2021 Container Garden Recap

Our yield for the year was 112.6 pounds from 10 EarthBoxes. This is a lower amount than when we started gardening, but higher than the last couple of years. I think the factors that have led to the lower yield include:

  • Aging potting soil. We’ve replaced a good portion of it over time but salts may be building up and/or the soil may be getting denser. How much this negatively impacts growth I’m not sure.
  • In 2019 and 2020 the weather included lots of wildfire smoke during the peak growing season.
  • We’ve been sourcing the plants from different places since the pandemic started. Historically it’s been the annual Seattle Tilth Plant Sale, but that hasn’t been a real option the last couple of years for us. We’ve been buying the plants from “reputable nurseries” instead, so I’d like to think the sourcing isn’t that big of a deal.
  • We might be cramping the plants on the patio. The right answer might be to grow more shorter plant varieties. It feels like the patio might be getting less sun than in 2013, due to trees growing bigger all around the property.
  • I think the early enthusiasm for gardening has worn off, and we’ve been relatively shorter on free time the last couple of years, so I’m not doting over the plants like I had been. I’ve sort of pivoted to “maximum output relative to work input.”

Overall it felt like everything “popped” sort of late but in any event we still got a decent yield by year end. The “pounds” amounts below are for the full box or boxes

Marketmore Cucumbers – 1 box, 4 plants, 21.1 pounds. This is lower than some years, though the fruits themselves kept good shape and taste all season. The quality was better but it felt like the plants were shorter than usual.

Black Beauty Eggplant – 1 box, 2 plants, 1.4 pounds. The first year we’ve grown eggplant of any type. My feeling is that the eggplant box could have been in a sunnier spot though at the height of summer it may have gotten to hot on the patio for the plants to be happy. They set fruit really late, so the fact that we got any at all was a pleasant surprise. If we do eggplant again we’ll move them to a different location on the patio and *possibly* try hand pollinating to help things along. Additionally: I think the plants themselves were mislabeled and they were actually Chinese or Zebra eggplants – they were relatively spherical and had stripes.

Carmen Peppers – 1 box, 6 plants, 8.8 pounds. This is right in line with the 1.5 pounds per plant we’ve seen from Carmen Peppers historically. They ripened well overall and we lost very few to critters. Our favorite peppers to grow come though again.

King of The North Peppers – 1 box, 6 plants, 3.8 pounts. These kind of got out-competed by the Carmens. They were adjacent to the Carmens but the Carmens flopped on top of them to some degree. Not a great yield but again we lost very few to critters — 3.8 pounds is “fine”.

Black Krim Tomato – 1 box, 2 plants, 12.5 pounds. This represents a below average yield for this variety. On the bright side almost all of the tomato plants either ripened on the vine or ripened after harvest. We grow these every year for the terrific earthy flavor and this year lived up to expectations.

Green Zebra and Tigerella Tomatoes – 1 box, 2 plants, 11.5 pounds. Planting to tomatoes that look that much the same next to each other wasn’t the best idea. The Green Zebra was the weaker of the two plants, so I’d guess the total yield is more Tigerallas.

Oregon Spring Tomato – 1 box, 2 plants, 20.2 pounds This represents a below average yield for what is always a top performer. They still ripened first, though I think we lost a few pounds to critters taking a chunk out of semi-mature fruit.

Roma Tomato – 2 boxes, 4 plants, 26.8 pounds. Below average yield again, but literally everything ripened. We ripened all of the unripe and semi-ripe tomatoes on cooling racks on the floor of the kitchen near a heater vent. I think the air flow and warmth helped ensure ripening rather than rotting. We grew plants from two different farms and they seemed to produce equally well.

Tromboncino Zucchini – 1 box, 2 plants, 4.3 pounds. Another downer year for a plant that is relatively more labor intensive than some other possible choices. It may be that we need to hand pollinate these for a better yield, or put them in a location where they get more sun.

We also got more basil than we could possibly use from the EarthBoxes, as well as a good amount of beans and scallions. The raised beds provided a nice amount of asparagus, rosemary, thyme, chives, and garlic chives.

Overall that’s 73 pounds of tomatoes and the freezer is full of tomato sauce. We enjoyed fresh cucumbers and tomatoes over the summer. If we’re going to spend “extra” time in the yard then producing our own food feels like a rewarding time-sink.

