Saturday, February 26, 2011

Tomatoes And Transplants

I love tomatoes.  Love them.  There is no experience as divine as biting into a freshly picked, vine ripened tomato still warm from the summer sun.  I wait all year for that experience.  So enamored of that experience am I, that I never buy tomatoes from the store.  It's just not the same, and just not worth it.  The only tomatoes I eat are the ones that come from my backyard!

So, naturally, I was very excited to sow my tomatoes this week.  I started four varieties this year: Rutgers, Super Sweet 100, Fresh Salsa and Cherry Red.

"Rutgers" is my absolute favorite tomato.  I have tried many varieties of slicing tomato over the years, and I just can't find one to outperform "Rutgers".  Although, I will admit I may be biased.  Rutgers University is my Alma Mater and I worked for them for many years.  They're also still holding my pension.  Nepotism aside, "Rutgers" is still a great variety.  It's hardy, disease resistant, prolific and flavorful.  It always has a place in my garden.

"Super Sweet 100" is another variety that has earned its place in my garden with it's hardiness and fecundity.   "100" is actually an understatement, they should really add another zero.  It produces steadily throughout the season, right up 'til frost. And the green tomatoes are perfect for pickling.

"Fresh Salsa" is a variety I just started planting last year.  It's a plum tomato that promises "all meat", and they aren't lying!  The first time I cut into one, I didn't know what to think.  There was no juice, few seeds and the texture was oddly crisp for a tomato.  The raw flavor was good, but I was really put off by the texture.  I didn't care for the pico de gallo I made with it, either.  The texture was just too weird!  I wasn't sure about planting it again.  Then I made a red sauce out of it.  Wow!  Cooking is this tomato's true calling.  I was so impressed, I'm planting more this year.  The only down side, it got blossom end rot mid season.  I'll be adding lime this year, so hopefully we won't have that problem again.

I've never planted "Red Cherry" before and don't know anything about it.  In purchasing it, I was the victim of a shameless marketing ploy.  Ferry Morse has cleverly emblazoned the seed packet with Sesame Street's Elmo.  As soon as my 2 year old daughter saw it, we had to have it.  I don't know what it is about that little red Muppet, but he's like toddler crack.  They can't live without him and will beg for any product emblazoned with his bug-eyed mug.  And so I'm planting "Red Cherry" tomato.  I tip my hat to you, Ferry Morse.

Along with my sowing, I realized it was time to transplant my celery.  They were starting to escape their container.  It was like a celery jungle.

Yum, celery jungle.......

I was originally going to put each little seedling in it's own container.  Then I realized that was way too much work.  So, I put them into some big nursery pots where they'll have room to spread.  It won't be long until they go out to the garden, anyway.

Which reminds me: We'll be having warmer weather this week.  It's time for the cool season veggies to start hanging out on the porch to harden off.  Here in zone 6, their transplant time is early March and that's right around the corner.  My babies are growing up!

For more seed starting fun, join Dave at the The Home Garden for Seed Sowing Saturday!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Fun Things To Do With Zucchini

It's winter now, and the garden is sleeping.  But, soon it will be that time of year, when things are growing and fruiting.  Soon we'll be asking ourselves that age old question: "What the *%*$ am I supposed to do with all these zucchinis?!"

Ah, the humble zucchini.  It's an amazing little plant.  Easy to grow, hardy, prolific, and tasty.  It can be grilled, baked, roasted, stuffed, boiled, steamed and turned into cake.  A single plant will provide you with more fruit than you can stand for most of the growing season.  You have to make sure to harvest every single day, though.  Or else......

I'm usually very careful to get every zucchini off the plant, but occasionally I miss one.   Last year I found a monster hiding under a leaf.  It was a veritable Zucch-zilla.

What does one do with such a monstrosity?  Naturally, you take pictures.  I posed it next to things, so the observer could get an idea of it's size. 

It's bigger than a baby.

It's almost as big as a horse's head.  That's a big horse, by the way.  I wouldn't try to cheat by posing the zucchini with a pony.

Then I got creative.

I put the zucchini to work.  Mowing the lawn is such a chore, much better to have the produce do it.

