Wednesday, December 30, 2009

catalog = )

I know that I haven't written in awhile, which means nobody will probably read this until I send out that a new gardening season has begun.... BUT.... MY FIRST SEED CATALOG OF THE SEASON HAS ARRIVED!! I went to sleep last night dreaming of all the new plants that I will cram into my little garden. The flowers that will provide color all summer long, the shade tolerant plants that will make the view out my kitchen window be more than just a fence, the fresh green beans, salads, salsa and cucumbers that will be enjoyed. Sigh... if only it weren't 23 degrees out right now! This year, in addition to my front stoop, roof, yard and alley, my father-in-law lives next door (and we have a pass through in the fence... I love Saw-zalls) He has a terrible view of his other neighbors' yards and said I could brighten up his patio and grow some kind of climbers up the back fence so he doesn't feel like he has the neighbors watching him every time he sits on the patio.
After an incredibly busy holiday season, I am finally going to clean out the garden tomorrow (New Year's eve), maybe get in a few lettuce and chard plants under my cold frame, then hunker down with my garden catalogs until it comes time to flip on the grow lights and start a new season.
Can't wait to bring you all along on another year of city gardening!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

New Gardens = )

I know that the summer is winding down. I won't have many more weeks of posting pictures of my learning experience that I call a garden before I have to clean and oil my tools and tuck all the plants in for the winter. I will not despair though because I look forward to hours of daydreaming while looking out over a snow covered yard, and thinking of all the things I want to improve for next year. I also have armchair gardening to look forward too. This go around Amy and I can expand our circle and invite Liz and Vicci, who have recently acquired gardens of their own, to dream and scheme with us! I see a snowy Saturday afternoon of gardening books, catalogues, wine and friendship; and husbands who will all be running as fast as they can to get out of the house!
When the girls acquired their gardens, I told them that I would be available to help them get their gardens growing. I so enjoy helping other people have their own little gardens of Eden, especially if I get to help with all the fun planning and picking of stuff and leave them to do all the day to day trimming and weeding! I have even been contemplating what kind of horticultural education I would have to undertake in order to successfully start a business to teach people not lucky enough to have a mom or friend who is willing to pass along gardening knowledge. I even had a great name... the Garden Tutor. Of course my inspiration of being the first person to think of being the savior of gardeners who can't quite get their gardens to grow because they have no idea what they are doing, with a great business name and plan were dashed when I searched "garden tutor" and actually came up with 2 other businesses with the name and the plan that I came up with. On the negative side, I am not the first person to think of this, on the positive side, neither of the companies were in the Philadelphia area, and they are apparently doing well enough to post current portfolio pictures on their websites. There must be a need for this service... I will just have to come up with an even more clever name.
Off to check and see what goodies the roof has produced today...

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


The evil green sausages have returned to the garden!! This time I only found one, but it looks like I caught it just in time, it had what looked like little white eggs/cocoons on its back. No mercy for this girl, I hope I got all of the babies when I scooped her up and deposited her in the garbage can Fingers crossed there aren't baby evil green sausages waiting in the soil of the buckets waiting to emerge next year and nibble their way through the tomatoes!
I wonder where she has been hiding all this time. I know tomato worms are remarkable similar in color to tomato plants, but at more than 2" long and bigger around than a pencil, you would think I would see the thing before it showed up with a hoard of eggs!
I had to laugh though, as much as I dislike the critters, if you look at them from the back end, they have a single horn and a nose shaped rear that kind of makes them look like a little unicorn. That "nose" and horn make a good camouflage and protection. I have seen one before, and know what their heads look like, and yet when I saw the horn and "nose" I thought I was looking at its head!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Roof Top Gardening

The tomatoes are really starting to look sad. I did get another good batch of fruit from them this week, though I worry that in the coming week there will be less ripe tomatoes. The over night temperatures are supposed to get into the 50s; good sleeping weather, not good tomato ripening weather. If we start getting frost too soon, I may have to drape a sheet over the bird netting to help keep the little 'maters warm at night.
The peppers are still producing new flowers. I have had pink paprika peppers and some have turned to red while waiting on the kitchen counter to be eaten. I haven't eaten one yet though, so you will have to stay tuned for a report on taste.
The scallions that are sharing pots with some of the tomatoes and peppers are starting to be a usable size. I plan to use one later this week as garnish for fried rice, and also in some homemade salsa. Our neighbors gave us some nice little chili peppers to use for heat. Grilled pepper fajitas here I come!
So far I haven't seen the little bugger in person, but I believe that there is a squirrel stealing tomatoes. I have gone up a few times thinking that there should be several ripe ones, only to discover only 1 or 2 ready to eat. And I have found a few that see to have been nibbled on, just far enough away that they couldn't have fallen off the plant and been nibbled on by a passing bug or bird. Next year I may need to get crafty with squirrel deterrent systems!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Frugal Bouquet

Everybody likes getting flowers, and I am always giddy with excitement when my garden produces enough flowers that I can have a vase full for me, and one to give away. I have been cutting random flowers here and there all summer, and figured there would be just enough rudbeckias in bloom that I could take some to a friend for her birthday. I went out with my clippers and my flower basket, and to my dismay, discovered that I only had 2 fully formed flowers and about 6 sick looking ones. Not really a great bouquet.
I figured I could look around and see what else I could fill the vase out with. I clipped a few purple butterfly bush branches, some nasturtiums, marigolds, a geranium branch, peach bean blossoms, chive flowers(!) and mint. I never realized that I had such a variety of flowers in the yard! By the time I got all of them into the vase, I was really struggling to find room.
So, in honor of having watched a few too many public television cooking shows this weekend and the fact that I don't think many people truly appreciate the idea of being frugal (according to Merriam-Webster dictionary: characterized by or reflecting economy in the use of resources), I present to you, the Frugal Bouquet...

