Monthly Archives: August 2012

More tomato drama…

Yesterday my brother and I spent about 3 hours in the garden, in the blazing pre-noon heat, re-securing the tomatoes and the cucumber plant to their stakes. My brother did all the hard work. I just had to cut him pieces of twine and hold on to stray branches as he attempted to untangle the mess and determine which branches belonged to which plants. We pulled off most of the dead leaves and branches, of which there were many, and were left with a bit of a scary mess – tomato plants with very few leaves to protect them from the sun. Akin to a hairless cat – just not right.

All the leaves are at the top of the plant. The tomatoes are so exposed!

 As weird as this is, I love the look of the winding branches. A bit like a wreath.

We’re not sure if disease killed off and dried up all the leaves or if it’s been extreme shock from the cycle of heavy rains and drought and near-daily watering. My neighbour’s tomatoes still have full, green leaves but they are growing different varieties than I am. The plants are still growing at the top so I picked off the growing tip, removed flowering parts that wouldn’t have time to produce fruit before the fall frost, and continued to remove suckers. Hopefully these steps will make the plants put their energy into ripening pre-existing fruit.

Another angle, showing more plants (and severe lack of leaves on the plant to the right)

The stakes were leaning from the weight of the plants so my brother devised an ingenious scheme: he removed the dead sunflower that the cucumber was using as a support (not a very good one at this point as the stem is much shorter than the cucumber plant and as a result the weight of the cucumbers have the plant dragging on the ground) and the stake that was also supporting the cucumber and placed the plant on a nearby stake that happened to be supporting a tomato plant that has not much going, on compared to the others (much less branches).

Cucumbers and tomatoes sharing a stake. Just what these tomatoes need – shade.

He placed the empty stake in the middle of the occupied stakes and tied them to it as a central point. Because the tomatoes are pulling on it from different angles, it is staying in place and the tomato plants aren’t leaning over so much. Precarious? Definitely. On today’s watering visit, my brother found that his contraption had fallen over; cause unknown. He put it back up again.

Multiple stakes provide more stability

The ground is visible now and I can see so many more options for fall planting. Beets are already planted in the spaces that look empty. Hope they are far enough from the tomatoes; they are supposed to be antagonistic to each other. Maybe if I plant some lettuce nearby, which is a companion to beets, it might help (in what way, I have no idea). And look – dill and parsley planted weeks ago are growing!

Sunlight and good air flow – great conditions for growth

There have been many ripened and unripened tomatoes discovered in the plot, some still intact and some in various stages of decay. Incidentally there seem to be more yellow pear making it to maturity than red pear. We found this one mutant yellow pear yesterday. Nature’s mistake is kinda cute:

Mutant yellow pear

Reiterating some very important tomato tips for next year:

  • establish a clear mainstem early in the season, once the plant has established itself after transplanting and is starting to grow
  • use more than one stake for each plant (note to self: buy more stakes! Bamboo is great. You can buy them in bulk in Chinatown for cheap)

Signs of fall approaching. Can you spot them?


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Still thinking about seeds…

Visited relatives last weekend and came back with some sage, mint, and hot peppers from their garden. I’m using the mint and sage for tea and I’m trying to save the pepper seeds for next year.

Sage, mint, hot peppers

What I’ve realized after reading articles on the subject, particularly the Seed Saving Instructions for Beginners and the Vegetable Seed Saving Handbook , is that the fruits must fully ripen on the plants before the seeds can be harvested otherwise they may not germinate. I had been drying seeds from a green pepper, not a fully ripened red one, and it did not ripen on the plant (obviously). I tossed them out today and after washing my hands, forgetting I had been handling hot pepper seeds, I began to rub my eye. Big mistake! My eye swelled and burned like mad. Without thinking again I put water on my eye, which made it burn even more! I should have remembered that drinking water after eating peppery food just makes things worse. I did eventually recall what helps to soothe the pepper burn – milk! I put some milk in a cupped hand and rubbed it on my eyelids and the swelling began to go away immediately as did the burning. Pfew!

