In only a few short days, the Snarky Gardener will be eating homegrown cherry tomatoes in February. Of course there are only 6, so it won’t be much of a feast, but still, pretty cool. The Snarky Orange Cherry tomato plant is finally getting flowers. It had others a few weeks ago, but they grew into the lights and were burnt off (so sad). A cutting was also taken off the Chocolate Cherry to start a potted tomato plant. Not sure what I’m going to with it yet, but I’m sure I’ll think of something.
Want to garden but don’t know where to start?
The Snarky Gardener is here to help!
1. Chose a nice sunny spot
Spend some time to observe your chosen spot. You are going to want at least 3 hours of direct sunlight a day with more than 6 preferred. If you can’t get the minimum 6, then look for plants that will be OK with a little shade, like lettuce, herbs, Swiss chard, kale, spinach, turnips, and mustard greens. Another option is to plant in containers and move them to the sunny spots throughout the day.
2. Start small
Don’t go hog wild with a giant garden first thing out. Keeping it small will allow you to learn what grows best in your area without a lot of investment of time, money, and effort. Containers or a 4 foot by 4 foot raised bed would be a good place to start.
3. Grow what you like to eat
Sounds straight forward, but I’ve known a few snarky gardeners to grow things before they know how they taste (like me with my sunchokes). If you think you want to grow it, buy it from the store first.
4. Grow easy stuff
Some vegetables are easier to grow than others, by a significant margin. Talk to people in your area to learn what grows well in your area. For instance, in Northeastern Ohio (my neck of the woods), cherry tomatoes, beans, peas, onions, zucchini, potatoes, and turnips do well with little trouble. Broccoli, watermelons, Brussels sprouts, peppers, and eggplants are much harder to grow, to the point I’ve given up on some.
5. Mulch a bunch
Mulch is anything that covers the ground around your plants. Straw, grass clippings, newspapers, wood chips, and leaves (my favorite) all make good mulch. You can also use plastic mulch, but it won’t make your soil better over time like organic materials will. Covering the ground is important as it will keep weeds from overtaking your edible plants plus it holds in moisture which will keep you from having to water as much (or at all!)
6. Visit often
Gardens are probably ruined by neglect more than anything else. Visit a few times a week to keep up with the weeds, watering, and ready to pick food. Think of it as that exercise your doctor keeps telling you need to do. I find the garden as a quiet place to get away from it all. Also, try to plan around the weather (early or late on hot summer days, etc).
7. Learn about food seasons
Some plants can tolerate and sometimes prefer cold (like spinach, turnips, onions, peas, potatoes) but don’t like heat and others can’t handle frost (tomatoes, peppers, corn, beans, squash, pumpkins, okra) and love warm weather. It still surprises me that this isn’t common knowledge (it wasn’t for me when I started). Your frost dates (last frost in the spring and first frost in the fall) are the most important gardening times. They tell you when you can plant certain vegetables and when they need to be reaped. Too early or too late and you’ll be sad, sad gardener.
8. Watch out for critters
If you notice animals in your neighborhood, know that they may think of your garden as a free meal. A small fence (2 or 3 feet tall) will keep out rabbits, but you will need a taller fence (6 feet or more) to deter groundhogs, raccoon, and deer from invading your space. There are also garlicky sprays and fence clips that will deter them some. Most animals don’t like strong smells, so planting herbs and garlic/onions on the outside of your garden is not a bad idea. Also, keep an eye on your plants for damage, as even the best fencing can be leaped over or dug under.
9. Think outside the box
There are a lot of different ways to garden besides the standard “till up the backyard and plant in rows”. Indoor gardening can be done with systems like the AeroGarden. Containers or individual planters work well for situations where you can’t plant into the ground (apartments, limited sun, etc). If you don’t have a tiller or want to go to the trouble of tilling, you can build gardens on top of your grass, whether it be raised beds, straw bale gardening, or lasagna mulching. And don’t be limited to your backyard. Front yard gardens, if done tastefully, are a possibility as long as there are no prohibitions where you live (like city ordinances or home owner association rules).
Good luck and happy gardening!
Have any questions about your first garden? Please leave a reply.
The Snarky Gardener saw more progress on the indoor tomato front. Both plants reached the top of the fully extended AeroGarden hood (2 feet), so it’s just pruning from here on out. The Chocolate Cherry has 4 or 5 green tomatoes on it (yeah!). They are tiny but are a hopeful sign of things to come. The Snarky Orange has several flowers but has been running behind the other since the beginning.
Alternative title: The Report of My Tomatoes’ Death was an Exaggeration
Other alternative title: It’s a Winter Solstice Miracle!
After a scare with droopy branches, my tomatoes continue to soldier on. It was a case of over-fertilizing and once I replaced the water, the two plants recovered with only some leaf damage. As you can see from the picture, the Chocolate Cherry on the right seems to be doing better, but it’s a more robust variety anyways. I probably should have removed the flowers from both to help with the recovery, but my quest for winter tomatoes overpowered my logic and common sense. The chocolate cherry tomato plant’s flowers are turning into little tomatoes (yum!). Now all that’s left is the waiting (and waiting and waiting).
The AeroGarden’s hood is a full mast (2 feet high) so now I’ll have to keep up with the pruning. I finally put in the trellis system, which is why they look like marionettes. The vines have been sucking up all the water I pour and then some. Most of the time, AeroGardens can go a week or 2 before you have to refill. These are so needy, but soooo worth it. Hopefully the next post will show fruit ready to pick.
