Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Blue Beauty Tomato Report


It's blue! And it's a beauty!

One of the most unique crops in last year’s garden was the Blue Beauty tomato. I knew as soon as I saw it in the Baker Creek catalog that I had to try it; after all, it’s a blue tomato! However, as I mentioned in a previous post I had grown black krims one year that turned out to be more like red, tasteless krims, so I was skeptical.

Would these tomatoes really be blue? Would they produce in a container? Would they taste good?

Luckily, the answer to all three questions was a resounding YES!
 
Bunches of tomatoes!
First, let’s talk germination. I planted extra seeds thinking that these tomatoes were so unique and so cool that obviously the seeds would be tough to germinate. Not true at all! In fact, I ended up with pretty much every seed germinating, and these were also among the earliest tomato seeds to do so. They were also the earliest tomatoes to produce a ripe fruit last summer.

Now onto the question of containers. In short, as large beefsteak type tomatoes these are not supposed to grow in containers. For that matter, most of what I grow in the garden is not supposed to work. Sikkim cucumbers in containers? Everyone online said they would probably not work well. But I like to push the limits (and as a renter with an upstairs porch I really don’t have much choice other than to use containers). This is why I encourage people to just try new things in gardening. Many varieties are easier to grow in containers than others, but if you use a big enough container you can grow pretty much anything. I just watched a YouTube video of a guy planting a large pomegranate tree (with fruit on it) in a 30 gallon half barrel. So where there is a will, there is a way.

Next year I am going back to tomato cages!
But therein lies the key. You need a large container. I used a 12 gallon container for these Blue Beauty plants. I planted two plants in the 12 gallon pot, and used Miracle Gro potting mix for the soil, amended with some extra perlite and regular applications of Tomato Tone. Regular watering is probably the most important aspect of container gardening, because once these plants get big (and the Blue Beauty tomato plant gets BIG) they require a great deal of water, and the only water available to them is what is in the soil. This is why container size matters. The more soil, the more water and nutrients it can hold. It also reduces the need for constant watering. As it was, I watered these about every 2-3 days once they were full grown. You want to give them just enough water to thrive, but no more. Extra water seems to result in more watery, less sweet tomatoes!
Blue Beauty plant early in the season
As you can see, the plants were huge, healthy, and very productive. In fact, these were probably the most productive tomatoes in the garden last year. We harvested at least 100 from the two plants. In fact, I ended up skinning and freezing them (along with the Roma tomatoes) and we are still using them in sauces and curries in January!

Beautiful late-season harvest!
What about taste/texture? I would rate these as very good. They are fairly firm inside, with good structure and just the right amount of juiciness and sweetness. They are also very consistent, with very few cracks or spots. They turn very dark blue wherever the sun hits them, resulting in beautiful tomatoes with dark blue tops and deep red bottoms (where the sun does not directly hit them). This is how you know when they are ripe. Look for a deep crimson color underneath the blue tops. 

Blue Beauty sliced in half
These tomatoes are absolutely fantastic for slicing, fresh eating, and make great sauce as well, since they are not overly juicy. I would definitely say that they are my favorite tomato to grow so far. The flavor is not quite as good as a Brandywine, but it is close, and these plants will be absolutely loaded with tomatoes, whereas Brandywines seem to be less productive (in containers anyway).

In the coming weeks I will be posting similar write-ups on the cucumbers and peppers from last season, so check back often!

Until next time, happy gardening!

Friday, August 1, 2014

Sikkim Cucumbers in Containers



From top to bottom: Marketmore, Sikkim and Lemon cucumbers
Last week I harvested the first Sikkim cucumber of the season, so I thought I would share some thoughts on this unusual looking cucumber. As you can see, it is a bit thicker than a typical cucumber. It also has a very melon-like skin, which isn’t as tough as it looks (we ate a couple of slices with the skin on and it wasn’t anything like the almost plastic tasting skin large cucumbers can develop).

