2015 Garden in Review – Resolutions for 2016

As I sit here with my house slowly warming up from a busted furnace yesterday, I find myself missing working in my garden, feeling the warmth of the sun on my transparently pasty skin, and drinking porch beer(s).

With 2016 quickly approaching on this New Years Eve, I thought a little reflection on my gardening successes and failures of 2015 might do me some good (and keep my spirits up that seed starting is right around the corner!).

And… I thought I better post these pictures before I start chugging straight from the bottle of Prosecco… although entertaining, it would probably be an embarrassingly incomprehensible blog post.

So hold onto your hat…  never seen before raw garden footage is coming your way!

For the first time, I attempted to grow sweet potatoes from slips that I grew from organic sweet potatoes that I chopped in half.  I would say it was a somewhat successful experiment, but my harvest definitely left me with some lessons to learn…

I planted the slips in barrel planters and they seemed to thrive and produced impressive foliage.  Unfortunately there was one evening that it got extremely cold outside and the top foliage died instantly (sweet potatoes like it HOT HOT HOT).  I read that when the leaves and stems turn black, it is time to harvest the potatoes because they are no longer receiving nutrients and the rotten plant corpses could also seep down and rot the potatoes.  Trust me, I was panicked.

1   23



Many of my sweet potatoes were really small and misshapen.  My conclusion is that there are three things that could have gone wrong:

  1. The barrels did not provide enough room for them to grow to a proper size and/or I planted too many slips in one barrel and they choked each other off.
  2. The sudden early cold snap killed them before they achieved their optimal size.
  3. I didn’t plant them early enough in the summer.


Trial and error is the name of the game in gardening.  I let the sweet potatoes cure in a closed cardboard box to heal any bruises and to sweeten them up and I only recently started eating them.  I roasted them simply with cayenne flavored olive oil and salt and pepper and they were delicious.  I also highly suggest this recipe for Smoky Sweet Potatoes.  It was particularly suited to my weirdly shaped spuds.

But who wants to dwell on areas for improvement??  How about my successes!  I grew GIGANTIC garlic cloves.  The cloves were literally the size of my palm (with no sacrifice to flavor whatsoever).  They just keep getting bigger and better every year!  I already planted some monster cloves from what I grew this year to hopefully produce huge bulbs next year yet again.  I believe this is my fourth or fifth year growing garlic from the same batch.  I am interested in growing Elephant Garlic for comparison which I think is comically BIG, but is more related to the onion family.  Growing abnormally large vegetables brings me so much joy.




As an area to work on… I did try cooking garlic scape stir fry and I gotta say I was not blown away.  The scapes were very, very mild tasting, almost too much so.  I think I will try a different recipe next year.



Ok.  Let’s talk tomatoes.  The only accurate word to describe my harvest is “shit-ton”.  I grew Al-Kuffa and Rutgers varieties. The rules of determinant tomato plant size apparently don’t apply to me because all of my tomato plants were well over four feet tall (these varieties should have only been 2 to 3 feet tall tops).  But, as with determinant, most of the tomatoes ripened at the same time.  Waaaaay too many… at the same time.  Salsas, various tomato sauces, salads, pastas, pizzas…  I put them to good use as best I could.  I also gave them away to anyone willing to take them.

12 13







I was also happy with my pepper harvest, particularly my Polish Ostra-Cyklon.  I made a lot of salsa and queso and I also successfully fermented the last remaining hot peppers in my fermentation crock to be used for applications such as NACHOS.  Yum.




A cabbage plant that was given to me by a friendly neighbor was my complete gardening disaster for this year.  I planted it in a barrel planter, but soon noticed the leaves were being eaten.  Before I could do anything about it, it was as dead as a door nail.  It must have been some sort of cabbage worm infestation.  It was weird because my herb planter next to the cabbage planter was not infected at all and produced stunning basil and cilantro.




Also, my nemesis the onion, won again.  DAMN YOU ONION!


So I’ve been drooling over the 5 different seed catalogs that I received in the mail so far and I can’t wait to pick out my seeds for next year.  I have about a million yogurt cups to use for seed starting.  I keep toying with the idea of growing a groovy all-purple veggie garden.  Maybe even including purple brussel sprouts!

My gardening resolutions are to blog more consistently, grow veggies that I have never grown before, try more companion planting, and learn to can and/or ferment more vegetables for long-term storage.  I have a genuine root cellar in my 100+ year old house, so why not put it to good use for the zombie apocalypse?!  I hope the gods of the internet hold me to these resolutions.

