The First “Warm” Vegetables Get Planted — May 11, 2014

by A.J. Coltrane

Previous post (complete plant list) here.

We decided it’s now warm enough to put out the tomatoes and tomatillos. They joined the Brussels sprouts, cucumbers, and zucchini, already in progress:

140511 tomato and tomatillo

The picture is taken from slightly south (left) of the vantage point of the late-afternoon sun. The two boxes off to the right are the cucumbers and zucchini. Everything will get a trellis or cage soon. We left more room this year (for hopefully less wading through the tomato jungle), and we tried to put more emphasis on eventual size when laying out the tomatoes. Last year it was just “is it determinate or indeterminate and how long is the maturity”, followed by a big tomato wresting match.

Foreground to background, and left to right:

Mountain Princess (D, 68 days, 4′), Taxi (D, 65 days, 2′)

Roma (D, 75 days, 4-6′), Oregon Spring (D, 60 days, 4-5′)

Black Krim (I, 75 days, 4-7′), Tigerella (I, 65 days, 4′)

Sungold (I, 65 days, 10′), Glacier (D, 56 days, 4′) (The Glacier will hopefully be completely done before the Sungold gets too crazy big. Last year the Sungold got to around 8-9′, then flopped over the 6′ cage.)

Tomatillo “De Mipa” (60 days), Tomatillo “Mexican Strain” (65 days)

The shorter plants are all on the south sides of the boxes. As a bonus, all of the short-season determinates are in the two foreground boxes. In theory those boxes should be available late-season for planting something else.

The peas are blooming. It seems like forever since we planted them. [Checks notes]  They were started indoors on February 5 and transplanted outside on February 16. They’re well beyond their listed 58 day maturity. I think in the future they’ll do better on the back patio. February and March front-yard sun isn’t all that awesome.

140511 peas

The basil and peppers are still coming in at night. It’ll be maybe another week for the peppers and towards the end of the month for the basil.

Random question/observation:  Why do most people spell “tomatoes” with an “e”, but the plural of tomatillo lacks an “e”(?)

(And yeah, I know “tomatoes” can be spelled without the “e”, but I basically never see it.) Odd.

The 2014 Plant List

by A.J. Coltrane

We’ll start the “2014 season” with this post.

The 2014 Seattle Tilth Plant Sale Haul:

[Complete list of vegetables at the sale, PDF. The descriptions are from the PDF, with my comments in brackets. There may be some funky formatting below, but then, the PDF features a *lot* of funky formatting.]

Brussels Sprouts – We purchased the Brussels Sprouts at a nursery last year and I didn’t note the variety. This year we got them at the Tilth sale. The EarthBox directions call for six total plants in one box. We have about double that. We’ll see how it goes, though last year it went fine (if cramped) with four Brussels Sprouts in what would normally be the space for one plant. In any event, I grabbed too many by accident and we have a few extras if you’re a neighbor. Note that the white cabbage moths are already out and about, so the ones that we planted yesterday are covered with tulle to help prevent damage:

Catskill (Qty, about 5 or 6)
90 days. Open pollinated. Selection from a private stock of Long Island Improved, a treasured American heirloom.
Produces very high yields of 2″ diameter round green Brussels sprouts. This variety has strong, stout stalks and closelyspaced small sprouts. Easy to pick. Excellent freezing variety. Bred by Arthur White and Joseph Harris Company in New York and released in 1941.

Roodnerf (Qty 6)
100 days. Open pollinated. There are few open pollinated Brussels sprouts left to grow that yield great sprouts, but this is one of them! Cold hardy and good for letting winter over. [We’ll see if one variety does better than the other. This one is recommended in the book “Food Grown Right, In Your Backyard”.]

Cucumbers – The same variety as last year. No reason to mess with what worked. The cucumbers were planted outside on May 5th last year. (Gotta love those notes!) They don’t much like being transplanted, so maybe we’ll do that today/tonight/tomorrow depending upon the weather:

Marketmore 76 (Qty 4)
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. This is your classic, all-around cucumber!

Peppers – We preselected about 10 varieties from the Tilth list that we wanted to grow. We had to accept three “2nd choices”, which wasn’t bad. We got all the ones we really wanted. Last year the peppers were transplanted outside on about the 25th of May. The first four listed are “hot”, the rest are “sweet”:

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. They are just like the anaheims you find in the store but without having traveled all those miles to get to you! [A repeat from 2013.]

