Truth in Labeling

You pay your money and you take your chances.

Not Amish Paste

I was so excited to pick my first reddening-up “big” tomato yesterday. I’ve gotten a few little cherry types so far and most of the plants are setting fruit but this is the first of the non-cherries to show color. It stood out among the  others in the bed like a beacon. Stood out a little too much, in fact. It was in the Amish Paste bed. Well, I thought, maybe I mixed some other tomatoes in for variety. Nope. I checked my plan and it’s supposed to be Amish Paste but there’s no way it is.

Amish Paste

These are real Amish Paste from a few years ago, back when I was growing them from seed. That’s the key, I guess. This year all my seed-started tomatoes and peppers were a failure so I had to resort to buying plants. I can’t recall where I got this mislabeled one. It could have been mixed up by the grower or a careless shopper could have accidentally swapped the label. In any case, it’s renewed my determination to start my own plants next year from reliable seed sources. Now I just hope my Mystery ‘Mater tastes good because it looks like it’s going to be productive.

Early-Mid July Garden Update


Sunny, day-glo greetings from Plot 206! I know I just did a general update a couple of weeks ago, but as every gardener knows, at this time of year so much is happening. The Calendula are blooming, for example. This hot orange beauty was self-seeded from last year’s. I just moved around the seedlings I found as needed and it turns out they’re all this bright, happy orange. Much as I like the color, I’ll try to remember to start some more for a mix next year. Not all insects might be big fans of this particular shade.


And now for some bad news. We left town for a long weekend and took a head of our awesome Romaine lettuce with us expecting to come home and enjoy the remaining three heads. Not to be. They’re bolting so into the compost they went and beets were sown in their place.


And speaking of beets, look at these! I pulled a few of the red and gold to roast for a salad. I love beets.


Further on the subject of colorful roots. I pulled a few carrots, Yellowstone and Atomic Red. The color of the latter so far appears to have been greatly exaggerated in the catalogs. I’ll let some get really big and see if that makes a difference. To be honest, the flavor of both of these is unimpressive. Carroty but not especially sweet. Might do better cooked.


Ready for a break from the hot colors? How about these blue beauties? The blueberry bushes were looking a little peaked so I gave them an acid boost a while back. It will be a while before they’re back up to snuff but thanks to the row cover to keep the birds off we were able to harvest nearly a pint. Not a lot, I know, but they’re OURS.

Let’s see what else is going on…

Bush Beans

Pole Beans


The pole and bush beans are going crazy and the peas are on their last pods and starting to brown. Again, loving the Sugar Snaps. Even when they’re filled with full-sized peas you can eat them pod and all and they’re crunchy and sweet with only a little, easily-removed string.


The peas are host to this fuzzy visitor. It doesn’t even matter if he’s munching the plants because they’ll be gone soon. I suppose for the sake of science I should make a little effort to find out who he is.


This was a big surprise. Seven-inch cucumbers! The plant itself is not much bigger than a dinner plate at this point so I wasn’t checking it for fruit yet.


Over in the onion bed every yellow onion was laying down and every red one still standing. Uniformity in a cultivar, I guess. We pulled all the yellows and they are now happily curing on the patio. I’d like to add, we’re still using last year’s onions, one went into tonight’s dinner, in fact. It’s just cool that we’ve done a year without having to buy onions. I think I planted fewer this time so we may not be able to repeat that accomplishment going into 2015, but at least we know we can do it.


The Malabar spinach is coming along suddenly, or one plant is. I’d be interested in hearing what other people’s experience has been growing and eating this particular vegetable. They’re on a three-sided tee-pee around the squash with the idea that they’d grow up above it and not be shaded by it but the squash is growing much faster…


The Bush Delicata has had several blossoms and is forming its first fruit. Like most plants it kind of poked along and then, seemingly overnight, doubled in size.


A favorite crop I forgot to mention last time is the tomatillo. Since it got so wide and rangy last year I’m confining it in a light bondage contraption consisting of a tomato cage and bamboo. It doesn’t seem to be suffering from the treatment and is covered with blossoms and swelling husks. I think we’re eating out of our last jar of tomatillo salsa so we should be getting fruit just in time. Salsa, enchilada sauce, curries—I can’t wait!


