Thursday, February 28, 2008

Finally Updating my Garden Blog Blogroll

This is my 2nd year writing at Garden Desk. It's funny to think about this, but a year ago I remember saying to myself "I wonder if there are many other garden related blogs out there". At that time I only knew of a few! I read Veggie Gardening Tips, Compost Bin and May Dreams Gardens and that was about it. In the beginning, as I would find more blogs that I enjoyed, I would add a link to them in my sidebar. As the months went on and I began to realize that there are many many good gardening blogs, I slacked off on adding the links.

Recently I became convicted of this. I would visit a blog I haven't read before and see that they had already added Garden Desk to their blogroll. Wow! I realized that I wasn't returning the favor and I had no valid reason for this. Then I said to myself "I hope all of these great bloggers don't think that since I don't have a link to their blogs, that I don't link to them."

I have recently gone through all of my bookmarks and rss readers and compiled a true list of the garden blogs that I read. I'm sure I have missed some and I'm sure that there are still good garden blogs out there that I have yet to discover.

So to anyone reading this who owns a blog and who have linked to GardenDesk or Veggie Garden Info, I thank you. I hope that your blog now shows up on my list. If not, let me know and I will try to include it. I have cleared away space in the sidebar to accommodate a pretty long list. If it gets too long, maybe I can figure out how to make a scrollable list like Playing in the Dirt's Green Thumb Blogger list.

It amazes me that there are sooooo many gardening blogs out there, but what really amazes me is that there are so many really good ones. I love learning from other gardeners, so if you have a good blog that's not on my list, I'd love to hear from you.

Thanks, and happy garden blogging!

Monday, February 25, 2008

More Heirloom Tomato Discussion

Tomatoes are fantastic! They are always worth writing about. They are always worth discussing, especially if you are discussing heirloom tomatoes.

If you have visited this site before, you know that I am overly excited about trying new heirloom tomato varieties this year.

Last year I wrote about my observations on growing heirloom tomatoes. I listed the pros and the cons as I see them. You can read it here, but the quick version is that compared to hybrids, heirloom tomatoes can be more flavorful, more interesting and have a sense of heritage or history behind them. Unfortunately for many gardeners, they also are more susceptible to disease and pests and can have lower yields.

Well it seems that Patrick from Bifurcated Carrots disagrees with me. He wrote an interesting post refuting my observations. I have to say however, that he was very polite in his disagreement. Patrick is a gentleman. He is also very knowledgeable about vegetable gardening, so if Patrick writes that you're wrong about something, then it should be carefully read and considered. If you are interested in heirloom tomatoes, you should read Patrick's post.

He brings up some interesting points. One of which that I had not thought of before is that heirloom varieties by the same name sold by different companies are not equal. He explains how a variety needs to be "grown out" to perpetuate the desirable qualities of a variety. This means that as we gardeners read about which varieties work for others and which ones don't, it never means that we can expect the same results in our garden.

It is fun to find out what varieties others like, but maybe we should be focusing more on where they got the seed that worked well for them (and where the seed came from that didn't work).

So am I right or wrong about the pros and cons of heirloom tomatoes? I would have to say yes. The point is that gardening is a great activity. Writing about it is also great. We garden bloggers should continue to report on our observations about our gardening but beware over-generalizing - about tomatoes or anything else.

Most of all though, we should continue to experiment in our gardens and document things. We should continue to read from good sites like Bifurcated Carrots, and we should continue discussing things that we are interested in. Most of all, we should continue discussing heirloom tomatoes!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Silverbeet Rainbow Swiss Chard for the Growing Challenge

I keep reading about garden bloggers (and even non-gardening bloggers) taking the growing challenge from Elements in Time.

It seems like a great challenge about growing something edible from seed that you never have before. Well, I want to play!

At first I thought I would declare Violet Queen Purple Cauliflower as my newbie. Violet Queen is a variety of cauliflower that I learned about from Tiny Farm Blog. It grows bright purple heads that look like broccoli! I have never grown purple cauliflower before but I have grown both normal cauliflower and broccoli. So I thought that maybe Violet Queen is not the best entry for the Growing Challenge.