Tasty and cool looking!
In terms of flavor, I would say the Sikkim cucumber is slightly sweeter than an average cucumber, with a very pleasant mild taste. The seeds are tender, and the fruit is nice and firm. This is definitely a delicious cucumber, but I don’t think the taste is radically different from other cukes.

Sikkim cucumbers in various stages of development
One important factor to consider with the Sikkim cucumber is the yield. I harvested this one, and I have 5-6 others on the plants in various stages of ripening. There are also 1-2 small cucumbers on the way. This is on 3 plants in a 7 gallon pot. Just for comparison’s sake, I planted 3 plants of Marketmore and I have already harvested three 9 inch cucumbers and have probably a solid dozen about that size ready to pick, with at least a dozen smaller cucumbers coming right behind. The same is true with the lemon cucumbers; we’ve already eaten 4-5 and we have at least 12 almost ready to pick now with many small ones coming.

Sikkim cucumbers ripening
Given all of this, the Sikkim is a somewhat low yielding plant, which backs up what reviewers online said about the variety. If there is a negative at all, it’s that the Sikkim cucumber doesn’t produce a large number of cucumbers relative to other varieties. This is not a big deal to me (I do this mostly because I enjoy growing unusual varieties) but if you are into square foot gardening and high yields are a crucial component of your plan then I would consider a different variety.

However, if you want a tasty, exotic, and unusual cucumber then I highly recommend the Sikkim cucumber! 

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Blue Beauty Tomato Update



Another crop that is new to me this year is the Blue Beauty tomato. When I saw this online I absolutely had to have it! I mean, it’s a blue tomato. If that isn’t reason enough I don’t know what is!

Blue Beauty tomatoes! Notice they are bluest where the sun hits most
Of course, given my experience with red, round, “Black Krims” I was skeptical. Would this tomato really be blue? Would it be all cool and gnarly looking like the description said? To minimize the possibility of crossing with my other tomatoes I made sure to put it on the opposite end of the porch, away from all others of its kind.

I am happy to report that so far it looks good! As you can see from the photos the plants are doing very well, and the fruits are a dark blue where they are touched by the sun. Tomatoes that are more in the middle of the plant are dark green with no blue at all, and the ones on the outside are dark blue where the sun hits the fruit.

Close-up of a Blue Beauty
From what I have read (and there isn’t a ton out there on Blue Beauty Tomatoes) they turn red “underneath” the blue when they are ripe, resulting in tomatoes with varying degrees of dark blue and dark red. I am excited to see how these turn out, and I will definitely provide updates as these “beauties” continue to grow.

Until next time, happy gardening!


Friday, July 25, 2014

Growing Cucumbers in Containers



As many of you know, cucumbers are one of my absolute favorite things in the garden. Of course so are peppers! And tomatoes! And the herbs! But I digress. There’s just nothing like the crisp, sweet, delicate flavor of a freshly picked homegrown cucumber. It will spoil you though, and those watery logs you buy at the store just won’t seem the same.

Sikkim Cucumber plant
This year I am growing 3 varieties: Marketmore, Lemon, and Sikkim. Lemons I have grown before, and if you’ve never tried them I highly recommend them. They are large vines that produce round fruit roughly the size of a lime, but as they mature they turn from an ivory color to a dark yellow (thus the name “lemon”). Contrary to their namesake they are a slightly sweet cucumber—perfect for munching or adding to a salad. I prefer to harvest them before they turn dark yellow, as the skin will get tough and if you let them go long enough the fruit will get a bit tough as well. They also make incredible pickles because they hold their crispness well.