Early Jalapeno
66 days. Open pollinated. Hottest and fully ripe when they turn red but most is familiar in the green stage. 2 ft. tall plants produce 3 in. peppers. Will set fruit in cooler conditions better than other hot peppers. [Repeat from 2013.]

Hungarian Hot Wax
70 days. Open pollinated heirloom. Semi-hot, smooth waxy yellow 5 1/2 x 1 1/2″ fruits taper to a point. Popular with
Northwest gardeners due to their cold tolerance and early fruit production. [New. First choice was “Hot Portugal, but Tilth didn’t get them in.]

Thai Hot
82 days. Open pollinated heirloom. Only habanero is hotter, as Thai Hot has 80,000 Scoville units. Thai Hot’s small
conical peppers ripen to bright red and stand erect above the foliage so fetchingly that it’s sometimes grown as a
Christmas potted plant. Early pinching will produce a bushy 8″ plant that can be pulled, roots and all, and hung to dry for winter use or grown inside for both ornamental and edible enjoyment. [First choice was “Hot Portugal”. No stock on those.]

[All sweet peppers below this point.]

Alma Paprika
80 days. Open pollinated. These peppers can be harvested when red, dried and ground for homemade paprika. They
are also tasty fresh from the garden! You’ll get 2-inch round peppers with thick walls and sweet flavor. [New.]

Cute Stuff
62 days. Apple-shaped mini-bells are perfect for stuffing. High-yielding plants produce up to 3 times more than other
peppers. Pick the 3 inch fruits when they are green or red. Flavor is sweet and tasty at both stages. [A repeat, though not a 1st choice. Last chance to shine, guys.]

Early Hungarian Sweet
55 days. Open pollinated. An extra-early, large wax. The conical fruit is produced more reliably than the bells and tastes even sweeter! This one matures from a creamy-white to red–beautiful. [New.]

85 days. Open pollinated. This orange bell pepper has heavy, thick walls, and the sweetest flavor you’ll find in an orange pepper. Resistant to tobacco mosiac virus. [Repeat. Last chance due to low yields last year. Note the long season.]

Gypsy (Qty 2)
58 days. This speedy variety is much easier to mature than bell types. The 6-7 in. long, tapered, yellow fruit are very thick-walled and sweet. Gypsy’s flavor is hard to beat. [Repeat. The quantity is hedging upwards.]

King of the North (Qty 6)
76 days. Open Pollinated. Here is a sweet bell pepper that will mature in short season climates. Its crisp, blocky fruit will turn from medium green to red if left on plant longer. Excellent raw in salads or dips. Great to use as stuffed pepper or in tempura recipes. [Repeat. These did the best of everything last year, so this year they get a full box to themselves.]

Pasilla Bajio – Chili
80 days. Mild. Slightly sweet. Crinkly 8-10″ fruit ripen from dark green to red to dark brown. Use fresh in red chile
enchilada sauce and salsas. Also called Chile Negro or Chilaca, this pepper is a signature ingredient in mole sauces. [New. A 2nd choice, though it was on the “alternate” list.]

Tequila Sunrise
77 days. Open pollinated. Five-inch long, thick-fleshed fruits are borne upright on the stems and ripen from green to
orange. Very pretty and tasty too!

Zucchini – This year we’re going to try a vining zucchini that’s supposed to be especially hardy:

Tromboncino (Qty 2)
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. Harvest when they are a pale, grass green or leave a few fruits at the end of the season to mature to a buff color and enjoy them as you would a winter squash.

Tomatillos – One repeat variety and one new variety. I’m hoping the new variety doesn’t drop fruit all over the ground:

De Milpa
60 days. Open pollinated. Mexican heirloom. “Di milpa” means “from the fields”, as this type commonly grows wild in the cornfields of Latin America. Small fruit but great storage quality, remains green and firm weeks after picking. [New. In addition to (possibly) being less of a mess, I’m hoping that they’ll last longer in storage too.]

Mexican Strain
65 days. Open pollinated. At 2 inches, these fruit are larger than most tomatillos. They are savory and fresh tasting, great for making salsa verde or adding a Mexican flavor to your dishes. Tomatillos produce tons of fruit on sprawling vines, but don’t usually need to be trellised. Fruits will burst out of husks and fall to the ground when they are ripe. [Repeat. Last year one of the two plants didn’t do much, so subbing out one for a new variety should still give us ample output.]