Just when I thought things were going along peachy for my indoor tomatoes, this is what I found yesterday morning.
When I saw my plants in distress, I gave them more water and AeroGarden fertilizer. Later on during the day, I jumped on the “Internets” to see what might be the problem and found an article about overfertilization. If plants have too much, they cannot absorb water, which is what the saggy leaves reminded me of. So it looks like I caused the droopiness by using some homemade “Comfrey/Turnip plant juice” a few days ago. Either this liquid mixture was too strong or maybe the pH was too extreme (should probably check, huh?). And of course by adding even more fertilizer, I made everything worse (my overenthusiastic self did it again). So last night I replaced all the water in the AeroGarden with distilled only. I think this did the trick as they look a little better this morning, though we did lose some lower branches. I’ll post more pictures this weekend.
Every fall for the last few years, I’ve restarted my indoor AeroGardens, as the full spectrum light and green growth helps to keep away the winter blues (aka Seasonal Affective Disorder). I’m taking a new bold step this time by growing cherry tomatoes from my saved seeds. Last year I purchased a special extra tall AeroGarden (extends up to 2 feet instead of 1) with “mega” cherry tomato seeds included. I wasn’t 100% happy with the tomatoes it produced as they had very little taste, most likely because I was being stingy with the liquid fertilizer. So now I’m using my own varieties plus more plant food to hopefully grow better tasting fruit.
Getting them started was the first hurdle, as I have never saved tomato seeds before. But Mother Nature trumps Snarky Nature every time and both (Snarky Orange and Chocolate) sprang up with no issues within a week. My next issue moving forward will be whether or not the plants will get too big for their britches. I’ll have to treat them like bonsai trees and keep them properly trimmed, or I’ll have a jungle in my kitchen. If this all goes well and I end up with flowers, I’ll spend the following month or so concerned that the Snarky Orange tomatoes won’t actually produce orange tomatoes. They are the third generation of the SunGold hybrids I grew in 2012. They volunteered this last spring and on a whim, I decided to just let them go wild. Out of four volunteer plants, two produced orange tomatoes and two produced red cherry tomatoes, which I guess is not uncommon. I saved seeds from the tastiest orange tomatoes produced but genetics are a funny and random thing. Guess we’ll all find out later this winter. Can you just feel the excitement?
It’s been an eventful 2013 spring for the Snarky Gardener. He has learned humility and patience, especially since it’s taking forever for everyone to know how wonderful he truly is. Mother nature has given many lessons this year, and it’s possible the Snarky Gardener won’t make the same mistakes next year. Here’s the summary of highlights and lowlights (is that really a word?) for this spring.
Starting my own plants
This year started with much (probably too much) enthusiasm as January can make a gardener in Ohio a little nuts. Overall it went well, with lots of tomatoes, and basil plants to plant and trade. I do need to improve on starting dates, labeling, and hardening off. All of these issues come down to one thing – patience. I tend to want to start seeds earlier than they should be, forget to label and/or record properly, and to rush plants outside too soon.
Spinach was a little hard to get germinated (maybe one in two seeds actually sprouted). I used the AeroGarden starter kit, so maybe spinach just doesn’t do very well with that system. I’ve done some research on soil cubes and could go that direction for spinach and others next year.
Frosts and freezes
Last year we in Northeast Ohio got spoiled with an early spring with warm weather in March and April. This year we had freezes and frosts into late May and I lost quite a few tomatoes and peppers. I’ll make a concerted effort not put out the majority of my frost intolerant plant until late May next year.
This is the second year I’ve had issues with groundhogs in my garden. Last year in July, a little guy (named him Woody) terrorized my garden for a week or two until I finally caught him in the act of trespassing and theft. He took out half my early corn and green beans before I was able to finally capture him. Let’s just say that he’s in a better place now.
This year the fun started earlier in late May as a momma and her little one moved into Woody’s old house, which is a burrow under a stacked pile of pine trees 5 feet behind my garden. It began with a few carrot tops missing and culminated with the loss of spinach, peas, kale, broccoli, and even Jerusalem artichokes. I called in the experts this time as my own trapping efforts were getting me nowhere. First morning we had a raccoon, who had been stealing my trap bait of corn and apples. My trap is obviously cheap and worthless. Since the raccoon, we caught two more raccoons, Mama and another baby groundhog. On July 4th, I added some 3 foot chicken fencing to the north side with 1 1/2 feet on the ground and 1 1/2 feet attached to the current fence. This will keep future groundhogs (there will be more) from digging under (crossing my fingers).
My long-term plan is to remove the wood either by having the landlord move it or by acquiring a chain saw. The cleared area will make a good place to expand my composting efforts.
Overwintering and collecting seeds
I overwintered several different plants this year, mostly because I wanted early spring produce. Carrots, kale, onions, mache, and turnips all made it back for 2013. I let the kale, mache, and turnips go to seed with a concerted effort to collect the Seven Top turnip green seeds. I ended up with a giant bag of turnip green seeds on 7/14 (more than I’ll ever use), so if you want some, just let me know and I’ll figure out a way to get them to you. I’m still planning to collect tomato and bean seeds for sure, with a possibility of collecting peppers and eggplants this year too.