The other day I was surprised to find some calendula seeds just lying around in the plot, near where the borage plant used to be.  So I gathered them up and I’m making sure they are fully dried before I package them for next year.

Calendula seeds

I read in an eHow article that seeds that fall on the ground can be moldy and can get wet (which makes they nonviable for saving). I’d still like to try growing them so I think I’ll separate them into another package, rather than putting them in with the seeds I bought from Urban Harvest. The soil was very dry when I found them so I’m hoping they are still OK.

So now I’m thinking more about harvesting flower seeds for next season. I’ve been admiring the yarrow in the community plot all summer.


I’ve been reading lately about the benefits of yarrow as a companion plant. According to wikipedia, it attracts predatory wasps and ladybugs, improves the soil, and improves the health of plants that are grown nearby. eHow also gives some other useful information about yarrow. It apparently takes 2 years to become established, which is a bit of a bummer.

I helped myself to some drying flowers just off of the community plot and I’ve placed them in a paper bag to fully dry. You can shake the bag to try and separate the seeds from the chaff before you store them.

I saw an interesting video on Youtube today about collecting nasturtium seeds. I’m going to be looking for these on my next visit to the garden!

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Time of the season…

This is the time of the season where I start to neglect the garden. Truth be told, that time of the season probably started a few weeks ago. Thankfully my brother has energy  to be watering on a regular basis (although lately he hasn’t needed to) and tying up strong but stray tomato branches. Knowing I would be away for the weekend and realizing I`d been away too long, I stopped by Thursday evening after work.

Sad looking tomato plants

Ugh, the tomatoes were such a sorry sight. A limp, unruly, discoloured, and unsightly mess.

In her most recent post on pruning tomatoes, Gayla Trail gives a rundown of when and why she prunes. Although she says she only prunes indeterminate or vining tomatoes, there are some very practical tips for now and for next year. For example, removing the flowers that aren’t going to produce fruit before the fall frost comes along so that the plant puts more energy into ripening full grown fruit. At the beginning of the season, she prunes the branches closest to the ground to establish a mainstem and also under-plants with companion plants and edible flowers. A great use of space and lots of visual appeal.

On a positive note, the flowers are finally starting to look really good.

Bright yellow-orange calendula

Blue cornflower (in need of deadheading), with nasturtium flowers

Dill seeds are finally dry. Packaged them this week.

Dill seeds ready for packaging

Can’t wait ’til next year!

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I don’t usually swear, but there were definitely some wtf moments in the garden this year (see Critters post). The one that springs to mind the most, aside from the horsehair worm, is the plant that I thought was beets but wasn’t beets at all.

Front row, to the right of the onions: the mystery plant that I thought was beets

In hindsight, of course, when I compare the leaves of this plant to the beet greens (which are to the right of it), it is clearly a different plant. The leaves are larger, lighter in colour, and don’t have the distinctive vein pattern as the beets. But the real wtf moment came when we pulled up the plant and found this:


Some kinda messed up carrot?! No. Turns out it’s a Hon Vit radish. At least I think it is. I came to this conclusion by remembering (and possibly looking at my spring garden map) that I put seeds from my Spicy Salad Mix packet in that space. When I read the list of what was in the packet, the only thing it could be was the Hon Vit radish. For a funny looking thing, it tasted pretty good. If you like radishes. I think I used the greens in a smoothie.

This is a good example of where having a map when you’re planting can really be useful as the season progresses. It can help you distinguish plants from weeds, as you get to know each kind better. I made one for spring and another one for summer (to figure out where to put the summer crops – zucchini, tomatoes, cucumber) and fall, but I only followed the spring map. This is mostly because I forgot to bring the other maps with me whenever I planted. I ended up giving up on them.

Another wtf moment came a few weeks ago. My brother and I were leaving the garden when I saw this bug on the nearby chain-link fence.

Check out the eyes. Yikes!