The other two types are new to me this year. Ever year since I have had a garden I have grown Straight 8 cucumbers, but as you know from reading the blog they were absolutely inundated with powdery mildew every summer. After fighting the mildew with sprays, tonics, home remedies, and aggressive pruning I decided to search out a mildew resistant variety, which led me to the Marketmore.
Lemon Cucumber

So far I have harvested one Marketmore cucumber, and it was tasty. It was probably about 7 inches long, and I think it would have kept growing had I let it. The favor was good (a bit strong) and the skin is tough, so this is one you’ll probably want to peel. The flavor probably mellows and becomes sweeter as they mature, so I am going to see how big the next few get. There are two things I love about this plant. One, it gets HUGE. As you can see from the picture below it is growing up the side of the house (I have 3 plants in a 7 gallon pot). It quickly grew to the top of the tomato cage and began its ascent toward the roof. It is also quite a heavy yielder, as there are probably 20-25 cucumbers on the plant between 3 and 5 inches long, and 2-3 that are around 7 inches. It is also loaded with flowers and very small cukes, so we’ll be making some pickles!

Perhaps equally important: not a single spore of my powdery nemesis! I can tell you without hesitation that this plant is mildew resistant, as my Straight 8 cukes would be dead by now (or close to it) without constant spraying and pruning. I have done absolutely nothing to control or prevent mildew this year, and the plants are extremely healthy and productive. I did see a few leaves with the early signs of mildew on the bottom of the Lemon cucumber plant, but I just pruned them off and I haven’t noticed more. That is right next to the Marketmore (and even growing intertwined with it) and there have been absolutely no signs of it spreading.

Lemon Cucumber (left) and Marketmore Cucumber (right)

Last but not least, one of my “I have to try that!” plants: the Sikkim Cucumber. What a cool looking fruit! The plant looks like any other cucumber, and the young cucumbers look like any other young cucumber. I was starting to wonder if I got the wrong seeds. However, as the fruits mature they begin to turn yellowish orange, and eventually are covered in a melon-like brown skin. That’s when they are ready (although I have read you can eat them anytime). The one in the photo below is just starting to develop the cantaloupe-like skin that makes these distinctive. Once I harvest expect a fill write up! I can also vouch for the mildew resistance of the Sikkim, as I have seen no mildew at all. Again, this is with no special steps taken to prevent it.

Tiny Sikkim Cuke (bottom) and larger Sikkim cucumber just starting to develop its distinctive color and skin pattern
 In terms of container size and watering, you will want a large container. The bigger the better. Cucumbers get huge and need a lot of water, which is why you want a large container. The more dirt the more water it can hold for the plants, and the more nutrients are available as well. I have mine in 7 gallon pots, but that is because I live upstairs so I am wary of using pots that are too heavy. I would rather use two 7 gallon pots and grow 2 different kinds of cucumbers than one 14 gallon pot and only get to try one. A 7 gallon pot is still quite large and I have to water the cucumbers every day unless it pours (a little sprinkle will barely wet the dirt as the leaves form a tight canopy). A bigger container would mean less watering and probably even larger plants. I also use a tomato cage for the vines to climb because I use round pots, although a trellis could also work if you used something longer and narrower.  

I typically water every night, and I am very careful to water only the dirt in order to keep the plants dry. Wet conditions are wonderful for mildew, and as we’ve been through already there are few garden problems I can’t treat or deal with, but mildew seems to be one of them. So keep the leaves dry by watering just the dirt. Plus, once the cucumbers get as big as you see in the photos above, watering the leaves will result in most of the water running off onto the deck and never making it to the thirsty roots.

One final note on watering: don’t worry if you skip a day and find your cucumbers wilted. They will wilt, and sometimes so badly you think you’ve killed the plant. This happened to me today in fact. Since it rained yesterday I skipped my daily watering. This morning I went out to find the lemon cucumber so wilted I thought it was dead! I quickly watered the plant and within an hour it was back to looking like nothing happened. Don’t let this become a habit though. It weakens the plant (which invites the mildew) and can result in bitter cucumbers.
A developing Lemon Cucumber!
People often wonder how often to fertilize. I fertilize with Tomato Tone early in the season, and then switch to Miracle Gro tomato food (the pink powder) as the summer progresses. I fertilize with the Miracle Gro once every 10 days or so, but I go light on the mix—probably ½ of what it calls for. If I ever see a particular plant getting lime green I use some of the typical blue Miracle Gro plant food for a quick boost of nitrogen. Within a week it will be dark green again. I follow this regimen for the entire garden: cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants get the pink Miracle Gro. Cooking greens, herbs and flowers get the blue Miracle Gro (since the cooking greens and flowers don’t fruit). You can use one fertilizer for everything and be fine too; I just happen to have both since I have a lot of houseplants as well.