(should I admit that the vase is really a neat looking hexagonal mustard jar?...)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Roof Top Gardening

There is nothing like standing on your roof and gazing over rows of tomatoes and peppers. In the midst of a barren wasteland (and it really is wasted land, all that wide open, flat space and sunshine just begging for tomato plants and solar panels!) my little patch of green is heaven. I had more peppers this week, including some of the paprika ones that are now turning pink, I can't wait to taste the difference when they finish changing. I am only leaving them on to turn red on one plant. When peppers are allowed to turn red on the plant, the plant thinks it has accomplished its task of producing fully ripe fruit, and thereby seeds, and stops producing flowers and more fruit. It's no wonder red peppers are so expensive at the market.

The tomato plants have a little disease problem and are a little whimpy looking. They are still producing though, and I have sprayed them with copper spray (much more diluted this time so I don't burn the leaves). I have also been monitoring their soil moisture more closely and have had fewer blossom end rot victims. I picked more than 20 tomatoes this week! Most of them are small romas, but they are still tastier than anything from the store. I am going to order tomato plant food next year from Garden's Alive and get them on a feeding schedule to hopefully better combat the lack of nutrients inherent in container gardening.

I think we'll have tomato, basil, mozzarella and green onion salad tomorrow for dinner....

Monday, August 24, 2009

Weekly update

There is hope for another round of squash! All of the partial plants that I pruned down and twisted back over the garden, have lived! I had to spray with sulfur solution to combat a new case of powdery mildew, but otherwise, they are filling out nicely and even have blossoms!
The beans, despite me not planting a second round, are still producing, slowly, but we have enough for dinner about once a week. I'd say they have returned on their investment. A pack of bean seeds was about $2.50 and we have had about 3 pounds of beans, that's cheaper than the market, and I still have more seeds that I can plant next year. They are also prettier than the ivy and junk that used to climb up the fence.
The transplanted lettuce is looking good. I always forget just how long it takes lettuce to really start growing, but at least it wasn't completely beaten down by the 5 hour thunder storm we had the other night (wow was that crazy!)
If you look at the bottom left corner of the picture, you will notice a new addition to the garden. One morning we were out in the garden enjoying a cup of coffee before heading off to work. Something above Paul's head caught my attention. There was a humming bird hovering about 2' above his head! Such fascinating creatures! So we got a humming bird feeder. We got a pack of the pre-made nectar, but I think I want to see if I can find a homemade recipe. I can't imagine that red food dye is good for such a tiny creature. Since hanging the feeder I have seen either the same humming bird twice in one day, or two different birds about 2 hours apart. Either way, the bird seemed more interested in the pretty peach bean blossoms and the butterfly bush, than the feeder, but it did stop by for a little sip. I am going to have to leave my camera by the back window so I have it next time I see one come by.

Ah, summer.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


Well I think the cucumbers have mildew, I'm not sure what to do about it. If they were sqash I'd do a hack and hope, but with the sensitive cumbers I don't know what to do so this maybe the end of the cukes. the squash bed had been emptied, i hate that furry speed bump, so I put in some kale seeds and I'll but in carrots and parsnips later. I really need to go ask that neighbor lady if I can borrow her trap...
The tomatoes and herbs are still doing well. I've made one jar of freezer tomato sauce, dried some tyme and camomile and I think I'll be freezing some basil soon.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Roof Top Gardening

The tomato plants are making a slow recovery and for this I am very grateful! The peppers have continued to be fruitful. After picking my peck for pickling (which are currently marinating in the fridge in two different pickling solutions) I am happy to see that not only are the peppers continuing to ripen, the plants are also putting on new buds.
The tomatoes are slowly ripening, and while there are not as many buds as on the peppers, there are a few little yellow flowers hanging out up on the roof. I am being extra careful to make sure that they have plenty of water, I have found a few more blossom end rot victims, and will be feeding them again shortly. I hope to get another month and a half of production out of my experimental garden. The tomatoes may be slow to pay for themselves, but I think the peppers have made up for them!
I had enough produce this week to make tomato, pepper, scallion, basil salad for Paul and I for dinner. The only things not from the roof were the salt and pepper! YUM! This is what summer is all about!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Weekly update

Another week already, and boy has summer finally come! The average high so far this month has been 84 degrees, the veggies are loving it! I had several squash, but as you recall, they were taking over the yard and killing the grass as you can see. I did a little creative transplanting.... right into a trash bag! I would have put them into the compost pile, but since they had a case of powdery mildew, and a few squash borers to boot, I decided not to contaminate my compost pile. I did manage to salvage a few parts of the plants, and hopefully if I keep them well watered they should fill back in and produce a few more squash for me. I think I am going to have to create a chicken wire tiered shelf thing and get the squash to grow up the levels of that, instead of taking over the flower bed, then the yard, and getting powdery mildew from sitting against the dewy grass. Some day I will be rich and famous for patenting a new system that revolutionizes urban squash gardening. Or at the very least I will have the strangest looking squash plants in the neighborhood.

