

It seems I dropped off the radar for about a month — I’ve been so busy working in the yard/garden that I haven’t had time to sit down and write. I’d apologize, but I don’t think I really have anything to apologize for — sometimes its nice to have a bit of a break from the Internet.

Lots has been going on here at our little homestead. The dahlias have all been planted and most have come up (40+ varieties… what was I thinking?); 31 tomato plants, 20 pepper plants, and 30 bean plants are in the ground; and lots of cosmos have been scattered in between the veggies for good measure. (Honestly there are probably 20+ cosmos. I went a little overboard with the winter sowing. Good thing I love cosmos so much!)

bean starts in newspaper pots
An abundant tray of bean starts

My cousin recently told me, “I don’t think you have a garden… you have a farm!” Which was a little surprising but nice to hear! I often feel like “homestead” isn’t an accurate term to use regarding our land since we don’t raise any animals (yet), but I’ve been rethinking that sentiment now that I’ve seen the scope of my growing capabilities.

But, while I’ve packed loads of plants into the garden, everything is still fairly puny. We’ve had wildly fluctuating temperatures over the past couple weeks, ranging from 95-degree days to cloudy, windy 70-degree days, which has not been great growing weather. The tomatoes were pretty stressed out, but I fed them with some fish emulsion (my new favorite thing!) and some actively aerated worm compost tea, and they’ve since perked up.

The weather doesn’t properly heat up here in southwest Washington until July, and I’m eagerly awaiting the burst of growth everything will shortly put on. It’s a bit maddening logging into Instagram and seeing other people already harvesting beans and cucumbers from their gardens — I keep reminding myself that I’m not behind schedule for our region! Not a bit! Even if it feels like it! Plus, we have a longer growing window here since we don’t typically get our first frost until November. It’s totally normal to not be harvesting anything yet.

This weekend I have a few sunflowers to plant out and all my squash to get in the ground, and I think that’s the last of it. Phew. A gardener’s work never ends, and my carpal tunnel is acting up. I’m ready for July to take the wheel.

What’s going on in your garden?

By Hand and Hoe

Weedy garden bed soon to be cottage garden

Off the side of our house is a garden bed that has been overgrown since we moved in two years ago. It is the bane of my existence.

The grass has crept in, the soil is poor, and it’s so close to the road that I don’t care to work in it — I don’t particularly like feeling watched by the neighbors or any cars driving by. The most we’ve done to the bed is to remove an overgrown and unsightly Japanese maple shrub and sporadically plant a few perennials — primroses, a couple peonies, a grape hyacinth, columbine, and tansy. Way back when we moved in, I had visions of turning it into a cottage garden. (Truth be told, I still do.) I weeded the whole thing once, but then it rained the weeds came right back.

The other thing that’s kept me from doing much to this garden is this cinderblock planter/raised bed it’s flanked by — it’s built against the side of our house, and we need to replace the skirting behind it soon. I’m apprehensive about planting anything that might get trampled in the process, you know? (I do know that those shrubs have got to go, though.)

But it’s gotten so weedy and out of control that I can’t take it anymore, and I’m going to make it my next project, now that our front yard reno is just about finished. Ideally, I’d lay down a thick layer of cardboard + mulch to kill the weeds and keep them from coming back, but I’m all out of cardboard just about out of wood chips! Who would have thought I’d use them up so fast?

I’d wait until the fall to do it, but I have some perennials I winter sowed that I’d like to plant there — hollyhocks, foxglove, bee balm, and such. So, I guess I’ll have to do it the old-fashioned way: by hand and hoe.

Fortunately, the forecast is predicting rain, rain, and even more rain, so the soil should be easy to work this week. And while I’m a tad disappointed to take a break from planting out tomatoes and dahlias (yes, still working on that momentous task…), it’s been nice to have a respite from the daily watering.

Archie the corgi helps weed the garden

But, you know me — I can’t stay still for a minute, so I’ve already made a small start on this project. This side of the bed, closest to our back door, is now mostly cleared of some sort of creeping vine that the previous owners planted here. I even discovered a concrete splash block under the mess! You can see more of the vine inside cinderblock raised bed and off to the right of the picture, where it has surrounded a large concrete pot.

Clearing a weedy garden bed and planting flowers.

After clearing the soil, I planted a bleeding heart, an orchid primrose (I thought next to the gutter downspout was a good spot, since we get so much rain and this plant grows in boggy areas), poppies, hollyhocks, and a few nasturtiums (not pictured). The peony I planted in this spot last year. Eventually this bed will get a new border of either large rocks or pavers, but for now the priority is clearing the weeds.

Wish me luck — I’m going to need it!

 

An Iris Infatuation Ensues

Smitten Kitten iris from Shcreiner's Iris Gardens

You probably already know, but I am a complete sucker for end-of-season plant sales. I love a good deal, and I don’t mind waiting nearly a year to reap the rewards of some late-season, seriously cheap plants.

So, without further ado, I present to you these iris rhizomes that I purchased last fall. I couldn’t resist. (Don’t worry, I promptly planted them.)

Iris rhizomes from Schreiner's Iris Gardens

I was extremely reluctant to add irises to my garden after helping my mom yank out irises from her perennial garden last summer; they’d gone near invasive, and they were purple — kind of a blah, common color for irises, in my opinion.

