A Garden Post!

It is the end of Spring and the beginning of Summer. Now as it heats up, I am watching my summer flowers grow and set buds and the veggies start to produce. This year, my grandmother’s peonies bloomed for the first time. They are next to my white gas plant. It is a beautiful combination.Image may contain: plant, flower, sky, tree, outdoor and nature

Many of my iris bloomed for the first time, this year. There were some definite show stoppers and almost all of them were true to name. I lost only one to rot over winter and only one was not true to its name. Jurassic Park is a yellow and purple iris, however, mine bloomed blue and white. So, I decided to order it from a reputable grower, plus a few others! I will have to do some updating on my “Iris Obsession” page. I have some updating for my “Heritage Garden” page as well, now that I think about it! Below is a small sampling of the ridiculous amount of iris photos I have. I actually have plenty of pictures of individual varieties, because I am hoping to catalog them all and have a little booklet printed!

The back garden underwent a few big changes this spring! Todd finally got around to building my new raised beds, I dug and edged two new “U” beds in front of the raised beds, and we started edging flower beds with large rocks collected from a friend’s farm.

I also decided to plant in-ground for all my veggies this year. The raised beds still need to be filled, which we will get to some time this summer. I chose in-ground over my grow bags simply because it has been just such a weird year getting to hardware/garden stores. I typically use Pro-Mix all purpose, but as of right now I can’t find it! I expect that will change soon. I also chose to plant in-ground just to give it a shot in the freshly made beds. Next year, I can just lay mulch and return to grow bags, should I choose to do so. Right now, everything is looking good! I like the idea of having different options.

I did have to finally fence in one U-bed because the bunnies are so prolific this year…and I really would like some green beans and kale for myself! As always, it is still a work in progress, but our yard is really turning into a sanctuary! I think I need more beds though…I still have a lot of historic and heritage plants I need to collect!

 

Peppers for your Victory Garden!

Last week, I started with some good tried and true tomato varieties to include in your 2020 Victory Garden. Tomatoes are hands down my favorite vegetable to grow, but peppers usually end up the 2nd most grown vegetable in my garden.

I honestly, don’t remember or have any stories of what my grandparents grew, pepper wise, but I can almost guarantee a bell pepper was in the mix. Oddly enough, I am horrible at getting bells to grow. Since they are prolific at the farmer’s market, I don’t worry about it. We typically grow medium hot peppers and whatever weird ones I think are worth trying. There are a handful of the common peppers I vow not take up space with but, by mid summer, I’ve stashed some into extra pots.

So today, I am going to share a handful of different pepper varieties that fit into today’s Victory Garden. Once again, I’ve tried to link to seeds still available, and varieties likely found at garden centers.

  1. California Wonder: This heirloom has been the standard green bell pepper since 1928. While I couldn’t find a ton of history right off the bat, you can imagine it being a staple in every Victory Garden of the past. I have never had much luck growing these, but they can be prolific. I find them best eaten fresh, or stuffed and baked.
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    California Wonder photo via Eden Brothers

     

  2. Sweet Banana Pepper: Grown for many decades, these yellow peppers are excellent for pickling. They are also a great starter pepper for anyone growing for the first time. I am never without a jar (canned myself or store bought)! We also like to add the juice/brine into our favorite Bloody Mary.

    Sweet Banana photo via Urban Farmer

     

  3. Jalapeno:  I have tried a few heirloom varieties of jalapenos in the past, from the old standard Early Jalapeno to a newer variety called Craig’s Grande.  Both were good producers. Early Jalapeno is one of the older, common varieties that have been grown in many gardens. It is said to be an excellent choice for cooler climates. Either would fit into a 2020 Victory Garden wonderfully. For me, I’ve found a hybrid that I just can’t turn down. I grow Mucho Nacho  every year and have found it to be a prolific producer of hot, good sized jalapenos. Jalapenos are in or on almost everything we cook and is perfect for pickling. This year, we are also growing an Italian jalapeno called Dieghito. I am excited to see how it turns out.
  4. Mini Bell Pepper Mix: Looking for a colorful snack? Look no further. Mini Bell Peppers can be found in a rainbow of colors! I’m not sure what their story is, but it’s reported to an heirloom passed down through an Ohio family. They are also perfect for stuffing with a little herbed cream cheese!

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    Mini Bell Pepper Mix photo via Baker Creek 

  5. New Mexico Chilies: Several years ago, I was in Arizona and bought a package of Sandia Green Chili Powder. I loved it. And it took me years to track a company that offered a Sandia Green Chili and I have grown the peppers ever since. The Sandia Seed Company, based in New Mexico, offers a wide selection of peppers seeds centered around Mexico and New Mexico’s glorious traditions of growing some of the best, hot peppers in the world. Pepper traditions span hundreds of years in the Southwest and greatly influence its cuisine. While maybe not a widespread choice of past Victory Gardens, I think New Mexico chilies definitely fit into today’s gardens! You can choose from the huge array of pepper seeds or stick to some well-loved heirlooms like:
    • Anaheim: This well known pepper was developed in 1913 at the New Mexico State University. The university is famous for developing and perfecting hot peppers!
    • Hatch Green Medium: A classic named for the Hatch Valley, New Mexico where it has been grown for generations.
    • Poblano: An heirloom that needs no introduction. While not growing my yard this year (not yet, anyway), I’ve grown this pepper many times and have never been disappointed.