In 2013 the tomatoes and tomatillos were transplanted out on May 17.

Tomatoes – There’s a theme here — the maximum time to maturity is 75 days. We’ll check with SeattleAuthor to find out how his long-season plants do this year. Given our finite space we decided not to push the envelope again. (Our 85-day Brandywines were the least impressive of anything we grew in 2013.) Like last year, we tried to target a mix of Determinate and Indeterminate tomatoes with the hopes of spreading the harvest out at least somewhat — there are 5 Determinate and 3 Indeterminate. The Determinates are 56, 60, 65, 68, and 75 days. The Indeterminates are 65, 65, and 75 days.:

Sungold (Cherry)
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. Generally we try to offer open pollinated and heirloom varieties, but we just can’t give up Sungold! Winner of Best Cherry Tomato at the 2005 and 2006 Tilth Tomato Tasting. [Repeat. Easily our “best” and “most popular” in 2013. At some point I wouldn’t mind trying other cherry tomatoes, but these will be tough to beat.]

Black Krim
75 days. Open pollinated heirloom. Indeterminate. From the Black Sea region of Russia, these 10-12oz beefsteak type tomatoes have a strong, rich flavor that is common with black tomatoes. One seed catalog noted that the fruit is best when half green and still firm. Very productive. Reportedly is a consistent favorite at tastings, so why not give it a shot? [New. I wanted to try these last year, but Tilth didn’t get them.]

65 days. Open pollinated. Determinate, early, prolific production. The best yellow tomato for short season gardeners. Expect heavy yields of mild, non-acid tomatoes for 3-4 weeks. Grows well in a container. [New. A little something different. These seem to be popular, so they seem like a good thing to try.]

65 days. Open pollinated. English Heirloom. Indeterminate. Interesting green turning to red and orange tiger-striped fruit . Very early and prolific – produces throughout the season. Excellent for salads. Low acidity variety. [New. Another “little something different”. An Indeterminate to balance out the harvests.]

56 days. Open pollinated. Very early determinate. Orangey-red 2 1/2 in. fruit. Plants are 2 1/2 ft. tall and 3 1/2 ft. across. Surprisingly sweet for an ultra-early type. The nice thing about Glacier is that it’s the first tomato to ripen, and it keeps on producing late into the season, which is rare for most early determinates. Excellent grown in a container. [Repeat.]

Mountain Princess
68 days. Open pollinated heirloom. Determinate. A cool, short-season variety that hails from the mountains of West
Virginia, ‘Mountain Princess’ is very early and very productive. The round, 4 to 6 inch fruits make great slices for
sandwiches or drizzled with olive oil and a little salt and pepper–delicious! [New. We liked the name, and we liked the idea that they’d be good for caprese. I also liked the “cool, short-season..West Virginia” in the description.]

Oregon Spring
60 days. Determinate. An extra-early variety that sets loads of meaty fruits weighing 3 to 5 oz., with excellent flavor.
Compact plants set fruits even in cool weather and continue to yield all season long. Nearly seedless. A perfect choice for ketchup and sauces. [New. An early sauce tomato. Good in cool weather. Long yield. This one could work for us on a number of levels.]

75 days. Determinant. Premium canning tomato, ideal for sauce and paste. Pear-shaped scarlet fruits are thick and meaty with few seeds. [Repeat. Our biggest producer last year, though not everything ripened.]

Stupice, Siletz, and Brandywine didn’t make the cut this year. The Stupice and Siletz were considered replaceable. The Brandywine was “fine”, but the flavor wasn’t as awesome as it probably has the potential to be in warmer climates.

And six Basil! Basil is why we went to 12 boxes in the first place!


The Trellis

by A.J. Coltrane

This year we thought we might try a vining zucchini, with the idea that a vining type may do better in the EarthBoxes, and that it may represent a more efficient use of patio space. The variety we’re targeting is “Tromboncino”. It’s supposed to be relatively resistant to powdery mildew and many other things that tend to plague squash. The vines grow to about 6-8 feet, so today I finished the trellis:

140501 trellis

It’s big. Like, really big — it’s 4′ wide by almost 8′ high. I think it’s going  to need to live in the back corner of the patio so that it doesn’t shade everything else out.

A picture of “Tromboncino” from the Territorial Seed Co. website:

territorial seed tromboncino

(“Tromboncino” Wikipedia page here. Territorial Seed Co. page here.)