I Might Have Co-Opted The Sweater Drying Rack

About a month ago it was pretty much the end of basil season here North of Seattle. Any additional growth would be a “bonus”. This year I didn’t wait around until basil turned purple — I proactively cut best looking 3-6″ everywhere on the plants and hung them on the sweater drying rack:

There are also oregano sprigs laying across the top of the bars on the left-hand side. The stuff that was too small to hang on its own wound up on a window screen that we laid flat between two chairs.

Continue reading “I Might Have Co-Opted The Sweater Drying Rack”

Container Garden Update — July 10, 2021

The weather has been cooperative North of Seattle so far this year. No overcast and rainy May. No smoke filled skies from wildfires. We’ll start seeing Harvests Of Things in the next 10-14 days, which is right on pace with when it’s been nice outside for most of the summer.

An overview pic from the “front”. The camera is pointed mostly East, slightly North:

That’s tomatoes on the left, peppers in the center, and basil on the right. On the back left are the Tromboncino zucchini, on the right are cucumbers, and behind the cucumbers are pole beans.

The first cucumbers are nearly ready:

We had a day in the 100’s recently. The basil absolutely loves that, though I’m guessing concrete and the garden area must have been over 110 degrees:

Last year we made a big bag of “Italian Seasoning” with oregano from our raised beds and the basil. I see another big bag or two in our future.

Continue reading “Container Garden Update — July 10, 2021”

The 2021 Garden Plant List

By mid-season the garden should look something like:

The 2018 garden in July

We’re trying something new this year — eggplants. (All plant descriptions are by Seattle Tilth unless otherwise noted. My additional “Ed” notes are in italics.)

2 Black Beauty Eggplant, 1 box. (partial Bonnie Plants description): Plants produce pretty, prolific harvests in warm weather—keep them well-watered and harvest often. Pick the fruit before the glossy, dark skin begins to fade. (The color and glossiness of the eggplant determine the best time to harvest, rather than the fruit’s size.) Grows beautifully in garden beds or containers. Add a cage to your eggplant to help support stems when heavy with fruit. Place in full sun, and feed regularly. Matures in 80 days.

4 “Marketmore” Cucumbers, 1 box. (Ed: I’m not sure what exact variety these are. Historically we’ve grown) Marketmore 76 – 63 days. Open pollinated. In the Marketmore series, ‘Marketmore 76’ is very popular with organic growers due to its high level of disease resistance. This dark green slicing variety produces abundant, high quality, uniform fruits about 8 inches long with a wonderful cucumber flavor.

Continue reading “The 2021 Garden Plant List”

The 2020 Vegetables

Our patio “Container Garden” consists of twelve EarthBoxes and three City Pickers. This year we’re going to leave a few idle, or fill them with a rotation of short-season veggies and greens. I don’t feel like this is the right summer to be committing to wrangling a jungle of big plants.

Here’s a picture of the almost-complete garden. you’re looking basically East. The first sun hits the grassy edge of the patio at around 10am and by 11am-1pm (summer day-length dependent) the rear trellises will be in full sunlight:

200516 overview

In the front there are (L-R) –   two empty boxes, a box of Taxi and Oregon Spring tomatoes, a box of two San Marzano Romas, and a box of two Oregon Spring. They’re all determinate and should play well together.

In the mid-left back there are two indeterminate Black Krim tomatoes sharing a box. Behind that under the trellis are Fortex (pole) beans in a City Picker box — 20 plants in a 4 x 5 layout.

Continue reading “The 2020 Vegetables”

Container Garden Update — July 28, 2019

It’s been a very mild summer. The Tromboncino zucchini aren’t doing much of anything but the beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers are doing well.

Oregon Spring tomatoes are always our earliest producers. By the end of the season we should have harvested around 40 pounds total from the two plants in the box:

190728 oregon spring

The first Romas:

190728 roma

The Taxi is “sharing” a box with a less-than-stellar Oregon Cherry. The Taxi plant starts on the left…:

Continue reading “Container Garden Update — July 28, 2019”

The First Sun Golds — Is The Garden Late This Year?

We harvested the first two Sun Gold tomatoes on Thursday the 18th. Is that “late” or “early” or “neither”?

180719 sun gold

Fortunately we have a non-memory dependent answer. We’ve been keeping a spreadsheet of the harvests since we started gardening in 2013. Here’s what it says:

Year First Sun Gold Date
2013 July 7
2014 August 3
2015 July 17
2016 August 3
2017 July 20
2018 July 28
2019 July 18
Average July 22

As it turns out July 18 is almost right on the average first date for Sun Golds.