Wft?! If I remember correctly, it was bigger than my thumb. Freaky! My brother thinks it’s a cicada. It actually had a really cool pattern on its stomach, but the sun was behind it so I couldn’t get a good shot of its underside. What a funny critter! As I tried to take close up shots of it, it kept turning its body around so that the chain-link was between itself and my camera. It was as if it was trying to hide itself!


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It’s rainy and cool out there and forecasting more rain for the weekend. Feeling an ominous air of summer coming to a close and I haven’t made it to any Farmer’s Markets yet. Or the beach. Feeling reminiscent and as a result I’m thinking back on the successes and failures of the garden this season.

My favorite new addition this year was the collard greens. My sister really likes them so I bought seeds  especially for her. What a beautiful and tasty green! The stuff at my local grocery store is ginormous and tough while the collards in the garden were tender and non-mutant. The kale was pretty good too but the collards seem to do better. Kale is supposed to be better in the fall, and tastier after a light frost, while collard greens tolerate the heat better. We’ll see how they do in the fall planting.

Collard greens, with kale in the background

They make a lovely bouquet – collard greens and Rainbow kale

Even though I only got one measly piece of fruit from the plant and it took up a heck of a lot of space, I’m still glad I tried zucchini this year. I’m hoping there’s still time for the new plant to make more fruit before it starts to get too cold.

Zucchini and blossom

Like an Olympic flame

Prized zucchini blossom

Luuved the surprise of the multi-headed sunflowers this year. They are looking pretty atrocious in the garden right now as they are coming to the end of their life cycle. The cucumbers are pulling them down as well, but I can’t take them out until I can figure out another support for the cucumbers.

There are about 4 individual sunflowers here; to the left is the large multi-headed sunflower as seen below

Sunflowers in their glory

The cucumbers were probably the biggest surprise for me, in the sense that for the longest time my brother and I thought the plant wasn’t doing anything at all. Turns out all the fruit was hiding underneath its large leaves. What a joy to come across even a tiny cucumber!


Stick that in your pipe and smoke it!

I was probably the only one in my family that enjoyed the chives this year. My sister complained that they were bitter and tough, but I quite liked the taste. I like to sprinkle it onto my meals for a nice onion-y kick. Did I mention these are garlic chives?! I’d forgotten. Apparently they are much tastier than regular chives.

Garlic chives – snapping off pieces promotes new growth, much like deadheading

Garlic chives sending up flowers – blossoms are apparently very tasty!

I came to really appreciate basil this year, not only for its tastiness but also for its hardiness.  It did really well in the garden, probably better than anything else. And it’s still doing well!

Sweet and dark opal basil with parsley

Sweet and lemon basils

This exercise has totally cheered me up. Looking forward to some sun!

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Saving seeds

Last year I started saving seeds for the first time. I got the general idea of seed saving from You Grow Girl or Grow Great Grub by Gayla Trail. I decided on sunflower seeds for a reason that now escapes me… I read about how to do it online and watched some videos on Youtube. You can either cut off the sunflower head and dry it or dry it on the stem. The cheese cloth is to keep birds or other critters from getting at it. I’ve also read you can use a paper bag but this must be for smaller flower heads.

Collecting seeds

I picked out the seeds from the head and dried them indoors on a hard surface. I kept them in a plastic bag all year, which is not good, but it surely didn’t affect sunflower production this year. In fact, the only difference this year is that the sunflowers were poly-headed (my scientific term), specifically with one large head and several small ones, whereas last year they were mono-headed. I still have so many sunflower seeds left that I don’t need to do it this year.

Sunflowers with one large head and many small heads

This year, I want to be more active with seed collection because it’s easy and it’s cost effective (no need to buy seeds next year). I decided to start with dill because the seeds caught my eye.