This by the way is what squash borers do. They eat their ways through the squash vine, starting just above the soil and working their way out toward the leaves. Eventually where they went in, near the ground, becomes so week and rotten that the whole plant dies. I am going to have to do some research and find out what I can do to prevent this (besides getting the majority of the plant off the ground with my crazy, tiered squash growing contraption).

I have continued to get a good supply of beans, chard and flowers. I have even been lucky enough that the cats have yet to find the vase of nasturtiums on the kitchen counter or in the bathroom... let's see how long this lasts! Especially since the flower plants are having their second wind and I can pick them as fast as they go bad in the vases.

I put in some lettuce seeds. They are slowly putting on leaves. If I keep them watered, I think they will need thinned soon. Next year I will keep them going all summer, I have missed having fresh lettuce just steps away from the kitchen!

Fresh green beans for dinner tomorrow = ).

Saturday, August 15, 2009

sweet pickled peppers

I picked a peck of pickled peppers from the parapet plot.

Well, I not actually sure how many are in a peck, but I have more than I can eat in a day or two before the next batch is ready. And they aren't pickled just yet, but they will be! I love pickled peppers on sandwiches, pizza and on their own out of the jar. YUM! I have researched a few recipes, so when I decide on one, I'll let you know how they turn out. If you live close enough, I may even let you try some!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Weekly update

Again, the beans and squash are taking over the world! The beans (on the left of the picture) have mad it up and over the fence. Lots of little peach and white flowers, and LOTS of green beans. I cooked 1/2 a pound or so last night, and there is still about a pound in the fridge. I also had another zucchini. Last night I had it shredded and made into zucchini pancake/latka things. Tomorrow night I think I am going to chop some mushrooms, onions, garlic and the middle of the zucchini, put it in the hollowed out halves and bake it. I'll let you know how it turns out!
Still plenty of flowers hanging around. I have a vase of nasturtiums and a vase of rudbeckias on the counter. We'll see how long it is before the cats find them!
I think I'll go pick some mint and have a mojito!

crop update

Well despite the ground hog (who is eating the grape tomatoes, the summer squash and for some reason didn't eat but did kill the winter squash) I'm still getting quite a haul. And before you get mad remember I have (friendly) compulsorily share going to the landlord.
So what is doing well?
Basil: bring a machete
Tomatoes: also bring a machete and a compass
Cucumbers: I made fridge pickles!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

ick/ yay

So, summer has finally arrived, the city really is in the picture, somewhere. A week worth of temperatures above 80 all day and well into the evening. It has even been staying in the mid to high 70s at night. Perfect weather to ripen tomatoes. Unfortunately it is not great weather to gaze at a twinkling city, or see the meteor shower that we are supposed to be having this week.

I had to zoom a little, but there it is...

Roof Top Gardening

So, I may have over done it a bit with the copper spray. I don't see any more of the diseased leaves, but I got lots of yellow leaves in their places. The peppers were not affected and still look great. Looking back to the older posts, the plants have all really filled out. It still amazes me how fast plants grow in the right conditions (even if their caretakers occasionally take too good of care of them!) Summer has finally arrived, in full force. The up side is that there were a few red tomatoes FINALLY hanging amongst all of the green ones. YAY!!!
Apparently I didn't get all of the blossom end rot under control though = (

I am going to let the few that I picked that weren't affected ripen for one more day, on the counter so they get no chance of developing rot!

Tomorrow, I eat tomatoes = )

Thursday, August 6, 2009

welcome visitor

After all of Amy and my's rants about the critters who are eating our gardens, I would like to introduce you to a friendly visitor.
Can you find him? Look hard, I promise there is a critter in the picture...
Alright, I'll pull in for the close up...

Still a little tricky to see, but there he (she?) is, a praying mantis hanging out on top of one of the paprika peppers. I think it might be a baby since the wings didn't seem fully developed. I say that this is a friendly visitor because some people actually PAY to have praying mantis eggs sent to them so they can release the critters into their garden, especially organic gardeners. No, this is not because organic gardeners are hippie nutcases who want bugs for pets (though in Asia and Africa apparently people do keep them as pets) it is because they are what are known as beneficial insects. Beneficial insects are things like lady bugs, praying mantises and dragon flies that enjoy eating garden pests such as aphids, white flies, mosquitoes and spider mites. Some beneficial insects are not terribly discerning and may eat non-pests and pests alike, but a lack of bugs is a risk I am willing to take. I would rather have to hand pollinate some of the plants than have them all die because a bug ate all the leaves!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Roof Top Gardening

Another week has past. Another week without ripe tomatoes = (
I have had a good number of peppers. We have had at least 2 of each type (4 types) and of the long yellow peppers we have had many more. They make excellent fajita filling when jullianed and sauteed up with some onions and garlic. The plants themselves are doing well. I have a bit of a disease problem, but few treatments with copper spray and some pruning should take care of it. No more blossom end rot that I could see. The handful of slow release fertilizer and more careful watering seem to be keeping it at bay. As added protection, I crushed up several dry egg shells and added them to the base of each of the tomato plants. The calcium that dissolves into the soil when the shells get rained on is supposed to help strengthen the plants as well.
Nothing much else exciting going on up on the roof. Though with summer's heat fully set in, I now more fully understand the allure of being "Up on the Roof" and every time I go up in the evening to check the plants and watch the setting sun reflect off the city, I get the Drifter's song stuck in my head.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

evil green sausages with beady yellow eyes...