And now the excitement builds…Red tomatoes! They’re not fully ripe, but this small handful of Honey Bunch counts, in my mind, as the first tomatoes of the season. (I need to find a more convincing garden hand model. Those callus-free hands are just not doing it.) But is this the MOST exciting development? Perhaps not…


Yup, this is half of the neglected neighboring plot with waist-high weeds going to seed all over the place. While we were out of town it was surrendered, divided in two and reassigned. The gardeners with the half next to us (you can see our Malabar spinach tee-pee there on the left) got to work right away and I couldn’t be happier. OK, I could be a little happier. Someone was there when I went up last evening and had borrowed my hose without asking. She was apologetic and I was friendly and complimentary of the work she’d done even as I commented she’d be getting her own hose soon, no doubt.

Thanks for coming on this little tour with me. I hope the mosquitoes weren’t too bad. Surprisingly as they’re horrible everywhere else this year I hardly get bitten while in the garden. I do appreciate that you take the time to stop here and read and comment and I enjoy my (almost) daily ritual of catching up on all the gardening blogs I follow. I think we learn so much from each other and as little as I get around to doing it, I appreciate the work that goes into these things. Keep up the good work and happy gardening!

Late June Garden Update

I haven’t posted anything about what’s growing lately and reading other bloggers’ reports has inspired me to put together a little update. In general, I have to say I’m pretty pleased with the way most of the garden is progressing at this point. In fact, it’s been a few days since I took most of these pictures and the change in that short time is amazing.


Starting at the entrance, most of the herbs are doing well. The Greek oregano has been blooming like crazy and is encroaching on the lemongrass and fernleaf lavender at its sides. The latter has been a disappointment and I wouldn’t buy it again. The leaves smell more medicinal than the French lavender I grew last year. Across the path the potted mint is going strong and has contributed to a number of  refreshing Mojitos already.



The various chilis and bell peppers have begun setting fruit and it’s developing quickly. I hope the sunflower fence fills in soon. These are right by the main path and dangerously visible at the moment.

Tomato Flower


The tomatoes are blooming and I’ve seen bumblebees around so it’s no surprise they are also setting fruit. My plan to prune less and grow bigger plants is resulting in a lot more tying. I’m going to have to cut up more shirts soon.


The bush and pole beans are growing and flowing all over the place now. My fears of another Mexican bean beetle invasion haven’t been realized so I’m keeping my fingers crossed.  To my surprise all of the tiny parsley seedlings I set out next to these beans all survived. They were being overgrown so I tied the beans back a bit. I hope to have some for tabouleh and some to lure black swallowtails.


The Sugar Snap peas have grown to the top of their five-foot trellis and I have to pick at least every other day to keep ahead of them.  We’ve been munching on them almost daily and I’ve had enough to take a few small bags in to my co-workers. I probably could have frozen some but they’re so much better fresh. This winter I’ll probably wish I had.

Peanut Flower

Recognize this flower? Its shape and the fact that we’re in the legume portion of the tour are clues.


These are the peanuts the Co-Conspirator requested. They’re looking OK but I was expecting more growth at this point. Maybe when it really heats up.  Something, possibly a coyote or one of the Sandhill Cranes that wander the gardens, dug around between a couple of the the plants twice but now seems to be leaving that spot alone.

Bolted Greens

In the Miscellaneous bed the leaf lettuces and spinach were bolting so I pulled them out and hauled them to the compost.


The Romaine, on the other hand, is just heading up and still tastes great. We’ve been eating a bit at home and I’ve also shared heads with my colleagues. This one is definitely going on the “must grow again” list.


At the end of this particular Miscellaneous bed the blueberry bushes are starting to set some fat fruit. I put some sulfur somethingorother on the soil to try to acidify it again. The telltale chlorosis showing in the leaves here means the soil has gotten too alkaline again, a perennial problem in our area. I’ll be putting a tent of row cover over them soon to protect them from birds.


In the next Miscellaneous bed the oca has been a real disappointment. Probably only half, at most, of the tubers sprouted and only a couple of those are sending out any runners to speak of. I may dig up the unsprouted ones and see what condition they’re in.