But then last fall I stumbled upon Schreiner’s Iris Gardens, and I discovered that irises are most definitely not “blah” flowers. In fact, they come in many more colors than just purple! I was wooed by the blush- and cream-colored blooms (I’ll chalk it up to last year’s obsession with the Cafe au Lait dahlia), and I decided I could probably whip up a raised bed to contain some irises so they don’t get too out of control.

I ended up ordering five rhizomes:

Unfortunately, it looks like Schreiner’s only sells Smitten Kitten and Padded Shoulders now, so you’ll have to hunt for the rest if any of those wooed you as they did me.

Freshly planted iris and sedum raised bed

I planted the rhizomes in a square bed with some sedum and various tulip and daffodil bulbs for company. It looked pretty sparse until March, when the irises really started to put on some growth and the bulbs started sending up foliage.

And, here we are today, with the first and long-anticipated iris bloom from Smitten Kitten! She’s the most beautiful champagne-blush color that was pretty difficult to photograph, and this picture truly doesn’t do her justice. But I tried!

Smitten Kitten iris flowersI am definitely obsessed. I’m looking forward to the other varieties blooming so I can make a few bouquets to grace our home.

I have my eye on just a few more irises to add to my garden once the end-of-season sale rolls around again — “Downtown Brown,” “Smoke and Thunder,” and “Man’s Best Friend,” all of which I intend to plant in the side garden off our house, which I’m hoping to turn into a cottage garden, of sorts. I’ll talk more about this at a later date!

I’ll be back in a few days with a mid-May garden update, but in the meantime, I hope your week is filled with sun and seedlings!

 

It’s Dahlia Day!

Last year's dahlia blooms
Remembering last year’s dahlias

The lilacs are blooming and Mother’s Day is right around the corner, which means the most anticipated day of the year is finally here — it’s time to plant the dahlias!

I’m hoping to get them done in one fell swoop tonight after work, since we’re going out of town on Saturday. And since there are so many to get in the ground this year, I made a list (organized by height) to guide me — I don’t want to accidentally shade out a 3-ft. variety by planting it next to a 5-ft. variety. I’m not too concerned about color combinations; I’d rather it be a riot of color and a bit of a surprise when everything finally blooms. It’s more exciting that way, wouldn’t you agree?

Since I’m doing wood chip mulching this year, my plan is to push the mulch aside with a hoe, creating wide furrows that I’ll plant the tubers in and then top with soil, rather than pushing the mulch back — Swan Island advises not to mulch your dahlias, so this will be a bit of an experiment in sort-of mulching but not really.

I’m pretty ambitious when it comes to planning tasks for myself after work, and I still have to clean the house tonight in preparation for the sitter, so it’s highly possible I won’t get all the dahlias planted tonight. But I can certainly try!

Archie the corgi in our new radio flyer wagon
Archie for scale

One thing I’m counting on helping with the extensive dahlia planting is my “new” garden wagon — it was a lucky Craigslist find! It will be perfect for transporting the potted-up tubers to the garden without tipping them over or making numerous trips back and forth. It’s got all-terrain wheels, too, so I don’t have to worry about  having a difficult time pulling it through the grass. It’s going to be a life safer!

Potted up dahlias in our new garden wagon

Some of the dahlias are already putting on quite a lot of growth — I can’t wait to see which one will bloom first! A few varieties that I’m particularly looking forward to are Castle Drive, Tengai, Big Brother, Labyrinth, Terracotta, Papageno, and Wyn’s Mauve Mist.

But, before blooms comes hard work — wish me luck getting all these tubers in the ground; I’m going to need it!

Winter Sown Update #10

Winter sowing beans

Well, here we are, folks — my last sowing session of the spring! As you clearly can see, our deck and picnic table are quite cluttered with seedlings, potted dahlias, and WS containers. I’m getting really excited to start planting out soon!

Since my last sowing update, the weather has continued to warm up, and more of the containers have been opened — I’ve even cut off the tops of about five or six milk jugs! I have to carefully monitor the unopened ones now to make sure the soil is moist and that they’re not too hot inside. This weekend the temperature is expected to climb to 90 degrees, so I expect to open nearly every single container.

As I mentioned in my last winter sowing post, this weekend was dedicated to sowing beans. I started two more varieties of bush beans (“Crockett” and “Tanya’s Pink Pod,” which I’m super excited about because, as the name implies, they’re pink beans!) and two varieties of pole beans (“Purple Pod” and “Rattlesnake“).

Sowing bush beansSowing pole beans

These salad containers worked really well for planting, and I was able to cram a lot of beans in them. It may seem like I’ve gone a little overboard, but I know they won’t all germinate, and I have big plans for canning massive amounts of dilly beans this summer.

Sowing pole beans

I actually planned on starting some “Transylvanian Giant” sunflowers  and “Chinese Red Noodle” beans too, but I ran out of potting soil. I’ll probably end up direct sowing them instead. I’m getting a little tired of buying soil.

I also have loads of sweet peas I germinated inside that I need to get planted out — only three germinated in my winter sown container, which isn’t terrible, but three seedlings won’t cover a trellis. I did a quick Google last weekend to find out if I could rapidly germinate sweet peas inside, and lo and behold, you can, and I did — in just under a week! I’ll talk a bit more about this later.

I hope your week is off to a sunny start!

Until next time,
Margo