I basically copied this design from the EarthBox forums. This EarthBox forums – “Trellis Design Gallery” link has some interesting  ideas as well.

EarthBox – Shade Cloth Hoop Houses

by A.J. Coltrane

It’s supposed to get warm the next few days, possibly into the high 70’s at our house. Today seemed like a good day to put the shade cloth over the cool-weather vegetables.

I’d previously purchased the shade cloth. The bag said it was 6′ x 50′. I unfolded the cloth into what looked like a 6′ x 25′ length and cut. The intention was to get two 6′ pieces off of one end. What I got was two 9′ pieces. No idea why. 9 doesn’t divide evenly into 50..

As it turns out, I only had enough dowels to do two boxes, so I did this:

140428 shade cloth hoop house

The shade cloth is held in place by large binder clips.


Half-barrel Container:  Shallots, Arugula, Fernleaf Dill

Left EarthBoxes:  Little Gem Romaine Lettuce, Spinach

Center EarthBoxes:  Parsley and Cilantro (both mostly hidden) and more Spinach.

Right EarthBox:  Tulle covered, formerly home of the Pak Choi before it bolted.

I was feeling pretty clever! We’ll see if it actually helps.

Related posts here and here.

Bonus girl cat pic.

140428 girl cat

Radishes And Mache

by A.J. Coltrane

Mache and two types of radishes – “Cherry Bell” and “French Breakfast”:

042114 radish and mache

The Mache was direct seeded on January 5. I doubt that the super-early planting produced something much earlier than if I’d just waited another 4-6 weeks. It’s listed as a 50-day maturity, and we’re eating the last of them about 100 days later. The correct answer is (probably) to plant Mache in September-October or late February. Still, it was a good exercise to see what Mache would tolerate, and it survived the cold weather just fine.

The “Cherry Belle” radishes were direct seeded on February 10. In theory they can be ready to harvest in as little as 22 days (at 3/4″ – 1″ in diameter). It took closer to two months. They definitely didn’t like being at all cramped in the EarthBox. I think this variety is likely better suited for a container that offers more elbow room.

The “French Breakfast” radishes were direct seeded on March 7. They’re supposed to take 25-30 days to get 3-4″ long and 1/2″ in diameter. They took a couple of weeks longer than that, which I’d guess was to be expected. The nice thing about this variety is that they grow downward like carrots, rather than expanding much in width. My suspicion is that these are the better variety for limited-space situations.

If anyone has a good recipe for radish leaves I’m all ears. It looks like people either eat them raw or saute them with aromatics..

The Cold Frame, And Other Stuff

by A.J. Coltrane

The cold frame is finally finished. (I think. There are four screws left over.) It should be a good home anytime something needs a little more warmth. The lid can be adjusted to multiple positions. For reference the box is 4′ long by 2′ wide by 18″ high:

140418 cold frame

Next is a new trellis for the raspberry plants. It’s actually a remesh sheet (for concrete reinforcement.) Seven bucks at Home Depot. While I was trying to bend this into a circle it snapped back and got me in the face. I’d recommend eye protection if you decide to do this:

140418 raspberry

It’s secured with cable ties.

Pictured below is just under one ounce of romaine. It’s about 20-25 leaves — it makes for a nice little lunch salad. It’s amazing just how little leafy greens weigh. Three pounds of lettuce would make 50 of these salads:

140418 romaine winter density

That’s the “Winter Density” romaine. It was started indoors from seed on February 5 and transplanted outdoors on February 24. It’s still going strong, though I may start interplanting new seed around it soon.

Below is the “Little Gem” romaine. Started indoors February 16 and transplanted to the EarthBox on March 8. It’s just now starting to get up a head of steam, though it’s been in a relatively shady location in the back yard most of the time. I believe it’s supposed to have a fairly compact growing habit anyway.

140418 romaine little gem

Finally, a bonus boy cat pic:

140418 boy cat

Growing and Bolting

by A.J. Coltrane

We planted winter-hardy vegetables in late October. Mache was direct seeded on January 5. Cherry Belle Radishes were direct seeded on February 10. Super Sugar Snap Peas were transplanted outside on February 16. Romaine “Winter Density” seedlings followed them on February 24.

