Container Vegetables

This year I tried something I hadn’t done before, growing vegetables in containers.  I got this idea from “Epic Tomatoes” by Craig LeHoullier.  I grew eggplant and dwarf tomato plants (seeds purchased from Victory Seeds, see Resources for more info on Victory and “Epic Tomatoes”) in some five gallon (19 liter) buckets.  These photos are from a couple of weeks ago.

from left, eggplant ‘ichiban’ (2), tomato ‘Polish dwarf’, tomato ‘dwarf sleeping lady’, and tomato ‘dwarf sweet sue’ all growing in containers

The vegetables were planted in an inexpensive soil mix supplemented with peat moss and slow-release fertilizer.  They are bottom-watered; you can just see the green saucers that I used as reservoirs.  Strips of capillary matting carry water up into the soil.  I added large commercial tomato cages to help support the plants.

The plants got a late start as I wasn’t sure how well the bottom-watering setup would work and delayed planting until I felt confident in it.  As it turned out, my design is working well and keeping the soil moist.  Despite that, I had problems with blossom-end rot earlier in the season with all three tomato varieties.  I added crushed eggshells when I planted the seedlings as a source of calcium to help prevent this, but perhaps the eggshells released calcium too slowly.  The problem disappeared and the plants have been producing a lot of fruit lately.

My eggplant grew and produced well, probably as well as if they had been growing in my usual raised garden beds.  The only problem I had with eggplant this year was the usual flea beetle invasion.  I tried removing them by hand but although I killed dozens, if not hundreds, of these tiny pests, they kept coming and ate thousands of little holes in the eggplant leaves.  There’s more information about them in my Beetle Battle post.

eggplant ‘ichiban’ growing in containers

Several fruit were growing on the eggplant when I took this photo.  Now that the weather has gotten cooler, the plants aren’t producing as much.  If you look closely, you can see the damage caused by flea beetles.

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More Tomatoes

A quick look at five tomato varieties that are producing fruit in my garden at the moment:

from the left: ‘garden gem’ (two), ‘Corleone’, ‘garden treasure’, ‘Anna Russian’, and ‘Cherokee Green’

I grew the first three last year and wrote about them in my 2016 Tomato Report; the two on the right I wrote about in yesterday’s post.  You can really see the difference between the red tomatoes (first three varieties) and the pink ‘Anna Russian’ in this photo, unless you’re color blind.  When ripe,  both types have red flesh, but “red” tomatoes have yellow skin, while “pink” tomatoes have colorless skin.  ‘Cherokee green’ has yellow skin over green flesh.

The ruler at the bottom of the photo has inches on the top and millimeters along the bottom so you can get an idea of the sizes of the fruit.  All these varieties produce fruit that is both larger and smaller than those in the photos, so you can consider these as “typical” sizes.

I brought these tomatoes in to work to get my colleagues’ opinions on them.  The only variety that wasn’t someone’s favorite was the ‘Corleone’ paste type tomato.  Most people liked ‘Anna Russian’ initially, but after they tried the others, they found those were more flavorful.  ‘Cherokee green’, ‘garden gem’, and ‘garden treasure’ all had fans.

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Two New (to me) Tomato Varieties

This year, I tried planting some new varieties of tomatoes.  Two indeterminate tomatoes that I tried are ‘Anna Russian’ and ‘Cherokee Green’.  They have been producing fruit for a few weeks now.

tomato ‘Anna Russian’

‘Anna Russian’ produces medium-large, heart-shaped, pink (red flesh with clear skin) fruit.  They are considered to be an heirloom variety.  They taste rather mild and a little sweet.  The plants have produced a good amount of fruit.  Birds seem to like them, as I have found a number of fruit that were pecked.

tomato ‘Cherokee green’

‘Cherokee green’ are perhaps the most vigorous tomato plants I have ever grown, climbing out of their tomato cage and pushing against the adjacent pepper plants.  They set many large fruit.  I wanted to grow some tomatoes whose flesh remains green when ripe; I selected this variety because the skin becomes yellow when they ripen, making picking them easier.  I’ve had problems with animals chewing on the fruit (I suspect chipmunks) and even taking the fruit out of the garden (probably a groundhog).  I pick these tomatoes when they begin to turn yellow and they feel a little soft to the touch.  I expected them to have a lot of flavor, but unfortunately so far they have been disappointing.  They are rather bland, although they might have a little more flavor than ‘Anna Russian’.  Perhaps I am picking them too early or too late.

