{ Archive for the ‘fruit and vegetable gardening’ Category }

Taking a deep breath and perusing the seed catalogues

I have never started my seeds indoors before. Sure, I've thrown a few in the ground over the years to see what would come up, but I always worried I didn't have enough space or light to sow them inside. I had varied success with my veggies last year, but my sister and I both realized that the long wait for our peppers and tomatoes had a lot to do with planting them too late in the season. This year we're determined to get a head start.

We decided to order seeds together, but plant in our own respective homes. I'm going to sacrifice the windowsill in my home office and the space around it. My sister's apartment is a virtual greenhouse–her lemongrass is a tree!–and her husband built her these awesome shelves for her seed pots. I figure my odds of fresh herbs and veggies increase with both of us planting the same thing. If one of us fails (most likely me), we have backup.

But where to begin? I find seed catalogues so overwhelming–especially when looking at 10 tomatoes with the same description. Cross-eyed and confused, I turned to Anne Marie for some advice in choosing what to plant.

Here are her helpful tips:

• Look for flowers and vegetables listed as award winners. These are some of the best ones to grow.
• Good plants to start from seeds indoors include tomatoes, marigolds, sunflowers, squash, geraniums, lettuce, sweet peas, cosmos, morning glory and basil.
• Sunflowers, squash, lettuce, sweet peas and morning glory are also good to sow directly outside, too.
• Not all plants are worth starting from seeds. Some are better divided or started by cuttings. (Good call, I'll reign in my list!)
• Buy the size of package you can use in one year.
• If packets contain less than 10 seeds then expect to pay premium prices because they have to be collected by hand, the plant is rare, or the plant only produces a small number of seeds.
• Beware of packets that contain 1,000 seeds for a low price such as $2.49.
• After your seed list is assembled a little time searching on the Internet can give you the specific details about how to sow them–when to sow i.e. days before planting them outside, to cover or not to cover (light vs darkness), ideal temperature for germination, days until germination, etc.

Someone recommended a seed company to my sister, so we both compiled a list and our seeds are in the mail! I just have to buy my little seed starting pots and I'm good to go!

Can you pick veggies after a frost?

As you may have read, I had a real problem with my tomatoes this past season…they were so late! I managed to pick (and eat!) a few juicy, delicious beefsteaks and plums, but there were still some pretty green ones hanging out on the vine.

Then we got a sprinkling of snow and a few days of frost here and there. What to do?

According to Anne Marie, some of the slightly cold-tolerant vegetables can be picked after a frost. Apparently some even taste better (parsnips, rutabaga, kale, chard) if they are harvested after the first light frost (or two). Other cold tolerant veggies include carrots, cabbage, turnip, leeks, spinach, some lettuce, kohlrabi, broccoli and Brussels sprouts.

Others, such as tomatoes, cucumbers and summer squash, do not tolerate a frost and should be picked before the freezing temperatures.

When I was out raking this weekend, I grabbed the last of my tomatillos (which still seemed OK) and a promising looking tomato, which I'm happy to say is turning a happy shade of red on my windowsill.

For the rest, I'm going to try my luck at wrapping them in newspaper as Anne Marie suggested to see if they ripen on their own. Hopefully it's not too late!

My first tomatillos = salsa verde

A week or so ago we had a big storm in the night that basically snapped major branches off my poor tomatoes and my tomatillo plant. I went into emergency gathering mode as I picked the tomatillos off the sorry-looking branch that I could not save.

I had quite a few tomatillos that seemed a fairly good size, but they hadn't quite filled out their pod. The good news is that they were bright green, which according to my research is when they're at their best. Anyhow, I had to use them, so I immediately did a search for salsa verde or green salsa so I could use them up right away. One of my favourite dishes at Mexican restaurants is green enchiladas. Until I planted my tomatillo, I was quite ignorant to the fact that the tangy, flavourful salsa smothering my meal was made from tomatillos.

I found a few recipes online, all of them pretty similar. I used this recipe from CanadianLiving.com and instead of the canned variety, I roasted my tomatillos under the broiler for about five minutes per side, let them cool and then squished them up in the blender. I then mixed the remaining ingredients and the result was absolutely delicious on my beef burritos!