and big teeth!
While I have conceded the fact that there is wildlife, and it will continue to try to use my yard as its territory, I didn't figure on caterpillars on the roof! After all, how would they get up there?! Bees may not even be able to find my garden oasis and pollinate the lovely little yellow tomato flowers.
However, this year I had the distinct pleasure of meeting a tomato worm, or more precisely, 5 tomato worms.
I remember when I first saw one. A harmless looking little green caterpillar, hanging amongst the leaves on one of the tomato plants. I thought to myself, 'how bad could it be? how much could such a little thing eat? its the only one and maybe it will turn into a beautiful butterfly' Wow was I wrong! The book is called "Hungry Hungry Caterpillar" for a reason!
A few nights later I was on the phone to Amy, sitting on the roof, enjoying the setting sun reflecting against the city, watching all the tomato plants grow, when I noticed that one of them seemed to be missing a lot of leaves. I peered around, trying to figure out what could be causing such a strange phenomenon. Then I saw it. The seemingly innocent caterpillar I had seen a few day previously, only now it was 10 times larger, and munching its way through my tomato plants!
My shock and surprise had to sound through the phone as I described this strange creature using my tomato plant as its dinner. Amy said, 'oh, that's a tomato worm, I haven't seen one of those in ages, they look like big green sausages' Sausages with teeth! I'm glad I found the things when I did, apparently they go from breakfast links to bratwursts quickly, taking your tomato crop with them.
I pried them 3 of them off one by one and threw them in a bucket. I figured, I can put them out in the grass down the block. As I surveyed the damage though, my resolve not to kill things lessened, and by the time I got down the ladder, the evil tomato worms ended up in a bag in the trash. Nothing gets between me and my fresh tomatoes!
The next evening I went up to see if the tomatoes had made any progress in recovering from the evil green sausages with teeth and to show Amy what needed done up there while I was away, only to find more leaves missing. We poked around amongst the leaves, and found 2 more gnawing their way through my salad. This time I didn't carefully pry them away, I reached in and yanked them off the tomato stems. Its amazing how they can cling! And wow do they feel funny, kind of like the texture of a partially ripe peach. I kind of wanted to squeeze to see what would happen, but then realized that I really didn't want to know if they are filled with green goo like I think they are. This time they didn't even get put in the trash can with a few pieces of greens to munch their way through while waiting to perish, these two got flung across the roof tops, from where they either had a long journey to other tomato plants, or they ended up being dinner for a hungry bird....
ah the circle of life.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

City Critters

Ah to be naive.
When I first started my quest to produce veggies, flowers, and hopefully fruit in a little urban plot, I figured I would the worst I would have to contend with was a few unavoidable diseases, bad soil and maybe an occasional neighborhood cat passing through the yard. Boy was I wrong! Maybe it is our proximity to Fairmount park, a 9,200 acre park system that sprawls its way through Philadelphia (it has more land than the entire country of Monaco- 500 acres and Central Park- 843 acres! anyway...) and which our neighborhood is borderd on 2 sides by, about 3 blocks away one way and 6 blocks away the other way, besides the small parks and verdant university campus in between.
We have neighborhood cats. Every city seems to have them and they don't seem to cause too much trouble. They may even be keeping the squirrels and chipmunks from using my garden as a salad bar. I haven't figured out yet if a cat was knocking the birdbath over of if it was a opossum or 'coon. The opossums that pass through, which the dogs next door thoroughly enjoy harassing, were part of the reason that the fence needed repaired. On the plus side, one was kind enough to get himself into a bucket which he was too short to get back out of, and was promptly relocated by my dad a few blocks away down by the Schuykill river. One down 4 to go...(that we know of) Raccoons did kept a few of the mulberries from hitting the ground and stinking up the flower beds, of course the fact that they like to use my lettuce and snap pea bins as litter boxes kind of negated that fact, especially since all the seeds ended up in my flower beds anyway. Some bird mesh seems to be keeping that problem at bay. Despite the cats there are a few squirrels around, they like to plant peach pits in my pots in the fall. I'm not quite sure who's compost bin or trash can they are stealing them from... I have also found corn cobs, melon rinds and a few other choice bits of produce. Oh well, I just turn them in and make more compost out of them.
Some of the slightly odder things we have seen in the neighborhood include a turkey, waddling down the middle of the road just 2 blocks over. A pheasant, who knew they even still lived in the wild!? and a heron. That was really impressive, it was a great big blue one and flew over just about on my level, about 40' away while I was standing on the roof one evening. Must have been heading down to the river for dinner. We also get such a variety of song birds that I think I need to invest in a bird identifying book. So far I have seen cardinals, blue jays, robins, cackles, crows, sparrows, finches, wrens and mockingbirds! I think we also have a few woodpeckers in the neighborhood.
Sometimes I wish that I could take a picture kind of like and X-ray and have it reveal all of the animals living around us. It's amazing what living in a neighborhood surrounded by trees will hold, only to later let them wander through a supposedly wildlife free yard. And to think that I thought there was no wildlife in such an urban neighborhood!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

First of the season

Grape tomatoes so large they are like small plums and a plum so fat it might as well be an oxheart!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Roof Top Gardening