But nothing really did a whole lot, until this week. This week we’d go into the backyard and the vegetables would be perceptibly bigger than they were the day before. About half of the Bok Choi bolted a few days ago, so it got harvested before it could get bitter. More bolted today — it got cut out too. Altogether it came out to around two pounds of Bok Choi. Pictured below is today’s 3/4 lb – about 3 decent-sized heads:

140411 bok choi

That’ll be a stir-fry with garlic, sesame seeds, and Sriracha.

I *think* I read that cabbages planted in the fall will bolt more quickly in the spring. That may be what is going on here. I’m not sure though — that’s something that needs additional reading.

The peas are doing well. Here’s February 14:

Ultimato stakes with garden twine.
Ultimato stakes with garden twine.

And today:

140411 peas

No output from the peas yet, I’m guessing that’ll happen soon(?)

Finally, the romaine lettuce:

140411 romaine winter density

At least so far the front yard seems to be the better location for cool-season vegetables. It faces east, and doesn’t get sun during the hottest part of the day. We’ll see how it goes when it gets hot outside — it may require shade cloth to slow the bolting… Though the early results are encouraging.


by A.J. Coltrane

Last year we had no idea that those white moths lay eggs on the bok choi and brussels sprouts (both members of the cabbage family). The eggs turn into voracious caterpillars.

Which is very uncool.

So for this year I purchased tulle. (Link here. I paid $46 at the time. It now says $54.96. There may be a better deal out there.)

I used the hoop house idea again, but this time I made the hoops larger. I cut the dowels to two at 10″ and two at 14″, rather than all four at 12″. The dowels sit a little more even in the EarthBox that way. Below, there are clamps on the corners and clothespins on all four sides – the clothespins keep it tidier and add weight to the bottom of the cover.

140331 tulle

Pictured is the Pak Choi that was started from transplants on October 22. It’s come a long way.

Along about May I’m going to try basically the same setup, but with shade cloth for the lettuces/parsley/cilantro/dill/ anything else that bolts.

If you’re one of my neighbors and want some tulle, let me know. 50 yards is a lot of fabric.

An Inexpensive EarthBox Hoop House

by A.J. Coltrane

SeattleAuthor brought over Mâche seeds the other day, so it seemed like a good time to make a hoop house to keep the rain off of the seedlings. The hoop house was intended for the front yard, so it had to look decent. I was also targeting the minimum cost that would still allow for a “sound” end result. The finished cost was about $4.

140714 hoop house

Bill of Materials

~8 feet of 1/2″ pvc (black, flexible). Cut into two 4′ pieces. (Of a 100′ roll @ $16. An 8′ length should be comparable in price.)

5′ x 5′  of 4 mil clear plastic sheeting (Of a larger roll. It won’t last forever anyway.)

4 pvc clamps (sold as a bag of 5 for ~$1.60, similar to these)

7/16″ dowel x 4′, cut into 2 @ 10″ and 2 @ 14″. (The EarthBox is shallower on the watering tube side.)

2 clothespins


1.  Cut the dowel into four pieces. Cut two ~4′ sections of pvc pipe.

2.  Insert the dowels into each corner of the EarthBox. Slide the pvc lengths over the dowels.

3.  Cover with the plastic sheet and clamp. Pin the extra plastic on the ends with a clothespin. The clothespins can also be used to hold the plastic doors on the ends open.



The postmortem and assorted thoughts:

I think that there must be a better answer for the clamps, though I didn’t want to spend ~$1 each for good spring clamps. I want something that can easily be moved around, so something like spring clamps would be desirable. Still working on the right answer.

The cost could have been lower — My first thought was to build a wooden frame and attach the pvc to it using clamps. That’s the “normal” way to do it. But then I thought, hey, I can just push the pvc into the soil in each corner of the EarthBox. *Then* I did some looking around online — it appears that toxins from the pvc could potentially (likely?) release into the soil. How to deal with that?

I chose to do something similar to the buried rebar — I purchased some 3/8″ dowels, cut them to 1′ length, and buried the dowels in the corners of the box. I then slid the pvc over the dowels, leaving the pvc above the soil. In retrospect that was a no-brainer, but I was so fixated on the wooden frame/external support idea that it never occurred to me use the area within the EarthBox to anchor the pvc tubing.

I think it’s interesting that if you were to stick wagon wheels on the sides of the hoop house would look a lot like a covered wagon.

covered wagon

That may mean that it was the right way to do it — form follows function, and both the EarthBox and covered wagon have a similar functions.

Or it’s just a coincidence.


I learned something new. The french “a” thingy is alt and numpad 0226.