To sum up: grow cucumbers in your container garden! They are fun, very easy, heavy yielding, and there are countless varieties out there. Choose a variety that is mildew resistant. If you are in an area susceptible to powdery mildew avoid Straight 8 (as much as I love them) because you will have issues with it, and once it gets settled into your garden and kills off your Straight 8’s it finds a lot of other plants to infest that it might have otherwise passed over. And use a pot no smaller than 7 gallons for best results. A bigger pot buys you more of a buffer for water and nutrients, which is a tremendous benefit when you can’t always be home to water your plants every day.

Until next time, happy gardening!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Perpetual Spinach


Perpetual Spinach before the harvest

One crop that is new to the garden this year is the Perpetual Spinach Chard. Perpetual Spinach is a type of Swiss Chard that looks and tastes a lot like spinach, but doesn’t bolt in the summer heat and is easy to harvest several times from the same plant.
 
Dinner!


Just like chard, if you cut only the larger outer leaves the plant will continue to grow new leaves all summer long. In terms of yield, one 6-7 gallon container can easily produce a meal every week to 10 days for two people. We have three containers of chard going (2 rainbow and 1 spinach) and we almost never run out during the summer.

After the harvest

If you plant 5 plants in a square with one in the middle, there will typically be 3-4 large plants and one smaller plant. As soon as you harvest some of the greens, the smaller plants doubles of triples in size to fill the void. With several containers, you can take a few leaves from each plant across all of them and it won’t look like you even harvested any!


Good pattern for planting
For our first try cooking it, we sautéed it with a touch of olive oil and some freshly chopped garlic. It was delicious!

Until next time, happy gardening! 

Saturday, July 5, 2014

A Weekend Garden Tour

For the weekend update, let's take a quick tour of the garden!

Peppers and Tomatoes

Looking the other direction toward the door end of porch

Lemon and Marketmore cucumber


2nd planting of kale starting to take off (it was a very windy day as you can see from peppers!)

1st kale planting

3rd season for this rosemary plant! (started from seed in February of 2012)

Petunias


Until next time, happy gardening!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Crop List for 2014!



After a long hiatus, I’ve decided to re-launch Captive Roots for the 2014 season! The garden already loves the heat and sunshine we’ve been getting this summer, and we just harvested our first batch of chard the other day! My goal for the summer season is to update the blog 2-3 times per week, so check back often!

Here is the list of crops for the 2014 season:

Peppers

Variety
Number of Plants

Container Size
Cayenne
2
5 gallon
Jimmy Nardello
3
2 plants in one 7 gallon, 1 w/ an extra hot paprika in a 5 gallon pot
Hot Paprika
5
4 in a 12 gallon pot, 1 w/ the extra Nardello as mentioned above
California Wonder
2
7 gallon
Poblano
2
6.5 gallon
Thai Chili
2
5 gallon
Black Hungarian
3
6.5 gallon
Orange You Sweet
2
5 gallon
Cute Stuff Gold
2
5 gallon
Lipstick
2
5 gallon

Of these pepper varieties, I have grown California Wonder and Poblano, both of which produce heavily and do quite well in containers. The other 8 are new to me!

 Tomatoes

Variety

Number of Plants
Container Size
Chadwick Cherry
2
7 gallon
Emerald Evergreen
2
12 gallon
Blue Beauty
2
12 gallon
Roma
2
12 gallon
Rutgers
2
12 gallon

Of these tomato varieties, the only one I have grown before is the Roma. I did have one evergreen plant in a mixed seed pack a few years ago, but I’m not sure if it was this exact variety (which is why I would never buy a mixed seed packet again!)