This year's weather has been strange. I feel like we are living in Harry Potter's world and the dementors are causing a misty, cool weather to persist, despite it being the end of July. This past week the weather has improved a little though. It has been in the 80s and humid. We have also had a few thunderstorms, but nothing really that has resulted in a lot of rain.
Amy checked the plants for me while I was away. She did a wonderful job, I returned to a yard full of happy flowers and plants, I am glad that the garden decided to have a few goodies to offer her as she tended it for me. If you ever go away on vacation in the summer, be sure to enlist a trusted friend, preferably a gardener, to tend your plants while you are away, there is nothing worse than to come home to a yard full of desperately thirsty tomatoes and flowers!
The roof has been a great climate for the peppers and tomatoes. Both enjoy full sun and lots of warmth, something a flat roof excels at providing, especially one like ours that does not have any trees overhanging it, and too think that the excessive heat on roofs is a problem for some people, I say put tomatoes on everybodies' roofs! Anyway, plants that get the correct amount of sunshine tend to be fairly compact, those that don't, get tall and leggy, kind of like in the greenhouse when you can tell your seedlings aren't getting enough because they are leggy and scrawny. You don't have to look closely to see that all of the tomatoes and peppers are compact little plants. Granted, they were all chosen for their compact nature, but I had one left over that I planted down below. It is twice as tall and has half as many leaves!
The weather still has managed to cause some troubles. Some of the tomatoes have suffered blossom end rot. This ugly malady, luckily, should be fairly easy to remedy, or at least partially counteract. It is caused by big fluctuations in temperature and big fluctuations in soil moisture levels. It is also exacerbated by a lack of calcium available to the tomato plants. So, I gave all the plants a handful of slow release fertilizer (it's the middle of summer and everything is due for a snack anyway), I am being more careful that the plants have water on the hottest of days, and I will be giving them each a handful of crushed egg shells to help increase their calcium. Here's hoping it works because I am really getting hungry for good tomatoes!
The peppers have already given several tasty treats. We have had a few mild banana pepper like ones, and one which I found out the hard way, which had a little kick to it. My mom did warn me when she gave them to me that one of them was hot. Next year I'll take better care in labelling everything. I always think I will remember, but clearly that i not the case!
The paprika style ones are getting big. They are a pretty creamy color and stand out nicely against the dark green leaves. I can't wait until they start to ripen!
I thought that by this time of the summer I wouldn't need to worry about the bird netting any more. One night of having forgotten to tie it back closed as show that that is not the case. No major harm done, but one of the peppers on the end looks like somebody tried to land on it for a rest.
Maybe next week's post will include a picture of a blushing tomato!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Weekly update

As I am sure you have all noticed, I have been slacking. First it was a week spent hiking the trails and mountains of New Hampshire with evenings spent in the hot tub watching the sun go down or snuggled on a couch in front of the fire, reading with my hubby. Then I just got lazy. But I'm back!!! What an eventful time my garden had while I was away!
First off, as you can see from the picture, it is not the nasturtiums that are trying to take over the world, now its the squash. And mine seem to be being as promiscuous as Amy's are. I thought I had planted several yellow squash and several pattypan squash. I just found baby pattypans today. All the other ones seem to be green though.... Oh well, I like green squash just as much. Though I'm not actually sure if it is still considered squash, or if now I'm supposed to call it zucchini. I'll have to look up what the distinction is. Next year though I am only going to put in 2 or 3 squash plants. I need room for my cucumbers! (of course I say that, and yet somehow I will end up with just as many next year... I wonder where I will squeeze in the cukes!)
The nasturtiums have suffered a little bit in the heat, but I'm keeping them clipped back and I am guessing that they will continue for the summer, and as it goes back to being cool, will flourish again. They are still putting out enough flowers that with the butterfly bush I can keep a vase of flowers on the counter most days, that is if the cats don't decide that I put the flowers there solely for their entertainment and enjoyment while we are at work.
I had to pull a few things out. As I was saying, the squash are trying to take over, so I had to replant all the flowers that I had carefully put in their second little bed, in front of the main bed so they wouldn't get squished out. Oh well, now I know that when I build my raised beds that there will have to be a low section in the back so the beans can have as much climbing room as possible, a high section in the middle so the squash have a place of their own, and a low bed in the front so the flowers can still shine.
The flowers didn't go to waste though. I moved them over to the pots and beds that I had pulled lettuce out of. The plants had given me 2 good months of fresh lettuce daily, and it is my own fault that I didn't keep up with my succession plantings so I could be eating it all summer. My chard is still doing okay, so I will have to enjoy that for a few weeks while I wait for more lettuce to come up.
In addition to having had squash for dinner a few nights now, we had a handful of green beans. YUM. Right now I am getting Vortex beans. One of my mom's contributions. They're great. They grow about 6" long so you have less ends to snap in order to get enough for dinner (if you don't know how to snap green beans you are forbidden to be a gardener...) The other kind I planted have the pretty pink/coral blooms that the package promised. I need to put a few more seeds of each in and we'll be eating those well into the fall as well.
We have also had lots of peppers. I either chop them up and throw them on salads, or saute them with some onions and use them as quesadilla filling. Soon I'll be making fresh salsa from my own tomatoes to put on top!
So far, so good. I'm going to have to figure out how to make things a little more productive if I plan to get a family's worth of veggies out of the garden, but for being only the 3rd year, I'm really happy with production. Now that it is finally warm maybe we will be getting enough produce that I will only need to be getting fruit at the market!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

promisuous pumpkins

So one day a lovely pumpkin

and an attractive, supposed to be dark green, summer squash
got together though their mutual friends the bees
and made:

Almost white summer squash...they taste good at least.