I also hope to continue passing on my love of gardening to my nieces.  And most importantly, I hope to continue sharing my bounty with those who mean so much to me.

Best wishes for great gardening in 2016.

Garden of Eatin’

After having rain for what feels like every day for a month here in the Pittsburgh region, my raised bed gardens have literally exploded into a barely manageable Jungle of Eden.  Every year I say I will cut back on the amount of plants I shove into my raised beds.  Every year I can’t bring myself to NOT plant every seedling that I grow.  I desperately need to make some local gardening friends who will take my seedlings.

This is my raised bed garden on May 23rd.  All of these plants were grown from seed.

From left to right:  Thyme, Bean Purple Teepee Beans, 2 Rutgers Tomato Plants, 2 Marigold Plants, 2 Al-Kuffa Tomato Plants, Black Carrot Seeds, Cosmic Carrot Seeds, and more Thyme.

This is my raised bed on July 13th:

"Determinate" tomato plants have grown taller than me.
“Determinate” tomato plants have grown taller than me!

The wood contraption is to help support my tomato plants (trees).  Both Rugters and Al-Kuffa were supposed to be “dwarf” determinate plants, but they are huge.  Even my Marigold plants are like bushes.  I only have green tomatoes so far… hopefully they’ll turn red soon.  With determinate plants, they will most likely all ripen at the same time.  There will be a shit-ton of tomatoes as long as they don’t get some freaky fungus from all the rain.

Al-Kuffa Tomato Clusters
More Al-Kuffa Tomato Clusters


Rutgers Tomatoes


I love purple beans because their bright color make them very easy to harvest.  Purple beans turn green when they are cooked.  Oooooh soooo many magical beans…

My carrots are getting a bit smothered by my tomatoes, but this happened in my garden last year, and they came back with a vengeance once everything else died.  Let me clarify… I’m talking carrots the size of my calf.  So, I’m trying the same technique this year: direct sow, smother with other plants, MONSTER CARROT TAKE OVER.  They are starting to pop up through my thyme.

Ok, so now onto my other raised bed.  This was my bed as of May 25th.

Left to right: Marigold, garlic, peppers, and Snow Peas and Desiree Garden Peas

This is my raised bed as of July 13th:

I want to camp out in here.

I think I really need to chop off or kill the marigold plant on the far left.  I have no idea why it is so freaking huge.

With the hopes of producing some big, fat, juicy garlic bulbs, I harvested some of my garlic scapes a few weeks back (and I left some on as an experiment).  I meant to write a blog on it, but neglected to do so.  Some say cutting the scape (the long curly cue part with the flower head filled with garlic bulbils) forces the plant to exert its energy on growing the garlic bulb underground instead of the flower up top.  My garlic stalks have a much thicker girth than the ones I had last year!  I chopped up the garlic scapes and used them in a stir fry.  They were surprisingly very, very mild tasting.

Since the leaves are starting to die, I might be digging my garlic bulbs up soon!

Now onto my specific pepper plants.  I am very excited because my peppers did not do so hot last year.  It has been VERY humid here the last couple months, so maybe they are basking in the hot, sticky heat.  They still have some color changing metamorphosis to go through, but they are growing big and abundantly!

These are my Santa Fe Grande Hot Peppers


My Polish Ostra-Cyklon Paprika Peppers


My Polish Marta Polka Peppers


Black Hungarian Peppers


Tequila Sunrise Peppers: These peppers are really cool because they grow upright towards the sun!  And of course who wouldn’t want to grow these peppers while enjoying a Tequila Sunrise.  (my next blog: Drunk Gardening)


And of course my snow peas have made some progress since my last blog.

And I did end up growing some Desiree Purple Snap Peas (but unfortunately they don’t taste as good to me, maybe a bit too fibrous and chewy, but they sure look pretty):

My peas reached the top of my trellis!


Desiree Garden Pea


The Divine Snow Pea


And randomly in honor of the Furry Convention being here in Pittsburgh, this is a sneaky pic I took while dining at a nice restaurant downtown this past weekend.  This furry had such a cute little tail!  Hopefully I won’t catch any furries in my garden or I will have to use my Critter Control. 😉

Even though times have been a little tough for me lately, it has been so nice to have my own little Garden of Eatin’.

Let it snow

… with Snow Peas!

