Well, apparently I did not blog at all last year. I meant to. I really did. But I didn’t. Since I was so remiss, here are the highlights.
I started two types of cherry tomatoes from seed: sungolds (orange, hybrid) and coyotes (yellow, heirloom). They were delicious and the coyotes were ridiculously prolific. Unfortunately they are a bit too much for my small garden.
I divided a lot of perennials and all of the divisions I kept did quite well. It’s the first time I divided some of these plants, and I’m pleased with how they did. It turns out plants can take a lot.
We had a heat wave and drought and several of my plants (thyme, Agastache Morello, and a hot pink yarrow) did not survive that. They were all new, but I’d like to try again with them, since thyme is delicious and the yarrow and agastache were gorgeous.
I got a clematis (The President) that just kept going, producing 3 rounds of flowering (of 1 or 2 flowers each, but it was the first year in my garden.
The bluestar I have (Amsonia Blue Ice) looked fantastic and is really filling out.
I grew borage for the first time, mostly for the bees. I… will not be doing that again.
My bee balm did really well.
I’ve got some exciting plans for this year’s garden, and maybe I’ll even remember to post about them!
Well, I’ve clearly been terrible about updating. It’s been a strange, but mostly successful year in the garden, so far. I’ve got a lot to catch up on, but for now, I’ll stick to the vegetables.
The tomatoes have been my biggest and most surprising success this year. Maybe it’s beginner’s luck, since I’ve never grown tomatoes before. I planted 2 each of the sungold and the black cherry tomatoes. Both have grown quite well and I’ve been able to harvest up to a cup of cherry tomatoes a day. I prefer the sungold for snacking, but the black cherry tomatoes are just big enough that I can halve or quarter them and use them on bagels or in tomato sandwiches.
The sungolds germinated much faster than the cherry tomatoes (5 to 11 days vs. 11 to 30 days) and also started producing earlier. (40-45 days from transplant to first harvest vs 80 days from transplant to first harvest)
I think I’ll save the seeds from the black cherry tomatoes. I love how sungold tastes, but there’s another variety called coyote I want to try growing next year. Sungold is a hybrid, so I wasn’t going to save seeds from it anyway, though do have a few left in the packet, should I want to try it again.
For all the babying I did of the okra indoors, the largest and healthiest plant I currently have of the okra is one I sowed directly in mid-May. I’m growing a variety called Evertender, and it’s delicious. I’ve found that okra does not like shade at all and wants to be in as much sun as possible, with good drainage and a fair amount of water. This variety doesn’t seem to mind being a little bit crowded, from what I can tell, as long as it’s still getting lots of sunlight.
I haven’t gotten a great yield—my largest single day harvest was 2 okra, and I think I managed to get 3 in one week. I’ve learned a lot though, and I’m hoping I’ll have better luck in subsequent years. I’m going to try to save seeds from my healthiest plants and plant those next year—and I’ll simply sow them directly in their final spots.
The chard I planted is the five color silverbeet mix from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. It’s doing surprisingly well, given that I’ve mostly neglected it. It definitely needs sun though. The seeds I sowed in more shaded spots didn’t do as well. I’m probably going to do a final harvest soon, although I could just keep harvesting a few leaves at a time.
I think next year, I’ll be planting a different variety, as I think I prefer to get baby leaves for salad rather than the large leaves and stems. That’s purely a personal preference though. I’d recommend this variety.
I only got 1 pepper plant to germinate. It’s a buena mulata pepper. The fruits are pretty but they were really overshadowed by the tomatoes. I probably won’t be growing peppers next year.
This year, I’m growing rattlesnake (or preacher) beans for dry beans, rather than as green beans. If you had asked me last month, I would have said they’re doing terribly. It looked like they had rust and were just not going to do well at all. I’m still not sure what they had, though rust seems like a good possibility. But I eventually stopped worrying about it and the beans are doing fine.
I’ve got several pods of beans that are starting to dry out. I’ll probably collect them as they get fully dried. I have no idea what my yield will be like. I sowed 17 beans. We’ll see what I get in the fall. I’ll probably do these again next year, although I also want to try Good Mother Stallard beans.