Finally got a compost bin. Thank you Dad!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

low tech

So when watering the garden this week I came across a problem. I let the little pots hanging on the fence dry out too much. I know I just said the other day that too much water is a bad thing, but too little is bad too. In containers you have to be especially careful. Since there is so little dirt, and often there are holes in the bottom so they don't collect too much water when it rains, they dry out really fast. Well, the poor little flowers were begging for water. And when I pushed my finger into the dirt, I discovered just how dry they were. They were at the point where all the dirt clumps into one big spongy lump, and they were getting wimpy because of it.

Anyway... when I tried to water them with the watering can, the water bypassed the dirt and went right back out of the holes in the bottom. I tried to water more slowly, but that just made my arms tired, holding the full watering can above should height. I had to figure out a way to make the water drip slowly into the soil so it could loosen the dirt and soak in. And I didn't really want to dig the drip hose out.

I'm not exactly sure how it dawned on me, but ice cubes came to mind. I threw a generous handful in each pot.

I'll let you know if the flowers perk up.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Roof Top Gardening

WOW! I can say that I can't think of anything that would make me happier about my first attempt at roof top gardening. Even the wimpiest tomato and pepper plants are strong and healthy. All the plants that were good sized when they went up have baby fruits on them (yes, they are both fruits, of course, many things that most people would call vegetables are fruits. It's all scientific terms vs. everyday language and fruit or vegetable can actually vary from culture to culture depending on how the produce is eaten- sweet vs. savory. Check out Wikipedia- or you could search a more technical site if you wish)

I know it is still kind of early in the season, but we also seem to have planned well for the roof. None of them have out grown the bird netting cage yet and the potting soil seems to be holding moisture well. I have only had to water twice! As it gets even warmer though I think I'll be watering every other day. This is a good time to talk about watering. DON'T OVER DO IT! Yes, plants need water, but if they are constantly sitting in water, or even in damp soil, they never put deep roots. No deep roots means they don't hold up well to wind, they don't have lots of little roots to pull nutrients out of the soil, and they are susceptible to more diseases since they never get really established.
YAY!! baby tomatoes basking in the setting sun! can't wait till those little buggers are ripe!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Weekly update

4th of July already! (well, now the 6th) The garden is exploding with all the warm, finally dry, weather. The nasturtiums are still producing flowers like crazy. The butterfly bush is putting out pretty purple flowers. The beans have made it up to the bottom of their dream catcher, their pretty peachy blossoms are giving me a treat for the eyes while my tummy waits its turn! I have had plenty of mint for mojitos, basil for tomato sauce and oregano to start drying for the winter. And of course parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. Sometimes I just can't resist pulling a few leaves off for a whiff of these lovely smells.

Herbs are a great thing for a city gardener, or anybody with limited time or space. With just a few pots on a window sill, in a window box or on a patio, a family could have enough herbs for pesto, mojitos, pizza sauce and garnishes all summer, and if done correctly, all winter too! Sage is a tender perennial and survives Philadelphia winters with just a little help, so I tend to plant it right in the garden. Most of the others are annuals, and so I plant them in pots and bring them in for the winter. When they start to look sad or extremely leggy, I add another seed or two to the pot so a baby plant can fill in behind it.
Finally, the squash have baby squash on them! There is one in a pot on the tiers that is about 4" long, throughout the rest of the garden they range from 2" to flowers. I am hoping to be eating those when I get back from New Hampshire!

Oh, and my lilies bloomed!

Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.... just wanted to make sure the song was stuck in everybody's head!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009


I teased Amy awhile back that someday our blog would be famous and we would have people all over the world reading our blog and vicariously gardening with us. So now I just want to put it out there and see who all is reading.... I know we have moms, friends, and moms of friends reading is anybody else out there? Drop us a comment!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Roof Top Gardening

So far so good in my foray into roof top gardening. All but one plant (that I damaged on the way up to the roof) have survived and thrived. All of the plants are noticeably larger and have held up well to the extreme wind and other conditions of the highly exposed roof. We haven't had steady sun for a full week yet though, so we will work through that challenge when we get there.
You will notice that the hose has made it up to the roof. It is securely lashed to the railing so as not to go sliding off and for me or somebody to reach over the edge, without thinking, to grab it. I would like to take a moment now to thank the City of Philadelphia and PWD for making sure that I have enough water pressure to get the water 2+ stories up to my plants! I didn't relish having to carry jugs of water up if the pressure wasn't sufficient. Eventually I hope to figure out a way to capture and reuse rain water for the roof, to save money, resources, and provide better water for the plants, but that is a ways off in the future. There are lots of house projects on the "to do" list before that!
So, as I commented in the ground garden update, we had a week of non-everyday rain, but we have had enough rain and cool enough evenings that I have only given the pots about 1/2 gallon of water each this week. I expect to have to water 2-3 days a week in the heat of the summer but the container mix with the vermiculite and the water 'crystals' seem to be doing a good job so far!
There are tomato blossoms, peppers blossoms and even a baby pepper! My mouth is watering
waiting for that first fresh tomato... it probably won't even make it off the roof, just get pulled off the vine and eaten right there on the roof. I may or may not share with Paul....