So I thought some more. What do I want to grow that I never have before? Then, as I was going through my seed stash it hit me - Five Color Silverbeet, rainbow Swiss Chard! The seeds I have are from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, but they were given to me by Kenny of Veggie Gardening Tips. I have never raised or even eaten swiss chard, which I guess is also called silverbeet. Thanks again for the seeds Kenny!

Come to think of it, Kenny also gave me some of his famous Potato Onions, which I already planted in the garden last Fall. I have never grown Potato Onions before either.

So I guess I really have three entries to keep track of and report on this season for the Growing Challenge:

  • Violet Queen Purple Cauliflower
  • Five Color Silverbeet - Swiss Chard
  • Potato Onions!
  • I'm pretty excited about these. I'm also excited to read about everyone else's growing challenges as the season progresses. Come on Spring!

    Monday, February 18, 2008

    Heirloom Tomatoes for 2008

    For years I grew only hybrid tomatoes. Then, a few years ago, I added the Amish Heirloom Tomato Brandywine. Wow, what exceptional flavor! I was hooked. Last year I expanded my heirloom tomato trials and now I have two new heirloom tomato favorites, Black Krim and Aunt Ruby's German Green (pictured below).

    Not only had I discovered two new great tasting tomato varieties, I also found out that there can be great tomatoes in colors other than red!

    I also tried other new heirlooms of different colors last year; Dixie Golden Giant (yellow), Prudens Purple, Kellogg's Breakfast (orange), Caspian Pink and Kentucky Beefsteak (orange). These varieties didn't do as well and I really only got to sample them. They at least earned a second chance for this year's season. Only the Brandywine, Black Krim and Aunt Ruby's German Green were successful. We did have a terrible drought last summer and as I documented in my post "Pros and Cons of Heirloom Tomatoes", heirlooms can be tricky to succeed with.

    Below are the seed company pictures of these heirloom varieties.

    The only heirloom that I tried last year that will not be invited back is Homely Homer. It was a fun novelty marketing tomato, but lacked in performance and flavor. I have to cut somewhere, don’t I?

    So now for this year, 2008!

    I absolutely loved last year's alternative colors with the ripe green and black tomatoes. This year I want to expand the tomato color pallet. Something new and cool that I discovered from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds is white tomatoes! I don't know about you, but I have never eaten or even seen a white tomato. I have to grow some in 2008. I selected the cultivars Great White and White Tomesol. Look how white the White Tomesol is!

    I really enjoyed Aunt Ruby's German Green last year so I also wanted to add more varieties that stay green when ripe. New for me this year will be Green Zebra and Green Moldovan. Green Moldovan looks neon even!

    Another area that I want to expand is the heirloom Cherry Tomatoes. Last year I grew hybrids Sun Sugar and Gardener's Delight but no heirlooms. This year I will turn to Aunt Ruby again for Aunt Ruby's German Cherry. And since Black Krim was a hit, I will add a black cherry variety simply called Black Cherry.

    Another odd variety that caught my eye was Egg Yolk. I don't know if it can be called a cherry tomato but it is a tomato the exact size and color of an egg yolk?! The other heirloom pictured above is Principe Borghese which I have grown before. Principe Borghese is considered the leading variety to use for sun drying.

    So to recap, my complete 2008 Tomato Heirloom Team is:


    • Brandywine
    • Principe Borghese
    • Pink:

      • Caspian Pink
      • Purple/Black:

        • Prudens Purple
        • Black Krim
        • Black Cherry
        • Yellow:

          • Dixie Golden Giant
          • Egg Yolk
          • Green:

            • Green Zebra
            • Green Moldovan
            • Aunt Ruby's German Green
            • Aunt Ruby's German Cherry
            • Orange:

              • Kellogg's Breakfast
              • Kentucky Beefsteak
              • White:

                • Great White
                • White Tomesol

    Wow! That is quite a list isn't it? A rainbow of delicious and interesting heirloom tomato excellence!

    I'll keep you posted on how they all do throughout the 2008 season. I am really excited!

    Thursday, February 14, 2008

    Valentine's Day reminds me of.... Tomatoes!

