Summer 2021 Garden Update: Vegetable Edition

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.

A buena mulata pepper that’s just a few weeks old. It’ll get larger and eventually change colors to orange and then red.


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.

More Garden Experiments

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.

Hoping to get some more seedlings, I put some seeds in plastic baggies with some wet paper towels.

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.

Garden Tour: March 23, 2021.

Adventures in Seed Starting

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.

7 seed packets are arranged on a white table.
The seeds I’m starting indoors this year.

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.

A plastic tray with a cover and lights hung above it. Several rehydrated discs of peat are sitting in the tray.
The seed starting 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.

A hand-drawn 'map' of where the seeds are located.
My “map” of the seeds I’m starting.

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.