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Weekly update

A week without daily rain. Hallelujah! The garden suffered a little bit of yuck from the constantly moist soil, but I picked off bottom leaves and hopefully now that we are getting a little more sun, everything will stay healthy.
Little spots of color still abound in the garden from the nasturtiums, impatiens, begonias and petunias. I had to pull out a few nasturtiums though, I think these little guys are trying take over the world! The miniature rose has put out a few more blooms and the butterfly bush is budding. I love when flowers finally bloom!
The squash and cukes are starting to bloom too. Apparently squash have male and female flowers, I'm going to have to look in to how all this works, but only the females make veggies, which means the males turn into squash blossom fritters.... DINNER!
The ever changing nature of a garden is part of what makes it fascinating to me. It is ever changing from day to day, week to week and year to year. I just finished a book that talks about that and what kind of person it takes to be a gardener. Stay tuned for a review!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Seed catalogue

So they really know how to get you. The seed catalogue people that is. I was all prepared to re-read this years seed catalogues in the fall to get ideas until the new ones came in January when I start my armchair gardening in earnest. What I didn't know, was that there is a whole season called Winter Gardening. All kinds of plants that go in in late July, early August, all the way to October or so, that thrive on cool days and nights, or hold well in the ground. Things like broccoli, greens, carrots and root crops. I am resisting the temptation this year. I have too many projects to start any more. I will be sure to put runs in of the spring stuff I had that can also be winter crops, but a true winter garden will wait a year or two.
Of course that doesn't mean I can bury my nose happily in the catalogue and drool over all the yummy stuff I will someday produce, right in my own back yard.... or roof!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Weekly update

We are still getting so much rain that the garden isn't changing much week to week.
The nasturtiums are still going nuts, the beans are creeping their way up their trellis, the lettuce is keeping the squash and cucumbers company, and the little flowers in front are starting to look like real plants. The butterfly bush has a few buds on the tips, so I'm excited about that. I haven't quite figured out why the calla lilies haven't come up yet. I don't' know if the ground just got too soggy and they all rotted, or if it hasn't been warm enough long enough for them to come up. I hope they come up soon! If not I guess I'll have to find some other bulbs to put in the corner behind the bench. The buckets are off the "grass" and on the roof, so that opens things up a bit. Otherwise, we are all just waiting for the sunshine to arrive.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Roof Top Gardening

The roof deck is in, and now, so are the plants. I could have done without the rain while I worked, but I guess it was better than doing it while it was 85 and the sun beating down. Now I present.... The roof garden....
I know it doesn't look like much right now. The whole thing is only 8'x12' and the plants are all still babies. By the end of the summer I am willing to bet that we won't be able to see the rest of the roof from this angle.
It was a bit of a challenge getting up there. The ladder is kind of steep, and the hatch is rather small. It's a good thing that the buckets had handles though, it made it much easier to carry them and hold them off to my side so I could squeeze through the hatch with them. You can see my thrifty habits in the mismatch of buckets used as pots. No sense in paying $15 for a pot that I can't carry up the ladder when I could ask friends and family to gather up any spare buckets they could find. The yellow ones were my contribution. Kitty litter was bought in buckets instead of boxes specifically for this purpose. Each of the buckets has several 1/4" holes drilled about 2" up from the bottom, on the sides. My mom and I decided this would be the best place for them so the water wasn't leaking out onto the deck boards, and they will be able to hold a little bit of water in that last 2" of soil. The soil is not quite as planned. I didn't find the coir I wanted, and mom had a bag of container mix that she ran out of containers to fill with. So between that bag, a bag of organic garden soil, a bale of peat moss, some vermiculite, some water saving crystals and some slow release fertilizer, we created our own container mix. Here's hoping they like it!

You can just barely see it, but here you can see my bird deterrent system. After having had one of the peppers completely mowed down by a bird the first night it was up there, we thought that bird mesh was an important item. I hope that the plants will have enough space to fill out in there little mesh cage. If they don't I will just have to spend another creative afternoon devising a way to protect them. I am also not sure how I am going to get in there to pick off old leaves and tie their next round of stake ties. I guess I'll get there when I get there. And speaking of stakes. I figured I might need a few for the tomatoes, because even determinant tomatoes can get a little heavy, especially when they put on fruit. I hadn't thought about the fact that it is MUCH windier up there and that even the peppers would need staked at such a young age. Thankfully mom and dad thought that far ahead, and brought me a stack of tomato stakes, made from scrap wood. I cut an old t-shirt into strips to use as ties. I have found it is a little gentler on the stalks than twine.

One last thing. The peppers and tomatoes at the top of the picture are the ones my mom grew. The ones at the bottom of the picture are the ones I grew. Looks like I have a lot of learning to do about starting seedlings! Mom thinks part of my problem is what many gardeners have, I coddle them too much. Instead of bringing them out in the bright window sill, waving my hand on their little leaves and giving them room to grow, I kept them in their little pots in the greenhouse, where even the best "grow light" can't beat sunshine. Next year the cats are just going to have to deal with the loss of their favorite window sills for a little longer.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Weekly update

What a week (or two...) it has been! My parents and my brother were in town for a visit. We don't all get to see each other very often, and when we do, we do a lot of our visiting while fixing house parts. This trip included replacing the old, rusting sewer pipes that were making our basement very damp and a little smelly. We also installed an attic ladder that enables us to easily get to the roof. Before it involved hauling the big ladder from the basement and percariously balancing it on the edge of the roof hatch, now I just pull on a little handle and a ladder appears! The only issue I have found so far is that I have to cover the opening once I am up there because one of the kitties like to try and come up to visit. And now on to the garden.