    What's red that you think of on Valentines Day? - Hearts? Roses? Not Me! Valentine's Day makes me think of Tomatoes!

    Early Tomatoes to be exact.

    Around here, folks use holidays as reminders of when to do things in the yard and garden. They say to set out peas and potatoes on St. Patrick's Day, set out tomatoes and peppers on Mother's Day, open your pool on Memorial Day and close that pool on Labor Day. Call me strange, but I add "start tomato seeds on Valentine's Day" to that list.

    Last year, I started extra-early tomatoes with the goal of getting ripe ones by my birthday on June 24th. I actually picked the first ripe red tomato on June 15th!

    This year I'm putting more work into it and setting the goal at May 31st. If I'm really lucky, I could have a ripe tomato by Memorial Day!

    How do I plan to achieve this here in Northern Zone 5 where most ripe tomatoes are harvested in Late July and early August? Much like I did last year by planting early under grow lights and potting up multiple times until I transplant the monster-huge tomato plants outdoors in April. What I will add to the strategy this year involves the outdoor planting site. I will put down black plastic to warm the soil, and I will wrap the new plants with plastic cages and possibly construct a temporary hoop house over the early plants.
    I will let you know all the details in these pages as we go along.

    Last year, my extra-early tomato plats were the Early Girl variety. They did well but this year I will be planting 4 other extra early varieties to give Early Girl a run for the money!

    The GardenDesk newcomers are: Hybrids New Girl and Orange Blossom from Johnny's Selected Seeds and Heirlooms Siletz and Sub-Artic "World's Earliest" from Baker Creek. Both of these companies are amongst my favorites. More details to come!

    Getting back to Valentine's Day - before I get any angry email accusing me of not being a romantic, I want to state that I DID give my wife and daughters the real red of Valentine's Day - Roses.

    Now they will lovingly let me start tomatoes tonight! Yum!

    Sunday, February 3, 2008

    Green Thumb Super Bowl Sunday!

    Okay, I haven't actually been using my green thumb much lately but the NFL Super Bowl marks the beginning of the gardening season for me. I know that sounds strange but I usually spend much of Super Bowl Sunday planning the upcoming growing season. After church I will likely get out my seeds, my seed catalogs and my graph paper and get to work. By the time kickoff happens, I will have most of my 2008 garden planned out.

    You may think I'm crazy, but organizing a garden is a lot like an NFL football team. To get into the spirit, here's my garden/football team's helmet:

    I'll call my team the "GardenDesk Growers"!

    Tomorrow marks the beginning of the off-season for the NFL. The off-season for a team is spent figuring out which players and coaches are good enough to remain and which ones need to be cut. They look to add new players to better next year's team. They also look back at the season that has just ended to figure out what worked well and what didn't. All teams but one did not achieve their goal of winning the Super Bowl. They try to learn from last season's disappointments so they can do better this season!

    These are the things I have been doing in the past couple of months because my garden's off-season actually took place in December and January . I have been pouring over seed catalogs looking for new star players to draft and have decided to cut some of my under-achieving vegetable varieties. I am redesigning part of my game plan and am even planning to increase this year's playing field! I have carefully looked over the 2007 "touchdowns" as well as the "fumbles". I will be reporting more about that in the near future.

    So the Super Bowl marks the beginning of The "GardenDesk Growers" 2008 pre-season! Many players will soon report to my basement to begin their season under the grow lights! Today I will be mapping out the 2008 garden and figuring out what plants will occupy what spot on the field. Of course I will also be dreaming of winning the Super Bowl of gardening in which every vegetable grows to perfection and every flower is beautiful!

    If you are a gardener, chances are that you are also dreaming of a winning 2008 garden. So I know it is only February, but I must ask you that famous question:

    Are you ready for some Football Gardening?!! I sure am!

    Since this is the official beginning of my 2008 gardening season, this will also be the kick-off for my 2008 Green Thumb Sunday posts. This post is actually not a very good GTS post, but be sure to visit other Green Thumb Sunday participants!

    Join Green Thumb Sunday

    My next GTS post will be much better I hope.

    For today I say, GO GIANTS! I mean GO PATRIOTS! No, I mean GO GARDENDESK GROWERS!

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