Spring is here, and my sargent cherry tree is in bloom. I felt like it was late to bloom this year, but for the last few years, I’ve kept notes. It bloomed two days earlier this year than it did in 2019, though about 2 and a half weeks later than it did in 2020 (which was unusually warm). The tree is mainly ornamental. I’m told that it can bear fruit, but that it’s only worth eating if you’re a bird.
I’ve had some limited success with my seed starting. I now have 1 okra plant that’s doing well, 3 baby tomato plants (2 sungold and 1 black cherry), and 1 buena mulata pepper seedling. In total, I had 3 okra seedlings germinate, but 2 had issues with the seed coat staying stuck on. That’s definitely something I’d like to learn how to manage better in the future. The flower seeds didn’t germinate at all, and I’m not sure if the petit marseillais peppers will germinate either.
I decided to experiment and also tried getting some okra and pepper to germinate using wet paper towels inside a plastic bag. So far, this got a few okra seedlings to crack open their seed coats. At that point, I put the seedlings into some potting soil, but they don’t seem to be doing anything more.
I have to say, though, that I am not known for my patience. That fact is only reinforced as I check my notes from previous years and realize that, last year, many of my plants returned from dormancy later than I remember.
When my vegetables are eventually ready to go outside, and assuming I don’t mess up with acclimating them to the outdoors, there’s a new raised bed waiting for them. I decided to go with a bed made of grow bag material over a PVC frame. I’ve filled it with Pittmoss, which I’m using despite the compression issues I’ve seen with it, because it was the easiest for me to get in bulk.
I’m planning to grow okra, peppers, chard, and dill in it. So far, the only thing that I’ve planted in it are and some okra seeds under a plastic cover and some chard seeds. No germination yet, but it’s still early. I don’t think I’ll get okra but it seemed worth a try as I had enough seeds and I’ve heard okra seeds don’t keep well beyond the first year.
We’ve had several days of warm weather this month, and I’ve taken advantage of them to work on the rest of the patio garden. Most of what I’ve done is cleaning up the old and dead stems and leaves from the perennials, pulling up last year’s annuals, and adding some plant supports to a few perennials that seem prone to flopping.
I also re-potted the Amsonia Blue Ice and Russian sage, both of which had been planted in Pittmoss that had compressed quite a bit. Now, both plants are in pots with a mix of Pittmoss and either coir or peat based potting mix. Unfortunately it turns out that re-potting plants that are in large pots is difficult, but I’m hopeful that both will recover from the experience and flourish in their new potting media. Interestingly, the pot with the Russian sage was full of (good) worms. (The worms often come in with the compost.) Most of the time, the worms don’t stay in the pots.
If you’re interested in a mini garden tour, see the video below.
This year, I’ll be trying to grow 3 types of food plants I’ve never grown before: okra, peppers, and tomatoes. All 3 need to be started indoors to get a head start on the growing season, so you either have to start them from seed yourself or buy starts from a nursery. Being a glutton for punishment, I’ve decided to try starting them indoors from seeds.
In addition to the vegetables listed above, I’ve also decided to start some cosmos and some bee balm as well. I’ve never grown bee balm before, so this is another experiment for the year. As for the cosmos, in the past, I’ve just scattered the seeds directly onto the soil where I wanted them to grow. I haven’t had the best of luck with this method, though, so this year, I’m going to try to baby the along for a bit before planting them outside.
A brief note: I’ll be mentioning some specific products in this post, but it’s not a sponsored post and I purchased everything I’m posting about.
Most of the seeds I’m growing are heirlooms:
Evertender Okra, from Southern Exposure Seeds, originally from India
Buena mulata peppers, from Truelove Seeds, an African American heirloom
Petit marseillais peppers, from Truelove Seeds
Bee balm, from Truelove Seeds
Black cherry tomatoes, from Renee’s Garden
The Sungold cherry tomatoes are a hybrid, and the cosmos are open pollinated but not an heirloom. Both are from Renee’s Garden.
I ordered a seed starting kit, pictured above. The set up includes a tray and vented cover, a heating mat, LED lights, a metal contraption for hanging the lights, and 72 discs of compressed peat. I would have preferred to avoid using peat, but it came with the kit.