Bush Delicata

Next to the oca, the Bush Delicata squash is doing much better. It got its first flower this week. I love this variety. It doesn’t sprawl all over, it produces fruit that are just the right size for two people, and they store well for comfort-food winter meals.


At the poles surrounding the Bush Delicata the Malabar spinach is taking its sweet time taking off. Maybe it’s also waiting for hot weather. This is the only one of the first transplants to survive so I started another round that I set out last week. I tasted a leaf from it and thought it was spinachy enough to keep trying to grow it.

Cucumber Flower

In the next Miscellaneous bed the bush cucumber is slightly ahead of the Bush Delicata in the Bush League contest. Little spiny cukes are forming and the leaves are still free of mildew despite the wet weather we’ve been having. Fingers crossed.


The carrots are coming along, at least the ones that germinated. My old Danvers Half Long seed must have been too old (hence the expression “old Danvers Half Long seed”) so at this point we only have Yellowstone and Atomic Red actually growing. We pulled and sampled a few babies of each already and I’m a little disappointed that the red ones aren’t red. Maybe in time. I purchased new DHL seed and have sown a short row where some more leaf lettuce came out.


Broccoli! We actually got broccoli! My past attempts to grow it in the spring have been complete failures and fall planting only slightly better. After harvesting the main head from each of the three plants they produced small, usable side heads, too. The flavor was good, too. I guess it’s a lesson in persistence. The Brussels sprouts next to them are doing well, too.


The garlic is tall and strong looking bigger than I remember it being in the past. We’ve harvested the scapes and made a batch of hummus with them and now the leaves are starting to show brown tips. In the next few weeks they’ll brown some more and we can pull them and start curing them for storage. I’d like to note here that we are still eating from last year’s garlic crop, though the cloves are getting a little wrinkly. That probably won’t be the case next summer since I didn’t plant as much this time around. I’ll have to look at my records and see how much there was before and use that as a target for this fall’s planting.

Sweet Potato Hole

Next to the garlic I removed the overwintered onions. They were bolting but I managed to get a tasty French onion soup out of them. In their place I dug wide holes, lined them with hardware cloth to keep out critters and planted…

Sweet Potato

Sweet potatoes! I had run into a couple of neighbors who also garden at Eagle Heights just after they had finished planting their sweet potatoes. When I mentioned I’d never grown them, the next thing I knew I had a few starts, some advice and was making wire cages. I love sweet potatoes so I’m excited about the prospect of harvesting my own.


The Spanish onions are starting to fatten up. Like the garlic, we’re still eating out of last year’s crop. Also like the garlic, I think I’ve planted less than last year. Perhaps in time I’ll get the numbers properly recorded so I know just how much to grow to get us through a year. Excess of most crops is good, though, because then there are more opportunities for cooking or canning special food projects.


The leeks are starting to look like leeks at last. For the longest time they were just green strings but sometime in the last month when I wasn’t paying attention they put out some flat, leekish leaves. I’m growing them in a cedar box that I intend to slowly fill with compost to see if I can get them to grow long and white.

Potato Box

In the next bed over, the potatoes are also growing in their boxes and they’ve already passed the tops.  I probably could have put on another section and should make one to be ready next year. This is my second attempt at burying potato plants as they grow to get them to form easily-harvested tubers aboveground. Last year’s try didn’t work so I did it differently this year, gradually adding the leaf mulch/compost as they got taller rather than burying a whole plant.

Potato Buds

Can’t wait to see if it worked and I may not have to wait long since some of them are starting to flower.


This brings us to the end of the tour at the sunflower fence, growing into its job of discouraging poachers. If you’ve read this far, I thank you for staying. I enjoy reading about the progress of others’ gardens so I believe there may be someone out there who feels the same. Please return your audio guides here and exit through the gift shop where I’m sure you’ll find something to take home with you.