Ummm, pretend you didn't see that.  I was really bored that day.

I couldn't bring myself to cut it up.  You can't just destroy a fruit that awesome.  Especially one that mows the lawn.  Then a funny thing happened.  The zucchini turned orange.  I displayed it with the pumpkins.

Even stranger still, it never went bad.  I still have it.   It's lasted as long as the winter squash.  I don't even keep it in the basement for storage.  It lives on the windowsill in the sunroom.

So, remember:  Always pick your zucchini every day!  Or else.......

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


 The Stylish Blogger Award is making the rounds, and The Garden State has been awarded twice! 

Many Thanks to Masha at A Rose is a Rose... and HolleyGarden at Roses and Other Gardening Joys.  I'm honored!

I absolutely love these types of memes.  It's a really fun way to meet new people and get exposure, especially for those of us who are just starting out.  And, I get to learn new things about people, which is always fun.  It's nice to know the person behind the blog.

So, let's get to it!  The Stylish Blogger Award has three rules:

1.  Thank and link back to the bloggers who awarded you.  Done and done!

2.  List seven interesting things about yourself.  Well, that will be trickier.  I'm not very interesting.

3.  List the blogs you want to pass the award on to. 

Okay, seven interesting things about me.  Here goes:

1.  Several years ago I broke my back in a fall from a horse.  That pretty much ended my career as a professional  horseman.  I still ride, but only my own horses and those of friends.  Because of my injury, I have to be very conscious of my posture when doing chores.  I also practice yoga and pilates to keep myself strong and my back in good shape.  I refuse to give up the things I love, like gardening and riding, in spite of the advice of my orthopedists.

2.  My father, grandfather and great-grandfather are/were all in the horticultural industry.  I guess you could say it's the family business.  I bucked the system and studied Animal Behavior, instead.  But, I still love gardening.  It's in my blood.

3.  In addition to the garden, my little farm is home to 3 horses, a dog, a cat and a ferret, numerous chickens, one duck and my two year old daughter and 8 month old son.   I'm always busy, but I'm never lonely!

4. I'm terrified of lightning.  At the first sign of lightning, I run back to the house as fast as I can, no matter what I'm doing.

5.  I own a ton of gardening gloves, but almost never use them.  I always forget.  I kind of like the dirt-beneath-my-nails look, anyway.  It makes me feel like I've done something.

6.  I hate wearing shoes.  Anytime I can be barefoot, I am.

7.  I have a neurologic abnormality called synesthesia.  It happens when the wiring in the brain gets crossed and certain sensations are percieved together.  In my case, I assosciate colors with letters, numbers and words.  For instance, when I think of the letter "S" I also think of yellow.  It's strange, I suppose.  But since I've always had it, I kind of think everyone without it is strange!

And now, my list of blogs to pass on:

From Seed To Scrumptious

Along Life's Highway The Yard Art Game

Garden g'Imp

Green Love Grass

Get Busy Gardening! 

I tried to list blogs that I haven't seen "discovered" in this meme yet, but of course I think everybody who stops by and reads and comments here is deserving of this award! 

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Getting Under Way

The seed sowing is really getting started now.  Today I started several lettuces, herbs, flowers and even winter sowed!  My seed room (also known as my sewing/craft room is getting inundated.  Luckily, here in zone 6/7, we're not far out from planting the cool season veggies.  Here in Salem County, NJ, we're on the edge of Zones 6 and 7, I'm never sure which one to choose.  Usually I go with the conservative estimate: 6.  That way, I don't have to worry about late frosts and colder than usual temperatures.  That puts us at early March for cool season veggies.

For today, I started "Prizeleaf", "Royal Oak", "Salad Bowl" and "Ashley" lettuces, Marjoram, Thai basil and Genovese basil, Snapdragons, and Echinacea.

Winter sowing is new to me, it's basically sowing hardy seeds in a mini-greenhouse, then putting it outside in a sunny location.  I chose Echinacea for my first winter sowing project.  Nothing fancy, just good 'ole Purple Echinacea.  I figure I can ease into the idea, then expand.  I chose empty milk jugs as my "mini greenhouses".  With two kids in the house, we go through quite a bit of milk.  I love the idea of re-using them.  I put my jugs full of seeds on the south facing side of the porch.  They'll get a lot of sun there.