What is late is the Tromboncino. Most years we would have already harvested a few. As of right now there is one fruit of any size on the vines and none have been harvested.

The Fortex beans are rocking though — over three days and two harvests we pulled almost a pound off of the plants:

July 18:

180719 fortex beans

July 20:

200719 fortex beans

Today will be a day to start “cleaning up” the bottoms of the tomato plants. At least that way we’ll be able to see new fruit easily.

—————————

Visit Dave at Ourhappyacres, host of Harvest Monday.

Container Garden Update — June 23, 2019

Do you remember the tale of Jack and the Beanstalk? Thinking about it, I remember the beans, and I remember that they got so tall that they reached the clouds, and that was about it.

From Wikipedia:

Jack is a young, poor boy living with his widowed mother and a dairy cow on a farm cottage. The cow’s milk was their only source of income. When the cow stops giving milk, Jack’s mother tells him to take her to the market to be sold. On the way, Jack meets a bean dealer who offers magic beans in exchange for the cow, and Jack makes the trade. When he arrives home without any money, his mother becomes angry, throws the beans on the ground, and sends Jack to bed without dinner.

During the night, the magic beans cause a gigantic beanstalk to grow outside Jack’s window. The next morning, Jack climbs the beanstalk to a land high in the sky. He finds an enormous castle and sneaks in. Soon after, the castle’s owner, a giant, returns home. He smells that Jack is nearby, and speaks a rhyme:

Fee-fi-fo-fum!
I smell the blood of an Englishman:
Be he alive, or be he dead,
I’ll grind his bones to make my bread.

 

In the versions in which the giant’s wife (the giantess) features, she persuades him that he is mistaken and helps Jack hide because the woman knows that he is poor. When the giant falls asleep, Jack steals a bag of gold coins and makes his escape down the beanstalk.

Jack climbs the beanstalk twice more. He learns of other treasures and steals them when the giant sleeps: first a goose that lays golden eggs, then a magic harp that plays by itself. The giant wakes when Jack leaves the house with the harp (who calls out to the giant) and chases Jack down the beanstalk. Jack calls to his mother for an axe and before the giant reaches the ground, cuts down the beanstalk, causing the giant to fall to his death.

Jack and his mother live happily ever after with the riches that Jack acquired.

That’s really something, isn’t it?

What brought that to mind is that the Fortex beans are much taller than everything in our garden, and that’s been the case since about two weeks after we planted them:

190622 beans

If you’re going to author a fairy tale about garden plants that get really tall really fast, beans are the obvious choice. The story practically writes itself, except for the castle, the giant, the singing harp, and the golden goose. And the poor cow that drives the plot.

Continue reading “Container Garden Update — June 23, 2019”

Container Garden Update — June 9, 2019

An overview picture of the garden. In the foreground are the peppers. Tomatoes are on the left. Fortex beans are in the back right, with tomatillos in the middle-back. The Tromboncino trellis is in the far back left. (For reference, the garden is in the back yard on the west side of the house. The patio is the sunniest location we have available to garden. We now use a dozen EarthBoxes after having had good success years ago with herbs and other little edibles in our “starter” EarthBox.)

190609 overview 2

A picture from next to the Tromboncino, near the garage door:

190609 overview1

We try to harvest the Fortex beans when they’re smallish and can be cooked as haricot verts. They’re going nuts even though they’re in the worst location on the patio — they get shaded by the back deck and don’t get sun until around 1-2pm. There are two City Picker boxes end to end under the trellis, allowing for 40 plants total. We gave the beans their own trellis this year so they’d keep to themselves:

190609 fortex beans

The tomatillos. Every year it seems that there’s a stronger and a weaker plant. That’s true again this year:

Continue reading “Container Garden Update — June 9, 2019”

The 2019 Vegetable List

We’ve been doing most of our veggie shopping at the Seattle Tilth plant sale. Descriptions are condensed from their PDF. My notes are in italics.

The List:

Tomato (2 per box):

Black Krim (2 plants) – 75 days. Indeterminate. Open pollinated heirloom. From the Black Sea region of Russia, these 10-12oz beefsteak type tomatoes have a strong, rich flavor that is common with black tomatoes. (Ed: By far our favorite tomato.)

Old German (1 plant) – 75-85 days. Indeterminate. Fruits are golden with reddish streaks. Produces large, rich and full bodied tomatoes. Great for fresh eating tomato, salads, and salsa.