Update:  Most ‘Cherokee green’ fruit from later in the season have had more flavor.

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Container Flowers

I like to grow annual flowers in various containers.  This year, cosmos, zinnia, and sunflowers have all done well in their flower pots.

from bottom right: cosmos ‘cosmic yellow’, zinnia ‘scarlet king’, and sunflower ‘Pacino gold’

I’ve planted these cosmos and zinnia varieties before and they have always grown well in containers.  The sunflower is a new variety for me, a dwarf variety that produces flowers that are only a few inches in size.

I have to water these large plants often, typically every two or three days depending on the weather.

The sunflowers and cosmos have been attracting a lot of bees of various species.  The cosmos also attracted butterflies in past years.

For more information on my experiences growing flowers in containers, check out these posts:  More MarigoldsPlanting Flowers in PotsOffice marigolds and nasturtiums have flowers!Nasturtium & Sweet William Flowers, and Snapdragon Flowers.

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Fortex Beans

We picked the first of the ‘fortex’ pole beans on Saturday.  This was my first time to try these beans and I didn’t expect them to be so large; the longest was about 10.5 inches (26.7 cm) long!

pole bean ‘fortex’

We ate them Sunday and they were tender and good.

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Radishes

I picked some radishes today in the rain.  I picked some last week too to thin the plants and make space, but those radishes were only about half this size.

radish ‘cherry belle’

You can see that the seed leaves (the heart-shaped leaves close to the root) are still green and healthy.  On some plants, these will wither as the plant grows.

I planted these radishes 5 weeks ago.  I planted a short row every week, so we should be able to harvest radishes for a month.  Last week, I planted cabbages and kale in between the rows of radishes.  Those plants will take over the space as the radishes are removed.

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2017 Seeds Orders

I placed my orders for seeds on February 8th.  My main order was with Pinetree Garden Seeds (superseeds.com), which is where I usually order seeds.

This was a pretty big order, so I’ll break it down into categories.  First are the cabbage family (Brassicaceae or Cruciferae) roots and greens.

  • turnip, ‘hinona kabu’ Japanese
  • radish, ‘cherry belle’
  • kale, ‘starbor’
  • tatsoi
  • pai tsai, fun jen
  • misome
  • mibuna
  • cabbage, ‘yukina savoy’ chinese
  • cabbage, ‘tronchuda’

The turnip variety and the two cabbages are new to me.  Next up are tomatoes and their relatives (Solanaceae).

  • pepper, ‘Takiis new ace’
  • tomato, ‘manyel’
  • tomato, ‘pink Berkeley tie die’
  • tomato, ‘Anna Russian’
  • tomato, ‘Cherokee green’

While the peppers are a favorite of mine, I haven’t grown any of those tomato varieties before.  I won’t have room to grow all of the tomato varieties this year, but I couldn’t decide which ones I want to plant this year and I can try the others in a year or two.  I believe all of those tomato varieties are considered to be heirloom varieties.  Next are some other vegetable seeds that don’t fit in the above two categories.

  • beet, ‘red ace’
  • bean, ‘fortex’ pole
  • inoculant

They were out of the pole bean that I wanted to order (’emerite’), so I decided to try ‘fortex’ which comes highly recommended.  Inoculant is not a seed but rather bacteria that work with legumes such as beans and peas to “fix” nitrogen, i.e. to convert N2 from the air into a form that plants can use.

I also ordered the following herb seeds.

  • oregano, Greek
  • catnip
  • catnip, lemon
  • basil, ‘dwarf Greek’
  • thyme, French
  • parsley, ‘Prezzemolo Gigante D Italia’
  • rosemary

I’m going to try growing a number of herbs in pots this year.  I’ve had success growing rosemary this way in the past.  I ordered some seeds to use for microgreens, i.e. to grow indoors in very crowded conditions and harvest the leaves when the plants are young rather than letting them mature.  These seeds come in relatively large packets.

  • basil microgreens
  • spicy Asian mix microgreens
  • cilantro microgreens

I ordered some flower seeds, also for growing in pots.

  • sunflower, ‘dwarf Pacino gold’
  • nasturtium, ‘black velvet’

And I ordered some garden supplies, useful items that happened to be on sale.