I am especially excited to see how the Blue Beauty turns out! Look for updates on those throughout the summer. 


Blue Beauty tomato on 7/2/14

 Cucumbers

Variety

Number of Plants
Container Size
Sikkim Cucumber
3
7 gallon
Marketmore Cucumber
3
7 gallon
Lemon Cucumber
3
6.5 gallon

Cucumbers have always been one of my favorite crops to grow. There is nothing like a crisp homegrown cucumber on a fresh salad! However, as you probably know if you’ve read the blog before, I have been fighting powdery mildew each year and each time it is more virulent than the last. Typically cucumbers last until late July/early August before they are completely killed off. Last year I was able to keep them alive until mid-August by using the milk/water combo. However, this year I switched away from Straight 8 (which apparently is one of the most susceptible to powdery mildew) and to the Marketmore, which is a resistant variety.

I’m excited to see how the Sikkim comes out. I was looking through the Baker Creek catalog and saw this bizarre, brown, almost football shaped cucumber and said “I have to try that!” I have no idea how it will do with the mildew or how well it will produce, but the plant is huge already and has a ton of flowers, so I should get a bunch!

Sikkim Cucumber on 7/2/14
 
Eggplant

Variety

Number of Plants
Container Size
Long Eggplant
2
6.5 gallon
Black Beauty
1
5 gallon

Last summer these long eggplants produced like crazy, and the Black Beauty is always an amazing plant. They produce huge eggplants that stay tender and delicious.

Cooking Greens

Variety
Number of Plants
Container Size
Kale
3
6.5
Perpetual Spinach (chard)
5
6.5
Rainbow Chard
5
6.5
Rainbow Chard #2
5
6.5
Kale #2
4
7 gallon long box

We use cooking greens several times a week, so we grow a lot. This number of planters allows for 2 people to eat greens from the garden 2-3 times a week without running out or depleting the plants too much.

Of these, the perpetual spinach is a new one to us. We just had it the other day and it was delicious! It is a variety of chard, but looks and tastes a lot like spinach. Look for an in-depth post about this neat cooking green in a couple of days!

Our first kale harvest of the season!

 
Herbs

Basil
Oregano
Catnip
Thyme
Rosemary
Dill
Sage
Tarragon
Chives
Mint
Parsley
Cilantro

The herbs are one of the most utilized parts of the garden, as I typically use at least one type of herbs every night when cooking dinner, and often use several. All of these herbs take up very little space (aside from the basil and oregano, which I am growing in 7 gallon boxes in order to dry at the end of the season for winter). If you just wanted enough basil to use from time to time, 3 plants would be plenty.

Basil (and the garden hose!)
 
Flowers

Petunia
Coxcomb
Marigolds
Button Zinnias

I love petunias, so I always start a bunch from seed. These flowers really brighten up the porch! All stay fairly small and are well suited to containers.


Zinnias and marigolds
 
Citrus Trees

Meyer Lemon
Lime

These trees were purchased last fall and spent the winter inside. Neither was particularly happy about doing so, and they are just starting to leaf out and look better now. Look for citrus specific posts in the near future!

 Reading this list, it is amazing how much you can fit into a small space. Our porch is 24 feet long by 8 feet wide, and these plants occupy the outer rim of the entire porch, aside from right against the house, where we have our chairs and a small outdoor table. This leaves the entire middle of the porch open, and we typically have plenty of room to enjoy the porch without feeling like plants are right on top of us. In fact, the green wall provides a great deal of privacy during the summer!

Once this garden gets going, we don’t need to buy herbs, cooking greens, cucumbers, eggplants, tomatoes, or peppers until fall. This year I’m hoping to freeze and dry the peppers (depending on variety) so that we can enjoy them all winter as well.

Until next time, happy gardening!