Community Garden Drawback Number One: Neighbors

That title doesn’t sound very good, does it? I’ve been wanting to write a full post on all the positive and negative things about community gardening I’ve been noticing over the years but just haven’t got it together. Since I did a previous post on one of the positives quite a while back, I thought I’d just start throwing out random ones over time as they occur to me. I even contemplated designating them as “Crops and Flops” or “Bests and Pests” but nothing inspired  (obviously) has come forward as a name I haven’t already heard so I’m just going to muddle on. If you have any brilliant suggestions, I’d be glad to hear them.

The first of my garden gripes I’m going to share with you, neighbors, has been near the forefront of my gardening mind lately. The plots are laid out in our gardens in paired rows with a grass path between each pair so most of us are surrounded on three sides by other people’s plots and a strip of grass. The rules require gardeners to keep an open path on all shared sides for easy access. We’ve got a range of weed tolerance around us ranging from a long-time gardener who is more casual than we are but keeps the more aggressive weeds in check to the two half-plot gardeners that back up to us and appear to think it’s rude to weed too close to the edge. Consequently, on that side there are grass and raspberry runners I got so tired of repeatedly beating back I finally just buried boards on edge as a wall against them.

The third side is the big concern this season.


The gardener in this plot has, since at least when we began gardening next door, typically waited until late May to get it tilled except for the nice, round herb bed in the center. They then plant and heavily mulch the entire thing in one fell swoop. It really was an interesting and inspiring garden bordered by tomatoes and sunflowers with squash rambling beneath. Weeds weren’t removed religiously, but it was tolerable. I’m not really the grouchy perfectionist garden neighbor, though I may sound like it today. I just have a different style.

Now it’s late June, the Summer Solstice is tomorrow, in fact. For whatever reason the plot hasn’t been touched and is a jungle of waist-high grass and weeds. You can even see a tree sapling off to a good start. The gardener was issued a warning over two weeks ago and given, I believe, two or three weeks to clean it up or surrender it. Unfortunately, the period when warnings are given and the time gardeners are given to comply allow weeds plenty of time to flower and set seed. All we neighbors can do is try to defend our borders.

Much of what may seem like this kind of bad garden neighborliness is, I truly believe, just inexperience and some ignorance about weeds. In the case of our particular gardens, cultural attitudes may come into play as well. The garden committee and individual gardeners do what they can to educate and help. Still, when I’m pulling up rhizomes that zipper off our plot and into the neighbor’s I start to fantasize about the day I have a garden of my own at home I can truly control on all sides. But then I’m sure I’d miss the perks of community gardening. I promise next time to write about one of the positive aspects of gardening on land shared with others so I don’t sound like such a grouchy old man.

I See Your Butt!

I really should be more careful when I’m out in the garden talking to some insect, rabbit, chipmunk, plant or even myself. The yards are small and the houses are close together. I can only imagine what the neighbors thought yesterday when they heard me exclaim "I see your butt!" as the camera clicked away. Cut me some slack. I was excited. Here was the first real confirmation that at least one solitary bee was interested in the nesting tubes I put out for them.

Butt Shot

On a few previous occasions I’ve seen a couple different kinds of bees, guessing from their different sizes, fly quickly into the tubes or between them and not coming out for as long as I was willing at the moment to stand there waiting for them. This time, however, I was able to watch a bee working inside the bamboo tube. And it was only after I looked at the image I captured that I noticed the material inside the adjacent tube. Pollen? Maybe.


Sealed Tube

Fast forward to this evening, and 24 hours later I see that not only is the tube that was being worked the previous day all sealed up with mud, another smaller one an inch to the left is as well. What’s just as cool is that the tiny openings of a couple of the Turtlehead stems I hung below the bamboo tubes have been sealed up, too. Getting a picture proved to be beyond my capabilities, though. Still, it was enough to make me shout, “Wow! Would you look at that!”

Houses don’t turn over too quickly here. It must be a really good school district.

Precious Gold

My Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens, a beautiful golden yellow lady slipper orchid bloomed today. I say “my,” but in reality I feel I’ve only been given charge of its care for a while and that eventually it will pass on to someone else–a family member, I hope–who can keep it long enough to pass on yet again. And I also hope they have better luck with it. As its current steward I think I’m letting it down.
This particular plant came to my garden by way of my maternal grandmother. It grew at the side of her cozy bungalow where the family gathered for major holidays for decades. The house was painted the same shade of yellow, come to think of it. As best as we can piece together the history, she would have planted it there about the time they moved off the farm and into town in the early 1950s. That would make this plant sixty years old.