I’m only using 24 of the discs. My garden just isn’t big enough to fit that many new plants. As it is, I’m theoretically starting more than I’ll need. I figure if I have too many, I can thin them out and give away some seedlings. And if I have too few of anything, I’ll have learned something and can use that space to grow something else.
I’ve arranged my seeds according to the diagram below. Each row is 4 cells/discs.
Row 1: Evertender okra, 1 seed per cell Row 2: Buena mulata peppers, 3 seeds per cell Row 3: Petit marseillais peppers, 3 seeds per cell Row 4: Cherry tomatoes, 2 cells sungold, 2 cells black cherry, ≥3 seeds per cell Row 5: Cosmos, 2 seeds per cell Row 6: Bee balm ≥3 seeds per cell
The tomato and bee balm seeds were tiny, so i probably got a lot of seeds in each cell. I’ll just thin the seedlings as needed.
And now, I water and wait. With luck, I’ll have about 2 dozen baby plants in a few weeks. I suspect that’s when the hard part will begin.
First off, the plants that I used the Pittmoss with seem to be doing quite well. Of course, I don’t really have a control, and most of these plants (except the Yarrow) came from the same source (The Growers Exchange). In particular, the greek oregano, sage, and thyme (lemon and french) are doing quite well. I would at the very least recommend the Growers Exchange. (One friend did get some tarragon from them that didn’t do well, but their other plants seem to have been fine.)
Now, for the not-so-good news: In some of my containers, the Pittmoss has compressed a lot. I’d say it’s reduced by a third to a half. I was expecting some compression, given how fluffy the Pittmoss is, but this is more than expected.
I am still planning to use Pittmoss in most of my spring planting. However, I may try to set up some beds and pots with it ahead of time and then let it sit a bit before planting/transplanting. I also want to try to add some growing medium to the Russian sage and amsonia, where the Pittmoss has compressed the most.
As an aside, the pictures in this post were all taken in January. We just had a big snowstorm, so the sage and the other herbs are looking less green, but… Well, my garden was very confused about the seasons for a while. I’m blaming it on global weirding.
This post is to document my experiences (to date) with a new-to-me planting/potting medium called Pittmoss. Before I get into details, I should state up front that I purchased the Pittmoss and all of the plants I’ll be talking about, and there are no affiliate links in this post.
To be honest, my decision to try it really came down to the fact that, while the cost per cubic foot of the Pittmoss was relatively high, shipping costs for my other choices would have been prohibitively expensive, and I was really looking for something that would just show up on my doorstep. (I’m lazy, remember?)
I’m not sure where I first heard about Pittmoss, but it’s basically made from recycled paper with other stuff (eg, bark, compost, microorganisms from bovine compost, etc) added to it. I was interested initially because it’s peat-free, but then also because it uses recycled paper. (Their website says upcycled.) I believe it’s called Pittmoss as a play on peat and because the company is based in the Pittsburgh area.
I ordered several 2-cubic-foot bags of the stuff, and they arrived at my doorstep, as expected. They were packed in cardboard boxes, which I stacked up. Leo decided that the stack was his new perch and he greatly enjoyed lounging there for a few days until my fall plants arrived.
The Pittmoss smells… essentially like what it is: old paper. It’s a bit musty but the smell doesn’t bother me. If you’re into that old paper smell, you may even enjoy it.
Once my fall plants arrived, I took them and the Pittmoss to the patio to begin planting. I have to say, Pittmoss is very lightweight. Usually, carrying 2 cubic feet of potting medium would have meant I need a break. (I’m not very strong. It’s probably related to my laziness.) But carrying 2 or even 4 cubic feet of Pittmoss is no big deal.
Once you open up the bag, it looks a bit like gray insulation. The texture is super fluffy. There were a few chunks of paper still stuck together. When you break them apart, you can see all the colorful bits of shredded paper. It’s a little like breaking up an owl pellet, I suppose. (I’ve never done that personally, just seen it done.)
I used a bit over 2 cubic feet to top up my raised bed and mixed it in with the existing soil in the bed. I used about another cubic foot mixed with existing soil to fill 2 large round containers, a 1’x2’ rectangular container, and a window box.