 

*Side note, for many years, I have referred to any open-pollinated seed variety as HEIRLOOM (even if it is a newer variety).  In doing research for my posts, I’ve come across the notion that “heirloom” should only be applied to open-pollinated varieties grown pre-WWII. I suppose I see the point and I guess it’s a topic to be debated. From my point of view, I’ve always referred to any open-pollinated seed as “heirloom” and will likely continue to so. But, as you may know, I am always interested in the past and usually point out the age of the variety. I typically denote when a variety is newer by saying so.

Tomatoes for Your Victory Garden!

Victory gardens are starting to make a comeback. In times of uncertainty, we often turn back to growing food at home. Whether you’ve been gardening for years or are just starting out, thinking about gardeners before us can be comforting. We can even grow some of the same varieties that fed our grandparents through the Great Depression, WWII, and many other hard times.

I decided to do a little searching around for some of the best old tomato varieties that very well could have been grown in WWII victory gardens. Surprisingly (or maybe not), I found it hard to pin down a lot of solid information in just my internet searches. There is no shortage of tomato varieties, but I did find it difficult to research their histories. So, I’ve stuck to some famous, old reliables. I also wanted to make sure the varieties I’m sharing are still available in seed form or are likely to be found as plants at most garden centers.

I of course, always grow a few varieties of tomatoes that my Grandma Pete swore by.  The last summer I got see Grandma, she sent me off with a little bit of cash and orders to use it for veggies for my garden. She insisted I get Jet Star or Celebrity tomatoes. I got Jet Star that year. And I still have the little plant stake that came with it. It’s a strange memento, but it’s a lasting reminder of Grandma’s influence on my love of gardening.  I grow Jet Star every year in her honor, but I also grow Celebrity here and there too. This year I will have both. She was right they are reliable, versatile, and delicious. They are among the few hybrids I grow.

 

Five Heirloom Varieties that will fit perfectly into a modern Victory Garden:

  1. Mortgage Lifter : This tomato usually tops the chart as far as famous old varieties with a great story. In the 1930’s, radiator salesman, M.C. Byles crossed a handful of the best tomatoes he could find. After a selection process, he introduced his tomato. It is said that he sold this tomato for a $1 each and was able to sell enough over a period of time to pay off his mortgage (no easy feat given the times).  This tomato now goes by “Mortgage Lifter” and has been a staple in many gardens since.

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    photo via Eden Brothers

  2. Rutgers: Introduced in 1934, this tomato is famous for its connections with Campbell’s Soup! Developed in New Jersey as a cross between JTD an Marglobe, it was so good, it became America’s leading tomato and the key tomato in many of our famous soups and condiments.  I’ve never grown Rutgers, but if I find plants this year, I think I’ll have to give it a shot! You can read more about its history here and Rutgers’ updated variety celebrating 250 years of the university. 

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    Breeder of the ‘Rutgers’ tomato Lyman Schermerhorn (left) in a field of tomatoes, circa 1930s. (Photo and caption from What’s in Season from the Garden State: The Historic Rutgers Tomato Gets Re-invented in University’s 250th Anniversary Year, 2016.)

  3. Nebraska Wedding Tomato: This one might not be as famous, but I have to include it, being Nebraska born and raised. This tomato was registered in 1983, but the story goes it was brought to Nebraska in the 1800’s by pioneers. The seeds were often given as wedding gifts to new brides. I grew it last year for the first time and was happy with both yield and taste, despite such a disappointing summer. I’m growing it again.  I also love that it’s orange.

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    photo via Seed Savers Exchange

  4. Amish Paste: I tried to pin down a great paste type tomato. There are a lot of classics, but Amish Paste stands out for my because it’s believed to have originated in Wisconsin (my home state now). It’s likely been around since the 1870’s, but it wasn’t registered until 1987. I’ve tried several varieties of paste tomatoes and have yet to latch on to one go-to type. These are going in this year’s garden for another try! Some think Amish Paste fits more into the “Plum” varieties of tomato based on a juicier, seedier flesh. Some, find it to be meaty and almost seedless. I think this must come down to growing conditions?
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    photo via Burpee 

     

  5. San Marzano: These Italian heirlooms have a long, long history in Italy’s fertile, volcanic soil. So much so, that there are a lot controversies surrounding what can really be called a San Marzano tomato! I found this article extremely informative. Despite all the hype about it, this tomato has been grown in the US for many years, and with a lot of fan fare. I’ve grown the standard, plus San Marzano Lungo II (an improved version) several times. I’m growing the latter again this year. Perfect for canning or pizza!
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photo via Burpee

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photo via Baker Creek

Now, That’s where I’m going to end my list, for now. You may ask where some other famous “toms” are, like Abraham Lincoln and Brandywine. I just didn’t include them this time around. Brandywines are also a long day tomato, and I just can’t get them to produce and ripen where I live (Zone 4). It’s heartbreaking, for now. Maybe I’ll find a way some day down the road.