Dill seeds

I couldn’t remember exactly how I was supposed to do it (because the books are at the library), but I do remember from  Gayla’s books that you’re supposed to cut the stem below the seeds and put it upside down in a paper bag. The seeds will drop to the bottom once they’re dry. I started this last week:

Dill drying in a paper bag

To be sure I was doing it right, I searched the net and came across the Deep Roots at Home blog. What caught my eye was the suggestion to add holes to the bag for circulation! So I poked some holes in it with a safety pin. Hope that’s good enough. The blogpost also shows that you can have several stems in one bag. Right now I have 3 bags going with one stem each because I wanted to be sure they got enough air to dry properly. Totally unnecessary.

I know for sure that You Grow Girl had a template for seed packets. There are many seed packet templates online. I chose one at Carolyn’s Stamp Store because I liked the simple design and clear instructions for putting it together.

Folded template

I didn’t have a glue stick so I taped it together, put my sunflower seeds in and made a simple label.

Homemade sunflower seed package

You Grow Girl suggested fancy designs but I decided to make it simple. I don’t consider myself to be crafty, but I do have crafty aspirations!

Homemade vs professional

I came across this Vegetable Seed Saving Handbook online. I love that it tells you how long you can save your seeds. For example, it says dill seeds will last 3 years or more and sunflower seeds (between squash and Swiss chard on the list; there is no direct link) will last 5 years or more if stored properly.

Can’t wait to package my dill!

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Fall planting begins

Taking a break from the Olympics to post while enjoying the gentle rain and thunderstorm rolling through the city. Thunderstorms are so moving. Feeling the vibration of the thunder as it rumbles through your body.  The calming feeling of the world going dark for a little while, as if reminding us to take a step back from our everyday lives and recognize that there are greater things going on in the world. The cycle of nature.  Beautiful and humbling.

We picked 4 large cucumbers on our visit to the garden yesterday. It’s always a surprise to find the large fruit hiding underneath their leaves. Marketmore cucumbers are field cucumbers. I was expecting English cucumbers, probably because that’s what I buy in the grocery store.

Hope this tastes better than the last stubby guy

These tasted a lot better than the first one we ate a few days ago. The skin was nice and crisp, not tough and rubbery at all. I was especially concerned about the fat one we picked (above) because the rubbery-skinned one from a few days ago was also fat and stubby. My brother wanted to leave it to get bigger like the one below. I was concerned that if we left it, it wouldn’t be there when we came back.

Now there’s a cucumber!

Last week after we pulled up the borage plant, I planted another seed in the centre of the square in hopes that a new one would grow and create flowers that would attract more pollinators. This is what I saw this week:

Many tiny borage plants

I know I didn’t plant all these borage plants. Where the heck did they come from? I know borage self-seeds. I’m not sure how this is done as I’ve never seen the seeds on the plant, but that could be the cause of this phenomenon. Last week I did see an ant pulling around a borage seed in this area. I’ve read that they tend to farm things. Could they have caused this? Anyway, I pulled up all but the one in the centre. Incidentally, the plant with the 4 jagged leaves may be a strawberry. My brother planted one as an experiment.

I pulled up the last of the beets (I think I should have pulled them up a while ago) and planted some carrots and spinach in its place. As I did this I realized that I didn’t have a lot of empty squares left to plant more beets, spinach, and kale. Then I realized something worse – I have no more beet seeds!!! Have to get to Urban Harvest. They are at the Wychwood Barns and Dufferin Grove farmer’s markets this time of year. I can’t make it to Dufferin Grove ‘cuz I’m working so I’ll have to visit Wychwood next weekend.

I corralled the nasturtium to leave the empty squares around it open to sunlight. I planted carrots in front. Right behind you can see a new zucchini sprout coming up. There were two (I killed off the second one as soon as I noticed it!)

Check out the results of deadheading. What a difference a week can make:

A beautiful new calendula flower; and more fresh heads, hopefully blooming soon!

And even though, as you can see, there are quite a few brown leaves in the background, the tomatoes are coming along fine.

Soon to be yellow pears?

I still have to remember to pick off the suckers. It’s really hard because I have them growing to close together. Sometimes (most of the time) I can’t follow one branch from mainstem to it’s tip because it gets lost amongst the other branches.

Red pears in the making

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