Gardening 2012 to Date

When you last left your heroes, we had learned some valuable lessons from 2010, and even more from 2011. This now brings us to 2012, where we will make an attempt to use these lessons.


So, how are things out on the porch? The biggest news is that we no longer have a porch. We have now moved to our little North Shore house with its very sunny, very vertical backyard. The previous owner was an enthusiastic ornamental gardener and had put in some terracing, but to my distress I have found very few spots where the soil is deeper than an inch or two. So we’re using a lot of pots–I splurged on a couple of 5-gallon and two 10-gallons. I started the seeds in March, transported them over Passover with some trepidation but decent success, scouted out the garden for suitably sunny spots when we returned, and planted in May. Rookie mistake ahoy! The scouting should have taken into account the TREES right over my ‘sunny spot’. The only deep soil in my yard, and now that everything’s in leaf, it’s in complete shade. Bye-bye, seedlings. They’re still hanging in there, but have only managed about five sets of leaves, and no buds.


I bought some seedlings to help us out, of various varieties, discussed below. One died immediately–transplant shock?–and two more, for reasons I haven’t figured out, after producing about a dozen grape tomatoes each. In the end, we also branched out a little, and I planted two cucumber seedlings and a pepper seedling, as well as a few carrots and peas. And–don’t tell the kids–a watermelon plant. Shhhh.



-The Sweet Hundred cherry tomatoes are going GANGBUSTERS. I must have picked fifty or so to date, and they are as sweet as advertised, and bigger than I expected. They are completely unsuitable for caging and should absolutely have been staked. At this point the various vines, despite being pinched off when they reached the top of the cage, are bowing gracefully or ungracefully over the edges of the cage and trailing back down to the ground. The other morning I may have killed one of the vines trying to tie it upright again. The plant is still  blooming and setting fruit, though I should probably stop it in the next couple of weeks. MyGuy is particularly fond of these tomatoes, and I expect to grow them again next year. They are planted in a mound of purchased garden soil surrounded by rocks I set up on one of the terraces, and I’m rather surprised they’re doing as well as they are.

-The Sungold cherry tomatoes are my favorite, and MyBoy’s as well. They’re smaller, a little tangier, excellent producers, and a lovely color. This one is staked and in a 5-gallon pot. It fell over in every wind for a while, regardless of how well we thought we were bracing it (MyGuy got in on the act for a while there, and his brick platform was helpful to a certain degree–thanks!), and at this point I’ve achieved a sort of truce with it, wherein it leans over into the watermelon patch that I had a feeling wouldn’t do too well and blocks our access to the top terraces of the garden, BUT doesn’t fall over completely. I expect to grow this again next year and put it in a 10-gallon pot, as I’m thinking that the weight of the plant above the soil vs. the weight of the soil is probably what causes the collapsing. It was producing a lot faster than the Sweet Hundreds for a while, but is falling behind now. I’ve probably picked about 50 of these so far, and there are several dozen growing as we speak. A number of them were damaged in the various topplings-over, but I am wondering if the ones that rolled away and were never seen or heard from again might give us some surprise plants next year.


-The Sweet ‘n Neat cherry tomatoes I bought by accident was very interesting, and rather pretty, but too difficult to work with for my taste. It’s a very short, very dense vine with heavy foliage. It’s a great producer for its size, but its size is minimal, and it’s quite hard to find the tomatoes and keep track of what’s ripening. I’ve had several of these split when I didn’t find and pick them in time. The tomatoes are large for cherries, pink, and sweet. Perhaps a bit mild for my tastes. I’d recommend it for people who don’t have much space but want to give tomato-growing a try and also like an attractive plant. I understand there is also a yellow variety of Sweet ‘n Neat. I will not be working with these again next year. I have probably picked about thirty fruits from it; there are maybe another 10 still ripening. I did not stake it. I should have. This is doing quite well in a 5-gallon pot.


-The Hillbilly (don’t ask me, I didn’t name it) is a full-size tomato that apparently will be red with yellow/orange stripes. MyBoy is the impetus behind this one; he is determined to eat a striped tomato. This plant is in a mound of garden soil surrounded by rocks on a very sunny terrace. It took a long time to get started, and has by now flowered several times but has only two fruits growing, and maybe just maybe a third one getting started. I’m hoping for another one or two, but am just praying these two will ripen and be eaten, for MyBoy’s sake. It is staked, and I pruned to two vines.

-the Black Krim is a full-size tomato which will apparently be purple. I got it because MyBoy’s favorite color for years was purple. Since I bought it, he’s decided that he’d rather not have anything to do with purple. Ingrate. I put this in the deepest mini-terrace I had, a space about 18×18 inches in between two of the shallower-soil terraces. The plant has grown quite well. It is caged and pruned to three vines. I neglected when planting it to wonder how I would care for the plant, as the spot it is in is about chest-high on me when I’m on the terrace below it, and about three feet below me when I’m on the terrace above it. Which is now inaccessible, thanks to the Sungold and our uneasy truce. It’s been interesting. Since tomato flowers are meant to be shaken slightly to help them set fruit, I used an extra stake to nudge the plant near the flowers when they opened. I haven’t figured out how I’ll pick the tomatoes if the time ever comes. It has set four fruits, but one developed blossom-end-rot, and after that all the new flowers were stunted for quite a while. I’ve now had a few blossoms open, and I hope this means another tomato or two might be forthcoming. I /think/ I see one starting to take shape, but have no way of getting up close and personal. I might grow this again, depending on how they taste. I might see if there’s a cherry-tomato variant, as waiting this long for the full-sized ones is a bit hard for me and the kids.