After reading Craig LeHoullier’s Epic Tomatoes (see Resources), I decided I wanted to try growing some dwarf tomato varieties in pots.  The best place to get them appears to be Victory Seeds, which has an entire category dedicated to dwarf tomatoes.  I ordered five varieties although I won’t try growing all of them this year (remember that seeds remain viable for several years, especially if you refrigerate them).  All of the following are dwarf tomato varieties.

  • Polish
  • Perth pride
  • sweet Sue
  • sleeping lady
  • tastywine

Dwarf tomatoes are a slower-growing indeterminate tomato.  They will continue to grow and produce fruit until they die, but they grow more slowly than other tomatoes.  Contrast this with determinate tomatoes, which produce all their fruit over a shorter period of time, then stop.

Victory Seeds also sells many other open-pollinated seed varieties, they shipped my order promptly, and I’m happy with the results so far, so I will probably order more from them in the future.

Pinetree’s order took a couple of weeks to ship, but that was mostly due to the large amounts of snow that they received in Maine during that time.

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Update to 2016 Tomato Report

This fall, after I wrote the 2016 Tomato Report post, a disease that I suspect is a form of blight infected all my tomato plants.  This disease shows up every year.  It starts on leaves at the bottom of the plants and works its way up.  Extended rainfall seems to help it spread.  It can damage fruits if it reaches them.  I suspect the disease comes from the soil, so this year I added straw mulch around the tomato stems in addition to the garden fabric that I always use to try to keep dirt from splashing onto the plants.  I don’t think this really helped.  More information about blights can be found at the Tomato Dirt site.

This year, although the blight apparently infected all the plants, ‘speckled Roman’ and ‘Polish linguisa’ were the worst hit while ‘Corleone’, ‘garden gem’, and ‘garden treasure’ were the least affected.

We’ve now had three mornings when the temperature went below freezing.  We covered the tomato, pepper, and eggplant the first two times that we had frost warnings, but around mid-October we decided to pick all the fruit and let the plants die when the predicted low was well below freezing.  It was too cold, and the days are getting too short, for fruit to grow and ripen well.  Many of the green tomatoes that we picked will ripen in the house, although they won’t taste as good as if they ripened on the plant.

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2016 Tomato Report

I grew six varieties of tomatoes this year.  Here is my appraisal of their performance in my garden.

I usually plant indeterminate tomatoes.  This type of tomato will continue to grow and produce fruit until frost (or disease) kills the plant.  The other type, determinate tomatoes, produce many fruits over a few weeks, then stop.  The trade-off between these two types is in how many tomatoes they produce vs. the amount of space they require.  You can read more about this at gardenweb.

The biggest problem I’ve had with my tomatoes this year was blossom end rot, which you can read about in this fact sheet from Cornell University.

left to right: nectar, garden gem, garden treasure, speckled Roman, Corleone, and Polish linguisa tomatoes

left to right: nectar, garden gem, garden treasure, speckled Roman, Corleone, and Polish linguisa tomatoes

In the photo above, I’ve placed the tomatoes in the order in which we were able to harvest ripe fruit from each variety.  I tried to select representative examples, i.e. not the largest or best of each.  You can see more examples of these tomatoes in photos in two earlier posts from this summer here and here.

‘Nectar’ is a cherry tomato.  It is very sweet and it produces many fruit.  The vines have grown up and out of their tomato cage, spreading across their neighbors.  This variety hasn’t had any problems with disease and it is still producing fruit.  Earlier, some fruits were damaged or removed by wildlife, similar to ‘garden gem’ (see below).

I had to obtain ‘garden gem’ seeds directly from the developer, Harry Klee; you can read about that in this post.  The tomato in the photo is a little smaller than average for this variety.  These produced heavily for about a month, then stopped; Prof. Klee says they are semi-determinate and should produce for five to six weeks.  There are some green tomatoes on the plants now, so we should once again harvest ripe tomatoes in a week or so.  This variety produced ripe fruit almost as quickly as the cherry tomatoes, they have good flavor, and there have been no disease problems.  The only problem we had with this variety was that small animals or birds, probably chipmunks, were nibbling on the fruit earlier in the season.

‘Garden treasure’ seeds also came from Harry Klee.  Some of the fruits were considerably larger than the one in the photo.  They ripened fairly early for such a large tomato and they have the best flavor of all six varieties.  They had a few problems with blossom end rot and cracking, but have been relatively trouble-free.