We are still getting a lot of rain, which apparently is making up for our winter precipitation shortfall, but at least now, the days get to be 75-80 degrees instead of staying in the 60s. This has helped alot of stuff finally take hold. The beans and squash planted along the left fence are finally looking like plants. The beans are climbing up their "dreamcatcher" and I'm dreaming of fresh green beans! The flowers are taking hold too. The nasturtiums are going NUTS! There are spots of yellow, orange, coral and red all over the yard. A few of them were crowding each other, and my mom transplanted them in between other plants so they all have more space to fill out. One thing I did not know about nasturtiums is that they will climb. They are currently sharing the trellis on the right with the peas! They don't seems to be hurting each other though, so I figure I'll let them go. And speaking of peas. I picked a dozen pods! I have to make rice so I can use them in a pilaf since there really aren't enough for dinner yet.

In the bottom right corner you will notice all the buckets. They have tomatoes and peppers lovingly transplanted by my mom, waiting to be moved to the roof deck. While my mom was helping my dad install bathroom pipes (the other project this trip) my brother was up on the roof screwing down deck boards. He doesn't get to build a whole lot in his tiny apartment in Paris, so he wanted to use some tools and see a project finished while he was here. It looks great! I can't wait to get the plants up there. I have to wait until I get bird netting though. We put a bucket up as a test for where the bottom rail needed to be, and when we went up the next morning, the birds had clipped all but two leaves off. I hadn't planned on the deck this year, but now that we have done it, I am really excited to see how many tomatoes we will get. I need to rig up a way to get water up there easily, and a few other details, but there will be updates about those later.

The tiered corner is really filling in. The lettuce, cucumbers, herbs and flowers have made a nice surround for the birdbath. I haven't had much time to sit and watch for feathered visitors this past week, I'll have to make some this week!And finally, the lettuce. I have planted it in years past, but somehow it never seemed to work out. This year however, we have been eating almost as much salad as we can stand, and the lettuce just keeps coming! In the back bed it is filling in around the squash plants. I need to start a new run so that when this bolts we will still have lettuce. You will also note that the bok choi is gone. It was yummy! We had it stirfried with garlic and a little oil. Replacing it is Swiss chard which had been thined from one of the window boxes in the tiered corner. I will need to put some more bok choi nearer to the end of the summer when the flowers are starting to fade.

ba dee ba dee... ba dee ba dee... that's all folks!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Finely an update

Sorry I haven't been updating. Just hadn't had anything as interesting as Michelle. So, here are 2 of my 4 garden boxes, plus the beautiful sweet peas, which are trying very hard to look like orchids. The first box is our side box. It has peas climbing up the fence in the back and 4 tomatoes plants. They are Mountain early, grape, Siberia early, moonglow orange. I have intercropped them with carrots, nasturtiums, and beets.

The second box has 3 Amish plaste tomatoes plants and 10 pepper plants. 6 californa wonders, 2 orange bells and 2 south philly fryers. The fryers are grown from seeds saved from Fordi's Mom's garden a year or so back. These are intercropped with red Romain lettuce and 2 kinds of spinach.

And here are the sweet peas:

Monday, June 1, 2009

Weekly update

So the grass was looking great... until I moved the chimnea that was covering the biggest bare spot. Oh well = (

I have pulled the bean cover back to make it more of a swooping bird protector rather than a whole protector. I may take it off all together and just leave the sideways tomato cages over to deter birds. The tray of pepper plants is hanging out in the middle of the bed between the squash/cucumber hills. I may need to transplant a few of the seedlings from the pots to the ground, for some reason the ground ones just aren't coming up. Of course I will carefully transplant the babies over, water them, they will take hold, and the seeds I planted earlier will finally decide to grow. Sigh.
In front, where the radishes used to be, the basil is hanging out, freshly potted into 4" pots, awaiting their permanent homes in Philly and Ohio.

Slowly but surely the yard is coming along.
The alley is coming along better.
If you can ignore my sloppy stack of wood in the back corner, and the pile of buckets waiting to become tomato and pepper pots. New to this collection are the flowers potted in any random pot I could find in the basement to cover the retaining wall. They have been there a few weeks now and are finally starting to fill in. The pots hanging from the fence were a whim. Big bare spot of fence that is the first thing you see when you come out of the house. BORING! So with some spare pots, a few wire coat hangers, a pair of tin snips and pliers, they were turned into these delightful hanging pots. Martha Stewart would be proud.
The peas and beans are making their way up the trellis, or as it was christened at the Memorial Day party, the"dream catcher."
The bin on the right has the peas that were started before the trellis was up. I added a few more seeds when I put the other bin's in. There is also a little lettuce in front of the peas. I fear that the depth of the bins is causing the lettuce to get shade longer than I intended, and therefore not grow as quickly. Next year I plan to fill the bins to the top, but my impatience got the best of me this year and I went ahead and planted before I got a second bag of potting soil. Either that, or the soil is not drying out as quickly as had hoped since the alley doesn't get full sun. I am thinking of wrapping the bins in black plastic to try to help the soil warm a little. Of course when it stays out of the 50s at night, it may warm up on its own. These peas haven't shown flowers yet, but the shelling peas have some good size pods. I have to keep an eye on them since I haven't grown them before and don't really know when they are ready to pick!
So far I have eaten lettuce, radishes, nasturtiums and bok choi. I have also picked several daisies, irises and roses. Pretty good harvest for only being the week after Memorial day!
I have to throw in a few more bean seeds so that there will be a staggered harvest. And I need to throw in some more lettuce and start spinach so we have greens all summer. So nice to know that my work in January, February and March is finally paying off!