Sun Gold (1 plant) – 65 days. Indeterminate. Wow! Sungold’s fruity or tropical flavor is a big hit with everyone who tastes it. Apricot-orange round 1 1/4 in. fruit. 10-20 fruits on grape-like trusses. (Ed: While the description is a little over the top they are a universal hit.)

Roma (2 plants) – 75 days. Determinant. Premium canning tomato, ideal for sauce and paste. Pear-shaped scarlet fruits are thick and meaty with few seeds. (Ed:  Interestingly, the plant tags say “Roma’s Best”. Hopefully they’re the same thing we’ve been growing for years.)

Taxi (1 plant) – 65 days. Determinate, early, prolific production. The best yellow tomato for short season gardeners. Open pollinated. Expect heavy yields of mild, non-acid tomatoes for 3-4 weeks. Grows well in a container. (Ed: They do grow well in containers. In a typical year we’ll get somewhere upwards of 20 pounds per plant.)

Oregon Cherry (1 plant) – 60 days. Determinate. An early cherry tomato released from Oregon State University. The small-fruited red tomatoes are 1 1/2 inches long by 1 inch wide, and load up heavy on 1 1/2 feet tall by 2 feet wide determinate plants. These thin skinned tomatoes have a sweet flavor and are a reliable PNW treat

180812 harvest3

 

Zucchini (2 plants in one box):

Tromboncino – 60-80 days. Open pollinated heirloom. A Tilth favorite, the flesh of this variety has a smooth buttery texture and a mild flavor—the taste of summer! The 12 to 18” long fruits are “trombone”- shaped and can grow in curly cues or hang like
bells on a trellised vine. (Ed: Tromboncino work well for us because we garden on a concrete patio and normal zucchini would likely burn on the cement. Tromboncino grow vertically, so we save space. They’re also relatively more powdery mildew resistant. Each square on the trellis below is 8″. The fruits themselves are around 2′ long.)

160814 tromboncino

 

Cucumber (4 plants in one box):

Marketmore 76 – 63 days. Open pollinated. In the Marketmore series, ‘Marketmore 76’ is very popular with organic growers due to its high level of disease resistance. This dark green slicing variety produces abundant, high quality, uniform fruits about 8 inches long with a wonderful cucumber flavor.

160724 cucumber

 

Tomatillo (2 plants in one box):

Verde – 70 days. Open pollinated. A classic deep green tomatillo with high yields, ‘Verde’ is ready when the husks have split andare drying. Very intense rich flavor which pairs well with sweet summer tomatoes and makes a fantastic salsa.

180701 tomatillo

 

Peppers (6 per box. This year it is two boxes of Carmen and 3 plants each of Jimmy Nardello and Anaheim.):

Carmen – 60 – 80 days. Lusciously sweet when left to fully ripen to a deep red, this pepper is perfect for chopping and tossing straight into a salad. A great container plant and a good addition to a sunny veggie bed. 6 inch fruits on an upright plant.

Jimmy Nardello – 76 days. Open pollinated heirloom. Thin-walled 8″ long curved tapering pointed fruits turn deep red when ripe with shiny wrinkled skin. Great eaten raw and super tasty when fried–very prolific! This seed variety is considered by Slow Food USA to be an endangered member of their “Ark of Taste.”

Anaheim College 64 – 74 days. Open pollinated. Medium hot flavor make these short season peppers a hit for dips, sauces, stuffing with cheese
or roasting.

150829 peppers

 

For a little background — when shopping for vegetable plants we’re looking for certain things:

  • We want relatively short season plants because the growing season in the Pacific Northwest can be unpredictable. (Note that nothing is much over 80 days to maturity in the list above.)
  • We typically don’t grow miniature versions of anything because it can get very fiddly to clean and process little fruits. And there tends to be more waste as a percentage of the yield.
  • We’ll often select tomatoes that do well in Russia or Oregon. That’s broadly true of all the plants we grow — ideally wherever the plant is popular shares a latitude and climate similar to the Pacific Northwest.
  • We generally focus on high value – high yield plants. We have limited growing space and we can buy something like corn for next to free at the height of summer.

Finally:

  • It’s been my experience that people tend to grow what their parents grew. And most gardening advice is based on experience gained from small sample sizes. My sample size is small too.
  • When we were starting out I hit as many “vegetable gardening” message boards as I could find, searching for people growing food near us. I tallied up what people said grew well (literally, tally sheets for recommended tomatoes, etc). We used that information as a base and we’re learning more every year.
  • The nice thing about gardening is most mistakes are still edible.