The raised bed got sage, rosemary, and 2 types of thyme and will also be getting some yarrow later. The rectangular planter got oregano, the window box got chives, and the two round containers got russian sage and amsonia blue ice.
Pittmoss claims to have “improved water retention” and to require ⅔ less watering. I’m assuming this is compared to peat-based planting media. I’ve planted a whole variety of plants in this stuff, and their water needs range from ‘really liking dry’ to ‘really liking wet.’ I’m really curious how they do with the Pittmoss. My suspicion is the rosemary will be the least happy, but we’ll see.
I’m also curious about how much this stuff will compact, given how fluffy it started out. I don’t want my plant roots trapped in paper mache. Similarly, I’m curious how this will hold up over time, as everything I’ve planted in it so far is a perennial. I may just try some basil indoors to see how it does with an annual. (The basil on the patio has become a tasty snack for something that owes me a few bucks for seed and watering.)
So here’s a bullet point summary, if you didn’t read the above.
lightweight and easy to carry
fluffy texture is kind of neat
Neutral (for me):
smells like old paper
To be determined:
how much it compresses over time
how it does for perennials
how different plants like the water retention
It should also be noted that this is a purely observational, uncontrolled, non-blinded experiment. It has no scientific validity, but it’s fun. I’ll post updates.
I’ve lived here for a little over 10 years. In that time, the patio walls have been a particular challenge. They’re made from cinder blocks and have been painted maroon. They probably contribute to the concrete oven effect, and over the years, I’ve gotten really tired of looking at them.
One of the neighbors has some reed fencing that they used to cover their patio walls. This year, I decided to try it for my own patio. The patio is still really warm, and it will probably still be an oven next summer, but at least it looks better now..
I ordered something called ‘reed roll fencing’ and used zip ties and string to attach it to the rebar coming up from the cinder block wall. At the bottom, it’s pushed against the wall by the planters. The trickiest parts of the installation were getting the fencing unrolled and keeping it upright while I attached it. (It might have been easier with a 2nd person, but there’s a pandemic, so I just did it myself.)
The results are a little wonky, but overall, I’m pleased.
I know I’ve been absent from the blog for a while, I am probably one of the laziest gardeners in the world. My last baby chard harvest was on in mid-July, and after that, I basically let my garden go a little wild—at least as wild as it’s possible to go in the middle of South Philadelphia. There are weeds everywhere, and things are looking a little… spent. About the only garden task I’ve kept up with is refilling the bird feeder, and that’s not really gardening.
Fortunately, I’ve learned from previous years that I am a lazy gardener. Back in May, I had set up a soaker hose with a smart timer. It took a little tweaking, but the plants now get watered every day for 5 minutes at 6am and 5 minutes at 7am—without me having to lift a finger. It’s a smart system, so it automatically delays watering in the event of rain. And if I think the garden needs extra watering, I can turn it on using my phone.
You have no idea how much I love how lazy this allows me to be. No. Idea. Now if only the garden would weed itself.
Last week, I was looking at my “blue” plants and thinking that really, they’re more like purple. Then a few days later, a gardening podcast I enjoy listening to, called Let’s Argue About Plants,released an episode called “True Blue Beauties.”Of course, even on the podcast, there was some argument about whether some of these plants weren’t in fact purple. Overall, I think they did a good job, and I might have to add some of these plants to my “Someday” list.
My not-actually-blue (but I still love them plants) include Salvia Blue Hill and Phlox Swizzzle Blue. Salvia Blue Hill looks more purple to me, though apparently it’s more blue than some of the other mounding salvias. Phlox Swizzle Blue is more of a lavender color with some pink in the center. Meanwhile, my purple coneflowers are more on the pink side, if you ask me.
Meanwhile, in another part of the color wheel, there’s the red/orange issue. This year, I planted painted lady runner beans, which are now flowering. The blossoms are lovely, but I was expecting something red and white. Instead, in my garden, they look more like orange and a lighter color ranging from white to creamsicle.
This is just the spring and summer flowers. I have two asters that won’t bloom until autumn: Crimson Brocade and Bluebird. They got a bit burned last summer, though, so I’m not really sure what color the flowers will actually end up being. Maybe red and blue? Maybe pink and purple? I’m looking forward to finding out, but I suspect it won’t be quite what I expected.