When Grandma sold her house and moved my mother dug up the orchid and divided it into five clumps she transplanted to her own garden. When I became interested in growing orchids she gave one of the divisions to me. The plant thrived in my garden for years and increased in size. At its prime it held over thirty blooming growths.

Then, seven years ago it was struck with a fungal infection. Desperate to save it I dug it up, divided it and cleaned it off. I moved the divisions to different areas of the garden to avoid reinfection and to give it a variety of microclimates with the thought that at least one would suit it well and it would recover. Today only two divisions still live, one is the single growth that’s blooming and the other has two stems that haven’t bloomed yet.

In its happier times Grandma’s lady slipper was strong and healthy enough to produce viable seed capsules. I sent the seed to a lab where they were grown and propagated into new plants that, to the best of my knowledge, are out there growing somewhere in other people’s gardens. One of the greatest causes of suffering is attachment. While I like to think the little plants I have will stay in the family somehow, I’m becoming more at peace with the notion that they might not. And if they don’t, at least there’s a chance that this heirloom’s genetic legacy is living on and bringing happiness to another gardener.

This post was prompted by You Grow Girl for the Grow Write Guild on the theme of “Loss, Attachment & Letting Go.”


This is my favorite time of the year and it coincides with the blooming of one of my favorite genera of wildflowers, the Trilliums.  Over the years I’ve gathered a diverse collection of these beauties and right now they’re all flowering beautifully.

T cuneatum

Trillium cuneatum, a.k.a Whippoor-Will Flower, Cuneate Trillium, Large Toadshade, Purple Toadshade, Bloody Butcher and Sweet Betsy is the largest of the eastern sessile species. Mine is being invaded by some Bloodroot that needs to be pushed back a bit.

T erectum

Trillium erectum, a.k.a. Red Trillium, Wake-Robin, Stinking Benjamin, Stinking Willie, Purple Trillium, Squawroot, Birthwort and American True Love can have very distinct local populations and a high degree of variability. For example…

Trillium erectum var. album is a white form of the species which when I purchased it the seller was calling it a “beige” variety.

This Trillium erectum var. album is more distinctly yellow. See the Buddha watching over the beehives in the background? I haven’t noticed if the honeybees visit Trilliums.

T flexipes

Trillium flexipes, a.k.a. Bent Trillium or White Trillium can look enough like T. erectum var. album that I need to key this one out to see if I really got what I was paying for.

T grandiflorum

Trillium grandiflorum, a.k.a. White Trillium, Great White Trillium, Large-flowered White Trillium and White Wake-Robin is probably the best known and loved species. Some of the forests around here have patches carpeted with their white blooms each spring. I have several plants throughout my garden and they show a range of size in the plants and flowers.

T luteum

Trillium luteum, a.k.a. Yellow Trillium, Yellow Toadshade and Wax Trillium is another large species with upright flowers. This species hybridizes with T. cuneatum in the wild so I’ve been thinking about trying to cross them on my own and see what I get.

T recurvatum

Trillium recurvatum, a.k.a. Prairie Trillium, Toadshade or Bloody Noses (!) was the only species in the garden when we moved here way back when. The flowers are nice but I think I’d grow it even if it didn’t bloom just for that fantastic mottled leaf.

T sessile

Trillium sessile, a.k.a. Sessile Trillium, Toad Trillium or Toadshade usually has darker flowers than this but the other characteristics are right so I think it might just be a paler variety.

When I started collecting Trillium I purchased Frederick and Roberta Case’s excellent monograph on the genus. That is where I got some of the information, especially the different common names above. If you’re growing Trilliums or thinking of getting some I highly recommend it as a reference. It helped me, for example, save myself the heartbreak of trying to grow the incomparable Painted Trillium, T. undulatum here where conditions are completely unsuitable.

Do you have Trilliums in your garden? I can’t say enough good things about them if you’ve got a shady, woodland setting.


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