The last three varieties are all paste tomatoes.  I grow these because they work equally well fresh or cooked and they won’t turn a sandwich into a dripping mess.  The first is ‘speckled Roman’, which is more striped than speckled in my opinion but I like the effect.  We lost a lot of fruit to blossom end rot this year.  Flavor is typical for a paste tomato, i.e not a lot, and the plants have produced a moderate amount of fruit.

‘Corleone’ is probably the most expensive vegetable seed I’ve ever purchased; they cost about nine dollars for ten seeds.  These plants also are growing out of their cage and over their neighbors.  The fruits have thick skin and not a lot of flavor, but they also have had no problems and the plants are heavy producers.

The last variety to produce ripe tomatoes this year was ‘Polish linguisa’, not because they are such a late tomato but because all of the earliest tomatoes of this variety succumbed to blossom end rot, which hit them the worst.  More recently, we’ve been harvesting a lot of large fruits.  The flavor is quite good.  This tomato is an heirloom variety, i.e. an open-pollinated variety (as opposed to a hybrid cross) that was developed many years ago.  You can read more about this topic in Epic Tomatoes, a book I recommend in my Resources page.

Update:  This fall, after I wrote this, a disease that I suspect is a form of blight infected all my tomato plants.  This disease shows up every year.  It starts on leaves at the bottom of the plants and works its way up.  Extended rainfall seems to help it spread.  It can damage fruits if it reaches them.  I suspect the disease comes from the soil, so this year I added straw mulch around the tomato stems in addition to the garden fabric that I always use to try to keep dirt from splashing onto the plants.  I don’t think this really helped.  More information about blights can be found at the Tomato Dirt site.

This year, although the blight apparently infected all the plants, ‘speckled Roman’ and ‘Polish linguisa’ were the worst hit while ‘Corleone’, ‘garden gem’, and ‘garden treasure’ were the least affected.

We’ve now had three mornings when the temperature went below freezing.  We covered the tomato, pepper, and eggplant the first two times that we had frost warnings, but around mid-October we decided to pick all the fruit and let the plants die when the predicted low was well below freezing.  It was too cold, and the days are getting too short, for fruit to grow and ripen well.  Many of the green tomatoes that we picked will ripen in the house, although they won’t taste as good as if they ripened on the plant.

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Beans, Blackberries, Peppers, Eggplant, and Tomatoes

It’s just two days since we last picked blackberries and tomatoes, and three since we picked everything else, but we got quite a lot of vegetables tonight.

tonight's harvest of blackberries, beans, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant

tonight’s harvest of blackberries, beans, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant

We’ve been getting adequate amounts of rain lately, the heat has moderated a little, and the result is a better harvest of pole beans than we’ve had earlier this month.  On the other hand, there was only one eggplant and a couple of ‘sweet banana’ peppers ready to pick.

The blackberry brambles seem to be producing about the same amount of ripe berries every couple of days.  There aren’t as many as in past years, but I expected that because they didn’t produce as many new canes last year.  Blackberry canes produce fruit their second year, then die.  To try to increase the yield, I spread some fertilizer around the blackberry area, but not directly where the plants grow.  I also will take more care in pruning the canes.

The big news though is that the tomatoes are really starting to produce.  We’ve been picking ‘nectar’ cherry tomatoes (with the beans in the medium-sized bowl) and ‘garden gem’ tomatoes (under everything else in the large bowl) for a while, but tonight we got a lot more of them.  We also picked four ‘garden jewel’ tomatoes (the large tomatoes at the upper right of the large bowl); seeds for those came from the same source as ‘garden gem’, see this post.  The first ‘Corleone’ paste tomato is nestled in the crook of the eggplant.

We finally got some ripe ‘speckled Roman’ paste tomatoes, which look more striped than speckled to me.  They are at the front of the photo.  My ‘speckled Roman’ and ‘Polish linguisa’ tomatoes have been especially afflicted with blossom end rot this year and I had to discard several fruit that would have been ripe earlier.  You can see a small spot of blossom end rot on one tomato; we will cut off the bad part and the rest of the fruit should be good.  This disease is caused by a lack of moisture and calcium; I added lime to the garden bed this spring as usual, so the lack of rain is probably the cause.  The ‘Corleone’ paste tomatoes haven’t been affected by blossom end rot this year, they just take a little longer to produce ripe tomatoes.  You can read more about blossom end rot in this fact sheet from Cornell University.

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