In other sowing news, the celery continues to do well.  Tomorrow I'm going to transfer them to larger pots.

And, what's that?  A pepper seedling from last Saturday's sowing?  Hurrah!

For more seed sowing fun, check out Seed Sowing Saturday  with Dave at The Home Garden!

Friday, February 18, 2011


When we bought our house, it had already been professionally landscaped.  Not very well, in my opinion, but landscaped nonetheless.  The landscaping is pretty typical boring low-maintenance suburban stuff.  The kind you see in McMansion developments.  Not my style at all.  Not that I really have a style.  Unless you consider "melee of random plants and flowers" a style. 

This year I hope to start replanting the beds around the house, as well as adding some new garden beds in the backyard.  First on the "To-do List" is re-locating the grasses on the south and west sides of the house.   I believe they're some sort of Pennisetum, but I'm not sure.  Grasses aren't really my thing.

It's not that I don't like grasses.  They're nice, low maintenance plants.  They provide winter interest.  They're hardy and require little water.  And they produce lovely seed heads.

Those lovely seed heads then produce more grasses. 

Usually in places I don't want grasses.  So, the grasses will be relocated somewhere out in the wider landscape where they can be hardy and interesting and spread to their little heart's content without infiltrating the other plantings. 

They're really getting much too big to be next to the house, anyway.  I'll replace them with roses, which are much tidier plants for planting against the foundation, I think. 

It's still a bit too early to transplant the grasses, but I've chopped them back and done a little experimental digging to get an idea of the size of their root ball (huge!).  I will probably divide them when I move them, might as well do it while I have them out of the ground.  Now I just have to figure out where to put five giant grasses (probably ten, after dividing).  Good thing we have five acres!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Spring Is Coming....

The hens have started laying again.  

The daffodils are starting to come up.

And look what I found on the pansies overwintering on the deck.

Spring is coming!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Started The Peppers

I started the peppers this week, along with some spinach and lettuce.  Peppers take forever to grow, last year I didn't get a good crop of fruit until late August.  I wanted to get a jump start this year.  I plant three different varieties : "Ancho" poblano, "California Wonder" bell and some sort of jalapeno whose name escapes me right now.  I'm also trying something new this year, growing seed I collected myself last year.  I've done this before with lettuce, herbs and bok choy, and squash, but not peppers.  I collected the seeds from a ripe "California Wonder" bell, but I'm not sure if the different varieties cross pollinate.  I may get some sort of mutant pepper.  Maybe an "Anchojala Wonder" pepper.   That would be....... interesting.  I started some "California Wonder" seed that I bought, too.  Just in case I end up with "Anchojala Wonders" and they're horrible.

I like to sow as much indoors as I can for two reasons: 1) I cover the garden bed with used bedding (straw) from the horse's stalls after everything dies back in fall.  It stays like that until spring to prevent weeds from growing and enrich the soil. The straw also helps protect anything I'm trying to overwinter. In spring, after I've harvested the overwinter-ers, the bedding gets tilled in with the tractor.  Until the tilling, it's not wise to plant too much out there.  I'd just have to move it, or convince my husband to try to negotiate around it with the tractor.  Fat chance.  2) I have free range chickens.  I can manage to keep them out of the plants, but direct sown seeds don't stand a chance.  I have made some little "seed protectors"  out of scrap lumber and bird netting, but they tend to be a little bulky to store and move.  I only have a few of them, so I use them sparingly for things that I have to direct sow.  Anything that I can start in a flat gets started in a flat. 

"Flat" is a rather loose term.  I'm cheap, so I keep all kinds of little containers from fruit and yogurt to start seeds in.  I also use cheap plastic drink cups.  They last forever, so long as they don't get left outside too long.  My biggest problem isn't finding containers to sow in, it's finding trays to carry all my seedlings around in.  I find big plastic storage tubs to be pretty good for this.  They have lids, too.  So, you can close them up to keep the seeds from drying out until they sprout.  Or, keep the cat out.

