It’s been over a month since my last confession post, and much has happened:
- tilled corner of back yard for garden
- stripped 12 layers of paint from front porch and repainted
- helped launch the Forest Park Community Garden
- planted my plot at the FPCG
- dug compost pit in corner of back yard for green manure
- bought a rain barrel, still not installed
I’ve got over 42 tomato plants and 99.9% of the tomatoes are still green. This summer in Chicago has not been kind to tomatoes: too cool. And tomatoes love heat. I think we may have had about 2 weeks of good heat, at best. I started the tomatoes indoors under lights in March and April and yet, I still didn’t get a jump on things.
I tested several methods for trellising the tomatoes:
- Florida weave, this is by far my favorite method and would have worked better if I’d only put two plants between each post instead of four but I was having budget issues at the time. Next year, this will be the way I go and I’ll just have to buy more posts.
- Square tomato cages, flimsy and not very tall. Only used these in the community garden.
- Planting along the chain-link fence and tying them to the fence, not bad but if they get taller than the fence, that’s a problem. This is working well for the Borgheses that I planted along the fence. They are semi-determinate anyway so they don’t extend above the height of the fence.
The Stupice seedlings I tried failed. They never got over 3 inches tall.
Only about 4 pepper plants grown from seed actually survived. I had to buy pepper plants and many of those were mis-tagged. So rather than having 3 sweet bell plants, I’ve got all long hot skinny things.
Herbs are doing well. Some are planted in an old wine crate and others are planted around the crate. Also planted Borage to attract bees.
Bought two eggplants, different types, one long term and one short. The short term is failing. It sets fruit too close to the ground and they get infested with fruit flies.
The chard is almost completely eaten away by something and yet I’ve found absolutely no Japanese beetles this year. Am told it could be flea beetles.
The strawberries I bought took hold and rooted well, I just need to make a cover/cage for them so the critters don’t get all the fruit. Or having DH make a cage cover is a more accurate statement. The alpine strawberries I tried to start from seed totally failed.
After the initial sunny spring, before the trees filled in and the sun got higher, we had good sunlight on the fabulous deck planters that DH made. Unfortunately, no sooner than I planted them, the sun moved and nothing grew. We will have to seriously trim the trees to try to get more sun. AND staple chicken wire to the tops so squirrels can’t dig.
My Squirrely Plan
About that chicken wire solution: it works really well but there are tricks. It works best if your container is wood and you can staple the chicken wire to the top edge of the planter. Then trim the wire flush. And I’ve tried two different planting methods, one where I filled the container to the top with dirt so that all I had to do was scatter seeds over the chicken wire and the seedlings grow up through it. The other where I cut holes in the chicken wire for transplanting seedlings worked best if I kept the holes small. I had a few that were too large and the squirrels managed to dig around the seedlings. Trying to affix chicken wire to ceramic or plastic pots was next to impossible. I did it but it’s not very secure and is very messy looking. Also, the wire could spin around and lop off the seedlings if not careful.
More Successes and Failures
I haven’t had a lot of success with spinach, parsnips, carrots, melons or squash. The spinach never sprouted and I tried various methods including refrigerating the seeds, soaking the seeds and sprouting under lights. Not sure what else to do but I’m going to try again this weekend.
The asparagus seems to be taking root. Hopefully, in a few years, I’ll have some great harvest.
Mache never really took off. Had some sprouts but nothing too big. Will try again for Fall this weekend.
Almost all my squash and melon seeds started but most failed when transplanted. I attribute it to the soil difference along the sidewalk versus in the middle of the yard. The neighbor poured a new sidewalk a couple years ago and the soil on my side of it is now hard gray clay. Nothing grew there but weeds. I’ll have to hand till some amendments into it as well because his sewer clean out is on our side of the fence. Can’t really use a tiller in the area I don’t think. So next year, all squash get planted in the main part of the garden.
The corn is doing great at the community garden. I went by today and I now have both tassels and silks. Some silks look like they’ve already been pollinated so I think we may actually get corn.
Beans, beans, beans, the more you eat, the more they grow. No shortage of beans and they seem to be the best thing for the chain-link or chicken wire fence.
I did plant garlic cloves early in the season to ward off pests from the tomatoes. It seems to be working decently. While there are a few aphids here and there, there’s by no means a major infestation. I will plant more garlic in the fall for spring harvest.
Oh, and nasturtiums are doing well inter planted among the cabbages.
The parsnips never sprouted when direct seeded. They ONLY sprouted when kept for 1 to 2 months in wet paper towels then transplanted when the little main root appeared. Next year, I’m going to do the paper towel method but start them in February.
Carrots just don’t like me. I’ve planted 2 packets of 2 different types and got 3 to sprout. Not sure what to try next on those. Maybe skip it since they’re cheap at the grocery.
Oh, one more thing that I haven’t had much luck with are spring onions. I’ve planted 3 varieties in May and although they did sprout, they’re still Barbi sized.
I never did plant the straw bales like I wanted. DH was so incredibly grossed out by the idea of vegetables growing in straw bales that I didn’t do it.
Things I’m happiest with:
- Basil: plain basic basil is the only one that grew, I will continue to grow lots of basil.
- Other herbs: sage, lavender, chives, dill, fennel, tarragon, rosemary, parsley have done well.
- Radishes: I was surprised to learn that home-grown don’t suck. They are NOTHING like store-bought radishes.
- I have lots of green tomatoes so the jury is still out on those and their flavors. I have Black Krim, Persimmon, Costoluto, Brandywine, Marvel stripe, Black Prince, Green Zebra, Borghese, Long Keeper and Keepsake. So far, only the Borghese are starting to ripen. Next year, I’ll probably eliminate the Green Zebra and Long Keepers. They both had issues sprouting.
Lessons Learned for Next Year
- Start seedlings a few weeks earlier in Feb and March.
- Transplant seedlings under hoops in April or early May.
- Save money to buy real mulch for everything, straw is just too messy looking and creates large unwieldy protrusions embedded in the mud on my shoes making it difficult to walk.
- Save money to cut down those two trees blocking the sun in the back yard. The mulberry is rotting anyway and the buckthorn is just in the wrong place.
- Create a spell that will take down the neighbor’s two-story garage and the four-story tree to get more than 4 hours of direct sun.
- Buy taller tomato stakes, 7-foot just doesn’t cut it.
- Don’t plant so much, everything’s too tight and I suspect that affects the sun’s ability to ripen the tomatoes.
- Earth Buckets are great but come up with a better trellis structure for tomatoes using them.
- Adjust flower bed around Buddha so that it’s more shallow and easier to walk around when weeding or harvesting beans.
- Never believe the seed packet when it says the beans are bush beans. They’ll still try to climb and will fall over without supports.
- Plant more peas, way way more.
- Work on lower fence edge to better rabbit proof.
- Plant Borage earlier to get bees earlier.
- Create better location for squash, pots too small.
- Try Kabocha again but this time,transplant in a better location.
- Start parsnips indoors in wet paper towels before transplanting. NONE started when direct seeded outdoors.
- Skip the catnip, it annoys the cat anyway. She actually pushes it out of her way so she doesn’t have to deal with it.
- Plant less kale and collards because DH doesn’t like them so I’m the only one who eats them. Likely more efficient to just plant a full row of spinach.
- Skip planting cabbage next year, takes up too much room in my tiny area and it’s cheap at the store anyway.
Overall, I’m very happy with the effort this year. BUT next year, must get started earlier and plant less. And maybe install some bigass mirrors to reflect the sun blocked by the trees and my neighbor’s garage onto the garden. Of course the annoyance factor would only be a bonus.