A seed gathering I will go

Last weekend I signed up for a two-hour seminar on collecting and storing seeds at the Evergreen Brickworks Farmer's Market. Our teacher was Maria Kasstan, who was there on behalf of Seeds of Diversity Canada, “a charitable organization working to save Canada's endangered horticultural and agricultural heritage.”

What piqued my interest when I saw the class advertised on the website was the idea that I can harvest seeds from my flowers and share them with friends. I've had neighbours walk by commenting on my garden–and some have even had the nerve to ask if they can pick off a dried bud from this or that plant, which I've happily agreed to. But I never really understood how to go about preserving them until next year.

Maria was a fountain of knowledge as she explained the important process of pollination and some of the plants that can lure bees into the yard. She then went on to describe the importance of preserving heritage seeds–and how to do it. That was another reason I had attended–even though my crop of tomatoes just wasn't meant to be this year, I was hoping I could save some seeds for next year.

I learned what I need to do is take a very ripe tomato and let it rot for three to four days. This helps to eliminate that gel that's around a tomato seed–a germination inhibitor. After that, you can pick out the seeds (I think I'll leave that job for my boyfriend), dry them and store them in the refrigerator or freezer until spring. Be sure to use a jar or paper to store, never plastic!

Armed with our new knowledge–and some little envelopes, our morning ended out in the wildflower garden gathering wildflower seeds to entice pollinators to our yards next spring.

Click here for more tips on storing and preserving your seeds.

What's on my tomatillo?

I planted a few different peppers this past spring, but this little orange and black critter seemed only to have eyes (or fangs) for my tomatillo plant. I tried the soap and water method and I even picked some off and squished them myself, but the next day there was always one of their friends munching away at the leaves.

According to Anne Marie Van Nest, the insect looks like an adult three-lined potato beetle that migrated to my tomatillo to feed. “They probably didn't find their first love–potatoes–nearby and decided to try your tomatillos, she explains. They are in the same Solanaceae (potato/tomato/nightshade) family.

So how do I ultimately get rid of them?

Van Nest recommends looking for neat yellow/orange rows of eggs on the underside of the leaf and removing them to help control this pest. The even more voracious larvae cluster on the leaves munching everything in sight and are a disgusting soft-bodied eating machine.

The best way to control them is to remove the eggs, handpick the larvae and adult beetles and dump them into a bucket of soapy water. Spraying with soapy water is somewhat effective on the ones that actually get sprayed, but it doesn't work on those that arrive later.

Will I have tomatoes before the snow?

tomatoes

Inspired by Barbara Kingsolver's ambitious planting of 14 varieties of heirloom tomatoes in her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I set off for my local farmer's market this spring to seek out my own little fruit bearers. A couple of months later and my plants are tall and thick enough to form a nice privacy hedge. However three were very slow to bloom and the fourth stands tall and proud, but with no yellow petals in sight.

Anne Marie Van Nest, Canadian Gardening`s horticultural editor, has reassured me that there is still hope. Here's what could be wrong:

1: Fertilizer issues
If a little too much nitrogen is suspect from a rich soil high in aged manures or from the addition of a high-nitrogen fertilizer, then change fertilizers to one that has a higher middle number. Reducing the nitrogen (first number) and increasing the phosphorous and potassium (second and third numbers) will encourage more fruit and root growth and cut back on the foliage growth.

2: Late bloomers
Tomatoes (depending on the type) can take from 45 (Sub Arctic Plenty) to 85 days (Evergreen) to produce fruit and ripen from the time they were transplanted into the garden. Check the seed package or plant label for this date to harvest number. There are still plenty of weeks for today's flowers to form nice fruit.

3: The weather
Another aspect to consider is the excessive rain in Southern Ontario this summer that has drastically cut down on the amount of sunshine that the tomatoes have received to produce fruit.

I'm going to place my bets on late bloomers and the soggy weather and find the patience to wait for my beefsteaks and Brandywines.

And if I end up with some green tomatoes, Anne Marie suggests picking them before they get frosted so I can use them for pickles, chutney or relish. Or, I can wrap them in newspaper and store them above freezing in single layers on a shallow tray to finish ripening. They will slowly ripen over the subsequent weeks or months. Some people have even enjoyed ripe tomatoes in December that were picked green in October. Now that is great news!

Disclaimer: Sadly, the photo shown above does not in any way accurately depict the current state of my tomatoes. My fingers are crossed I will at least get a few juicy tomatoes before the first frost. Stay tuned!

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