-Getting out of the tomatoes, for cucumbers I chose Boston pickling, and planted them in front of the house. They’re currently taking over the front yard. They grew up their trellis and then down it, and have now colonized the evergreen a couple of feet away. In fact they like the evergreen so much that they pulled the trellis completely out of the ground and knocked it sideways so they could get closer to it. Remarkably, the vines appear to be undamaged, although they were unamused when I picked the trellis back up. We have so far picked 12 cucumbers, lots more are growing, and they’re starting to come faster than we can eat them (a miracle itself, as they’re MyGirl’s favorite food). If you live nearby, and you haven’t gotten one of our cucumbers yet, it’s entirely possible you will soon.


-The peppers were a wash. I chose red bell peppers, and a friend gave us some hot peppers. The bell pepper keeps flowering but absolutely refuses to set fruit. The hot peppers don’t even want to flower, but that might be because we put them in the ‘sunny spot’ that turned out not to be. I hear hot weather can sterilize pepper plants, and we did have some hot weeks.


-The peas. Did you know peas should be planted in March? I didn’t! The vines developed very nicely, each got its first flower, and then they all burned to a crisp in July. I just planted a few more in the hopes of an autumn harvest. We’ll see. Next year I’ll try them in March.


-Carrots. Another victim of my sunny-spot foolishness. I tried picking one tonight. It might have been two millimeters long. MyBoy impressed me by first pouting and then laughing about it. He did not offer to eat it. I fantasize that maybe one of the others is a little longer. Next year I might try a few in buckets strewn around the terraces.



1) Always stake cherry tomatoes. Do not cage them.

2) It’s probably best to keep full-sized tomatoes pruned to two vines.

3) For pity’s sake, plant the peas in March.

4) When selecting sunny spots, look up and consider what will happen when the local tree is in leaf.

5) Expect cucumbers to take over the world.

6) Sweet ‘n Neats are the only cherry tomato plants that belong in 5-gallon pots.

7) Consider the logistics of picking tomatoes as well as planting them.

8) It was a nice thought, but watermelons really don’t belong in a North Shore garden. Which isn’t to say I won’t try it again next year.

9) Say it with me now: It is SO worth it!


Join us next time for a swift change of topic and a discussion of what happens when you’ve got a 5-year-old with the world’s sharpest knees, a 3-year-old so skinny that her 12-month size trousers fall down, and a self who’s just a wee bit picky about what she wears.


Lessons Learned in Gardening

Let’s just jump right in, to one of my current favorite do-it-myself-ings: growing our own food. Or a bit of it, anyhow.

One of the great things about picking up new hobbies is that I get to experience the joy of being at the beginning of the learning curve every time.

Two years ago, on a lark, MyBoy, age 3, and I planted a tomato seed in a yogurt cup on our apartment windowsill in May. I know. We were about two months late. But we didn’t know that /then/. Eventually I stuck it in a hanging planter on our porch. We did, remarkably, wind up growing two fruits on it, one of which fell off and dropped two stories into our landlord’s planter while we were away for a weekend in September. Then it was gnawed on by squirrelsThe other was just right when we came home, and was easily the best tomato I’d ever tasted. And I only just managed to taste it, since MyBoy was gobbling it up as fast as I could slice it.


Gardening Lessons 2010:

1) Start a HECK of a lot earlier.

2) It is SO worth it.
Last year, we planted cherry tomato seeds–still in yogurt cups on our apartment windowsill–on February 28. They grew quite nicely, and in fact we may have overdone it. Several plants were given away as their size and quantity grew unmanageable. Eventually I upgraded the remaining ones to cottage cheese containers. We had to bring them with us over Passover, as they would have died over the week we were away, and then I managed to forget them at my parents’ shady house for a couple of weeks. When I retrieved them, and took them home by T, they were overgrown, skinny beasts. Before it was warm enough to put them outside, they’d grown longer still, and I’d caught MyGirl–not quite two at the time–carrying one around by its stem several times. It seems to have been her favorite. Finally I loaded my favorite three into three hanging planters out on the porch.

Then sometime in June I saw some very lonely-looking seedlings hanging out at the fruit store, being sold for next to nothing. I couldn’t just leave them there! In the end, I had three hanging cherry tomato plants and two standing regular tomato plants in the largest containers I could find at short notice.

Results: One hanging plant, which I did not prune, was a great producer, and we probably got well over a hundred tomatoes from it. MyGuy and I occasionally got to eat some, but they were usually absconded with by MyBoy and MyGirl. Generally, in the latter’s case, while they were still green and hard. A squirrel got a few, but aside from that, they were fine. The other two hanging plants got by, so-so. I pruned one of them and found no benefits to it, and many fewer tomatoes. The other–the one MyGirl had so enjoyed swinging around by its stem–caught some Dread Tomato Disease and was by the end dying faster than the few tomatoes it produced could ripen. This one was in the planter I’d used the previous year. MyBoy had promised tomatoes to all of his friends and teachers, some of which we did manage to distribute. The purchased plants each produced two or three tomatoes, with much coddling. The flavor was acceptable, but nothing special.



1) Don’t start /that/ early.

2) Try to keep them portable over Passover.

3) Clean out last year’s planter with bleach before re-using it.

4) Don’t buy started plants in June, no matter how cheap they are.

5) Don’t try to grow tomatoes in 2-gallon pots.

6) A little bit of research makes a big difference.

7) Don’t prune cherry tomatoes.

8) Cherry tomato seedlings are hardier than you think and can survive being swung around by a 1-year-old.

9) It’s SO worth it.


See what a great learning curve this is?

Tune in next time to see how 2012 is going, now that we have our little North Shore house with its sunny, vertical backyard, and our children are old enough to have Opinions!