The tease of backyard garden veggies is finally over! I was so happy to see the first vegetables of spring make an appearance in my garden bed. Even though I’m a little disappointed they aren’t the purple Desiree peas, my Oregon Sugar Pod snow peas are really taking off! These peas are particularly awesome because with each cluster there are usually 2 peas to pick. Double the pleasure, double the fun. 😉


I think my trellis is helping to control the vine jungle a little bit, although some of the vines appear to have a mind of their own. Hopefully the trellis will also make it a bit easier to spot the peas. The pods should be picked when they are still flat and are about 4” long, but I had some mutant ones that were hidden last year that I picked well after they were “ideal” and they still tasted great!



Hard to believe in less than month how far my snow peas have come! Nature is awesome.  I think the plants are supposed to grow to be about three feet tall, so we have a little ways to go.


So far I only see white flowers.  If any of the Desiree garden peas germinated, those plants will have deep pink flowers.

20150608_184850 20150608_184928

Even though I am SO pumped about producing the first edible fruit of my gardens, the actual first garden fresh munchies of spring are often not fruits at all, but other parts of the plants.

A lot of Asian recipes use pea shoots which are the tips of the pea plants including the stalk, small upper leaves, blossoms, and curly tendrils. I was thinking about chopping off some of the tops of my plants and throwing them in a stir fry. They supposedly have a delicate pea flavor, but this would be the first time I have tried to cook with them. If they are anything like bean sprouts, I’m sure I will love them. I am a bean sprout addict.

Speaking of eating a plant at various points during its life cycle… next up, I will be harvesting another example of an edible bonus plant body part – garlic scapes!  Gotta love this time of year!


Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!

Snap, crackle, pop

One of my absolute favorite crops that I grew last year was the Oregon Sugar Pod II Bush Snow Peas.  I bought them on a whim and had never grown them before.  They were an early and vigorous producer and the pods were humongous, super sweet, and very crunchy!  I pack my lunch every day for work and these snow peas were an awesome (and healthy) snack all summer long last year.  I just ate them raw or dipped them in a little ranch dressing or hummus.   I also used the snow peas in spicy Hunan stir fry or just sautéed them with (homegrown) garlic as a side dish.  Delish!  Below is a picture of some of my prime specimens from last year:


This year, I wanted to once again grow the Oregon Sugar Pod, but I thought I’d try growing PURPLE snow peas called Desiree that I bought off Amazon.  As a side  note, I LOVE PURPLE VEGGIES!!  The purple pigment contains Anthocyanin which has been shown to aid in healthy aging (no wonder I look so young and vibrant), to prevent cancer, and to protect against cardiovascular disease.  BUT purple veggies also just look so darn cool.  My goal is to one day have an all purple vegetable garden.  But anyways…

The Desiree peas packaging seemed a bit sketchy that I got in the mail from Amazon, so I don’t have super high hopes for purple peas, but it’s worth a shot.  I think I should have bought them off Baker Creek which describes them as: “Desiree Dwarf Blauwschokkers Garden Pea – Stunning violet-blue pods are produced on lovely little bush plants that do not require staking. The delicious peas are perfect for soups and stews, or pick small and these can be used as a snow pea. A great addition from Holland.”

I decided to try soaking the peas for a few hours to help soften the seed skin for faster germination.  I also planted Purple Teepee Bush Beans from Baker Creek in my other raised bed.


Even though I was happy with my snow pea crop last year, it was a bit of a viney hot mess.  I read that trellised peas produce a higher yield (read: trellis = MORE MONSTER SNOW PEAS).  So loosely based off this website, http://www.diynetwork.com/how-to/outdoors/structures/how-to-build-a-trellis-for-growing-peas – I now have a trellis made of leftover wood and flexible twist tie garden wire (which I never even knew existed!).  I went into the hardware store in town (probably with a look of deer in headlights) and said, “I don’t know what I’m looking for, but this is what I want to do…”  And the worker was like, “oh, you need ‘flexible garden wire’, here you go.”  I think that may have been my first good experience at a hardware and/or home improvement store ever!  The trellis is screwed into my raised bed, but it can easily be unscrewed and moved for crop rotation.


I directly sowed the seeds in mid-April and planted them approximately 1 inch deep and 2 inches apart.  My peas germinated after about 3 weeks.  They took longer this year due to a late April cold snap here in da ‘burgh (trust me, I was freaking out that they weren’t popping up, but they powered through).  I usually put 2 seeds per hole to ensure germination across the row, so I have no idea if any of these baby plants are Purple Peas (fingers crossed).


Below are my peas today and the vines are starting to grab onto the trellis (with maybe just a little bit of coaxing by me).


Can’t wait to snap them directly off the vine, crack them in half, and pop them into my mouth!