I’ve also not included any cherry tomatoes. Even though cherry and even smaller, currant tomatoes, can be found hundreds of years ago, I couldn’t lock in on a particular variety I wanted to share. If you have a great, old heirloom cherry tomato you swear by, please share! There are a ton out there! I want to find a classic red, cherry type with a history.

I also want to share this lovely article about heirlooms with a history.  It has some very interesting varieties included in it. That’s all for now! Just a little ramble about tomatoes!

And a bonus! Grandma Pete in her family’s garden during the mid-1940s, Victory Garden?

2020 Seed Starting and Garden Plans!

I started this post a few weeks ago. When I reopened the draft, I realized just how much has changed.  Last year was a bit of disappointing growing season. Between work, bad weather, and a number of other things, a lot didn’t happen.  This year, my original plans were to focus on the infrastructure our garden and scale back on growing. Well, beyond just my inability to actually cut back on seed starting, current events have made me realize the importance of my garden. Even though garden centers are still open, who knows what the next few months will bring.

Just before the COVID-19 crisis began, I put my two weeks notice in at Target, where I had been working just over a year. My last day was March 21. It was a bit surreal to be in the thick of the panic buying. I am thankful that we have to opportunity for me to stay home this summer. Todd is a railroader and he is deemed essential, and there is  a lot of stress there during the best of times! So, this summer it really is going to be about our house, garden, and spending quality time together (and hopefully some family history sleuthing too).

We plan on expanding beds, building the raised beds, and just working on a lot of the projects that need finishing up. While we do plan on going to the hardware stores and garden centers, Todd and I have been diligently making lists and checking inventory, to make as few as possible trips. Only Todd is going to the hardware store and I do the grocery shopping.

So….here is how my ‘cutting back’ on seeds went and how I’m growing them this year:

This past fall, I used some pre-made supports and 1″x 6 “boards, stained with deck stain, to create two different plant stands. Since, I can’t quite reach my little green houses, and don’t want to completely take over the kitchen again, I’ve added an extra shelves to the larger of the plant stands. I also, for the first time ever, bought grow lights. These ones on Amazon.com.  They have several different options and the best part is how affordable they are! It took me only about a half hour to have mine set up and going. So far, I love them.  Here is my set up this year…

I started a few of my flower seeds earlier, then the majority of peppers, tomatoes, and herbs on the first day of Spring.  I decided I should start more. So, I added one more flat of herbs, peppers, and tomatoes. It’s a little late for a few of them, but I’ll give it a go. I also have all my summer bulbs potted up. While it’s a bit early for them, I typically just let them relax in there dirt and gradually pick up on watering as I get closer to plant times. So far, my set up has worked pretty well. My biggest complaint is not having quite as much control over the humidity and temp as I do with my little green houses.

Here is what I started this year  with links to where I’ve purchased them!

Here are my seeds I have picked out to direct sew (if it actually happens):

I also have big dreams to put in lettuce/greens, grapes, strawberries, garlic, potatoes, onions, and start an asparagus bed also. We will see. I currently have five urban and columnar apples planted. Two of the apple trees were cast-offs and may or may not survive. The other three are planted into my flower beds. I’m hoping for a first small crop on the Scarlet and Golden Sentinel apples.

Living A Memory: Growing a Greener World Episode with Paul James

A while back, I discovered the glory of watching YouTube shows on our smart TV (it’s new to us). Instead of watching the news, I enjoy my morning cup of coffee with a variety of garden shows. Some, like Garden Answer and Monty Don, I’ve followed for years. Others, I’ve started to seek out and haven’t been disappointed in finding. Craig LeHoullier is my tomato guru and finding his channel was very exciting. I’ve already picked up some new tips for this year’s garden. Recently, I discovered a PBS favorite on YouTube, Growing a Greener World.

A couple of days ago, I was watching Growing a Greener World and Joe Lamp’l introduced his guest for the episode, a gardener so many grew up watching and one of his own inspirations, Paul James. I called my mom to tell her before the episode ended. She watched his show on HGTV for years and I watched it with her a lot of the time. I knew she would be excited. He was the first garden show on HGTV, but the show ended when the network glammed-up and went for more home improvement and decorating shows.

It is such a great episode that I have to share it here. Towards the end Joe and Paul discuss what gardening means to many people. Paul James says,

“That got me thinking about why a lot of people garden. They garden to live a memory.”

We garden for food, sustainability, tasty things, and beauty, but the nostalgia and memories make it a deeper, worthwhile experience. Gardening returns you to your parents, grandparents, and childhood homes. We get to cultivate food, joy, and keep our precious memories alive…to live a memory.

Paul James really hit it for me. My love of growing flowers and veggies stems from a long line of memories of my mother’s and grandmothers’ gardens. I’m just taking it a bit further as a way to connect to family histories and homes long gone.

Watch the episode. Enjoy the excitement of Joe Lamp’l spending time with one of his inspirations. Enjoy seeing Paul James on the screen again. Think about the gardeners who inspire you and the memories attached to it. It is worth it.