I'm contemplating winter sowing a few things, too.  Some spinach, lettuce, maybe some flower seeds.  We'll see how motivated I feel this weekend. 

The celery is coming along quite nicely.  I'm going to need to thin it and transplant it into bigger containers soon.

For more seed starting fun from other bloggers, check out Seed Sowing Saturday , hosted by The Home Garden!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Some TLC For The Houseplants

In the depths of winter, when everything is frozen and spring seems an eternity away,  I get my gardening fix with my houseplants.   I gave them a "spa day" today.  That means I drug them all into the shower and turned it on.  The shower spray gets the dusts off their leaves and gives them a good soaking.   It's nice for them, since they get ignored for most of the rest of the year while I'm busy with the outdoor garden.  Luckily, they were all chosen for their hardiness and weather my neglect well. 

Actually, "chosen" is probably not the best word to describe how I ended up with this particular selection of houseplants.  I choose them randomly, usually based on what's on the clearance rack at the local garden center, then they come home to enter the natural selection experiment that is my sunroom.  If they can survive sporadic watering, occasional fertilizing (if I remember) and the not so tender affections of the cat, then they are welcomed into the fold. 

Many a noble plant has fallen here, but the ones that have survived are hardy Super Plants. Among their auspicious ranks are several Spider plants (started with one, they're good at reproducing!), a Draecaena, a Ficus, a Majesty Palm (Ravenea rivularis), and a Spathiphyllum.  Quite the eclectic collection.  The only thing they have in common is survival.

I've had several Ficus over the years.  I like Ficus, they have a nice form and I think the contrast of the light bark and dark leaves is lovely, but I've never had much luck keeping them alive. Turns out they don't really like being used as a litterbox, which is a bit of a problem around here.  I put large rocks in the bottom of this one, which seems to be helping deter the cat.

This Spathiphyllum was a gift.  I stopped buying Spathiphyllums several years ago after killing too many of the poor things to count.   I always forget to water them.  I figured this one was doomed as well.  Surprisingly, it's done quite well.  It even survived being put in the bed of the pickup and driven 30 miles at 70 mph when we moved.  It's still a little ragged from that adventure, but it bounced back nicely. 

The Majesty Palm hosts the Houseplant Retirement Home.  When plants get so pathetic and sad from my neglect that I finally decide to use their pot for something else (natural selection is a cold-hearted thing), they go to the Majesty Palm to die.  It's currently hosting some Rheo, a Wandering Jew, a mostly dead Philodendron and some twigs that may have been a Pothos, I don't quite remember.  The Rheo and Wandering Jew (Tradescantia sp.) are actually recovering.  If they survive, they'll make a nice little ground cover for the Palm's pot.  I've heard that Majesty Palm is not really suited to living in the house, they like too much water and light to do well indoors,  but I've had this one for several years.  It does go outside during warm weather, perhaps that's why I've had good luck with it. 

This weekend is promising warmer weather.  Hopefully I'll be able to get outside and do something.  If not, I suppose I could always go to the local nursery and get a few more victims, er.... houseplants to cheer me up.  Any suggestions?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Tulip Bulbs And Squirrels

Last fall I planted 100 tulip bulbs in the garden bed in front of the house.  It only took an afternoon, but it was still a pain.  I thought that particular bed was pretty safe, I don't usually see squirrels out there.  It's pretty open, and we have a lot of hawks.  A smart squirrel would stay out of that area.

I found this lying out today.  I guess I have dumb squirrels.

I thought for sure this little tulip bulb was a goner.  It has several chew holes in it, plus a rotten spot. But, when I picked it up, I was surprised to see a little green shoot peeking out of the top and another at the bottom.

So, I brought it in the house and put it into a pot.  I don't know if it will survive, but at least it's got a shot now.  So long as the squirrels don't invade the house, that is.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

We Have Celery!

Well, the beginnings of celery, anyway.  This is actually the easy part.  Getting seeds to sprout is usually no problem. Keeping them alive until it's time to plant, then protecting them from frost, heat, drought and free range chickens is the hard part. 

"Did you say 'celery'?"

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